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The F Street Pedestrian Plaza is (he)arts-central during the Salida Creative District’s “First Friday events, Summer, 2023. Tina Gramann photo

There was a lengthy agenda for the Salida City Council (SCC) work session held on December 4.

Easily the most intensely discussed topics of the evening were the results of the F Street Plaza survey and an item ambiguously titled “Second Amendment Rights”, which turned out to be a debate on a possible ordinance aimed at banning open carry within certain city limits.

F Street Plaza Survey

Interim City Administrator Christy Doon introduced the F Street Plaza results, stating that there had been 1,100 responses to an online survey the city had posted.

The survey asked for demographic information on respondents such as primary place of residence, age, and gender identification. It gathered data regarding how often they went into downtown Salida, what their top reasons were for going downtown, and where they parked in the downtown area, before turning to their attitudes about the F Street vehicle closure.

Historic F and First Streets in downtown Salida. Courtesy Photo

“I’m not coming with a recommendation tonight, I’m here to give you some counsel,” said Doon. “To see if council would like to close F Street again next year.”

Doon then shared some of her findings. “The Fire Department has major concerns about street closures because there is only one building with a sprinkler system downtown.”

“A full pedestrian plaza (one of the suggested options) would take a lot of money and time, as would [additional] ADA improvements,” she added. “The cross streets are open, and there is accessibility at the ends of the block. Improvements in 2025 at F and Second and F and Third [would] increase ADA accessibility, and maybe creating more pedestrian-friendly space.”

Doon said that the community stage, currently located outside Natural Grocers at Second and F Street, “can be moved” to another location, and that businesses and restaurants on F Street and other locations can apply for sidewalk/parking lot expansions without F Street being shut down.

“What I got out of the survey is that excitement about the closure has gone down, but [that respondents are] still positive overall about closure,” said council member Harald Kasper: “If it were up to me I would keep the closure and put in [something] to make the closures easier.”

“The overall theme was ‘yes, but,’” said Mayor Pro-Tem Justin Critelli. “The closure could be handled a lot better. I’m glad we are having the discussion now before business owners start asking us about whether we are closing this year or not … I would like the Public Arts Commission to weigh in. I feel like there is potential, but that as it is, [F Street closure] should either improve or go back to the way it was.”

“We are looking into whether the F Street closure improves business sales or not – sales tax data is inconclusive,” Doon said. “We did try to do an analysis – some F Street businesses went up and then went down. Changes [in sales tax revenue] between 2019 and 2020 were hard to analyze.”

“Equity remains the biggest issue for me (between F Street and other locations),” said council member Alisa Pappenfort. “People like having a space where you can dine out downtown or let kids run around with no fumes or noise from cars. On the other hand, people complain about not being able to get into stores – there are ways around that.”

“People like the parades – this survey changed my mind, I was ready to say shut [F Street] down,” she added. “I think limiting the closed off space could help alleviate the Fire Department’s worries.”

“I went to some businesses downtown,” said new council member Suzanna Fontana: “Most of them liked it to where [F Street] was open to car traffic – some of them said it didn’t affect them either way. If it was closed, they want things prettied up. G Street and E Street now have all the [vehicle] traffic – they’re taking the brunt of the parking.”

“80 percent of respondents were for it in a previous survey,” said Mayor Dan Shore, mentioning accommodating parades and parking issues as two topics of concern. “Beautification – we don’t have the funds right now. Huge sales tax increases are a thing of the past, probably.”

After some further discussion of patios on F Street, and whether they would interfere with traffic if F Street were open to vehicles, Shore added, “I’m not as wed to the closure as I was a few years ago – now it feels a little tired. However, it’s up to Council to decide.”

Council Member Dominique Naccarato suggested that the Salida City Council revisit the topic at the end of January, as well as holding a focus group. “Visit businesses as a group, rather than as individuals,” she urged.

“Regardless of what decision we make, we can always revisit it,” Shore concluded.

“Second Amendment” Discussion

Not mentioned as part of the F Street closure plans, but surely affecting them in the future, was the presence of Danny Taylor, the “F Street gun guy,” and his compatriots who have begun showing up regularly and carrying their own firearms.

Couched as “Second Amendment Rights” was a discussion led by Salida Police Chief Russ Johnson about the city’s legal options with regard to an ordinance limiting open carry of firearms within all or a portion of the City limits.

Students and their teachers from the Salida Montessori Charter School march down F Street on Wednesday morning, chanting “No more gun violence”, in support of the nation-wide student protest against gun violence (photo by Jan Wondra).

Johnson conceded that such bans are possible, since local governments as well as businesses are allowed to pass rules and regulations prohibiting open carrying of firearms in a building or specific area within the local government’s jurisdiction, as long as signs are posted to that effect.

Ordinances have been passed in a variety of other Colorado communities, and withstood court challenges to their constitutionality despite Colorado’s “open carry” laws – or, rather, its lack of laws prohibiting it at the state level.

However, it soon became clear that Johnson was minimally interested in enforcing such a ban, citing “locational challenges” as one issue:

“People are just routinely walking around [open-carrying] guns in Walmart and stuff,” said Johnson.

“There are other communities in Colorado that limit open carry – there’s a lot,” said Critelli.

“Each community has handled it differently,” said the City’s counsel. “Boulder passed a complete open-carry ban after the [2021] King Sooper’s mass shooting. Crested Butte has a ban on open carry in town-owned buildings and parks. Denver has banned open carry [for years] – the city keeps getting sued but they keep winning – it’s a constitutional ban.”

“Jail [time for violations] wouldn’t be an option for us,” declared Johnson. “We can’t afford to provide counsel [for arrestees] – it would only be a fine with our current system.” He added that the current maximum fine for a ticket was $26.50.

Johnson declined to mention the possibility that in passing an open-carry ban ordinance, the Salida City Council could set its own level of fines for violations.

Fontana suggested that if people were scared by the presence of the men carrying AR-15 rifles on the street, that “they can walk on the other side of the street.”

Naccarato shot that idea down. “It is scary, and bullets reach across the street,” she responded. “You can’t walk across the street and escape a bullet. I have heard from people who are scared — including other city council members from other areas. They ask me, ‘Why do you allow this in your town?’ And if you are not scared, you need to maybe look at your privilege.”

“A ban would be constitutional,” she added. “I am not anti-gun, we are a hunting family. But I am anti-people creating fear downtown.”

“I have also heard from people who are scared,” said Kasper: “We need to balance out rights. We have a right to walk down the street without fear. I have heard [F Street] business owners say that there’s no point in doing business anymore, because people aren’t coming into stores anymore.”

He suggested that the ordinance “can be just F Street, or just the historic district. It doesn’t need to be extensive, but I think we need to protect not just Second Amendment rights, but other people.”

“If it’s the historic district, maybe we can make it a rule that you can only carry historic guns downtown,” said Critelli. “If we decide on a fine, can they just pay it?”

“The bigger problem is if people decide to do a bigger protest.” said Johnson, raising the specter of “50 or 60” people open-carrying guns downtown. “They can just keep getting tickets.”

Shore said that he was “sympathetic to the fear”, but made it clear that he did not want to deal with the consequences of an open-carry ban: “What if we get a lot of people carrying guns downtown?” He suggested that “a lot of the problems we have is that we’re not talking to [the gunmen].”

Naccarato expressed some incredulity at the notion. “Maybe the way we make people feel safer is to stand up to the gunmen? We should just all walk up to them and talk to them?”

Shore continued to assert that the city could not afford to take any action, expressing fears of “all of a sudden, this [ordinance] goes regional or national.”  He advised taking further legal counsel, while Johnson, also apparently in the spirit of “nothing to be done,” observed that if “you pass an ordinance for one area, people will just move to another.”

Pappenfort said that she wanted to see if a private group could “mediate” with Danny Taylor and his friends, but on a personal note referencing her own experience, she added,  “Until you have had someone chase you around with a gun, you don’t know what the level of fear is…I would like to see these people find another way to protest.”

“I think we have a responsibility to do something,” said Kasper: “I believe we need to stand up for our constituents.”

New Council member Aaron Stephens agreed: “I don’t want my kids getting the idea that standing around with guns is a legitimate way to protest.”

In other business, the SCC heard a report from Stella Veazey, speaking for the Extraordinary Teen Council, a presentation from a private parking contractor about the possibility of a paid parking program for downtown; and from Parks and Recreation Director Diesel Post, seeking direction from the SCC on how to proceed with the outdoor pool project.”

Editor’s note: AVV and readers may assume that when Shore continued to assert that the city could not afford to take any action, expressing fears of “all of a sudden, this [ordinance] goes regional or national,”  that he was referring to news coverage, but he did mention the possibility of lawsuits against the City.