PLAN Jeffco a grassroots organization from its inception

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By Vicky Gits

PLAN Jeffco, a private, nonprofit advocacy group, was founded in 1972 to propose and campaign for a ballot referendum establishing the half-cent sales tax and the Jefferson County Open Space program. 

The first chair of PLAN Jeffco was Mike Moore of Evergreen, who also served as the campaign manager in the open-space sales-tax campaign. 

PLAN Jeffco grew out of an informal meeting in the living room of Carol Karlin’s house in Lakewood sometime in the fall of 1971 to discuss how to follow up on a League of Women Voters’ study on the need for park land. 

Karlin, who had been active in the League for years, was convinced that Jefferson County need to do more to save its scenic resources, streams, valleys and meadows before it all became privately owned and developed. 

“There were parks, but what I was talking about was this beautiful open space that was so precious to us in the West,” Karlin said. “Denver Mountain Parks had plenty of land but that was the extent of it.”

One of the people who joined Karlin’s living-room get-togethers was Margot Zallen, a Lookout Mountain resident. At the time, Zallen had toddlers at Ralston Elementary School, where she met a woman who was involved in the League of Women Voters and knew Karlin. 

Zallen has been chair of PLAN Jeffco since 1992. Before that she served as chair of PLAN Jeffco from late 1972 to late 1973, from late 1978 to 1981 and vice chair from 1981 to 1992. 

Clear Creek Canyon is one of the things that got Margot Zallen fired up about open space in the first place. Coming from New Jersey with her doctor-husband in 1970, Zallen had a brainstorm as soon as she first laid eyes on it. 

“I had an epiphany. I was struck by the power of the earth moving upward and the beauty of the river and I said we have to live here. We have lived here ever since,” said Zallen, who dreamed of preventing the same fate that befell Manhattan and the Hudson River Valley back East. 

PLAN Jeffco scaled back after the campaign in 1972 and remobilized in 1978 to fight the three county-proposed amendments threatening to reduce land acquisitions in favor of buildings and amenities.

When Zallen resigned to go to law school in 1973, John Litz became chair until early 1978. He was chair from 1982 to 1993. Since 1993 he has been a member of the Open Space Advisory Committee. 

For 40 years, PLAN Jeffco has served as a watchdog, resource, guiding light, supporter and critic of the Jeffco Open Space program. PLAN Jeffco crafted the wording of the original resolution that set up the open-space structure. It opposed an attempt to water down the program in 1978, fought a proposal to divert open-space money to a jail building in 1980, urged that lands have priority over buildings in general, and lobbied the public for a $160 million bond issue to support land purchases in 1998. 

Since 1972 the Open Space tax has generated $755 million in sales-tax revenue and made possible a priceless portfolio of 28 major open space parks in unincorporated areas and dozens of parks and playgrounds in various cities and rec districts countywide.