It’s that time of year again, when the Denver City Council comes to you for more money, and for projects and ideas of questionable value. But on this year’s November election ballot, mixed in with the obvious clunkers, are a few good ideas derived mostly not from City Council but from citizen-initiated efforts. Let’s see which are which.
Referred Question 2A (Denver Facilities System Bonds): $104 million for Denver facilities projects like repairs, improvements, and accessibility work at the public buildings like the Botanic Gardens, Museum of Nature and Science, Bonfils Theater Complex, and the Zoo.
No. Of all of the bond measures, this is the one the comes closest to getting a yes vote, but it still falls short. It’s not that these are bad ideas, is that in a multi-billion dollar budget, there have to be things that are less important. What’s more, there’s an under-reported looming pension crisis that’s about to start crowding out other spending. Taxpayers may want to keep their powder dry for that.
Referred Question 2B (Denver Housing and Sheltering System Bonds): $38.6 million for housing and shelter projects for the homeless, including but not limited to buying and converting buildings into shelters.
No. The first phase of a recent study showed that the Denver metro area is already spending almost half a billion dollars a year on homelessness, and this proposal looks like more of what’s already not working, and what won’t make a dent in the problem. Fortunately, the citizens of the city have put something better on the ballot (See Initiative 303 below).
Referred Question 2C (Denver Transportation and Mobility System Bonds): $63.3 million for transit projects such as sidewalks and bike lanes, adding a cultural and arts district to Morrison Road, and adding an urban trail to downtown.
No. This isn’t transportation to help people get from one place to another, with the exception of sidewalks, it’s a set of boutique toys that helps only narrow, targeted populations. I’ve seen bike paths mandated against the near-universal objection of the residents, for example. Cultural and arts districts are great, and they work best when they’re organic. You want to help mobility? Help RTD put more buses on the road in a way that doesn’t impede other traffic.
Referred Question 2D (Denver Parks and Recreation System Bonds): $54 million for parks projects in northeast and south Denver. This would include restoring basketball and tennis courts, soccer and baseball fields, upgrading playgrounds, and rebuilding a neighborhood pool.
No. Again, this is a question of priorities. My own neighborhood park, Crestmoor Park, would be on the list to get a new playground. I take my son there all the time, and can’t see why we need a new one. If it’s anything like the other projects on the list, I suspect this was initially bundled together to make 2E (below) more palatable.
Referred Question 2E (National Western Campus Facilities System Bonds): $190 million to build a new arena at the National Western Center campus plus building renovations.
No. We’re already building a new National Western complex elsewhere. This property is right near the portion of I-70 that’s being improved. I’ll bet some private developer could find a way to make it pay on the same terms without further increasing density, and provide a windfall for the city to help pay off those new National Western bonds.
Referred Question 2F (Safe and Sound): Reverse the Denver City Council’s February decision to allow up to five unrelated people to live in a single home. The measure would also repeal the council’s decision to expand halfway homes into residential areas; previously they were only permitted in industrial areas.
Yes. We finally come to our first “Yes” vote on the ballot. Regardless of what we think about zoning, it exists, and people buy their houses based on the kind of neighborhood defined by how it’s zoned. If someone wants to increase density or permit commercial development or something else, that’s a local change that the City Council approves with significant input from the local residents. Here, the Council just make a massive city-wide change with little-to-no understanding on the part of the residents about what it was doing. Take back your neighborhood and send City Council a message at the same time.
Referred Question 2G (Fill Future Vacancies for Independent Monitor): The Office of the Independent Monitor oversees disciplinary investigations into Denver’s police and sheriff’s departments, and recommends policy changes. The measure would remove the Monitor’s appointment from the mayor and give it to the volunteer Citizen Oversight Board (COB).
No. The COB already has substantial and significant input into policy changes and investigations. It’s not competent to hire permanent officials, and it risks putting too much power into the hands of activists at a time when violent crime is already soaring.
Referred Question 2H (Election Day Change): Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez would like to move up the city’s general elections. They would stay in odd-numbered years, but move from the first Tuesday of May to the first Tuesday in April. Since runoffs are held in June, Lopez argues that it would give his office more time to get ballots to Denver residents living abroad or traveling.
No. The measure might make it easier on the Clerk’s office, but it’ll make it harder on candidates. These elections occur a few months after the big federal and statewide elections in even-numbered years, and by the time people start paying attention, time is already short. It’s good to want to make it easier for qualified citizens to vote, but it’s also important they have good information to vote with.
Initiated Ordinance 300 (Pandemic Research Fund): This measure would increase Denver’s local marijuana sales tax from 10.3% to 11.8% to raise $7 million annually for the University of Colorado Denver CityCenter. Seventy-five percent of the money would go to research on personal protective equipment, disinfection and sterilization technology, and design features of physical spaces. The remaining twenty-five percent would be limited to researching public policy and planning. No more than 8% of the money raised by the tax increase could be spent on administrative expenses.
No. There’s got to be plenty of grant money for this sort of thing already available, and there’s already extensive scientific literature on masks for the general public, ventilation, and other measures. And they don’t even mention the risks of traveling to your family over Thanksgiving.
Initiated Ordinance 301 (Parks and Open Space): This would require voter approval for any commercial or residential development on city parks or land protected by a city-owned conservation easement, or for the cancellation of any such easement. Development that is “consistent with park purposes, easement purposes, or for cultural facilities” would be exempt.
Yes. I’m not opposed to development, and in a city where housing supply and demand is more out of balance than almost anywhere in the county, housing supply is a must. But this is city-owned property set aside for the benefit of the residents, not a restriction on private property. Let the residents have a say.
Initiated Ordinance 302 (Conservation Easement): A counter to the Parks and Open Space measure, it would amend the definition of “conservation easement” to apply only to those reviewed and approved by the state Division of Conservation. Westside Investment Partners proposed this ordinance to allow development on the Park Hill golf course, currently covered by a city conservation easement.
No. It’s unclear that the state Division of Conservation is any better at making these decisions than local departments are. If Westside wants to develop Park Hill Golf Course, they can make the case about why it’s a good idea. But they’re proposing a rule change here over a specific property, which will almost certainly have other, unintended consequences.
Initiated Ordinance 303 (Let’s Do Better): This measure, proposed by Garrett Flicker, chair of the Denver Republican Party, would prevent camping on private property without written permission from owners. It would also allow up to four city-funded designated camping sites on public property, requiring running water, restrooms, and lighting. The measure would allow anyone to file a complaint and require the city to take enforcement action within three days. If the city doesn’t take such action, anyone may sue the city and recover attorney fees.
Yes. Like Austin, Denver residents reinstated a camping ban. Now Denver residents are being asked to follow another successful Austin homeless initiative – creating specific homeless encampments that are safer, sanitary, easier to police, and less vulnerable to predatory influences like drug dealers and prostitutes. It would instruct a recalcitrant city to make enforcement of the camping ban a priority. This should be an easy call.
Initiated Ordinance 304 (Enough Taxes Already): This measure, also proposed by Flicker, would reduce Denver’s aggregate sales and use tax rate from 4.81% to 4.5%. It would also cap the rate at 4.5% so that if voters approve new sales taxes above the 4.5% cap, the city will need to adjust existing sales taxes to fit under the cap.
Yes. Governing needs to be about setting priorities, not just asking for more money on a wish list, with the assumption that someone else will always pay. And sales taxes are regressive, meaning that the poor and lower middle-class usually end up disproportionately paying for that wish list. By capping the total sales tax rate, Denver may get both citizens and city council to ask not only if an item is a good idea, but a good idea compared to what? And it might even help promote job growth in a city where unemployment has gone from one of the best to one of the worst.
Joshua Sharf is a Denver resident and regular contributor to Complete Colorado.
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