Cortez runs on government inclusiveness
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Editor’s note: This is the first of three stories on Carbondale mayoral candidates.
Ed Cortez is running for Carbondale mayor to promote sustainability, both economic and environmental, to implement an as-yet-undisclosed affordable-housing program and to make town government more inclusive.
“I’ve been living here for 21 years, and I’ve seen many changes in those years,” he said.
Over the past four to five years, Carbondale has seen a cultural change in the demeanor of the Board of Trustees and how their policies affect the residents, he said.
Cortez, a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus driver, was on the Board of Trustees for eight years, has served on the planning commission and RFTA board and is president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1774.
“I’ve had a say in just about every major decision concerning Carbondale in the last 18 years,” he said.
Cortez said the two recent tax initiatives that failed by wide margins in Carbondale’s April election stimulated him to begin his campaign. These were a carbon tax based on utility usage and a capital improvements tax.
Cortez, though he’s a proponent of environmental sustainability, railed against the carbon tax and focused on the lack of clearly defined goals.
“They did a poor job of identifying the goals and how to reach them and how to be inclusive,” he said.
This culture change of the town government has been one of moving from inclusion to exclusion based on the policies of the last board and this board, said Cortez.
An example of this was the town trying to pass taxes right after huge tax increases from rising property values and initiatives in the previous election for the fire district and the school district bond, he said.
They tried to “ramrod through something that had no business being on the ballot,” he said of the climate action tax. “And it was turned back incredibly.”
Cortez criticized Mayor Pro Tem Dan Richardson specifically for his role in promoting the carbon tax.
“There’s a lot more to being mayor of Carbondale than being a one-issue candidate.”
Cortez said part of his own energy strategy is to focus on the town’s environmental goals. “I believe the quickest way of doing it is to get more cars off the street, and to do so we need to focus on mass transit.”
Rather than trying to win a trophy for being the most environmentally sustainable, the board needs to set goals and reach goals, he said. “The biggest goal is getting cars off the street.”
He added, “Affording housing is an ongoing conversation and has been since I moved here 21 years ago.
“There’s no such thing as affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s just politicians paying lip service to the citizens. And in my opinion, that’s not part of inclusiveness.”
Including renters in scope of affordable housing, Cortez pointed to his own rent that’s gone up 25 percent since last year. He blamed that on the fire district and school district tax increases.
People trying to push tax initiatives is going to drive the middle class to flee downvalley, he said.
The town’s housing has been contingent on development, and “since I’ve left the board there’s been no major development in Carbondale,” he said.
Still, Carbondale is not doomed, he said. “No, it’s not going to turn into Basalt or Aspen, I can guarantee you that, not as long as I’m on the planet,” he said.
“I’m not going into specifics because I don’t want to give any ammo to my opponents.”
Cortez said he is in touch with professionals in soliciting financing for affordable housing and they’re coming up with a long-term plan to revamp Carbondale’s affordable housing strategy — though voters will have to elect him to find out what that plan will be.
He did say this would involve an advisory committee on housing and a trustee assigned as an advocate.
In any case, he said he is focused on the necessity of building townwide consensus for the effort.
Cortez also has criticized the board’s talk of using reserves for various priorities, including affordable housing.
When he was on the board, trustees rarely had to use reserves, which he calls the emergency fund. Affordable housing is not at an emergency level in Cortez’s opinion.
The recent public safety issues surrounding assaults on women in town count as an emergency, he said.
The board needs to safeguard that money and prepare for the worst-case scenario because the current boom times aren’t going to last, he said.