A very Denverite mayoral questionnaire: Mike Johnston

We asked candidates about the Park Hill Golf Course conservation land easement, Denver’s future, sweeps and more.
13 min. read
Mike Johnston speaks during a kickoff event for “Yes on Proposition 123,” support for a ballot measure that would increase funding for affordable housing in Colorado. Sept. 13, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

As part of our 2023 voter guide, we asked each mayoral candidate on the ballot to fill out a questionnaire. You can read short biographies of each candidate and find their questionnaires here.

Please answer the following questions with a yes or no. 

Should the conservation land easement on Park Hill Golf Course be lifted? Yes.

Assume the police force is fully staffed, should Denver hire more police officers? Yes.

On that note, would reducing the police budget to fund diversion programs and other potentially crime reducing initiatives ever be an option for your administration? Yes.

Should Denver plow streets after snow storms more often even if it means over budgeting for it? Yes.

There's a bill at the legislature that would allow a version of local rent control. If it became law, should Denver enact rent control measures? No.

Should Denver institute mandatory holds on people interacting with law enforcement who are in mental health or addiction crises? In rare cases.

If state law allowed them, should Denver have supervised drug use sites? No.

Is the mayor's office too powerful?  No.

Does Denver need more bike lanes? Yes.

Does Denver need more parking lots? No.

Feel free to elaborate on these questions. 

What are the biggest threats Denver faces in the next 30 years, and what will you do about them given that you could be mayor for 12 years? 

The biggest threats Denver faces in the next 30 years are a lack of affordable housing, increases in people experiencing homelessness, and spikes in crime. It will be absolutely critical that the next mayor face these issues head on, and this is what I would do:

  • Affordable Housing: As many as 50% of Denverites can't afford to live in our City anymore. We need to take immediate and effective action to make sure our nurses, police officers, firefighters, and workers who serve our city can actually afford to live here. As the lead author of Proposition 123, Colorado's first ever statewide ballot measure to successfully take on affordable housing and homelessness, I led a broad coalition of organizations to successfully open up millions of dollars in funding to address this issue. As mayor, I have committed to the most ambitious housing plan of anyone in the race, with a specific, fully-funded plan to build 25,000 permanently-affordable housing units, expanding home ownership through down payment assistance to help Denverites buy homes and build wealth helping residents save up to $100 every time they pay rent through tenant equity vehicles that help build savings for home ownership..
  • Ending Homelessness: When we let thousands of people sleep on the streets night after night, we are doing a moral disservice to our unsheltered neighbors and also making it difficult for Denver workers and residents to do their jobs and get around the city. As Mayor, I will build 10-20 micro-communities throughout the city for unsheltered Denverites, which will include wraparound services like mental health and addiction care. This will require an aggressive commitment to building 1,400 tiny homes and hotel conversions across the city. I'll make sure the city takes a compassionate approach to ending homelessness without sacrificing the safety of our public spaces.
  • Public Safety: Over the past few years, it seems like everyone in Denver has been or knows someone who has been impacted by crime, and we deserve better than that. I will implement a smart, fair, and compassionate public safety plan that will invest in ensuring our first responders are first and foremost community-focused restore civility and protect our neighborhoods by enforcing common-sense approaches to crime. This includes putting 200 more first responders on the street walking the beat, adding an auto theft unit, and converting two pods of the jail into mental health and addiction treatment centers to get people who need support into treatment.

What do you admire about Mayor Michael Hancock's administration? What would you improve on? 

Mayor Hancock did a wonderful job helping lift Denver into being a world-class city by creating the Airtropolis and investing in the airport, which is a huge driver for business, tourism, our economy, and convenience for residents. He's also had a strong focus on DEI and working to build equity in his policies. I would improve on his administration's efforts on how we approach folks who are unhoused and how we approach affordable housing so we can get 1,400 unhoused people into housing and build 25,000 permanently affordable units to bring down housing prices.

What steps would your administration take to make Denver more affordable? 

I spent the past two years traveling around the state and the country working with housing experts and visiting cities that were doing a much better job solving the housing crisis. I realized there were three problems, regulatory obstacles that slowed down permitting, sustainable public funding for affordable housing, and amplifying the voices of the silent majority that wants to bring down the price of housing. With housing supply failing to keep pace with growth, Denver is quickly becoming a city that only the rich can afford. As Mayor, I will make affordable housing one of my top priorities so the nurses, firefighters, and workers who serve our city everyday can afford to live here. My plan for affordable housing will utilize funds made available through Prop 123 to do the following:

  • Create over 25,000 permanently affordable units so teachers, nurses, and firefighters can live in the city they serve.
  • Cut the regulatory red tape by requiring the City of Denver to approve affordable housing permits within 90 days.
  • Prevent rent increases so that eligible Denver residents won't pay more than 30% of their income to rent.
  • Build mixed income developments that ensure a healthy mix of market rate and affordable units and create diverse neighborhoods.
  • Put money in people's pockets by helping renters in eligible units save up to $100 every time they pay rent.
  • Provide down payment assistance to help working families buy homes and support community land trusts to make buying a home more affordable.

You can read my full detailed plan and budget here:

Sweeps or no sweeps? You can add some nuance here, but you must answer "I would continue the sweeps" or "I would end the sweeps."

The sweeps are not working because we do not have any place for people to go. This is why my first step is to build the 1,400 units of housing through micro communities of tiny homes or hotel conversions that would offer the transitional housing we need to get people safe. That is a very different approach than the current administration. However I have not said I would end the sweeps because there still may be limited situations in which we have safe, dignified, built housing available and people would not choose to use them, or when there are health and safety risks in an encampment, that you would still need to move tents or encampments. But in this situation you would have someplace to move people to, either a micro community or a Safe Outdoor Space that would be dignified and protected. We have a moral obligation to provide safe, stable, dignified housing so we have a place to move people to. My experience working on this issue for the past several years has shown that when you offer people experiencing homelessness the opportunity to receive housing, they overwhelmingly choose to take it, which is why I am embracing a housing-first policy to address homelessness in the city. However, it's undeniable that there will be some situations where people can not stay where they are camping, like if there is a safety concern or health risk, and the city has to be able to enforce the ban in that scenario. But, the solution to homelessness is offering access to housing first and enforcing the camping ban should not be the only or primary strategy.

Permitting wait times in Denver have increased significantly, sometimes slowing down how fast housing can be built. What do you think is the problem and how would you fix that? 

We all know that Denver needs more affordable housing, and my administration will be prepared to tackle the issue of bureaucratic delays. This was why I built the coalition to write and pass Proposition 123, which requires that local permitting departments like Denver develop a 90 day fast track for approving permits. We also know part of the backlog is insufficient staffing, and Proposition 123 also makes available resources we can use to hire 10 more staffers in the permitting department so they can tackle the backlog and get things moving. We cannot afford to wait any longer to build new housing stock, which is why my affordable housing plan cuts through the red tape and would require affordable housing permits to be approved in 90 days, not two years.

What are your thoughts on converting downtown empty office spaces into residences? 

We need to explore every single option available to us to increase our housing supply and make Denver more affordable for everyone - that includes converting empty office spaces into units. This serves two purposes: 1) it will create more housing units and 2) it will attract more people to come live, work, and play downtown to help revitalize our downtown after COVID-19. While there are some buildings downtown, like former hotels, that are easier to develop into residences than others due to existing plumbing and electrical, we also need to make it as easy as possible to adapt office spaces that don't have that plumbing. To do that, I would streamline the permitting process so that developers don't have to start at ground zero when the site and building already exist, speeding up the timeline to get these units on the market.

Black-owned businesses like Coffee at the Point and Wah Gwaan Brewing Company have been shutting down. Should the city intervene to preserve Black entrepreneurship, and if so, how? 

I believe the city should intervene to preserve and expand Black entrepreneurship. I am the only candidate who has released a comprehensive plan on equity for the city that includes a focus on how we support minority-owned businesses. These unique, culturally diverse businesses are such an integral part of what makes Denver so special. As Mayor, I will work to make city funds more accessible for Black entrepreneurs by pushing our decision making process to be more aggressive in betting on our small entrepreneurs, especially entrepreneurs of color who too often get turned away from traditional banking. The role of the city should be to support these leaders who have great business plans but can't get traditional financing. I will also help Black entrepreneurs by routinely convening philanthropic and business leaders across the state who are interested in elevating the voices of small business via direct equity investments and grants to make more diverse funding sources accessible to small businesses. By betting on more small businesses, we can foster a unique, vibrant and diverse business environment in Denver.

How do you feel about land acknowledgements? 

As with all social change, acknowledgement is the first step towards progress. However, for it not to be in vein, that acknowledgement must be followed by tangible action on behalf of the indigenous community.

What are your thoughts on a flavored tobacco ban? 

I do not see the value in an outright ban on flavored tobacco at this point, but we do need strong oversight and regulation into how the products are being marketed and sold, especially to young people. We have managed this with alcohol and marijuana products that posed a risk of being over utilized by young people and we should do the same with tobacco. There is a way to allow responsible adults to use a product and keep it out of the hands of children.

Describe specifically how your office will demonstrate transparency? 

Transparency for elected officials is critical to earning the trust of the public. My first step will be public availability, holding office hours around the city where residents know they can come see me, talk to me and give me feedback. The second is having a clear dashboard for the city's goals each year and how we are making progress against those goals. The third is hosting regular round tables with community members from different industries, regions, and backgrounds to inform my thinking. And finally by being routinely available to the press for questions and inquiries. I will also regularly bring community leaders, residents, and local businesses to the table as we develop and implement policies to ensure we are pursuing the best and most effective changes to make Denver a vibrant, safe, and affordable city for everyone.

When's the last time you rode RTD? 

Few weeks ago on the A line.

Vision Zero, Denver's initiative to eliminate traffic deaths, could be going better. What would you do to improve that? 

We need to ensure that Denver's streets work for everyone, whether you commute by car, bus, bike, or you walk. That starts with re-imagining the way people move around our city by building both market rate and affordable housing units near Transit Oriented Developments so folks have access to public transit and increase walkability. As Mayor, I will ensure the City works to make bike lanes safer and easier to use, which will help reduce the number of pedestrian and biker injuries and deaths, decrease traffic, and help the City meet our climate goals

The EPA has declared Denver a violator of federal ozone standards. What actions would you take to reduce ozone precursor emissions within the city? 

I am committed to transforming the city into a national leader in clean energy and climate sustainability by committing to have 100 percent of Denver's electricity sourced from renewable sources by 2040. This requires electrifying our fleet and electrifying our buildings while reducing vehicle emissions by providing incentives to increase the use of public transit, increase ridership, and increase route frequency and ride quality. Whether it's through building community solar gardens which will make renewable solar energy more accessible or building affordable housing in Denver so the people that work here can live here and stop communities 20, 30, 40 miles to work, the City should take action to support individual Denverites who want to live more sustainably.

What's the worst intersection in Denver? 

Colorado Boulevard and Colfax Avenue.

Need more help voting? Check out the rest of our voter guide here.

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