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On Friday, 5280 hosted a happy hour and Q&A session at Lodo’s Bar and Grill with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock—the first stop in a neighborhood tour that will take place throughout the metro area in the coming months. 5280 editor-in-chief Daniel Brogan asked the mayor a series of reader-submitted questions, ranging from his views on legalized marijuana to how he plans to address the city’s homeless population, and more. Here are five things we learned from the candid conversation.
Submit your questions for Mayor Hancock in the comments below, and watch out for information about 5280‘s next event, taking place in December.
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1. Mayor Hancock has visited Amsterdam to talk about Colorado’s success with regulating legalized marijuana.
“There was nowhere in the world we could point to that could be our blueprint. We thought we could look to California, but California was looking to us. We thought we could look at Amsterdam, but marijuana is not legal in Amsterdam—it’s tolerated. So we had to start on our own to lay down our foundation and values in Denver, and create our own policies … We came out with the guiding principles to protect our children, neighborhoods, and quality of life, allowing this market to fall within our values as opposed to us following the industry. As a result, we set up taxing and regulatory frameworks that we’re now enforcing. In fact, I went to Amsterdam earlier this year and talked to them about how we did it. You’ve been able to smoke in Amsterdam for decades. Today, they’re following Denver on some of the framework we created for recreational marijuana.”
2. Denver has an astonishing deficit of affordable housing.
“Affordable housing will be the priority for cities across the country over this decade and in coming decades. We don’t want to be a city where only the middle class, upper middle class and above can live. Diversity defines who we are, which means we also need a diversity of housing. Ultimately, our Denver plan calls for us to identify a sustainable funding source to help produce affordable housing. We have created recently a revolving loan fund that’s helping us partner with the private sector to build affordable housing. So there’s more coming, but we have a long way to go. We have about a 28,000 to 30,000 affordable housing deficit in the city of Denver. We have to call on partners—private sector, nonprofits, community development organizations, as well as the city—to work together to fill that void. But we’ve got to remain vigilant and very aggressive.”
3. Mayor Hancock thinks that bar closing times should be a neighborhood issue.
“I think it’s a neighborhood-by-neighborhood issue. In downtown, we’ve worked very hard to create density. And we must be mindful that this isn’t a downtown like some across the country where no one lives down here. We have almost 20,000 people living in downtown Denver, and we have to respect that. There comes a time where peace and quiet is important to those residents. So, I don’t think you can do it across the board. You have to do a neighborhood-by-neighborhood analysis, and the community absolutely has to be engaged in that conversation.
4. Denver has seen an influx of young people who came to partake in the marijuana industry—and slept on the streets and in shelters.
“We can’t definitively say that homelessness has increased due to the legalization of recreational marijuana. What we do know is that we have some traveling young people who come to Denver to partake and enjoy the marijuana industry. They don’t have a place to live. They did stay in our shelters and slept on our streets during summer months. They’ve hitchhiked here and hopped trains to come. I’ve talked to them in downtown Denver. We call them ‘the travelers’. Whether they’re leaving now that it’s cold, we don’t know that yet. But we do know they were here for the summer.”
5. He plans to sweat the small stuff in 2015.
“We do a lot of things well in Denver, particularly on the big end of things. My thought going into 2015 is, what are the little things that pop up that surprise us that we need to focus on? We’re going to try to deal with those nuts and bolts—such as the efficiency of the city government—doing the little things that add up to the bigger things [we need to address] to really be a better place. I’ve spent a lot of time on that and making sure we understand causation when it comes to how the government operates and those things that tend to cause bumps in the road for us.”