Aspen mayoral candidates agree transparency is key to public engagement
The four candidates vying for the Aspen mayor’s seat all agreed Thursday night during a media forum that developers who are asking city taxpayers to contribute $4.36 million toward redeveloping the base of Aspen Mountain should open their books for financial inspection.
It was a question posed to all of the candidates by three media outlets, which organized the traditional Squirm Night debate.
The question was based off another decision voters will make in the March 5 municipal election, which asks voters to approve two land-use ordinances that would allow over 300,000 square feet of commercial space at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side, along with a new chairlift, public amenities and a ski museum.
A majority of Aspen City Council agreed last month to a public-private partnership with developers behind the Lift One Lodge that includes the multimillion dollar subsidy.
“We can ask and they’ll say no,” said Frisch, adding that that can be a barometer for voters.
Frisch was the swing vote last month in deciding to commit the money to help pay for the public amenities in the Lift One corridor proposal.
Initially, he did not support a city financial contribution, but at the eleventh hour during the last public hearing on the matter, he switched his stance when developers threatened to walk away.
“It was 11:45 (p.m.) when we cast our vote and I certainly didn’t plan on being caught in the middle,” he said when questioned about his about-face decision. “I just didn’t feel that we should prevent the question from going to the voters.”
Torre said he doesn’t support taxpayer dollars going toward the development, and the council rushed the decision before fully vetting the plan.
“I think this council has put us in a jam,” he said.
Candidates tried to distinguish themselves apart from their opponents during the hour-long forum but they all agreed on many issues, including chipping away at decades-old problems such as traffic congestion and a lack of workforce housing.
They all had varying approaches and solutions to those issues, and new ones that have emerged in recent years, specifically the lack of child care, which was brought up as the last question of the evening.
The waitlist for infants at the Yellow Brick schoolhouse are reportedly over two dozen deep, and candidates were asked how they would address the crisis.
Torre, who has previously served on council for eight years, said this council has failed to act.
He cited a group that had been formed to study the problem and find new facility options, but the city halted that effort 18 months ago and the current council had no idea that had happened.
“There is a long list of things that have fallen off the list for this council,” Torre said, adding that he vows to make child care a priority and act with more conviction than current elected officials have.
Mullins, who has served on council for the past six years and has two more years left, said a needs assessment must be funded by the city.
She also suggested that the Red Brick schoolhouse, which houses nonprofits, could be expanded.
Frisch said the city should be commended for being one of the only municipalities in the country that subsidizes child care, but agreed more needs to be done.
He suggested that the Yellow Brick, where the services already are, could be expanded.
Frisch said a feasibility study is needed for a child care facility to be established in the next phase of building workforce housing at the city-developed Burlingame Ranch, across from Buttermilk where hundreds of families live already.
Mitchell, who is planning to have a family with his wife, said it is an “insane problem” and agreed with City Council candidate Bert Myrin’s earlier suggestion of establishing a child care facility at the old art museum off of North Mill Street.
Mullins was caught off guard when asked what she’d do if elected mayor and had to make the decision on how to fill her vacant council seat.
The situation occurred in 2013 when she was on council and the city charter mandated that a roll of the dice would decide an individual if a majority of council didn’t agree.
Mullins couldn’t remember the details of that, but ultimately said council should make the decision based on who applies, or take the runner up in the election.
Candidates were asked about the city’s “war on parking” in the downtown core and if they agree with current policy to keep rates high to deter people from driving into town.
Frisch, who is serving his eighth year on council and is term-limited, said the goal has been to have a high turnover of parking spaces so businesses can benefit from customers parked near their stores.
Prior to the increase in rates, employees of those businesses were dominating parking spaces spots all day long.
He said it’s a difficult balance and is open to ideas on how to manage a desirable commodity to serve everyone’s interests.
Mullins, who also supported parking disincentives, said she wouldn’t describe it as a war on parking, but instead striking a balance to support local businesses by freeing up one or two spaces on each block.
She admitted the rates are too high ($6 an hour during peak times) and should be adjusted.
Mullins said she also doesn’t agree with taking parking spaces away on Hunter Street near the gondola for valet service.
Torre said he hasn’t supported solutions to parking that punish the public. He didn’t support the city’s removal of parking on Hopkins Avenue to accommodate bike racks, or any plan that takes spaces away.
He offered an idea to raise the Silver Circle ice rink in front of the Hyatt up a level and put parking underneath, and to increase spaces in the Rio Grande parking garage.
Mitchell said the Brush Creek Intercept Lot should be utilized more by commuters; it proved a success during X Games last month.
Mitchell, whose campaign has centered on getting people involved in the democratic process, admitted that the first time he ever voted was in this past November’s election.
This year’s municipal election will be decided March 5, unless candidates do not receive a majority vote, which will then push it to a runoff April 2.
Ballots will be mailed Monday; in-person voting at City Hall begins Feb. 19.
The event was sponsored by The Aspen Times, Aspen Daily News, Aspen Public Radio and GrassRoots Community Network. The moderators were Aspen Times editor David Krause and Aspen Public Radio news director Alycin Bektesh.
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Onsite parking won out over a Turkish bath at a new lodge planned to be built across from City Market. Aspen’s elected officials didn’t want to burden the neighborhood with offsite parking for the new hotel.