No-Tell Hotel

Practicing trickle-down economics can get sticky.

First Denver introduced Johns TV, the Channel 8 show featuring the least attractive supporting cast ever seen on television. Now it's gone and prohibited frequent bedding changes. If it weren't for the fact that the same Denver Water list banning promiscuous sheet-washing also rules out "washing impervious surfaces (sidewalks, driveways, etc.)," you'd think Denver officials were really out to clean up this town.

After a summer of voluntary economizing indoors and occasional forays by the Sod Squad outdoors, on October 1 the water department clamped down -- hard -- on water waste, adding this doozy to its list of restrictions: "Lodging establishments shall not change sheets more often than every four days for guests staying more than one night." As with other prohibitions on Denver Water's new, improved hit list, violating the clean-sheet rule carries penalties ranging from a warning to a $500 fine on a fourth offense.

The nose-wrinkling sheet policy conjures up a few interesting questions (as well as some not-too-pretty pictures). For starters, how does Denver Water plan to conduct its bed checks?

Not by hiding in the closet, it turns out. Indoors, hotels, like other businesses and private homes, are basically on the honor system. Denver Water knows how much water is being used at a certain address, but not how it's being used. To help police excess consumption, the department has instituted another innovation: a "drought surcharge" assessed all Denver Water customers until "reservoirs reach 80 percent full." The first in what could be a long line of those surcharges will appear on bills this month.

The October 1 list also makes official -- and punishable by fine if not observed -- a practice that was voluntary this summer: "Restaurants shall not serve water automatically with meals, but may serve water upon the customer's request."

So if a hotel customer were to request fresh bedding before the four days were up, might the hotel accommodate him?

"If there's some untoward event," says Denver Water's Jane Earle, outlining dire -- but always G-rated -- untoward situations involving illnesses and kids, a hotel might, just might, be able to change sheets before the four days were up. "And, of course," she adds, "there is an exception for health and safety, as there is in everything we do."

Rather than print up coasters touting its expanded conversation message, as it did for bars and restaurants months -- and millions of gallons of water -- ago, Denver Water is relying on hotels to let their customers know the rules. Last month the department sent a form letter to all "lodging establishments" that get Denver Water -- a list that includes hotels both inside and outside Denver city limits -- and some even had tidy new policies in place by October 1.

At Loew's Denver Hotel, there was an explanatory letter waiting in every room on Tuesday. The Brown Palace implemented a new conservation program a month ago. The Westin is not only observing the four-day rule, but is accessorizing its rooms with bottled water rather than fresh flowers.

But out on the mean streets -- a certain strip of Colfax Avenue, for example, where rooms can be rented by the week and the sheets are industrial-strength -- word of Denver Water's new policy has yet to trickle down. "We're lucky to get sheets," says one otherwise satisfied customer.

While outwardly sounding rather, well, icky, the four-day policy is hardly a hardship to most hotel guests. According to the Westin's Susan Stiff, the average stay is only one night, anyway -- and no one at Denver Water is suggesting that new customers get old sheets.

Besides, asks the Brown's Linda McNeill, "Do you wash your sheets every two days?"

Even in Golden, the local municipality hit hardest by the drought, city officials haven't resorted to policing indoor activities, however. While that town has very explicit rules for outdoor water usage, all indoor conservation measures are "voluntary," according to the public works department.

But Denver's dry ideas may not stop in the bedroom. "The long-term weather forecasts are not promising," Earle notes.

In the meantime, we have the four-day rule, which came from...where?

"It was very simple," explains Earle. "This was a program they have in Santa Fe, and they said it was quite effective. The hotel people were okay with it. We have borrowed programs from other cities, and this is one."

Not just borrowed, but pilfered outright: Earle's boss, water attorney Charlie Jordan, was visiting Santa Fe with his wife, mayoral candidate Elizabeth Schlosser, in August -- and brought the concept back to Denver.

Next time, Charlie, how about just another howling coyote?


Face the Nation

I've sat across the table from Congressman Tom Tancredo -- on the set of Channel 12's Colorado Inside Out, where he was a fellow panelist for a few years -- but I have never shared an opinion with the outspoken Republican, much less a comfy sofa in his fabulous fixed-up basement, with its big-screen home theater, pool table and cushy chairs.

That's the $60,000 remodeling project that's gotten Tancredo so much attention lately from the Denver Post, which reported that two of the workers hired by the contractor on that job were allegedly illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants like Jesus Apodaca, the August 11 Post cover boy whose story is still unraveling in the papers (see The Message, page 23).

While I've never agreed with Tancredo, I've appreciated his willingness to speak out, and speak out often, on unpopular topics.

But he won't be doing much more talking with a few Post reporters.

On Tuesday, the Post reported that Tancredo "no longer will grant interviews to print journalists and will communicate to them only through written statements," a stance that earned Tancredo yet another headline: "Tancredo ends face-to-face newspaper interviews."

The written-statement strategy is a time-honored tradition with many politicians and government agencies. When the Denver Department of Public Works was besieged with questions about now-ousted parking director John Oglesby earlier this spring, the department's PR person required that all questions be sent via e-mail ("Boot Hill," March 7). And President Clinton's office in New York City will accept media information requests only by fax. (Memo to Bill: I'm still awaiting your response.) Still, Tom Tancredo has never been the strongly silent type.

In fact, a few hours after reading that Post headline, I was communicating with Tancredo -- on the phone rather than face-to-face, since he was fresh off a plane back in Washington, D.C., but communicating nonetheless. And none of that namby-pamby, off-the-record stuff, either.

"There are select reporters at the Denver Post to whom I will not give an interview about the Apodaca situation because of my concern about the way in which that whole thing has been reported, especially in the Post," says Tancredo. "I will talk to other people at the Post about it, and I will talk to anyone about anything else."

And how. He was chatting it up with his fellow passengers on the plane that very morning. "Well, Congressman," asked one, "what's going to happen to you this week?"

"People who agree with me have been very nice," Tancredo says. "And the others, well, they don't talk with me."

Even his dental hygienist, who said she hadn't voted for a Republican since the Vietnam War, was kind when he stopped in for his appointment last week.

"And after all this stuff with the media," he points out, "going to a dentist is nothing."

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