LAKEWOOD • The two candidates for Lakewood mayor discussed their goals for the city at a forum for business owners and community members.
Councilmember Ramey Johnson, a former state representative, is running to unseat incumbent Mayor Adam Paul in Lakewood's upcoming election. Ballots were mailed starting Oct. 11 and polls will close Nov. 5.
The election comes four months after residents of the growing city voted in a special election to cap residential development, a hot topic at Wednesday's forum.
The measure approved by voters seeks to limit residential growth to 1% a year by implementing a permit allocation system for new housing units, and by requiring City Council approval of projects of 40 or more units.
Paul noted his ongoing concerns about how to move forward after the law was passed.
"My concern has been for the business community and for affordable housing,” Paul said, adding that he has seen tens of millions of dollars in projects "walk away" after the law passed.
"But, I have great hope because we're a great city we will be able to come together and figure this out," he said.
With the new cap in place, the lack of affordable housing has become an even more urgent issue for Lakewood residents, both candidates agreed.
"Affordable housing is on everybody's mind," Ramey said. "As a mother of children myself, I understand how tricky this can get, to have a budget for your children. I get it."
Those looking for a two-bedroom apartment while earning minimum wage in Lakewood would have to work 80 hours a week to get by, Paul said. He reiterated concern that the housing cap will limit affordable housing projects.
But neither Paul nor Ramey have plans to increase the minimum wage in the city despite a recent Colorado law giving cities the ability to do so.
"I don't personally have an appetite for us to get involved in that," Ramey said. "I appreciate that we can, but you as business owners understand that when there is a minimum wage, it affects your ability to retain some of your employees. I don't think I want to get involved in some of the small business issues regarding that."
As the city's population increases, residents have wondered whether crime has gone up as a result, and each candidate was asked how they would manage public perception of a decrease in safety.
"The perception of crime is reality," Ramey said. "Crime is up, but so is our population, so you need to expect that."
Lakewood experienced a 6.6% overall increase in all types of offenses between 2017 and 2018, according to the police department's annual report.
Ramey cited state legislation as one of the reasons for the increase. "A lot of the issues we are facing are based on state policy; for instance, decriminalizing the possession of drugs."
Paul, who noted he currently spends over half of his budget on public safety, said that the West Colfax region is bringing a lot of crime. Each candidate said that revitalizing Colfax is an important goal but also a tricky one given the new housing limitations.
Another issue that the city must tackle is homelessness, both candidates agreed, which they said ties back to a lack of available housing.
"Believe it or not, a lot of our homeless are working," Paul said. "When you have people working but homeless, that means you have affordability issues. We need to do better."
Paul said he would like to implement a homeless shelter for families by leveraging nonprofit partnerships.
Ramey said that the roots of the issue lie in substance abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence and mental illness. She expressed concern that homeless individuals are currently sleeping in Lakewood parks during the day.
"The downfall on that is that families with children are not going to our parks," she said. "I think it at least needs to be looked at."
Paul began the forum by saying that there were two different visions for Lakewood's future on the table, but Ramey said several times throughout the event that the two candidates do agree on many things.
Both said they are proud of where they live and have optimism for the city's future.
"Lakewood's a great city; not a perfect city, but a great city," Paul said. "The reason why we're such a great city is that we come together to face our challenges."
Ramey said the election centers on the residents knowing their voices are being heard.
"This election is about hope and knowing that your leaders are going to be serving you," she said. "We've got to build on our successes, folks."