Energy

Dogs and fracking and beer is food – Denver deserves better than Mayor Michael Hancock

I asked Michael Hancock a straight question and got a dishonest answer. Then there’s his kneepads and chapstick service for the frackersbeer-is-food

I recently sent an inquiry to the office of Denver mayor Mike Hancock asking about his position about the city’s recent crackdown on dogs being allowed in tasting rooms. We mile-highers love taking the pups to our favorite microbreweries, but earlier this year the authorities started showing up and telling management that this was illegal.

Because – check this – beer is food.

“They told us we can’t have dogs inside at all, and if we’re going to have them on the patio, then we can’t serve out there,” Prost co-owner Troy Johnston said. “We’ve been doing it for 3½ years, and then all of a sudden, somebody comes through the door and now it’s wrong.”

The confusion comes mostly from how the health department is classifying beer. Regulators consider it food, which some argue would make breweries into restaurants.

“We don’t produce food and we don’t have a restaurant. Since we’re a brewery, we only have a manufacturing license. So to that point, none of this should apply to us,” Johnston said.

I have low expectations of the bought-and-paid-for leadership of the 5280, which showed us what we needed to know, if we didn’t know it already, when they (led by Hancock) helped developers steamroll the wishes of the West Highlands neighborhood community.

So since I love the craft brew culture here – it’s one of the best things about Denver – and I love dogs even more, this was sort of instantly and automatically a voting-level issue.

Today I got a reply from a woman in the city’s Environmental Health division replying on Hizzoner’s behalf. The truth gets deflowered in the first graf.

The restriction regarding dogs in breweries is part of the Denver Food Establishment Regulations (See 8-106D), which are consistent with state and federal food safety standards with the exception that the patio allowance is specific to Denver and not allowed under the State food code.

No. Denver’s regs are not consistent with state rules. As the Denver Post notes:

Unlike other cities who adhere to state rules, Denver maintains its own city health code, which specifies that “live animals shall be excluded from within the retail food establishment, including all interior and exterior dining areas,” with the exception of patios when the proper criteria are met. [emphasis added]

If you’re familiar with our tasting rooms out here (and I have been in more than I can readily recall – in Denver proper, in the surrounding suburbs and well beyond, down into the southern and western parts of the state) you know that Denver is the only place in Colorado to define and enforce the health code in this fashion. And operations outside the city limits continue allowing dogs to hang out. Just last Saturday, in fact, my girlfriend and I took her Heeler down to Grist Brewing in Highlands Ranch where we met her son and his girlfriend and their two rescue mutts. It was wonderful, and nobody died from dog poisoning.

[sigh]

The letter goes on, telling me just how freakin’ awesome it all is, for a few more paragraphs.

In the end, though, we have all the info we need: the mayor supports banning dogs and his people are attempting to deceive the city’s citizens when asked about it.

But … why would the city do this? The Post continues:

Danica Lee, director of public health inspections for the city health department, said it’s largely due to re-establishing regular inspections after a shortage in staffing meant cutting back inspecting certain businesses, including breweries, in past years.

“While the department has only inspected breweries and taprooms on a complaint basis since 2012, resuming routine inspections of these facilities involves a lot of education and technical assistance about the requirements,” Lee said.

Ah. We hired more people and had to find something to keep them busy.

That seems plausible, but usually city leadership only tramples the will of the people who elected them when there’s money involved. As I think about it, I realize there’s another angle I want to keep an eye on. All these upstart breweries represent a competitive threat to established bars and restaurants, and craft beer takes a bite out of the money once spent in other places. There have been efforts to change sales and distribution laws in ways that would benefit grocery store sales and hinder sales in other places, for instance.

I don’t know enough to make this assertion with any authority, but investigations begin with questions, and what I know about Mayor Michael Hancock does nothing to assure me that I have no reason to ask questions.

A final note. The truth is that I had my mind made up on Hancock, now and forever, before this letter arrived. One of the initiatives on the ballot this election is Amendment 71 – the the “Raise the Bar” Amendment – which seeks to make it harder to change the state constitution. While I hate what ballot initiative mania has done to our process and sympathize, in principle, with attempts to move routine lawmaking back to the legislature (and other citizen-accessible mechanisms), this one stinks to high heaven. It pretends to be about the sanctity of the constitution. It pretends to be about “balance” and “reasonableness.” It pretends to be about distributing power away from big bad evil Denver and Boulder and out into the hinterlands (which is an odd idea, since the system ought to respond to the will of the people equally no matter where they live, and if everybody here moved to Alamosa you’d have the same political impulses driving the state process from down there, right?).

But that isn’t what’s really happening. The big winners if 71 passes are – wait for it – the fracking companies.

Just because fracking restrictions failed to make the November ballot doesn’t mean the oil and gas industry is giving up the political fight.

Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, a committee primarily funded by Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy, has shifted its immense resources to support Amendment 71. That measure would make it more difficult to amend the constitution, which, if passed, would benefit the drillers by making it harder to pass future fracking restrictions.

A few days ago I saw a TV ad featuring Hancock fluffing for Anadarko and its crony companies. No, I wasn’t surprised. Had you asked me in advance, I’d have bet every penny I have that he’d be pro-71.

I have no real hope that there will be a candidate on the ballot who’s a whole lot better the next time Hancock stands for election (which I believe in 2019), and I have even less hope that Hancock can be beaten. He spends a lot of time on his knees, and he’s well compensated for it.

Denver is one of the greatest cities in America. We deserve better.

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