Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Salida City Council work session on February 6 began with a presentation from Public Works Director David Lady on the status of the Poncha Boulevard construction project. Lady emphasized some of the environmentally-conscious features of the construction, including asphalt recycling, dark skies-friendly street lighting, water capturing techniques, and irrigation sleeves for the proposed greenery going into center islands along the length of the boulevard, and in open space along the golf course boundaries.

“Utilities are going in this spring from Park Avenue down to Grant Street,” he reported. In response to questions about traffic speeds on the boulevard during and after construction, Lady replied, “The final design has a way to deal with that – there’s evidence that [center] islands do slow speeds down.”

Poncha Boulevard improvements planned for 2023. Image courtesy City of Salida

The bulk of the meeting time, however, was given over to an analysis of the November 2022 election survey results by Courtney Sievers, a consultant with Magellan Strategies, a public opinion research firm based in Louisville, CO. Magellan Strategies conducted the online survey from January 9 – 23, 2023.

Sievers said that 534 registered voters in and around Salida took the survey, which asked voters how and why they had voted as they did on various housing initiatives. These ballot questions included:

  • The City of Salida ballot issue 2A, charging Short-Term Rentals (STRs) a $1,000 annual fee to be applied to funding attainable housing;
  • Ballot issue 2B, which added a $15 per night Occupational Lodging Tax on STRs, also to be applied to attainable housing;
  • Ballot issue 2D, on the proposed Salida Bottling Company development;
  • Chaffee Housing Authority ballot issue 6A, a property tax increase also intended to fund attainable housing within the county. (Ballot Issues 2A, 2B, passed; 2D did not, in part due to contentiousness over the height variances proposed for the building.) County ballot measure 6A also failed.

Finally, the survey also questioned Salida voters on how they would vote on a proposed ballot issue for Salida choosing Home Rule, based on their current knowledge, and whether their vote would change based on information provided on the differences between home rule and statutory rule. The results of the survey were broken out by voter gender, age, political party affiliation (or lack thereof), income, and how long they had resided in or near Salida.

Survey question on Salida Home Rule. Image courtesy of the City of Salida.

There was some consistency in how the results broke out, in that women, young people aged 18-34, Democrats, and residents of fewer than ten years tended to vote “yes” on housing ballot issues. Men, older people 65+, Republicans, and those who had been born in Salida tended to vote “no”.

The reasons given for their positions tended to break out on similar themes, with those voting “yes” saying that the government had a role to play in doing more to make sure housing was attainable for teachers, firefighters, retail and restaurant workers who lived in Salida or Chaffee County year-round; while those voting “no” expressed common themes of being taxed too much already, and a general mistrust of government to use the funds raised for their expressed purpose.

Some 67 percent of voters overall said that Salida’s attainable housing efforts so far had been ineffective. Moreover, when asked which option they preferred for the city of Salida to fund attainable housing programs, a majority of 37 percent said they preferred to see no tax increases at all, as opposed to a property or sales tax increase.

“What should Salida do for housing?” Sievers said in concluding the analysis of housing ballot initiatives. “Voters want details, want to know how money would be spent, want education plans. They also want more focus on the needs of residents as opposed to attracting tourists.”

Sievers said that only Salida residents were polled on the Home Rule question, which yielded 479 respondents. Some 33 percent were “not familiar at all” with what Home Rule means, which Sievers characterized as “not untypical” compared to poll results in other communities.

“Democrats were less likely to be familiar, and also younger voters – and more of them will be showing up for 2024 election [than a 2023 election],” she continued. “If the vote were held today, 38 percent would vote no – and ‘definitely no’ is a big factor here, particularly among residents born in Salida, who were 82 percent in the ‘definitely no’ camp. You would have to do a big voter education campaign,” Sievers concluded: “information helps – after explanation on the information slides, you got more ‘yes’ votes – ‘definitely no’ stays the same – where you are gaining is from undecided voters.”

“I found this to be very helpful,” said Mayor Dan Shore. “My big takeaway is that this [Home Rule initiative] has to come from the people and be grassroots – it doesn’t seem like the time is right for this.”

“A lot of education has to happen, particularly with the intensity of the “No” vote,” Sievers replied: “All part of why 2024 would be a better year than 2023 – people don’t understand why Home Rule would help them vs. being a statutory city – there is an opportunity, but it’s going to take some time.”

“We’ve got so much on our plates right now, there just doesn’t seem to be an appetite for it, and I respect that” said Shore: “Several people who have served on council said that this has to come from the people, not council – it’s great to bring up when people have a problem to remind them how Home Rule could address their issues.”

“People don’t know what we’re doing with affordable housing, they don’t understand what Home Rule is – the people need to want it, but I’m not sure it’s ever going to come from them. We need to keep talking about it, we need to keep telling people what Home Rule would do for them,” said Jane Templeton.

Treasurer Merrell Bergin recalled the 2012 Home Rule effort, noting that trust, resistance to change and voter education were also factors back then, though much has changed for the positive in 11 years. Yet he said that reasons to choose Home Rule then were not well expressed, at best. As Treasurer, he noted that if written in the charter, the Home Rule advantages of improved/faster collection of sales taxes locally need to be weighed against the costs of adding city staff to do so. “You need to have at least three stellar, compelling reasons why..This should mean something substantial to the voters.”

“I do believe we have compelling reasons,” said Harald Kasper. “Our tools for effecting workforce housing are limited. The numbers are discouraging. The big thing I see is that people are not informed – we should be giving voters in Salida another chance to consider it.”

“We got a wake-up call with the 2D ballot defeat – Home Rule blows it away with the contentiousness of it all,” Mayor Shore concluded. “I look at this and I’m not saying never, but there’s a lot of work to be done and now is not the time – if there’s anything more contentious than height variances, it’s home rule.”

The complete election survey results are viewable here.