Edging back to a more normal work flow at city hall

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Like so many, I’m one who craves a degree of predictability in day-to-day life that is sadly missing in this COVID-19 environment. I plot the daily end-of-day reports coming from the mayor’s office, searching for a clue as to where the heck this pandemic is headed tomorrow, next week, next month or a year from now. While recent numbers show a consistent, hopeful decline in Colorado hospital beds devoted to COVID patients (688 on May 14, as I write this) and I believe early and aggressive actions by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock have led to a scenario far less devastating than it might have otherwise been, we are far from the comfort of solid ground. Rather, we are precariously perched on a rolling wave threatening public health and economics that could pick up steam and grow even more fierce, or break calmly toward the shore depending on how conditions unfold as we attempt to take the first halting steps toward whatever the new Denver normal will be.

While city plans have budget dollars focused on adding more affordability to our housing stock, creating a diverse multi-modal transportation network for pedestrians and cyclists as well as the motorized vehicles, increasing parks acreage to serve our ever growing populace, addressing the daunting impacts of climate change and more, economic projections signal that our best laid plans will hit some serious speed bumps in the near future.

Our friends at the state house predict a decline in state revenue of some $3.5 billion (some 25% of the budget), while anticipated city tax shortfalls (primarily sales tax, lodgers tax and Occupational Privilege tax) were recently updated from an original estimate of $180 million to new projections indicating a $226 million dip below expected levels. In addition to asking for Denver departments and agencies to sequester up to 7.5% of their 2020 budget, and looking to take $80-$100-million from city reserves, Hancock has declared that eight days of furlough for city employees will be needed to minimize cuts to city services.

Plans for the 2021 budget have begun, with the expectation that revenue will be substantially below hoped-for levels for next year as well. We will have more to say about specific impacts — what gets cut, what gets reduced, what gets postponed, etc. — in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned. Stay hopeful.

Meanwhile, while we will continue to address COVID-related issues as needed until the pandemic winds down, things are beginning to edge back to a more normal work flow at city hall, with our four standing committees — Safety, which I chair; Land Use and Transportation; Business and Finance; and Governance — back on the weekly schedule, and our Monday night legislative meetings backing away from the hybrid live/virtual combination of recent weeks, and returning live to council chambers.

Council is considering a variety of charter change proposals that, if referred to the November ballot, would ask voters to approve items to strengthen council’s ability to assess city contracts, give council the responsibility of approving major mayoral appointees, exempting Denver from state law that impedes our ability to address gaps in broadband connections, and more.

Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) is moving aggressively forward with citywide plans to minimize auto trips by maximizing options for pedestrians and bicyclists. Hancock is committed to building out 125 miles of new bike lanes in five years. District 6 will get a protected bike lane on South Marion Street Parkway, from Bayaud Avenue to Virginia Avenue, and planning is under way for a Jewell Avenue bike lane connecting our city’s eastern reaches with the Colorado Center rail station and retail center at Colorado Boulevard and Buchtel Boulevard.

Washington Park area residents and visitors will begin to see an impressive cadre of safety improvements unfolding to improve traffic flow and enhance safe access to the park and surrounding neighborhoods. Safe passage will be improved with the addition of a new traffic signal at Marion Street Parkway and Virginia Avenue; new, upgraded Downing Street signals at Virginia Avenue, Kentucky Avenue and Louisiana Avenue; as well as additional crossing options at non-signalized intersections along the Downing corridor.

Residents across the district and citywide are awaiting formal release of a proposal being put forth by the Group Living Advisory Committee that will change the definition of “household” to dramatically expand the number of unrelated residents allowed to live in a Denver home, as well as expand where organized Group Living facilities can locate. Visit denvergov.org/groupliving for details on the proposal.

Finally, I’d like to thank all of you for doing your part to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our community. Continued vigilance to social distancing and mask guidelines will dramatically increase our chances of getting back to a more relaxed life in Denver sooner rather than later. Stay well.

Paul Kashmann represents District 6 in the Denver City Council. District 6 covers southeast Denver, which includes the Washington Park, Virginia Village, Indian Creek neighborhoods and more. He can be reached at paul.kashmann@denvergov.org.

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