Building moratorium, how council works together highlight candidate forum
Squirm Night at the GrassRoots TV studio Wednesday evening for Aspen City Council candidates drew out some lively discussion showing differences in the candidates, if not entirely heated, in the short hour they had.
Kaya Williams, with Aspen Public Radio; Andre Salvail, editor of the Aspen Daily News; and Don Rogers, editor of The Aspen Times, subjected council candidates Bill Guth, Skippy Mesirow, and Sam Rose to questions ranging from the Entrance to Aspen to how the city’s elected leaders should work through differences on the way to decisions — nearly all unanimous on the current council.
But the most contested issue among the three candidates turned out to the city’s eight-month moratorium on residential development that ended last August. The moratorium on new short-term-rental licenses that ended at the end of September, and the city’s short-term-rental tax issue that passed with 62% in favor in the fall elections completed a sort of trinity of issues many in the real-estate, development, and hospitality businesses have criticized at times witheringly.
Candidate Bill Guth had the fiercest response to the City Council’s handling of the building moratorium.
“To be clear, where we ended up is a system of allocating demolition allotments in the city of Aspen to six per year. That creates perverse incentives that disincentivizes people to build more energy-efficient homes. That actually caps our revenue stream on employee housing mitigation dollars, and again, has zero buy in from anybody in the industry,” said Guth, a realtor and entrepreneur.
“I think that if a City Council were to turn over, maybe that might be the first thing that they were to look at eliminating,” he added.
Rose echoed Guth’s decision on the ruling, saying he was not in favor of how the building moratorium was handled, and different steps and approaches needed to be addressed. He was concerned with the use of the city’s landfills and waste but felt that six demolitions were too limited.
He said he would have voted against the moratorium when asked for what he’d do differently.
“I feel like I have to go to the building moratorium, and the reason for that is, honestly, it’s just like, you know, I’ve been told so many times don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. But sometimes, an opposition vote says that the broader spectrum of the community is being acknowledged,” he said.
Mesirow voted for the building and short-term-rental license moratoriums and defended his votes.
“I mean, first off, in public policy, the reality is from the time we do something, which is just making a decision, to starting to the time when it actually affects people’s lives is measured in years. Do I think the process could and should be better?” he asked. “I do, and that’s why my campaign has made central an office of government innovation, so we can fix our process that amended because in many cases, we are still using 17th-century tools to meet 21st-century expectations, and that’s not a recipe for success.”
The three agreed that representation needs to be more diverse. Although it won’t come to fruition with this candidate panel, all three reiterated a priority on including all demographics of the community.
As a nod to the complaint that the current Aspen City Council votes on nearly all issues 5-0, the candidates did agree on most of the city’s major issues, making a 7 to 0 joke. All three agreed they’d like a different path forward then the current Entrance to Aspen/Preferred Alternative. Each stated there needed to be more affordable child care and more community workforce housing.
A SQUIRMY MOMENT
When each candidate was asked who they would vote for in the council and mayoral races, the answers were quite different.
Rose, diplomatic, said he had not decided who to vote for, either for City Council or mayor.
Mesirow noted he has differed in opinion with Mayor Torre in the past, but he will vote for him in March. He has not decided on his vote for City Council, aside for himself, while saying he could see virtues and possible drawbacks in each of the other candidates for the council.
Guth was quick to point out he wants to see a different council and mayor. He said that while he has respected the work of Mayor Torre, he feels it’s time for a change, and Tracy Sutton will have his vote. He also said he would vote for Rose, and that while he appreciated Mesirow’s service, he wanted “practical solutions and less ideology.”
The discussion can be viewed at grassrootstv.org.