Ean Thomas Tafoya
State Director of Green Latinos
BA Political Science, minor Native studies, water studies (MSU)
I’m a fourth-generation Denverite who’s served this city as a community organizer, a teacher, an artist, and in three branches of local government.
Briefly describe the single most urgent issue facing the city of Denver and how it should be addressed.
Climate change is our biggest challenge, but also our biggest opportunity. Investing in environmental justice isn’t just about “the weather.” It’s about breathing clean air, drinking clean water, and having healthy food on the table. It’s when we go to work at a safe union job with a thriving wage, and come home to a warm place we can afford to live in. It’s owning our own energy as communities so our utility bills are low or zero. We have the excuse to remake the world, and we can build a world that works for everyone.
What should Denver leaders do to address the city’s lack of affordable housing?
As a fourth-generation Denverite, I know our leaders need to stop prioritizing corporate developers and start prioritizing everyday people. We need to make sure people can stay in the homes they already have by pushing rent control, a vacancy tax and tenant protections. Then we build more transitional housing and lower-income housing that’s affordable for working families, the disabled and the elderly. I have decades of experience fighting to require developments to have high percentages of low-income family housing, for inclusionary zoning and for community land trusts. I will continue that fight.
Do you support redevelopment at the Park Hill golf course property? Why or why not?
I believe we can come together to find solutions that increase housing and food access without sacrificing green space. I support honoring the easement and creating a public park with an urban farm and reforestation, with free produce for working families. There are underdeveloped lots nearby that work better for building housing and businesses.
What should Denver leaders do to revitalize downtown Denver?
My vision for downtown is similar to my vision for the rest of the city: a clean, green neighborhood accessible to all, including pedestrians and disabled commuters. It has reasonable rent for small businesses and mixed income apartments where all Denverites enjoy a comfortable home, not just the wealthy. There’s bike lanes, expanded electric bus networks and thriving downtown parks. A creative arts scene is visited by locals and tourists alike. Too often “revitalization” in this city pushes our working families out or leaves them behind. I would make sure current residents lead the way and get to enjoy the results.
What is Denver’s greatest public safety concern and what should be done about it?
We have a mental health crisis, and a lot of other issues, like addiction, come from that. It’s always been hard to get affordable care. But everyone is isolated, traumatized and exhausted after years of pandemic. People are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table after working long hours in unsafe conditions. The city needs to create policies to reduce that stress of survival and invest in care. As a mentor to indigenous youth, I know what a huge difference investing in support and conflict resolution for our young people can make. Adults need hope too. We need to expand mental health resources, job training, community anti-violence programming, addiction services, harm reduction, and restorative justice that brings people together to heal.
Should neighborhoods help absorb population growth through permissive zoning, or do you favor protections for single-family neighborhoods?
Restricting neighborhoods to single-family houses contributes to a housing shortage and has a history of racist and classist exclusion. We need inclusionary zoning so families can expand their homes for renters or relatives and so we can build multi-family housing that fits more people. We especially need transitional and low-income housing. But we have to develop responsibly, so locals are never pushed out and necessities like groceries, healthcare, public transit and infrastructure develop at the same time. I also helped advance Denver’s Chicano Cultural Heritage District, the first in the country, so I believe in a balance with historic preservation.
Should the city’s policy of sweeping homeless encampments continue unchanged? Why or why not?
I’ve always opposed the sweeps. After years of wasting taxpayer money cruelly forcing people from one block to another and back again, the unhoused population has tripled. The policy is a pointless, inhumane failure. I founded an organization to provide water and trash pickup to encampments because the sweeps don’t address these public health issues at all. Lots of research shows the fastest, cheapest way to get people off the streets is to get them into housing with wraparound services. In 2020, I presented a regional plan to rapidly get folks off the streets, and as mayor I would implement it while expanding programs that have actually been proven to work in Denver. We also have to address our housing crisis so nobody becomes homeless in the first place.
Should Denver change its snow plowing policy? Why or why not.
I respect and am grateful to the dedicated city workers who plow Denver’s streets. They’re doing an incredibly hard job. I think that the city needs to back them up, expanding the plowing the city is responsible for as well as pay and the staff. By focusing plowing on the biggest roads, Denverites who walk or roll–especially those who are disabled and/or take public transportation–are left in the lurch. The city has to take on plowing neighborhood streets and shoveling/melting pedestrian ways. We can come together to figure out how we do this in the safest way, without too much particle kick-up or runoff.
What’s your vision for Denver in 20 years, and what would you do to help the city get there?
As an indigenous person, my philosophy is to make policies not only with the urgency people deserve today, but for the next seven generations. I see us in a positive relationship with one another, the water and the land. We’ll own renewable energy as neighborhoods, share food from community gardens, with housing for all. We’ll walk, roll, or bus to concerts. We’ll work hard–but not for exploitative bosses, just for each other. Everyone will have what they need. Maybe that sounds naive, but if our leaders don’t believe this is possible, they’re going to fall short delivering even the bare minimum. I have the political experience and willpower to start us on this path. Let’s build that world, a little each day.
How better can city officials protect Denver’s environment — air quality, water supply, ground contamination? And should the city take a more active role in transit?
This is my life’s work! The city has to expand electric public transport frequency, routes, and accessibility. We need to use state and federal dollars to replace lead pipes, and lower utility bills by retrofitting old buildings and creating community solar programs. We need requirements and incentives for developing sustainable, walkable neighborhoods. That’s a huge opportunity for workforce development and good jobs, and we also have to support workers in transitioning industries. The communities most impacted by pollution need to be at the table when we make these policies.
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