Baca Grande Subdivision Residents Petition Their Board
By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY
In the second of two community meetings, home owners concerned about the approaching fire season approved a list of demands to be presented to the Baca Grande POA board, whose three-man majority has disabled the mountain subdivision’s fire department.
The list, to be written up by the facilitators (Kate Steichen and Pamela Ramadei) will petition the board, in so many words, to:
– consider a pledge to lease the unique private department’s trucks and other fire-fighting equipment to the Crestone Emergency Services District district, if and when it wins funding in another election.
– address immediate fire protection dangers and put responses in writing.
– obtain legal counsel to begin the process of revising POA bylaws — and perhaps opting out of state law — that require an extraordinary majority of all property owners to transfer subdivision property.
– enter into conflict resolution in order to get fire-fighting volunteers who walked away to return.
The new board majority at its first meeting reduced the fire chief and equipment supervisor to half time. They resigned, followed by the bulk of the department’s volunteers. Three who did not resign attended the community meeting to say they were still serving and were training new volunteers, although, as one said, “We have a lot to learn.”
The four-hour community meeting (Feb. 24), like the one a week earlier, was a forum for opinions on what was wrong in a community that had always respected and even loved its volunteer first-responders. The embattled board members (Bruce MacDonald, Nigel Fuller, Robert Garnet) were not among the some 60 who gathered at the POA hall.
Dennis Neuhaus, a resident of some 25 years, had a “pizza” analysis. He said the first hint of problems began when a new board eight years ago, representing the same group of dissidents as now, began nitpicking about the expense of buying pizza for volunteers after training sessions. In the old days, he said, “It was a brotherhood. People loved the volunteers, from the heart.” If the old relationship were brought back it wouldn’t matter that the Baca Grande has the only private fire department in the state because, he said, “We’re Crestone!”
Kizzen Laki, publisher of the Crestone Eagle for 25 years, spoke an homage to volunteers based on her 15 years serving as one. They don’t get paid for carrying a radio all day and keeping it at their bedside all night. They don’t get paid for the stress on their families by fire calls as kids come home to an empty house. They don’t get paid for the traumatic stress. But it was worth it when somebody said, “Thank you, KIzzen. You saved my life.”
But now, she said, “When your boss (on the board) starts jerking you around, at a certain point you just walk away from it.” It began eight years ago when the board began, in her words, “disrespecting people who have put their life on the line.”
Bill Dobson, describing himself as a relative newcomer (from Salida and Buena Vista), suggested that the new attitude has a lot to do with whom the board is listening to — the home owners or the more numerous absentee owners of undeveloped lots.
Batiste DeLuca, a lawyer who has retired here, suggested a solution to the political problem might be “weighted voting.” Every lot under current bylaws gets one vote, but people living here are more at risk than people who own lots but live elsewhere. “The source of the current board’s power is the lot owners,” he said.
Mark Jacobi, former fire chief, responded to this idea by pointing out that the mill levy that would support the new fire district (it was rejected by one vote last May) is in a sense weighted. The property tax is proportional to assessed value. Although the fire district has had solid support and was created by a vote of the people, the tax has been the chief objection of the dissenting group.
“People have got to start accepting the fact that stuff costs,” Jacobi said.
Of the roughly 5,700 original lots less than a thousand are developed (although many houses involve consolidated lots). Alison McClure, who has researched state law and the bylaws of the Baca Grande, told the meeting that a 55 percent majority of only one third of the votes could change things. This gave rise to the demand that the board seek counsel on this.
Eli Dokson said that regardless of the longterm proposals, something has to be done to ensure fire safety in the short term. And this requires working with the board. “Do what you need to do to get our fire protection back,” he said. His comments gave rise to the item on the demand list that asked for an immediate plan of action.
Lonny Roth, owner of a store in Crestone and a former employe of the current board, made a summary comment about three separate fire-fighting entities: the Baca Grande, the private protection for the spiritual centers, and the nearby town or Crestone. “Let’s put some of the pieces together, use the fire department as a community builder.”