The results of the May 7 Denver election didn't settle every contest. The mayor's race between incumbent Michael Hancock and challenger Jamie Giellis will be decided by way of a June 4 runoff, and so will the competition for five high-profile Denver City Council positions, whose winners will help determine the future of the community for years to come.
City council candidates who earned more than 50 percent of the vote in the May 7 election avoided the runoff; the pair of at-large seats won by incumbents Debbie Ortega and Robin Kniech were exceptions. If no one vying for membership in specific districts hit that mark, the two top finishers advanced to the second round on June 4. Four candidates appeared on the ballot for District 1, with Amanda Sandoval, at 31 percent, and firefighter Mike Somma, who scored just shy of 17 percent, leading the field. The seat is open because current council member Rafael Espinoza chose not to run for reelection.
We submitted the following questions via email to the ten city council finalists: District 1's Somma and Sandoval, District 3's Veronica Barela and Jamie Torres, District 5's Mary Beth Susman and Amanda Sawyer, District 9's Albus Brooks and Candi CdeBaca, and District 10's Wayne New and Chris Hinds. All of them agreed to participate.
Get to know more about District 1 candidate and Denver Fire Department program manager Amanda Sandoval below.
Westword: How would you describe yourself and the reasons you decided to run for city council?
Amanda Sandoval: I was raised by two parents who believed that advocacy and well-thought-out, community-based policy truly impacts people’s lives. Growing up in northwest Denver, I spent a great deal of my time playing, working and learning at my family’s restaurant, La Casita. In this setting, I found myself surrounded by local residents who were committed to the betterment of our community. A gathering place for debating, imagining and implementing community-based action plans, my experiences at La Casita, the time I spent volunteering at various nonprofits in northwest Denver, and my current work at the Denver Fire Department have taught me the value of giving back to one’s community. However, I found my personal calling while working for Denver City Councilwoman Judy Montero. I fell in love with how impactful a city councilperson can be — they are a resident’s first line of defense relative to local public policy. Which is why I am running to be the next Denver City Council representative for District 1.
Furthermore, I am running:
• For the residents of northwest Denver;
• Because northwest Denver needs a councilperson who not only understands the importance of preserving the past, but has the knowledge to successfully advocate for our present and our future;
• Because serving northwest Denver is in my blood, my heart and my soul; and
• Because I am a passionate public servant who has dedicated my life to the residents of Denver.
What makes your district unique?
District 1 has strong cultural roots, with families who have called northwest Denver home for multiple generations, including my own. Northwest Denver is one of the city’s original neighborhoods, with unique architecture and beautiful brick homes. Robust business nodes, such as the one at 32nd and Lowell, are home to small local businesses, several community gardens and two co-housing communities. Northwest Denver is home to the Oriental Theater, which hosts everything from Lucha Libre wrestling and neighborhood school fundraisers to national acts such as Parliament-Funkadelic. We also have Sloan Lake, which is the only lake in the Denver Park system that allows water-skiing; a beautiful eighteen-hole golf course in Willis Case; and, most important, the amazing residents who call District 1 home.
What is the biggest issue affecting your district?
Northwest Denver is a beautiful place to live and work, and to boil down issues to one is really challenging. The residents of northwest Denver have made it clear that the issues they want to see addressed are related to mobility options, parks and public spaces, affordable housing and employment opportunities. While we can all agree that development is also on all of our minds, I think we would be remiss in not discussing safety concerns in District 1. According to the Denver Police Department’s neighborhood crime statistics, crime in City Council District 1 has risen 5.1 percent year-over-year from January 2017 to January 2018.
As District 1 city councilperson:
• I will support juvenile and criminal justice reforms with potential for positive impact on the future generations of northwest Denver residents.
• I will support the neighborly bonds and stronger community that result from the establishment of active neighborhood-watch programs, wherever sought, ideally throughout each District 1 neighborhood of Chaffee Park, Regis, Sunnyside, Berkeley, Highland, West Highland, Jefferson Park, Sloan’s Lake and West Colfax.
• I will focus on enforcement and rule changes to address recurring safety issues that result from sidewalk closures due to construction activities. Specifically, I will pursue an access ordinance requiring that construction zones maintain sidewalk access with overhead protection, ensuring our sidewalks are open and safe for the duration of construction.
Now that the Right to Survive ordinance has been defeated, how would you address the issues of homelessness cited by both the measure's supporters and opponents?
Denver’s growing homeless population is in need of real solutions and assistance. I am a firm believer in Maslow's hierarchy-of-needs theory, which is founded on the principle that basic human needs must be met first, such as housing and public safety, in order to establish a healthy, productive society. As such, as city councilperson, I will support social-impact bond projects in order to increase housing and services for our homeless population.
How would you tackle Denver's affordable-housing issues?
As your councilperson, I will seek to expand opportunities for home ownership for low, moderate and middle incomes such as:
• I will hit the ground running by providing area residents with information on the numerous home-ownership initiatives the city offers, such as the Metro Mortgage Assistance Plus down payment program and the Senior Citizen Tax Exemption.
• Furthermore, I will seek to establish a tax relief program and expand the down-payment assistance fund.
• I will work to secure federal and state dollars to help create attainable housing opportunities (rentals and single-family homes) for northwest Denver’s low- to middle-income residents to avoid displacement as our area continues to increase in desirability.
• In addition, I want to see affordable-housing requirements (including requirements for on-site housing) that extend beyond the provisions of Denver’s citywide affordable-housing linkage fee to promote economic and cultural diversity.
How concerned are you about gentrification in your district, and what can be done to strike the right balance?
Gentrification represents a double-edged sword. It offers an opportunity for lifelong residents to capitalize on their investment. However, gentrification can also simultaneously alter the original character of a neighborhood — both culturally and from a historic preservation perspective. The fact is, northwest Denver has always been a community welcoming to newcomers. We have always believed in community development that encouraged neighborhood-serving retail and housing that supports a mix of incomes. I have always believed that we cannot truly call ourselves a community if our area teachers, first responders and working families cannot also live within the communities they serve. The key to addressing this concern is balance.
As your next councilperson, I will advocate for:
• Regulations governing new building construction;
• Utilizing my zoning and land-use expertise to ensure reasonable thoughtful growth; and
• Seeking out partnerships between developers and neighborhood associations to establish open discussions about the vision for District 1.
Do you support rent control in Denver?
Across the board, rent control is not a proven policy for increasing long-term affordable-housing solutions. However, I support an inclusionary-housing ordnance that would require developers to provide affordable units. In order to accomplish this, the state must pass a stabilization bill to allow Denver to have more tools, including overturning the Telluride decision — a state law banning rent control. In addition, I will support ordinances that responsibly protect renters, such as reasonable security-deposit limits and changing the 21-day notice of rental increase to thirty or sixty days so District 1 households can have time to adequately react.
Would you expand the tiny homes concept? If so, how? If not, why not?
I am in support of the tiny homes concept. It is a proven solution to address affordable-housing challenges and has the added benefit of creating a greater sense of individual pride and connection to one’s community.
Would you support a higher minimum wage in Denver? If so, where would you like to see the minimum wage set?
Yes, I will support an increase in the minimum wage, as wage growth among those at minimum wage has lagged far behind the rising cost of living. I support a minimum wage set at $15 an hour, and while this is not high enough, it is a good starting point. Furthermore, these dollars go directly back into our local economy, creating a win-win situation that supports neighborhood households and businesses alike and will advance opportunities for home ownership for area residents. In addition, I will support requiring the use of organized labor and apprenticeship programs on multi-year city construction contracts to ensure that jobs created support a well-compensated, competent, capable and insured workforce that will directly and indirectly benefit District 1. It’s not just about a livable wage, but job creation!
Is development in Denver being done responsibly?
Development takes many forms, both good and bad; however, the key to good development is proper regulations. I have the experience and skills to partner with the city, state and residents on collaborative win-win
outcomes that meet the needs of northwest Denver residents.
As your councilperson:
• I will expand my efforts to create desirable zoning overlays, such as the three that shape the Highland neighborhood adopted in 2015. I will competently champion the overlays sought by the Sunnyside neighborhood. Even as I campaign, I continue to assist the Harkness Heights community in developing character-defining tools that can be used elsewhere in District 1.
• I will support the Jefferson Park, Highland, Sunnyside and Chaffee Park neighborhoods during their upcoming neighborhood planning effort with the city’s Neighborhood Planning Initiative (NPI).
• I am committed to pursuing residential street speed-limit reductions where needed and will assist our community in these efforts.
• I will ensure that our "community" as we know it is actually apart of "community" planning and development initiatives, policies and amendments.
What should be done to address problems related to traffic and traffic safety in your district?
As your next councilperson, I will pursue increasing the use of traffic-calming infrastructure and enhancing safety at pedestrian and neighborhood school crossings. I am also committed to pursuing residential street speed limit reductions where needed and will assist our community in these efforts.
What improvements do you believe should be made to Denver's public-transportation system?
As your councilperson, I will seek to expand advance transportation and mobility initiatives in the following ways:
• Northwest Denver’s lone commuter-rail station at 41st and Inca has an adopted station action plan (2009) that is already antiquated and needs updating. I will work to redefine the vision of the station action plan to require affordable housing and community benefit while reducing car dependency through the use of regulatory tools.
• As an active participant in past and ongoing efforts to address development, zoning and transportation initiatives, such as the Harkness Heights overlay, SUNI overlays, Central Street Promenade, Regis University master plan, 32nd Avenue improvements and the 38th Avenue feasibility study, I am willing and able to act on recommendations and turn them into reality.
• I will seek solutions and support efforts to bring about frequent, dignified and low-cost mobility options that serve everyone and to restore service in northwest Denver and the downtown core in a way that we once enjoyed with the Denver Tramway. This means working with RTD to realign priorities, buy up service and simultaneously introduce a Denver-specific solution with the next mayoral administration.
• I will advocate for a family pass and free bus passes for Denver Public Schools students.
• I will continue to listen to your concerns and do the work to help ensure that our lifelines are accessible, safe and convenient for each of us.
Would you work to expand Denver's bicycle network? If so, how?
Yes, and the first project I will support is the creation of a bike boulevard along 41st Avenue from Sheridan to our only transit station at 41st and Inca Street. I will also advocate the buildout of the Denver Moves plan related to Denver’s bike network and accomplish this via the city and county budget process to ensure we have adequate funding so our bike network is built out safely and effectively.
Would you welcome social consumption venues of the sort envisioned in a bill passed by the state legislature in your district? If so, why?
Denver City Council is currently addressing this issue and recently passed (via a 9-2 vote) a preliminary proposal that would allow the marijuana-use businesses to operate closer to rec centers, daycares and other facilities. I believe wholly in the process and support any additional actions needed by the excising task force to determine what is in the best interest of Denver.
What can and should be done to improve law enforcement in Denver?
As your city council representative, I will advocate for the allocation of larger budgets for our first responders — Denver Fire, Denver Police and Denver Paramedics — in order to ensure that those who protect us have the necessary resources to perform.
Would you like the city council to have more mechanisms to keep the mayor accountable? If so, what changes would you like to see?
I believe in the constitutional structure in place within the City and County of Denver’s system. Should voters wish to shift the power structure as currently stipulated, then, as a seated city councilperson, I would support the will of the people. However, I do believe that there are avenues to ensure the mayor is meeting the needs of District 1 residents. Therefore, as your next city councilperson I would:
• Establish regular one-on-one meetings with the mayor in order to discuss District 1 issues, projects and budgetary concerns; and
• Host a "State of District 1" meeting where the mayor can speak directly to the residents of District 1 on issues affecting and impacting area residents.
Are there other major issues we haven't mentioned that are important to you, and if so, what are they?
According to a January 18, 2019, Denver Post article, "Green space in Denver is disappearing faster than in most other cities, with paved-over cover increasing from 19 percent of the city in 1974 to 48 percent in 2018 (not including Denver International Airport), federal and city data show. Up to 69 percent of the city is expected to be paved or covered by 2040. Only New York and a few mega-cities exceed that level of what planners call "imiperviousness." This is an alarming statistic, especially when considered against the fact that public parks and recreation centers effectively serve as back yards for residents who lack outdoor spaces of their own.
As your councilperson:
• I will leverage resources from development and large-scale projects to address existing infrastructure needs in our parks and support the increased demand for public open space.
• I will advocate for District 1 to receive a portion of the new parks funding to purchase land for additional neighborhood parks.
• I will advocate for improved data to tailor park amenity and programming needs so that our low-cost recreation facilities and programs support our quality of life by adequately addressing the recreation needs of our children and seniors.
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• I will advocate for replacement of outdated playground equipment and proper funding to support ongoing park maintenance deficiencies, particularly the need for more robust cleanup efforts in and around Sloan Lake.
• Knowing that the city now has specialized vehicles for park waste management, I will press for some preventive maintenance through additional trash and recycling containers throughout our District 1 parks.
• My capital-improvement priorities for District 1 parks will include the addition of a new dog park at Gates Crescent Park, a berm at Rocky Mountain Lake Park to match Berkeley Lake Park and public-use boat house renovations at Sloan Lake, and an off-site maintenance yard to remove the makeshift maintenance facility that was introduced to Sloan's Lake Park six years ago.
• I will continue to support and provide resources for all District 1 registered neighborhood organizations (RNOs), I will support board development training, provide grants for communication needs, and sponsor community events such as movies in the parks, music festivals, art projects and other unique events that bring our community together.