Election Colorado ballot illustration

A Colorado Politics analysis turned up at least 170 county and local ballot questions facing voters in the Nov. 2 election, including affordable housing, short-term rentals, marijuana and even gender pronouns in a city charter.

Here's what we assessed:

DENVER

Voters in the capital city face 13 ballot measures: six from citizens and seven from the Denver City Council. The spending in support or against the measures has 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 sites would have to include lights, bathrooms and running water. 

The ordinance, critics warn, 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."

The Common Sense Institute, in a report on 303, said the measure would result in higher costs to take care of Denver's homeless population. The business-leaning think tank noted, however, that ballot measure Denver voters passed year, Initiative 2B, would likely cover new costs arising from expenses related to designated camping areas.

"Denver voters passed Initiative 2B: Homelessness Resolution Fund in 2020, which increased the city sales tax by .25% to raise an estimated $40 million annually for homeless related priorities," the institute stated last month. "Initiative 2B funding creates more resources for those who are unhoused through combining housing and services, restoring lost shelter capacity, and improving health and services."

Flicker told KOA host Mandy Connell on Oct. 4 that 303 is a compassionate and common-sense way to approach the homeless epidemic in Denver.

Ordinance 304, also the result of a citizen initiative from Flicker, would lower the city's sales tax from 4.81% to 4.5%. The reduction could cost the city as much as $80 million.

The Common Sense Institute also took at look at 304, and said that a cut in sales tax would save the average household about $120 per year. And the reductions in city revenue would still keep the tax rate 12.1% above what it was in 2019.  

On his Facebook page, Flicker said "As with any regressive tax, the sales tax is a tax on poverty. Those of us with middle to low incomes pay a much higher percent of our income to sales tax than those in upper income brackets. If adopted, this measure would decrease the Denver sales tax rate by just 6.5 percent from the current rate – a very small decrease relative to the 32 percent increase since 2018. Over the same period during which Denver sales tax has risen 32 percent, the state sales tax has not changed. It is time for Denver tax payers that need it most to have some economic relief from these regressive taxes."

He told Connell that 4.5% was chosen because the current rate is unsustainable and negatively impacts lower-income citizens. 

Councilwoman Robin Kniech said both measures are pushed by undisclosed donors, so-called dark money, and predicted chaos if they pass, 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.” 

The City Council voted unanimously on Oct. 5 to oppose both 303 and 304.

Ordinance 300 increases retail marijuana taxes, with the money going to pandemic research. It's being advanced by Guarding Against Pandemic, 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 brotherSam, 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. 

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.

Empower Northeast Denver said its 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. "This is a city-owned asset," and three surveys in the neighborhood in the last four years. Every one supported more parks and open space, Doby said. "What gets me is that this neighborhood is underserved on health and environmental benefits."

The neighborhood also growing significantly in new multi-family housing, he said, citing 24 properties that have been snapped up by developers in the past two years tp be turned into multi-family homes, retail stores and businesses.

"Green space should be left as the last possible place to start developing," Doby said.

However, Denver City Councilman Kevin Flynn, in an email to Colorado Politics, disputes some of the claims.

Park Hill Golf Course is privately owned and always has been, Flynn said. "The city holds a conservation easement on it, and that is the asset, not the property itself."

"Finally, Pen Tate's concern (aside from his misstatement that it is a city-owned asset) that lifting the conservation easement takes away the only bargaining chip the community has, is completely backward. The conservation easement would never be altered unless and until a plan reflecting a true consensus of the community is in place. No one has suggested lifting the easement first. Once any rezoning might be in place, only then would that occur. If there is no consensus, there would be no lifting of the easement, and Andy Klein [the owner of Westside] would be Denver's best-paid caddy for the foreseeable future."

The City Council referred five of the eight remaining measures to the ballot. When Mayor Michael Hancock requested $450 million, the council voted to split the ask into five measures.

  • 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

MARIJUANA

Out of the more than 170 ballot measures voters will decide in some of Colorado’s 64 counties and at least 50 towns and cities, a dozen have marijuana questions, followed by measures dealing with affordable housing and short term rentals.

Voters in at least a dozen communities will be asked about marijuana: Brighton, Fort Lupton, Wellington, Westminster, Idaho Springs, Golden, DeBeque in Mesa County, Lamar in Prowers County and Lakewood are asking for permission to allow recreational marijuana sales, levy or increase taxes on marijuana sales or both. Mesa County also is asking voters to allow marijuana cultivation within county boundaries and for a 5% excise tax on cultivation facilities. Saguache County is asking for a 5% increase in taxes for both recreational and marijuana sales.

The town of Mead in Weld County also has a question on its ballot about sales of medical and recreational marijuana, but there isn’t a second question, which is routine, on whether to approve taxes on marijuana sales.

Town Clerk Mary Strutt said the measure is based on a citizen’s initiative that came late in the process. A similar question was rejected by voters in 2019, so town trustees are waiting to see if this one passes before submitting the tax question.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Mountain communities, starved for workers and affordable places to house them, are asking for taxes, mostly on short-term rentals, to establish more affordable housing units. Communities in Eagle County are taking lead with at least three ballot questions asking voters for help with housing costs.

In Basalt, a tax used to pay for bonds for affordable housing is set to expire this year, but the town council is asking voters to extend that tax to increase the supply of affordable housing in the community that crosses Eagle and Pitkin county lines. That housing would come from purchasing property, housing programs or partnerships with private, nonprofit or government entities. The $18 million tax also would help with sidewalk and other improvements on Basalt’s main street, Midland Avenue, and with solar development and other green projects.

A 2019 study from the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority indicated the Roaring Fork region is short 2,100 affordable housing units and the gap between supply and demand is getting worse. The study predicted that by 2027, the shortage would grow to 5,700 units. The shortfall for middle-income residents is almost as bad, the study found.

Quoting a 2018 workforce report, the study said, “Government officials in the area need to look at the long‐term big picture and decide if they want to attract young professionals who will stay to raise families or just cater to the wealthy ..."

The ballot in Avon, also in Eagle County, asks voters about recalls for two elected officials, as well as permission to levy taxes on short-term rentals, with the proceeds used to pay for "community housing." Vail's ballot seeks a 0.5% increase in the town's sales tax to fund housing initiatives.

Leadville is asking voters for affordable housing help through a tax on short-term rentals, including on hotels and other similar commercial properties.

Crested Butte in Gunnison County is also looking for a way to house their workforce and local residents. The ballot asks voters for three tax changes: a new community housing tax, applied to non-primary residences; an increase in the excise tax on short-term rentals; and a 0.5% increase in the town’s sales and use tax.

BEST OF THE REST

Is it he? She? They? Voters in Westminster are being asked if their city charter should be amended to replace “exclusively male pronouns with gender neutral pronouns.”

The question was put on the ballot by the city council, no stranger to controversy in the past year, with recalls launched against four members, including the mayor. The only recall to make it to an election failed; two other efforts didn't have enough petition signatures, and Mayor Herb Atchison resigned after a petition seeking his recall was deemed sufficient.

De-Brucing is the word for Canon City in Fremont County, Colorado City in Pueblo County and Deer Trail in Arapahoe County. Voters in all three communities will be asked to allow their cities to spend the revenue they collect, rather than issue refunds when income exceeds a constitutional spending cap.

It’s also the word for the home of TABOR author and convicted tax felon Douglas Bruce, as El Paso County also is asking its voters if the county can keep its excess revenue.

Ballot measure 1A asks voters to allow the county to retain and spend revenues that exceed the TABOR spending cap, so long as those revenues stay below the county revenue cap. The first $13 million in revenue above the TABOR limit would go to roads and another $2 million to parks.

The measure was put on the November ballot by a 3-2 vote of the El Paso County Commission.

Finally, Boulder will consider a ban on the sale of new fur products within city limits. Known as the Humane Clothing Act, it was put on the ballot by Fur Free Boulder.

Colorado Politics' Ernest Luning and Pat Poblete contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 9:54 p.m. Oct. 18 to reflect that Flynn said that Park Hill Golf Course is privately owned.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.