No-compromise stance called key in saving Red Rock

       For the stereotypers of the world, it may come as a surprise that perhaps the most valuable player in preserving Red Rock Canyon as open space is a former corporate executive.
       Joe Fabeck, who worked in that capacity for the Holly Sugar Company in Colorado Springs from 1969 to 1982, doesn't think it's surprising at all. The Manitou Springs resident says his business background was essential in leading the volunteer Red Rock Canyon Committee during the key period of 2000 to 2003.
       He and his committee were so successful they worked themselves out of a job. When the city of Colorado Springs purchased the ruggedly picturesque property (bordered by Highway 24, Crystal Hills, Section 16 and the Midland area of the Westside), the committee disbanded itself at the end of 2003.
       Such a happy prospect was scarcely a light at the end of the tunnel when Fabeck, who had been involved with the committee since it formed in spring 1999, became its chairman in spring 2000.
       Richard Yates, of the Zydeco company in New Mexico, had bought an option on the roughly 790-acre property from the Bock family (which had owned it for some 80 years) and planned to build houses there. Talk at the time among many open-space advocates was of dealing with Zydeco to obtain as much open space as possible within the seemingly inevitable development. But Fabeck had other ideas.
       “I resisted compromise,” Fabeck recalled in an interview with the Westside Pioneer. “My position was that I've negotiated with Teamsters, retail clerks and other unions. I didn't believe compromising at that point was necessary.”
        Fabeck particularly credits Don Ellis for keeping the issue in the forefront with a monthly four-page newsletter, the Red Rock Rag. The Rag, which Ellis initially printed and mailed out at his own cost, continued publication from May 2000 until the final issue this January.
       Along the way, the publication built a reputation of being as much a source for information as for advocacy. Ellis, an engineer/inventor who had hiked Red Rock Canyon extensively as a boy, reflected his interest with articles ranging from the property's geology to its Indian finds to the origin of the “Colorado” state name (stemming in part from Red Rock Canyon's).
       He expanded on his research by making presentations on the canyon's natural offerings to different groups, using posters, slides and other handouts he prepared for the purpose.
       Meanwhile, Fabeck was contacting politicians and broadening community support for the idea of preserving the property in its entirety as open space. This drew on another aspect of his corporate know-how - marketing.
        “Don and I had matching personalities,” Fabeck said. “He could handle the detail, and I could make the cold calls.”
       He also praised other Red Rock Canyon Committee members, who gave input at the group's regular meetings and assisted in different ways. “We had a good core group,” Fabeck said, then added with a slight twinkle, “I think Don's newsletter gave people the impression we were stronger than we were.”
       Ellis, in turn, gives kudos to Kent Obee, an early committee member who went on to chair the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) committee, a citizen arm of Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation which makes decisions on using the city's open space sales tax revenues.
       Obee, a career foreign diplomat who retired to Colorado Springs (his previous home) in 1995, helped smooth the path “when Joe and I got too abrasive,” Ellis said.
       “I was always willing to talk to people, to find the best way to present the case,” Obee elaborated. “There was just a myriad of little issues we went through - political, strategic and tactical… We had to decide when to push, where to push.”
        Obee admitted he was not overly confident about stopping Zydeco. “The single biggest political decision was to hold out or make a deal,” he said. “It helped that Yates never came up with a compromise that was good enough to tempt people.”
       His wife, Ruth Obee, writing in the final issue of the Red Rock Rag last month, described those years as a “don't-blink-first brand of toughness and optimism that reminded some observers of an old-fashioned poker game.”
        But Fabeck's determination was based on more than a bluff. “Don and I believed that water was the critical issue, and that they (Zydeco) didn't have the water,” Fabeck said.
       Ellis said he did not initially see the chance for victory that Fabeck did. “Joe convinced me of that,” he said, noting one of Fabeck's mantras: “Once you compromise, you never get more than you ask for.”
        Fabeck's position was not universally admired. A Colorado Springs City Council member (unnamed) even suggested at one point that he resign because his hard line was “interfering with the city's attempt to work out a compromise,” Fabeck recalled.
       Taking the offensive leading up to the 2001 Colorado Springs City Council elections, Fabeck and his committee began meeting with candidates, putting them on the spot about Red Rock Canyon. He takes a certain pride now that a candidate who did not favor preserving the property was defeated.
       By late 2002, Zydeco let its option run out, unable to secure a pledge from any local governments it had approached (Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs or El Paso County) to provide the necessary water to the property.
        A certain amount of luck was involved in this turnaround. “One of the places we were lucky was that Yates was not of this community, and he made some key mistakes,” Obee said.
       Then came the tragedy that turned the tide: John S. Bock died. Bock had inherited the land from his father, John G. Bock, who had pieced the property together in a series of land purchases after World War I. The younger Bock had always resisted dealing with the city, Obee said - in fact, Bock and Yates filed a lawsuit at one point against Colorado Springs, claiming it was legally bound to provide water for the Zydeco development.
       But when Bock passed on, the lawsuit went away, and Bock's widow, Joan, was ready to sell. Obee had his TOPS committee equally ready to engineer the purchase, consummating it through the private Trust for Public Land group, which in turn sold the land to the city for the asking price of $12.5 million. These events took place during 2003, with the final papers signed late last year.
       “From time to time I still pinch myself that this happened,” Obee said. “”So many things could have happened differently, or gone wrong. It's a minor miracle we are where we are today.”
       “I like it,” Fabeck said of the success, wearing a huge grin. “I'm enjoying every minute of it.”
        He is not out of the Red Rock Canyon effort completely. His involvement now is back to what it was when he first joined the committee - leading hikes through the property (the third Saturday of the month through March).
        In fact, it was his love of hiking - he averages 5 to 6 miles a day - that first got him involved in open space politics, back in the late 1990s. On one such hike, he met Mark Snyder, then of Manitou's Open Space Committee, now a city council member. That chance encounter led to Fabeck becoming a member of that committee and later Red Rock Canyon's.
        His current passion is advocacy for the Manitou Springs Library's expansion effort. “Yesterday, I labeled 2,100 newsletters,” he said.
       Definitely not your stereotypical business executive.

Westside Pioneer article