Axios Denver

Picture of the Denver skyline with DEN written across it.
February 22, 2021

Welcome to the debut edition of Axios Denver!

👋 This is John Frank and Alayna Alvarez, your guides to what's happening in Denver and the state. Here's what to expect from us each weekday:

  • We'll deliver the news and insights you need to know like no other — concise and to the point since we know you're busy.
  • We'll highlight great local stories and have a good bit of fun. Think of this as neighbors talking to neighbors — because we live in Denver, too.

🚨 Situational awareness: Later today, the city of Aurora will release an independent investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, a Black man who died in August 2019 after being restrained by police and paramedics.

Today's Smart Brevity™ count is 1,094 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing ... Scoop: Hancock shifts strategy on homeless sweeps

A homeless man arguing with a Denver police officer at an encampment sweep.
A man experiencing homelessness argues with a Denver police officer during an encampment sweep in November 2016. Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver is taking law enforcement out of the equation when it comes to breaking up homeless encampments, Mayor Michael Hancock tells Axios.

Driving the news: Hancock has directed his team to create a "compassion or civilian corps" to clean up tent cities, instead of armed police officers, he said.

  • The team of trained professionals would warn people sleeping on the streets that campsites are illegal and connect them to the social services they need.
  • Hancock’s spokesman clarified later Monday that police would still be involved in sweeps — but won’t act as first responders.

Why it matters: "We have seen through our research across the country that, obviously, it heightens tensions when police move in first," Hancock said in the interview.

  • Context: Clashes between police and protesters armed with cellphone cameras have become the norm during homeless camp sweeps, with some confrontations turning violent and others interfering with the breakup of sites altogether.

🧑‍⚖️ Flashback: Last month, a legal challenge prompted a federal judge to rule that city officials must give residents at least seven days advance notice.

The state of play: Service providers agree that the strategy shift is a welcome step.

  • The solution is one of many that advocates have been requesting for years, citing research that shows not using police in sensitive situations involving people with mental health issues yields better results.

Yes, but: "The devil is always in the details," Colorado Coalition for the Homeless spokesperson Cathy Alderman tells Alayna.

  • "That connection to services has to be meaningful," she stressed. "It has to be realistic for the person who you're talking to, not realistic for a population for which you believe should accept a certain kind of service."

Share this story.

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to include a clarification from Hancock’s spokesman.

2. Denver breaks from state vaccine plan

Gov. Jared Polis, front, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, left, announce COVID-19 restrictions in November.
Gov. Jared Polis, front, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, left, announce COVID-19 restrictions in November. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver is preparing to play a bigger role in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and is setting its own priority list rather than follow the dictates from Gov. Jared Polis.

What to watch: The first of four new sites managed by Denver Health opened Thursday in Montbello, a historically underserved neighborhood predominantly home to people of color. The other three are planned for similar communities in northeast, west and south Denver.

  • The city's goal is to reach populations hit hard by the pandemic, including racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants and the homeless, as well as other groups having trouble accessing the vaccine.

The big picture: Mayors across the country are demanding a direct supply of the vaccine, which currently is being allocated through states. Hancock raised the issue on a recent call with Vice President Kamala Harris and again in a letter Thursday to the Biden administration.

  • "We have a better perspective on the challenges that those communities are [facing] every day ... and we know for a fact they are being overlooked," Hancock told Axios.

Why it matters: Hancock's push represents the most high-profile challenge to Polis' pandemic response and comes after weeks of feuding between the two Democrats.

  • And he's not alone: Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has argued his city is being shortchanged, too.
  • Hancock is careful to not directly criticize Polis. When it comes to the difference in the vaccine priorities, he said that "neither one is wrong — we just need to dig a little deeper with regards to our demographics."

The other side: Polis doesn't want to relinquish control. He recently said Denver's plan to inoculate the homeless would "cost lives" and take vaccines from people over age 70, The Denver Post reports.

3. What $500K gets you in Denver's real estate market

The inside of a condo in the iconic Benjamin Moore building with 14-foot ceilings, exposed brick walls, open layout and a walkable location.
Photo courtesy of Eric Sultan at Compass - Denver

The average home close price in Denver was $550,000 in January. Axios' Brianna Crane took a look at some recently sold homes near that price point in the local real estate market.

2500 Walnut St., Apt. 212 — $500,000

RiNo — 2 beds, 1 bath, 1,250 square feet

  • Features: 14-foot ceilings, exposed brick walls, open layout, walkable location, iconic Benjamin Moore building.
  • Days on the market: 43
  • Price: $499,875 (first listed), $500,000 (sold)

Check out Bri's full list.

4. Preventing a Texas-style meltdown in Colorado

Illustration of a power line struggling under the weight of electrical wires
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The blackouts in Texas are a real possibility here in Colorado.

What they're saying: Much like Texas, the Colorado grid is managed by a handful of utility companies and needs to be better connected to its neighbors in the event of a major blow, state Sen. Chris Hansen (D-Denver) tells John.

  • "I think Colorado is in danger of something similar happening because we have a relatively islanded grid," said Hansen, who doubles as the director of the nonprofit Colorado Energy and Water Institute.

What's new: Hansen and Sen. Don Coram (R-Montrose) are behind new legislation to push utilities to build transmission corridors and create a commission to oversee the fortification of the grid.

The other side: The same storm that hit Texas led utilities to ask Colorado residents to conserve energy. But experts and utilities companies here have offered repeated assurances that they are prepared and moving toward regional power solutions.

  • Of note: A 2019 law required Colorado's Public Utilities Commission to hire an outside firm to study the issue and how it would benefit rate payers and power generators. The report is expected in May.

The bottom line: A regional power network would mean Colorado utilities need to generate smaller energy reserves, saving money for ratepayers like you — but the build-out could be costly.

5. Nuggets: A trove of stories worth your time

Illustration of a pattern of gold nuggets.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

✈️ The photos from the engine failure on a United Airlines flight over the Denver area (and the Mayday call) are stunning. The company said it will temporarily ground its Boeing 777 aircraft as a precaution. (The Colorado Sun)

🚨 Four people experiencing homelessness died from exposure to the cold when temperatures dipped into the negatives last weekend, Denver's mayor tells Axios.

🎸 Red Rocks is planning to revive concerts this summer. The venue requested a COVID variance from the state and intends to make a major announcement in April. (CBS4)

🦦 A federal facility in Fort Collins is now home to Elizabeth Ann, a black-footed ferret and the first U.S. endangered species ever cloned. The scientific advance could lay the groundwork for repopulation efforts targeting other rare animals. (Axios)

6. 🐶 $10K reward for missing pooch

The "lost" flyer for Ziggy Stardust.
Poster courtesy of Emily Wright. Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Ziggy Stardust was dognapped from his yard on Feb. 12, and his owner wants your help in bringing him home.

  • 🥺 Between the lines: The $10,000 reward money is the downpayment Ziggy's owners have been saving to buy a house. But mom Emily Wright tells Alayna that their love for him is more than worth the painful sacrifice.

Follow updates in the search for Mr. Stardust on Facebook and Instagram.

Before we go:

🚍 John is reading this and this after watching this new movie on Hulu.

🎧 Alayna's jamming to this and reliving that time she heard it live at the Gothic.

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