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Eagle Scout organizes panel discussion about Basalt’s history

A Boy Scout in Basalt Troop 242 is organizing and moderating an event Monday on the town’s history.

Miles Craft is organizing a panel discussion as part of his Eagle Scout project. The panel will give a presentation from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Basalt Regional Library. Appetizers will be available at 5 p.m. The event is open to the public.

The panel includes local residents Leroy and Janice Duroux, Bennett Bramson, Tony Vagneur, Rick Stevens and Skyler Lomahaftewah. They will talk about Basalt’s history and the importance of preserving it.

The project will benefit the Basalt Regional Heritage Society.

Basalt police seek help identifying man who broke into pot shop

Basalt police are seeking help identifying a man who broke into the Roots Rx marijuana shop Tuesday night.

Police believe the suspect hid outside the business in the Southside neighborhood until employees closed and departed, according to Sgt. Aaron Munch. The shop closed at 8 p.m. The burglary occurred at about 8:30 p.m. He was able to gain access in a way police didn’t want to discuss.

“The alarms went off,” Munch said. “By watching surveillance video, he just got scared and took off.”

The man unlocked a deadbolt on the front door and ran off without taking any product or cash. Munch said Roots Rx had complied with state law and kept all products locked.

The pot shot’s alarm company got an instant notification that the on-premise alarm was triggered and called police. Two officers from Basalt and a Pitkin County deputy sheriff arrived on the scene shortly and checked the store for an intruder.

Munch said the cameras captured images of a clean-cut man approximately 30 years of age. While the images are in black and white, he was wearing a green jacket and black pants with a Sorrell-type pair of boots.

Store employees didn’t recognize the man as a regular customer. Munch said if anyone has information about the suspect, they are urged to call Basalt Police Department at 970-927-4316.


Aspen’s housing authority purchase of controversial Burlingame house delayed

The clock continues to tick for Burlingame Ranch resident Lee Mulcahy, who is facing eviction from his deed-restricted home for not proving that he works full time, which is a requirement of the affordable housing program.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority was scheduled to take possession of the title to Mulcahy’s home Friday, but there has been a delay.

“We’ve got changes in the contract that need to be made and we are working out the details,” APCHA Deputy Director Cindy Christensen said.

A court-appointed receiver, Greenwood Village-based Cordes & Co., which is acting on behalf of Mulcahy, will sign the contract when the details are sorted out.

When that will be is unclear, but Mike Kosdrosky, APCHA’s executive director, said he hopes it’s soon.

“It’s in motion and we are moving as quickly as we can,” he said. “We want this to be done expeditiously.”

That is a relative term, because Mulcahy and his mother, Sandy, who lives with him, have said they will not leave. They’ve also indicated that it may come to a violent ending, pointing to police standoff situations elsewhere.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office is in charge of evicting the Mulcahys, and Sheriff Joe DiSalvo has said it will be done peacefully, however long it takes.

According to the purchase contract, if Mulcahy fails to allow APCHA possession of the home he built with his family, he will be subject to eviction and will be required to pay $500 a day from the day of closing until he leaves.

That’s a far cry from what a potential settlement could’ve looked like if some officials and Mulcahy had their way.

But those negotiations among officials representing the APCHA board, county government and Mulcahy failed in recent months.

They had discussed giving him more money for the property if he would peacefully exit when he is forced to sell.

But per a resolution passed by the APCHA board last week, Mulcahy will not receive any financial settlement other than a maximum resale price of $995,000 on the home, according to the deed restriction on the property.

Officials believe that the property is encumbered with debt and will have additional expenses beyond the purchase price, but details are not certain yet.

Who finances the purchase also is uncertain.

APCHA’s annual budget is funded by the city and county but doesn’t have a large coffer.

City Manager Sara Ott said if APCHA wants to rely on the city’s 150 fund, which is fueled by a real estate transfer tax specifically for affordable housing, the agency will have to ask for it.

“APCHA needs to make a supplemental request for money,” she said.

City Council would make the decision on whether to grant that request.

In an email Thursday, Mulcahy stated, “We are not moving out” because the stay of eviction “is currently on appeal in two different courts”: the U.S. Supreme Court and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2015, he was found out of compliance of APCHA’s rules for not being able to prove he works the required 1,500 hours in Pitkin County.

He has been embroiled in litigation with APCHA ever since, and has lost his case at the district court level and the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Colorado and U.S. Supreme Court denied hearing the case, which upheld previous decisions that Mulcahy violated the deed restriction on the property.

Mulcahy has filed a motion to vacate the original judgment, which was denied by the district court. That denial is now on appeal to the state’s high court.


Farrises avoid prison, apologize after theft conviction in court

Every seat was filled in the courtroom Thursday when Judge Denise Lynch told Charles “Zane” and Charla Farris they would have to complete probation, do community service and pay restitution — but would not receive not jail time.

The Farrises were sentenced Thursday afternoon for taking between $5,000 and $20,000 from the ranch they had managed for Waffle House, Inc. chairman Joe Rogers.

Judge Lynch sentenced each of the Farrises to five years supervised probation, 200 hours of community service, and to pay restitution in an amount to be determined later.

“The court can see how full the courtroom is,” Charla’s attorney Andrew Ho said.

He asked for those in the courtroom supporting Charla to stand, and more than 20 people stood up.

If he called all of them to give statements of character, “we could be here all afternoon,” Ho said.

“I’m not going to let you call all of them. I have a basketball game to watch at 6:30 (p.m.),” Judge Lynch joked.

Both Farrises were convicted of the theft of Bear Wallow Ranch funds in November, but the jury settled on a far lesser degree of theft than what prosecutors alleged.

After nearly six weeks of trial and three days of deliberation, the jury found the Farrises not guilty of the alleged theft of between $100,000 and $1 million, and exonerated them on multiple counts of cattle theft.

Prosecutor Ben Sollars, who asked for one to three years in prison for the Farrises, said Thursday that the theft was “not on a one-time basis, but more of a death by a thousand cuts,” and created a pattern of breach of trust.

“There are some aggravating factors that separate this out from other acts of theft,” Sollars said.

Judge Lynch disagreed, and said incarceration would not be appropriate.

“I think sending (Charla) to prison is just going to make her a worse human being. It will punish for sure, but I don’t think it’s going to rehabilitate at all,” Lynch said.

Rogers, who owned and kept Bear Wallow as a corporate retreat house for many years, attended the sentencing hearing. He has also sued the Farrises in civil court for the alleged losses.

The Farrises were sentenced separately, but each made a statement that they appreciated the time of the jury and judge in the case.

“I’m very sorry for the mistakes I have made, and I know that those mistakes led me here,” Charla Farris said.

“I apologize to anyone and everyone,” Zane Farris said.

During the trial, defense attorneys alluded to class distinctions, and that continued in the sentencing hearing.

In this case, “the word of one person with a lot of money and power obviously meant more than the word of one family” who was part of the community, Zane Farris’ defense attorney Kathy Goudy said.

Zane Farris was most relieved to be acquitted of the counts of stealing cattle, Goudy said, since he continues to work as a cattleman.

Monica Groom, an attorney who did not represent either of the Farrises, said in a statement to the court that Zane Farris and Charla Farris are beloved members of the community.

“These are two individuals who would do anything for you,” Groom said.


Aspen nonprofit hosts Conservation International’s Shyla Raghav to discuss nature-based climate solutions

As nations around the world work to reduce emissions and adapt to a changing climate, environmental organizations are turning to nature for solutions.

Shyla Raghav, who leads Conservation International’s climate strategy team, is in Aspen on Friday to discuss her use of ecosystem-based solutions to address the climate crisis.

Aspen Journalism: What kinds of nature-based solutions give you hope in your work on climate change?

Shyla Raghav: I would say that the most important thing that we could do is ultimately stop deforestation, not just because of the amount of carbon they store, but also because of all of the important services that we get from forests. There’s so much value and so much benefit that we get from healthy, intact ecosystems.

The second-most important pathway is restoration or reforestation. The only technology that we have to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at scale, at the global level, is a tree.

AJ: Those solutions sound rather simple, but, of course, economics, politics and social concerns get in the way. What are some of the key strategies that you have to implement those two ideas?

SR: Ultimately, we need to make forests more valuable standing than cut down. Right now, that’s not the case. There’s a number of different innovative solutions that are being implemented and tested around the world, like carbon credits. It’s about putting a price on the carbon in those forests.

There’s also demand-side measures. One of the largest drivers of deforestation is the consumption of beef, for example. So, reducing the demand for beef is also a solution.

Another type of solution that we also look at is certification of commodities, so the largest driver of deforestation in Southeast Asia is the expansion of palm oil. One of the solutions that’s being promoted in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia is to certify that the palm oil that’s on the market doesn’t come with a deforestation footprint.

AJ: You’ve also worked in developing countries. How has working with developing countries affected your view of or your attitude toward climate change?

SR: I think working in developing countries has really influenced and informed my career. I’m originally from India, but I’ve had the opportunity to work in Thailand and in the Caribbean. Those experiences taught me to understand the human impact of climate change.

Working with and interacting with people who are literally on the front lines of climate change — that are at risk of losing their homes or already have lost their homes — is something that’s really instilled within me the urgency of acting on climate change, but also the moral responsibility that we have to do whatever we can as soon as possible to avoid and prevent the worst impacts of climate change, which are increasingly becoming inevitable, whether it’s sea-level rise or increased intensity of storms.

AJ: As you mentioned, quite a few of the consequences of climate change might, at this point, be unavoidable. What is the balance of working toward solutions to the climate crisis and adapting to this new reality?

SR: It’s a matter of urgently accelerating both mitigation and adaptation.

The decisions that we’re making right now are going to impact the next hundred years. The effects of climate change that we’re experiencing today are a result of the past hundred years of emissions.

We’re really at a point of no return. Change is our new normal, but we can prevent climate change from causing irreparable harm to our planet.

I would say that it’s really important that we think both about how we reduce our emissions, but also think about how we develop in a smarter, more resilient way as well.

Aspen Journalism collaborates with Aspen Public Radio and The Aspen Times on coverage of environmental issues. More at aspenjournalism.org.

Aspen real estate: Billions sold and a billionaire’s hold

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, views the Aspen-area residential real estate market through a lens of tens.

“Very, very few markets in this country have this 10-10-10 market situation of where you have a (10,000) square-foot-house that costs $10 million for a home buyer who wants to use it only 10 days a year,” he told the packed ballroom crowd at The St. Regis Aspen Resort.

Yun’s remarks — while steeped in reality — attracted scattered chuckles from those at the Aspen Board of Realtors’ Annual Market Update Luncheon on Thursday. They also punctuated appraiser Randy Gold’s assessment of the local property market’s current status.

Gold, whose Aspen Appraisal Group has been analyzing property values in the upper Roaring Fork Valley for 42 years, said he expects 2020 to be another year of high sales-dollar volume ignited by sales of single-family homes over $10 million. He tempered his comments, however, by noting national and global events could come into play.

Overall property sales rung up in Pitkin County in 2019 — which include all types of real estate ranging from commercial to residential — amounted to just over $1.8 billion, down a tad from 2018, Gold said, basing his figures on data from Land Title Guarantee Co. Last year also was buoyed by 23 single-family home sales that topped the $10 million mark, falling shy of the record number of 27 eight-figure deals in 2015 and 26 in 2017.

Gold said the market was strong last year, based on his discussions with area property brokers, “and I think they feel that way because the single-family markets in Aspen and Snowmass did so well. But when you look at it realistically, and based on the numbers, it was a good, solid year, a little over $1.85 billion in sales, but that was actually down a little bit from the $1.863 billion we saw in 2018 and well below the $2.5 billion to $2.6 billion that was our highest ever in 2006 and 2007.”

A return to those mid-2000s seems unlikely in the near future, Gold said.

“Aspen is not immune to what happens nationally,” he said, noting fears of a national recession happening in 2020 or 2021, while having dampened last year, have recently re-emerged.

Some of that is because coronavirus outbreak in China, which will impact the global economy “if they don’t get their hands around this thing soon,” Gold said. Wall Street also has a role, as does this year’s U.S. presidential contest, he said.

Gold said he expects “another strong year for sales over $10 million” in Aspen, while he also predicted overall sales in Pitkin County to hover between $1.6 billion and $1.8 billion in overall sales volume.

“If 2020 finishes the way I’m forecasting, with little change or down modestly again, the Aspen-Snowmass market seems like it’s continuing slowly toward our next down market,” he said.

On the day after Wednesday’s haymaker-dominated Democratic debate — candidate Michael Bloomberg had to defend his wealth, while Bernie Sanders had to defend his ownership of three homes — and the same day that President Trump was stumping in Colorado Springs, Yum said there’s little doubting the election’s outcome will impact real estate sales.

“2020 is a presidential election year, and when I look at the data overall for the upper-end market (nationally), yes, there is a little hesitation,” he said. “(Home buyers) want to know for certain who will be elected before deciding on a major expenditure, because it could have tax implications or, say, right now Wall Street is at an all-time high, but the stock market community, I don’t believe they want Bernie Sanders as their president. … It will be interesting to see how the market digests the presidential election.”

There’s no questioning, however, that billionaires continue to wield powerful influence on the local market, both in the residential and commercial arenas, Gold said.

“Aspen has long been known for how many billionaires we have and their impact on the residential market,” Gold said, noting he came up with “around 60 (billionaires) that I can pretty positively identify.” That figure might be closer to 75 or more billionaires “that own single-family houses, commercial property, or both,” he added.

“That’s a pretty staggering number, when you think about it, for a market as small as Aspen,” Gold said, noting the figure doesn’t trail far behind such major cities as New York City, San Francisco and Tokyo.

To put a billionaire’s affluence in perspective, Gold broke it down in simple yet astronomic terms.

“If you have $1 million and you spend a dollar every second, you’re out of money in 11 days,” he said. “If you’re a billionaire, and you spend a dollar every second — $3,600 an hour — it takes you 32 years to spend your money.”

The wealthier the buyer, the more they can afford to overpay for property. The end result means property valuations increase, which translates to property taxes increase as well, Gold said.

“So for somebody who has a $10 million statement, a pretty respectable statement for most markets, that buyer can overspend $50,000 for a condominium. The guy who is worth $100 million, he can overspend $500,000. But the guy who’s worth a billion dollars, let alone $2 billion, or $3 billion or $5 billion, they can easily overspend by $5 million and it has the same relative insignificance, or significance, depending on your perspective.”


Local listeners emphasize the need for music at APR board meeting Thursday

From DJ stories about interacting with listeners from Aspen to South America, to singing the first lines of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as a group, dozens of former volunteers and local residents emphasized the need Thursday for music on KAJX Aspen Public Radio as a reprieve and complement to the news.

The over 50-person turnout was for APR’s first board of directors meeting since the station debuted its more news-focused schedule, which includes the addition of renowned national and international journalism programs and local news initiatives, but not the weekly local music shows headed by volunteer DJs.

“We don’t know everything, we get things wrong, so we’re here to hear your ideas and your thoughts,” said Doug Carlston, chairman of the APR board of directors. “What we really want to do is give each of you the time to talk to us, complain to us, give us your ideas, ask us questions, whatever works best for you.”

After the 11 board members and two APR staff present ­— executive director Tammy Terwelp and development and community engagement manager Lisa DeLosso — introduced themselves, the floor was opened for public comment on the station’s programming changes, which came in January.

More than 50 people gathered in the Aspen Square Hotel’s conference room for the meeting to advocate for bringing music back onto the APR airwaves, sharing stories about the locally curated music shows and how they brought a uniqueness to the station that is lost with the current schedule, which many said they feel is repetitive, as well as noting the importance of music as a community connector, community builder and building block of the “Aspen Idea.”

“The question of including music, whether jazz, classical, blues, rock and roll has galvanized our community. This is merely a representative portion,” said Jeannie Walla, a longtime former employee and volunteer DJ for KAJX. “Choosing to ignore this outcry, in my opinion, is short-sighted and irrational.”

The group of public commenters also voiced to board members how “un-Aspen” the changes were carried out, with the local volunteer DJs reportedly receiving no thank-you from station staff after being let go in late January.

“The way that this was handled, and it was spoken of in many letters to the editor … it was a disgrace,” said Scott Harper, former longtime volunteer DJ for APR. “Volunteerism is the heart and soul of public radio and it was disrespected to the max.”

But outside of defending APR’s former music programming and the volunteers who put it on, the locals present also expressed confusion as to why the decision to drop most all of the station’s music was made in such an abrupt and sudden manner, and why the survey data the decision was based off hasn’t been made more publicly available.

“What bothered me about this decision-making process is it’s not clear to me, having read what I’ve read, what the goal was,” said Mick Ireland, a longtime local and former Aspen mayor. “I have not seen this data, I have not seen an analysis of this data and its dubious origin.”

On Tuesday, a handful of former volunteer DJs expressed similar thoughts about the manner of and reasons behind the recent programming changes with the station’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC).

According to APR’s website, the CAC is a vehicle for community input about station programming in a support role only to station decision-makers and is a group the station is required to have by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

During the comment period at Tuesday’s meeting, which four committee members and two station leaders including Terwelp attended, CAC members said they were “blindsided” by the station’s decision to drop its music programs.

“I was not aware that was going to happen, that there would be a purge of programs … so my ability to speak intelligently about this with people who approached me was limited at best,” said Andy Popinchalk, who has been a part of the CAC for more than a year.

“I didn’t hear about the change either until I read the paper and I have heard from community members who are upset about it,” added Marci Krivonen, another CAC member and former APR employee.

“I think this could have been done better. … I do think talk radio is good and it appeals to a growing younger audience, but having at least some music is important for this community, too.”

However, the members also said they knew the station had been looking at becoming more news-focused for years.

“I remember talking with Carolyne Heldman (former APR president/executive director) and learning this was a movement and direction she saw the station going,” said Riley Tippet, a nearly four-year CAC member. “So while I think the change was abrupt, I also think it’s been in the works for a long time.”

But while the news focus may have been in the works for several years, many of the former local DJs and residents present emphasized how music programming is what makes KAJX uniquely Aspen and a true community radio station.

They also referred to The Aspen Times weekly poll — which 620 people participated in last week and shows 54.5% of respondents want the old APR format restored, 23.5% want a mix of music and news and 11.5% just news — as an indicator to the importance of music on APR.

Within the last five minutes of the CAC meeting, one local, Martin Horowitz, directly asked Terwelp how the station would respond to the many listeners voicing their desire for music to return to APR.

“Would you be willing to back off your position and be flexible to maybe inject back into the system of the radio some of the music shows? Is that a possibility?” Horowitz asked.

“One of the things we are looking at is possibly — and I want to be clear we are just looking at this — a second signal but it is in its infancy so I don’t want to say much more than that,” Terwelp said.

“There are some things we will be looking at but as far as reversing what we have on Aspen Public Radio and the direction, our main signal is going to stay what it is.”

But at the Thursday night board of directors meeting, there was less finality from board chair Carlston about the future of music at the station.

He said the station’s three-year strategic plan favors local content moving forward, and that the board wants to be responsive to the opinions and ideas expressed.

After the over 90-minute public comment period, the station’s board of directors met briefly before going into executive session to discuss human resources-related topics. Terwelp could not be reached for comment after the board meeting Thursday.

Because the members didn’t have much time to discuss the station’s next steps, Carlston said the board will attempt to schedule another gathering before its next regular meeting in March, and is determined to “discuss every one” of the ideas and items of feedback presented Thursday. When asked if there is a short-term possibility of bringing some music back to APR, Carlston said that’s always on the table.

“Today was really about gathering info,” he said. “We received a lot of good ideas and feedback and we will do our best to support the community in every way we can.”


An enigma buzzing over Glenwood Springs

A drone fleet appears to have been dotting the night sky over Glenwood Springs during the past week or so. But — as with similar activity reported in northeast Colorado in late December — it’s a mystery to local officials as to who might be at the controls and what they’re doing.

“We’re aware that it’s been happening, and have received some calls about it,” Glenwood Springs Police Chief Joseph Deras confirmed. “They appear to be the larger, commercial types of drones.”

Those who have reported seeing blinking lights from the unmanned aircraft in the nighttime hours between about 7 and 10 p.m. say they don’t appear to be doing anything suspicious, the chief said.

“If it were to become an issue, we would reach out to the FAA to try to investigate,” he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires a special waiver for commercial drone operators to conduct nighttime flights. Hobbyists must have an FAA license to fly a drone, but are limited to daytime hours.

The FAA lists eight current nighttime waivers for companies or operators that have Colorado references in their name.

Among them is the Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting unit based out of the Rifle-Garfield County Airport.

But they or any other public entity would typically provide official notice of nighttime operations, and that hasn’t occurred, according to Reed Clawson of the air ambulance helicopter service Classic Air Medical.

Any unofficial drone activity at the lower altitudes within the Glenwood Springs airspace is cause for concern for the medevac helicopter that operates out of Valley View Hospital and the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport.

“If it’s something official, we’d be in the loop, but we haven’t been notified of anything,” Clawson said. “As hard as those things are to see in the daytime, it’s way more difficult to see them at night. We would appreciate a phone call to let us know they’re operating in the area.”

Unregulated airspace

Glenwood Springs Airport Manager Amy Helm said she hasn’t heard of any drone sightings by pilots or related conflicts.

And, with the exception of Classic Air, which conducts nighttime operations in and out of the facility as necessary for refueling, the airport is limited to daytime hours.

Still, commercial drone operators are required to file a notice with the FAA that they are operating in a particular area, she said.

The rules regarding personal drone use near smaller airports have changed, Helm added.

“Before, people would always call and ask for permission to use drones near our facility. But, because we’re considered uncontrolled airspace, it’s kind of a gray area regarding where people can fly their drones,” she said. “It’s certainly not recommended, but we have no authority to tell them not to.”

Hey, look up there!

One resident who has reported seeing the drones is Michael McCallum. The Oasis Creek resident said he first noticed the blinking red, white and green lights at different locations and at various heights over town from his vantage point high on the hillside above Traver Trail in north Glenwood late last week.

“Some are very high that look like satellites, and others are lower and you can hear them,” he said. “They appear to be flying in straight lines, but no particular pattern.”

McCallum said he saw them again Wednesday night, but the activity seems to be limited to clear, still nights with no wind. And, he said he’s pointed them out to others, including a police officer acquaintance, who affirmed what he was observing.

“It seems like they’re programmed to follow a line, and they don’t vary,” McCallum said.

With the increasing popularity of drones and constant technological advances, rules around both personal and commercial drone use have been the subject of recent public education programs.

In summer 2019, the Glenwood Airport, Rifle Center of Excellence and the Glenwood Springs Fire Department hosted a drone education seminar to discuss safety, regulations, licensing and privacy issues.

Like a lot of firefighting agencies, Glenwood Fire has started using drones for different types of firefighting applications. The Fire Department now has six licensed drone pilots, including Chief Gary Tillotson.

He said the rules are pretty clear about any drone use, but especially at night.

“You can fly at night, but you have to have that waiver from the FAA to do it,” Tillotson said.

And, “military action aside,” all unmanned aircraft are supposed to be in visual control at all times, whether that’s the person directly at the controls, or an observer who is communicating with the pilot.

The department has four of the smaller-platform drones, including three with thermal imaging capability, which is crucial for firefighting work, Tillotson said.

Education opportunity

Josh Allison is an engineer with Glenwood Fire, and also has a private drone photography business, Action Sports Drone, on the side.

Allison said he, too, has heard from others about the nighttime drones over Glenwood, though he hadn’t seen them himself.

He said the activity sounds very similar to what was happening in northeast Colorado late last year. The Denver Post reported on the sightings over Yuma and Phillips counties, which involved multiple drones with 6-foot wingspans flying about 200 feet to 300 feet in the air and following patterns over what appeared to be set, 25-mile-square areas.

Allison said he knows of no hobbyist or commercial pilots in this area who are capable of operating multiple drones at night at different heights. The night waiver process is an involved one, he said.

“For me to get a waiver to fly at night, it takes about 30 days,” he noted, though the fire department and other public agencies can receive special emergency waivers.

The largest allowed commercial drone under FAA regulations is 55 pounds. For comparison, the fire department drones are slightly less than 5 pounds.

The commercial waivers also require that the operator disclose what it is they’re doing. And a single pilot is not supposed to operate multiple drones, Allison said.

But, the FAA doesn’t have the manpower to track and follow all drone activity, commercial or otherwise, so a lot of drones do fly under the radar, so to speak, he said.

“Private industry breaks the rules all the time, and sometimes they don’t even know it,” said Allison, who has built an education component into his own business to help explain the rules to other operators.

“It does make it hard when the rules get broken, because then the FAA tightens down on everybody, and it makes it difficult for me to operate commercially.”


What’s a wine cave really for?

It happened again last week.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders sneered, “We don’t go to wine caves or wherever to raise our money.”

It was a thinly veiled swipe at an unnamed rival. Though everyone knows it targeted former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. This follows comments made in December by fellow democratic hopeful Elizabeth Warren who, at a debate, similarly used the “wine cave” brush to paint Mayor Pete as elitist. Even “Saturday Night Live” got into the act with a Kate McKinnon spoof.

While the point that Buttigieg is funding his campaign by cozying up to billionaires may or may not have validity, to be clear, the “wine cave” rhetoric is meant to be divisive. It is an attempt to create a sound bite, a buzz phrase that infers an us-versus-them, rich-versus-poor, wine drinkers-versus-non-drinkers divide.

Beyond that, it also inaccurately demonizes the wine world by using a symbol to suggest elitism.

While wine caves have indeed become status symbols in some wineries, particularly those in the Napa Valley, the origin of the caves is utilitarian. They are an ancient, clever way to store and age wines in an efficient, temperature- and humidity-friendly environment. The vast majority of wine caves are not an amenity, but rather a tool for the production of an agricultural product. In much of the world, wine is a part of day-to-day life, not a luxury product.

A little background on the wine cave controversy:

On Dec. 15, a fundraising event was held under the title “An Evening in the Vineyards with Mayor Pete.” It took place not exactly in the vineyards, but rather in the cellar, or wine cave, at HALL Wines, which is owned by Craig and Kathryn Walt Hall. The Halls have a long history with Democratic Party fundraising as well a significant roll in philanthropic causes in the Napa Valley. Kathryn is the face of the winery, which specializes in the production of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. She also was the U.S. ambassador to Austria under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001.

Now, by any definition, HALL Wines is upscale. Over the top might be more accurate. The art collection amassed for display there is world-class, featuring the likes of John Baldessari, Jim Campbell, Nick Cave and Jaume Plensa to name just a few. And the wine cellar room is clearly designed to impress those who pay the price for special events and tastings.

But what has seemed to set people off the most was a chandelier that hangs above the table where the dinner was held. Made by the Austrian glass producer Swarovski, it reportedly features 1,500 grape “crystals.” It has been reported that approximately 200 people attended the fundraiser with tickets priced from $500 to $2,800. Expensive, but hardly billionaire pricing.

If you have ever traveled to wine regions around the world, you know the charm that is evoked when you tread down ancient stone steps into the damp and cold depths of a wine cave. There you’ll find hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bottles of wine from different vintages resting in racks, aging until they are ready to be released. The low, vaulted ceiling — often illuminated in soft light — only enhances the aura of wine waiting for its perfect time.

Perhaps the most famous of these caves are found under the chalky soils of the Champagne region in France. Called les crayères, or chalk caves, these vast caverns were originally hollowed out during the days of the Roman Empire. As the great Champagne houses began to evolve, they served their purpose in the aging of the effervescent wines that were riddled, or turned, regularly. In World War I, the caves became underground cities as residents of the region sought safety from the raging war above.

In recent decades, many wineries — yes, some owned by billionaires — have created lavish visitor amenities in caverns below their wineries where guests can taste wine while noshing on cheese plates and such. The intent is to impress and the experiences can be magical. There is little need to degrade that element of wine for a cheap insult at a competing politician.

On Valentine’s Day, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative proclaimed that, while they would not impose the previously threatened 100% tariffs on European wines for the time being, the current 25% tariffs on certain French, German, Spanish and British wines would remain in effect. It was a bittersweet and temporary victory, but still a welcome sign.

It is a dangerous time for wine. Let’s hope both sides of the political aisle can refrain from using it for their personal gain.

Libations: Sweet and spicy margaritas over President Day weekend

Going into Presidents Day weekend, I thought it would be smart to exercise my patriotism and seek out the libations our country’s founding fathers and leaders of more recent history may have bellied up to the bar for.

I could have drank a dark porter to celebrate George Washington, water in honor of Abraham Lincoln (who reportedly was a dry man) or a vodka martini in the name of George H.W. Bush.

Instead, I found myself sipping sake at Jing on Friday and tequila and mezcal at Su Casa on Saturday like a true American.

After eating half a basket of tortilla chips in less than 10 minutes, I asked the waiter what the most popular Su Casa margarita is. He said the blood orange, which has fresh lime, Corazon Reposado tequila, Campari Liquer and blood orange of course, and the hot chile, which consists of chili-citrus tequila, Cointreau and fresh lime in a chili salt-rimmed glass were the top two. But his favorite was the hot chile with mezcal instead of tequila, so I took his word and ordered that with a blood orange margarita on the side.

The drinks couldn’t have been more opposite, yet both equally delicious. The blood orange went down sweet with a little citrus-bitter aftertaste, the hot chile smoky with a tingly spice burn on the tongue. There were even jalapenos floating in the hot chile margarita with the ice cubes, its seeds like little sprinkles at the surface.

Both were fantastic. Both were under $20 each, which is a win in this town. Both did the trick, as I was happily buzzed a quarter of the way through my hot chile.

Moral of the story: Su Casa es tu casa y mi casa y nuestra casa whether you’re looking for something sweet or spicy, or not really sure what you’re looking for at all.