Baca Blog

Baca Grande by Linda Calloway 

2015

DECLINE AND FALL OF AT&T:  Residents of our respectable little rural community will recognize the problem in the following dialog with AT&T’s helpless help-chat chatterers. It’s a problem all the retailers and delivery services I have dealt with in 10 years solved long ago. But not the once-greatest telephone company on earth. Talking to these guys was like being stopped at the border to a country run by third-world generals. I post the text:

“You are now chatting with Javier C., an AT&T sales representative.

Javier C.: Welcome to AT&T online Sales support.  How may I help you with placing your order today?

larry: OK. I am trying to buy your $20 a month home plan.

Javier C.: Hello Larry! I would be more than happy to assist you with your inquiry about our wireless home phone.

larry: But I live in a rural area without home USPS delivery. Your program will not accept my home address. I get mail at a PO Box. Please help. UPS delivers to this address all the time, Also Fedex

Javier C.: At this time, we are not able to ship online orders to a P.O. Box.  Are you able to enter a physical address which matches all other addresses?

larry: I do not understand. There are no USPS addresses in this community

Javier C.: Larry, For security reasons, to submit an order online, we will need the shipping address to match the billing address on your form of payment. If you do not have a physical address that is not a PO Box, than you would want to contact Sales at 1888-333-6651, where this can be discussed and see what options you have.

larry: OK. Very sad att does not help rural folk

Javier C : Please wait while I transfer you to an operator at AT&T Wireless Customer Care.

Welcome! You are now chatting with ‘Jiezel Morante’.

Jiezel Morante: Hello, Larry. I see that you are transferred to me. Allow me to review the transcript and the memos from your previous interaction so that you won’t have to repeat yourself. Please consider this as a continuation of your chat with my colleague.

larry: OK. I am willing to pay by PayPal if that makes any difference

Jiezel Morante: Thank you for patiently waiting. I see that you wanted to have a the $20 phone plan. First, let me thank you for your business with AT&T. For further assistance, can I have your wireless number first?

larry: My home phone is [xxxx]. It is a VOIP service. This is the service I am trying to replace with att.

Jiezel Morante: Thank you for that information. Let me check for that here on my end. . . . Thank you for those information. As a wireless mobile representative, I can definitely help you with your billing concerns about your wireless account. If you wish to add a home phone, do not worry, I can help you coordinate with the right department today.

Jiezel Morante: Let me connect this chat to the right department. Will that be fine with you?

Jiezel Morante: Are you still there, Larry?

larry: Yes, pls

Jiezel Morante: Thank you. One moment please. Please wait while I transfer you to an operator at National Web Center.

You are now chatting with ‘John B’ at National Web Center.

John B: Hi, I’m sorry for any delay in reaching me.  I see that you have been speaking to another representative. Please allow me a moment to review your previous conversation and I will be happy to assist you further.  

larry: All I want is for you to accept my home address!

John B: Sure, Let me quickly check on that and help you.

John B: Could you please help me with the complete home street address?

larry: [xxxx] / Crestone CO 81131

John B: Thank you for the information.

John B: Could you help me with the Cell phone number or the best can be reached number?

larry: Again:  [xxxx]

John B: Thank you.

John B: I am working on it.

John B: Apart from this, how are you doing today?

larry: I do have an appointment in 30 minutes. And my session to order yr service just timed out

John B: I am really sorry, my system is working slow than expected hence it’s taking a while to check the details, Larry. But I definitely value your time so I request you to provide me your best can be reached number so once I am done with the issue I call back and confirm.

larry: Simple question then:  will att provide service to a PO Box address? I can buy the WHP device on eBay and they deliver here all the time. Will you bill to a PO Box?

John B: If you desired to have wireless, then I can validate the address and can provide you with some amazing offers.

John B: Larry we can bill to your PO Box as well.

larry: OK then tell me how to place the order pls

John B: I will do that for you.

John B: Just give me a moment let me explain you about the cell phones available for you.

John B: Are you looking for a smart phone?

larry: Please! As I have said, I am trying to buy wireless home phone $20 a month no contract

John B: Larry, Please allow me a moment while i transfer this chat to the dedicated department where they will be glad to help you. One moment while I transfer this chat to a representative that is better skilled to handle your concern.

Welcome! You are now chatting with ‘Harry Collins’.

Harry Collins: Hi Larry! Pleasure to have you today here on this chat and I’ll be your partner today and make sure to help you through out of our conversation. 

larry: You are the fourth rep I have talked to this morning. You have wasted more than an hour of my time. And you still don’t have a clue what the problem is. COME ON ATT!!!

Harry Collins: I completely understand that and I really do apologize for the inconvenience Larry.

larry: You do not understand.”

(At this point I politely terminated the chat. I was late for my appointment.)

 

2014

PAYING THE BUFFALO BILL: Pushing aside for later a March 13 petition by home owners expressing concern about fire protection, the board of the Baca Grande Property Owners Association approved a buffalo and a water letter among other business Thursday (April 10) with divisive political issues running in the background.

The sculpture of an American bison will be installed on the west side of the curve of Camino Baca Grande just south of the turnoffs to the Desert Sage restaurant. The steel art piece, from the estate of the late Richard Enzer, will be anchored on a concrete pad at no cost to POA members. The proposal by Sage Godfrey and Peter Taylor among various donors was approved unanimously.

Tom Tucker and Noah Baen of the Crestone Baca Watershed Council asked the POA board to write a letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board with the purpose of improving natural stream flows in the Baca Grande. The senior rights to divert water downstream belong to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Slowing the stream flows higher up in order to improve riparian reaches requires a new kind of right to “non-consumptive” use. The POA board agreed to the idea of the letter, to be drafted later.

Chairman Bob Garnett, a money watchdog, took exception to two budget items: a proposed cost of $14,530 to send out late-payment notices and $1,180 toward the liability insurance premium for the stables.

POA administrator Kirsten Ecklund said Hammersmith Management is asking $15 plus postage to notify each tardy annual dues payer. Garnett said the price to outsource the work was “ridiculous.” He suggested it could be done for about $2,000 in house. Ecklund was directed to come back with a better price.

On the liability premium, Garnett noted the POA is already paying about $100,000 a year to insure against claims involving Baca Grande property, so why the extra coverage? Ecklund said it’s for specific things like mishaps during trail rides. The POA is obligated by contract to pay one-third of the stable premium, she said. The rest of the board did not object to the expense, but Garnett said, “I’m just not going to sign the check.”

The multi-point “fire” petition was the product of two community meetings in February. Most of the some 90 signers supported the idea, dismissed by the board majority, of creating a fire district under law to replace the private POA volunteer  fire department. Board member Mattie Belle Lakish proposed putting it on the agenda for the next meeting. Board member Bruce MacDonald objected, referring several times to “never ending” discussions. “They say we want this, this and this, but there’s no explanation of how to achieve it. We need somebody to figure it out.”

Mark Jacobi said from the audience that one thing requested was “a meeting between former fire fighters and the board, and this would be “germane and pertinent and better sooner than later.”  Lakish suggested “a dialog to better identify how to come up with details.”

MacDonald said, “People come to the board all the time wanting things. . . It’s not our job to figure out what people want.” Chairman Garnett had the last word. “This is too big an issue to have during a board meeting.” He directed Ecklund to find a convenient time to schedule the special meeting.

Late agenda items by MacDonald brought up the political things humming in the background. One was his proposed letter in the name of the board to all POA members summarizing the settlement of a lawsuit involving him as a plaintiff and Lakish as a defendant, among others. She objected, and there was no final action.

The letter would include an indictment of the Crestone Eagle for reputed errors in a story about the settlement. A member of the audience spoke out on this, suggesting newspapers themselves take responsibility for corrections. The second MacDonald item directed the general counsel to investigate Lakish for “conflict of interest.” A long argument ensued over the fact that her son was once a volunteer fire fighter and she supported the fire district.

At this point the newcomer who suggested the board didn’t have any business correcting newspapers walked out, expressing disgust with what he had witnessed during the meeting. More specifically, he used the words, “a bunch of amateurs.”

He was Dr. Herman Staudenmayer, a practicing psychologist in Denver who built a second home here five years ago. A reader of the Wall Street Journal whose son is a lawyer, he could not fathom the basis of the board’s journalistic intervention or the accusation of conflict of interest.  He said he came to the meeting, his first, mostly to understand the fire department controversy – without result. “I still don’t understand why we need three fire departments,” he said.

 

THE TORRENTS OF SPRING: Home-rule ardor met political reality in a long-delayed confluence at the crowded  March 27 meeting of the Baca Grande Property Owners Association board. The downstream prospect: moderated future meetings where homeowners seeking a normal volunteer fire department under Colorado law will confront a board majority that says the issue is dead, dead, dead.

The realpolitik has to do with non-resident lot owners, an inactive majority with the power to elect board members by proxy. Will this group eventually accept a transfer of fire engines and other property in order to give life to the yet unfunded Crestone Emergency Services District? And will the twice-defeated property tax levy for the district eventually be approved at a reduced fire-but-no-ambulance amount?

These issues were the undercurrent of an agenda item that had sent the March 13 meeting over a cliff, and the board picked it up again and passed it, 3-1, with proponents claiming it was nothing more than routine housekeeping. The action removes from the books a formal consent by the previous board in 2010 to transfer the fire engines, etc., if and when the district were formed, as it subsequently was.

Board Chairman Robert Garnett again said the action simply “cleans up the books,” and administrator Kristin Ecklund agreed.

A former board member, John Loll, cautioned  the board on the dismissive wording. “Be a little more direct,” he said.

Board member Bruce McDonald did make a tangential reference to the actual politics behind the action. “Everybody knows we sent a letter (to the ESD board) saying we don’t support the district. They just don’t like it, and they want us to change it.”

Bill Sutherland, who is on the ESD board, said a letter of non-support from the POA board erroneously stated the district is not in the best interest of the community. But a year ago the proposition to abolish it was rejected decisively by the district voters. “So the community believes it’s in the best interest.” Therefore, he asked, “should the community have a greater or lesser role?”

Chairman Garnett responded, “The board represents the whole membership – not just here.”

Paul Shippee asked how the board could govern “without feedback,” and Batiste Deluca responded, “They can ignore and we can vote them out next time.”

DeLuca , a retired Washington D.C. lawyer, took the occasion to promote his concept of weighted voting in which members who are residents would have a greater voice than those who are not. He asked Nicole Armstrong, a  representative of Hammersmith Management, how this might be accomplished. She said it would require approval by “two-thirds of the membership,” but first it would have to be proposed by the board.

Deluca concluded this gives veto power to the current board, and, “They owe a lot to the non-residential owners.”  So, he said, “The only way to change is a new board.”

The third vote cast to rescind the 2010 resolution was by Nigel Fuller, and Matie Belle Lakish was the lone no. She suggested the board could pass a new resolution supporting a modified district.

From the audience of some 70 homeowners, Chris Canaly then asked the other board members, “What is your plan?” McDonald rejected the question as not on the agenda, and said, “This is where we were last time.”

The board moved on quickly to a proposed resolution that would authorize its staff, and only its staff, to record meetings – an effective ban on video recordings by members such as the one posted on this web site that showed the March 13 crash. It was tabled for possible consideration at another meeting.

Next was the item most of the members had come for – presentation of a list of requests that had been worked out in two community meetings on fire protection, read to the reluctant majority by Lakish. Discussion centered on complaints that the board just doesn’t listen, particularly when it comes to discussing the ESD district or a version of it. “The members would like to engage with the board on these issues,” she said.

“There’s no way you can have this sort of discussion with 70 people,” McDonald said, adding later: “It’s not an equal playing field and has not been since we (the new majority) were put in. Nobody wants a civil environment where I’m free to speak without being pounced on.”

Fuller proposed dealing with representatives rather than the whole group. Member John Rowe said, “I live here. I should be allowed to speak. And I don’t know what you think about these issues.” Other members echoed this request for an open discussion involving everybody.

Nathan Good suggested mediation, as he had in a letter to the board earlier. Shippee, who sponsors non-violent communication workshops, agreed. “That would be medicine for the connection between the board and the membership. The momentum of two public meetings should not be forgotten.”

McDonald rebutted, “If I was there (at the community meetings), it might have been a little different.”

Mark Elliott rejoined, “You do seem to be defensive.” He was among members who objected to being viewed as “you people.” He said, “Please don’t categorize us. It seems you look at us as some kind of lynch mob.”

Fuller, with a tone of compromise, said, “If there is a meeting, don’t bring your opinions. Bring solutions.”

Mark Jacobi praised Fuller’s willingness to meet, saying, “Let us move forward as humans and try to figure this out without polarizing.”

Carol Deantoni had the final comment from the audience, saying the spirit of the community meetings is worth fighting to keep. “The meetings were good for the community, and we’re going to keep doing it. This is where we live! But we come to this room and suddenly our hearts are thrown in the garbage can. We’re just asking to be friendly.”

The  fifth board member, Russell Schreiber, said to be dying of cancer, was absent. Cards were circulated where members wrote final messages to him, in a reminder that politics is sometimes subsumed by human heartedness.

 

CALL THE SHERIFF: What began in a spirit of conflict resolution ended with an abrupt walkout (captured on video) as the board of the Baca Grande Property Owners Association abandoned an agenda that included a petition signed by about 90 residents.

The issue underlying both the petition and the walkout was fire-protection politics in the forested subdivision.  The fire chief, Ben Brack, had resigned after the board cut his pay in half, and most of the volunteers followed. Most of the petitioners favor creation of a unified public fire district, funded by a property tax, that would subsume the subdivision’s private fire department funded from the annual association dues.

The petition, a wordy product of two community meetings in February, essentially asked the board to “seriously explore, in good faith” collaborating with the new fire district, if it’s created; to enter into conflict resolution with the former volunteers; to give “thoughtful and clear responses in writing” to questions by property owners; to consider reforms of the dues structure and voting rules to reflect the interests of residents over non-resident owners; and to provide adequate funding for a fire requiring “national response.”

The board’s new part time fire chief, Jack Johnson of Alamosa, and his local assistant, Chris Botz, assured the meeting at the outset that the department is almost back to full strength with new volunteers.  Botz told the crowd, “It’s discouraging when people say there’s no fire department.”  What he called “the biggest fire training in years” is under way.  Instead of the old priority on evacuation in case of a massive wild fire, he said,  “We’re going to meet fire on the ground.”

A longtime former fire chief in the audience, Mark Jacobi, who favors the proposed fire district, engaged in a friendly dialog with Botz about fire mitigation. The amiable atmosphere was enhanced earlier by the announcement that a lawsuit pitting new board members against old board members on the issue of election procedures had been settled. “The lawsuit is over,” said Bruce McDonald, one of the plaintiffs who was subsequently elected to the board last November.

The majority that now controls the board is McDonald, Nigel Fuller and Robert Garnett, who is chairman. The minority is Matie Belle Lakish and Russell Schreiber, who is suffering from advanced cancer and did not attend the Thursday meeting (March 13).

Lakish, one of the defendants, read a prepared statement on terms of the settlement (including a new board election and resignation of co-defendant Schreiber) and said the board now “can move forward in the coming months.” A peaceful glow ensued.

Then came the agenda item called “Rescinding of Resolution 2010-14.” The action of the old board, four years ago, gave provisional support of providing equipment to the Crestone Emergency Services District. Voters created it but narrowly defeated the property tax to fund it. The current proposal would replace the contested and unfunded ambulance-fire district with one dealing only with fire protection.

Lakish said, “In my opinion there is no reason to revoke this.” Garnett said the district in question “has been done” and rescinding the associated resolution was just to “clean up the paper work.” Members of the audience, including Jacobi, expressed disbelief.

Jacobi was recognized by the chair and began questioning the agenda item. His colloquy with the board was amiable until he asked if the board would consider a replacement resolution giving similar provisional support to the proposed fire district. McDonald, a longtime adversary of Jacobi in Facebook debate, said, “We have already put out a statement that we are not supporting the district.”

Jacobi continued talking, and McDonald tried to cut him off, saying, “You’re not going to dominate this meeting.”

Jacobi: “I was just trying. . .”

McDonald: “Mark, zip it.”

Jacobi: “Excuse me?”

McDonald: “Zip it!”

Garnett got to his feet and, turning to administrator Kristin Ecklund, said, “Call the Sheriff.”

The chairman gathered his papers. “This meeting is adjourned,” he said. “I will not sit here and be treated like this.”

He walked out, followed by Fuller. McDonald stayed in his chair, arguing with other members of the audience until he too walked out.

 

CONCERNED ABOUT FIRE: 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.”

 

A DIVIDED COUNTY: The unofficial election results in the recall of Democrat Melinda Myers of Moffat and the succession of Republican Carla Gomez of Center as Saguache  County clerk  disclose a clear political division in the county as well as some voter confusion.

Myers was removed from office on Tuesday (Jan. 24) by a countywide vote of 941-453, a margin of more than two to one, but in the Crestone-Baca precinct the vote was 87-256, three to one against recall. And while Gomez won election by a countywide vote of 762-319, her opponent Patricia Jenkins prevailed in Crestone, 109-50.

The successor votes are at odds with the rule stated on the ballot: namely, that only those who voted to recall Myers could go ahead and vote for her successor. In other words, 941 voted for recall but 1081 voted for a successor, an error of nearly 15 per cent. But the 140 spurious votes would not affect the succession, since Gomez won by 443 votes.

The highly publicized election  drew more voters than the clerk’s race in the general election of 2010, when Myers beat Gomez. The  ballot was headed by an eight-point statement in English and Spanish accusing Myers of gross negligence, violation of duty, failure to fulfill responsibilities, obstructing access to public records and loss of voter confidence. It also asserted that her election conduct was investigated by a grand jury (which, however, did not indict her).

The statement was the same as the statement in the recall petiion signed by more than 700 registered voters and was required by the Colorado recall law. A ballot statement in response, allowed by the same law, was missing because Myers missed the deadline to submit one, claiming she had not been properly informed.

The the state law allowing recall talking points — and they are little else — to be published on the official ballot is at odds with the universal rule against electioneering (as well as alcohol) in a polling place.  It is prejudicial, in my opinion — or at least it was in this case. The law says the electors shall be the sole judges of “the legality, reasonableness, and sufficiency” of the statement, meaning it can be false. This, it seems to me, is at odds with another Colorado law that prohibits anyone knowlingly or recklessly making a “false statement designed to affect the vote on any issue submitted to electors.”

But it’s unlikely anybody will go to court over these contradictions, since Myers obviously had problems and the recall election has already cost the county an estimated $30,000. (It was conducted by the Treasurer’s office.)

Myers’ primary mistake, apart from not defending herself, was refusing public inspection of the ballots from the disputed 2010 election, in which she defeated Gomez by a few votes after a recount. This drew the attention of truth-in-government activist Marilyn Marks, a former Atlanta trucking company owner and chief executive who retired to Aspen in 2002 (according to the Aspen Times).

In 2009 after losing a race for mayor she sued the city, which refused to give her access to the ballots. She lost in district court but the decision was overturned by the appeals court. The city appealed to the Supreme Court, which still has the case.

The city’s position that her inspection would violate the principle of the “secret,” or anonymous, ballot was the same used by Myers, reflecting the position of a Colorado association that includes election officials. In other words, that interlopers cannot lawfully track individual ballots back to the voters. Marks’ position, as I understand it from reading the Aspen papers, is that ballots should be untrackable in the first place — that is, there should be no marks identifying a voter and therefore public inspection does not violate anything at all.

In my opinion, Marks is right, and it is not a trivial issue. The writer Bev Harris began campaigning against “Blackbox Voting” more than a decade ago out of concern about the potential to rig electronic voting machines. She has been influential in restoring paper ballots in a number of states.

Marks was allied with the recall petition committee, which included some familiar Saguache County figures. Namely, Republican Steve Carlson, who narrowly lost his race for county commission after the 2010 recount, Lisa Cyriacks, who has been active in reapportionment, Mike Garcia, Judy Page and Ed Nielsen.

With the 2012 election now to be conducted in Saguache County by a Republican under general supervision by a Republican Secretary of State, I presume that Gomez will avoid the mistakes of her predecessor and that, among other things, the ballots will be open for public inspection next November.

 

MINUTES OF A TOWN MEETING: The anti-government passion that animates politics nationally was echoing off the walls at Jillian’s studio, where I have experienced yoga classes, a Sufi zirka, a feng schui talk, a sales pitch for ionized water, and such. Crestone is not where Republicans bother to campaign. It voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in both the primary and general elections three years ago.

But here before about 50 residents on folding chairs the speakers, backed by PowerPoint slides on a big screen, were saying we cannot depend upon government – federal, state, county – for relief in the coming upheaval. The main speaker was Vickie Helm, known to most of the gathering, whose only apparent motive in organizing the discussion was to inspire the community to work toward what she called “economic sustainability.”

That title does not convey the spirit of the gathering, just as speaker probably is not the best word for Helm, who was more like an evangelist than economist. She ran back and forth placing imaginary buckets under imaginary sudden leaks in the imaginary roof until, panting and exhausted, she made her point: namely, we’re running around containing leaks without realizing the roof is about to cave in.

OK, call it the sky. Call her Henny Penny. It don’t matter to her, I thought. “In a short period of time we’re going to be going through the same thing that Greece is going through,” she predicted. In other words, our national sovereign credit card is maxed out. “The inconvenient economic truth is this: the United States is broke.” There will be inflation and devaluing of the currency, but no more funding (federal, state, local).

She said somewhere in Kansas a school board proposed charging parents $40 a week to have their kids bussed to school. (I guess that board would never consider a small general tax increase for the general welfare. Oh, no! Forget the communal spirit that used to prevail in rural America if it costs money. Similar problem in Crestone, I thought:  Here an emergency services district to replace the endangered private fire department was created by a thin margin of voters this month, but a peculiar switch of only about 20 of the voters defeated the tax to support it.)

What if everything collapsed by natural disaster or by bankruptcy of the various corporate entities that sell services here but don’t care about the community? Who ya gonna call?

How to weather the coming storm? Up flashed some PowerPoint points:  Support community businesses. Community businesses support each other. How many folks in the audience had businesses? A dozen raised their hands, and she had them stand up. How many would like to learn how to make money on the internet? Two dozen hands went up. “If I get nothing else across to anybody, it is this: The most important thing is where you spend your dollars.”

And, Helm proclaimed the importance of supporting the non-commercial collection of community efforts she called “infrastructure.” Namely, that unfunded Crestone Emergency Services District, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the various youth programs (thank you, Lisa Bodie and others), the food bank, the charter school (building under construction), the newly consolidated library district. These things, to me, are signs of a young and enthused community with a spirit of American volunteerism.

To the infrastructure she added two information-age essentials that bind the community to itself and to the world: the Crestone Eagle, a successful monthly newspaper in a time when mass circulation dailies are falling like trees (and saving some) and, the fledgling effort to bring high speed internet to this digitally disadvantaged rural area.

Internet. Now here was a cause worth urgent consideration. Cheered on by some in the audience, Mayor Ralph Abrams of Crestone took the floor. He has been working for a year to create a community internet company, and he said it’s going to happen – to begin to fire up in the next few weeks. The company, which he will head, is called Crestone Telecom. It will bring in high-speed internet service with state of the art equipment.

This was the most hopeful project to come up at the meeting (not to dismiss the many undeveloped suggestions for green technology) because it is concrete and ready to go. Problem: the effort is being undermined by a distant corporation. In a word (or maybe two), FairPoint. The sudden unannounced competitiveness on the part of a phone company with more apparent interest in the bankruptcy code than digital engineering is a good preface for the concept economic sustainability. This is probably going to be a test of standard corporate capitalism versus Abrams’ community capitalism.

Further, the year-long drill that Abrams and company were put through by the USDA in applying for a grant under a program that was cancelled at the last minute (budget problems?) is a good case history in support of the argument that we can no longer depend upon government.

Discouraging, this distrust of corporate America and American government (might as well add the corporate media). I stood to say that for reasons of practical politics including the obvious intent of some Republicans to purge all political opposition by driving the economy into the ground, I could not endorse the increasing cynical distance from government. I grew up as a student of the New Deal, which saved America from some of the terrible mistakes made elsewhere (Germany, Italy, even Russia where the mistake began) in reaction to Great Depression I. But that was long ago in a different world.

Anything on the bright side?  Jeff WishMer, a bright young man who works for Chokurei Farm Store, married with a home in the Baca, received a warm applause when he stood to include home-grown food in the infrastructure against the Collapse. He is running for the POA board against an incumbent, Robert Garnett, who opposes the new EMS district and almost anything else that might cost money. WishMer is being criticized by some of these oldtimers because he has said he hates the POA, at least the way it is.

Distrust of government is in the American grain. I became atuned to it not long ago when I went searching in rural North Carolina for family roots. My father’s people were subsistent farmers (and, some of them, moonshiners). These Scot-Irish folks were responsible for the Whiskey Rebellion and many other insurgencies in our history. They’re still around. Take Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., the writer-soldier who won an astonishing victory in 2006, defeating an incumbent Republican to give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. My grandparents on my father’s side were born just 70 miles over the mountains from his grandparents.

Webb has proposed that this Scot-Irish minority, southern in origin but without a history of slavery, has a lot in common with the African-American minority, which goes back almost as many generations. Together they could form a populist force that would revive the Democratic party and its historic principles, particularly in the Republican South (which includes Texas).

Similarly, it occurred to me that the communal sentiments expressed at the meeting in the yoga studio might be wedded with the anti-government sentiments of those  angry folks who seem to support the Tea Party. They might want a divorce, I supposed, once they realize they are being used by corporately funded professional politicians to defeat the many and strengthen government in the interest of the few. Perhaps  Crestone is not that far from Kansas, Dorothy.

 

GAMING THE SYSTEM: The tactic  was something worthy of the U.S. Senate:  If you don’t have the votes, stop the voting.

Conservative POA board member Robert Garnett was being challenged in his bid for another term by Jeff WishMer. Garnett was supported by the Dunlap group, which opposed the new Crestone Emergency Services District and favors submission to the state “condo” law. WishMer, a young married anti-POA property owner, had informal support among those who are unhappy with what he calls “our private system of governance.”

At the Nov. 18 general membership meeting the Garnett faction withheld enough lot proxies to prevent a quorum. The meeting was adjourned to Nov. 30, when the proxies were submitted and the  quorum was met. The vote was Garnett 357, WishMer 303, with 7 write-ins and 171 abstentions. So Garnett was re-elected.

The other question before the property owners in good standing was whether to reduce the minimum size of houses in the subdivision from 900 to 720 square feet, favored by energy conservation groups. It failed, as it most certain had to, because the condo law requires an absolute majority of all lots  for any such change, or 1715 votes.  Because more non-residents than residents own lots, stirring enough interest to get that many votes on anything is nearly impossible.

WishMer conceded after the Nov. 18 meeting, saying in his letter in the December Crestone Eagle,  “I laughed my way home.”

YES AND NO: Voters approved creation of the Crestone Emergency Services district but defeated the property tax increase to fund it. The unofficial tally by the Saguache County Clerk’s office late Tuesday was 280-256 for the district and 276-258 against the tax. The vote was close enough that results could be affected by 17 ballots uncounted because of apparent signature discrepancies, plus overseas ballots that will be lawful if they arrive in the next week. The vote was entirely by mail.Anti-tax sentiment was clear in the statewide vote against a sales tax earmarked for education. Opponents of the Crestone district argued primarily against the 16-mil tax increase to support it.

The board of the Baca Grande Property Owners Association had promised to decrease member dues to offset  the proposed tax.  The prospect of a district without operational funding was apparently not anticipated.

The lack of funds could complicate the leasing of fire and ambulance equipment now owned by the POA. Members last month voted 541-382 for transfer of property to the district if it were created, but the majority fell far short of the required extraordinary majority. A legal opinion sought by the POA board  said the asset transfer would require approval by 67 per cent of all property owners. Since there are 3339 lots with one vote each, the extraordinary majority would be 2,237 votes — far more than the total cast. Under this nearly impossible standard, even if every property owner who voted had approved  the asset transfer, the proposition would have failed.

Only two property owners spoke when the general meeting was called to order after the vote tally was certified. Steve Smilack said the transfer for a nominal sum was bad business. He estimated the value of vehicles, fire houses, land and other assets at $2 million. Mark Jacobi, a supporter of the transfer, argued that the extraordinary majority was not required in view of a similar transfer of library assets to the new library district last year. This vote was by simple majority. The board’s position, apparently as advised by lawyers, was that the library building was a modular structure and not real property.

The Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act, passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature in 1991, requires the 67 per cent majority for conveyance of common property. The Baca Grande was created more than 20 years earlier, in 1971, and retroactive laws are generally unconstitutional. But the law firm commissioned by the POA board opined that a declaration by the board in 2001 accepting portions of the condo law effectively negated this grandfathering. In other words, under this opinion the  POA is effectively an association created after the effective date of the condo law.

Resident owners who showed up at the October meeting to cast their ballots plus proxy ballots in person at the 7 p.m. scheduled time of the “meeting” Friday waited in line for about 90 minutes while eligibility of each owner was checked, one by one. The canvassed vote finally was announced at 9:20 p.m.

GOVERNMENT AND THE THREE BEARS: The Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife did everything to earn the trust of Crestonians except talk about the issue that was on everyone’s mind: the shooting by a wildlife officer of an untagged mother  bear, orphaning two cubs.  .

Tom Spezze, the southwest regional manager for the department, and a dozen other officials including a bear biologist, traveled from around the region to “listen” to the community, he said. But they ruled out discussion of the incident on the property of  Steve McDowell and Elaine Johnson in August because, Spezze said, it’s still under investigation.

The investigation report certainly will include a crucial piece of evidence just released to Denver 9NEWS. On its web site the TV station quoted the 911 recording in which a woman reports the killing of her goat. “[A] neighbor just came out and said there’s a mom and two cubs,” the voice said. The woman later told 9NEWS what she herself saw was two larger bears.

McDowell, a longtime resident of Crestone, was angry and aggressive, at one point cutting off comment by a wildlife official by saying he’d heard enough from him. The department officials were emphasizing the importance of not providing food for bears, particularly in this lean year. McDowell said he wasn’t going to cut down his “100-old-apple trees” for them.

The two-hour session was educational, but most of us who live with bears around here already knew the basic lesson: during these months keep garbage inside until trash pickup day and censure restaurants, markets and others that put garbage out but fail to bear-proof their dumpsters. Don’t leave dog food outside or bird feeders within reach of bears. (This, I have found, also applies to raccoons, which have less fear of humans.)

What do bears eat? Everything. The biologist said they are carnivores who evolved into omnivores. In preparation for their winter state (the biologist said it is not true hibernation) bears need to consume about 20,000 calories a day.

My research equates that to about 35 Big Macs. With fries. They do love the grease. I heard a story in New Mexico about a bear that invaded a fast food franchise in the early morning hours, carried the entire deep fat fryer full of cool oil out back, then sat down and drank it. You’d think with that kind of diet, cholesterol would take care of the  problem bears. But, seriously, they know how to survive.

The biologist said despite the cycles of feast and famine they have a remarkable survival rate (for adults over a year) of 95 to 97 per cent. Among other adaptations is the winter sleep, which they will shorten or won’t enter if don’t have enough fat. And they have an equally remarkable reproduction mechanism. Though inseminated in mid summer, the embryo does not implant until early winter, and if the times are tough, months later or not at all.

The current issue of Cottage Life, a magazine catering to people who own beach cottages on lakes in eastern Canada, where there a tons of bears, was sent to me by a friend who lives in a forest near Great Basin National Park (NV) where there are no bears at all. A long feature story on bears has a convincing argument why it’s in your self interest (forget the public good) not to feed them. Bears are smart (largest brain relative to body size of any carnivore). If they once find food at a place they will keep coming back, even year after year and even if they find nothing.

As an example, with photos of a door with claw marks and the ripped open exterior wall of  a lake cottage, the mag tells what happened when a family forgot and left a can of bacon grease by a window in their cottage as they left for the winter. The place was clean except for the grease, which the bear easily obtained by ripping out the window. But then the bear decided to trash the whole cottage in search of more nourishment, apparently returning several times.

The last few years a bear has opened cars (usually the hard way) at trail heads near the Crestone spiritual centers. I saw one four-door sedan in which a bear had broken off each door handle, one by one, before tearing out the driver’s window because of a can of peanuts left by a careless backpacker. In August I talked with a concerned family camping at the South Crestone-Willow trail head. A black bear the mother, clinging to her small daughter, described as huge had circled their camp, watching passively.

How to react to a bear? I suppose the first thing is obey the No. 1 Canadian Grizzly Rule, even with black bears: never ever run, it triggers their chase instinct. The magazine I’ve been quoting adds some more commonplace advice involving suppression of your instincts: Don’t startle a bear by aggressive action such as throwing things or even shooting. The noise of a gunshot might  scare a bear, but if you hit him with a small caliber slug it’s more likely to make him mad.

My young dog chased a bear on the Copper Gulch road this summer — not a good idea, according to the magazine. Bears will turn on a dog, particularly if it’s a yapper (mine is not, fortunately).

The mag dismisses a common belief that the most dangerous bear is a mother with cubs. A University of Calgary researcher, Stephan Herrero studied 63 fatal bear attacks in North America between 1900 and 2008. Only 8 per cent involved mother bears with cubs.

Which brings us back to the issue that the CPW was not ready to discuss in public. Did their officer get the right bear? Further was she a problem bear? And if so, did the officer follow the department’s own in shooting her? Stay tuned (Channel 9 included).

HAVE YOUR CREDIT CARD READY: The opponents of the new EMS District published three orchestrated letters in the Center newspaper. Here is my easy refutation:

Smilack’s argument rests upon the premise that public safety ought to be a business. So, I suppose, when you call 911 to say your house is on fire you will be required to give a credit card number. You can then choose from a list of fire-fighting packages: one hose $150,  two hoses $300, and a recommended special deal with three hoses only $400. There will be a $100 surcharge for rapid response. etc.

The refutation of his idea that POA is giving away property is yes, it is giving away property to itself, to all of us, for our increased safety.

Johnson’s accusation that Treat and Joy are making money by volunteering is self contradicting (volunteers are by definition not paid). If he’s going to make a conflict of interest case, let him step forward like a man and use the names and let them confront their accuser. That’s the American way.

Dunlap’s argument that the northern Saguache district has five departments at less cost than the new EMS district with two is like saying Wyoming is able to provide state government at far less cost than Colorado. The measure is population and dwelling units, not departments.

The most treacherous argument is that if the 16-mill tax is approved then the homeowners will no longer be screwing the absentee lot owners. These  are the same folks that supported the Dunlap group in the recall election a few years ago. Now she’s turning on them.

FUEL-EFFICIENT RECYCLING: Crestone-Baca recyclers who drive a hundred miles to deposit their plastic, aluminum, glass, cardboard and newsprint in the appropriate bins in Salida may soon be able to save the gas. The POA board approved a six-month trial of a recycling depot proposed by Jonathan Dobson on POA property off T-road.

It will be assembled  at one of two sites, both approved by the board. One is the west side of the Library-Charter School parking lot. The other is near the old golf course club house, where Cho Ku Rei has just opened its retail outlet. Dobson will be weighing the feasibility of both sites before he chooses between the two. He told me he would like to have it operating within a couple of months.

Cho Ku Rei has no objection to the depot because it likely will bring more traffic to the new business, Dobson said. Folk suggested the other site might be more convenient because people dropping off their kids at school could also drop off their trash.

Dobson, a solar engineer-contractor, told the board, “I promise to take care of it for two years.” What happens after that will depend upon the success of the depot. Board Chair William Folk reminded Dobson, “It’s yours. we’re just allowing you to put it on POA property.” If it turns out to be profitable, however, the POA might be interested in it later, Folk said.

Dobson dismissed the prospect of future profit, saying, “My motive is altruistic.”

Trash collection in Crestone-Baca is by Waste Management, but the national company does not recycle here.

At its May meeting the board also discussed mosquito abatement (the insects are arriving). Since residents are assumed to be against spraying, the only action for now will be to test for West Nile virus. Alamosa, which has an aggressive mosquito control program, might be able to help with the testing.

The discussion brought out a sharp division of opinion on the mosquito problem. Folk said, “I am not that opposed to spraying.” Board member Treat Suomi responded, “I am.” And board member Joy Hill added that mosquitoes can be annoying but that’s no reason to spray. But if the insects are carrying West Nile virus, “that’s another thing. We have to evaluate convenience versus health risk.”

A consideration is that certain birds including swallows feed on mosquitoes by the millions. For that reason the Baca National Wildlife Refuge would have to be consulted in any abatement program.

TOO MANY ELK

Elk Elk grazing near Wagon Wheel Road in the Baca Grande  subdivision. Grama grass is healthful, but willows are YUMMY!

BROWSER UPDATE: Between 1,000 and 3,000 elk occupy the Baca National Wildlife Refuge at any given time, manager Ron Garcia told a public meeting in Moffat. Problem: the overpopulation of elk browsing along creeks that drain into the San Luis Valley  is destroying the native willows. One biologist said willow seedlings don’t have a chance to mature.  The result will be the loss of  riparian habitat in a few years. Garcia said the refuge will be experimenting with fencing and other ways to manage the problem. The elk wander freely between the 78,000-acre refuge and the adjacent Baca Grande subdivision.

A woman who ranches in the valley said,  “A management thing that’s being skirted is: Shoot the elk!”  This prompted a Nature Conservancy representative to suggest another solution:  “Wolves!”  And this in turn made ranchers in the audience shudder.  Mike Blenden, director the complex of three Valley refuges, suggested there are many complications with either solution, among them the fact that the elk are protected as game animals.

One rancher summarized: “You quit hunting elk and now we’re losing willows.”

The public meeting was a “scoping” session for the beginning of a four-year project to develop a comprehensive conservation plan and an environmental impact statement for the refuges — the Baca, the Alamosa and the Monte Vista. Blenden was pleased with the turnout for the session, the last of three. He said fewer than ten people showed up at both the Alamosa and Monte Vista sessions. Over 50 attended the Moffat session.

Side note: Jack Clark, a Denver consultant for the Canadian firm Lexam, attended the session and took notes. Blenden asked him if Lexam was still asking $8 million to retire its mineral rights on the Baca refuge. Clark affirmed the amount.

BROADBAND: The cellphone tower proposed for the Baca area would also bring in a strong 3G internet signal. But if you are hoping for the chance to switch to the faster service, there is this cautionary note in a New York Times summary of new tekkie choices:

With the advent of devices like the MiFi, which converts a 3G mobile signal into a Wi-Fi cloud for multiple devices to share, you might be thinking about giving your Internet service provider the boot and using your cellphone as your Internet connection, even when at home. That would work — provided that you get a strong data signal where you live; that you never intend to stream video from Netflix, YouTube or Hulu; and that you have an unlimited data plan from your wireless provider. Given all these caveats, it probably makes more sense to stick with your I.S.P.”

 

INFORMING THE VOTERS: A heated exchange at the April 28 Baca Grande POA board meeting dramatized a set of problems that often divides the larger Crestone community. Namely, controlled information, official stories, the lack of objectivity.

The board had just authorized mid September, with the exact date to be determined later, for balloting by Baca Grande property owners on the question of conveying the POA fire house, vehicles, land and other assets to the new Crestone Emergency Services District – when (and if) it is created by the voters of northern Saguache County in November.

Robert Garnett, the board member who opposes the transfer as a “give away” (to the town of Crestone) asked manager Shauna Ianson if there would be a “pro and con,” namely a published accounting of arguments for and against the asset transfer before the ballots are sent out this summer.

She answered in the affirmative. He asked if she was going to write the pro’s, and she said yes. Then who, he asked, would write the con’s? She responded, “I’d like it to be you.”

Instantly, board member Treat Suomi exclaimed: “I’d be opposed to that!”

Russell Schreiber intervened to cool things, saying that any information published by the POA “has to be approved by the whole board.”

Well, not the whole board, actually, but the majority. That would be Schreiber and the team of Suomi and Joy Hill, leaving Garnett out in the cold. The fifth board member is the chair, William Folk, a moderating voice who also supports the Crestone EMS district.

Ianson’s gracious impromptu response was wisdom. Let the opposition reveal themselves in the open rather than subvert the hard work of many volunteers by last-minute emails. Let the members judge them on the merits of their arguments.

The con’s were argued by Steve Smilack at the board meeting. Introducing himself as a 40-year businessman, an owner of “multiple properties” who pays “thousands” of dollars in dues, he said things ought to stay the same. Transferring assets for free is “foolish business,” he said. He suggested the POA should be paid “$100,000 a year” by the new district for an indefinite term.

The rebuttal to this is probably pretty simple. As Schreiber put it: “Giving away our equipment to someone else? That someone else is us!” But if the con’s aren’t given equal opportunity, the point-counterpoint won’t happen. There will be no public debate, and the hard work of the committee could be jeopardized in November (when more than just Baca property owners can vote).

Ignoring Ianson’s invitation gives an advantage to the opponents, if they are clever enough, because they can reframe the debate as a matter of official secrecy and deception. This diversion of the issue would have some credibility with property owners who might remember the  old (pre-Suomi-Hill) board’s obscurity. That board’s POA publications regarding the protracted Cottonwood Culvert case never  mentioned the interests of a board member were involved in this expensive litigation, and the out-of-court settlement with an adjacent property owner has never been published.

A policy of  disclosure (similar to what is required by law for ordinary government)  does not mean this non-governmental board should go out and hang itself on every issue. But complacency about the effects of official stories in which opposing views are stifled does hand the board a lot of rope to do so.

Take Garnett’s frustrated reactions to the EMS asset transfer issue. He  challenged the majority in these words: “Why don’t you expose what you’re really doing?” and,  “People are going to find out what you’re trying to do to them. I think it stinks.” He did not elaborate. Suomi said Garnett was merely “trying to tear things up.”

Folk’s measured response to the accusations of withheld information and deceptive practices was to assure everybody in the room (as he did in the culvert case settlement) that the documents on the table at a board meeting are public information. The documents were either going to be on the POA web site or they would be furnished on request.

Openness in this kind of fight is the best defense. But don’t hold your breath. The web site, BACAPOA.ORG, owned by Hammersmith Management, is an exercise in official information. The documents tab produces agendas, minutes of meetings and official newsletters — no raw files. (The culvert settlement is not there.)

Even if  self-serving official information is reliable, it can be boiler-plate boring when it is written from the usual comfort of jargon. What results from all this is the classic “failure to communicate.” And this outcome of the formation committee’s work would be a shame.

But there is an alternative. To read up on the Crestone EMS district proposal, Crestonians can spend some time with the letters to the editor in the May issue of the Crestone Eagle. The lead story in the monthly paper is informative, but it should be noted the authors are co-chairs of the district formation committee.

The letters, however, present a lively point-counterpoint discussion, due to the publisher’s diligence in soliciting both sides.  It would be great if Kizzen could hire someone with no ax to grind, with experience in acquiring and reading documents and training in how to interview all sides and write conclusions – but even daily newspapers these days have trouble affording investigative reporters.

Another hopeful medium by which property owners and the wider spectrum of north Saguache County voters can learn the facts is the series of public forums being organized by Matie Belle Lakish, a member of the formation committee. Presumably the opponents will come forward in these gatherings, identify themselves as Smilack did, and present their case in a fair fight on the merits, free of subterfuge and last-minute alarms.

PLEASE FORWARD: Some guy in San Diego has been getting mail from Crestone-Baca property owners making timely payment of their annual assessments, due March 31. The Property Owners Association gave the right PO Box but the wrong city in its assessment notice. Not to worry, says manager Shauna Ianson, the San Diego citizen is forwarding the mail to Los Angeles. And POA Board chair William Folk said the penalties for late payment will not be enforced.

You can still pay the old fashioned way: take a check to the POA office and let them send it to Los Angeles. Why are we supporting the California economy?  Hammersmith Management has its bank there.

ONE MAN TWO VOTES: Treat Suomi and Joy Hill were elected to the POA board last year running as a team. So it’s no surprise they are voting together. At the March board meeting, however, they carried their unification to another level when Joy was absent and Treat simply voted twice on each issue. He said he had a “proxy” from Joy in each case — a verbal one privately conveyed. Folk wondered if there were a board policy on this, and no one could point to one.

The  twin voting apparently won’t make a difference, except for the record, but the record might show better support for the new Library District agreement than it actually received. The vote was 2-1 with board member Robert Garnett dissenting. But Suomi tossed in two affirmatives to make it 4-1. He said he had a proxy from Russell Schreiber, also absent. The three who were present were a bare quorum of the five-member board.

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS: The board approved an expenditure in support of the Crestone Music Festival that includes purchase of free passes for 10 for POA employees. Asked by budget-minded Garnett if that included board members, manager Ianson said no freebies because “you’re not employees.”

SOLAR FIRE SALE? The sale of Tessera Solar’s  two solar-fired power plants, still in the permit  stage in California, forecasts partly cloudy skies for its innovative SunCatcher technology, also proposed for a ranch site southeast of Saguache.

K Road Power, the buyer of the fully-permitted 850-megawatt Calico Solar Power Project proposed near Barstow, Calif., announced it would redesign the project to produce 750 megawatts from photo-voltaic panels with only 100 megawatts from SunCatchers.

AES Solar, which announced purchase of Tessera’s not-yet approved 709-megawatt Imperial Valley Project on Feb. 16, did

Crestone Quiet

not spell out its plans, but the company web site implies commitment to photo-voltaic panels.

SunCatchers are reflective dishes that concentrate heat from the sun as fuel for generation of electricity by four-cylinder Stirling engines, which operate on a principle of  rapid expansion and contraction of hydrogen gas. Tessera and its parent Stirling Energy Systems has built a demonstration project at a Phoenix industrial park.

Vince Palermo, one of the Crestone opponents of the project proposed for 1,500 acres southeast of the town of Saguache, has made a case against Tessera on the basis of noise. The Phoenix SunCatchers make a loud, screetching sound that he argues would exceed the limits under the Colorado noise statues. Photo-voltaic panels have no moving parts and are, therefore, silent except for small tracking motors.

Palermo is now prepared to argue further that SunCatchers cost twice as much as PV panels to install, not counting maintenance. He says the cost is roughly $3 per watt for PV versus $6 per watt for SunCatchers.

Whether he will have the opportunity to add this argument to the record is uncertain. The commission, after a long delay, scheduled resumption of the hearing for March 10, giving Tessera until Feb. 25 to withdraw all together. Both sales came after the Saguache hearing.

The buyers in each case are limited liability corporations, apparently well capitalized. AES says on its web site that with the costs continuing to decline and considering subsidies, PV panels on an industrial scale could become competitive with fossil-fuel generation plants. K Road Power owns about 1,500 megawatts of PV generation capacity.

GETTING AROUND FAIRPOINT: If you read news a lot on the internet and find you are losing about 30 minutes a day waiting for Fairpoint to load pages from the various newspaper web sites or major blogs, here’s a desperate alternative:

Buy an Amazon Kindle ($139), subscribe to your favorite news source via the Kindle (from $1.99 to $9.99 a month). The full text of, say, the NY Times downloads automatically in minutes anywhere there is wi-fi. No ads, just black and white text and photos. And there you have it — carry it around, read it at will, save it as you wish. When Crestone gets that  3G tower you won’t even need a wi-fi connection. Kindle automatically connects with 3G first.

The same goes for Kindle’s broad selection of e-books. They download automatically in minutes.

To complain about lack of broadband, you can go to a survey site sponsored by the governor: office:

http://tinyurl.com/northsanluisvalleybroadband

WEIRDNESS PATROL: The AP feature story on open air cremations in Crestone is getting good “play” in newspapers and on web sites worldwide because it is quirky and fun and colorfully written. The Denver AP staff writer got permission from the End of Life Project folks to take pictures and interview amiable mourners at the cremation of Belinda Ellis, 48.  The story describes friends and family adding aromatic branches and logs and even a sack of marijuana to the funeral pyre. “Someone joked that perhaps they also should have poured in some Pabst Blue Ribbon,” it says.

There are other ways to write the story of this wonderful community experiment, this alternative to consumerist funeral rituals, but not in the mass media.

Alexis de Toucqueville  offered some observations of American journalism as corollaries to his theory of the tyranny of the majority. “A newspaper can only exist on condition that it reproduce a doctrine or a sentiment common to many men.” That was about 180 years ago, but the observation still rings true.

I suppose, the majority of readers  — and the American news media think of nothing else —  will come away with the impression that out here  in the strange Sangres we smoke a lot of dope, drink a lot of cheap beer, live in groups  and burn our dead at sunrise.

That about nails it.

DEPT. OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: The deregulation of California power companies, supported by enthused environmentalists, accidentally brought us Enron, which made a fortune by cornering power contracts. And now the green-power quota laws in Colorado and other states have brought us Tessera Solar-Stirling Energy Systems.

The Sixties hope that you can get rich by saving the planet is still operative.

No doubt the rush to solarize the agrarian San Luis Valley of Colorado is because of the 2015 target date for utilities to provide 20 per cent of their power from “sustainable” sources. The solar frenzy includes proposals for a 600-foot power tower near Center, more PV like the Sun Edison plant at Mosca, the high-voltage La Veta Pass power line and, Tessera’s SunCatcher plant near Saguache. Thus, the SunCatcher promotion on the web site of Stirling Engine Systems includes among its virtues sustainable power “while addressing renewable energy portfolio targets.”

QUOTE: “This innovative and collaborative model is designed to ensure dynamic mode visibility that supports on-time responsiveness. Our supplier-partner candidate selection mechanisms continually filter, profile and segment supplier Value Chains for highest product quality and performance standards, and cost efficiencies. Redundancies are eliminated to increase time to market and reduce overall investment risk. Supplier-commercial relationships are structured to scale cost effectively and produce the greatest cost-value advantage. All SES supplier technology roadmaps are monitored to ensure high volume production of SunCatchers™ are optimized for sustainable delivered value and technological competitive advantage.”

Whaaat? Sounds like an old Enron prospectus.

PERMISSION TO THINK? The restraint of free expression is the most contentious section of the personnel handbook proposed by the Baca Property Owners Association board  for fire and ambulance employees, including volunteers. They would be prohibited from (in the words of the proposed document):

“1. Conducting activities related to public expressions of opinion during working hours or at any time using the Association’s communications systems;

2. Representing any opinion or statement as the policy or view of the Association, or its Directors, officers and personnel;

3. Making disparaging or defamatory comments about the Association, or its Directors, officers, personnel, vendors, customers, or services; or,

4. Criticizing the Association, or its Directors, officers or personnel instead of using the dispute resolution procedures contained in this Handbook.”

A  group of dissenters including former fire chief Mark Jacobi have refused to sign their assent to the new rules. Consequently, they have been barred from responding to emergencies, at least officially.

Jacobi in an email to volunteers said that the “Public Expression” article violates constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly, particularly since emergency responders are expected to be on call “24/7.”  Using the board’s equivocation for itself (“Association”) in the new rules, he commented, “We should probably ask the ‘Association’ if it’s all right for us to think.”

The Association (board), anticipating the civil rights objection, added  a lawyerly disclaimer: ‘Nothing in this section is intended to restrict or limit in any manner whatsoever your constitutional or common law rights, to the extent protected by, and consistent with, Applicable Law.”  Which, in the opposition view, negates the entire section (if the disclaimer does not actually negate itself!)

On prohibition No. 3 (you can get fired for comments dissing  board members) Jacobi  commented, “Ah, but what if the comments are true?”

His email concluded: “Perhaps you all will pardon my abject cynicism, but I have not forgotten how easily the Association now punishes those who are candid and outspoken. Just a bit of history:  outspokenness is a lot of why there even is a Fire Department. If your predecessors had not fought and sacrificed for funding, training programs, mitigation projects and State and Federal interaction leading to your sponsorship to away fires, we would not have today, anything remotely resembling what you seem to be taking for granted. The Board appears conciliatory, but remember that they can afford to be now that they have gotten rid of our Chief.”

See next item. . .

PERSONNELITY IN THE NEWS: The December Crestone Eagle’s Kimberly Bryant story (“POA Board refuses to reinstate Baca Fire Chief despite members’ urging”) does not say why she was fired. It remains an official secret. But the writer inserted this intriguing sentence, “Some (at the board meeting) wondered if Bryant was fired for speaking freely.”

There are several reasons to believe this is the case, one of which is that she did  indeed speak freely. An example was her colorful remark about the National Park Service, spoken out of obvious frustration with the Dunes folks, at an earlier board meeting. The remark was reported in this blog (and nowhere else) and is still posted — see below*.

The board’s three-man majority asserts that the case cannot be discussed in public because it is a personnel matter, thus coloring their widely unpopular action as a legal  inevitability. But hold on there: is this coloring really camouflage? Is the majority protecting Bryant or . . . itself?

 

Yes, personnel hearings are indeed exempt from open meetings laws everywhere, for the protection of the personnel. The resulting actions, however, must be taken in public, and it is weird to fire somebody without stating a cause, at least in general terms like insubordination, malfeasance, misfeasance or any other feasance. The silence of the holdover members of the board created a mystery which “some” have solved through their own sources, concluding that Bryant said something so entirely over the top as to be actionable.

Nobody I know suggests that the fire chief of some seven years failed at her job in any substantive way. It’s a shame to put a cloud over the career of a good and respected chief. Bryant, of course, could clear up the mystery. She could force the secretive board out into the light because the accused in a “personnel matter” has a legal right to demand a public hearing. Her silence so far suggests intimidation or inducement. If it’s the former, she ought to sue. If it’s the latter, the members (property owners in this government by property owners association) have a lawful and essential interest, just as we do in the legal settlement of the Terrell Tucker  vs. POA case. . . but that’s another story.

*(from Baca Blog):

FLAMING PING-PONG BALLS? Fire administrator (chief) Kimberly Bryant of the Baca Grande subdivision expressed frustration to the Property Owners Association (POA) board about her dealings with Sand Dunes National Park. The National Park Service is planning a week of controlled fires along the Baca southern boundary beginning, as far as she can tell, on Sept. 13.   She  requested a copy of the updated burn plan but has received no response and the time is approaching and she is going on vacation. Further, she said, the Park Service has not bothered to notify Baca residents of the burn, and it is not hiring any local people for safety monitoring on the other side of the border.

“They’re hiring a helicopter that shoots flaming ping-pong balls,” she said, yet they can’t seem to afford to communicate or hire locals.

Update: The Park Service mass mailed a brochure on fire management with hints of the project but not details. . . or dates.


POA ELECTION: Property owners  put  two new faces on the five-member Baca Grande subdivision board.  Joy Hill is a Boston native with a management background. Treat Suomi is an environmental consultant with degrees in agricultural economics. In her candidate statement Hill was critical of the board’s contract with Hammersmith Management, calling it an “impractical alternative to local management.” In his statement, Suomi emphasized his service with the volunteer fire department.

So the two new board members are equipped to bring a fresh perspective on two issues: outsourcing of management and the board’s attempts to reorganize the fire department. The old board was in a hurry in September to renew the Hammersmith contract, which otherwise would have expired at the end of this year. The old board also caused a furor among some of the fire volunteers with its adoption of a personnel handbook without (they said) due consultation and with the sudden dismissal of fire chief Kimberly Bryant.

Hill and Suomi finished far ahead of the other three candidates, including board member Diane Dunlap.

ELECTION RESULTS: Saguache County Commissioner Linda Joseph was ahead of Republican challenger Steven Carlson by nine votes with provisional ballots not yet counted, according to the Valley Courier. On election night, with all votes counted except about 25 per cent of the mail-in ballots, the tally was Carlson 666, Joseph 591.  County Clerk Melinda Myers was ahead of Republican challenger Carla Gomez by only 19 votes. Sheriff Mike Norris easily won re-election. The Moffat school support ballot question and the library district question both passed. State Sen. Gail Schwartz won re-election, overcoming Republican Bob Rankin in a tight seesaw count that was not resoved until noon Wednesday. Saguache County gave her a 300-vote margin. A clear Democratic majority in the county supported Democrats in state-level races: John Hickenlooper for governor, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. John Salazar, who lost to Scott Tipton (see my blog).

DELINQUENT: Two substantial corporate investors in Baca Grande real estate failed to pay 2009 property taxes on time for over 60 lots, according to the annual Saguache County list of delinquencies, just published.  Late payment entails extra charges for the publication and interest.  The county treasurer is offering tax liens on these and some 750 other parcels in the county at a public sale on Nov. 12, subject to prior redemption by the delinquent taxpayers. Western Colorado Properties Corp. is the owner of 33 Baca Grande lots on the list, and 28 more belong to  Phoenix Real Estate Investment Group, a limited liability corporation. The Western properties comprise 20 lots in the Chalets, 12 in the Grants and 1 mobile home lot. All the  Phoenix lots are in the Chalets. The lots are, for the most part, unconsolidated  and distributed throughout the subdivision. Under Colorado law, tax liens are offered for sale in the amount of  taxes due. Payment of taxes for three years in a row entitles the lien holder to apply for a tax deed. The owner, however, can redeem at any time by paying the lien holder off at 10 per cent interest.

THE  INDUSTRIALIZATION of the San Luis Valley, Colorado’s 5,000-square-mile island of hispanic culture and Old West scenery, is beginning to roll. Political approval of the first two heavy  solar  projects, Tessera and Solar Reserve, is being monitored by the makers of this web site . It’s not just the noise from Stirling engines in the first and the noise and visual obstruction of the 650-foot towers in the second that  threatens this last frontier. It’s the massive infrastructure including high-voltage transmission lines that will accompany them, inviting  even more solar industrialization.

SOLAR POLLUTION: Ceal Smith sent this photo to her substantial email list.

Tower of power

Project proponent: SolarReserve  (see: http://www.solar-reserve.com/technology.html) Technology: 200 MW, PowerTower, 24 X 28 x 25′ high tracking mirrors with 656-foot tower in the center of each circle. Two circles eventually installed.  Heat storage from liquid molten salt solution kept in above ground tanks. Location: 6,200-acres on (or near?) Highway 112, about 8-10 miles northeast of Center, CO .  Water: 1,000 Acre Feet per circle

FATALITIES: The summer climbing season in the Crestone conglomerate peaks was deadly. In the last month, a freak storm washed a couple off a technical route on the Crestone Needle and a man who took a fatal shortcut died on the flanks of Kit Carson. These mountains are awesome, but as a backpacker friend puts it in a marvelous Christian essay,  awe is often part fear ( or ought to be).


CLASS ACT: “Save Sheldon,” the solo performance by actor-writer Kristina Haddad of Los Angeles, was a gift to the Crestone-Baca community from the San Luis Valley Eco System Council.  Haddad is an artist whose message comes from the heart. She created it, and it seemed the actor was not acting. It was not a political message or a philosophical discourse, but a line of poetry, simple and true: save a tree.  In the same spirit, Chris Canaly’s remarks after the show also were a class act. She never asked for money. Hey, when you receive a gift you don’t have to be asked to give back.

Money will become more critical as negotiations to stop Lexam from wildcatting in the national wildlife refuge proceed. Canaly has disclosed that the Canadian company has become, in her words, “a willing seller of the mineral rights.”

SETTLEMENT: The POA board at its August meeting approved, without comment on its terms, a negotiated settlement of a lawsuit by Terrell Tucker. He is one of the neighbors of the lot owner-developer who built an earth levy with a makeshift culvert across Cottonwood Creek. The settlement agreement, board members said, is “available” to use the board’s official word, meaning apparently that it is not a secret agreement.

Right. The document was still NOT available at the POA office on Monday following the Thursday meeting. Maybe next week?  Meantime when  anyone gets a copy, it would be interesting to notice whether the lot developer (or developers) are named because although Tucker is named in the official POA explanation of the case, they are not.  It has been reported in the Crestone Eagle and elsewhere that they are close relatives of a former board member, or the member himself.

The August meeting evoked  heated reparte between board members and  some members of the audience, one of whom accused the board of holding secret meetings in order to hide unspecified “criminal activities” by board members. Another blurted that the board was elitist and “unamerican” and would eventually fail and be  replaced by the county or Crestone governments. To which, board member Diane Dunlap responded, “If you want to mobilize people to dissolve the POA, go for it.”

Judie Rose, a B&B owner, commented from the audience that it has been two years since the board replaced the old board in a recall election and promises of openness and transparency have not been realized. She complained that she could not get an advance copy of the proposed new contract with Hammersmith, the outsourced management company,  among other things. Chair William Folk responded that the contract had to remain confidential so that competitors would not have an unfair advantage in bidding.

“Who’s the competition?” Rose shot back. There was no answer (and there are no competitors).

At one point Folk said to Rose, “I don’t share your opinions.” She responded, “You don’t have to. You just have to listen.”

Anyone wanting to run for election to either of the two positions open on this board has until Sept. 9 to file and  application of candidacy, which ought to be available at the POA office, sometime.

NO MORE YOGA BEAR: The POA board is proceeding with its  campaign to make the Baca Grande Volunteer Fire Department more businesslike. An employees handbook went into effect Aug. 15, the  personnel rules affecting not only employees but also volunteers (some of whom don’t like the way they were left out of the adoption process). And, the Kundalini Bear is being taken down, stripped off, chased into the woods, to be replaced by. . . well, the new (businesslike) logo has not yet been adopted.  At the August meeting, the new logo had not yet been approved.  What will go next? The “Village Witch” directional sign?

PRIMARY ELECTION:  Saguache County Commissioner Linda Joseph narrowly defeated challenger Tim Lovato in the Democratic primary, 403-388. County Clerk Melinda Myers brushed aside challenger Christine Wilson, 505-256. The Democratic primary usually is decisive, although Joseph faces Republican Steven Carlson in the general election.

In the Democratic U.S. Senate race: Sen. Michael Bennett (the statewide winner) 315, Andrew Romanoff 455. Romanoff, the former House speaker, campaigned in Crestone.

Saguache Republicans voted with the statewide majority in the Senate race: Ken Buck (the Tea Party-backed candidate) 240, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton 132. But for governor, Republicans in the county favored the loser, Scott McInnis, over Dan Maes, 225-136. Maes faces Democrat John Hickenlooper in November. (Hickenlooper, unopposed in the Democratic primary, campaigned at the Crestone Music Festival.)

(Results from the Valley Courier and the Denver Post)

HIROSHIMA-NAGASAKI: Maybe it was the most poignant song sung during the Crestone Music Festival weekend. A spontaneous group of Americans and Japanese visitors at lunch during the Shumei monthly sampai sang “Song of the Hibokaska,” in Japanese. There were tears. I was one of the singers.

Hibokaska is a word for survivors of the atomic bombs. Sunday fell between the 65th anniversary dates of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The brief outpouring was the synchronistic inspiration of Matthew Crowley of the Shumei International staff.

The synchronicity was this:  just after finding the song on a page in the papers of his late mother,  a nuclear protester in her time, Matthew read my re- posting here on the 60th anniversary. He gathered a few of us, we rehearsed briefly, went to lunch, then stood and sang. The 50 people at lunch stared  in deep silence .

The refrain: “Yu ru zu ma chi. Gem ba ku o.” Meaning, it must not happen again.


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