News & Media

Can't take the heat? Get out of the Sun

February 2, 2011  |  The Denver Post  |  Link to article

Mayoral candidate James Mejia chose to unveil his economic development plan last week in Sun Valley, a place that does not suffer politicians gladly. Offer a platitude here and it will shrivel in midair.

This is not to say neighborhood leadership was not happy to see him. "Flattered" is the word used by Paul Bobian, one of the few homeowners in this neighborhood of public housing projects and industry. Bobian was born and raised in Sun Valley, and, he informed Mejia, he plans to die here.

But being flattered by attention is not the same thing as being appeased by it. "I am going to put you on the hot seat," he warns Mejia before the news conference begins. "I welcome it," Mejia says.

"I wish all the candidates would come," Bobian tells me. I could say that's because he sees Sun Valley as a stand-in for any number of neighborhoods left behind as the rest of the city prospered, only to be further forgotten as prosperity has given way to austerity. But that's why I'm here.

Bobian cares mostly about Sun Valley. It was his parents' home. It was his grandparents' home. That over time it has become the state's poorest neighborhood, that the city discouraged single-family housing while making way for housing projects, outrages Bobian.

"Quite frankly, I am not going to back down because this area has been neglected too long," Bobian tells Mejia.

Mejia's campaign sets up a wooden podium on a basketball court near the administrative offices of the Sun Valley Homes and the South Platte River. Watching from nearby are Darrell Washington, the president of the Local Resident Council, and Asnake Deferse, the council's sergeant- at-arms. Like Bobian, they are members of the Sun Valley Coalition neighborhood group.

"Can I ask him when the last time was he was here?" Washington asks.

Deferse, a man of good cheer, laughs and warns Washington not to cause any trouble. "You are going to go to jail."

"You can't go to jail for telling the truth," Washington says, and the two amble to the news conference.

"We're in Sun Valley, which has become one of the poorest, if not the poorest neighborhood in Denver," Mejia begins. "I want to make sure not only is this community heard, but that it moves forward."

Mejia tells me later he once tutored a student in the neighborhood. He says he chose Sun Valley to unveil his economic development plan for the city because "it's the best example of a neighborhood that's been waiting" for such enterprise. "It's their turn," he says.

Not many people would find argument with that. The discussion now is what that development will look like in a few years when the FasTracks West Corridor is complete and the Sun Valley light- rail station opens. This is what Bobian, Deferse and Washington show up to hear.

Mejia outlines his larger plans for job creation and economic growth in Denver. As for Sun Valley, he says he's committed to the transformation of the South Platte into parkway and playground, "an amenity rather than a barrier." He talks about the need for a variety of housing and business in the neighborhood. He says he's committed to making sure residents aren't displaced by development. He says, basically, that he's on board with city, neighborhood and Denver Housing Authority plans for the neighborhood.

At the first opportunity for questions, Washington jumps in.

"If you were mayor right now, what would you do about jobs?" Washington asks.

Mejia, who'd just outlined his jobs plan, repeats that the first thing he'd do is support local businesses so they retain and grow jobs.

"Politicians just want you to hear what they want to say," Washington responds, "but they don't know how the people are suffering."

Bobian chimes in, telling Mejia again that he's flattered he came to Sun Valley since this is not a neighborhood with a lot of votes. Most of its residents are children.

Bobian asks Mejia whether he'd support the use of eminent domain in Sun Valley (no) and whether, with all the budget concerns, he still supports spending money to improve Sun Valley (yes, in a public-private partnership). He says the Hickenlooper administration set aside about $2 million for security at the new light rail station. "If you are elected mayor, is that money going to turn into a pumpkin?"

Mejia laughs. "Paul, I'd be happy to sit down with you on July 19, the day after I become mayor, to discuss that."

It's a politician's response, a promise in a neighborhood wary of promises.

"I'd like an answer now," Bobian says because this is Sun Valley and patience is wearing thin.

Tina Griego writes Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Reach her at 303-954-2699 or