By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Local, state and federal officials crossed borders, levels of government and partisan divides March 30 in Lakewood to applaud a bill by U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, that would establish a $4 billion grant program to foster “livable communities” across the country.
Using the construction site of the new St. Anthony’s Hospital campus as a backdrop, a trio of mayors joined the regional Housing and Urban Development administrator and the neighborhood’s state representative calling the development an example of smart community planning for living, working and transportation (in the distance, the West Corridor of the FasTracks light rail expansion looked close enough to touch).
“We’re absolutely thrilled at the local level that they’re talking back in D.C. about the concept of building livable communities,” said Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy, who welcomed a cavalcade of officials to his city’s premiere development on the edge of the Federal Center off West Sixth Avenue.
“We think we can be the prototype of the Livable Communities Act,” Murphy said.
Perlmutter’s proposal has dozens of co-sponsors in the House and a companion Senate bill sponsored by Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., helping its chances, he said.
In addition to setting “livable communities” as a federal standard, the bill tasks HUD, the EPA and the federal Department of Transportation to work together to help cities and rural areas accomplish the goal, Perlmutter said.
As introduced, the bill would set aside $400 million in grants over four years for regional planning and then allocate $3.7 billion in competitive grants over the same period to help pay for housing, transportation and clean-up activities, Perlmutter said.
“What’s happening here is very similar to what’s happening out in Aurora and what should be happening all over the metro area,” said Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. The Democratic candidate for governor called the concentration of housing, jobs and mass transit a way to “create an economic engine.”
The Aurora development Hickenlooper cited — centered around hospitals and health science businesses at the Anschutz Campus on the site of the former Fitzsimons Army Medical Center — has also benefited from Perlmutter’s help directing federal dollars to bolster regional planning, he said.
Noting that his city was losing St. Anthony’s to Lakewood, a move that “alarmed” some Denver interests, Hickenlooper dismissed the response as parochial.
“Obviously, we’re sad to see them go,” he said, “but I think the greater good for the greater community is to have a better dispersal of our hospital facilities.”
Soon, Hickenlooper said, Denver residents would be just an easy light-rail ride away from the modernized hospital’s health care facilities and jobs. “By getting these coordinated sites built around our light rail stops, we magnify dramatically the investment of our dollars,” he said.
It’s all part of the smart planning Perlmutter’s bill could replicate on a national scale, Hickenlooper said.
“We’re at the cutting edge,” he said. “Washington looks to us how to do this. It really is a great feather in our cap to be at the leading edge of this stuff.”
Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer — a Republican who was at one time considered a contender for Perlmutter’s seat — heaped praise on the Democratic congressman. He even borrowed a quip from Perlmutter to make a point: “Cities are like children,” Tauer said. “You have to encourage and reward them when they do something right.”
Tauer listed model developments around the metro area, including Lowry on the border of Denver and Aurora, and the Belmar neighborhood nearby in Lakewood. “The really great communities are the ones that continue to plan, continue to look forward and continue to make things happen,” he said.
The federal official who could be in charge of implementing Perlmutter’s proposal offered a ringing endorsement.
“The Livable Communities Act of the year 2010 helps local communities to plan and build livable communities,” said HUD Region 8 Director Rick Garcia, a former Denver city councilman whose district included the current St. Anthony’s campus in West Denver.
“As our country tries to rebuild and rebound from a very slow economy,” Garcia said, “local governments need to continue promoting the economic development benefits of sustainable economic development and community planning.”
Garcia thanked Perlmutter for “taking local collaboration to a national level.”
It was a theme embraced by the bipartisan group: cooperation across all sorts of boundaries.
“Everyone is thinking outside their own borders, having this great lineup of mayors at this announcement,” said state House Majority Leader Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, whose district includes the new St. Anthony’s development.
“We actually like each other,” said Murphy, who heads the 39-member Metro Mayors Caucus. “We get along very well — a little message for D.C. there.”
Hickenlooper and Tauer — who have made a point of their eagerness to cooperate compared with the historically frosty relationship between the two cities’ mayors— got in a few digs at each other’s expense.
Recounting how he’d persuaded Hickenlooper to hold a pair of cheerleader pom-poms at a recent joint appearance, Tauer acknowledged he had some ribbing coming his way.
The Denver mayor didn’t disappoint. Recalling how Tauer “would badger me and say, ‘Well, you’re a Democrat, but shouldn’t you think about coming over and being a Republican?’ I’d like to point out,” Hickenlooper said, “I think it’s time people start asking (Tauer), isn’t it time he starts considering becoming a Democrat?”