Aspen’s mayor puts 2020 in rearview mirror, focuses on 2021

With nearly a year of living with COVID-19 in the community, Aspen City Council refocuses on goals for new year

At the beginning of 2020, Aspen Mayor Torre had high hopes for the year and a new vision for the city, but the COVID-19 pandemic quickly spiked that. So with 2021 in focus, he has even higher hopes for health and prosperity.

“In this case, hindsight is 2020,” he said last week while sitting at the Hotel Jerome as the city was experiencing a gas outage that left thousands of people without heat for days.

It was the final blow to a challenging year that started with lofty goals of environmentalism, affordable child care and a better climate for locally serving business.

Instead, Torre and his fellow council members declared a state of emergency March 13 when an outbreak of the novel coronavirus hit Aspen.

A second emergency declaration was issued last week in the wake of vandalism to three natural gas sites that fuel downtown Aspen’s buildings and homes.

The city’s goals shifted into response mode last spring, as council earmarked $6 million in recovery efforts and Aspen became the first municipality in the region to launch many initiatives to combat COVID-19, such as establishing a mandatory mask zone.

As the municipal government and its residents have learned to live with the virus, council in the past couple of months has picked up where it left off in early 2020 with its goals.

“I do know that I’m moving forward better equipped with lessons learned and with the same amount of enthusiasm and excitement to keep working for positive change, so in that sense I am excited for ’20 to turn ’21,” Torre said.

At council direction and with $100,000 earmarked, city staff is working on a waste diversion program that will come before elected officials later this year.

Torre said in the first quarter of 2021, he wants the city to zero in how on to make Aspen a more hospitable place to do business for local entrepreneurs.

Those goals, along with others, will no doubt be part of Torre’s campaign messaging, as he is running for a second, two-year term in the March election.

He said he looks forward to connecting with people and finding out what they want from their elected officials.

“In this situation, I am most definitely going to be able to get the feedback about the pluses and minuses of the last year’s performance,” Torre said.

In some ways, the pandemic has strengthened municipal government’s relationship with citizens and businesses as the city has thrown lifelines to help keep the ship from sinking.

It comes down to basics, Torre said.

“The biggest thing for me moving forward is to continue our pursuit of being a customer service-based organization and we are still working on that,” he said. “We work for the people. It’s their taxes, their community, so we will continue to work on those everyday quality of life improvements.”

One of those will be a new multimillion-dollar transit hub at Paepcke Park on Main Street that serves thousands of people but right now just has a small bench at the outbound bus stop.

That will be replaced with a shelter and amenities similar to other new ones that have been built along the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority route in recent years.

Of course, the pandemic still has its grip on the country, and the city will continue to muddle through what could still be a very shaky year economically.

“I think the end of the winter and spring will be tough,” Torre said, “but I can see us having a good economic bounce back in early summer.”

With 2020 in the rearview mirror, lessons of the past and thoughts of the future will be carried into 2021.

“What I’ve learned about is the essential necessities of food, shelter, social camaraderie, interaction, school, transit; it shines a light on a lot of us have it really good but there’s still a lot of need and it’s need that we can address,” Torre said. “Even with COVID on the wane, there will still be need and there’s still going to be work that needs to be done.”

Council meets for the first time in 2021 on Tuesday with a work session that has open discussion as its main agenda.

“I want to get everybody back at the table and hear from them about what’s important, what they learned over the past month,” Torre said. “There will be positives and negatives and we’ll talk about what we need to do going forward … just because the holidays are over does not mean our season is over.”

Aspen Mayor Torre