Trust Destroyed, Says Halpern

Alamo Placita neighborhood resident Joe Halpern says the
admissions based events policy of Denver Parks “has destroyed public
trust in the management of our parks, and has utterly undermined the
Department’s credibility.” Halpern commented during a public hearing
prior to the 10-7 vote by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to
accept the policy.

Here is the text of Halpern’s comments:

My name is Joe Halpern. I reside in the Alamo Placita
neighborhood, and I am here both as an individual citizen and in a
representative capacity on behalf of the Alamo Placita Neighbors
Association (APNA). I request that a copy of my presentation be made
a formal part of the official record of this public hearing required
by the Denver City Charter.

APNA adopted a resolution opposing the Admission Based Events
Policy which I previously presented to this board at its February 11,
2010 meeting. A copy is attached to my remarks for your reference.
The revised draft of the Policy issued by the Department in late June
2010 fails to address the grounds for opposition previously expressed
by APNA. Therefore, APNA reconfirmed at its board meeting last night
its opposition to the Admission Based Events Policy.

Your Board is a unique Charter-created entity comprised of
members from across the city and imbued with a singular public trust.
You are the eyes, ears and advocates for all of the citizens of
Denver. While the Charter limits your power to advising the Manager
with respect to the policy and operations of the Department, please do
not underestimate the moral force of the position you take on the
proposed Policy.

Manager Patterson has already publicly stated that he will adopt
an Admission Based Events Policy. And it is my understanding that the
Manager is restricting you to an “up or down” vote on the draft Policy
before you this evening. Please exercise your moral authority by
voting against this misguided, destructive Policy.

The Policy has generated tremendous public opposition because it
would allow private businesses to lease and fence off green space in
Denver parks for paid-admission-only events. This contradicts the
longstanding principle that Denver’s public parks have always been,
and should remain, free and open to all citizens, regardless of their
financial means.

Mr. Patterson and Ms. Unfug, who run the Department, are Mayoral
appointees who serve at the pleasure of the Mayor, and it is well
known that Mayor Hickenlooper has been the driving force behind this
proposed commercialization of our parks. You may have seen Joanne
Ditmer’s column in the July 30th Denver Post in which the Mayor told
her, “I promise, if I become governor I won’t put admission-based
private events in the state parks.” If that is the case, why should
he and his appointees be permitted to inflict this terrible Policy on
our city’s parks? You can convince the Mayor to change his mind by
the moral force of your “No” vote on this Policy tonight.

The proposed Policy is also bad public policy because Denver’s
parks are a finite resource, and many of them are over-used because
park growth has not kept up with population growth. Just today, the
director of the Trust For Public Lands wrote about this problem in the
Denver Post, stating, “Denver’s ratio of parks to population has
consistently slipped, so that now we find our parks system ranks well
below the average size reported by similarly dense cities, less even
than cities like Phoenix, San Diego and Houston.” He noted that
Aurora has 27.3 acres of parks and open space per 1,000 residents,
almost three times the Denver ratio. Given this reality, why should
the Department reduce even further the park land available for use by
our citizens by allowing private businesses to take over public park
land for private, paid events?

Manager Patterson has previously stated publicly that the
proposed Policy is not driven by a revenue-raising motive. Whether or
not that is true, the Policy would in fact have a negative impact on
the city’s economy. The Trust For Public Lands has just released a
study entitled “The Economic Benefits of Denver’s Park and Recreation
System,” which is available at tpl.org. The report demonstrates that
“parks and open space have a positive impact on nearby residential
property values,” and the TPL conservatively estimates that $724
million of the value of residential property within 500 feet of
Denver’s public parks is directly attributable to the perceived
desirability of living near those parks. At the same time, TPL notes
that “issues of noise, nighttime lighting, and parking” reduce the
desirability of living near some parks. The introduction of paid-
admission events in our parks will dramatically increase these
negative factors, will depress the value of property near parks, and
will ultimately cost the city millions in lowered property taxes.

Indeed, closing off public parkland for private, paid-admission
events will adversely impact many other economic benefits of our parks
described in the TPL’s report, thereby putting at risk hundreds of
millions of dollars of economic benefit provided by the park system to
the city and its people. Put another way, viewing our parks as cash
cows or profit centers for lease to the private sector, risks killing
the goose that presently lays millions of dollars in golden eggs for
Denver.

Finally, the new draft of the Policy is a step backwards from the
last draft in significant respects:
The earlier draft committed the Manager to an “open community process”
before adding additional parks or sites to the list of parks
designated for admission-based events. This public process was
expressly stated to be subject to the rulemaking criteria in section
39-2 of the Denver Municipal Code. The new draft completely strips
out any public process, and gives the Manager unrestrained authority
to add additional parks and additional parts of parks for admission-
based events.

The earlier draft designated by name the “Event Facility Permit
Sites” and “Special Occasion Permit Sites” in which admission-based
events would be permitted. The new draft contains no such specific
list, further demonstrating that there are no bounds to the
Department’s ability to spread this destructive Policy to any and all
Denver parks.

In closing, let me state the obvious: this proposed Policy is
simply the latest event by which the Department has destroyed public
trust in the management of our parks, and has utterly undermined the
Department’s credibility. At the same time that the Trust For Public
Lands is advocating that the citizens of Denver adopt a sales tax
increase devoted to public parks acquisition, the Department has so
destroyed public confidence in its stewardship of parks that no such
tax has a snowball’s chance in hell of passing. The public will not
provide additional resources to the Department unless there is a
fundamental restructuring of the Department’s management to provide
true public accountability.

Please vote “No” on this Policy. Thank you.

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