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EDITOR'S DESK: For OWN, city's doors closing could mean others opening

By Kenyon Jordan

        Dave Hughes raises a good point in his Westside Pioneer guest column, headlined “CDBG funding cutback for Westside is a sign of its success.”
       It's true that Old Colorado City and the Westside are in better shape today - in large part due to the revitalization efforts he led in the 1970s and '80s.
       So yes, we should be pleased. Yay, we're better off, we don't need a city subsidy anymore!
       The other side of that coin is: What happens now? The Mayor's Office decision to eliminate neighborhood strategy areas (NSAs) and take a new tack with its federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds leaves a leadership vacuum on the Westside, or at least the potential for one.

       As Hughes' column relates, for about 36 years, the volunteer Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) has been the city-recognized advocacy group for the older Westside. A nonprofit entity, OWN had a formal deal with the city, receiving CDBG funds in exchange for specific types of neighborhood outreach “to support city efforts to revitalize the blight-stricken Westside,” to quote from the OWN website (westsideneighbors.org).
       This outreach has mainly consisted of OWN board members listening to their neighbors, meeting regularly to consider Westside NSA issues, publishing newsletters (four a year at one time, more recently three), holding picnics and other events, presenting awards to achievers, scrutinizing development projects, writing and analyzing mail-in surveys on controversial subjects, representing our area to city officials, pushing proposals (the Spirit Awards succeeded, the historic overlay failed) and sometimes ticking people off.
       In a way, OWN has been the Westside's “mini-council.” The board meetings have always been open to the public. There has also been OWN's annual town hall, where people could vote for OWN board members, but only a sliver of the population ever did. Or they could nominate themselves for the board… an even smaller sliver. Maybe they sensed that the group had only limited powers.
       You'd think this reality might have been reflected on the OWN board itself, but as an observer at nearly all their meetings over the last 10-plus years, watching them wade painstakingly through hours of sometimes mind-numbing detail, I have been impressed that there have been a sufficient number of objectively minded, community-spirited volunteers willing to take on that thankless work.
       So what now? Current OWN President Welling Clark has expressed an interest in keeping the entity alive, continuing outreach in possibly different ways. Aware for months that the mayor was leaning toward such a funding decision, Clark and his board members had already been brainstorming ideas for a hybrid form of OWN, one that might raise funds and/or cut expenses to stay afloat, and the subject is likely to crop up again at board meetings this fall.
       An interesting element of such discussions is that the removal of CDBG funding actually gives OWN greater freedom, if it chooses to keep going. The old NSA contract included city checklist items about how often newsletters should be printed or town meetings held. Now that's all gone.
       Also, the intent of OWN's 1978 creation had been to make it the residential bookend to the commercial revitalization in Old Colorado City. Some past OWN board members took that concept so much to heart that at times OWN was seen as anti-business. It could even be argued that a rigid pro-residential attitude contributed to the eventually unfixable conflict with the city over the proposed historic overlay.
       But such rigidity has seemed to soften over the past couple of years, as seen by the organization working closely with a business group, the Avenue Merchants, to find answers to crime problems along the Colorado Avenue corridor. Who now could object to such a friendly relationship? Certainly not the city, nor (any longer) the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which sets rules on cities' use of CDBG funds.
       In the same regard, OWN is no longer constrained by its old boundaries. They are clearly outdated for the part of the Westside NSA south of Highway 24 and east of 21st Street. In 1978, several hundred acres there were an environmental question mark, defined as part of Westside blight because of the unmitigated, former gold mill site. Nowadays, that acreage contains the bustling Crown Hill Mesa and Gold Hill Mesa subdivisions, with little or no need for OWN outreach efforts.
       On the geographical flip side, there is evidence that even with the success Dave Hughes describes in his column, not all of what could be considered the older Westside is thriving. I have some concerns with the side-effects of the Title I program that schools use to define poverty; nonetheless, the Title 1 data shows without question that many families are having trouble getting by. Within the current Westside NSA, the attendance areas for both West and Midland elementaries have enough qualifying students for District 11 to deem them “Title 1 schools.” Another is Bristol Elementary, whose attendance area is partly within the old Westside NSA, which ends at Uintah Street. But Bristol's attendance area continues north to Van Buren Street and takes in other neighborhoods north of Uintah as well.
       So what I'm suggesting is that - as part of reinventing itself in a leaner, “meaner,” post- CDBG way - OWN update the area it represents to focus on neighborhoods that need it the most. And a step in that direction could involve taking on the entire Bristol attendance area while dropping Gold Hill Mesa/Crown Hill Mesa.
       That's just one of the possibilities for OWN, now that it's on its own.

(Posted 9/30/14, updated 10/5/14; Opinion: Editor's Desk)

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