A candlelight call for help by Basalt residents
December 22, 2013
Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park residents reached out in a unique way Thursday night for help in Basalt, and they were embraced by a segment of the community.
A faction of the residents who formed Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt held a candlelight vigil featuring gravestones that sent urgent pleas for help to remain in the town. The tombs conveyed the message that the town will lose the ethnic diversity it has possessed for at least 30 years if it doesn't find replacement housing for residents who are being displaced. The tombs had various sayings such as "R.I.P. Community" and "R.I.P. Diversity."
About 75 people attended the vigil. Many were Latinos who live in the park. About a third were Anglos who showed up to show support.
The trailer-park residents are being relocated while the town government undertakes a project to ease the flooding threat of the Roaring Fork River. Half the site will be redeveloped as a riverside park. The other half is being prepared for development. Some residents have been relocated already. The town is providing financial assistance that ranges from $15,000 to $22,000.
“I think it would be really harmful to them if they had to move at this point in their education.”
Basalt High School principal
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The first speaker of the evening, a resident of the Pan and Fork who asked that her name not be printed, said her family toiled for 10 years to pay off the $90,000 for their mobile home. The financial assistance the town offered is about $20,000, she said.
The woman, who spoke in Spanish and had her comments translated into English, said she is afraid that won't be enough for her to find alternative housing in the Basalt school system. She has five kids. Two graduated from Basalt. Another has two years left and doesn't want to be the first in the family to graduate from a different school.
"I ask that Basalt act with compassion and from the heart," the woman said while breaking into tears.
Basalt High School Principal Dave Schmid avoided the political morass of the situation but raised education issues. It is stressful for the students at the high school from the Pan and Fork to concentrate with the future so unsettled, he said.
"I think it would be really harmful to them if they had to move at this point in their education," Schmid said.
Speaker Angel Castillo, a ninth-grader at Basalt, said he worries about how his family will afford the gas to get him to school in Basalt if they have to move somewhere such as Rifle.
Members of Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt have estimated there are 40 to 70 students in the public schools from the Pan and Fork.
Another trailer-park resident, Isabel Martinez, demonstrated how the Latino residents are part of Basalt's fabric. She said she moved to the area in 1990, met her future husband in Basalt and established a home at the Pan and Fork nine years ago. They are raising three kids and value the Basalt schools because they offer bilingual education.
"That proves that Basalt values diversity," she said. She pleaded for the town to continue valuing diversity by finding replacement housing for the families at the Pan and Fork.
The well-organized gathering used other tactics to put faces and names to the issue to show that it's more than a sticky political problem. Family members held up signs that showed their surnames, space number and number of years at Pan and Fork. They included Martinez, Sanchez, Linares, Ramos, Chavez and Maribel Canas.
Isabel Martinez acknowledged the Anglos in the crowd.
"Your presence here is appreciated," she said.
Most of the Anglos who attended the vigil weren't among the speakers, but they held candles and cheered the presenters. Sophie Catto, a sophomore at Colorado Rocky Mountain School and a lifelong resident of Basalt, said she values Basalt for its diversity and wants it to remain. She attended the vigil to provide support for the Workers' efforts to remain in Basalt. Events like the vigil can help, she said, because "government works for the people."
Longtime Basalt resident Norm Bacheldor attended the vigil to show his support for finding replacement housing. He served on the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission for 12 years, including several as chairman. His tenure included the period when Basalt crafted a River Master Plan that placed a high priority on relocating Pan and Fork residents because of the flood threat. It was always envisioned that they would be given the opportunity to move elsewhere in town, he said.
"I remember that as a commitment," Bacheldor said. He believes civic memory of that commitment has "slipped."
Basalt Councilman Rick Stevens and Assistant Town Manager Judi Tippetts attended the vigil but didn't speak.
The Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt group has collected about 250 signatures on a petition urging the town government to do more to keep Pan and Fork residents in Basalt. It will be submitted to the town government today, according to event organizers.
Marie Gasau, pastor at the Basalt United Methodist Community Church, gave a stirring speech that provided hope that Basalt will rally for the displaced residents. She wore a T-shirt that asked, "Got Compassion," on the front and answered, "Basalt does," on the back.
"I believe the answer is among us," Gasau said, referring to a solution to the displacement. Basalt residents of all types need to help find that solution, she said.
"We are all children of God," Gasau said.