Aspen officials get personal with public
City officials spent the better part of Wednesday listening to their Aspen constituents on a host of issues, from concerns about water conservation in a drought year to business owners feeling they aren’t being heard.
There were four informal gatherings held separately — three were with the business community; the city’s water department organized the final one of the day.
April Long, the city’s storm water manager, said over a dozen residents showed up to the evening gathering, dubbed “Eddy Out,” at the Limelight Hotel. It’s part of a dialogue series on water issues.
Wednesday’s topics included the anticipated drought coming this season and what the city’s response will be. Three levels of water conservation are being contemplated and will be discussed at an upcoming Aspen City Council meeting, Long said.
The first phase of water restrictions would be a 10 percent reduction in use and almost all of it is voluntary. The second phase involves a 15 or 20 percent reduction and requires mandatory restrictions, like when homeowners can water their lawns. Restrictions ratchet up from there.
Long said water conservation will be inevitable this season.
“We will be acting on it in some form,” she said.
Also discussed is the snowpack and how it will affect the city’s storage and drinking water supply, trans basin diversions and why they are necessary and Aspen’s new landscape ordinance.
The council is expected to discuss water conservation and possible restrictions April 24. The next “Eddy Out” session is May 2.
“It has been my experience that the conversation about water is so much richer than a one- or two-sentence sound bite,” Long said. “When we have time to dig deep and listen to each other is when we can truly understand and become more effective at accomplishing community goals.”
The three other public listening sessions the city held were not as cordial. They were organized in response to business owners upset at the city’s recent initiatives like the current Castle Creek Bridge construction and the abandoned one-way Hopkins Avenue plan to make way for dedicated bike lanes.
Mitch Osur, the city’s parking and downtown services director, hosted the “Coffee and Conversation with City Staff” meetings. He said the 10 a.m. and noon sessions were attended much better than he thought they would be, with 40 and 22 people, respectively. About 10 people showed up to the 5 p.m. gathering at the Pitkin County Library community room.
“It was way above my expectations,” Osur said, adding he expected 25 or 30 total.
He described the first group as “aggressive” and the second as “angry.” They want more communication from the city, especially when it is planning projects that would hurt their bottom lines.
Despite the vitriol, Osur said he thinks the conversations were great.
“They appreciated us listening to them,” he said. “To me it was fun; you learn things.
“They all had valid points.”
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The crises between January 2009 and Tuesday, when he stepped down from the Pitkin County board, have bookended a political career that Newman said he thinks lived up to the slogan on the yard sign from his first campaign he still keeps in his garage: “Preserve, Conserve, Collaborate.”