September 27, 2011
by John Kiljan
Background: This interview was held September 20th and is one in a series of interviews with candidates for the Arvada City Council. The Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community offered each of the candidates an opportunity to review a list of local CLRC issues and concerns and to comment on them in an informal discussion. The candidates were also invited to talk about any other subjects they thought were important. The interviewers were T.O. Owens and John Kiljan.
The Candidate: Councilor Mark McGoff is currently a first-term Arvada City Council member for District 2. His District, in central Arvada and east of Olde Wadsworth, covers the eastern end of the CLRC neighborhoods near Olde Town. But the Councilor’s interests extend well to the west and he often attends public meetings concerning the Triangle, the parks at Garrison and Carr Street and the redevelopment of the Ralston Road corridor.
Mr McGoff is a retired 17-year resident of Arvada who has lived in Colorado for most of his life. He’s been married for 42 years, and he has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in Adult Education. He worked for 25 years for the Colorado prison system. For 20 of those years he served as a prison warden at various facilities.
He credits his work experiences for his ability to listen to people’s concerns and complaints and for his interest in public service. He served on the Buena Vista City Council and then served a term as Buena Vista’s mayor. He was also on the school board in Cañon City. Councilor McGoff’s recent civic service record includes involvement, and often leadership positions, with the Arvada Center Arts Council, the Arvada Historical Society, the Kiwanis Club, the Ralston House (Arvada Child Advocacy Center), the Arvada City Charter Commission, Historic Olde Town Arvada and with Arvada Sister Cities.
In person, Mr McGoff comes across as modest and soft-spoken. He lists his interests as physical fitness, music, Colorado history, hiking and snowshoeing. He’s also rumored to like poetry.
On Ralston Road Pedestrian Safety and the Corridor Plan: My opinions are pretty much shaped by the preferred alternative that has been developed by the consultant. The key thing is that the road has to be made walkable. I’ve walked that section of Ralston Road from one end to the other. I was scared to death on the north side. The south side is better, but there are certain parts even there that are simply not safe.
I really like wide sidewalks in cities. Eight feet is probably a minimum needed for a sidewalk along central Ralston Road. When visiting New York City, I’ve noticed their sidewalks ran up to 25 to 30 feet wide. That gives you room for lots of activities.
If it is truly to be a pedestrian walkway, what I see is both an 8-foot sidewalk and an 8-foot buffer between the walk and the road that has either plantings or parking spaces. I do support providing on-street parking along the road in the sense that it does provide that buffer between the sidewalk and vehicle traffic.
On-street parking in the buffer zone might be acceptable because it provides service and access to the adjacent buildings. I do a lot of walking in this city and in other cities I visit. You need to have some kind of buffer between you and the moving traffic, so one or the other needs to be there. But, all parking or all landscaping in that buffer zone would not be my preference. A combination of the two would be better.
I too have a concern that the corridor plan may create a bottleneck on Ralston Road from Kipling to Wadsworth. But what I and the other City Council members are being told is that is not the case. Otherwise I wouldn’t be ready to move ahead with the plan.
We’ve really got to have some specifics here. What does the plan mean for utilities? For drainage? For everything else that’s in it? We need to know what is possible. I’m assured that, if we put the budgeted money into the next engineering study, we’ll be able to answer these kinds of questions.
So we’re going to spend another $100K or whatever the needed amount is, to get a complete engineering study on that corridor. And it could be that the next phase of the study will bring to light some real problems about being able to move traffic through the area. And we’ll be able to see then if things are not right with the preferred plan. It may be that we will not be able to have two lanes of traffic, plus a median, plus walkway, plus a separation barrier and still make it work. We may come back and say we can’t have all that. The corridor plan is coming up as a part of the budgeting process, but the main thing is the preliminary engineering study. That’s the basic thing that we’ve got to have,
On the Redevelopment of the Triangle: The Triangle needs to be looked at as whole rather than in parts. I start with the idea that what we have there now as an old deteriorating shopping center is unacceptable. So we have to have the flexibility to go to a developer and say, “Why don’t you invest some money here and do some good for our community?” We want the commercial side to serve the neighborhood side, we want sales tax revenue to pay for the services that are needed right on the site, and perhaps to provide some additional services for the rest of the City.
In order to do that, we need to have enough people to support the new development. We have to have the rooftops. And the only way to get the people is to have new residential units. And we need to have the offices, or the commercial developments, that attract people to those new residences. Otherwise, the whole thing doesn’t work. These days it could never work just to have stores. There would not be enough customers or money coming in from just the adjacent neighborhoods to do that.
We think that any developer that is going to invest in the Triangle is going to want to have access to more people. So you start with that premise. First we need to do something with that shopping center. Second, the only way it can be financially viable is to have more people within close proximity. And third, to do that, you probably need to have some additional housing units to pull it all together.
But I really don’t know what it will look like until someone comes forward with a specific plan. A developer might come through with a great plan. And who knows? By then we might have a trolley car, the new commuter rail might have great ridership that is bringing in businesses. And we might get enough stores and commercial operations right at the Triangle so that people can live and work in the same place. You can then do away with some of the traffic and other problems new residences can bring with them.
But we don’t know at this point, so we have to deal with principles involved: We have to have the people to support the businesses, and we have to have the businesses to rebuild the shopping center. And if we don’t rebuild the Triangle it’s going to keep going downhill.
On Recreational Needs: As to the need for recreational facilities for the new residents the Triangle might bring, it’s good to first remember that recreation is more than just recreational facilities. We’ve got Memorial Park, the new Arvada K-8 Park and a rebuilt Garrison Street park. So we’ve got a lot of outdoor space and we have a lot of outdoor activities for kids.
For the time I’ve been on the Council and from what I’ve seen, the City really does accept the responsibility for recreation in the City, even though that’s what Apex does also. Basically, we serve the same citizenry with the same recreational mission. In our case that mission was ‘delegated’ to the recreational district some 50 years ago. So the City really has to advocate for buildings and services in the central part of the City.
But the need is more than just in the central area. It really bothers me that, geographically, the Apex Center itself, the new indoor facilities near Stenger/Lutz and the Stenger/Lutz field complex — they are all farther west. They don’t serve the east side of Arvada. We have a big problem in the central Ralston neighborhood, and we have a big problem for the neighborhoods east of Kipling, in providing recreation for people — particularly for young people who seem to need recreation more than older adults do. Secrest is small and it serves just one part of east Arvada.
I think the individual Council members will be advocates for additional recreational facilities and will help sell the recreation bond issues the next time they come up for renewal. However, I’d have to see the bond before supporting it.
But even before that we need to have a good solid plan for future recreation and for our parks and trails throughout the City. That’s better than waiting till 2016 or whenever it is Apex’s current bonds expire and saying, “Well, taxes won’t go up so let’s just go ahead and extend it.”
But not every one agrees with me on recreational needs. I talked with a guy at the gym the other day who said that the City shouldn’t have parks and trails as one of its priorities. Things like water, sewer, police service and streets he was okay with, but he thought parks and trails should not be considered an essential City service.
Now perhaps that was true in the past. In my little hometown when I was growing up the only park we had was the school yard. Often the voters who feel that way are older people, like my friend in the gym, who no longer have kids they take to the parks. And that’s probably why some of our bond issues for parks and recreation don’t pass sometimes.
But the alternative to not having viable parks is, if we don’t fill the homes of older residents who finally have to move away, then their houses will just become rentals with absent landlords and their neighborhoods will start going down. What we want to fill those homes are families with children. I believe that strengthens the neighborhood and the community at large to have young families.
And the way to attract those young families is to have attractive parks and nearby facilities. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to walk down to a shopping center for the things we need rather than having to drive? That would be wonderful.
On the Role of Neighborhood Associations and Local Leadership: I’d like to see more neighborhood associations. The City’s neighborhood revitalization program is intended to encourage that. Our plan is to double the investment in the program next year. We learned things about what works in the program’s first year. We want to strengthen our target neighborhoods. One of the ways we think we can do that is to let some leadership emerge locally so that the neighborhoods can talk about their own issues. We see that as an informal way of strengthening our neighborhoods.
I think the Leadership Arvada program sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce with AEDA is one of the ways to do this and City Staff and the Council seem to agree. I see strong belief in this approach by our community development department and I don’t see any opposition on the Council to increasing the dollars available to set up some model programs like that.
But the current program has a few problems. I’ve talked with Dot Wright at the Arvada Chamber of Commerce a little bit about Leadership Arvada. The participants’ costs are high and the participants need quite a few hours off during the work day to attend the leadership training. Because of these issues we are missing potential neighborhood leaders where we may need them most. I’m hoping there might be some way we can have a shorter sessions held on the weekends and for half days that will not be as intensive and extensive. And I’m hoping we can do it for a much lower cost.
And perhaps we could have some support funds available, because I think we will have some people available and willing to participate if they were only encouraged in some way. For the people I do see participating, someone, possibly their employer, is paying their $500 fee and letting them have the time off from work needed to take the course.
We need to strengthen our older neighborhoods. Typically our older neighborhoods don’t have that the kind of work environment where they can take that much time off and have an employer pay their fees for them. Ms Wright has agreed to look at the possibility of restructuring the course so that it would not take as much time and to help look for people in the community who might be interested in a new format.
On the Importance of Public Input: So, what do I think of neighborhood organizations? I think every bit of that kind of activity is input. One of the reasons I was successful in managing prisons was that I went inside the prison every day. I heard things from the inmates — akin to hearing from people in our community.
When it came to policy issues, I was a final decision maker as the warden. I didn’t need the votes of three more out of a seven-member council. The decision was mine. But so very often, I saved myself from disastrous decisions, because I had good input from the either the convicts who were going to be affected by my decision, or by one of my supervisors or managers, or by a line-staff member, who would say, “You know, that’s really a dumb idea.” Or, if you do this, it’s going to have this kind of affect.
I thrived on having that kind of input, and I still do within the community I live in now. That’s crucial, and I think the more community input we get, the better the community we will have.
On Independence Street Traffic: I think the standard tools that the City has for dealing with traffic issues should be able to handle any increased traffic on the road from the Arvada Ridge station development. We have the Staff to evaluate those issues, we have standards to go by. We have a number of safety tools such as barriers, speed bumps and dips that can help to calm traffic. I think traffic problems can be resolved as they arise. Often times, when we get complaints about things like speeding, or an unsafe intersection, we forward that information to the traffic division and they go out and evaluate it and make the changes needed.
Traffic is a little like a squeezed balloon. If you squeeze one part of a balloon, the other parts get bigger. When 72nd Avenue was constructed, traffic increased on Simms. Who would have thought? But when 72nd opened up, people decided that was a good access point and drivers began to take Simms up to 72nd. You can’t always guess what will happen when streets are changed and sometimes you get some surprises.
On Stabilizing Older Neighborhoods: As a part of our neighborhood stabilization program we have with other cities in Jefferson County, we bought up some foreclosed homes. We refurbished those houses. We remodeled them. We updated them. We cleaned them up. We added landscaping. And then we put them back on the market to sell them. The money from the sale of the house is put into a funding pool where that money can buy another house somewhere else.
It’s a tangible thing we can do to improve neighborhoods. We’re taking a house that someone else is not going to want to buy and that is pulling down an area and we end putting it back in the neighborhood in decent condition. And we provide a few jobs as well. We have done this to seven houses in Arvada so far and they are all in the central and east part of town. The purchases are made by the City’s housing department, but the funds are federal funds. There’s a pool of dollars available, so, for example, when we find a problem foreclosed home, we can move to acquire it and fix it up.
A recent example is one near 76th and Pierce. I wasn’t able to look at it, but I’ve seen four of the earlier ones that have been redone like this, such as one on 59th and Field Street. Some of the funded houses are in Lakewood, as well as in Arvada. It’s a regional program within Jefferson County so we are not the only city doing this. The federal monies used to set up the pool are not CDBG (Community Development Block Grants) funds but are a separate federal funding source.
There is a much more difficult way to stabilize older neighborhoods that has some philosophical problems that go along with it. And that way is stricter code enforcement. Right now, if you move into a house and let it grow tall weeds and you pile up trash in the yard and so forth, someone has to call and make a complaint against you before the City will come out and ask you to cut your weeds and pick up your trash.
So, we’re reactive in our response to code enforcement. But, we could be proactive and have patrols out on the streets taking a look at things and issuing tickets. However, if we did that we’d probably have some kind of a revolt. Right now we’re discussing what a more proactive approach to enforcement could be.
And there seems to be at least some need. We had a well-spoken lady come to the Council meeting with a story about a vacant lot near her home where the weeds didn’t get cut. She said that for every year for the past 40 years she would call in and City would issue a citation to the owner of the lot and he would have it mowed. Then the same thing would happen again the following year. “You’d think after 40 years, you’d put it on your schedule so I wouldn’t have to call you,” she said.
I’m not saying we will be, but we could be, more proactive in our code enforcement. It would have the effect of helping declining neighborhoods. If you are going to buy a home and you see a junky house or lot in the neighborhood, you often decide you don’t want that and go elsewhere to buy your house. Similarly, people move out of neighborhoods when those neighborhoods change and people start working on the cars in their front yards or let their property go, and they think, “I want out of here.”
If I were to design a program for neighborhood stabilization, I’d go back to the thing that Mayor Frie advocated, a program for people to really get to know their neighbors. If you know your neighbor, you are more likely to want to please them and to help them and you are more likely to find out who has a real problem, e.g., if someone can’t mow their lawn because they are sick, or if they’ve had a death in the family.
I think that would be a tremendous way to strengthen the neighborhoods. Bob Frie has been working with the City’s churches and asking their members to take a piece of paper and introduce themselves and get the names of eight of their close neighbors.
I recently heard a story of a guy down the street who had a heart attack and nobody knew about it, the neighbors just didn’t see him anymore and no one knew why. Somehow we have to get connected with our neighbors to know these kinds of things. The direct approach is the best. Knock on doors and introduce yourself. They may say go away or they may welcome you. You won’t know till you try.
We don’t define neighborhoods in our city. In Denver they define their neighborhoods, when they say the Barnum neighborhood or the Swansea neighborhood, people know exactly where they are. They’re on a grid system and they’ve defined about 40 neighborhoods like that.
Perhaps we should also define our neighborhoods and try to profile their strengths, weaknesses and demographics. And perhaps we should try grass-roots kind of things like neighborhood picnics to bring them together. Yes, I’ve noticed that Californian cities often form local neighborhood councils.
Chris Smith has spoken to the Council a few times as a citizen — including last night — on the need for new policies and new methods. He said we need to change our approach to getting input from the public and deciding when we do have enough public input, and when that input is really representative. I saw a lot of Council heads nodding when he was speaking. It’s something we need to look at.
I’ll add one thing about neighborhoods: the area covered by your neighborhood association, the central Ralston Corridor, is certainly going to look different in a few years. It’s at the beginning stages of a major transformation. If we get this nice wide sidewalk all the way down to Independence and Kipling and with the park being developed down there, you guys are going to be in a great spot looking ahead.
The drainage project and the park redevelopment are under the City’s control. We have less control over the Ralston Road corridor plan. We’ll do the plan and there are some tangible things we can do, but it is still going to require the individual owners develop their own properties along the corridor. The same is true for the urban renewal areas at each end of the corridor where we’ll be relying on people from outside to do the redevelopment. That may or may not happen, but I think it will. You are fortunate to be living in a great place.
Councilor Shelley Cook takes a lead on the corridor’s neighborhoods because most of them are in her District, but all of the Council members are taking an interest in this corridor. The shopping area can only deteriorate so much further before it ends up down in the dirt, and Ralston Road itself is pretty bad right now. But I think things will be really good in the next five to ten years and you will see the corridor transformed.
On the New City Manager: During our interviews, the Council was very impressed with Mark Deven, the new manager coming in. That’s why we hired him. We had a full and enthusiastic consensus of the Council membership when we decided that this was the guy we wanted for the job. He seems to bring the right experience and the right attitude and I believe he’s going to have the energy it takes to do things in the City.
But it is still going to take him awhile to come up to speed on local issues. I know what it takes for a manager to do that. I was an administrator for six different prisons over time, and for each one it took a couple of years before I felt comfortable and I had gotten needed policies in place. I suspect it will be the same for Mark Deven. He will have to learn a lot of things very quickly, but he brings with him the knowledge and skill set needed to do that.
I think he’ll do very well. We just have to give him the time to come up to speed once he gets here. He’s off to a good start. In addition to meeting with our current manager Craig Kocian, Mr Deven is going to be meeting with Council members and others during his overlap week at the end of September.
When our current manager, Craig Kocian, came here 14 years ago he had worked here before. He had the advantage of at least knowing a lot of people and he could get up to date relatively quickly. City managers don’t move around as often as they used to. It used to be that a manager would get crossways with the council and the council would fire them and move onto the next manager. The key to good management today is to get a good person in the job and then keep him or her there for an extended period of time.
On the CLRC: I like the issues summaries I find in the http://www.RalstonCommunity.org news articles. I’ve read lots of them and the writing doesn’t come across as being mere advocacy for the group. As to the CLRC itself, you guys are active and it’s great that you are able to communicate with so many people, but I’m wondering how well you are doing in getting others involved beyond your small steering committee? [Editor’s note: Although we have lots of readers and get lots of compliments on the website content, sadly, we are not doing as well as we hoped in getting members involved in community activities. More membership participation would be very welcome.]
WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
Councilor McGoff has a re-election website at
Mr McGoff’s opponent for the Council District 2 seat, Cody McNutt, declined to be interviewed for this series. However, Mr McNutt is actively campaigning and has a website at
Readers can also see and hear both candidates speaking to City-wide issues at a Chamber of Commerce meeting held on September 16th. The Facebook link to that forum can be found at
or, if that link doesn’t work, try this one
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