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Gomes running for council again

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Longtime Aspenite Pepper Gomes, reiterating gripes about the affordable housing program that were the center of his failed bid for a City Council seat two years ago, will try again in May.

The ski instructor and summertime jack-of-all-trades has joined a growing list of challengers who are looking to unseat Councilmen Tom McCabe and Tony Hershey in the spring election. The two incumbents are expected to face opposition from Lisa Markalunas, Bert Myrin, Tom Pierce, Rachel Richards, Torre and Cliff Weiss, in addition to Gomes.

Candidates were allowed to begin circulating nomination petitions Monday. Though individuals have announced their intention to run, their candidacies are not official until the petitions are turned in at the city clerk’s office.

Gomes, 58, said he’s seeking public office as a way to give back to a community he has called home since 1968.

He finished third among a field of eight candidates on the City Council ballot two years ago, with the top two vote-getters winning seats. His criticisms of the affordable housing program and his call to end government development of additional housing projects, apparently resonated with a lot of voters, given his strong finish at the polls, he noted.

“People said, you can’t win on a platform of ‘don’t build more housing,'” Gomes said. “Somebody out there agreed.”

Gomes resides in a deed-restricted unit at Hunter Creek with his wife and daughter, but many aspects of the housing program that provided him with an affordable home continue to rankle him.

“I’m not a great supporter of the housing program as it stands now,” he admitted. “I want to see if we can make some changes in this housing program.”

Gomes is calling for stricter rules to govern worker housing. He points to abuses that, while not technically violations of the Housing Authority guidelines, “leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.”

“If you’re going to enter a lottery to get a unit, then I think you should be living here and working here full time – 52 weeks a year [with vacation time], 40 hours a week,” he said.

The guidelines require the owner of deed-restricted housing to live in the unit at least nine months a year and work at least 1,500 hours a year in Pitkin County, which works out to about 29 hours per week.

Rather than building more housing, the city should better manage what it has, Gomes contends.

“It’s much more important to manage the units we have so they’re not sitting empty or one person isn’t sitting in a two- or three-bedroom apartment by themselves,” he said.

Gomes also wants the program to focus its efforts on housing the working class. High-priced “affordable housing” is one of his peeves.

“It wasn’t intended to build RO housing that sells for $450,000,” he said. “That’s really terrific for a bartender making 20 grand a year, when we’re building housing for guys making $200,000 a year.”

Among Gomes’ other complaints are individuals who sell a home downvalley and downsize to a deed-restricted unit, pocketing the profit from selling their free-market residence; and residents of affordable housing who also own a home somewhere else.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.

As for Burlingame Ranch, where up to 330 units are planned on the outskirts of town near the Aspen Business Center, Gomes wonders how the project was bumped to 330 homes when voters endorsed 225.

“It creates a great deal of urban sprawl and it creates a great deal of traffic,” he said. “I just think we’re pushing this way to fast and way too hard.”


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