City election moved the needle, but we still need an identity
Wow. Tuesday’s election sure was interesting. The people spoke. They rejected the sales tax increase for an event center in a pretty big way. I wasn’t sure it would pass, but I did think it would be a close vote. It wasn’t.
It’s easy to chalk it up to the same old talking points — that Grand Junction votes no on everything and that our fiscally conservative voting base will never support any kind of public investment or tax increase.
But I don’t think that’s the case here because the people also rejected Marty Chazen, a guy who built his reputation on saying no. While 71 percent of the voters rejected 2A, only 42 percent of them voted in favor of Chazen.
Nearly the same number of people supported Jesse Daniels. Jesse — a well-known and liked bartender within the downtown community — dared to take a chance against incumbent Phyllis Norris, the retired vice president of Kroger. He did surprisingly well, winning 40 percent of the vote in that race. And ballot measure 2B — allowing the city to extend the debt on the Riverside Parkway to pay for additional road repairs — passed easily.
So I don’t believe we’ve maintained the status quo. I think the ground has shifted. Voters moved the needle enough to reject the “numbers” guy, although they weren’t comfortable with biting off a $60 million project. I’m OK with that.
And it got me thinking about our community — both who we are and where we want to go. We lack an identity and until we have an identity, we can’t have a vision. Sixty-million-dollar event center projects need to be part of a larger vision for the community. I know how disappointed the event center committee feels. It’s demoralizing to put your heart and soul into a project that you believe will make the community a better place and then get shut down by the very people you want to help. But the event center committee did us a great service. They got us started down the road on a “Say Yes to Grand Junction” movement that hopefully will start a solid and meaningful conversation about who we are, what our vision is and how that translates into public investment and risk.
On Thursday, the Outdoor Recreation Coalition hosted the Western Colorado Outdoor Industry Leadership Summit. I serve on the Leadership Committee and spent the day taking part in conversations with city and state leaders about the role of the outdoor recreation industry in our community. With the election so fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but connect a need for a community identity with the fact that our greatest natural resources are the things we look at every day — the Grand Mesa to the east, the Colorado National Monument to the south, the Bookcliffs to the north and the junction of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers for which our city is named.
The theme of the summit was about growing the outdoor industry beyond its role as an economic driver and taking it to a place where it could help us grow a healthier community. Many of us choose to live here because of the immediate access to the outdoors, the variety of activities available, and the year-round climate that makes outdoor recreation easy.
But the outdoor recreation industry isn’t easy to break into and when 47 percent of your kids are on free or reduced lunch, a fancy mountain bike or confusing rock climbing equipment are laughable. Try breaking into the snow sports industry if you weren’t raised in it. Expensive lift tickets and equipment have forced most middle-class families into a place where it’s an all or nothing sacrifice.
Aside from the cost of entry, the outdoor industry has a culture that hasn’t historically been friendly to beginners or to women. The rise of “extreme” athletes, while fun to watch, marginalize those of us regular folk who just want to get outside and do something fun. And the “bro culture” comes with its own language that you’re only allowed to speak if you’re wearing the right clothing. It’s funny if you think about it. They do everything that we’ve been taught not to do in Customer Service 101.
But we live in a place where nobody is more than a 10-minute drive to the Riverfront trail and probably one-third of us are within walking distance to it. Why don’t we just start there? Simply increasing access to the Riverfront Trail is an easy and attainable thing to do. No fancy clothes or new vocabulary needed. And with that, maybe we can create a new culture — one that is accessible and friendly to everybody, no matter what age, gender or socioeconomic group they come from.
To quote Luis Benitez, the executive director of the Outdoor Industry Office of Colorado, “Anybody who owns a rain coat is part of the outdoor industry.” We don’t really need rain coats here, but you get the point. It’s why some of us live here. Why shouldn’t it be all of us?