Denver Direct: The Myth of Cutting Red Tape

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Myth of Cutting Red Tape

Editorial Opinion by Cathy Donohue

The current campaign to become Denver’s next mayor has, thus far, been lacking in specifics regarding how either candidate will fix the “red tape” challenge. There is little meaning to this phrase, and no candidate has yet proposed any solutions, but “red tape” seems to be a big issue.

Unlike San Diego, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco and most cities across the country, Denver has no Development Services Program. Whenever anyone wishes to develop a project in Denver, they must stumble through all of the separate agencies (Zoning, Planning, Water, Wastewater, Environmental Health, Transportation, etc.,) without guidance. It is not “red tape”, it is Denver’s antiquated development services method that is costly and time consuming. There are many small developers who simply do not get permits for construction; its much cheaper to avoid the city agencies.

Since the days of Mayor McNichols various individuals have presented proposals to fix the problem. Harold Cook (Manager of Public Works) wrote a consolidated services program for builders. McNichols did not want to do anything that might change the “system”, mostly corrupt, that was used during his reign by building inspectors and agency managers. Margaret Browne, a Pena appointee, wrote a similar proposal called “The Transfer Study”, which he ignored.

When I was the chair of the Public Works Committee of Council in 1991, just before Webb took office, Council approved funding for a major study of the same subject. As a Webb appointee, I used the basic framework of this report (The Prior Report) to put together a development services proposal that Webb was uninterested in pursuing.

I met with Mr. Hickenlooper very shortly before he won his race for mayor, hoping I could persuade him to use the recommendations of all the former studies. He simply told me he did not want to use “any” of Webb’s programs; he would build a “new” Denver–his way.

Six months before he marched up the hill to the State Capitol, Hick asked a competent senior city employee to build a Development Services Agency. After almost eight years, he finally remembered that he had promised to “cut red tape” and “fix permitting”.

Unless the next Mayor of Denver takes the initiative and tells his new appointees that Development Services will finally be established, the program will die and the agencies will return to their former practices. Why has Denver remained in the same rut for the past 45 years? No Mayor has chosen to take control of the agencies under his command as soon as he is sworn in, ordering Denver to join the rest of the country and give builders the kind of service they expect.

Bringing new business to Denver is only part of the battle. If professional developments services do not become a reality for Denver under the leadership of a strong mayor, we will continue to have this black mark against our reputation. The message has to be given to his appointees before they breath the rarified air in each of their “separate kingdoms”.

We are all waiting to hear how our new mayor will cut “red tape”.