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When citizens choose not to engage in the processes provided for our involvement in government, and instead operate in a manner that could be perceived as anti-democratic process, we in the news media should take notice. Recent and possible current developments in the city of Salida are a case in point.

The standards of government in the United States are the envy of much of the world. This is a democratic republic, where we elect our leaders, and government by and large, operates in the open. But in a democracy two things need to occur: citizens have to engage with their government leaders, and then be willing to accept the will of the majority.

Street sign illustrating the concept of Democracy versus Dictatorship.

It is a fact that democracy is a messy business, and some have compared the process of democracy to making sausage. Dictatorships are much more efficient — but generally represent the will of only one person — or a group that wants to impose their often minority view on the rest of us.

Generally the machinations of our government — from local government all the way to the United States Congress –are made in public, with proposals, debates, compromises and votes. Opportunity is given for public comment during the development of resolutions and ordinances, in the crafting of comprehensive plans and land use codes, and for Congress in the hashing out of laws.

But Ark Valley Voice has taken note over the past several months as to what appears to be a minority of Salida residents who have consistently not appeared during public hearings on development projects, failed to engage at all while the proposals were in development and under discussion, then made a hue and cry when the plans were adopted; instead instigating petitions to stop the project.

Such was the case of the recent failed ballot issue regarding the Salida Bottling Company project.

Two things should be pointed out:

  • First, the city of Salida has an approved comprehensive plan developed with public input, with negotiating allowances (detailed tradeoffs often unique to the site, the plan, the conditions) contained in it to help encourage more workforce housing. Those complaining about the city’s steps as it tries to encourage more workforce housing should read the comprehensive plan.
  • Second,  petitions cost taxpayer’s money. Yes, they are a potential step, but not on their own. Deliberately choosing not to participate in the municipal government’s public hearings on a project, then objecting after all the public hearings are done is designed largely to get attention, and it costs the rest of the taxpayers money. It certainly looks and feels like an attempt to impose a minority’s will on the majority.

Rumors are circulating of the same group that stalled the Salida Bottling Company plan setting up for another petition against another housing project by a different owner/developer. There is an anti-government aura about that rumor; not showing up to comment in public, not accepting the elected officials’ decisions, then staging a petition hissy-fit filled with unsubstantiated claims with no names attached — is cowardly.  It is also anti-democratic.

“Only four years ago we [city residents] approved a project that was well taller and had way more density…When it comes to council and our moving forward entertaining future planned developments, I will continue to bring in the differences from the bottling plant to the ones we are discussing,” said Salida Councilman Justin Critelli during this week’s Salida City Council session. “Do they have rentals, is there more green space, was there a parking lot there before?”

The Salida Planning Department can tell you that each project is different and needs to be evaluated on its own merits. “There was not some sort of hidden message from the voters that spoke out against density, height or the planned development process as a whole,” said Critelli, speaking about the petition that nixed a Council-approved development for a vacant downtown lot on U.S. 291 (First Street).

“The election just proves that people didn’t want one planned development in particular and anything more than that is … just conjecture,” added Critelli.

Salida is not unique in its housing crisis for those who need to make a living. The county is struggling with affordable housing issues, as is the region, the state, and the nation. Those who want things to “stay the way they used to be,” are simply not accepting that growth is here for good. The 2020 U.S. Census tracked nearly 15 percent growth in Colorado’s population, and the trend will continue.

If we want to preserve some semblance of the Chaffee County we love, where ordinary people can both work and LIVE in harmony — then people need to work with local government instead of against it and stop objecting to the solutions and compromises necessary to meet that goal.