District 6 Candidates Prioritize Infrastructure, Environment, and Economic Growth

Mar 20, 2017

Colorado Springs City Council District 6 is the smallest council district by population, but the biggest geographically. It encompasses large swaths of undeveloped land on the city's east side, including the Banning Lewis Ranch property, as well as the Colorado Springs Airport, Peterson Air Force Base, and the northeastern neighborhoods of Stetson Hills, Ridgeview, Norwood, Old Farm and more. The district is poised for a lot of new development, which was a recurring theme in our conversations with candidates for the District 6 city council seat.

Credit City of Colorado Springs

In this year's election, incumbent Andy Pico is running for a second term as District 6 representative. He's opposed by two political newcomers—Melanie Bernhardt and Robert Burns—and a former state legislator, Janak Joshi. 91.5 KRCC spoke with all four candidates about their reasons for running and their visions for the future of Colorado Springs. Full audio and text excerpts from those conversations are below.

Melanie Bernhardt
Credit Melanie Bernhardt

Melanie Bernhardt

Melanie Bernhardt was born and raised in Southern California – "the bubble," as she calls it. Nine years ago, after a brief stint in Georgia, she moved to Colorado in search of a change of scenery. She has worked in the non-profit sector, and, as child, she had a recurring role on the popular television show, Diff'rent Strokes. She says she was spurred to run for council following the election of President Trump, and that the issues she is most concerned about are the environment, public transportation, and city infrastructure.

On why she's running for city council:

"There are so many things that I would like to see changed in this world. Georgia had a lot to do with the changing of my opinions and my values and my morals in life. This administration that's coming in, I just felt I wanted to take a more active role in politics, because you can either sit back and watch the world happen to you and complain about it, or you can get off the couch and you can actually be the change that you want to happen."

On the big issues that need to be addressed in Colorado Springs:

"Right now my biggest concern is the environment. I know that we're growing and busting at the seams. If you look at my district, I've got a lot of rural areas in it. 35 years ago when I first visited Colorado Springs, it was very desolate, and you could walk across Garden of the Gods in the middle of the day, not a problem, you wouldn't be a bug on the road. But nowadays we're so packed, and what I see happening is we're encroaching on the wildlife, we're encroaching on the environment, and we're basically making a problem for our kids in the future to deal with and clean up."

"Just like everybody else, I'm concerned with the storm water issue. A little bit with the Drake Power Plant, but I think a lot of that is set in motion and right now it will be part of our design to make sure that Drake Power Plant stays on course with bringing that thing down. 2035 is a long way away, it would be nice if it came down a little earlier, and it just might."

"As a disabled person, I have my own vehicle that I drive around. However, if I were a person that didn't have a car or anything like that, transportation would be really difficult… We're too big a city not to have better transportation flow."

On her vision for the future of Colorado Springs:

"To be honest with you, I think my view of the city might be very different from the views of the people actually living in it. I'm just one voice trying to speak for 100 – or, I'm sorry, 72,440 [the number of residents in District 6]. Personally, I would like to see buffalo running around on the plains and bears playing in trees – I realize that growth is not going to allow for that. But I would like to disrupt nature as little as possible… I realize it's unrealistic to think that we won't [disturb nature], and we will encroach in the future. But, 10, 15, 20 years, I think we can keep the reins in on it and do with what we've got. We've got a lot of land here that we're already uprooting and digging up."

Andy Pico
Credit Coloradosprings.gov

Andres Pico

Andy Pico is a retired Navy flight officer who has lived in Colorado Springs since the early 90s. Following his military career, he worked as a defense contractor for 16 years, and more recently as the city council representative for District 6. Seeking his second term on council, Pico says he's only "half done" with the job he was elected to do. He says he's running to build upon the work he did on his first term, and that he hopes to push policies that will foster growth and diversification in the city's economy.

On why he's running for reelection:

"We've got a lot of work to do yet. When I ran initially the economy locally was a little bit in dire straits—I think we've turned that around a little bit here. I think things are moving in the right direction at this point. We've done a lot to do expansion of industry and different types of businesses—we've got new business sectors coming and things are looking up. Unemployment is down, job growth is up, but I think we’ve got a long way to go yet. I kind of look at the job as half done."

On the big issues that need to be addressed in Colorado Springs

"We have to do economic development. Half of our economy is tied up in defense, and I know that very well, having been a defense contractor. So, half is defense, and of the remainder, about half is tourism. So we need to really expand a lot of that, and we've done a lot along those lines. The airport—the commercial aeronautical zone—has been extraordinarily successful… and I think that's an example of business growth, and we need to expand that and bring in more business sectors."

"We have issues of keeping up with the roads—maintaining and bringing them up to speed. Doing flood control projects, storm water. And police and fire. We're understaffed, presently, in our public safety areas and it's an issue we have to address. Some of the equipment's getting pretty old, some of the buildings are getting pretty old, and we have to address that going forward."

On his vision for the future of Colorado Springs:

"Long-range planning is something we're actively doing all the time… I happen to at this time chair the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, and that long-range planning, and long-range transportation planning, is what they do over there day after day. So we do have the estimates about how many people are coming here, and we need to plan on that as to what the transportation links are. I'll tell you we need better roads, we need rail networks to come in, we need to expand air links and so forth. Those are all things we have to work on in the future. Our population is growing 1.5 to 2 percent per year, year after year after year—very steady growth—and that's what we need to plan for in the future. In any one year it's not much, but when you look out 10 or 20 years, those get to be some pretty big numbers, and we need to plan ahead."

Robert Burns
Credit Courtesy of Robert Burns

Robert Burns

Robert Burns moved with his wife and three children to Colorado Springs in 2012. After more than two decades in the Army, Burns retired last year, and decided to pursue his longtime goal of running for public office. He describes himself as politically unaffiliated, and says he hopes to bring "open thought" to the political process. Burns says he wants to encourage growth and development in the city and pursue collaborative solutions as a member of city council.

On why he's running for city council:

"I'm really involved in our community, this is what the wife and I do, we like to be involved. So that was my decision in running for city council, to do something to be involved, especially with our current political climate. Our pastor was talking about doing things that we always said we needed to do, and most of the time that I was in the service, one of the things I wanted to do was run for public office at one time in my life. When he talked about that, I said, 'I need to look into this'… I like the aspect of city council because it is more of a collaborative environment. Being collaborative seemed like something I could get into versus running for a single position office. So that's why I've decided to run for city council, to help develop our city and help our city move forward and to be in that collaborative environment to work toward those ends."

On the big issues that need to be addressed in Colorado Springs:

"We're growing. We're one of the top 40 cities in the nation, as far as size. When you're looking at that, how do we foster that and get the millennials involved in the city growth, how do we expand employment for those individuals as they continue to come and as the city continues to grow? Even I commute to Denver in my current employment. Why not have those opportunities that are actually here in the city for quality employment? I think the way that's going to happen is we get our millennials involved in creating those small businesses that can grow into larger companies and corporations right here in Colorado Springs."

"We have so many challenges, one of the ones that is most visible [is] our homeless population, and it's a diverse population. The way I look at individuals I still look at them as citizens of our city, no matter if they moved here or whatever, they're still citizens of our city, and so that's one thing. We have to partner with our local non-profits, we have to partner with the city, the state, to look at ways we can help mitigate. It's a problem that honestly, I don't see ever being solved, but you can do things to help mitigate it, you can provide those services and opportunities for growth."

On his vision for the future of Colorado Springs:

"I love the fact that, when you look at [Colorado Springs], you would not suspect that it's the 2nd largest city in the state of Colorado, and you would also not think it would be one of the 40 largest cities across our nation, because it has such a wonderful small town feel… [As a city], we don't build up, we kind of build out, and to be honest I would like it to stay that way. I mean, we have some infill areas that we could build in, there are some industrial areas that could be repurposed… but I would like it to continue to have that small town feel 10-15 years from now, basically be a place where people would love to come… I would love to see some more bike lanes, I would love to see some more trails that criss-cross our city… So I would like to keep that small town feel, but add some more bike lanes, more trails… make it beautiful and keep it beautiful."

Janak Joshi
Credit Courtesy of Janak Joshi

Janak Joshi

Janak Joshi is a longtime resident of Colorado Springs, having moved to the city over 35 years ago after completing his medical training in the New York City area. He is a first generation immigrant from India and former small business owner (Joshi owned and operated his own medical practice), two experiences that he says played an important role in shaping his politics.

Joshi spent the last 6 years in the Colorado state legislature, most recently as the republican representative for state House District 16. He says he hopes to bring his small business experience and his statehouse connections to city council to help grow and diversify the city's economy.

On why he's running for city council:

"Being a first generation immigrant, we take our liberty very seriously, and the country and this community has treated us very well, welcomed us very well. So, basically I wanted to give back. In 2010 I ran for Colorado Statehouse District 14, then I was redistricted so then in the last two terms I ran for House District 16. I was the first person of Indian origin to be elected to the Colorado Statehouse. In a way I'm humbled and proud both that I made a little history there… [With respect to city council], again I see it as my civic duty, I just want to give back to the community because we love this community. I have practiced here for 30 years, it was almost like a mom-and-pop business… so I have experience that a lot of small business people go through. Also, my experience with the Statehouse—I have very good relationships with members of the legislature up there. So when there will be issues that will need some help up there, I know a lot of them, I know how the system works, so I can actually help our council to navigate through some of those areas."

On the big issues that need to be addressed in Colorado Springs:

"Economy is always number one issue for any community, or even for our state or our nation as a whole. We have been blessed with good natural beauty so we have a lot of tourists who come here. We also have a lot of military presence and their subcontractors, but in the last few years we have seen cuts coming which could hurt our community quite a bit. So I see how we expand our economy and our job market, I think that will remain the number one issue because we have to continuously work on it. We have to diversify and try to bring different businesses, including manufacturing, high tech, we have already started to work on cybersecurity, in fact I was one of the co-sponsors of that bill… so that's number one."

"Number two is safety… When we moved to town my daughters used to just walk to even elementary school by themselves, I don’t think I would allow my kids to do that at this point. I hear this everywhere I go: ' why are we having this problem?' I think we need to work with our law enforcement community and give them the tools they need, but at the same time, we have to work together. We have a neighborhood watch program for example, and that works well. We watch out for each other and so on. So I think those are the two main things: get a good economy going and make our community safe."

On what he sees for the future of Colorado Springs:

"I see that probably we would bring businesses that are probably more environmentally responsive. I hope that in some of the new growth areas we build the roads in such a way that the commutes are a lot easier… So I hope we do better planning, at least in the new areas. Also, maybe we will keep Colorado Springs beautiful, people always say that. I mean, we have natural beauty, but we have to make sure that the manmade beauty matches the natural beauty. We don't have to be environmentally antagonistic. I think everybody likes to go to the park, or take a walk with your dog or whatever without being bothered by anybody. Those kind of things I envision with the growth, but at the same time we have to make sure that we don't overcharge or do anything to the builders or contractors so that the newcomers can't afford their housing… The other thing I would definitely like to see is our downtown a little better than what we have… I would like to see it a little more vibrant, so maybe young people can go in the evening and enjoy a cup of coffee or dinner or something like that, maybe some art galleries or some of those kinds of things. I think we can make our city a little more oriented toward some of those things and give people choice of different kinds so they can enjoy it according to what they want to do."