Denver Direct: Unctuous Mediation

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Unctuous Mediation

In which Dave Felice presents a recap of recent (non) events:

It’s hard to determine exactly what Councilwoman Carla Madison really means when she says it’s a “huge relief” that Tent State University was moved from City Park to Cuernevaca Park in the Platte Valley.

Is she saying residents of the City Park area are relieved they won’t have to face the potential disruption of the park and the neighborhoods by Tent State participants? Or is she saying she herself is relieved that she no longer has to deal with the matter in her district?
Or, perhaps, she’s relieved that the city won’t face legal action by Tent State participants made ill by exposure to sewage effluent containing Lowry Landfill Superfund Site toxins used to irrigate City Park and fill Ferril Lake.
While the events are different, Tent State’s educational free speech activities pose issues similar to those of a closed commercial event, such as a large-scale rock concert. Both the non-profit Tent State University and an admissions-based music concert would require sanitation, noise monitoring, security, traffic control, side-street parking in addition to disturbances in the neighborhoods.
Many residents expressed concern about Tent State University participants leaving City Park. Concert participants could exacerbate the concern because they could purchase and consume alcoholic beverages.
In many respects, the target audience is the same for both Tent State and rock concerts.
Upon news of the relocation, one Denver newspaper quoted Madison as saying “I know the neighbors will be greatly relieved.” Another paper reported Madison said moving the protesters is a “huge relief” her and her constituents in Council District 8.
In a “news release,” Madison said: “I think all of us will be a bit relieved that (participants) won’t be leaving the Park and walking through our neighborhoods to get to wherever they were going to sleep for the night. I know that I personally will sleep better at night and be able to enjoy the DNC more knowing that late night confrontations at City Park will not become a reality.”
Does Madison really think that concert-goers won’t be walking, or driving, through the neighborhoods, perhaps fueled by alcoholic beverage consumption and even substance use?
Unfortunately for Madison, it doesn’t work both ways. She was an early and enthusiastic proponent of the proposed Anschutz Entertainment Mile High Music Festival in City Park. The festival would have brought up to 50,000 people per day to the park and the western two-thirds of the public park would have been closed to free and open access.
Madison appeared in a videotape to promote the music festival proposal even before the proposal was presented to neighborhood groups. Madison is a member of the Council’s Public Amenities Committee which would have been required to vote on approving the proposal.
The festival was subsequently and appropriately moved to a sports field complex in Commerce City when the Denver Zoo expressed concern about the adverse impact of amplified music on the animals. Only a few private individuals, and no public officials, worried about the well-being of park wildlife.
South City Park Neighborhood Association Vice President Roger Lawson was optimistic Tent State organizers could have met the requirements imposed by the city to hold the event at City Park. “We’re kind of used to big events in the park, and we would have adjusted and gone along with it,” Lawson was quoted in a newspaper report.
Lawson has demonstrated strong support for the maintenance and well-being of the park. There’s no valid reason residents should be required to “adjust” to events in City Park that are out of scale with the neighborhood.
Many of the people attending a neighborhood meeting to discuss Tent State appeared to be of the age that they either participated in or remember the protests of 1968. There was applause for a comment about Tent State participating in the “democratic process.”
It’s still unclear why Madison found it necessary to engage an unctuous professional mediator to conduct the meeting or why two Denver police officers parked their squad car at the entrance of the Museum of Nature and Science where the meeting was held.
It was also unusual that Museum Director George Sparks and Acting Parks Manager Scott Robson attended the meeting, watched over by a half-dozen museum security guards.
Both Tent State organizers and city officials indicate some degree of satisfaction with moving the event to City of Cuernevaca Park. But if that accommodation could be made, one needs to ask why the city didn’t offer the location in the first place, saving many people a lot of time and trouble.
Moving Tent State certainly didn’t appear to be a relief for District 9 Councilwoman Judy Montero. One Denver newspaper quoted Montero as saying “I’m getting my enchiladas smashed” by neighborhood residents concerned about street closures, traffic, and safety. Montero herself lives in Flour Mill Lofts, adjacent to Cuernevaca Park.
The city is obligated under law to provide locations for free speech and free assembly. Some would argue the city has grudgingly met the letter of the law but not the spirit.
City officials need to demonstrate some understanding that City Park is surrounded on three sides by dense, historic neighborhoods and on the fourth by a zoo. The essential point is that City Park cannot be used for events which pose severe damage to the park, the animals, and the neighborhoods.
If City Park is not the proper location for large nonprofit activities, then the Parks and Recreation Department certainly needs to retract any proposals to close park lands and allow alcoholic beverages for even larger commercial events.

(Cross-posted at