Community engagement, the state of Arvada roads, smart growth and concerns over urban renewal are topics that come up multiple times when talking to the five candidates running for Arvada City Council’s at-large seat in the November election. The …
Community engagement, the state of Arvada roads, smart growth and concerns over urban renewal are topics that come up multiple times when talking to the five candidates running for Arvada City Council’s at-large seat in the November election. The candidate pool is the largest in recent history.
During the last Arvada City Council election held in 2015, the at-large seat, which was won by Bob Fifer, had three candidates, the largest pool in that race. In the last three Arvada City Council elections, no seat has attracted more than three candidates.
One 2017 at-large candidate, Dot Miller, lives in District 1, where there is also an open seat available. The seat is currently held by Nancy Ford, who was elected in 2015.
But Miller, 42, still chose to run for the at-large seat, saying she chose not to run against Ford because she is the only woman on the current board.
“We need a more diverse council,” Miller said.
Of the other four candidates, three live in District 4 and one in District 2.
“It’s very difficult to run against an incumbent,” said at-large candidate Jim Whitfield. “An open seat doesn’t come very often.”
Whitfield, 55, has served on the Apex Park and Recreation District Board of Directors for over a decade and also serves on the board of the Colorado Special District Association. This is his first time running for city council.
“If there were 10 people running, I would still run,” said candidate Jordan Hohenstein — the youngest candidate in the race. “Competitiveness adds more diverse perspective. I think it’s a crime when seats go unchallenged like 1 and 3.”
Hohenstein, 26, was the last to turn in his candidate affidavit and is the only outspoken liberal in the nonpartisan race. He believes that the large candidate pool is reflective of how turbulent the national political system has become.
“People want to get involved and they want to get engaged,” Hohenstein said. “I think it’s exciting and I’m all for many people running.”
The national political scene is what inspired Hohenstein to take a shot at local government. He volunteered with the Democrats on the two Barack Obama campaigns and Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. Hohenstein said the aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidential triumph is where he found inspiration to seek change on the local level. He is supported by Run for Something, an organization encouraging the 18-to-35-year-old population to run for local offices.
“I feel compelled to do my part,” he said. “This campaign is about showing that there are people in Arvada that are progressive and want to see Arvada going in that direction.”
One way Hohenstein hopes to bring progressive change to the city is to move it toward clean energy.
“Arvada has so much potential to be a leader in clean energy, our geographical location is prime for that,” Hohenstein said.
Community engagement is another issue Hohenstein feels strongly about. It’s an issue he shares with Miller.
“I really want to engage the community,” Miller said. “I know there’s a way to do it and we need to find the way.”
Miller served as the Arvada Chamber of Commerce president from 2008 to 2013 and is currently the owner of The Solution, an association management company that manages operations, administration, marketing and communications and bookkeeping for trade associations, chambers of commerce, nonprofit organizations and even private-sector businesses.
“One of the things I wanted to do when I was with the chamber was to put smart boards throughout the city with schedules of events and info about what’s coming up,” Miller said. “We didn’t get there before I left, but I would love to see that.”
Miller said she is running for office now because the strategic plan is happening now. She said she wants to be part of that and find a way to get the community involved with the plan.
“Whether it’s an Arvada app or emails, regularly scheduled monthly town halls, outreach, phone calls … we have an incredible community and they have great ideas,” Miller said. “I want the entire community to tell us what they want the community to look like.”
Engaging the community and listening to what they have to say is something Whitfield said city council can do a better job of.
The loss of citizen voice is the whole drive behind the campaign of Dave Palm, 66.
“I believe the citizens need to have a seat at the table and a voice,” said Palm, a community activist who ran for the District 2 council seat two years ago against Mark McGoff.
Palm said he is running again because he believes the leadership in Arvada has “gotten worse.”
“Our city government has moved away from being responsive to the citizens,” Palm said. “Our city government is corrupt in the way that a computer file can be corrupt. It just doesn’t work anymore. It just doesn’t work how it’s supposed to.”
Urban renewal and smart growth
The number one thing Palm thinks doesn’t work is the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority (AURA), which is responsible for revitalizing urban areas designated throughout the community.
AURA is an independent body governed by a seven-member volunteer board appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council.
AURA recently became a hot topic because of a 9-acre site which is currently the RTD Park n Ride in Olde Town and is proposed for mixed use multifamily residential and retail development.
“The authority right now is abusing their powers and acting outside the law,” Palm said. “Its purpose was to get rid of slum and blight, but it has turned into a monster.”
If elected, Palm would move to abolish AURA altogether.
The contentious AURA $30 land deal caught the eye of Hohenstein also. One of his top priorities if elected would be to ensure that urban renewal is legally and correctly implemented in Arvada.
“I want to have city council influence be more of a role in decisions,” Hohenstein said, adding that councilmembers would reflect the view of the residents in their districts. “In the long term, (urban renewal) siphons money away from local government and that’s a backward circle. It creates a lot of discomfort with the community.”
Candidate John Malito also specifically named urban renewal as an issue that needs to be looked at.
“This is the time to look at that carefully to see if it should remain the same or if it should morph into something else,” Malito said. “I would propose that our staff look at various alternatives to urban renewal. Let’s see what other cities our size are doing, find the best practice and tweak it.”
Malito, 62, is an associate pastor at Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, where he has served for 13 years. In 2003, he was elected to the Arvada City Council as a District 4 councilmember and served for four years.
He is running for office again because he want to get back in the game.
“I feel like the time is now,” he said. “There are some things going on that need to be more carefully reviewed and looked at.”
Smart growth is one of those things.
“I don’t believe that we should restrict growth, but we must manage it,” Malito said. “I really believe that our land development code, when we get it to where it needs to be, I think everything else would fall in line in terms of land development process.”
Whitfield also believes that zoning is important to growth.
“I think there needs to be more regard to how we develop or redevelop existing areas,” Whitfield said. “I think that we can apply a little more thought to how it gets done.”
Miller believes that addressing the roads is the first step toward smart growth in the city.
“Growth is inevitable,” she said. “I like growth, I support growth. But we’ve got to be smart about the way we do it. We need to widen roads and intersections before we build 300 homes.”
For Whitfield, the state of Arvada roads is the number one issue plaguing the city.
“We have an issue here with quality of roads and congestion that’s going to need some attention,” he said, while pointing out a traffic study map of the city. Majorly congested roads were lined in red. “Anything red needs to get some attention.”
Whitfield also hopes to address the roads without asking for any additional revenue. Last November, the Arvada City Council sought a half-cent sales tax increase to fix area roads. It failed.
“A sales tax increase is regressive,” Whitfield said. “It affects people of all economic situations. I really hope we can look at city’s budget and find a way to get that part improved.”
Whitfield has an engineering background and hopes to bring that expertise into the conversation.
Malito also recognizes road congestion as top area needing attention. And Palm said he has a solution. He calls it “pot for potholes.” His plan would be to allow legalized marijuana sales and use the profits to pave streets.
Affordable housing and homelessness
But Malito cited a less talked-about issue as his number one priority: affordable housing.
“To me, it’s very critical here in Arvada,” Malito said. “Our metro area doesn’t have it. In Arvada, we need to look at it carefully.”
“We can get creative, there are ways to do it better,” she said.
Palm, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in affordable-housing programs.
“We don’t have a problem,” Palm said. “Affordable housing is subsidized housing and I don’t see the return on the investment. I’m not for subsidizing anything, especially housing and development.”
However, Malito believes the lack of affordable housing is leading to another issue dear to his heart, homelessness.
“I have huge concern for those folks and I see that increasing,” said Malito who serves on the Arvada Police Department’s homelessness committee. “With the opening of the Gold Line, we will see even more people coming from other cities.”
Malito said if left unchecked, the homeless population in Arvada could grow to that of Denver.
“We could have people on the streets in large numbers and I don’t want to see that here in Arvada,” he said.
The temporary solution, Malito said is implementing a cold weather shelter in the area, something the Severe Weather Shelter Network has been trying to do for over a year. The long-term solution, he said, is to create a regional facility.
Whitfield sees addressing homelessness as an extension of the city’s public safety responsibilities.
“It may not be the city’s job to fix homelessness,” Whitfield said. “But it’s our job to nurture and grow relationships with social and faith groups that do.”