Kara MasonKara MasonMarch 21, 20184min1270

By 1930 it’s believed that Cripple Creek, now a small gambling getaway west of Colorado Springs, created 30 millionaires with its bounty of gold. But today, the city is looking for ways to build more affordable housing. Mostly for the people working in the city’s popular casinos.

Like Colorado’s urban centers and lavish ski spots, Cripple Creek is facing a pinch in the housing market. Teller County lacks affordable housing. The town’s local paper, appropriately named the Mountain Jackpot, reported earlier this month many there have complained there are few affordable places for casino workers to call home.

That could change:

“Recently, Cripple Creek city officials have been working to come up with a way to help fix the problem. After some discussion and a number of work sessions, the council has decided to move forward with the process that will change the rules to allow tiny homes to get built inside city limits.”

Council unanimously voted to allow the city attorney to draft an amendment to the development code that allows “e-homes.” And it might not be that much of a change, the Jackpot reported, as early zoning in the city dates back a century.

“Back then, they laid out residential lots that were only 25 feet wide by 100 or 125 feet long. Since then the city has written development code that requires that anything built on a lot sits in 10 feet from the property border. For years this has meant that, in most cases, in order to build a home in Cripple Creek one must own two side by side lots.”

The plan only brought one concern from a council member, and that was that none of the pre-approved designs resembled a log cabin. That aesthetic fits nicely into the history of the town, she said. “Miner shacks” were a common site in the early days when people rushed west in hopes to strike it rich.

Tiny homes have become a popular fix for small towns heavy in service industry that fail to meet the need of its lower-income workers. Last winter, Aspen Skiing Co. put 500 tiny homes on a plot of land for its employees. They rent for $750 per month.

Of course, not all are convinced. Salida is slated to have the nation’s largest tiny home community. Susan Tweit, who lives in the small outdoorsy mountain town, wrote in High Country News that they really aren’t that affordable.

Rod Stambaugh, president of Sprout Tiny Homes, builder of the proposed Salida community, suggests in the Outside story that rental rates would range from $750 a month for the 260-square-foot model to $1,400 for the largest, which boasts an actual bedroom and 493 square feet of space. That is nearly 50 percent higher than what the out-of-town landlord on my block charges for the two-bedroom unit in his historic duplex, which boasts 300 square feet more living space and is walking distance to downtown.

The Cripple Creek plan is in the early stages, so there’s no word on what a tiny home would rent for. Real estate website Trulia puts the casino town’s median rent at $1,200. The average price of a home is $155,000.


Kara MasonKara MasonMarch 20, 20182min1620

DENVER — Pueblo County unveiled a ray of sunshine on its own financials this week.

It announced Monday it has created a “financial transparency application” accessible to the public with the help of OpenGov, a company that specifically deals with government budgeting.

In a news release the county said it will relieve citizens — and curious, data-driven journalists — of having to sift through reports that can be more than 200 pages long.

“As stewards of public money, the public deserves to know where their dollars go. More than 57.8 percent of the County’s $163 million budget comes from taxes. Now, within a few clicks of the mouse, they can see where the county expends that money,” Commissioner Garrison Ortiz said in a statement about the new application.

Ortiz, elected in 2016 after ousting former commissioner and state Rep. Buffie McFadyen in a primary, told local news station KOAA that his strong suit as a commissioner would be looking at capital investments. The young Pueblo Democrat has a MBA from Colorado State University-Pueblo and was working in investments leading up to the election.

Now, others can look at county investments as well, and see data such as social services, comprising up 20 percent of the county budget and decreasing slightly from 22 percent the year before. Or, that the county collects nearly $2.2 million in recreational marijuana licenses and permits.

A quick tour of the new site shows easily-accessible charts of marijuana revenue, money in the road and bridge fund, how revenue is made and tons more.

OpenGov was founded by a Stanford University technologists following the Great Recession. They found that local governments were having trouble tracking financial data and communicating goals to citizens, according to their website. Now more than 1,800 public agencies in 48 states use OpenGov.


Kara MasonKara MasonMarch 13, 20184min2090

Despite being a nearly $60 million industry in Pueblo, selling legal cannabis has little to do with an increase in homelessness and a stagnant local economy, researchers at Colorado State University-Pueblo have concluded.

The university’s Institute of Cannabis Research released a 200-page report this week that delves into how and to what extent retail marijuana has changed the community. In 2016, voters faced the question of expelling the industry from the county, as at least one group sought to reverse opting into Amendment 64. They cited concerns with increased homelessness, more underage kids using marijuana and a swelling crime rate.

But for the most part, the ICR report debunks those claims. There are “marijuana migrants,” according to the researchers. But an increase in homelessness is more closely tied to Colorado’s booming economy and high housing costs.

“In recent times, a significant cause of homelessness has been attributed to high utility costs, i.e. to factors independent of cannabis. More, high quality data are required in this area,” the report said. “Thus far, it appears that legal cannabis has neither reduced, nor increased, existing poverty disparities between Pueblo and more affluent Colorado counties. There is evidence that homelessness has recently increased in Pueblo. The 2017 Point in Time Study indicates that Pueblo has much higher rates of homelessness than other Colorado counties.”

Crime is up in the city, according to the report. But it’s not likely because of cannabis. Marijuana seizures have decreased in the city, but not the county. Overall crime, however, seems to be increasing because  population growth is outpacing law enforcement:

“The largest increases in crime have been in property crime (particularly motor vehicle theft) and dangerous drug seizures (particularly heroin); violent crime has risen only marginally in the city, and decreased in the county; the legalization of marijuana has put more perceived pressure on patrol officers, who associate it with an influx in the transient population, which they then associate with increased property and other drug crimes; and police struggle with enforcing complex and changing marijuana laws and perceive the citizens struggle to keep up with confusing policy.”

On the subject of crime, the report said there needs to be more data collected to fully analyze the relationship.

Pueblo For Positive Impact, a Facebook page associated with the 2016 ballot question that would have banned the industry, said in a post, “The public at large doesn’t need ‘research’ to reach that conclusion. Blaming utility shut offs for the ENTIRE problem is well — living in the dark.”

But a news release from Pueblo County praised the work of the 30 P.h.D researchers that worked on the report, saying it “confirmed with real data, what a large portion of Puebloans already assumed.”

“It is incredibly exciting to have third-party, quantifiable data concerning the impact of legal cannabis in Pueblo. This data is groundbreaking in its scope and should have national relevance as other communities across the country end prohibition,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace in a news release. “Pueblo has the privilege of being the first community to be studied in this way and CSU-Pueblo is the first university to do this type of research. This is truly a momentous day.”

The full report is expected to be posted online by CSU-Pueblo by the end of the week.


Kara MasonKara MasonMarch 9, 20182min4660

A couple of half-million-dollar homes in Arapahoe County have caught the attention of Aurora U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman.

The homes in southeast Aurora seems to be a regular stop for Aurora police, having seen multiple illegal marijuana grows in recent years. That has prompted anger from neighbors.

The Aurora Sentinel reports that the houses are being rented out by owner Grover Mohinder — who reportedly wasn’t home when a Sentinel reporter dropped by to ask some questions. A person who answered the door at one of the addresses said they thought Mohinder may be out of the country for now, according to the report.

After eight arrests, 1,460 plants and more than 370 pounds of pot, neighbors are growing tired of the riff-raff. In a letter to Robert Troyer, U.S. Attorney for Colorado, Coffman said a number of constituents have reached out about recurring instances with the two homes.

“I do not think it is a coincidence that two properties owned by the same individual have had multiple drug raids in the past three years,” he wrote. “It is also my understanding that to date no law enforcement agency has indicted the homeowner for facilitating or allowing these operations on his property.”

Coffman urged Troyer to investigative the matter, particularly whether the owner is committing any crimes.

While nearby residents have reached out to their congressman for help, the city is looking into ways of cracking down on problems like this. The Sentinel reports the city attorney’s office is looking into how they can use old ordinances passed in the ’80s that were created to target the owners of East Colfax Avenue hotels and homes where drug activity was prevalent.

There’s also a chance the city could create an ordinance to address illegal marijuana grows separately. But city officials told the Sentinel those are in very early stages.


Kara MasonKara MasonFebruary 23, 20184min6251

Chances are you’ve seen fake news pass through your social media feeds, but are you good at spotting it? Two Colorado State University-Pueblo seniors set out to find out last spring. Now, they are taking their research on fake news on the road and around the globe to present at two conferences.

Chianna Schoenthaler and Michele Bedard, both mass communications students, sought to determine whether “there is a correlation between a media consumer’s understanding of the difference between satirical news versus fake news and varying socio-demographic factors” as part of a research class.

In other words, the students said they wanted to know who was more likely to believe actual fake news — not satire that’s created for entertainment, or clickbait, but news that’s made up to achieve a goal, most often politically.

Sam Ebersole, who taught the research class, had the students design a research project that was in some way related to the topic of fake news — a buzzword that was constantly on the minds of politicos and those in the media throughout and following the 2016 election. Now, Bedard and Schoenthaler say they see it everywhere, and it hasn’t become at all less frequent since they started their research more than a year ago.

The students found in their small sample size that people who identified as independent were able to better pick out fake news, Ebersole said. Republicans were the least likely to. Democrats fell somewhere in the middle.

Participants ranged from young adults — college freshmen — to seasoned media professionals.

Most surprising to the two student researchers? The lack of current event knowledge among young people, they said.

“I just assumed so many other students would have that same outlook that they need to be literate in the media. It was kind of disturbing, really,” Bedard said.

Schoenthaler said, as anticipated, young people use social media as a main source of news. But they’re more likely to believe a headline based on the source and whether that source has a reputation for being truthful or leaning to a certain end of the political spectrum.

Now, they’re presenting that research at the Web Conference 2018 in Lyon, France — a prestigious international conference about the future of the World Wide Web — and at the DePauw University Honors Research Conference in Indiana.

And the research keeps becoming even more relevant. When special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian citizens for conspiring to interfere with the 2016 election last week, Bedard said she feels that it’s good there’s action being taken on the subject of fake news.

The students and Ebersole now joke that they may never get completely away from fake news. Ebersole said he keeps a Google Drive folder of fake news headlines. And the students have a running list they’re always adding to, too.

“I don’t know if any of us can be savvy enough,” Ebersole said of the growing number of stories he now sees. “Sometimes I look at these things and say wow that is extremely clever how they presented it.”


Kara MasonKara MasonFebruary 16, 20183min4030

Aurora City Council member Charlie Richardson said if sexual harassment “can happen in Hollywood, it can happen in Aurora.” But the resolution he was pushing to prevent public funds from being used in related lawsuits against council members and senior staff is on pause.

The resolution hit the floor Monday night and was tabled indefinitely — a move Richardson said means the measure is dead. But many of the council members who voted the measure down say it’s not the measure, but the timing they’re concerned about.

The resolution deemed that if senior staff members and council members didn’t partake in sexual harassment training, they may not be able to utilize taxpayer money in defending their case.

Councilman Bob LeGare, who motioned that the resolution be put on hold, said during the meeting he’d like to see the measure back in front of council once city staff is able to schedule some kind of sexual harassment training.

The council was evenly split, with Mayor Steve Hogan casting the tie-breaking vote.

Councilman Bob Roth said prior to the vote he’d be a no vote, not because of timing, but because it’s a non-issue in Aurora.

“It’s a solution looking for a problem,” he said.

But for the most part, councilors agreed that sexual harassment should be taken seriously, especially as cases have made headlines from showbiz to the state Legislature, where Democrats are looking to expel state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulfur Springs.

“I don’t think tracking down training would be hard to do,” said council newbie Allison Hiltz.

Staff said during the meeting a training would likely take about two hours. But schedules are so far packed.

The original resolution, before it was sent to the council floor, didn’t include a training requirement. But Richardson decided to include that in the resolution as an “escape valve.”


Kara MasonKara MasonFebruary 14, 20183min5210

A lot of marijuana is being sold in Las Animas County — the most per capita in the state, in fact.

According to a recent report from the Colorado Department of Revenue, the county near the New Mexico-Colorado border sold $43.9 million worth of recreational cannabis last year. That’s more than neighboring Pueblo County, which has been dubbed by some the Napa Valley of pot.

Greg Sund, Trinidad’s city manager, told the Cannabist the city is having to constantly re-evaluate how much it’s expecting to get in revenue from recreational marijuana sales.

And with those sales has come other economic development. The publication reports hotel stays are up as well.

But this isn’t the first time Trinidad and Las Animas County have seem booms. The southern Colorado town was a coal town and just like during coal’s heyday, Trinidad officials say they know they can’t ride the wave of marijuana money forever.

Last year, PULP Newsmagazine spoke with now-former economic director Jonathan Taylor, the first ever economic development director for Las Animas County.

“Without the progressive policies of the City of Trinidad in its relationship to cannabis, Trinidad’s economy would not be as robust as it is today. So, it is the primary reason for all of this growth,” he told the monthly news organization.

And as for the future of cannabis in the county, he said it looks bright. But it’s not forever.

“It is never smart to throw all your eggs in one basket in dealing with the local economy. It is just a matter of time before New Mexico legalizes it, which will have a tremendous impact on Trinidad. However, the city has positioned itself on sustainable budgetary path,” he said. “In the short-term we are using this industry to update all of our necessary infrastructure to increase outside investments while the revenue is present.”


Kara MasonKara MasonFebruary 8, 20183min5010

Last April, U.S. Potato Council CEO John Keeling sent a letter to President Donald Trump outlining some ways the new administration could improve the potato industry.

Mostly, Keeling said NAFTA could use some work, but pulling out of the agreement altogether would be catastrophic for potato farmers, such as the ones nestled in Colorado’s San Luis Valley where Keeling spoke this week for the 2018 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Fair.

In last year’s letter Keeling said:

The potato industry believes that potato exports to Mexico could grow to $500 million annually with full unrestricted access for all U.S. fresh and processed potatoes. Those same conditions would produce exports of Canada of $300 million annually. These increased sales would generate additional jobs on-farms, in agricultural processing, in transportation and other related sectors. As potatoes are produced in 35 states these new U.S. jobs would occur throughout rural America.

So, how’s the president doing? Keeling reported to the conference in Monte Vista on Tuesday that while there’s been some major changes in the White House, there’s also a lot of the same.

Alamosa News reports:

For example, he said although congress passed the tax bill, it did so in too much of a hurry and did not think it through thoroughly or give it the attention to detail it required, which resulted in some problems that will have to be remedied.

At last year’s conference Keeling anticipated that the Trump Administration would enact regulatory reform, as that was one of Trump’s goals.

“The Trump Administration has brought a new attitude towards regulation,” Keeling said.

Keeling told the audience a shakeup at the Environmental Protection Agency has been a positive change, as has some related executive orders on regulations, according to the news report.

Another hot topic for the potato farmers at the conference was immigration.

“We need a comprehensive reform, need border security, need guest worker workforce that can work in agriculture, come to this country, work and go home and some way to keep people working in agriculture who might not be completely documented,” Keeling reportedly said.


Kara MasonKara MasonFebruary 6, 20182min3781

The nation’s first pot scholarship program is making college possible for even more students in Pueblo this year; 600, to be exact.

Pueblo County commissioners announced Monday they would likely award more than 180 more awards to college-bound seniors in Pueblo than what was awarded last year. This year nearly $750,000 is available for scholarships. Last year, the county awarded $420,000 to students; county officials said that amount was just coincidentally similar to the 4/20 reference.

In recent years between 300 and 400 students graduate from Pueblo high schools. Every high school senior in the county is automatically eligible, but the scholarship that comes from the recreational marijuana revenue is only awarded to Pueblo high school graduates who plan to attend college at CSU-Pueblo or Pueblo Community College.

“Even if you’re not sure if you’re eligible, you should apply. We have $75,000 available for students who may not fall into the Pueblo County Scholarship’s defined criteria,” Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation Executive Director Beverly Duran said in a statement.

Pueblo County voters decided in 2015 to allocate 50 percent of the marijuana excise tax collected in Pueblo County to the scholarship fund. The remainder of that money goes to a list of community projects, such as trails and parks.

As the excise tax grows the amount of money available for scholarships is expected to, too. And that could mean the difference in going to college for some Pueblo students.

“It is so critically important to make college affordable for our youth if we want to provide long-term economic opportunity to our community,” Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace said of the program last year. “Too many kids can’t afford to go to college, with this program we are taking cannabis-tax revenue and using it to provide for a brighter future in Pueblo.”