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 10, with Wayne New, at 39 percent, and Chris Hinds, who scored just over 30 percent, leading the field.
We submitted the following questions via email to the ten city council finalists: District 1's Mike Somma and Amanda 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 New and Hinds. All of them agreed to participate.
Get to know more about District 10 councilmember New below.
Westword: How would you describe yourself and the reasons you decided to run for city council?
Wayne New: My professional life has been a blend of public service and business management — both in health-care management and city government. My first term as councilman and my business experience has given me the knowledge and ability to help provide and improve city services to my district and the city. District 10 is beautiful and diverse, with art, history, unique neighborhoods, parks, character and vibrancy. I love representing the "Heart of Denver." I want to continue serving, protecting and enhancing our neighborhoods’ quality of life.
What makes your district unique?
District 10 is quite interesting. Every council district has the same number of residents, but District 10 is the smallest geographic area in the center of Denver and, therefore, has the greatest density in the city. The diversity of our neighborhoods, businesses, arts and entertainment is amazing: our nationally renowned art museums in Golden Triangle, the admired historic homes of Capitol Hill, the beauty of Cheesman Park and the Denver Botanic Gardens, the character of Colfax, our residential diversity and our magnificent neighborhoods are why I am so proud to represent District 10 in City Council.
What is the biggest issue affecting your district?
Our residents are concerned about three big citywide issues: transportation, homelessness and affordable housing. However, the majority of the concerns I hear from residents relate to the quality-of-life issues of traffic congestion, pedestrian and bicyclist safety, parking, cut-through traffic, speeding, stop sign violations and the lack of general driver courtesy.
Therefore, I work tirelessly with city departments, neighborhoods and businesses on increasing safety. Examples of improvements I have made include: (1) funding a major traffic improvement study in Congress Park; (2) participating in a comprehensive Capitol Hill parking study that identified additional parking opportunities; (3) initiating the installation of a RRFB [Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon] pedestrian-activated crossing from the Denver Botanic Gardens to Congress Park for families; (4) providing "Drive 25 MPH" signs in neighborhoods as a visual reminder to drivers of the unposted speed limit: (7) supporting an improved pedestrian safety design at the Alameda/Steele in the Stokes/Green Bowers area; (8) engaging in an evaluation of parking improvements in the Cherry Creek business-improvement district; and (9) promoting pedestrian intersection marking improvements and funding "smart" vehicular speed monitors.
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 its opponents?
The inability to create a systematic approach to helping those experiencing homelessness and funding housing, addiction, mental health and job training supportive services contributed to the Right to Survive initiative. There is a public perception that the city is not doing enough to help the 5,000-plus unhoused individuals on our streets, especially those looking for a way out of homelessness and looking for help.
I co-led a council homeless retreat that supported the nationally recognized "Housing First" approach. Housing is key so that those experiencing homelessness can cease living on the street, where they are most vulnerable. Housing is essential to providing efficient and cost-effective supportive services. Emergency shelters are only a first step to safe housing. There has be to a triage program with a transitional-housing and supportive-services approach to break the cycle of homelessness and provide a path to permanent housing.
Transportation is also necessary to gain access to shelters, triage centers and supportive services. As found in other cities, a comprehensive transportation plan has to be an integral component of managing a homeless system. Having only a transport service to a shelter is not enough, and moving urban campers from one area of the city to another is not the solution.
All major cities fund medical services for those most in need. For decades, Denver has financially supported Denver Health to provide medical services for our lowest-income citizens and homeless. Denver Health cannot solely manage the enormous homelessness problems of today. The city is fortunate to have incredible nonprofit service providers such as the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Salvation Army, Denver Rescue Mission, St. Francis Center, Urban Peak and others. We must provide additional funding to support these providers in developing and improving a system of care for those experiencing homelessness.
Without a systemic approach and increased funding, the city will continue to experience citywide problems with those experiencing homelessness without a meaningful and positive solution in sight.
How would you tackle Denver's affordable-housing issues?
The Affordable Housing Fund and the city housing plan (Housing an Inclusive Denver) are two city initiatives to increase funding and its uses to address this serious affordable housing shortage problem. The Affordable Housing Fund was increased from $15 million to $30 million per year. With this funding increase, bonding for over $100 million will be produced to secure land and produce housing through the assistance and leadership of the Denver Housing Authority.
Funding will also be dependent upon which of the three levels of Area Median Income (AMI — approximately $65,000 per year) are to be addressed. The lowest, 0-30 percent AMI, will require the specialized services of our incredible providers (Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the Salvation Army, St. Francis Center...) to address the supportive services that cannot or will not be provided by most developers. An increase in housing funding can also help these specialized providers produce housing units for the lowest AMI levels. Since new housing takes several years to produce, seeking the advice and support of appropriate existing building and property owners may provide more immediate affordable housing opportunities.
Even though workforce housing for the AMI levels of 40 to 60 percent and 80 percent-plus can be managed by most developers, they still require some city financial assistance to ensure that affordable-housing units will be constructed. The recent requirements for inclusion of affordable housing in new developments that receive city funding or incentives will create additional affordable units. However, greater flexibility is needed regarding the location of specific AMI-level affordable units proposed by new development. There have to be different approaches to produce affordable units dependent upon what level of AMI is being addressed. Since the city does not actually build housing and depends on developers and providers, the lack of flexibility and cooperation by the city, especially related to 0-30 percent AMI, may actually hinder development. This must be changed.
How concerned are you about gentrification in your district, and what can be done to strike the right balance?
A Neighborhood Planning Initiative for Colfax and the surrounding neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, Cheesman Park, Congress Park, City Park, West City Park and North Capitol Hill is nearing completion. To accommodate future housing needs, as defined by the city planning staff, there has been resident discussion regarding additional housing, especially affordable units, along the areas of future transit development (Colfax and Colorado).
In terms of densification and gentrification in neighborhoods, there is great concern about over-development that would detrimentally affect the existing neighborhood character. Denver’s Community Planning and Development has made it clear that the newly approved Blueprint Denver land-use plan will keep the same rezoning process and will not require neighborhood-wide zoning changes without neighborhood approval. Several neighborhoods are considering design overlays, which will provide zoning protection for existing neighborhood character and housing design. The greatest opportunity to meet future housing goals will be on Colfax and neighborhood edges, not within the well-established central and historic areas of our neighborhoods.
Do you support rent control in Denver?
Since the state did not remove the prohibition on rent stabilization in the legislature this year, I will have the time to research and understand the advantages and disadvantages of rent control in other major cities. The immediate housing cost solution that the city can control is the acceleration of funding for creating additional affordable-housing units for our citizens.
Would you expand the tiny homes concept? If so, how? If not, why not?
I have been impressed with the success of the tiny homes trial project in RiNo. It is clear to me that tiny homes should be used as transitional housing that has available supportive services for those experiencing homelessness. With this approach, the tiny homes can be a link from temporary to more permanent housing. I also believe that housing for those experiencing homelessness should be more of a metro Denver area issue with participation from surrounding cities, whether it is accommodation for tiny homes or just additional affordable housing.
In addition, as was learned from the recent tiny homes relocation in GES [Globeville, Elyria and Swansea], neighborhoods need to be actively involved with tiny home location decisions. The city should not dictate where to locate tiny homes without strong neighborhood involvement and support throughout the process.
Would you support a higher minimum wage in Denver? If so, where would you like to see the minimum wage set?
As you know, the city has implemented a $15-per-hour program for all city employees and for employees of contractors providing services on city properties. That should be fully implemented over the next two years. Currently, local governments, like Denver, are unable to enact laws establishing a minimum wage for private businesses and nonprofit entities within their jurisdiction. Once this law is overturned, I am confident that research and data will help guide any decisions on the need for a higher minimum wage and what that number should be.
Is development in Denver being done responsibly?
It is well known that the city will continue to grow. At the same time, many citizens are concerned about how we grow and whether development will be respectful of our neighborhoods. There are several examples in District 10 where I have become actively involved in rezoning or development efforts that do not comply with zoning regulations, are completely contrary to neighborhood character, and are opposed by residents. It is Community Planning and Development’s drive for greater density and their questionable interpretations of the zoning code that have created resident mistrust and fear of over-development in residential areas. That is why I continue to prioritize improving the zoning code and closing loopholes within it, just as I have done with slot homes and the garden court building form.
What should be done to address problems related to traffic and traffic safety in your district?
The city must be more aggressive in policing traffic violations, especially related to speeding, running stop signs and enforcing pedestrian crossings. There must be greater use of vehicle speed monitors and reductions of speed limits in residential areas. The city must increase the number of pedestrian crosswalks as well as safety-enhancing RRFB and HAWK [High-Intensity Activated crossWalK] signals when necessary. Most important, the number of police authorized and assigned to traffic management and safety is presently too low and must be increased. Whether citizens rather than police officers can be used for traffic enforcement should be investigated.
What improvements do you believe should be made to Denver's public-transportation system?
If the city’s goals of reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips is to be achieved, our transportation system must be enhanced and its implementation accelerated. As the first transit segment, the Colfax bus rapid transit (BRT) implementation has been discussed for over six years, but full funding has yet to be identified, and implementation is still years away. A dedicated revenue stream for transit must be secured. If our transportation system cannot be improved more rapidly, our population growth will only increase our traffic congestion problems within the city, and regionally if urban sprawl occurs. The use of micro-transit, streetcars and other mobility options must be considered to complement our transportation system. Residential car use can, and should, be reduced, but its elimination is not realistic.
Would you work to expand Denver's bicycle network? If so, how?
The implementation of 125 miles of bike lanes is important, but will not solve our transportation and traffic problems. The removal of vehicle travel lanes in favor of bike lanes may only exacerbate our traffic congestion problems, especially if transit is not implemented to reduce car traffic. As the city implements its bike path plan, careful attention needs to focus on traffic movement as well as bike movement. Bikes must be part of our comprehensive transportation plan.
Would you welcome social consumption venues of the sort envisioned in a bill passed by the state legislature in your district? If so, why?
I anticipate that the governor will sign the bill allowing Marijuana Hospitality Establishments into law. The changes in this state bill will make Denver’s social-consumption ordinance more effective and in line with the intent of voters. I believe in following the law and honoring the will of the people.
What can and should be done to improve law enforcement in Denver?
I have supported increases in police manpower through the city budget process each year I have been in council. We need more excellent police officers who are dedicated to protecting our citizens. I also believe in emphasizing the community policing model, which focuses on crime prevention though a partnership with residents. Lastly, the greater use of technology in crime prevention and detection will complement our policing efforts and must be funded.
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Would you like the city council to have more mechanisms to keep the mayor accountable? If so, what changes would you like to see?
The City Council should have a greater role in the development of the operating budget, so that greater citizen input and feedback on community needs are utilized. This would be similar to the annual District 10 budget process I have created for neighborhoods and community leaders to meet with budget officers to present their requests. A cooperative city/citizen approach to strategic planning, goal development, funding and meaningful performance measures will ensure that the city is meeting annual operational improvement expectations. A robust accountability system on city department performances is essential to reassure citizens that taxpayer funds are being used wisely and effectively. The mayor is currently responsible for developing and implementing such a performance system. If it cannot be accomplished, changes to the city charter may be needed.
Are there other major issues we haven't mentioned that are important to you, and if so, what are they?
Enforcement is an important topic that should be addressed in every area of city department responsibility. There have been serious lapses in enforcement that have created community problems in parking management, traffic control, construction activities, building permitting, zoning, short-term rentals and minority participation in city construction projects. If citizens cannot be assured that established rules and regulations will be consistently and promptly enforced, the trust in our city government will continue to diminish.