Initiative will help Snowmass
February 23, 2004
Recently, two letters appearing in the local papers suggested that the citizens’ initiative in Snowmass Village would, in the one instance, produce a “tyranny of democracy” (so says Michael Adams) and, in another, convert Snowmass to a direct democracy (so warn Robyn and Dale Rands). I believe they are wrong on both charges.
Their dictionary definition of democracy isn’t very meaningful. Indeed, Lenin’s government was, strictly speaking, a form of representative government, as is China’s today.
The concept of representative government is far more complicated than can be dealt with in a short letter. Just check out the Federalist Papers sometime. Suffice it to say, the Snowmass Village Town Council is much more “elected oligarchy” than “representative legislature.” Arguing that the initiative is bad for representative government is misplaced ” the initiative can’t be blamed for undermining what doesn’t exist here in the first place.
Theory aside, why are Adams and the Rands off the mark? To start, they both assume that the limits in the land-use code are merely suggestions to be accepted or discarded according to the whims of the day.
In contrast, the initiative assumes that the code limits have meaning, that they protect important community values, and that the council should be accountable to those limits. It therefore closes a loophole that currently allows the code to be shredded solely because of what only four citizens on the council happen to think.
Second, the initiative would not trigger a flood of elections. Remember, the initiative’s limits triggering a popular vote are substantially greater than those of existing code. Under the initiative, the council can continue to grant significant variances from the code.
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No, what’s really going on here is that those who clamor for huge development see the initiative as making it more difficult for the council to approve explosive growth. They appear to be saying that raising the bar on explosive growth is bad government.
The Rands make an interesting point, however. They ask, why bother with the initiative when you can “take a second bite at the apple” with a referendum? Answer: The initiative isn’t as drastic as a referendum.
The difference between the initiative and a referendum is the difference between “permission” and “forgiveness.” The initiative places the burden on the developer to come up with a really good reason why he should be exempted from code limits and it reduces the need for the public to agitate before a council that doesn’t appear to listen.
In contrast, a referendum places the burden on the community to rise up, after the fact, to stop what has already been approved. Importantly, the initiative doesn’t require a vote on a whole project, only on those portions that radically exceed town standards. A referendum approves or kills a whole project. There’s no in-between.
Thus, the initiative is an instrument of compromise; if a developer loses a vote required by the initiative, he doesn’t necessarily lose his whole project. Where the initiative is a sterile scalpel, the referendum is a bloody ax.
If you are for compromise, if you are for eliminating the developer’s bias that has evolved in the land-use code, and if you support a smaller Base Village more in line with Snowmass’ character, then please vote “Yes” on Initiative Ordinance No. 2.