Defeat the no-builds
July 25, 2002
The article covering the history of the votes on the Entrance to Aspen in this week’s Aspen Times Weekly doesn’t begin to do justice to the extraordinary political manipulations which form the background to this entirely contrived controversy.
A disinterested observer with a good understanding of the democratic process could not help but find the details lacking if they were to attempt to fully absorb and understand how such clear results on more than one occasion could possibly have failed to lead to a resolution.
Nobody knows what specific element the voters were rejecting when the 1982 entrance proposal was defeated. For that very reason, county commissioners proposed a question in 1984 which was the epitome of simplicity and clarity: “Shall State Highway 82 be improved to a four-lane facility between Aspen and the Brush Creek Road intersection?”
It doesn’t really do justice to the results to simply say that the measure passed by 80 percent. Look at the numbers to get the full effect. Yes: 4,295 No: 1,095
At the time, I was in Aspen serving on a committee of about 12 people who were in the process of studying 19 different possible configurations for a new highway into town. Although our group was, even then, a typically fractious Aspen ensemble, nobody questioned the meaning of the vote in relation to our work.
After a year and a half, we finally came to the conclusion there was no workable solution other than using the Marolt property in a curved version of a straight shot.
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The City Council of the time, under Bill Stirling, would not agree to put the question on the ballot without an option. Fine, we said, place a question which gives a choice between the Marolt or the existing alignment, and we’ll explain the differences.
No go. There had to be the possibility to vote no on both questions, because, paraphrasing Bill Stirling, “When people said yes to a four-lane, they may only have meant to the city limits by the Maroon Creek Bridge, not Seventh and Main.” Of course, no such interpretation had ever been discussed prior to the vote.
Consequently, in 1986, 25 percent of voters favored the existing alignment for the four lane, and 49 percent favored the Marolt route. No matter how you slice it, 74 percent of voters made it clear that they intended the four lane to extend to Seventh and Main, even though neither particular alignment received a majority. Bill Stirling, and later John Bennett, chose to interpret the vote as a “double no” vote against four laning.
In 1990, a city staffer figured out a way to determine whose interpretation was correct. Voters were first asked if open space land could be used for a four lane. Sixty-eight percent of city voters said yes to a four lane, no matter which alignment was chosen.
In a second question, 56 percent then endorsed the Marolt route in a direct choice between the two. This time, nobody in government bothered to put a spin on the results, they were simply ignored.
At the moment, the no-build contingent is pretty much in the driver’s seat, not because they have a majority on the City Council, but because the majority on City Council has been totally outmaneuvered.
The council should accept the no-build petition, effectively rescinding the transfer of the Marolt property to the state. This eliminates any need to hold a special election. At the next meeting, the City Council should pass a new ordinance, once again transferring the property to the state.
Any disinterested observer would agree that under the circumstances, and given the history, democracy would be best served by treating this petition with the dignity it deserves.
There is no question that petition signatures were acquired by telling citizens, many of whom may be recent arrivals, a totally fictitious account of the voting history. That’s fraud, that’s what they did, and there is no reason to honor yet another manipulation of the truth.
The no-builds should understand that they cannot be allowed to win this battle for two reasons. First, it would let stand one of the flat out dumbest social policy decisions ever made: Purposely preserving a traffic jam to try to force people to choose mass transit.
More importantly, the defeat of the no-builds is the only way to restore the integrity of the democratic process, and restore public confidence in the power of their vote.
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