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Cow Country

Where's the beef?First Con Agra recalled 19 million pounds of beef processed at its Greeley plant, and now GFI American, a Minneapolis meatpacker, has announced a nationwide recall of approximately 717,000 pounds of beef possibly tainted with E. coli.

But if these recent horror stories of slow, inefficient health and safety inspections aren't enough to scare you, how about the possibility of no inspections at all? In a surprising decision, the Larimer County Board of Commissioners last month decided to discontinue funding for the Larimer County Department of Health's restaurant-inspection program. Due to a cap on restaurant inspection fees (which cover 20 to 30 percent of the cost of inspections) imposed by the state legislature, Governor Bill Owens's line-item veto of the state's per capita funding for all fourteen local health departments, and a pre-existing shortfall in the 2002 budget, Larimer County found itself desperately short on green and looking at some tough decisions.

"We'd very much like to keep the program, but at the same time, it's something another agency could do," says Jerry Blehm, environmental-health director for the Larimer County Department of Health. That "other agency" is the state health department, which already is responsible for inspecting restaurants not serviced by any local health department. Trouble is, while the state does have a program for restaurant inspections in place, each year it does inspections for about 500 to 1,000 properties across all of Colorado, mostly in rural areas, and is currently "very, very incapable of doing this" for more than 1,250 additional restaurants in Larimer County, according to Blehm. Still, the fact that the state could conceivably pick up the slack was the primary reason Blehm and others at the Larimer County health department decided that this was one place where budget cutting would be less painful -- until some restaurant customer comes down with a bad case of food poisoning, that is.

In order to buy time so that the state can gear up and county officials can pressure the legislature to remove the inspection-rate cap, the Larimer County health department will continue to provide inspections through the end of the year. The department also convinced the county's Board of Commissioners to put a proposed mill-levy increase to a public vote in November.

How much is it worth to you to know that the fry cook washed his hands?


What's your beef? Homeowners living near Dry Creek Elementary School in Arapahoe County don't want another McDonald's in their neighborhood, don't need another McDonald's in their neighborhood, and are doing their best to see that they don't get another McDonald's in their neighborhood.

But McDonald's sees things differently. Where neighbors see quiet, tree-lined streets and a residential area that closes up as soon as the street lights come on, McDonald's sees opportunity and two things vital to the fast-food blitzkrieg: an open parcel of land and lots of hungry kids.

"If you really need a fix of McDonald's, you can certainly get it here already," says Tyler Henken, a sixteen-year resident of the area who on August 21 was cited with second-degree criminal trespassing by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department after he went to the school and tried to collect signatures on a petition opposing the impending construction of a new McDonald's at the corner of Dry Creek Road and Yosemite Street, about a half-mile from the school.

Having been denied permission to set up a table on school grounds by Dry Creek's principal, Darci Mickle, Henken decided to station himself on Hinsdale Street, just off school property, and catch parents as they dropped their kids off for the first day of school. "I wore a poorly painted sign saying 'Help us stop McDonald's,'" Henken recalls. "And my wife reminded me to only get the parents after they'd dropped their kids off. As people were coming back toward their cars, I talked to some of them, and I wasn't really paying attention to anything in the parking lot, because I'd decided not to go there, but I looked up and there was a car -- an SUV, really -- parked in the very last spot."

According to Henken, the woman in the driver's seat called him over, asked him what he was doing and signed the petition. "I had to walk over maybe five feet of grass," he says. "Someone must have been watching me."

A few minutes later, Henken was approached by three police officers, who told him that he'd been seen trespassing and cited him.

Henken admits that he stepped onto school property. "It's been suggested to me that the person who beckoned me over was in cahoots" with Mickle, he adds, " but I just refuse to believe they would have taken the time and effort to do that." Conspiracy or not, his court date is set for September 19.

Henken, a representative of the Willow Creek II homeowners' association, wasn't the only person out collecting signatures that day, and neither was the school the only place being targeted. Members of five area homeowners' groups that oppose the rezoning of the lot in question were out collecting signatures at pools, parks, schools -- "anywhere there would be a lot of people," Henken says. "It was a kind of marketing decision." McDonald's proposes to share the lot, which has stood vacant for more than twenty years, with a five-bay Shell gas station, a convenience store and a car wash; the fast-food eatery will be open until midnight.

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