The city of Steamboat Springs is spending large sums of money fighting its own citizens, mostly in losing cases. For example, in just the past five,weeks, the Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled against the city three times.
First, the Humble Ranch case. This involves interpretation of language in a contract, an issue so straightforward and perfunctory that the trial court entered summary judgment — granted only when a judge determines there are no material issues of fact in question — in favor of Humble Ranch. The city is indignant that the wording is not to its liking, but for this it only has its own lawyers to blame. Nonetheless, the city appealed. The Appeals Court soon approved the lower court’s ruling. Despite having already spent more than $100,000 (equal to city sales tax collections on $2.5 million of retail sales) on outside attorney fees, the city promptly announced it would further appeal this case to the Supreme Court, thus incurring still more fees and costs in an ever more pointless cause.
In the West Acres Mobile Home Park tenants case, the tenants sought to intervene in the city’s condemnation action to convert greenbelts adjoining the park to roads — roads that, for now, serve no purpose, yet have so far cost the city $1.2 million. An independent appraisal determined this taking has caused a loss in value of the tenants’ mobile homes and the leaseholds upon which they sit of more than $400,000. In spite of these very real, very substantial damages, and precedent established 19 years ago when the residents of Fish Creek Trailer Park received an average of $5,000 per unit when the city built a trail between the park and the Yampa River, the city refused to compensate the tenants and fought their motion to intervene. Incomprehensibly, to the tenants, the judge ruled in favor of the city.
The tenants appealed. On July 13, the Appeals Court ruled that the tenants “… indisputably have compensable property rights,” thereby reversing the lower court’s decision and ordering that trial go forward to determine the amount of damages due to the tenants. The city immediately reasserted that, regardless, it owes the tenants nothing and will continue its fight, presumably by appealing to the Supreme Court. The city claims it never has treated the tenants poorly, but actions speak louder and more truthfully than words.
Imagine how differently this would have been handled had the greenbelts been located in, say, the Sanctuary. Or how differently the city handled the proposed road through Rita Valentine Park.
In C.D. Johnson vs. the city, the Appeals Court ruled that the lower court erred in supporting the city’s position on the measure of damages to Johnson’s property resulting from condemnation of the same greenbelts as taken from the tenants above. The measure of damages the city wanted used would have resulted in far lower damages for Johnson than the Appeals Court ruled is the proper measure. Will the city also appeal this?
In none of these cases does the city occupy the legal or moral high ground. This might explain its refusal to mediate any of them in good faith.
City Council supposedly is elected to represent the best interests of the city and its citizens and, indeed, having taken an oath to do so, continues its repeated attempts to sidestep the law, to violate its own open space and trail safety policies and to outright bully its citizens.
To carry out these arrogant, heavy-handed — yet losing — goals, they are squandering large quantities of finite city resources. It is high time that those responsible be held accountable.
Luke Gibbon, Pete Grove, Ken and Teri Carpenter, Stuart Lynn, Judy Savage, and Tom and Terry Armstrong
Editor’s note: The above letter writers are residents of West Acres Mobile Home Park and are party to the ongoing litigation with the city of Steamboat Springs.