Whether it be in Aspen or frankly anywhere else in our land of the free, elected officials and those in power find themselves on a fierce “fairness” rampage. By fairness, I mean equality of outcome; the adjustment of the footrace so that each competitor crosses the finish line together, at exactly the same time, with the same result.
This summer brings further regulation of “street activations” in an effort to be fair to all businesses. There will be tighter restrictions, with “pop-up” retail limited and food trucks forbidden; these have been deemed inappropriate because they’d compete with existing businesses. There were 48 parking spaces usurped by retail and restaurants last summer; less than 5% of our total, including the parking garage. This trial run amid the pandemic was a great success and exactly what the city should be doing to boost business. But while it makes sense to make adjustments to ensure the safety of patrons, dictating usage and prescribing vendors is beyond what’s appropriate for local government control.
What our esteemed elected officials, the fairness police, in their limited familiarity with how business actually works, fail to recognize, is that in a free-market economy such as Aspen’s, considerations such as size, location and relative proximity are each uniquely factored in to what a business pays in rent. Sometimes, this translates into foot traffic, views and, in this case, the space for extra seats for dining. And sometimes it doesn’t. At any given location, there’s no guarantee of success, but once granted a business license, every proprietor has the opportunity to make a go of it. Equal opportunity, not an ensured outcome.
Enter prescribed fairness. Is it fair that tiny Bosq, on the mall across from Wagner Park, can expand onto the mall in the summertime? Is it fair that the Hyman Avenue mall restaurants can double their capacities with tables on the median? Is it fair that both Pinons and the French Alpine Bistro were both allowed street activations on Mill Street? Is it fair that Mezzaluna could expand onto its adjacent patio? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Each restaurant applied for a permit and these were granted. Is it fair that other businesses were not able to do so due to their locations? Yes. It’s unfortunate for them, but it’s fair. No one signed their lease with a global pandemic in mind, but there are unintended consequences of choosing one location over another. It’s called competitive advantage, and competition is supposed to make us better.
So when Mayor Torre and the gang decide to curtail and micro-manage street and sidewalk activations, dictating usage and requiring open sides and roofs, it illustrates their belief that the government knows what’s best, and that its primary role is to ensure parity.
Then there’s the Pitkin County health board. This appointed body has similar goals of fairness; their draconian regulations in addressing the pandemic have always been a one-size-fits-all attempt to locally control the coronavirus. Had the shots? Got the antibodies? Not worried? No matter. Masks for you. And restricted dining. We still have cases, so Aspen and Pitkin County remains under Colorado’s harshest restrictions and will be for the foreseeable future. Never mind the county has fully vaccinated well over 4,000 residents to-date, the health board and their comrades on city council see it as their job to keep every last one of us safe from the coronavirus at any cost, so we are reduced to the lowest common denominator. In the name of fairness, they simply cannot and will not allow us to take personal responsibility for our health. The nanny state knows best, so even those who are highly unlikely to get the virus must be treated as though we are vulnerable and immune-compromised with multiple co-morbidities. In their eyes, to do anything different would simply not be fair. (But not fair to whom? The person who elects not to be vaccinated? Think about that logic.)
This obsession with ensuring outcomes sets a dangerous precedent. Competition and individual responsibility are the American way.
Please, people, let’s exercise a modicum of common sense and enable market forces over prescribed fairness. Just as tourists had to make a choice to turn right to Aspen or left to Vail upon landing at Sardy Field in January when our restaurants were shut down, people need to be able to decide for themselves how they are going to live in the post-COVID world. As the populace gets vaccinated and becomes more comfortable going out to eat, it is likely because their own risk profiles have changed, so allow them. Retailers and restaurants that have locations that present opportunities for outdoor summer activations should be encouraged to pursue these. And the city should do everything it can to accommodate. We are still in recovery mode, after all. Some will work out and others won’t. But what’s fair is to allow them to try.
The bureaucrats simply need to get out of the way.
Life isn’t fair. It just isn’t. Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net