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Sorry, Wrong Number

The city's new service blows smoke.

When the city launched its new 3-1-1 service two weeks ago, Off Limits just had to arrange a face-off between Denver's non-emergency number and the 24/7 statewide information service, AskColorado. Our early money was on 3-1-1, since we asked AskColorado for the state's motto two years ago and are still waiting for an answer. To keep this test fair, we posed the same question to both outlets and made it a two-parter with an increasing degree of difficulty.

At 10:53 a.m., we logged on to www.askcolorado.com and submitted this question via the 24/7 IM system: Who will be enforcing the smoking ban in the city of Denver, and how will the city be authenticating "cigar bars," as defined by the new law?

At 10:55 a.m., Lisa from Delta County responded. Only two minutes to respond? The handicappers were getting nervous. Within seconds of her greeting, she'd provided the website for Smoke Free Colorado, which does answer the first part of the question -- "A violation can be reported by calling the non-emergency number of the local law enforcement agency" -- but fails to cover the second half. When we pushed Lisa for more info, she actually called Smoke Free Colorado on our behalf and then IMed us that "cigar bars need to be operating and licensed under article 47, title 12 CRS. They need to have at least 5% of the sales in tobacco." True, but not the answer to our question. Then again, no one seems to be able to answer how, exactly, a bar is officially labeled a "cigar bar," and who, precisely, will go and check its receipts to ensure the 5-percent-of-sales figure. At 11:08, we ended our session, only half satisfied with the answer but very pleased with the timeliness of the response. Advantage AskColorado.

At 11:14 a.m., we went to http://denver.311colorado.com and asked the same smoking-related question. At noon, we were still waiting. At 2 p.m., our case was still open and unanswered, so we tried calling from the Westword office phones. No dice. When we tried the call on a cell phone, that vile pre-recorded voice came on and said our call could not be completed as dialed. Definitely advantage AskColorado.

At 4:44 p.m., we cheated and got Mayor John Hickenlooper's deputy chief of staff, Kelly Brough, on the phone, who explained that there is only one -- one! -- carrier that isn't fully able to handle the new service. Verizon Wireless, of course, Off Limits' service carrier. As for office phones, "If you have to dial 9 to go out," she says, "then your actual office system has to be configured for it to come in."

Or you can call 720-913-1311, which we found out at 5:13 p.m. when we got an e-mail from denver.311with this alleged answer (reproduced exactly, wrong website and all): "Solution Summary: The state will be enforcing the smoking ban. For more information please go to http://www.leg.state.cco.us/ The smoking ban bill is House Bill 06-1175."

Long and wrong. AskColorado wins this round.

Barking up the wrong tree:In his State of the City speech, Mayor Hickenlooper said he wanted Denver to plant a million trees over the next twenty years -- which means more than 5.7 trees every hour, every day. But it might help if the city quit letting developers destroy mature trees.

Just as Hick was touting trees, Steve Sinclair was watching four come down in the University Park neighborhood -- two that straddled his property line, one of those an 85-year-old, previously healthy cottonwood. But in the process of scraping off the home next door and laying a foundation for a bigger house, the developer had cut so close to the trees that he'd damaged their roots, and the city forester agreed that they had to come out.

"It's been a crazy thing," Sinclair says. "We're so helpless. That cottonwood was to the east of our house, so when the sun came up in the summer, we had all the benefit of shade. Now the sun is coming up and hitting the house at 6:30 in the morning. I feel like we're in Aurora."

Ow.

As a real-estate appraiser, he recognizes that losing the trees diminished the value of his property -- but most appraisals don't take landscaping into account. "And he's done everything legally," Sinclair says of his developer/neighbor.

Even so, at the urging of Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown, that neighbor has agreed to go into mediation to discuss some form of compensation. Sinclair hopes the discussion will soon broaden to involve city policies, even encourage the city forester involved in planning. After all, old houses aren't the only things getting scraped off in this town. "The city ought to be encouraging developers to keep trees as much as possible," Sinclair says.

Maybe that way, planters could scale back to 5.6 trees an hour.

Scene and herd:Not everyone was singing "Kumbaya" after the special legislative session ended. Although the loudest protests started on the right, late last week this sign of discontent on the left appeared on the marquee of the Aztlan Theatre at 974 Santa Fe Drive: "Starving families is their game. Romanoff, Fitz-Gerald, other Dems are to blame. Pleasing the governor a shame."

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