Kelly Brough and Mike Johnston disagreed over how Denver can combat climate change and fix it's maligned permitting department during one of the first mayoral forums of the runoff season on Monday evening.

They were not allowed rebuttals but managed to set themselves apart early — something experts told the Denver Gazette they'd need to do after running in a field of 17 candidates early in the process.  

The forum was held at CU Denver and hosted by the Denver Foundation and Denver's local CBS affiliate.

When asked about how they'd address diversity, equity and inclusion through the lens of climate change, Brough pointed to President Joe Biden's Justice40 initiative.

Justice 40 requires at least 40% of the money from the Inflation Reduction Act and/or the Infrastructure Jobs Act go to communities that have been disadvantaged, marginalized or otherwise excluded from degrees of prosperity enjoyed by others. 

"In Denver, we have a goal of Justice50 which I strongly support," Brough said. "(This enables) us to go directly into that community and identify with them, what the smartest things we can do are." 

Brough also highlighted the environmental issues caused by the Suncor refinery, saying neighbors in the city, region and statewide have been impacted. Fines levied against Suncor have not been effective in correcting the issues, she said, and she will begin to look at taking "significantly further steps" to correct the behavior. 

In February, a release of an unknown vapor caused a plantwide alarm to sound and in December 2022, a fire injured two workers. In March 2020, Suncor and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment resolved over 100 air pollution violations for $9 million.

Johnston agreed, saying it will be important to hold polluters responsible, but touted his plan that he believes will deliver a cleaner, more sustainable Denver. 

"We have to use energy as an as an equalizing tool, and that's why one of the things I would do is look at putting solar gardens around the city, especially in neighborhoods that are struggling to pay the utility bills," he said. "This means you can both put more green energy onto the grid, buy down the cost of utilities and directly subsidize the cost of utilities for families that can't put solar panels on their roof."

Johnston said this offers a way to serve the city and an "equitable mission" simultaneously. He also called for more incentives for electric vehicles and a more aggressive plan to electrify commercial and residential buildings. 

But to get a solar garden, there has to be a valid building permit and right now the city's permitting department is in shambles.

Both Johnston and Brough agreed the department needs fixing, but vehemently disagreed about how to best address it.

A statewide initiative, Proposition 123, could provide gobs of money to address the affordable housing crisis, but they said Denver cannot take advantage of it.

"Denver doesn't qualify for a single dollar of that money today because it requires that permitting be done in less than 90 days, " Brough said. "Today it takes about 18 months... I don't think Denver has had a permitting process that's been less than 90 days in 40 years."

But she thinks the city can get there, calling for a dramatic restructuring of the department which would see multiple department "silos" brought under one roof. 

Johnston pushed back on Brough's pessimism surrounding Proposition 123, saying Denver can get it's permitting process down to 90 days by following regional examples. 

"(We should) look at cities like Colorado Springs, which is doing this right now. I've been working with the city and planning and zoning department who are working on an accelerated process, and they're very close," he said. "It will require a new leader with real courage to say 'our major priority in Denver is to deliver a process that actually solves our problem.'" 

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