DAN BIDSTRUP — CANDIDATE FOR MAYOR
October 14, 2011
by John Kiljan
Background: This interview was held September 28th and is one in a series of interviews with candidates for the Arvada City Council. The Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community offered each of the candidates an opportunity to review a list of local CLRC issues and concerns and to comment on them in an informal discussion. The candidates were also invited to talk about any other subjects they thought were important. The interviewers were T.O. Owens and John Kiljan.
The Candidate: Born and raised in Laramie, Dan Bidstrup, holds a degree in economics from the University of Wyoming. He ran a photography and framing business there after graduating and until moving to Colorado to work for Robert Waxman Camera. He is now self-employed as a web designer and runs WORDGraphics Web Design that maintains internet websites for others. He enjoys the personal freedom and scheduling flexibility his job offers. Mr. Bidstrup is married and has lived in Arvada for the last 22 years.
Dan’s passion is economics. He is a firm advocate of a free-market economy and efficient government. This is his first run for public office.
On Planning and the Economics of Public Works Projects: Almost anytime I see subways or mass transit tracks in a city setting, I think it is a mistake. People move, demographics change, and in the time it takes to put the infrastructure in place for things like mass transit, it’s often no longer a plus. People will have changed their minds about the need for the project.
If you look at just about every light rail or commuter rail project out there you’ll find that they lose money. And the reason they lose money is that the planners had to guess where the light rail project should start, and where it should end, and then they had to spend the millions and millions of dollars and wait the years needed to build it, only to find that they’ve guessed wrong.
So the only kind of public transportation I can get behind is buses. I hate them and I hate getting stuck behind them in traffic, or waiting for them at stops and that kind of thing. But, at the same time, it is the only mass transportation mode in a city that has the flexibility to match the changing demographics of the people it serves.
On Pedestrian Safety along Ralston Road: I think that portion of the road is way too tight near Olde Town. I agree that we need to keep our city vital. Moving the sidewalks back from the street is a good first step. Filling in sidewalks where there is currently dirt is a good second step. I also think that Arvada has done a pretty good job with infill projects and not developing the ‘blight rings’ you see in other cities. But the plans being offered now may be too ambitious for the current economy and the cost could take away from our other infrastructure needs.
Arvada went through a huge growth spurt in the 70’s and the 80’s and more than doubled in size. An awful lot of those old water mains from back then now need to be replaced. There is a new technology that has reduced the cost of replacing old sewer lines by relining them without digging them up. But water main replacements are still done the old fashion and more expensive way: by digging up the streets and putting in new pipe.
So we’ve got a lot of streets that, like Ralston Road, need to be repaired. There are also a few bridges that need attention, and there are a whole lot of water mains in the queue that have to be replaced. As a politician you make friends when you build a bridge or put up a new building, but you don’t make so many friends by simply tightening bolts, painting and otherwise servicing and repairing what you’ve got. But the need for ongoing maintenance is where the problems are. That is what we need to do first as city — keep the infrastructure we’ve got running.
A gardening magazine I recently read had an article on the 25 biggest mistakes people make with their gardens. The number one mistake was forgetting maintenance. Gardeners prepare the soil, plant their seeds, put out their mulch and they were happy. And then they often ignore the garden. Then everything gets out of balance, the weeds take over, and it ends up taking twice as long to get the garden back in shape as it would have if the gardener had simply maintained it all along.
Getting back to Ralston Road, I think the issue of pedestrian safety can be addressed with a much smaller-scale operation. I haven’t gone out there with my tape measure and looked at easements and that sort of stuff. Obviously we need a sidewalk that is separated from the traffic by at least three to five feet. On-street parking would do that, but personally I like grass. The plan I looked at was beautiful, but we don’t need to make all of Arvada look like the Arvada Ridge development. Philosophically, I am looking for something that is smaller, simpler and cheaper.
I was recently talking to someone about historic Olde Town. The reason Olde Town is still historic is that it didn’t get its urban renewal until after it got its cachet. Now Olde Town has that official seal of approval.
There’s always the struggle between the people who have been in a business for 25 years, who like their businesses and who want to continue them just the way they are, and with those around them who keep saying, “Yeah, it’s a nice business, but it looks tacky, and you need to change it.” Balancing all that out is what makes an urban renewal project so much harder to get done than simply starting a new development in an empty field such as Candelas or something similar.
Again, my inclination for the government’s role in urban development is always smaller, simpler and cheaper.
On the Redevelopment of the Triangle: I like urban planning. It’s like figuring out what you’d do with your basement if you ever got the money. It’s important for a city to have a master plan so that if new development projects are proposed they can be added in a logical way. It’s important that new developments interface with our water and wastewater capabilities and with our traffic patterns. Otherwise, we will end up with a city that is a hodgepodge of developments.
And there are certainly cities out there like that. For a while, I was doing occupancy inspections for a mortgage company up in Thornton. Thornton is a planning nightmare. It’s so bad that it even makes Philadelphia look organized. Yes, it is important that a city have a master plan. If a developer wants to put in a project, the city should be a cheerleader, a facilitator, and a problem solver, but a city should not be the project’s banker.
I know that tax increment financing is popular and it has worked for many projects that we have done. But anytime the government is picking winners and losers it gets real scary. Technically, the urban renewal property is securing the bond, but the prestige of the city is on the line if the development goes sour. It’s more like Fanny and Freddie during the mortgage bailouts. The government is and isn’t responsible. Even without direct backing, if that bond goes belly up it reflects badly on the city.
I also tell people that I don’t particularly like public-private partnerships because the profits tend to stay private and the losses tend to go public. I like the free market. I like free enterprise. To me a really good measure of the viability of a development project is if it can get private financing on its own. And, if it can’t, then that should be a red flag.
On the Role of the City in Providing Recreational Facilities: I think that should be part of the discussion with the developers coming in — in the same way we now have rules for how many parking spaces a developer has to provide for each apartment or condo being built. We should have some sort of yardstick for the recreational opportunities a developer has to provide or support — especially when you are talking condos or apartments as opposed to stand-alone houses. With those kinds of residential units, we’re talking about people just getting started in life. That usually means a lot of kids living in a small space.
I’m not sure where or how we’re going to provide for the Triangle kids. I understand that the Garrison park redevelopment is not really a park project but instead a floodplain mitigation project, and what can be put in the broad floodplain is limited. However, that floodplain might be a place for a garden because a 100-year flood would only be wiping out one season’s growth when it happened.
Regarding bond renewals, I wouldn’t ever give a city money without them telling us precisely how they will spend it. That reminds me of Rollie Heath’s Proposition 103. It’s like saying, “Our schools need money, our kids need money, so let’s raise taxes and throw the revenue into the State’s general fund and perhaps some of it will wind up in the schools.”
It’s the same thing here with Apex’s pending bond renewals. If there is a specific project you’ve got to do or a specific expense you need to cover to protect your credit rating, come talk to me. But to simply reissue a bond because it was out there and you’d like to have the money again in case you need it, well, no.
As far as parking, if a developer is building a residential structure, what stops them from putting in an underground garage or ground level parking to mitigate the parking impact on the area?
On Neighborhood Associations: Back when the Israelites were coming out of Egypt, Moses was trying to handle all of the squabbles among the tribes and it wasn’t working. I don’t remember who, but someone came to him and said, what you need to do is set up judges over judges over the people, so that only the really difficult cases work their way up to you.
It’s the same idea here. I think that neighborhood associations serve to coalesce concerns, and state those concerns more precisely after much discussion. That aggregation of concerns can then be taken to the next level. In our case, that would be the Arvada City Council. It’s more efficient and again it’s representative government. I’m a firm believer in representative government.
I like to re-familiarize myself with the documents of the founding fathers and with the economics books I read in college. I just finished rereading “The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich Hayek (1944) and the companion book, “The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America” by Daniel Hannan (2010). They talk about how the complexity of society is so great that no government can plan efficiently. Instead, we have to use wages and prices as our cues to what’s going on. Gathering more and more power to the central government is counterproductive for efficiency and freedom.
So it’s the same thing here. The City’s administration can’t possibly know everything that it needs to know to properly plan for development. They don’t have the wage and price information they need to inform the Council. But, the citizens as a whole do; and, they can crystallize their concerns and arguments and bring them before the Council.
It’s better to have a group of people thrash out their differences and say, “This is what we’d like to see,” rather than having a mass of people who all want to speak to the Council for three minutes at a time, and then have the Council try to synthesize it all themselves. I like civic organizations. They push democracy down to the roots, and people need to practice representative democracy at the roots.
On Independence Street Traffic: Trying to predict how people are going to drive reminds me of a thing a university did about 30 years ago. They built a whole bunch of new buildings and they put in grass everywhere, but no sidewalks. They then waited a year and looked at how the grass had been pounded down by foot traffic, and on the basis of that they put in sidewalks, wide or narrow, as needed between the buildings.
It’s hard to predict where 500 new residents from the Arvada Ridge developments will want to drive. You can often build wider streets but you can’t guarantee that drivers will want to use them. The best thing you can do is to induce people to do what’s best. I like the line in Hayek’s book where he says, “A good law is like a street sign that tells you where you are, and a bad law is like a street sign that tells you where you have to go.” You can’t widen Independence Street. There is no room. A better approach might be to lure the traffic away with improvement to parallel streets.
On Neighborhood Stabilization: One of the reasons neighborhoods are declining right now is that people are losing their houses left and right — often because they are walking away from their loans and leaving the bank with their keys. Arvada is suffering the same that way that the rest of the country is. The neighborhood I lived in for my first ten years in Arvada was on Lynn Drive close to Independence. By the time we moved out, there were only two real home owners in the neighborhood that we knew of. The rest were renters. I really don’t know how you fix a situation like that, because you are dealing with individual decisions by individual people.
About the only way I can think of to mitigate the problem of declining properties is to deal with the current owner. Often that is the bank. Have them cut the weeds and remove dead trees — all the things you would expect a homeowner do to for their own property. Beyond that I can’t think what we should be doing, because it always comes down to an individual’s decision.
In commercial areas, decline is a little simpler because you can get often get consensus and pull people together for their mutual benefit. They can also get financing if they are making money. The problem with residential areas is that people have to have a place to live. They are not going to tear their house down so that other people can have a prettier view. They can’t afford it, and sometimes they like what they’ve got.
As far as the City improving parks, I was talking to Deputy City Manager Bill Ray and he was saying that vandalism in parks is one of the City’s major expenses. If you have a park near a declining neighborhood and you decide to make that park a showpiece, you have to ask if all you are doing is putting in more goodies for some people to plunder. So you have to balance the benefits of a nicer park with how much you are willing to push back against the chaos.
I really appreciate the unsung heroes in urban redevelopment: the flippers. They are the investors who buy up houses that are the lousiest ones in the neighborhood. Then they fix them up and sell them.
They are an organic form of residential renewal. They are private enterprise. They are people making money and benefiting the community. And if the city is going to do anything to help declining neighborhoods it should be by finding a way to facilitate those people. Not by financing, but by streamlining the regulations, by promptly issuing permits, having cooperative inspectors to help them to get over difficulties and things like that. That’s probably the only thing I can think of that would help revitalize these older neighborhoods. Flippers typically look for the worst property because those are the properties where they can create the greatest increases in property values.
When it comes to reducing costs, I’m a big fan of benefit-cost analyses. Prove a program is going to work before you put the dollars into it. I think so often, especially with people of a political bent, things are done because if feels good, or because it looks good — not because it is going to be cost effective or beneficial in the long run.
The genius of federalism is that you have 50 state test tubes. It’s the same thing here. We can see the successes of Wheat Ridge or Westminster in the programs they try. I’m sure they’d be willing to talk to us and we can look to see what other cities are doing in their own best practices. You clone what works, and for what doesn’t work you cut your losses.
On Running for Office: I decided to run for Mayor in August because I believed that Marc Williams was running unopposed. That seemed unreasonable to me. People always need a choice. I tried to get others to run, but when I couldn’t, my wife and I thought about it and prayed about it and then we made the decision. I suspect that Dave Chandler had similar thoughts when he decided to run.
People tend to ask me whether I support a particular project. Most of those projects have a very long timeline and are in various stages of development. Rather than saying whether I support a project that is already set in stone and can’t be changed, I think it is better to talk about the ones that can be changed. I’d rather give people my philosophical foundation and values, and then they can predict pretty well how I would vote on projects in the future.
As with our interview with Councilor Bob Dyer that began this series of candidate interviews, Mr Bidstrup often didn’t stick entirely to subjects that the City Council has much control over. But that did nothing to make our interview less interesting. Here’s a short list of subjects we left out when writing up this discussion:
– insurance companies and roof replacements,
– the thoughts of Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson,
– simple and safe nuclear reactor technologies,
– the economics of natural gas to fuel vehicles,
– purchasing wind-generated power,
– reducing electrical transmission line losses,
– the free market versus federal subsidies for solar power, and
– the coming benefits of nano-tube technology in generating solar power.
WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
Dan Bidstrup has an election website at
Online readers can also view a short video of all the candidates for mayor at this link:
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