Governor Hick’s Kinsley gaffe

Wikimedia Commons/Álvaro Ibáñez

Last Week Governor Hickenlooper gave a speech at the City Club of Denver, during which he said this about Denver being short listed for Amazon’s second headquarters (aka HQ2):

If they pick another location, “I’m not going to cry.”

He continued, “There will be a sense of relief if they choose somewhere else, because there are a lot of challenges and a lot of hard work we will be avoiding,” he added.

Within 24 hours a robust campaign of clarifyin’, splainin’ and walkin’ back was underway.

“… I think Amazon is clearly the kind of company that’s based on innovation,” Gov. Hick said. “As we face the challenges of growth, which we are right now, they’d be a great partner to us…

“If I was Jeff Bezos, I would look at those comments and say, ‘That’s just the kind of city we are looking for,’” he added brightly.

Is the Greater Denver Co-Prosperity Sphere really just the kind of city Jeff Bezos is looking for? Could be. Maybe he’s the kind of guy who enjoys drinking pre-shaken sodas and getting run into by shopping carts in the check-out line. (Hey, he just bought Whole Foods.)

Anyway, what’s going on here is that the governor has committed a Kinsley Gaffe.

A Kinsley Gaffe, named after Washington pundit Michael Kinsley, occurs “when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

And wow, did Governor Hick ever blurt out an inconvenient truth when he said an Amazon decision to locate 50,000 employees earning salaries that average $100,000 a year in Denver would come with “challenges.”

Boy howdy.

According to a story in last Sunday’s Denver Post, there’s currently a housing “deficit” — the difference between the demand for housing from buyers and renters and the supply of available housing — of about 32,000 units in the Denver metro area.

And this is without taking Amazon into account.

If half of Amazon’s HQ2 employees were to come from out of state — it could easily be more but let’s use 50 percent as a working number — the demand for housing in the area will increase by 25,000 units.

The result will be that the region’s already mile-high home prices and rents will take off like a Blue Origin rocket, while developers crank out new subdivisions that turn two-hour-plus commutes on the region’s already traffic choked and crumbling roads into the new normal.

Speaking of traffic, a typical American household generates 10 vehicle trips per day, which means that if Amazon picks Denver, an additional 250,000 trips per day will be added to the region’s roads. Again, that’s assuming that only half of Amazon’s employees come from out of state.

One of the eight sites Colorado identified as a possible home for Amazon is the old StorageTek property south of Louisville.

If the site is chosen, the local traffic impact of all 50,000 Amazon employees coming and going to work (not just the relocated out-of-staters) will be apocalyptic. Worst case scenario would be 100,000 trips per day to and from HQ2, tens of thousands of which would be on U.S. 36, which already clocks up to 120,000 trips a day. More on days when they decide to eat lunch somewhere besides the company cafeteria. And God help us if Amazon holds a bike to work day.

There’s more. A significant percentage of the Amazon employees moving to Colorado will come with families. Those 25,000 Amazon-generated new homes mentioned earlier will likely have someplace between 50,000 and 60,000 people living in them.

This means that an Amazon expansion in Denver would require supplying water, sewer, electricity, gas and other public services for a population influx equivalent to the combined population of Louisville, Lafayette and Superior.

And so on.

So would Amazon coming to Denver be an unmitigated disaster? No. It would be a mitigated disaster.

On the plus side, in addition to the $5 billion annual payroll, the region would be getting some of the most educated, intellectually curious, creative and civic minded people on the planet as new residents. Judging by what happened in Boulder when NIST, Ball and IBM moved in in the 1950s and 1960s, that can be transformative, and in a good way.

But there are real trade-offs. If Amazon shows up, the natural environment is going to take one for the team. It’s gonna get tougher to see the stars at night, no matter how environmentally concerned and caring everyone is.

Then there’s the matter of freedom.

One way to measure how much freedom you’re likely to have in a particular place and time is by using the “nose rule:” Your freedom ends where my nose begins, and vice versa. More noses means less freedom.

The type of freedom the nose rule measures is more formally called freedom from constraint. Call it Freedom 1.0.

But there’s also a Freedom 2.0, the type of freedom that’s measured in terms of opportunity and access — access to everything from jobs, housing, restaurants, orchestras, plays, universities, new neighbors, new ideas, new starts, new ways of life, and the excitement and ferment generated by the mix. When freedom is measured in these terms, more people can mean more freedom.

The most troubling thing about the pursuit of Amazon by Governor Hickenlooper and his booster pals is that while they chase after all the bennies that come with Freedom 2, they don’t give a tinker’s damn about what impact their pursuit might have on Freedom 1.

Governor Hick is smart enough to know it’ll be bad. I think that’s the real reason he won’t cry if Amazon doesn’t pick Denver. And why I won’t either.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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