Denver voters split on bond package, block measures backed by GOP and developers
Infrastructure bonds set to pass while National Western Center upgrades are rejected, early results show
A view looking west of the Denver skyline on Sept. 23, 2021. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
Denver voters on Tuesday appeared to deal decisively with a long list of 2021 ballot measures, overwhelmingly approving $260 million in infrastructure investments while soundly rejecting a pricey upgrade to the National Western Center and several measures backed by local Republicans, preliminary results showed.
In addition to statewide measures and local school board races, Denverites weighed in on seven questions referred by City Council and six additional measures initiated through petitions, making for the city’s longest ballot in decades.
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Though not yet final, early results showed most of the 13 ballot measures being decided by wide margins, meaning drastic swings in subsequent results would be necessary to reverse their apparent outcomes.
Referred Question 2E, which asked voters to approve $190 million in bonds for the construction of a new arena and other upgrades at the National Western Center, the rodeo and stock show venue located in north Denver, appeared headed for defeat. As of 10 p.m., the measure trailed with 41% in support and 58% opposed.
The measure was the largest item in a package of municipal infrastructure bonds proposed by Mayor Michael Hancock in July. But it met with resistance from some community members, who questioned the benefits that a large expenditure on National Western Center upgrades would bring to historically disadvantaged neighborhoods like Globeville and Elyria-Swansea.
Hancock’s initial proposal for a single $450 million bond question was scrapped by Denver City Council, which instead voted to refer the package to the ballot as five separate questions.
Despite 2E’s apparent defeat, the remainder of the package — Referred Questions 2A through 2D, which would fund $260 million in city spending on parks, libraries, homeless services and other programs — were on track for approval, with more than 60% in support of each of the four measures.
Voters also appeared likely to sign off on two other changes proposed by City Council: Referred Question 2G, which would give a citizen oversight board, rather than the mayor, the power to appoint the the head of the city’s Office of the Independent Monitor; and Referred Question 2H, which would move up Denver’s municipal election date from May to April.
Defeat for three conservative measures
Two ballot measures filed by Garrett Flicker, chair of the Denver Republican Party, both appeared headed for defeat. Initiated Ordinance 303, which aimed to require stricter enforcement of the city’s camping ban, trailed 45% to 55%, while Initiated Ordinance 304, which sought to impose a maximum sales tax, trailed by a 23-point margin.
Both measures were backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending by Defend Colorado, a conservative dark-money group.
Defend Colorado also backed a third measure, Referred Question 2F, which asked Denverites to overturn a February vote by City Council to raise the number of unrelated people who are allowed to live together in a single housing unit from two to five.
Despite more than $300,000 in support from Defend Colorado and other groups, Referred Question 2F appears likely to have been rejected by voters, preserving the group-living amendments approved by City Council earlier this year.
“We are delighted that Denver voters had the good sense to reject this discriminatory, racist initiative,” Jack Teter, a representative for 2F opposition campaign Keep Denver Housed, said in a press release. “The group living amendment was the result of years of research and community input, and we’re sleeping well tonight in the knowledge that our family can legally continue living together.”
Initiated Ordinance 300, which would raise city sales taxes on marijuana to fund pandemic research, also appeared on track to be rejected. The cannabis industry cheered the likely result, along with several other defeats for marijuana tax hikes at the state and local levels on Tuesday.
“Tonight, Colorado voters made clear that they are not willing to raise taxes at the expense of cannabis patients and consumers for special interests that don’t benefit the majority of Coloradans,” Truman Bradley, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, said in a statement.
301 v. 302
Finally, voters appeared to side with open-space advocates and prominent residents of northeast Denver in a ballot fight over the future of the former Park Hill Golf Course.
Initiated Ordinance 301, which would create new hurdles for the site’s proposed redevelopment by forcing a citywide vote on proposals to cancel or amend its conservation easement, led by a wide margin as of late Tuesday night. Initiated Ordinance 302 — a countermeasure backed by Westside Investment Partners, the group proposing the development of the golf course — appeared likely to fail.
In a press release, opponents of measure 301 called it the work of a “small, privileged, NIMBY interest group,” and said efforts to redevelop the property would continue.
“We respect the outcome of the election,” Kenneth Ho, a principal at Westside Investment Partners, said in a statement. “We have heard that city residents want to understand more details about what the future of the golf course can be, and we look forward to showing how much better we can do than a defunct golf course for our community, our environment, and future generations.”
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