Acting City Manager, Mark Relph

Mark Relph.JPG

by Patrick Fitzgerald

Littleton’s Public Works Director, Mark Relph, will serve as Acting City Manager while City Council searches for a replacement for the recently-fired Michael Penny. During his interview before City Council to serve as Littleton’s acting city manager, Relph showed himself to be a conscientious and diligent public servant.

This is consistent with the view of many of the citizens who had personal dealings with Relph as Public Works Director.  Citizens have been impressed with his willingness to meet personally, and his desire to address problems.

Before coming to Littleton, Relph had a career as City Engineer and Public Works Manager in small-to-medium sized cities all over the western United States.  He also has previous experience as interim City Manager.

A desire to be back in Colorado for the last job of his career, led him to take the Littleton Public Works Manager at $30,000 less that he was getting in a similar-sized city in Washington state.  That pattern continues as he asked less for his interim position than the fired Littleton City Manager had received.

Relph has demonstrated a management style rare in both the public and private sectors.  Respect for the importance of the jobs performed under his charge, and for the experience of those doing them, leads him to seek input from the professionals he supervises.  His style is to deal with those people face-to-face, rather than in emails and memos.  He has demonstrated the same style with the public, meeting in person to listen respectfully to citizen concerns, and giving prompt responses.

City Council may be confident that day-to-day City affairs are in good hands while they search for a permanent City Manager.  Relph says he is not interested in that position.  Citizens, also, may be confident that Council will not be pressured to make a hasty decision, and will be able to conduct a true and wide-ranging search for the next Littleton City Manager.

Relph has given much thought to city processes like budgeting and standards, and will be helping Littleton function in better ways while he serves as Acting City Manager.  He will not be just a competent placeholder, but an active worker for improvement.

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Meet Community Character: What, Why and How

by Don Burns

Stated most simply, community character is a neighborhood’s basic nature, its distinctive mark and reputation.  It defines neighborhoods.  Community character consists in the arrangement or design of three basic components that make up every neighborhood:

 

  • Green: Trees, shrubs, other plants and porous surface including greenways, open-space, parks, cultivated gardens, and both planted and native landscaping.
  •  Brown: Architectural mass, volume and size; the structural part of the built-environment, establishing both enclosure and separation and an artificial sense-of-place.
  •  Grey: Concrete and asphalt paving, stonework and other impervious surfaces including roadways and streets, parking areas, sidewalks, and surfaced trails.

 

The relative proportion of these three key elements produces different types of community character.[1] Eight distinct types of community character have been recognized within three character classes along a spectrum ranging from “natural” to “urban core.”  Community character describes the relative balance of “Green”, “Brown” and “Grey” space, a scale of development intensities, along this continuum.Don's chart 2

As homes are built and cities developed, “Green” space is converted to “Brown” architecture and two-dimensional “Grey” space.  This transformation accompanies growth, but some of it can be slowed or reversed by careful design.  Where desirable, this can be done across several Community Character types by maintaining sufficient “Green” space to soften hard architectural lines, adopting complementary architectural design principles and standards, and carefully landscaping hardscapes.

 

Community character gives rise to neighborhood personality because it inextricably affects the human environment: household function, neighborhood appeal, a community’s social and cultural fabric, local economic conditions, and the natural world itself.  Responsive management of community character is therefore essential to personal and societal well-being and environmental quality.

 

Relative proportion and arrangement of the three basic elements of community character therefore produce both good (beneficial) and bad (adverse or negative) end-results or outcomes.  Whether the effects are beneficial or adverse depends on at least two things: 1) the objective composition and design of a neighborhood’s “green,” “brown” and “grey” elements and 2) the subjectively held desires and preferences of a community’s citizenry for the character-dependent outcomes thereby produced.

 

Different people have differing desires for Community Character itself and consequent outcomes.[2]  Typically, those living in rural or suburban environments place a high value on maintenance of visual and physical access to nature, open-space and distinctive architecture while urban residents tend to have a greater attraction to structural landscapes, architecturally defined sense of place and city skylines.

Don's chart 3

Challenges these realities pose for policy makers and administrators are several.  First is, developing awareness of the nature and importance of Community Character.  Such awareness in turn poses subsequent challenges of how to take stock of existing Community Character, identify citizens’ desires for specific Community Character conditions, plan to provide and maintain those specific Community Character types, and modify zoning and other administrative actions to maintain community integrity and social well-being.

Responsively addressing community character involves at least four people and place-based processes:

  1. Inventorying existing neighborhood Community Character conditions, community residents’ desired future character conditions and their character-dependent outcome preferences.
  2. Analyzing supply and demand to identify the specific Community Character types that will sustainably produce the specific outcomes desired by citizens of each neighborhood.
  3. Crafting responsive management plans that provide and maintain desired Community Character conditions, optimizing desirable beneficial end-results—and avoiding those undesirable.
  4. Integrating provisions within relevant zoning ordinances, and ensure responsive follow through.

Capture


[1] Brett C. Keast, The Role of Community Character in Place-Based Planning, Arkansas APA Conference, September 9, 2011

[2] “Beneficial and Negative Outcomes” table adapted from “Appendix to Chapter 3 Positive and Negative Outcomes Checklists” (pp. 69-73) in Managing to Optimize the Beneficial Outcomes of Recreation by B.L. Driver, Venture Publishing, State College, 2008.

[3] Extracted from Community Character, Principles for Design and Planning, Land Kendig and Bret Keast, Island Press, Washington, 2010.

 

Trees–Planting for the Future

One of the stories about societies that choose to fail or succeed in Jared Diamond’s book Collapse is about the people of Papua New Guinea. They discovered that their island nation was starting to have serious issues with land erosion, lack of fresh water and ability to feed themselves.  Fortunately for them, someone understood that the issues were causes by cutting down the trees. They decided to solve the problem.  They focused on tree planting but with an emphasis on fruit trees because this would also solve part of their food problem.  Today their society is thriving.

Another country working aggressively toward environmental solutions to their problems is India.

In July 800,000 people turned out to attempt to plant 50 million tree saplings across the state of

“Uttar Pradesh in 24 hours which was also an attempt to break a world record set by Pakistan in 2013 of 847,275 trees…. Students, lawmakers, government officials and others headed out to plant trees at designated spots along roads, rail tracks and in forested lands.”* Hopefully this won’t be their only attempt at beating the world record. The Indian government is encouraging all states to start tree-planting drives like the one in Uttar Pradesh. It has designated more than $6.2 billion for this purpose alone. India pledged to push its forest cover to 235 million acres by 2030.

With these world-wide accomplishments in mind, let’s think about what we could do locally if we had the desire.  Drive around town and look for property with few or no trees. Wonder about why this is so.  Do people not plant trees because they don’t like trees? Or is it because they don’t want to rake leaves?  Or do some people love extremely hot environments? Or are these rental houses?

Ok, let’s not worry about why. Let’s focus on what the benefits of growing trees are.  Here’s how you can tell very quickly.  Drive down Broadway through auto row on a really hot sunny day with your windows rolled up and no air conditioning.  Then drive across the area of Littleton Blvd between Windermere and the railroad on the same day with the same conditions. Feel the difference?

Stand in the middle of the parking lot at Woodlawn midday away from the trees for about 5 minutes.  Then walk over and stand under one of the trees there.  Find a street in any part of town that has lots of mature trees, such as Bemis north of Lake Ave.  Feel the difference?

What else do trees do for us?  Filter air?  Breathe in CO2 and breathe out oxygen?  Create mini ecosystems?  Produce organic matter for this desert we live in?  Provide nesting areas for birds and other animals? Filter water down to the water table?  Provide food for us?

When planting trees, plan ahead. Think about what they will grow under – avoid power lines.  Don’t plant trees that will shade the roof of your house in case you want to get solar panels.  Plant trees that will produce fruit. Plant something other than ash trees because of the Emerald Ash Borer.  Don’t plant Russian Olive trees because they use too much water. Plant trees that will provide partial shade for a garden because vegetables do not need full sun 8 hours a day, and in Colorado they often cook and die if they do.

Now is a good time to buy a tree from any local nursery because the prices should be much lower. Get instructions on how to plant them and follow those instructions. Plant one for your kids, plant one for your grandchildren, plant one for the future. Just Get Planting!!!

As an anonymous Green proverb says, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.”

*http://www.ecowatch.com/plant-50-million-trees-guinness-world-record-1917368877.html

Higher Water Bills: Who Won and Who Lost?

Lawn

by Carl Paulson, Professional Engineer (P.E.)

Have you noticed a big increase in your water bill?  Yes, we’re paying more for water.  But people in Cherry Hills got a 20% rate reduction!

Littleton single family residence customers received an average 15% increase, with some individual residents seeing an increase of up to 40%.  That adds up to Littleton residents paying $621,000 more for water in 2016 than in 2015.

Our Centennial neighbors got an average 14% increase, and will pay $890,000 more than in 2015.

But here’s the big news–Cherry Hills residents, with their 20% rate decrease, will pay $477,000 less in 2016.

How did this happen?  I did a thorough investigation—details below.  The increase was designed by Denver Water’s Rate Structure Review Committee.  There was just one municipality with direct representation on the committee.  That was Cherry Hills, the municipality that comes out of this rate schedule as the big winner with a 20% reduction in their bill.

Here is the investigation that I conducted to get to the bottom of our April 1 rate increase:

Back in late February Denver Water sent, with their bill, an advertisement announcing a needed 3.8% revenue increase and also a new rate schedule.  Being curious, I calculated that my annual bill would go up 26%.

So I contacted Denver Water to confirm. Then I contacted a new member of Denver Water’s Citizen Advisory Committee, Michael Cowan.  He indicated his bill was increasing similarly, that he was asking questions, and that he was getting what he called “squishy answers.”

He then invited me to a Citizens Advisory Committee meeting. I spoke there.  I also spoke at a Denver Water Board of Commissioners meeting on March 23.

Following that meeting, I met with Angela Bricmont, Denver Water’s Director of Finance.  I have now received, I believe, all of the materials that were used to arrive at the new rate schedule. Along with that information I received data that allows me to report the actual rate increases—and decrease.

I presented this situation to the Littleton City Council at their meeting on August 2.  Along with the information above here, I wanted them to see that our rates were increased with no representation from Littleton.

After I spoke at the August 2 Littleton City Council meeting, it was decided that the Interim City Manager would look into the water rate increases.

Denver Water Chart

Note: The author, Carl Paulson, is mentioned in the Denver Post article about water rate increases at http://www.denverpost.com/2016/08/14/denver-waters-new-rate-structure-shocks-customers/

Ganging Up with the Neighbors

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by Betty Harris

Ok, so you read that as ganging up ON the neighbors.  Part of what the Littleton Garden Gang is doing feels like it was started by neighbors ganging up on one another because we get calls from Code Enforcement to help out someone who has been turned in by their neighbors for code violations relating to gardens, yards, bushes, trees, etc.

The Littleton Garden Gang has two origins but basically one purpose.  Although there is no official membership the volunteers come from two sources. About half of the volunteers at some events are from a group called the Sunshine Boys because some of those folks have taken the Cool Gardening Class taught by Betty Harris and they have a particular interest in helping neighbors. The other half is made up of other attendees at that free class that focuses on learning ways to grow more plants, food, etc while using less water based on techniques from Brad Lancaster.  (Google: rainwater harvesting Brad Lancaster to learn more.) Betty considers the class as a means of jump starting learners’ brains to different methods of gardening in Colorado with an emphasis on organic gardening and the Building a Food Forest ideas of Eric Toensmeier.  Both these gentlemen, Lancaster and Toensmeier, have books out on the techniques they have learned and were instructors in 2015 at a nine-day class at Woodbine Ecology Center in Sedalia owned by Pavlos Stavropolis, another Littleton resident.

On any particular project the volunteer makeup can be more from one group or another but when they work together they are simply the Littleton Garden Gang. On July 7 twenty volunteers showed up at the O’Dell residence on W. Costilla Ave and started what turned out to be 3 different days of work. None of those were 8-hour days but two were 5-hour days.  The O’Dell’s situation was such that the owner and his wife asked Betty Harris if she could get some people together to help them although they were embarrassed to ask for help.  So a date and time was planned and the project surveyed by Dave Mitchell to decide what tools and kinds of work would be needed.

As a result of Dave’s survey the first group of 20 volunteers showed up and split into 2 groups to accomplish the goal of basically digging the family out of a yard that was overgrown and out of control with additional issues of logs of cottonwood that had been there some time waiting to be split.  Ill health and trying to keep a business afloat had prevented the family from taking care of this themselves. About 6 men attacked the yellow jackets and the logs, moving the logs to the driveway. A monstrous pile then was left until Monday when a splitter could be rented.  The remainder of the crew whacked and trimmed and pruned and chopped weeds and bushes and smaller trees into submission leaving piles of organic matter that was used as a base for later application of a massive amount of mulch.

On Monday, July 9 a crew of 12 showed up to split up into 2 groups again. One group included Jose Trujillo, former owner of Jose’s in downtown Littleton who at 80 seems to have as much or more stamina than folks about half his age. This group split all the wood, stacked a pile for the O’Dell’s inside their fence and a long pile outside the fence while the other group of volunteers finished up inside applying cardboard barriers and wood mulch to keep the weeds at bay for a few years. The balance of the split wood was picked up by members of the garden gang and then it was offered to the public on NextDoor.com. It was gone within a couple of days.

On the following Saturday another crew of 10 showed up to finish up the work. This group included a student from the gardening class and her husband and young daughter. When it was mentioned that we were so happy to meet the husband we were told that the daughter had told him that he really needed to come help do something for the community! So he and his daughter worked together on part of the project for about 3 hrs.

All this activity involving all these Littleton citizens is building a stronger community and these folks have a fun time working together and socializing. They also need to be fed and watered and this is covered by a community grant from the city. The grant is stretched as thin as possible to cover as many events as possible.  It was expected that the O’Dell project might have required a roll off trash bin which can cost up to $350…but the group managed to pull this off for the price of a few lunches, bottled water and rental of a log splitter.

Since this particular large project another Littleton resident was identified by Code Enforcement.  He is suffering from cancer and some of his neighbors complained because some of his trees were growing up and over the property next door.

Dave Mitchell took this project in hand and convinced Frank Atwood and John Watson to come over and start the process of getting this property back into line with city code.  This involved removing some trees and some weeding and grass cutting.  Posting about this project on NextDoor.com produced 3-4 new people that didn’t fit in either of the other groups but who wanted to help.  One of these was Joni Achenbach who is a powerhouse when it comes to getting things done. We are proud to add her to the garden gang. Over about a week of part time work the area was cleaned up and Mark Barons was able to get some help from Public Works to work with Xcel to remove some trees that were too near the hot power line for our crews to deal with.

Code Enforcement provided a truck and two helpers on very short notice to haul away a mass of tree trimmings. We are very thankful for their help on this. Some neighbors expressed thanks for helping, some provided brooms, etc… some came and provided labor and one joined the garden gang and is going to water some new plants that have been planted around the mail box.

Those who want to learn and work with the group, take the class, help their neighbors and just have fun building a stronger community with a great friendly character are welcome to contact Betty Harris at 720.560.3806.

Cool Gardening Ideas: Trashing the Present and Future

by Betty Harris

Most of us have no memory of where we get our ideas from or why we do the things we do.  Here is one example: Statement of “fact”: Goats eat tin cans. Source: Not sure but most likely because lots of poorer people in the back country have scrub goats that they pasture in areas where they also throw their trash and goats like woody plant matter and tin cans have paper on them – thus plant matter. Truth:  Goats eat a greater variety of plant matter than most other species including yucca plants! Ouch!  But they are factitious eaters and will not eat anything that falls on dirty bedding in their stalls. However, cows will eat that, manure and all.

Ok, so we have an example that makes sense. Here is the next challenge.

Idea stuck in our heads: all plant matter is trash and must be removed and put in plastic bags and we must pay the trash service to remove it.

Source:  unknown but perhaps it is an old sales pitch by some garbage removal service.

Truth:  The earth is better off if we garden like God does. If it falls on the ground, He leaves it.

What do you do then with all that plant matter?

We must admit that we live in a desert which has a thin layer of topsoil, if we are lucky, and then some sand and underneath it all a lot of clay.  Many people who try to grow things in their back yards discover that the builder back-filled to create a yard surface with all kinds of junk.  Our back was littered with chunks of asphalt down about 6 inches.

Regardless of where we got the idea that all plant matter is trash, we end up trashing the future by giving it to the trash man when it is needed desperately to create soil out of the chemistry we call dirt. This dirt covers our yards and requires fertilizers and other expensive inputs to make that green carpet that we insist on having laid down on top of that awful dirt.

Dirt is chemistry, soil is biology.  Soil has to be built up by additions of organic matter that lure in worms and all kinds of other ground critters to break it down. Organic matter that falls on top is taken down into the ground, and is eaten by various kinds of life.  Nutrients are exchanged between plants and ground animals to the benefit of all.

When European settlers came to this country, the soil was alive and rich with nutrients because the native peoples didn’t have black plastic bags or trash services.  Do a bit of research, genealogy in particular, and you can see how greats numbers of white settlers moved across the country based on farming practices that killed the soil, wearing it out until it wouldn’t grow enough food to keep them healthy.  As soil depletion prompted moving to another area covered with trees and thus full of humus, the people cut the trees and grew crops, and some learned to do cover crops to replenish the soil.

Modern agricultural practices create dirt from soil rather than the other way around.  But we are not corporate farmers. We are backyard gardeners who can produce a lot of food for our families and friends. We frequently start by tilling the dirt, trying to kill weeds or grass, adding topsoil and other soil supplements that we buy in bags to try to make the dirt into soil.  Tilling mostly kills the soil life, and spreads weed seeds and bind weed roots that continue to spread.

What should we do differently?  Think before you trash your children’s future.  Think about what you can do with the grass clipping ON your property rather than at the curb.  Think about what you can do when pruning of trees, bushes and other plants.

Consider that if there are plant trimmings that have lots of seeds that you don’t want to spread, put just the seed heads in the trash. But cut up the rest into small segments and drop them on the soil just under the plants you are trimming. Gardening expert Eric Toensmeier calls this “chop and drop.” It mimics what God does.

Mulch your flower and garden beds with leaves, grass clippings and bits of the plant trimmings.  But thorny things such as rose bushes can prick you later, so go ahead and give them the heave ho.

To compost, do you need a compost bin?  No. But use one if you want to be extremely neat. You will most likely have a lot more organic matter than your composter can handle.  So layer it in places out of the way, under trees and bushes, along paths to keep the weeds down. It all turns brown soon enough, and when it becomes soil it turns black.  Do a bit of googling about Lasagna gardening, worm farms, worms in general. Read a book by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis titled Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web. You’ll find this book at Bemis Library so don’t have to own a copy.  While there, pick up a book titled, The Earth Moved: The Amazing Accomplishments of Earth Worms.

Let’s try not to trash the present or the future.  If you can turn it into soil or mulch, keep it to build a better soil and thus a better tomorrow.

Follow the Rules Please! – Littleton Leadership Academy

Littleton citizens receive a monthly newsletter from city staff, called the Littleton Report.

What the Littleton Report is not supposed to be is a way for private individuals or groups to publicize their message to the entire community at taxpayer expense.  We have seen this standard of practice ignored in the past, and we have a very recent example of the rules not being followed.

In the August 2016 Littleton Report on page 2 there is an article entitled “Be Part of the First Littleton Leadership Academy!”  If you didn’t know better you would think this is a City of Littleton-sponsored Academy  But it is not!

You have to wonder who you need to know in order to get a city wide distribution of your private endeavor at tax payer’s expense.  What we do know is that 99.99% of us could not get our message printed in the Littleton Report – and that’s how it should be!