Voters in the capital city face 13 ballot measures for next month's election: six from citizens and seven from Denver City Council. And the spending in support or against the measures have now topped $2 million.
Initiated Ordinance #303 is one of two measures backed by Denver GOP Chair Garrett Flicker. Initiative 303 would enact a ban on camping on private property, with a three-day notice, and a requirement that the city come up with four camping locations on public property. The site would have to include lights, bathrooms and running water.
The ordinance, however, could interfere with court orders and other settlements with the city, because it contradicts federal requirements for clearing homeless camps. Denver is under a federal court order "to provide at least seven days' notice before shutting down large camps."
Ordinance #304 would lower the city's sales tax from 4.81% to 4.5% and is also the result of a citizen initiative from Flicker. The reduction could cost the city as much as $80 million.
“These measures are unprecedented both in the dark-money pouring in behind them, as well as the chaos they intend to create by defunding housing, homeless and mental health services at the very same time they make the city liable to anyone who sues over a camp,” said Councilwoman Robin Kniech in a news release. “That is why City Council spoke tonight, to help inform voters of the harm Initiatives 303 and 304 could cause.”
The City Council voted unanimously on Oct. 5 to oppose both 303 and 304.
Both measures, according to Westword, are being bankrolled by the dark money group Defend Colorado. The same group is opposed to Denver measure 2F (see below). The three committees getting money from Defend for the ballot measures are Safe and Sound Denver (#2F), Enough Taxes Already (#304) and Let's Do Better (#303). All donations came from Defend Colorado, which has stubbornly refused to talk about who's funding it. Collectively, the three committees have raised just over $325,000 and spent about $292,000, through October 5.
Ordinance #300 increases retail marijuana taxes, with the money going to pandemic research. It's being advanced by Guarding Against Pandemics, a Delaware-based 501(c)4 run by Gabe Bankman-Fried, a former staffer on Capitol Hill. His group is also supporting the Biden request for $30 billion to fund pandemic preparedness. Bankman-Fried's group is bankrolled by his brother, Sam, who estimates his net worth from cryptocurrency at around $10 billion, although Forbes, which rated him No. 32 on the 400 list of richest Americans, estimates his wealth at about $22 billion. Sam Bankman-Fried has put an estimated $500,000 into his brother's group in the past year.
Campaign finance reports show the initiative's Denver Pandemic Fund committee had taken in almost $542,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, all from Guarding Against Pandemics, and spent $278,404.
The money raised from the tax would go to the University of Colorado Denver's CityCenter, which has no connection nor did it seek the ballot initiative, according to a spokesperson.
The last two of the four citizen initiatives, #301 and #302, deal with the fight over the shuttered City Park Golf Course. Initiative #301 would require voter approval for commercial or residential development on city park lands or for lands under a conservation easement, as defined by city charter. It's backed by Save Open Space (SOS) Denver and is directed at the potential redevelopment of the 155-acre park which closed in 2017 and was later sold to a developer. SOS Denver prefers to see City Park remain as open space. The undeveloped property was placed under a conservation easement, a legal device usually reserved for preserving lands valuable for conservation, wildlife habitats and/or historical purposes.
Initiative #302 is backed by Westside, the company trying to redevelop City Park. It's something of a stopgap measure; if #301 passes, #302 would lift the requirement for voter approval for the conservation easement.
Spending in favor of #301 is Yes for Parks and Open Space with $145,000 in cash and $40,334 in non-monetary contributions. The committee has spent $33,314, so expect a big push with less than a month to go before the election. The committee's donors include former Mayor Wellington Webb ($2,000), former First Lady Dottie Lamm ($100) and former Denver City Councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt ($2,500).
Westside's committee, Empower Northeast Denver, has taken in $72,420 in cash, almost all of it from Westside's partner ACM Park Hill. The committee has spent $19,485 through Oct. 5. Westside also paid $268,305 for signature gathering.
Empower Northeast Denver's website said their ballot measure protects the voice of the Northeast Park Hill Community. "Real equity demands we not allow the majority to silence marginalized communities." Local neighborhoods should lead the development process, the group said. Jeff Shoemaker, former executive director of the Greenway Foundation, endorsed #302 and is voting against #301, which he said "sets an ill-advised precedent that takes a neighborhood issue and subjects it to an un-needed city-wide vote."
Harry Doby, treasurer for Yes on Parks and Open Space, and who lives in northeast Park Hill, said he sees the golf course every day and points out it is a city-owned asset. There have been three surveys in the neighborhood in the last four years, Doby said, and each showed support for more parks and open space. "What gets me is that this neighborhood is underserved on health and environmental benefits" but it's also growing significantly in new multi-family housing. There are 24 properties that have been snapped up by developers in the past two years, and that will also be turned into multi-family homes, retail and businesses, Doby said. "Green space should be left as the last possible place to start developing."
Former Sen. Penfield Tate, who also supports #301, said in a statement that "It is our position that, besides the fact that the Park Hill Golf Course Land is a city asset, the lifting of the conservation easement takes away the only bargaining chip the community has to get what they want from that space. If the easement is lifted, decisions on what happens to the land go to directly to the developer. That will be the true loss of community voice."
- 2A seeks $104 million for repairs to the Denver Zoo, Botanic Gardens, the Museum of Nature and Science and other facilities.
- 2B asks voters to approve $38.6 million in bonds for repairs to the city's housing and shelter system, including purchasing facilities, including 300 motel rooms, for homeless people.
- 2C seeks voter approval for $63 million for bonds to pay for transportation and mobility. That could include fixing sidewalks, building more bike lanes, reconstructing Morrison Road on the city's west side to set up a cultural and arts district, as well as creating an urban and pedestrian walkway in downtown Denver
- 2D would approve $54 million for parks and recreation, funding two new parks in northeast and south Denver, respectively, while rebuilding the swimming pool at Mestizo-Curtis Park and addressing other infrastructure needs.
- 2E addresses $190 million in bonds for the National Western Complex. The mayor hopes to replace the Denver Coliseum with a mid-sized arena. The city has already spent $765 million on the redevelopment of the National Western Complex.
The last four measures:
- 2F would would repeal a February City Council vote that raised the limit on the number of unrelated people who can live in one residence from two to five. Keep Denver Housed claims the measure, if adopted, would aggravate Denver's affordable housing crisis.
- 2G, referred by City Council, would strip the mayor of authority to appoint the independent monitor, which investigates accusations of misconduct against Denver Police and the Denver Sheriff's departments. The authority would be vested in a citizen oversight board.
- 2H, also referred by City Council at the behest of Clerk and Recorder Paul D. Lopez would change municipal elections from the first Tuesday in May to the first Tuesday in April.
Hancock-backed Rise Denver is the committee assembled to back the five bonding measures. The committee has raised $194,600 as of Oct. 5, with $75,000 from Friends of the National Western Stock Show; $25,000 each from the Downtown Denver Partnership, Denver Botanic Gardens and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Visit Denver kicked in $10,000. Friends of National Western raised $510,000 and spent $140,387 (including that $75,000 donation to Rise). Their big name donors include former stock show manager Pat Grant ($75,000), former University of Colorado President Bruce Benson ($25,000), beer magnate Peter Coors ($50,000); powerhouse law firm Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Schreck ($10,000); and BEW Farms, owned by longtime stock show supporter Barth Whitman ($50,000)