A very Denverite mayoral questionnaire: Lisa Calderón

We asked candidates about the Park Hill Golf Course conservation land easement, Denver’s future, sweeps and more.
15 min. read
Lisa Calderón. Sept. 15, 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? No

Assume the police force is fully staffed, should Denver hire more police officers? No 

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? Yes 

Should Denver institute mandatory holds on people interacting with law enforcement who are in  mental health or addiction crises? No 

If state law allowed them, should Denver have supervised drug use sites? Yes Is the mayor's office too powerful? Yes 

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? 

Homelessness, Housing, and Affordability are the biggest challenges facing our city. Denver  has become unlivable for many, and we have witnessed Black and Brown communities being displaced from Denver, the unhoused dying on the street due to a lack of services, and  unbridled development led by out of state developers that favors unaffordable new housing. As  mayor, I will prioritize proven solutions to homelessness, housing, and affordability that are not  quick-fixes, but develop systems-based solutions in which progress in one area will mutually  reinforce progress in another.

This includes specific plans to develop housing-first solutions for the unhoused, while providing  wrap around services and a variety of temporary housing options on the path to permanent  housing. This includes incentivizing development of affordable housing, and repurposing  existing housing to improve both density and affordability. And it includes rejecting false binary  choices, that we can't have both development and affordability, that we can't have green space  and new housing. With community input, and my 30+ years of experience leading city  programs, we can reimagine Denver to work for all residents.

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

In the last twelve years, Denver's homelessness, lack of affordable housing, public services,  and livability have all declined. We have seen Denver go from a city people were proud to live  in, to one where Black and Brown communities are being displaced at an unprecedented rate,  homeless people are dying on the streets, and we have a housing crisis. As Mayor, I would  make Denver work for everyone, including:

- Decentralizing power from the mayor's office and putting it back into the community - Implementing housing-first and harm-reduction policies for unhoused neighbors - Implementing a safer and more connected multimodal transportation system to meet  Denver's needs and de-center cars from downtown transport

- Bringing together our small businesses and art leaders to determine how to grow our  downtown

- Creating reliable funding streams for at-risk Legacy Businesses with historical and  cultural ties to the community

- Promoting business growth along with our arts to achieve both modernization and  cultural celebration

- Repurposing brown and grey space to introduce dense, affordable, and social housing in  Denver

- Using city funds to acquire affordable housing, hotels, and commercial offices for  housing-first policies

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

We are in a housing crisis and need publicly-funded social housing and more accessibility. As  Mayor, I will introduce dense, affordable, and social housing, and prioritize development on underutilized spaces such as brown and grey space. I would also support renters by developing  a tenants' bill of rights, and create community land trusts that prioritize the needs of residents  before corporations.

Additionally, my approach to governing includes a deep dedication to including community  members in planning processes, such as by implementing participant-public-private  partnerships so that community concerns related to affordability are included from the outset.

We can also create more affordable housing by legalizing accessory dwelling units, which let  homeowners build rental units on unused space and avoid displacement. We can also mandate  new developments offer housing for low- and moderate-income families at or below 50%  average monthly income. By including a 50% AMI - a lower AMI than currently utilized - we can  expand truly affordable housing that is accessible to a broader population of low-income  Denverites. And if we simultaneously improve the permitting process to expedite the building  process, we can develop new affordable housing to meet the urgent housing needs with less  delay.

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." 

I would end the sweeps. Sweeps and "crackdowns" destabilize people further and disconnect  individuals from services, their support networks, and the pathway to permanent housing. I  vehemently support housing-first solutions, that recognize that unhoused people require a  variety of different interim solutions while they await permanent housing, including the option to  remain in tents, utilize shelters, and join Safe Outdoor Spaces

Instead, we will activate crisis response workers, including after hours, to support people on the  streets in crisis with coordinated resources. This approach is a shift from downtown business  lobbyists making safety policies to public health experts, service providers, and unhoused  people themselves working in tandem with expanded STAR, 311, mental health, and other  appropriate resources. We will reinvest cost savings by reducing arrests, incarceration, judicial  resources, emergency room visits, and other more costly responses.

We will also establish sanitation stations - Unhoused people deserve the basic human dignity of  places to relieve and wash themselves, and dispose of trash. In addition to helping people to  care for themselves, this will reduce the interactions between unhoused people and law  enforcement, and will also benefit tourists and residents who are also in need of accessing  public restrooms and trash receptacles.

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?

Expediting the permitting process is critical to developing affordable housing in a timely manner  that addresses the pressing housing crisis.The extensive bureaucracy creates unnecessary red  tape that slows builders and homeowners from completing projects.

To expedite permitting, we can structure an on-demand permitting process that makes the  conventional, time-consuming permitting process obsolete, while diminishing NIMBY resistance  to change and satisfying YIMBY desires to bring more missing middle units online in less time.  Such a structure would increase the efficiency of development review, allow developers to  specialize in certain patterns (which translates to labor and materials efficiency), and allows  architects/residential designers to maximize their skills without client interference and reap  multiple royalties on a single design. We also need to modernize and improve the efficiency of  residential development permitting. For example, we can create a pattern book of preapproved  housing based on historic/established/desired housing forms and include green building/net zero features, modular designs, and designs that allow multiple units but that look like single family. We can also devise economic development incentives to fund modular home builders  that can accelerate the pace of construction.

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

To develop sufficient housing - including enough affordable housing to address the current  housing crisis - we need to develop underutilized spaces into residences. Replicating successes  in other cities that have converted empty schools and office spaces, we have an opportunity to  innovate around how we transform existing infrastructure to address the current pressing needs  of Denver. Downtown Denver is a beautiful area of town with a bad reputation, and with  thoughtful, deliberate development that centers small businesses, accessibility to low income  communities, and multi-modal transport, we can continue to make Downtown the heart of the  city.

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? 

Just as Black and Brown communities have been displaced from Denver at an unprecedented  rate, so too have Black- and Brown-owned businesses. The city can, and must do more to  preserve small businesses owned by individuals of color, and intervene with bad-faith and  predatory landlords who exploit already vulnerable businesses that are being gentrified out of  Denver. As Mayor, I would support growing the Denver Economic Development and Opportunity  Department to help support these businesses, provide legal assistance for exploited small  business owners to help renegotiate the terms of unconscionable contracts, and create more

worker-owned businesses. I would also create reliable funding streams for Black- and Brown owned business, particularly those with historical and cultural ties to the community who are  struggling with electrifying their businesses to cleaner energy, and subsidize or eliminate  punitive fines and fees that they can't afford.

We can also create deliberate development plans that create more favorable environments and  business districts to support Black and Brown-owned businesses, such as by encouraging more  mixed-used development that prioritizes these businesses, as well as public procurement  policies that gives preference to cultural legacy businesses.

How do you feel about land acknowledgements? 

It is important to acknowledge that Denver exists on land stolen from the Ute, Cheyenne,  Arapahoe and the 48 contemporary Indigenous Tribes and Nations who have historically called  Colorado home. Land acknowledgments are a critical way to recognize the history of our city,  name the violent displacement of these communities from which we all benefit, and draw  attention to the need to repair for the legacy of harms. For too long Indigenous communities has  been overlooked, especially in conversations about how to improve Denver. As Mayor, I want to  make sure that we have Indigenous leaders represented in the mayor's cabinet by elevating the  Denver American Indian Commission with a cabinet level advisory position.

What are your thoughts on a flavored tobacco ban? 

I firmly believe in looking at proven solutions to address issues in our city, and data clearly  shows that flavored tobacco encourages children and young adults to smoke more so than  unflavored tobacco. I support stricter controls on the sale of flavored tobacco to help protect the  health and well-being of our children, and to avoid starting an addiction to tobacco products that  can be difficult for many to break.

Describe specifically how your office will demonstrate transparency? 

Denver residents deserve to understand how decisions are being made, and how policies are  implemented. As Mayor, I will not only offer transparency but also decentralize power of the  mayor to establish greater participation and input from the Denver community. This includes  working more collaboratively with the City Auditor and implementing recommendations,  soliciting community input to the selection of appointed positions to make sure those appointees  represent the best interest of Denverites, especially communities historically excluded from  political decision making. I will also require improved disclosure and reporting requirements for  city programs so Denver residents understand how projects are developing, the timelines for  implementation, and the rationale for any delays. For too long Denver residents have been  subjected to a black box of governing, in which their input is not fully considered, the outcomes  of consultations are unclear, and the progress to implement important policies and programs is  obscured and lacking explanation.

When's the last time you rode RTD? 

This past week I participated in a ride-a-long with the Denver Streets Partnership in sub-degree  weather to learn more about the successes and challenges of public transportation. Denver  must move away from being a car-centric city, and prioritize multi-modal transportation that is  easy and convenient, as well as cheap or free.

As mayor, I will implement my SMART vision for city planning and transportation: Smart growth is key to comprehensive land-use planning for environmentally sustainable,  compact, walkable, and multimodal urban centers with mixed-use development offering a range  of affordable housing options. This plan includes focusing on mobility by implementing initiatives  to shift the culture from being car-dependent to reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Use data to inform decision-making and measure benchmarks to reach the goal  of zero traffic fatalities as envisioned by the Denver Streets Partnership Vision Zero five-year  plan. I will increase funding to create equity across neighborhoods where the majority of deaths  occur in "high-injury networks" or "communities of concern," which disproportionately impact  people of color and working-class people. I will build infrastructure for alternative forms of  transportation to make walking and cycling safer. Paired with this, I will give a particular focus to  trees and open space.

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

We have seen traffic fatalities increasing as drivers have become accustomed to the empty  streets during COVID and have not readjusted their driving habits to meet today's volume. As  an avid bike rider and walker, I do not feel safe riding in my city and would love to see my bike  as an alternative mode of transportation. In addition to the points noted above, I want to look at  widening protected bike lanes, ensuring bike routes are connected to avoid forcing cyclists into  dangerous situations, and explore what we have seen done in many European cities to replace  their gray space with green space and shaded bikeways. As stated above, I want to move away  from a sprawl development mindset and create a more densely populated living space that  would require less car dependency. We can absolutely change how we move forward with  proven solutions that will help us all rise.

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

Denver can take sweeping and immediate action to improve its emissions and comply with  ozone standards. First we must recommit to Denver's goal of reducing greenhouse gas

emission by 65% by 2030, and fully fund the recommendations made by the climate Action Task  Force that extend beyond the current city's plan.

Next we need to improve our air quality by reducing key pollutants, particularly in  disproportionately impacted communities. This includes better identifying the source of the  pollutants, and mandating robust monitoring reductions in emissions. The largest sources of  emissions - such as Suncor who are known to have existing air pollution violations - must  reduce their emissions, and be held accountable for future violations.

Emissions are also closely linked to our transportation system - as mayor I would incentivize  use of public transportation and work to de-center cars. This includes making public  transportation as save pleasant, and convenient as driving, developing a city transportation  system that works with RTD and city schools, expanding neighborhood circulators and the  presence of protected and sufficiently connected bike lanes, and integrating e-bike, e-scooters,  and other micro-mobility tools into the transportation networks in a safe and convenient manner.

What's the worst intersection in Denver? 

For many, the worst intersection in Denver may suggest an intersection that is physically  unsafe, or difficult to drive through. I believe the worst intersection is at I-25 and the  Broadway/Lincoln exit and entrance ramps. This exchange is an example of the worst kind of  city planning that bifurcated a historic Latino neighborhood and needs immediate remediation.  Poor transportation policy has exacerbated and accelerated decades of displacement,  environmental injustice, and community divestment. Additionally, GES neighborhoods have  borne the brunt of highway expansion and is the most polluted zip code in the country - let alone  in Denver. It also is in a food desert, with no grocery store within several miles. The sidewalks  are not up to code and poorly maintained, there are few trees on the street, and the air pollution  from the Purina dog food factory clouds the air. Community members living at and around this  intersection have higher rates of asthma, and report numerous health ailments from both the air  pollution and water pollution, exacerbated by the flaring at the nearby Suncor facility. They also  live in fear of gentrification, as predatory developers look to convert homes that have been  owned by families for multiple generations, and build new developments that threaten to raise  property taxes and the cost of living for these residents.

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

Recent Stories