Denver Residents Share Biggest Safety Concerns With Mayor Johnston | Westword

Denver Residents Shared Their Biggest Safety Concerns With Mayor Johnston

The mayor and city officials will soon hold a similar town hall series on affordability in Denver.
Mayor Mike Johnston plans to continue meeting with residents to hear how they think the city can be improved.
Mayor Mike Johnston plans to continue meeting with residents to hear how they think the city can be improved. Bennito L. Kelty
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What are the biggest safety concerns for Denver residents? The answers differ by neighborhood, but one issue clearly comes up the most: speeding.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Mike Johnston wrapped up his first series of Community Conversations, a series of town hall events focused on one of the four topic areas where he wants to improve Denver in 2024: safety, affordability, vibrancy and great governance.

The first series, focused on safety, included ten meetings across Denver's City Council districts where residents shared their biggest perceived safety threats with Johnston and his administration; they also noted which city efforts they believe are currently working to keep them safe.

By far, the biggest safety concern across the Community Conversations was speeding and dangerous driving. Johnston responded to that overwhelming feedback by rolling out a program of road safety improvements in June, including more speed cameras and longer red light times on Denver's most dangerous roads; the project will begin with $2 million in updates on Alameda Avenue and Federal Boulevard.

Homelessness and drug use were often cited as well, though topics ranged from the dangers of electronic scooters to youth violence.

The most common positive feedback from residents: Denver parks are clean and safe. Just about every council district had residents who were happy with their local park. The Denver Police were also given a round of applause at a couple of meetings, and commenters had nothing but good things to say about the 311 hotline, which allows people to report concerns like potholes and new homeless encampments.
click to enlarge A man stands on stage.
Mayor Mike Johnston felt bullish walking away from his sixth Community Conversation on public safety, held on May 23 in the Hampden neighborhood.
Bennito L. Kelty
Community Conversations are formatted so that everyone gets a chance to speak to a city official, including the mayor. (Johnston has attended most of the meetings and participates in group and one-on-one conversations. However, he missed a pair for personal reasons just before his mother passed away, and he's sometimes had to leave early because of scheduling conflicts.)

Residents are asked to break into groups with at least one city official, then share pros and cons about safety in the city before comments are read aloud to the whole room. City council members have been the last to leave the room at every meeting, and they'll stay to talk to every resident who comes up to them.

Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas, Fire Chief Desmond Fulton and Sheriff Elias Diggins showed up to every meeting, talked to residents and stayed until the end each time. When the next town hall series shifts from safety to affordability, the city will bring leaders and officials from departments and agencies like Housing Stability, Human Services and the mayor's Homelessness Resolution team.

For residents who missed their local town hall but still want to know what safety concerns were shared, here is a list of highlights from Community Conversations across town:

West Denver
District 3 Councilwoman Jamie Torres, who represents west-side neighborhoods Westwood, Villa Park, West Colfax, Sun Valley and La Alma, told Westword during a town hall that Johnston's House1000 plan pushed homeless residents into west Denver.

According to Torres, the homeless set up small camps or individual tents mostly along different parts of Eighth and Tenth avenues, the W Line light rail route, Paco Sanchez Park and green areas around the Lakewood Gulch Trail.

Residents confirmed the influx of homelessness in their area during the West Colfax meeting on May 2. They pleaded with the mayor for more lighting in their parks and on residential streets because they now host more homeless residents. Kids said they saw people in the parks doing "bad things," including seeing a naked person on the street as they traveled to the town hall, while other residents said they were seeing more sex, drugs and nudity in public.     

North Denver
Johnston met with north Denver residents in Highland on May 7. That meeting focused almost entirely on speeding along Speer Boulevard. Residents were also happy with Johnston's House1000 plan, noting that areas like Union Station were a lot nicer. 

Johnston talked to downtown residents during two meetings — one in the Ballpark District and another in Capitol Hill.

During their meeting on May 8, Ballpark-area residents shared concerns about homelessness downtown despite admitting that the city had cleared the area significantly with House1000. Residents, especially business owners, complained that the homeless individuals still in the area were selling drugs in broad daylight and acting violently, with one employee of the British Bulldog saying he was stabbed in the neck.

Southeast Denver
Residents who attended a May 23 meeting in Hampden called for more than "just speed traps." They were upset about speeding on residential roads, which they also said were in disrepair, and dangerous driving on East Hampden and East Yale avenues.

Efforts to combat homelessness were positively reviewed, with a few people complimenting Johnston's House1000 success. However, as in west Denver, residents requested more lighting — here on the High Line Canal Trail — because of concerns about homelessness and open-air drug dealing.

Residents also wanted migrants to stop standing on the medians and squeegeeing windows during red lights, an action that the city has since clarified is against the law.
click to enlarge Child holds microphone and talks in public.
Ten-year-old Kyrie Mullen tells a room full of west Denver residents how he and his friends saw a naked person in public on their way to the town hall.
Bennito L. Kelty
Southwest Denver
District 2 Councilman Kevin Flynn, who represents southwest Denver from Harvey Park to Fort Logan, also told Westword that despite the public success of House1000, homelessness has increased in his district.

However, residents at the May 30 meeting in Harvey Park weren't as concerned with how that affected their neighborhood. Their worries were centered on speeding down wider streets, including Wadsworth, Sheridan and Federal boulevards and Highway 285.

Residents also asked for more businesses in their area because a shuttered Walgreens and other blighted plazas were attracting homeless residents who seemed to be living in those empty spaces.

East Denver
On June 4, Johnston went to George Washington High School, where residents from neighborhoods like Lowry Field, Hilltop and Virginia Village complained about speeding, roundabouts and confusing bike lanes. They were unhappy with a slew of parked cars taking up space on residential roads east of Colorado Boulevard and north of Leetsdale Drive, as well as the lack of police enforcement. Residents said theft from homes and cars was also a growing issue.

Youth violence came up from a few residents who complained that their neighborhoods didn't have enough programming to keep kids occupied. One woman said that she had been assaulted by a fifteen-year-old a few weeks before the meeting.

Northeast Denver
A June 6 meeting in Montbello put Johnston's feet to the fire, as residents there demanded to know why their neighborhood looks neglected as people speed, live with unkempt lawns and get away with shooting guns and throwing parties in short-term rentals

They told the mayor that northeast neighborhoods like Montbello, Central Park and Green Valley are fed up with drag racing, ATVs driving in the park, gunshots at night, youth violence and not enough public transportation or grocery stores.

Central Denver
During their meeting on June 26, residents in central Denver and Capitol Hill were up in arms about speeding down Colfax Avenue and e-scooters on the sidewalk. Residents said that when Colfax Avenue is under construction, traffic gets diverted into residential streets, where drivers speed on roads like 14th and 17th avenues.

Homelessness came up a few times, but only to give Johnston's efforts a thumbs-up.  
click to enlarge A family talks to the police chief.
A family shares their neighborhood safety concerns with Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas and Chris Payne from the Ballpark General Improvement District during the latest Community Conversations town hall.
Bennito L. Kelty

Upcoming Community Conversations

In addition to meeting with residents, Johnston wants to reduce violent gun crime by 20 percent and move 200 people "with addiction or mental health problems out of the criminal justice system and into a coordinated intervention, treatment, and rehabilitation pipeline," according to the mayor's office. He plans to meet all those goals by the end of the year.

Affordability will be the next topic headlining the Community Conversations series, set to begin on July 18. The mayor wants feedback on his House1000 and All In Mile High initiatives, but the series will also touch on the cost of living and the availability of housing units. 

Johnston lists two goals to make Denver more affordable: First, he wants to follow through with his All In Mile High goal of moving 2,000 homeless residents indoors; he already moved 1,600 people indoors, mostly through his House1000 initiative. He also wants to "permit, secure, finance or support the development and preservation of 3,000 long-term affordable housing units," according to the city.

The mayor's office is still waiting to hear back from a few councilmembers about their availability to schedule all the affordability meetings, but here are the upcoming community conversations that have been scheduled so far:

July 18
A meeting for District 10 with Councilman Chris Hinds. This includes downtown neighborhoods like Union Station, the Golden Triangle, Capitol Hill, Congress Park and City Park Park West. It will be at the Carla Madison Recreation Center, 2401 East Colfax Avenue, at 4:30 p.m.

July 23
A meeting for District 3 with Councilwoman Jamie Torres. This district includes west Denver neighborhoods La Alma, West Colfax, Sun Valley and Barnum. It will be at the Mulroy Opportunity Center, 3550 West 13th Avenue, at 5:30 p.m. 

July 24
A meeting for District 2 with Councilman Kevin Flynn. This district includes neighborhoods like Harvey Park, Bear Valley, Fort Logan and Marston. The meeting is at the Harvey Park Recreation Center, 2120 South Tennyson Way, at 5:30 p.m.

July 25
A meeting for District 4 with Councilwoman Diana Romero Campbell. This district includes Hampden, University Hills and Wellshire. It will be at the Eisenhower Recreation Center, 4300 East Dartmouth Avenue, at 5:30 p.m.

August 7
A meeting for District 8 with Councilwoman Shontel Lewis. This district is home to Central Park, Park Hill and west Montbello. The meeting will be at the Hiawatha Davis Jr Recreation Center, 3334 Holly Street, at 5:30 p.m.
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