THE PODIUM: New study on Lakewood ballot measure reveals high cost of anti-growth agenda

Author: Mike Kopp - October 19, 2017 - Updated: October 19, 2017

Mike Kopp
Mike Kopp

Colorado has one of the strongest economies in the country, but we all know living in a growing state can be challenging. I’ll be the first to complain about traffic congestion, for example, and the first to demand more investment in our infrastructure.

But as we work on these challenges, we should never pretend growth is a bad thing. It’s much better than the alternatives — stagnation and recession — and growth should not be taken for granted. Instead, we look to leaders in the public and private sectors to maintain the conditions for growth and develop policies to manage that growth wisely.

Unfortunately, however, there remains a significant campaign against growth in Colorado, both statewide and at the local level. The latest front in the anti-growth campaign is Lakewood, where activists have been pushing a ballot measure to cap residential growth in the city to 1 percent per year or less. The 4,800-word measure — three times longer than the Declaration of Independence — would also impose a Byzantine new allocation system for building rights to further discourage investment in new housing.

Due to legal challenges, it’s unclear when the measure will be put to voters, if at all. But in the meantime, a diverse coalition of Lakewood citizens and community leaders, including the city’s mayor, have banded together to defeat the anti-growth measure. Colorado Concern is proud to support their campaign, because as they point out, imposing arbitrary restrictions on the supply of housing in Lakewood will artificially drive up housing costs.

“In cities like Boulder and San Francisco, restrictions on development have dramatically increased the cost of housing, pushing working families and senior citizens out,” Mayor Adam Paul wrote in a column for The Denver Post. “We are a welcoming city, and as Lakewood’s mayor, I want to keep it that way.”

Backers of the anti-growth ballot measure in Lakewood have tried to dismiss the impact of higher housing costs on working families, calling it “unabashed speculation.” They have even accused the mayor of using “scare tactics.” With all due respect, that just isn’t true.

To shed more light on the issue, we worked with several other business groups to commission a study on the economic impacts of the Lakewood anti-growth measure. Released this week, the study entitled, Building Gated Cities, adds size and scope to what common sense already tells you — restricting the supply of housing drives up the cost of living, forcing some families to leave and making life harder for those who stay.

The anti-growth ballot measure could “reduce the projected number of households in Lakewood by 10 percent to 18 percent over the next 10 years,” according to the study. Put another way, that’s roughly 4,100 families who will be priced out of Lakewood. For the families who remain, the study estimates a cut in disposable income of $263 million over the same period, and predicts traffic will worsen as more people commute to their jobs from outside the city.

“The reduction in housing availability will likely drive up the cost of living, contribute to widening income inequality, increase congestion and urban sprawl, and reduce the local consumer base that draws in desirable retail options,” finds the study conducted by the REMI Partnership, which includes Colorado Concern, the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, Denver South Economic Development Partnership and the Colorado Association of Realtors.

Under the anti-growth ballot measure, the 1-percent growth cap and excessive red tape could drive away more than $1 billion in residential construction investment in Lakewood over the next decade, according to the study. Ironically, this would threaten high-density development along the West Rail Line, which is needed for the public transit project to reach its full potential, and specifically called for under Lakewood’s existing comprehensive plan.

“Given that much of the growth along that rail line would need to be larger multi-family units, any effort to cut the size and number of residential units would undermine the already-established goals set within the city plan,” the study finds.

Clearly, the consequences of the anti-growth ballot measure – intended or unintended – are serious. They certainly won’t make life in Lakewood easier, as the backers of the measure suggest. Yes, growth can be challenging. But opposing growth isn’t the answer — in Lakewood or anywhere else.

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Mike Kopp

Mike Kopp

Mike Kopp, a former state senator and Senate minority leader, is president and CEO of Colorado Concern, an alliance of business executives from across the economy that works to enhance and protect the state’s business climate.