by John Kiljan
This email was recently sent out to steering committee members for the Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community. This short meeting is open to anyone who wants to participate or just sit in on the discussion.
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Dear CLRC steering committee members and friends,
This month the CLRC starts its fourth year as a neighborhood association. It’s time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and what we haven’t. And to decide what sort of organization we want to have in the coming year — or even if we want to continue as a neighborhood association.
Our annual business meeting is set for this Wednesday, December 18th, at the Arvada Community Food Bank at 6:00 pm. The meeting is important, but I hope we can keep it short. There is only one agenda item: What do we want to do in the coming year?
This is also the time to meet our new City Council District 3 representative, John Marriott, and to confirm who wants to be on our informal steering committee in the coming year.
The meeting is open to anyone and you should encourage those you think will be interested to attend — or at least to send along their thoughts before the meeting.
Please do come with your thoughts and ideas. To help you do that, here’s a short history of what we set out to do in December of 2010, what we’ve accomplished since then and some options for the future.
WHAT WE SET OUT TO DO
Here is an excerpt from our original website and flyer announcement that started the organization:
Do you want to live or work in a revitalized Arvada neighborhood?
Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community is looking for area residents, local business owners and volunteers to form an independent Neighborhood Association
The aim of our group is
- to be an advocate for our community’s needs,
- to review and comment on development plans for the area,
- to seek outside sources of funding for community development,
- to promote cooperative planning and development among our public agencies,
- and, to keep our community informed about development issues.
There are no fixed boundaries. Geographically, we consider ourselves to be the neighborhoods and businesses adjacent to Ralston Road between Olde Town and Kipling.
How can I help my community?
- by frequently checking this web site at http://www.RalstonCommunity.org
- by telling your friends and neighbors about the association,
- by signing up to be a member and checking on news and articles of interest,
- by helping us to write those news pieces and articles,
- by reviewing and commenting on planning proposals by the City, AURA, Apex and others,
- by reviewing the design of public works and recreational projects,
- by participating in on-line polls on issues facing the our community, and
- by helping to make presentations to the public agencies we must work with to achieve the goal of a Livable Ralston Community, and
- by attending whenever we do have meetings.
WHAT WE HAVE ACCOMPLISHED IN LAST THREE YEARS
Courtesy of T.O. Owens, we have set up and maintained a neighborhood association website. Over 200 articles of neighborhood interest have been posted on it.
The website itself has been viewed over 20,000 times. In addition, we have a direct emailing list of about 180 subscribers who receive our website articles directly. Those emails are often forwarded to others increasing those readership numbers.
Typically, we think we get an average of 200 views per posting. But the number of readers spikes for important issues such as the Walmart application and local elections. During the last City Council election cycle, we received at least 7000 views for our website’s election interviews and other coverage.
We also set up a Facebook page — again courtesy of T.O. Owens. It has over 800 “friends.” Looking through the list, I have little idea who most of these people are. Yet many seem to be local officials and community activist outside of our neighborhoods who want to know what’s going on in Arvada.
Our members have sat in on, and reported on, a lot of local government meetings that would have otherwise received very little attention. We didn’t have the resources to sit in on all the ones we wanted to, but those do include the City Council workshops, the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority’s (AURA’s) board meetings and workshops, and the board meetings for Apex Park and Recreation District and its workshops.
And we’ve attended and reported on various ad-hoc meetings on a variety of development issues. These include the commuter rail line, the Arvada Center governance meetings, the Park Place development, the Olde Town redevelopment public-input sessions and public information sessions for places like the Triangle, the new Ralston Central Park and for the expansion of the Apex recreation facilities.
We’ve also interviewed and quoted about 20 community leaders and local activists during the election campaigns for the City Council and the Apex Board of Directors, and on local issues such as the redevelopment of the Triangle shopping center.
Judging from Council meeting attendance, we seem to have helped spark public interest in a number of other local issues such as sidewalks along Ralston Road, the preservation of the community gardens, the need for local recreation, and a replacement for the Fisher Pool.
We applied for, and got, a small City grant to do a survey of local recreational needs for the neighborhood. We were also able to match the contracted consultant in the number of volunteer hours our members put into distributing that survey and compiling the results and setting up future contact lists for design reviews. That effort produced a pretty decent product saying that our neighborhoods’ top recreation priority is a community swimming pool.
In doing that we seem to have generated a lot of support for a replacement for the Fisher Pool on the Arvada City Council.
We also formed an informal ten-member steering committee to help guide us on business issues such as identifying our issues and creating question lists for candidates for public office.
WHAT WE DIDN’T DO
We didn’t formally organize. By choice we have set up no officers, no dues, no board, no treasury, no formal business meetings. Nobody — this writer included — wanted the hassle of running a budget or holding directors’ elections. Our expenses, which amount to only about $200 a year, are paid for by contributions from our members and friends. Or they come from in-kind contributions by businesses like The Printery, Inc.
Nor have we set up a 501c(3) to help us apply for outside grants or donations. In a legal sense, the CLRC doesn’t exist at all. We cannot contract or accept grants in our own name.
We have not been able to recruit many article writers. Mostly, people give us information and T.O., or I, write it up and post it online.
Except for local recreation, we’ve taken no surveys on local issues. That makes it hard to take a position on anything as a neighborhood association. We’ve not petitioned any local agency on behalf of the CLRC. Nor have we held any of our own public forums on local issues.
Thankfully, we’ve not felt the need to organize any street demonstrations or protests on civic issues.
And, speaking bluntly, we haven’t been effective in reviewing any design plans for public developments. Originally, that was one of our main goals.
The historic pattern of public agencies holding a few public-input meetings and then going ahead with construction contracts and post-design changes without further neighborhood feedback has not changed. Whether it is basketball courts, or park lighting, or further construction delays, or cuts due to cost overruns, or some other “value engineering” decision, we still find out about these types of things well after the decisions have already been made and are sitting in front of the City Council for final approval.
Except for a small stretch adjacent to Wolff Park, the sidewalks along Ralston Road still remain nearly impassable for many pedestrians, and for almost all in bad weather or after a snow storm, and they remain the eyesore they have been for years. The goal of pedestrian safety along Ralston Road seems as far away as it was three years ago.
Nor have we yet registered as a neighborhood association with the City. For that we will probably need defined boundaries and a designated chairperson.
OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE
Here are a few options that come to mind. You may have many more ideas I haven’t thought of.
One would be to dissolve the organization. We’ve probably already done most of what we could have accomplished, and there may be more effective ways to spend our individual time. I, for one, would certainly appreciate more time for my family. This may be our default option in the future if some of our major contributors are no longer able to participate.
We could dissolve the organization but keep the website and Facebook page going just as a news publication, and as long as people continue to read it. I’m not a reporter and I don’t like the thought of competing with the Arvada Press or YourHub. Those organizations are important to the community in ways that are hard to describe. But those newspapers just don’t seem to have the resources to cover local issues as well as we need them to and still keep their expenses in line.
Or, we could become more issues oriented. As an example, I’m already seeing design errors in the new Ralston Central Park’s construction five months before its completion. They are not major issues, and are to be expected for an effort of that size and complexity. I’ve also heard that there is a $200,000 budget to fix post-construction problems. We could petition the Council not to authorize the expenditure of that money without first getting a go ahead from the neighborhood association on what the most important needs are.
That’s just an example. Similar issues will be facing the neighborhoods with the location and design of a community recreation center, or pedestrian crossings on Ralston Road, or on a variety of things that may come up with the development of the remainder of the Triangle, or in Olde Town, or at the Arvada Ridge commuter rail station, or with traffic flow and parking problems in and out of these areas.
We could run or otherwise back our own candidates for office. Or take hard positions on development plans. That approach is often seen with other social media organizations which has effectively turned them into “anti” groups.
I, for one, am loath to do that. It would certainly be effective, but it could also reduce the diversity of views and representation for our neighbors and discourage participation in this neighborhood association. Much of the mileage the CLRC has gotten so far is based on the even-handedness of our reporting, while at the same time encouraging our members to actively support their own candidates for office, and to take their own position on issues.
These are just thoughts. There are no right answers. The neighborhood association should be what the neighborhood itself wants it to be.
I hope to see you Wednesday night.
John Kiljan for the CLRC
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WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
You can find out more about the CLRC by visiting our website at RalstonCommunity.org and clicking on the “About” icon and also by reading the sidebar entitled “Why Are We here?” Or you can see our more informal discussions on our Facebook page at “CLRC Arvada”.
December 15, 2013