Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Lawyers, guns and money…stuck between the rock and hard place

I used to tell my kids that if they wanted to come back and live comfortably in town they should consider going into the trades. As the community has changed and more and more people with outside-the-valley, real-world, high-end incomes have come in to live here, the prices have popped out of reach of the old school residents like myself and others who plied tourism-oriented jobs to make it here. But as I watch the shift I see plumbers and electricians “in high demand” and given my basic understanding of economic theory, being “in high demand” means “higher paying jobs.” So my recommendation to the boys was to look at acquiring such skills. They both went to CSU instead and I am happy for them.

Lawyers

After at least four stories this week that originated in lawsuits and potential litigation, the exception to the trades advice might be to get a law degree. Lawyers are the new plumbers. They are “in high demand.” Local attorneys are pretty darn busy in this valley right now and it seems to be another of the community changes. Instead of being a means of last resort when the phone call, the heated discussion, or the outside mediation doesn’t work, the first thought now is to hire a lawyer. No offense to my litigator friends, but lawyers are paid to punch and counter-punch in defense of whoever their clients are and not necessarily make nice with the other side. That is good for a lawyer trying to make a living but not that great in the overall friendly vibe of a small town. Big city fallback in a small town brings change.

Case in point: Homeowners on the Bench have been talking to the town for years about a suitable way to mitigate for avalanches on the steep hillside above Big Mine Park. Conversations have taken place for several years with a couple of different town attorneys. When the town believed they had found a potential solution that essentially met the concerns of everyone, and involved the town taking ownership of some property that is so steep as to be unusable except as open space, the town let the homeowners know. There was no response to their letter so the town forged ahead and the next response was a lawsuit. Not a phone call, not a drop-in at town hall, but a lawsuit. Frankly, if I were a property owner in that neighborhood and the town agreed to not build anything and keep it open, I’d want the town to own it to eliminate any potential liability from my property. But I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know if that matters. What does matter is small town etiquette and manners.

Guns

Many of my friends and family, including my kids, own guns. We live in rural Colorado and the fact that many people here possess guns is not at all unusual. An office conversation has been ongoing since the Parkland school shooting. The debate is how to protect our children and teachers. No one seems to think giving teachers a gun is a good idea.

Some in the office have argued for the installation of metal detectors in the school. I’m not sure that would stop the angry kid bent on wreaking havoc. In general theory, I worry about the militarization and imposition of drastic measures on kids as they grow up and become numb to a constant police presence. The other side of the coin is — screw the general theory when an angry kid wants to get famous by heading to a school to shoot people. Plus, the kids these days already are conditioned on how to act during things like a “lockdown”—which occurred at the local school last December, by the way. Fair point. The parents of local kids in the office went on to make the point that this sort of horrible school shooting violence is no longer an aberration but an unfortunate reality of this generation. Another fair, and miserably valid, point.

Now, if you go by what the president and the leaders of the Republican Party voice, they say it is better to focus on the mental health elements of the gun issue. That is certainly a part of the deal. But, according to NPR, current budget proposals in Washington actually slash spending for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration by $665 million this year. Additionally, Bloomberg reported the National Institute of Mental Health would see a 30 percent reduction in funding—a half a billion dollar decrease—in 2019.

A year ago the president signed a bill making it easier for people with mental illness to buy guns. Many Republicans are unwilling to reexamine the policy that bars the CDC from studying gun violence as a public health issue. Look at what politicians do, not what they say.

Researching better ways to regulate guns like the country regulates tobacco and seat belts is not a threat to democracy. It seems smart.

Money

When it comes to affordable housing and money, I’ll give the Corner at Brush Creek developer Gary Gates some credit for his action in recent days. He made some adjustments to his proposal based on consistent concerns voiced by the community. The density and the accompanying ramifications remain the elephants in the room. I know the two councils generally would love to see it cut by not quite half. That is unlikely. But having 550 to 600 people occupy that space comes with real issues.

Gates however hit a home run with his idea to help people get some ownership opportunity. It’s not just his dedicating some units to be sold and not rented—but it is his use of his money to make it easier. By offering an option to owner finance some two- and three-bedroom units, he nailed an idea to make the entry to ownership relatively easier. Instead of having to go through a bank and come up with a significant down payment, Gates said he is willing to lend people the funds to buy a place with a 3 percent down payment and give them a relatively small interest rate on the life of the loan. That is a good deal and a great helping hand.

For many, it is the down payment or construction loan that trips them up on the way to home ownership. Providing opportunity for a small down payment really can help people get their foot in the door. It is a tactic that the local housing authority might consider in the future as a tangible boost for people trying to make it here.

Now if we could all just figure out another acceptable place to locate some of those units in either town so the corner is less dense, we’d have a winner. And I remain hopeful that if both sides can move beyond the rancor there is a real opportunity with that concept.

So there you have it. And re-looking at all three topics I see that the lawyers are likely making bank with that entire trifecta. Each brings situations that can get you stuck between a rock and a hard place. Send lawyers, guns and money. I have to let the boys know.

—Mark Reaman

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