Westminster City Council hosted its inaugural town hall on March 31 with homelessness and water issues reigning as the hottest topics.
Others included crime, climate change, growth, parking, inclusivity, asbestos from the Knox Court explosion and Standley Lake boating.
Although fruitful and informative, as one resident put it, sparks did fly a few times during the 90-minute meeting.
City Councilor Bruce Baker accused the previous council of misleading the public regarding Water 2025, a plan that addressed rates and the water treatment plant.
“Did you all bring your popcorn tonight,” City Councilor Obi Ezeadi asked. “It’s a little more dramatic than I expected, we have councilors accusing former councilors of misleading, we have debates that sound like campaign speeches.”
Soon after, Westminster resident Chris Stimpson made an emotional appeal to council to act on climate change.
“It doesn’t really matter what else we get right, either on the federal level, state level or municipal level or global level,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we get education right, it doesn’t matter if we get immigration right, healthcare right, it doesn’t matter if we get all that stuff right, and we get climate change wrong.”
He continued for 2.5 minutes, and Mayor Nancy McNally asked him to stop. Each speaker was given 30 seconds for a question.
“Stop, we are here for questions and answers, not lectures,” she said.
He then asked why the council dropped climate action from the strategic plan.
Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott pointed to the city having an environmental advisory board and a sustainability department as actions to address the crisis.
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A resident complained of encampments near his house, and described drug deals, needles and two overdoses and a suicide last year.
“What can we do about this?” he asked.
Another resident explained how she lives in close proximity to acres of open space where she sees encampments setting bonfires. Every night, she and her husband, both 80 years old, can’t sleep because one must take watch.
She held a bouquet of dead grass and flowers from the open space near her house.
“Take a look at this,” she said. “One match and our house is gone.”
City Councilor Rich Seymour said council and the city is trying to address the issue through a homeless navigator, a continuum to move them onto a better place and protection for everyone.
He mentioned that compassion needs to be met with realistic solutions.
Mayor Pro Tem David DeMott agreed with Seymour.
“We do want that line in the sand,” he said. “We would like to do it humanely and try to connect them with resources and then have that line that says, `enough is enough.’”
He also mentioned members on council tried to address the issue in the past but did not have a majority on the last council.
City Councilor Bruce Baker has a different point of view.
“Our compassion and our generosity has seduced us,” he said. “Government is not about who you are, government is about your conduct. This is not a homeless problem, this is a trespass problem.”
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City Councilor Lindsey Emmons responded to a question about the long-term plan for water, due to the council’s recent vote to lower rates.
She said staff was asked to pause work on the water treatment plant and to work with consultants to see how the city can retrofit what they currently have.
As well, she said more information will be presented to council in about four months about what can be done regarding the treatment plant and the costs. The water rates are not permanent, and the council will have to look at costs each year.
City Councilor Sarah Nurmela called for more research and said that not enough money is going into the city’s water assets each year. She’s worried about the future because she said the city will have to borrow money to remain in the black.
Ezeadi said, although he was happy it brought affordability to residents, he wanted to wait before lowering water rates until that information Emmons mentioned came to council. He said that if the plant costs more money than expected, the council will have to raise rates.
“I don’t want a ping pong, yo-yo rates,” he said.
A neighbor of the recent Knox Court explosion came to council asking for their help.
She said she is sitting on a $97,000 bill for the outside asbestos from the explosion, and that does not include the structural damage to her home.
She previously asked for council’s help to mediate the situation of her neighbors living in their “condemned home for over three years” prior to the explosion.
“I have a six-month-old that lives a house away and has been exposed to all this asbestos,” she said. “I ask the city, what do I need to do to help you do your job?”
The Eyes and Ears of the City
Mayor McNally emphasized the role residents play in a community. She encourages contacts with her, council and the police about what needs to be done in the community.
“We need you engaged, we need to hear from you,” McNally said. “Don’t sit there and be angry if you haven’t told us where the problems are.”
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