City Council District 1 in Denver is tucked neatly into the city and county’s northwest corner.
Candidates vying to replace current District 1 Councilman Rafael Espinoza cited a variety of concerns they feel they’re the most qualified to address, as candidates in all districts have. But what makes this district different than the 10 others in the city?
“It’s got more mature problems. It’s an established community of Denver,” Espinoza, who is not seeking reelection, said this week. “It’s got a lot of history and that history has preserved through shifts, radical shifts in demographics, over the decades. It’s going through another dramatic shift in demographics as we speak.”
Espinoza said the current shift is socioeconomic. Funny enough, preserving the middle-class was one of the priorities for several of the district candidates.
There are other concerns, of course. Perhaps the most pressing, candidates spoke about working closely with developers, ensuring neighborhood preservation, improving housing options and supporting small businesses.
If you’re in the district, you will have no shortage of candidates to choose from.
Part of it is no doubt due to the district having a wide-open race after Espinoza decided not to pursue another term. So, voters will get their chance to pick from the largest pool of candidates in any council district. It includes seven candidates: Victoria R. Aguilar, Sabrina D’Agosta, Scott Alan Durrah, Praj Kulkarni, David Sabados, Amanda Sandoval and Michael Somma. In recent and past interviews with Denverite, they all discussed issues they’d like to address, and perhaps more importantly, offered a blueprint on how to address them.
City Council District 1 is comprised of neighborhoods including Chaffee Park, Berkeley, Highland, Jefferson Park, Regis, Sloan’s Lake, Sunnyside and West Highland, as well as portions of West Colfax.
Victoria R. Aguilar
Aguilar is a Sunnyside native who works as a Denver Human Services employee and specializes in immigrant and refugee services. Her parents founded the faith-based nonprofit that helps people with job training and emergency housing.
“My work has led me to identify gaps in city services,” Aguilar said in an interview with Denverite last year. “I feel like running for office is really going to let me address these gaps.”
Aguilar will focus on creating and preserving housing for the district’s middle-class and lower-income residents. She would push for affordable housing requirements in new developments and establish an incentive fund to help homeowners in the district stay in their homes.
Like other candidates, she supports adding more accessory dwelling units (granny flats!), which would allow owners to rent them out to provide additional income to help them stay afloat. She would like to see more inclusive physical space, which would mean enhancing public spaces with benches or gardens that encourage social interaction.
D’Agosta left her job with Denver Public Schools to campaign full-time. She calls herself a seventh-generation Denverite. She’s worked in communications most of her life, first working as a journalist and later as a deputy communications director for then-Mayor John Hickenlooper. She cites volunteering as one of her passions.
“Denver is experiencing an extraordinary amount of growth,” D’Agosta said. “We have seen a disproportionate amount of growth in northwest Denver.”
She wants to bring people together, especially folks already in the district, like her family, and newcomers as well. She wants community voices to be a part of the neighborhood planning process, which she said could help benefit more working-class and middle-class families in the district. She doesn’t want to see more folks from these groups pushed out of the city due to growth.
Another way D’Agosta wants to ensure locals are not pushed out is by supporting a strong local economy. She wants to support small local business centers that help make neighborhoods more walkable. This will also require a stronger focus on infrastructure investment, which could lead to more or improved sidewalks or bike lanes in the district. And while she doesn’t think the district has a high violent crime rate, she wants to address what she called some “alarming trends” in crime by advocating for more community policing in the district by Denver police officers.
Scott Alan Durrah
Durrah currently works as COO of Simply Pure Colorado, which he said was the first dispensary licensed to African-Americans in the city. He came to Denver in 2006 and since arriving, he said he’s created 150 job opportunities in the five business he’s founded in the district.
Durrah believes his past work experience makes him the best candidate in the district. He’s created a four-year plan for the district addressing concerns like housing, zoning and land use, transportation and job training.
“I think it’s very critical to understand in this district what has not worked in the past,” Durrah said in an interview this week. “We need to step away from that and look at new ideas for the future.”
In his plan, Durrah said he wants to make sure everyone who rents in the district has a clear path to homeownership. He wants to work with developers toward more responsible development he said will include local voices. To do this, he wants more partnerships between local community groups to ensure “everyone gets a seat on the table,” and will work to expand vocational training programs for high school students. He would like to partner with businesses to offer job training and job opportunities for students as an alternative to a four-year college.
To support small businesses, Durrah will push for ensuring local businesses are a part of mixed-use developments with available retail space.
Kulkarni said he’s running for the soul of Denver. An IT employee who works from home, Kulkarni said he came to Colorado about six years ago. One of the things that attracted him was the city’s inclusiveness. But he’s seen the changes since then and doesn’t want Denver to become like San Francisco, where “a family that makes $120,000 qualifies for low-income housing.”
He will advocate for building more accessory dwelling units. He wants to make sure the middle class in Denver is supported and will push for developments that can repurpose existing structures into affordable rental units. He wants to make sure there are places for local teachers or firefighters to have a place to live. He’s hoping to help streamline the permit process.
“In the end, we need to build more. As people move here, we have to house them,” Kulkarni said. “If we don’t build more housing, the people who will suffer will be the middle-class and the working class. The upper class will be fine at the end of the day.”
That development will need to reflect the neighborhood it grows in. That means creating development that’s sensitive to what’s already there and fits well with the neighborhood’s current aesthetic.
Sabados is a consultant at Compass Strategy Group. He’s a renter, putting him in a group he said in an interview with Denverite last year needs a voice on the council. About half of city residents are renters.
“I think renters face a lot of different issues than homeowners,” Sabados said last year. “And sometimes it’s hard for well-intentioned people making policy to understand the challenges renters face if it’s not the same challenges that they’ve tried to go through themselves.”
He would like to push for more renter protection and more accessory dwelling units.
Another big push will be to expand the city’s public transit options, to create more lines and more frequent buses. He wants to make mass transit more available for folks in the city proper, which he says would lead to more people using it, and provide more bike lanes and other mobility options, scooters.
He’s also supporting a state bill that would allow local governments to set minimum wages. He supports expanding the minimum wage increase to all Denver residents.
Sandoval currently works as the legislative liaison and outreach program coordinator for the Denver Fire Department. Before that, she served as chief of staff for Espinoza from July 2015 to November of last year (Espinoza has endorsed Sandoval). Because of her prior council experience, Sandoval believes she could hit the ground running if she were elected.
“I’m running to make sure that northwest Denver has reflective representation — reflective of values, reflective of zoning for the built environment,” Sandoval said.
She wants to ensure new development weaves neatly into the existing neighborhood fabric by using more zoning overlays, which very broadly means taking an existing zone district and tweaking or modifying it and making special rules for it.
To improve the district’s affordable housing stock, she would like to expedite the permit and review process for developers who meet the minimum affordable housing requirements set by the city. For those developers that go above that, she would like to speed up the process even more to encourage more development.
Somma is a currently a lieutenant at the Denver Fire Department and a former Denver cop. He’s been a civil servant for 34 years and feels his experience of being born and raised in the district is an example of how someone from a middle-class family can rise to where he is today.
“I am not a politician. I am there to present the constituents of my home, my district,” Somma said in an interview this week.
He is prioritizing transportation and housing, calling for a plan to address transit by introducing an electric streetcar system similar to one in Washington. He thinks they could serve as connectors between bus routes and the light rail system. It would include charging consumers $1 a ride. It’s an effort he thinks could increase foot traffic in struggling commercial properties in the district.
To entice more developers to build affordable apartment units and starter homes, Somma would like to offer tax incentives. He’s calling for more community input on such projects. And to address homelessness, he wants the city to provide more transitional services for folks trying to get into permanent housing.
Who’s got money?
According to the most recent available figures, Aguilar has raised $6,221 through this election cycle. It includes $2,000 she’s donated to her own campaign.
D’Agosta has raised $15,192.75 through this election cycle per the most recent available figures, which includes a $2,635.75 loan D’Agosta took out for the campaign.
Durrah has raised $43,902.20 during this election cycle.
Kulkarni has raised $26,093.47 during this election cycle, more than $4,900 of which he’s donated to his own campaign.
Sabados has raised $25,936.59 during this election cycle, including at least $1,000 he’s donated to his own campaign.
Sandoval has raised the second-most so far this election cycle, bringing in $47,470.
Somma has raised the most so far this election cycle, bringing in $48,791.05, including $1,000 he’s donated to his own campaign.