No one has to tell Denver-area mayors there’s a traffic problem in the booming and sprawling metroplex. Over at the State Capitol, it may still be a partisan issue — “their transportation plan” vs. “ours” — but for Colorado’s nonpartisan mayors, politics takes a back seat to the need for a viable, lasting solution.
Just ask Arvada Mayor Marc Williams, who has been a leading advocate for placing a statewide transportation funding proposal on the November ballot, as a coalition led by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce proposed May 18. The case for a big-picture fix is pretty straightforward, he makes clear: Moving goods and services around the state requires it, and “…our quality of life is being harmed by folks spending too much time in traffic jams.”
Williams underlines that point — and talks about urban renewal, homelessness, finding a work-life balance amid decades of public service, and more — in today’s Q&A.
Colorado Politics: You have been involved with local government and civic leadership in and around Arvada for a long time. You were first elected to the Arvada City Council in 1999 and are now in your second term as mayor. Before that, you served for years on the Jefferson County Library Board and were president of the Northwest Metro Chamber of Commerce.
The list goes on. That’s a whole lot of public service — on behalf of a society the pundits tell us is growing ever more uncivil. Has that been your experience, as well, in your decades of civic involvement? Have you observed a change in the way citizens engage with their elected officials and if so, what do you attribute it to?
Marc Williams: It has certainly been an honor to have been able to serve in this great community in a variety of roles. The vast majority of citizens are appreciative of their local representatives. These citizens recognize that the local elected officials are their neighbors who give of their time and energy to maintain and enhance the quality of life that we enjoy.
Unfortunately, there is a small but sometimes loud group of individuals who will engage in personal attacks, primarily through social media or email. The impersonal nature of these forms of communication have led to this uncivil discourse.
We recently had some public hearings where comments in the audience, which couldn’t be heard from the dais, were very unsettling to others who were giving testimony. When I discovered this, I made it clear that all should be allowed to present their views without feeling threatened. I am proud of our citizens who are abiding by this common courtesy.
CP: The legislature convened in January with both parties offering assurances, once again, that transportation funding would have the highest priority. Those same lawmakers adjourned recently after arguably punting the issue down the road — yet again — and passing what many regarded as at best only a first step toward a long-term funding solution.
Meanwhile, the Denver metro area continues to get more gridlocked and bottlenecked, as do other chokepoints along the Front Range. Metro mayors, who have been engaged in the transportation debate for a long time, are on the front lines. What would you like to see the legislature do about transportation in the long run? What, if anything, can cities like Arvada do about it on their own ?
Williams: The legislature this session passed Senate Bill 1, which is a small step forward but does not provide sustainable, long-term funding for our transportation needs. That is why the business community and a number of civic and governmental entities have formed a coalition to put a measure on the ballot this November to address this crucial issue.
I have had the pleasure of chairing the Metro Mayors Caucus Transportation Committee, which has played a major role in this discussion. As local mayors, we recognize that a statewide solution is the best one so that we can address local needs while also working on the congestion on our major highways. It is crucial that we be able to move goods and services efficiently and safely throughout the state, and our quality of life is being harmed by folks spending too much time in traffic jams.
In Arvada, we have dramatically increased our budget for road maintenance and efforts to reduce traffic congestion, but moving forward, we have to balance all of the other important needs of our community. This statewide ballot issue would provide funds both statewide and locally for great projects that would benefit all our citizens.
CP: Given recent news about urban renewal and a controversial development in the center of Arvada, tell us how development and growth is shaping Arvada now and in the future.
Williams: Urban renewal has truly been a success story in Arvada. Through effective public private partnerships, prior and current board members, council members and staff have been able to reduce blight and public safety concerns while providing shopping and residential opportunities to our citizens. Incentives such as land dedications and sales tax rebates have been paid back many times over in terms of sales tax receipts, public improvements, shopping and dining opportunities and economic development.
You need to look no further than the vitality of our Olde Town area to see what urban renewal can do for a community. I take pride in the fact that city leaders, past and present, respected Arvada’s heritage while recognizing that growth and change are realities. We have worked hard to balance and blend our heritage with those realities.
CP: What are the greatest strides Arvada has made as it has grown and evolved during your tenure as mayor? What else would you like to see your city accomplish while you are mayor?
Williams: Arvada is a community that cherishes its small town feel while at the same time offering the amenities of a large community. We have experienced tremendous growth on the west side of town, but it has been thoughtful, smart growth making sure that we have the resources to address the needs of all of our communities. We have increased shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities and added parks and improved our trail systems.
I am pleased that through advanced planning, we have guaranteed sustainable sources of water to carry us through complete buildout of the city. We have expanded community policing through three community police stations to meet the needs of our far reaching communities. We have maintained a culture in our city staff of being customer oriented, including citizens, businesses and visitors. With that said, we constantly strive to improve, and don’t rest on our past successes.
CP: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Arvada and other cities in the metro area?
Williams: As I talk with my fellow mayors, we are faced with many of the same issues. We have all witnessed a growing homeless presence in our communities. Here in Jefferson County, our elected officials and staff are continually working on ways to address this issue. Because much of homelessness is related to addiction or mental health issues, solutions are not easy, but we cannot just ignore the matter.
Another significant concern is attainable housing. I want folks who work in our community to be able to afford to live in our community. Because of actions taken both locally and at the legislature, we are starting to see more multi-family, owner-occupied housing units being built in Arvada, which provides an important gateway into home ownership.
In Arvada, we are blessed with a professional, respected Police Department. In this current climate, it is hard to attract and retain officers of the quality we expect.
CP: Public office and civic leadership have been central to your productive life, yet you’ve found time for a family — you now have four kids and seven grandkids — and all that goes with it. We often ask public figures we interview in Q&A how they achieve a politics-life balance. How have you handled that challenge?
Williams: I could not do what I do without my wonderful wife, Luanne, and my entire family who have supported my involvement in the community. My law firm partners have afforded me the time away from the office to participate in local, regional, statewide and national activities. I view public service as a labor of love. While there is certainly a sacrifice of personal and professional time, the reward of seeing projects completed, celebrating a ribbon cutting, conducting a public hearing, reading to elementary students or congratulating someone on their 100th birthday makes it all worth while.
CP: If on a business trip you met someone who said he was relocating to the Denver area but wasn’t sure which part of it to settle in, how would you sell him on Arvada?
Williams: Once you know Arvada, it sells itself. Arvada’s location between downtown and the foothills makes it a great spot to live, work and play. We have a sense of community pride second to none, as evidenced by the countless volunteers who give back to the community.
We have a business friendly environment while making sure that our neighborhoods are safe and properly maintained. City government is fiscally conservative, with a AAA bond rating. Our parks, open space and trails system is enjoyed by young and old alike. Our schools are excellent, and Red Rocks Community College provides ongoing learning opportunities, particularly in the health care field.
The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is a crown jewel in the region. Our partnership with the APEX Parks and Recreation District presents many opportunities for our citizens, and our golf courses are beautiful. The energy and mixture of activities in Olde Town exemplifies the heart and spirit of this great city — come check us out and stay for the day or a lifetime.