Candi CdeBaca

Courtesy photo

Mayor Michael Hancock also found himself fighting for his place in a city becoming whiter and wealthier. It was a battle royale of developers waging war to define the future of our communities.

Only one candidate of the five challengers who made it onto the ballot — Jaimie Giellis — could amass enough funding to force a runoff against the mayor, whose campaign was heavily funded by developers. Ironically, Giellis likely lost because of her almost singular experience working with RiNo developers.

While many reluctantly supported Mayor Hancock, they made one thing clear: Denver’s unchecked growth and development would no longer be tolerated. July 15 marked the swearing in of five new council members, including myself, dedicated to fulfilling the seemingly absent checks and balances on a mayor enamored of the allure of shiny new buildings piercing the limits of our once humble skyline nestled in the Rockies.

In March, Denver was recognized in a report called “Shifting Neighborhoods” by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition as the city leading the nation in displacement of Latinos.

The new leadership of council enters with a historic amount of Latinas, mounting social and economic challenges from growth and a new Denver Comprehensive Plan 2040 for the city.

The plan was passed only weeks before the election by the old council with several community organizations demanding the vote wait until after the election. It passed 10-2 with opposition from the outgoing Councilman Rafael Espinoza and continuing Councilman Kevin Flynn.

While it alleged to prioritize the values of equity and inclusion, the primary critique of the plan was that it didn’t actually include a real plan with budgets, timelines and policy to protect involuntary displacement that is often the cost of development.

The opposition not only hoped to give new electeds an opportunity to vote, but also cautioned the planned density would likely exacerbate the negative impacts of gentrification rather than prevent them. The plan meant to guide the local government’s decision making for the next 20 years will manifest in the decisions the new City Council makes regarding how we spend our dollars, how we utilize shrinking open land and how we rezone currently occupied land.

In a city like Denver where we have a uniquely strong mayor form of government — and as much as city council members love helping facilitate the smooth and effective operations of agencies filling our potholes, collecting our trash and keeping us safe — the primary function of the council is to make sure we scrutinize every dollar in every contract and act as impartial hearing officers for all of the attempts to shift the nature of who and how our land will serve future generations of Denverites.

The facts are that of the approximately 1,000 policies processed by the city last year, less than 10 were initiated by council and not a single contract voted on was denied.

Voters who cast their votes to protect the history, character, diversity, affordability and transparency will be expecting to hear substantially more “no” votes every Monday night if we are to truly rein in the power of the developers and the rampant government waste of dollars being allocated to projects that end up costing us much more than we bargain for and don’t rise to the level of priorities expressed by a desperate and determined citizenry demanding to be put first above profit.

Voters will also be expecting more initiative on protective policies coming from council and perhaps either more intentionality from the mayor’s administration or real accountability for the gross neglect of the people who gave him a final chance to uphold his promise to do better. Either way, we know better; gentrification is neither natural nor inevitable; it is engineered by policy or a lack thereof, and displacing residents will ultimately result in displaced elected officials.

Candi CdeBaca was elected to the Denver City Council in June and represents north Denver’s District 9.

Candi CdeBaca was elected to the Denver City Council in June and represents north Denver’s District 9.

Candi CdeBaca was elected to the Denver City Council in June and represents north Denver’s District 9.

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