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Housing initiatives await ruling on validity

Locals must wait until Thursday to learn the fate of two housing initiative petitions that have each been signed by more than 700 Aspen voters in hopes that they will be placed on a ballot.Hearing officer Karen Goldman has five days after Saturdays protest hearing on the petitions to issue a ruling and she said she will use them. Goldman, secretary to the Colorado Senate, was hired by the city to hear the protests filed against the initiatives. The measures would reshape how the city goes about building worker housing.J.E. DeVilbiss, former district court judge and now a City Council candidate, filed the protests. He was later joined by housing advocate Frank Peters. They were represented yesterday by local attorney Herb Klein.Defending the petitions were their architects, attorneys Joe Edwards and Dwight Shellman.Klein attacked both measures as attempts to meddle with the way the city does business; they arent legal subjects of the initiative process as a result, he said. Klein also argued the initiatives lack basic information about the people who signed and circulated them and should be tossed out on that basis.The constitutional rights of more than 700 electors shouldnt be trampled due to a technical oversight that had no bearing on the city clerks ability to process the petitions, Edwards countered. He also claimed the two ordinances put forward by the petitions would establish new, broad policies regarding city development of worker housing legitimate subjects for initiatives rather than tinker with the citys day-to-day administrative decisions.The six-hour hearing included lengthy legal interpretations of previous court cases regarding the initiative process and some occasionally entertaining testimony.Klein noted many of the petitions lacked the city and county of residence of both the people who signed them and of the circulators, who were required to provide that information on affidavits attached to the petitions.Many of the circulators who were called to testify conceded they had not boned up on what the laws required of them, though they each signed an affidavit indicating they were aware of their responsibilities.Bert Myrin, a mayoral candidate who organized the petition drive, testified that all of the circulators were provided with copies of the pertinent state statutes and sections of the city charter, though most of them apparently failed to read the material. Had they read it, Klein reasoned, they would have known the city and county of residence was required of signatories and on the affidavits.I dont remember reading any law about that, said circulator Lani White.Circulator Toni Kronberg said she was well acquainted with the laws regarding initiative petitions, though she submitted 19 flawed petitions, according to Klein.Sometimes I can be, maybe the word to describe it is blonde, so to speak, Kronberg explained.The residency information is important because the U.S. Supreme Court relaxed other requirements of circulators, reasoning that the information would be included on their affidavits, according to Klein.Yeah, we live in a small town. That doesnt mean the laws dont apply to us, he said.The absence of the information didnt jeopardize the integrity of the process, Edwards countered. City Clerk Kathryn Koch testified that she didnt have trouble verifying the signatures, based on names and street addresses, and didnt think voters should be disenfranchised because their city and county of residence was missing.That would have been no more useful to her than if theyd put USA on there, or the world, Edwards said. The [petitions] shouldnt be invalidated for that technicality.Klein also argued that both petitions would prevent the city from entering into contracts something initiated ordinances arent legally able to address.The initiatives tinker with the very ability to carry out administrative functions, he said.One of the petitions would prevent the city from developing worker housing projects of more than a certain size or cost without first disclosing the costs of the development and then obtaining voter approval. The other would prohibit the city from entering into annexation or preannexation agreements that bypass the land-use code or call for the city to take on any of the landowners costs.Both measures were prompted by what Shellman has called the abuses that occurred as the city pursued an annexation deal for its controversial Burlingame Ranch housing.Questioned by Klein, City Councilman Terry Paulson did not elaborate on what provisions of the preannexation agreement for Burlingame called for bypassing the land-use code.Paulson, who helped circulate petitions, also said he wouldnt support an initiative that didnt allow the city to spend money on design work so it had something to present to voters.Klein, however, pointed out language in one of the measures that would prevent the city from spending money to design infrastructure but also require the city to get voter approval before it spends money on infrastructure for a housing project.Edwards conceded the ambiguity in the language. That wasnt the intention it can definitely be read that way, he said.I think we have a flawed process and I think we have a flawed petition, Klein said.Goldmans ruling may be appealed in district court. If she deems the petitions valid and her ruling is not challenged, the measures are scheduled to appear on the citys May 3 ballot.Janet Urquharts e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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