Wheels of Misfortune

Cultures clash -- and crash -- in Curtis Park. Is this a terminal situation?

"Sometimes, when the neighbors look at Mexican people, they automatically see a problem," he says. "But these companies are doing their best for their neighbors. The economy is growing. This is a big market. A lot of people ride these buses, and a lot of families work for these companies. They're helping the business here. More people come on these buses every day. It's good for everybody."

Socorro Martinez, who operates the Salon Libertad beauty shop, is one such beneficiary. In the five years her business has been at 2305 Champa, she's had more trouble with homeless people and Curtis Park drug dealers than with bus lines, which bring customers to her shop for a trim, a phone card and a little chitchat. Without the buses, she might have to shut her doors. The closure of Golden State is "awful," she says.

"It's better with them," Martinez adds, above the whine of hair dryers and TV chatter. "They're not my friends, but they don't bother me. People come for a few hours, then they leave. Without them, it would be lonely."

Mark Andresen
There goes the neighborhood: John Hayden loves Curtis Park, but he doesn't like the bus companies that congest the area.
John Johnston
There goes the neighborhood: John Hayden loves Curtis Park, but he doesn't like the bus companies that congest the area.

Frank Esparza, an assistant at the Dallas-based El Conejo, says that if neighbors want a solution, he has one. He waddles behind his Champa Street building with his cane, cowboy hat and grizzled chin and points toward two brick duplexes off Park Avenue West.

"Knock 'em down," he says. "Then there will be room for the buses. If people are complaining so much, why don't they get a petition and take it to the city? Have them knock these buildings, and that would fix it. If people have a problem, take it up with the city. They have all the money."

El Conejo is just trying to make a living, he says. It doesn't cause trouble, because it only handles a few buses a day. Esparza doesn't know anything about B-8 zoning or amendments, either. All he knows is that the city gave El Conejo permission to use a curbside passenger-loading zone in front of the station, and that's what it's doing.

"Hey. We're trying to clean up our act," Esparza says. "But you know what? No one is happy. That's the bottom line. No matter what you do, there are going to be complaints. Things could be better, sure. But things could be worse, too. Come on. Look on the bright side."

Curtis Park neighbors are trying to do just that. On August 29, Golden State, which had served 1.5 million passengers across the country each year, shut down after financial reorganization failed to return it to profitability. It had lost its leases in Tucson, El Paso and other key markets; rising insurance costs also squeezed the company hard. The 39-count indictment against Golden State for allegedly smuggling thousands of illegal immigrants did not influence the decision, according to Wade Gates, a company spokesman in Los Angeles.

"There was just a lack of working capital to fulfill all of our obligations," Gates says. "The company has pleaded not guilty with regard to the matter, and no trial date has been set. Other than that, I can't comment."

Although neighbors finger Golden State as the worst of the companies, Gates says they hadn't received any complaints regarding its Denver operations in quite a while. "We did meet with local officials and business owners and did make several changes to improve conditions and relationships with neighbors," he says, "but we have not heard of any issues since that time."

And anyway, Curtis Park doesn't have Golden State to worry about any longer. "We had leased that space, and we closed all operations," Gates says. "We no longer operate."

Joi Afzal welcomed the company's demise. "We might not see immediate change, but eventually it will help," she says. "And I look forward to it."

"The worst offender is gone," Hayden concurs. "But we're taking a wait-and-see attitude on how the other stations proceed and whether it's going to be safer now."

Which could be wise, because competing companies are already interested in taking Golden State's place. Chuck Capehart, Golden State's former landlord, says there's "a good possibility" another bus line will slide into 2301 Champa. If city officials and Curtis Park neighbors are upset about that, Capehart doesn't know why. The problems that existed with Golden State were solved years ago, he says.

"No one's approached me about problems," Capehart says. "And I'd hear about it, don't you think? If I go to the grievance department right now, do you know how many complaints they'd show me? None. But let me tell you something. We could walk up and down this street for two days, and I could show you complaint after complaint that needs to be fixed. You're going to have complaints. That's just the way it is. But if the city says I can't put them here, then have them find me another place."

Which, as it turns out, is just what the city is trying to do.

Late last month, city officials embarked on another round of meetings to solve the Curtis Park bus situation. They talked about possible places to move the terminals, including the RTD lot at Alameda and Santa Fe, and discussed incentives to make the companies do it, such as economic-development funding. But discussions are very preliminary.

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