Like anything in life, balance is important. With that philosophy in mind, a proposed statewide ballot issue, which would give communities control over “health and safety concerns,” is clearly overkill. The expected ballot initiative dubbed “The Community Rights Amendment” may sound good on the surface, but it could easily be misused and abused if approved by Colorado voters. Plus, it could be interpreted by business interests who are thinking about coming to Colorado with new jobs and tax revenues that Colorado communities don’t want them.
Going way beyond fracking
The authors of the proposed law, Colorado Community Rights Network, would empower local communities to block or prohibit “for-profit business entities” from operating if they are deemed to be in conflict with the community’s health, safety or welfare. This same grassroots group led the charge in getting Lafayette voters to ban oil and gas development in their city this past November. However, the broad wording in their newest initiative would go way beyond the fracking issue which has evolved in various Colorado cities.
Points to ponder
While you probably know that I am a strong proponent of limiting fracking operations in the vicinity of existing urban developments, I would oppose the “Community Rights Amendment.” Let’s look at a couple of “what ifs” that could perhaps fall under the criteria of “conflicting” with a community’s health, safety or welfare. We all are well aware of the debate that arises whenever Wal-Mart announces their intent to build a new store at a specific location.
Opponents of a major retailer could easily declare that such development with the traffic it would generate along with noise and vehicle emissions to be in “conflict” with the criteria under the Amendment and apparently could kill the development. On the surface, it sounds like such a declaration would trump any existing zoning or land use considerations of the municipality and individual property rights. Another example could be the redevelopment of existing run down building(s) with proposed “work force housing” by a private corporation.
While the real reason motivating the opposition is to stop affordable housing, they could use the proposed amendment to block the development.
Local representative government
Fundamentally, the proposed “Rights” initiative begs the question of what criteria shall the local community use to decide “up” or “down” on any “for-profit business” wanting to locate and who is to administer and evaluate the criteria against any given proposal. Certainly, the state Legislature needs to work further on resolving the jurisdictional issues on controlling/ regulating fracking operations which seems to be the underlying “foot in the door” here. However, this can be done by thoughtful state legislation produced through the normal policy-making channels.
The backers of the “Community Rights Amendment” should pack up their proposal and instead lobby the state Legislature and governor for more local authority and tighter fracking regulations/criteria. We already have a process to decide land use, zoning, business licensing and regulation enforcement at the local level to cover the broad net that they are attempting to cast. It is called elected representation i.e. city councils and boards of county commissioners.