Keeping with a tradition of nearly four decades, the Arvada Chamber of Commerce hosted its City Council Election Forum at the Arvada Center on Sept. 20. The event saw 100% of the 10 candidates — three for District 2, two for District 4, two for the At-Large seat and three for mayor — in attendance.
The forum was divided into four portions, one for each race, with candidates making opening statements and participating in a structured question and answer session. The chamber wrote the questions using input from the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee, local businesses and chamber partners.
Through their statements and answers, candidates illuminated their plans to help Arvada address issues including homelessness, transportation problems and division among citizens.
The portion dedicated to the mayoral race saw a discussion between Harriet Hall, former CEO of the Jefferson Center for Mental Health; Dave Palm, board member for the Arvada Historical Society; and incumbent Marc Williams, who has served two terms as mayor.
Each candidate named a different issue as his or her primary focus. For Hall, it’s improving communication between the city government and residents; for Palm, it’s mitigating accelerated growth and development; for Williams, it’s addressing traffic congestion.
Discussing whether Arvada should transition to a single waste hauler that would collect all residents’ trash and recycling, Hall and Williams said they would favor the transition should there be concrete evidence that most Arvadans will save money because of the switch. Palm said he opposed the idea because it requires the city to “interfere in the private market.”
Finally, the candidates spoke on their approaches to reverse the trend of Arvada’s growing homeless population. Palm suggested “creative ordinances like Denver’s ban on camping” to discourage those who are homeless as a lifestyle choice from camping out in Arvada.
Meanwhile, Hall and Williams suggested the city look toward providing more financial assistance or attainable housing opportunities, and take a more hands-on approach than some other cities have in the past.
Running for the District 2 seat are Ethan Lutz, service leader at an oilfield service company; T.O. Owens, chairman of the city’s planning commission; and Lauren Simpson, diplomacy officer for the Canadian government.
The discussion began with the question of whether candidates would support raising minimum wage in Arvada above the state minimum wage, which will be $12 in 2020.
Owens and Lutz opposed the idea, with Owens saying such an increase would hurt business owners to the point where many may have to close their doors.
Lutz proposed exploring other options to support individuals working minimum wage jobs, such as raising the Earned Income Tax Credit, or refundable tax credit for low-income workers.
While Simpson agreed businesses could suffer if minimum wage increased to a certain value, she said she would be interested in researching whether a value higher than $12 could succeed in Arvada.
“Perhaps we are somewhere in between what would be required of a rural area and of Denver,” she said.
The forum turned to a discussion of how to improve communication between the city and its residents. All candidates said they would prioritize being involved in the community to learn what issues citizens would like addressed, and what solutions they would like to see.
Competing for the District 4 seat are Jordan Hohenstein, who is a brand ambassador and previously ran for city council in 2017, and incumbent David Jones, who has served one term as the District 4 representative.
The candidates hold opposite positions on the incoming Jefferson Parkway, which will be built near the former nuclear weapons plant Rocky Flats.
Jones, chair of the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority, said the road will be “a very important asset to our community,” offering an alternative route for those who find themselves stuck in morning traffic on Wadsworth Boulevard or Indiana Street.
Hohenstein argued that the road will not be “an option for people to get onto,” either because they cannot afford the parkway’s toll, or because the road is out of the way for many Arvadans.
Referencing a test that found one instance of elevated plutonium near the site — analysts are currently testing to determine the validity and implications of this result — Hohenstein added that the project is “a public health risk. I strongly oppose it.”
Candidates also answered two questions about supporting businesses in Arvada, including by assisting them with challenges they’ve faced paying sales tax.
“Our role is to continue to partner with the state to help make this (challenge) better for business owners in Arvada,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, Hohenstein focused his answers around providing attainable housing. By doing so, a greater diversity of people will be able to live and work in Arvada, causing new talent to move in and businesses to thrive, he said.
Two candidates are competing for the open At-Large seat: Jeff Cannon, former planning commissioner for the city of Arvada, and incumbent Bob Fifer, who is running for his third term in the At-Large seat.
Cannon and Fifer offered similar suggestions to promote affordable housing. The candidates said they would work to better educate those in need of the opportunities already out there, such as those offered by nonprofits. The city could do a better job quickly and clearly communicating all of those options to residents, the candidates said.
As discussion moved to urban renewal, the two praised urban renewal efforts of the past, which have given new life to formerly blighted areas, they said.
However, both said city council should meet with urban renewal officials to discuss how the efforts could change in a time when there are fewer areas that need such renovation.
The candidates also said they would prioritize making sure communication is respectful within the city.
For Fifer, that means when individuals post complaints or problems online, councilmembers can “go have coffee and a talk, and solve the issue,” he said. “We need to be available for anyone who has questions.”
Cannon focused his answer on the relationships between council members. Disagreement among city officials is healthy, he said, “as long as we can make sure that after we have our debates, we come back together and remember we’re all friends.”
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