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Stress Test: Peace Ballot Initiative Approved in Denver

Aired August 13, 2003 - 07:42   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We all would like life to be less stressful these days, but come November 4, people in Denver will actually get a chance to vote on whether or not to make the city try to look for ways to reduce stress. If it passes, the so-called "peace initiative" could mean relaxing music on buses or don yoga classes for residents.
Here is what some people are saying in the mile-high city about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it something that makes sense for us to do? We're facing over $50 million in a budget crisis right now, and it just doesn't seem like it's a smart time. Maybe at a different time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's probably a waste of money, but I guess I'd rather see it wasted on yoga and meditation than on, you know, street paving that doesn't need to be done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a waste of time. We have way too many more difficult financial problems than that. So, I wouldn't vote for it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think music on public transportation is a really good idea.


HEMMER: Well, the man who got enough signatures to force the issue on the ballot is Jeff Peckman. He ran for senator back in 1998 as a member of the Natural Law Party. Also with us today, Charlie Brown was one of two city council members who voted against the measure. Both are live in Denver.

Good morning, gentlemen. Thanks for joining us here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Jeff, I want to start with you. In a nutshell, what's your plan? What's your idea to reduce stress there?

JEFF PECKMAN, WANTS "STRESS FREE" DENVER: This ordinance introduces a proven new approach to increasing the public safety, and it is a public safety ordinance. It would require the use of scientifically-verified programs that can reduce society-wide stress as a means to reducing crime, violence. Because this is what a lot of top experts are recognizing, this society-wide-stress, as a root cause of these various negative social indicators.

HEMMER: All right, as you well know, your friend, Charlie, disagrees with you. And, Charlie, I was watching the satellite, listening to some of the residents talk. You got a big grin on your face. Why do you believe it's not even worth the time to look at it?

CHARLIE BROWN, DENVER CITY COUNCIL: Well, you know, we can't force people in Denver to have a nice day, especially when they don't want to have a nice day. I mean, the idea that we can force people into yoga classes and force them to meditate, you know, this is frivolous. We don't have time to deal with it. We have more important issues.

HEMMER: Yes, well, listen, pick up a copy of "USA Today," today. It says some amazing things about your city. Crime is relatively low. The sun shines 300 days a year. Travel time to work is less than the national average. More than 60 percent of those who live in Denver have public library cards.

On the surface, Jeff, it sounds like a pretty good place to live.

PECKMAN: Well...

BROWN: We are proud of it, and we are open for business. And I want everyone to know that this initiative did not come from our new mayor, John Hickenlooper. It did not come from my 12 colleagues on the city council. This is an initiative forced on the ballot by someone who got about 2,500 signatures. That's why it's there.

HEMMER: Jeff, you mentioned the scientific evidence in your first answer. Where is the science that says this works?

PECKMAN: Over the last 20 years, there have been probably 50 replications, at least 20 peer review scientific studies published showing that when you reduce society-wide stress, then there is a simultaneous across-the-board reduction in crime, violence, even war and terrorism, as well as substance abuse, accidents, fires -- all these stress-related indicators will be reduced.

And this is meant -- this is projected to result in about $80 million net financial gain for the city of Denver through reduced public safety costs and revitalization of the economy by lifting that burden of stress off the city.

HEMMER: Charlie, I take it you disagree with that. I heard you chuckle a little bit there. Explain.

BROWN: Well, these are amazing statistics to me. The statistics I'm worried about is the fact that we have 30,000 people who have lost their jobs in the last two years. Now, you want to talk about relieving stress and reducing stress. We're trying and we're working hard with the governor and the new mayor to try to find jobs for these people, and that's how you reduce stress, in my opinion.

HEMMER: You know, let me just play the contrarian here. What Jeff is saying, he's not saying you have to do it, just work toward ways to try and do it, to try and find solutions. But, to you, that's frivolous.

BROWN: Well, he wants to pipe music into our city office business -- into our city office buildings. The Webb Office Building holds about 3,700 city employees. My question is: What type of music do you want to pipe in there? Now, to me, Hank Williams would be great, but Hank Williams might not be soothing to everyone in that building. And these are the problems. I mean, you notice you don't hear elevator music anymore, and that's because -- you know, what music do you select to pipe into a building that has 1,700 employees?

HEMMER: We could try a juke box and everybody gets their own shot at their selection.

A final comment here, Jeff, though. On Monday night, the city council in Denver, stress levels went way high just arguing about this issue. In a word or two in the short time we have left, is there a solution if this thing fails in early November that you think might be a better option?

PECKMAN: Well, this is a very scientifically verified approach. We think that it's necessary. Denver is a great place, but last week saw some of the worst violence in over 10 years. Very horrible things. So, there is an urgency to try these innovative programs that are not just new ideas. They are scientifically proven to work, but they're just not in public policy, because the government is primarily crisis-management oriented.

HEMMER: We've got to run. November 4, the election for this initiative will go down. Thanks much to Charlie Brown and Jeff Peckman out there early in Denver, Colorado. Good luck, men. Nice to chat with both of you today.

PECKMAN: Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you.


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