Entrance to Aspen, voting method return to city agenda
ASPEN – Aspen City Councilman Torre last week pulled out his “to-do list,” and resurrected the council’s previous goals of asking voters to weigh in this fall on a solution to the Entrance to Aspen and an alternative to instant runoff voting.
“What are we doing about it?” Torre asked his colleagues Tuesday. He was referring to last November’s advisory question in which Aspen residents directed the council, by a margin of seven votes, to do away with IRV, which was first employed in the May 2009 municipal elections.
City Attorney John Worcester said if a change is to occur in municipal elections it has to be done through a charter amendment, which has to be approved by Aspen residents.
A potential ballot question offering an alternative voting method would have to be formalized by the end of August, he added. If approved, the new method would be valid for the May 2011 municipal election.
The council agreed during Tuesday’s work session to close the application process seeking new members of a citizen election commission and then select top applicants so they can begin to study alternatives.
The commission also will address outstanding issues that came up in the last municipal election, which was described as “low-hanging fruit” for members to work on before hitting the complexities of changing the city’s voting method.
A second and larger citizen committee will likely be convened to work alongside the commission in recommending to the council a charter amendment change.
Shortly after the May 2009 election, doubts by elected officials and some residents surfaced as to whether the method was the best way to elect a mayor and City Council members in municipal elections.
The city could go back to the previous method, which required that the mayor earn 50 percent plus one of the overall vote, and that council members get 45 percent plus one of the vote. Under the old method, if candidates didn’t reach those thresholds in the May election, then runoff elections were held in June between the top vote-getters.
Another option could be winner take all with no majority needed, a system that Aspen used many years ago. There are other possibilities to consider as well.
Aspenites voted in November 2007 to try the IRV method – which ranks candidates in order of preference – in order to save the time, money and energy associated with holding two spring elections.
Torre also brought up another issue that has fallen off the council’s radar: the Entrance to Aspen. Last summer during the council’s retreat, finding a solution to the entrance was set as a priority for 2010.
One of the council’s top 10 goals was to prepare a November 2010 ballot question for city voters that asks them to decide on a solution to the traffic bottleneck at the Entrance to Aspen on Highway 82. The issue has been debated for decades, and the council wants direction on how to proceed. The ballot question will likely offer several alternatives, and the ones with the most support will be acted on.
The council this past Tuesday directed city transportation officials to vet all of the alternatives that could possibly be presented to voters by the fall of 2010 and bring them back for further discussion.
While there isn’t funding for a solution, elected officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village agreed last year to establish a savings account funded by a half-cent sales tax for the Entrance to Aspen.
Assistant City Manager Randy Ready said there is $800,000 in the account.
Ready also said there has been enough work done on the issue in the past 18 months that the information is readily available to choose possible alternatives.
He suggested that the council wait until July to see what the summer traffic patterns present, suggesting that it might not be as large of an issue as it has been in the past as a result of the economic downturn.
City Councilman Dwayne Romero said he would prefer to continue moving forward on a solution.
“Regardless, we have an Entrance to Aspen issue,” he said.
Torre agreed and said it might take some work but it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
“It’s a completely political issue,” he said, adding the ballot question should be designed with open, unbiased questions. “I think we need to have a conversation sooner than later.”
The idea of banning plastic bags in Aspen has surfaced at the City Council level, and steps are being taken to rid the city of them.
“Get rid of them, they are evil,” said Councilman Torre, who brought the issue up. “I do want to see them banned.”
Councilman Derek Johnson joked that the bags aren’t completely evil; they are great for dirty diapers.
But in all seriousness, the council agreed to let the city’s environmental health department investigate alternatives that could be used in place of plastic.
“They are making better biodegradables out there,” Torre said. “I think Aspen is the kind of place to be on the forefront of this.”
In 2008, San Francisco was the first city to ban plastic bags in large supermarkets and chain pharmacies.
Officials in Santa Monica, Calif., are close to passing a ban. The plastic industry has threatened to sue the city, saying it would force an environmental impact report on the proposed prohibition of plastic bags if the City Council proceeded with the ban.
In California, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Pasadena and Los Angeles have over the past year all recently passed or are looking into plastic bag bans.
Councilman Steve Skadron said before any ban is passed in Aspen, the city needs input from the business community, and especially from City Market and Clark’s Market.
Torre said it will be easier politically if they are presented with an alternative that’s financially viable.
The late City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss brought up the ban issue in 2007 but it was never acted upon.
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