Time To Focus On The Arvada City Election

It is time to choose a City Council that represents OUR best interests!

Arvada City Council Candidate Forum, Hosted by Arvadans for Progressive Action (APA) and Colorado Working Families

Wednesday, August 28, 2019, 6:30 p.m.

Candidates present:

Running for Mayor: Harriet Hall, Dave Palm, Marc Williams

Running for At-Large: Jeff Cannon, Bob Fifer

Running for District 2: T.O. Owens, Lauren Simpson

Running for District 4: Jordan Hohenstein, David Jones

Moderators: Carlos Valverde, Rachael Smallwood.

Opening statements:

David Jones: Believes in encouraging investment in infrastructure; wants to work with Arvada citizens to find responsible solutions to growth-related issues.

Jordan Hohenstein: Top priorities are: affordable housing, infrastructure funding, and the Jefferson Parkway.

Lauren Simpson: Live, work, play; affordable housing, diversity of housing stock. Working in Arvada including city jobs, city contracts, and resources to city employees.

T.O. Owens: Top priorities are transportation/infrastructure, housing, and parks/recreation.

Bob Fifer: Top priorities are affordable housing, transportation--not just roads but how we use the roads, e.g. mass transit and how traffic lights are coordinated for efficiency. Inclusivity--are we really an inclusive community? How can we bridge those gaps to become one whole community?

Jeff Cannon: Says we need to turn from the intention to build roads we don't want, to fixing the roads we already have. Other priorities are not supporting a trash hauling monopoly, and the homeless crisis.

Marc Williams: Wants to continue to take Arvada in a great direction. All those priorities mentioned already, are near and dear to his heart.

Dave Palm: Says Arvada needs an ombudsman to facilitate connection and communication with citizens. Says new revenue sources should be sought, such as using marijuana sales to fund road repairs (Pot for Potholes.) Would like to ensure that it becomes easier for citizens to place issues on the ballot, and is adamantly opposed to subsidies to developers or to Arvada's urban renewal authority.

Harriet Hall: Is worried about keeping the charm of our town. Also would like to rebuild trust in local government, and sees transparency as the way to mend the current lack of trust. Affordable housing is a big priority, as is restoring a sense of community between and among the various areas of Arvada.

Questions: There were questions on a variety of topics, presented to the panelists by the persons who had written the questions.  Each panelist had up to ninety seconds to answer the question, and all questions were answered by all panelists. For brevity, we will refer to the panelists by last name only.

Question 1, by Cheri Wissel, on Transportation:

Do you support the Jefferson Parkway, and, if so, given that it will not connect the segments of the beltway, how can you assure that Arvada taxpayers will not at some point be on the hook for paying for it?

Owens: Supports, but says testing needs to continue at Rocky Flats. Taxpayers will not be on the hook because it is the Jefferson Parkway Authority which is responsible for funding.

Fifer: Supports. He is the chair of DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments) and says we have to find a way to divert traffic off of the arterial streets. The taxpayers will not be held responsible because it will be a toll road.

Cannon: Is against the Jefferson Parkway but in favor of a true beltway. Is concerned that "just a couple of guys with shovels" found plutonium where there was not supposed to be any, and asked, can you imagine what could happen once major earth-moving equipment gets started digging out there?

Williams: Fully supports if it can be done safely. This has been in the planning process since the 1960s. Originally the plan was to use Highway 93, but Boulder was adamant that that not happen. Williams continued, if the area is determined not to be safe, the parkway will not be built. Taxpayers are not in danger of having to pay for any necessary cleanup of the plutonium because that is a federally funded item.

Palm: Is absolutely opposed to the Plutonium Parkway and says it is "insane to disturb the earth out there." He and his father both worked at Rocky Flats and as part of the cleanup as well.

Hall: Does not support the Parkway, because the health of Arvada's citizens has to come first. She said that "if" it was adequately demonstrated to be safe, she would have to think more about it but for now is opposed. She added that trust was eroded when Arvada did not take a more rigorous approach to testing. There were not supposed to be any hot spots and then lo and behold, plutonium has been found.

Jones: Has been actively working to ensure that the roadway can be done the right way. He has received feedback from citizen committees. Broomfield is planning to use $80 million to start making a connection between the Northwest Parkway and Jefferson Parkway. If Highway 93 was enhanced, it would make an actual full beltway. However, Jones added that he is "very concerned" about the high reading found during recent testing.

Hohenstein: Was opposed two years ago, is still opposed. In addition to being a potential public health risk, he also sees it as a potential environmental disaster and a bad financial deal as well.

Simpson: Will lead with the public's health and safety in mind; and yes, the taxpayers will be on the hook because that's who pays for the public health and safety, as well as the safety of the workers who could be exposed by working on the road. We need creative beltway solutions.

Question 2, by Robin Kupernik, on Environment and Healthy Living:

Teenage vaping has become a serious problem. What are your plans to decrease vaping among teenagers, and would you be in favor of raising the age to purchase vaping products from 18 to 21?

Williams: The current city council is concerned, and has directed staff to bring us more information. One consideration would be to raise the age to 21. Another problem is the flavored vaping products are aimed directly at younger individuals, and one possibility would be to remove the flavored products from stores.

Palm: This is the kind of issue that is beyond the city purview. The city has no business regulating products, and raising the age would not help.

Hall: It is a public health issue for sure, and is a responsibility of the city along with the county, state, and other entities to start working in collaborative partnership. We can find out what has worked in other areas -- although it's such a new problem that there might not be too much evidence-based  data out there, but we can see what seems to work, and our policies could include changing laws around legal ages to purchase products.

Jones: Vaping is an epidemic in schools. He has worked with several citizens on the issue alongside councilmember Dot Miller, which is the reason staff has been asked to look into the matter. Businesses can also be held accountable through a registration process. If this is not addressed, the problem will only get worse.

Hohenstein: Agrees it is a significant issue. In his age group he knows people who are having health issues, but can't quit vaping. He is in favor of raising the age to 21, and also thinks information should be gotten to the schools which can help.

Simpson: This is a serious issue. In the case of cigarettes, getting the information out there about the health risks lowered the number of smokers. There are things city council can do in alliance with others, and also can hold the vendors accountable.

Owens: We need to get teachers the resources they need to teach kids why vaping is unhealthy. City council needs to evaluate options, but he is not sure if he's for or against raising the age limit.

Fifer: We know that older siblings are supplying their younger siblings with vaping materials. The state has deferred regulation to the cities. Arvada should take a leadership role in regulating the sales, take away the flavors, stop allowing indoor vaping. What we're doing isn't working, and this is a public safety issue.

Cannon: Remember the film Footloose? When dancing was made illegal, all the kids suddenly wanted to dance. It became attractive because it was forbidden. Instead, get the kids involved, such as in community organizations, and find other avenues in which to channel kids' energy.

Question 3, Miscellaneous topic, by Elysia Hassebroek:

I don't want to see Arvada turned into an epicenter of big box stores--How will you ensure that Arvada remains a welcoming place to small, family-owned businesses?

Hohenstein: Agree, and share the same concerns. Not thrilled with chains, says there are too many already. The effort against the Walmart at 58th and Independence was proof that very many Arvada citizens don't want more big box stores.

Simpson: Agrees that we need to keep Arvada welcoming and competitive for small businesses. Both her parents owned small businesses.  Olde Town has a planning committee to keep the charming look and feel. We can also invest in placemaking: neighborhoods which are walkable and welcoming, which have small businesses as an integral part. One good use of TIF financing is to help small businesses with precisely-targeted small loans to help them stay competitive.

Owens: Small business is the backbone of Arvada. We need all kinds of business. Large, small, national, and local, and we need to treat them all fairly. AEDA has a grant program to help small businesses.

Fifer: We have to protect the Land Development Code and where we allow development. We need to foster walkable communities where people can engage with local merchants. He is not a fan of big box stores.

Cannon: Likes small business, has been involved for 30 or 40 years with them. We need to support the community organizations such as Chamber of Commerce which make a difference in Arvada. 99 percent of the businesses in Chamber of Commerce are small businesses. Also please support the Historical Society.

Williams: Owns a small business, and represents some Mom and Pop businesses. He is a huge advocate and supports large and small businesses throughout the community. There are no chains in Olde Town. There is a new small business starting up in Five Parks. The Walmart was not the end of the world. New Town (the Home Depot/Lowes/Costco/Sam's Club area) generates almost a third of the money it takes to run the city. We need a mixture, a full spectrum of business types, balance.

Palm: Has a small business. Part of the problem here is that AURA has done its best to chase small business out of town, for example the Chuck E. Cheese's and the area where the Walmart is now. Big developers are being brought in, rather than small businesses. We need to incentivize small businesses, for example by letting them keep the first year's sales tax when they start up.

Hall: Small business is very important, and she has an issue paper about that on her website, which people can look at. We have not incentivized them to come and stay. Small business is part of our culture and helps give a sense of community. We can incentivize and find other ways to be supportive. Agrees that it's important to help support the Chamber of Commerce, which can be of assistance in such matters as employee health insurance for small to medium companies.

Jones: Primary jobs are what fuels the economy, forever. He noted some small business which took courage to start, the Home Cooking Cafe and the Bike Shack. Small businesses are critical to the success of the community, and we need people who are willing to take the risk to do that.

Question 4, on Development, by Councilmember John Marriott:

If municipalities were allowed to enact rent control ordinances, would you be in favor of that?

Hall: Rent control seems similar to the recent growth cap enacted in Lakewood, in the sense that it's like using a sledgehammer to hammer a nail into a 2 x 4. There can be unintended consequences. We have to be very thoughtful. Affordable housing is vital; we need to pay attention to the problem and be proactive, before citizens follow the lead of Lakewood. We really need all interested parties at the table working together.

Palm: Is adamantly opposed to rent control, or the government meddling in the free market. And even if there were rent control, it might not solve the housing crisis.

Williams: There can be abuses, it is very suspect, he is a free market kind of guy. There are other things we can do, and that Arvada already is doing.

Cannon: We don't need that here, but we need other solutions, more "western" solutions. If affordability is an issue then we need to reach out to organizations that are helping with that. "Homing" is one such organization and we could open a chapter here.

Fifer: Not in favor of rent control. We should look at the existing tools, including Section 8 funding. The city could contribute more money to help fund Section 8; there are hundreds of people waiting. We can leverage and have a greater impact, by reinforcing the tools we already have.

Owens: Not a fan of rent control. We could help with housing using leverage we have; such as increased height, or reduced parking requirements in affordable housing developments.

Simpson: Actually did live in a rent-controlled apartment in Washington D.C., for six years. She was able to build equity and purchase a home here in Arvada. She found it to be a powerful tool that could benefit people. She said the city could also work with developers by incentivizing the building of affordable housing so that people can buy homes as opposed to being stuck in the rent trap for the rest of their lives.

Hohenstein: There are other tools that could be used, for example building more apartments, subsidized housing, incentives to provide low interest loans to firefighters, teachers, etc. He said that if there are not people elected this time who are willing to explore different options, the same questions will persist until the next election.

Jones: Urban renewal is looking at options for senior housing and affordable housing. Some projects may have TIF financing. One problem is always "not in my backyard," which has killed some projects.

Question 5, on Human Rights, by Brent Stevenson:

My wife and I help at the Rising ministry for the homeless. There is a huge need; what should the city's role be in helping?

Fifer: There are two basic kinds of homelessness, visible and invisible. Visible is the one we think of most, the people we see on the street. Some want help, some don't, each case is unique. There are some services to help, such as Community Table. The invisible homeless people are people like a mom and dad and kids living in their car, working poor, whose kids find that school is the only stability they have in their lives. One thing the city can do is to provide more money for human services funding, to help the nonprofits which are working to help the homeless.

Owens: The city can help connect the organizations which are doing the work.

Simpson: A close family member was homeless, which greatly impacted her life, giving her a perspective most others don't have. What saved this person's life was the Denver Shelter. Homeless is often the result of chronic mental illness and/or addiction. Need to address those issues city wide, county wide, state wide. Especially needed are ways to help the working poor, the people who might be one car breakdown away from homelessness. A low or no-cost loan program could offer funding for single rent payments, car repairs, etc., to help keep people in their homes.

Hohenstein: People tend to view the homeless as less than equal. A lot can be done by the city working with faith-based organizations, non-profits and small businesses. Opioid addiction definitely needs to be addressed. The city can be more supportive to severe weather shelters.

Jones: We could do more if we had more volunteers for the severe weather shelters--a big problem is that there just aren't enough volunteers. We definitely appreciate the faith based organizations such as Pastor Steve and the Rising.

Hall: Both the visible and invisible homelessness problems have to be addressed. The issue we hear most about is visible homelessness. It's necessary to address the whole continuum, from affordable housing at one end, to supporting at-risk people on an immediate basis on the other end; she likes Lauren Simpson's idea of a fund to help people remain self-sufficient. Where the problems involved are mental illness and addiction, all entities need to work together, including the city.

Palm: Was homeless for a time, and believes the homeless are largely urban campers and career vagrants. He has been there and knows how the system works.

Williams: These are all good ideas--and we're doing them. Homelessness is a major issue at the Metro Mayors' Caucus, and we're working on it as a region. The Caucus has created a fund. Also, Arvada has police officers who are actively looking to help people who want to be helped. We also have, in Jefferson County, a countywide Navigator program, and are also looking into forms of transitional housing.

Cannon: Solutions come from things like the Rising. The city should put more resources into the Rising. The Jaycees are actually the warmup shelter for the severe weather shelter. Collaboration is very important.

Question 6, on Civic Engagement, by Geoff Bruce:

Will Arvada just be turned into Any City, Anywhere? Large contractors often benefit from the City and from Urban Renewal. Should anyone running for office receive money from those who stand to benefit from the city's policies, and have any of you currently accepted campaign donations from them?

Palm:  Difficult question, because almost everything City Council does benefits somebody, it almost isn't feasible not to accept donations from someone who might benefit.

Williams: Receives many contributions. He is proud of them all. Contributors know they are not "buying" his vote. He has no regrets about any contribution.

Cannon: Only taking contributions from individuals, not from businesses, but would consider accepting from businesses ; it would depend on whether they expected anything in return. He would let his conscience be his guide.

Fifer: Would also need to use his conscience, but will not accept donations from developers. When he's on the dais it needs to be pure, honest and transparent, and he doesn't want even a hint of dishonesty there.

Owens agrees that it's hard to see anyone not benefitting from something city council does, for example street repaving. It's a hard question to define and answer, but he hopes to keep most contributions local.

Simpson: Supports campaign finance reform. However, she doesn't think anyone on tonight's panel would sell their votes. She so far has only received contributions from individuals, but is open to business contributions as well.

Hohenstein is definitely opposed to receiving money from other than individuals. He has run a grassroots campaign, and intends to set an example of clean campaign run by and for the people.

Jones: Financed the majority of his last campaign himself but did receive some money from friends and family. He does not accept nor need developers' contributions.

Hall: Has only accepted contributions from individuals, and would have to closely examine her conscience if she was approached by someone who might benefit.

Question 7, on Home Ownership, by Joyce Richardson:

How would you help people toward home ownership?

Simpson: Look at housing density, where it might be appropriate to increase that. And look at some of the affordable housing options we discussed earlier, in addition to creative solutions such as sunshine housing, mother-in-law units, student housing, etc.

Hohenstein: Need to work with the community, we can help with issues such as condominium developments. Hometown Heroes offers incentives for homes for firefighters and teachers. We can work on our exclusionary zoning codes that we have here in Arvada. Tiny housing, and affordable housing next to the light rail, rather than continuing to build luxury housing near the G-Line.

Jones: Employs people at a wage that allows them to become homeowners. Arvada does have some good employers who pay a fair wage. Also, city council has caused some developers to make changes to make projects more affordable.

Hall: One of her dreams as CEO of the Jefferson Center for Mental Health was to start a program which would help seriously mentally ill clients of the Center to become homeowners. It never came to fruition but it's something that could be worked on. Stability and community inclusion are a factor in helping people, and it would be very rewarding to figure out how to do that. It would be necessary to be creative, and work with financial institutions as well as developers and homebuilders.

Palm: Absolutely opposed to any tax subsidy, including for affordable housing. He said that most people who are homeowners earned the funding for that themselves, with no one else's help.

Williams: Look to what our city council has done already, working with Habitat for Humanity. Ranger Miller's Blues and BBQ every year raises funds for that. Williams testified before the Colorado legislature on the problems owing to the construction defects law. Condos and townhomes are the gateway to home ownership, and the defects law has been very restrictive to the building of those. Urban renewal has projects on line to build micro housing. The city has a first-time homeowner assistance program as well.

Cannon has sold real estate for twenty years. A lot of first-time buyers don't know what programs there are that they may be eligible for. Colorado Housing Finance Authority, FHA, etc.

Fifer:  Supports these ideas as well. Hometown Heroes is a great organization. Richmond Homes is building for sale condos at Haskin Station.  Senior housing is a very serious topic.

Owens: Thanked Ranger Miller and the help Habitat and Blues and BBQ have given the community. He said the construction defects law very much stopped the building of townhomes. Now that the law has been changed, we are starting to see more townhomes built, but developers are still nervous. They can't insure anything over 20 units. Need to put pressure on the legislature.

The meeting ended after this question.