Aspen’s electeds zero in on child care, environment and housing as priorities |

Aspen’s electeds zero in on child care, environment and housing as priorities

Aspen City Councilwoman Rachel Richards and Alissa Farrell, the city's human resource director and interim assistant city manager, post ideas under different work categories during a council retreat on Tuesday
Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times

After meeting for 11 hours over two days as part of an annual retreat, Aspen City Council set its priorities for the upcoming year.

They include addressing the child care crisis in the community and moving forward with a citywide composting program that could be mandatory for restaurants.

Reducing single-use plastic consumption is another priority that was set.

“I think everyone on this council wants to reduce,” said Mayor Torre, who was elected in April and sworn in less than a month ago.

He, along with newly elected council members Rachel Richards and Skippy Mesirow, hunkered down with incumbents Ward Hauenstein and Ann Mullins on Monday and Tuesday to set goals for the community for the next year.

Torre noted that composting can be done easily and would make a big difference in the preservation of the life of the landfill.

“A lot of what we used today is compostable but we threw it in the trash,” Torre said of the food and related products consumed during the retreat.

Hauenstein said the environment rises to the top in his decision making.

“It’s a lens for everything I do,” he said.

The plethora of initiatives and ideas coming from council members fell under several strategic focus areas, which include protecting the environment; smart, customer-focused government; economic vitality; fiscal health; a safe and lived-in community of choice; and community engagement.

Council members and city staff members were asked by facilitator Kathie Novak to put their ideas on Post-It notes under each category to see what themes emerged.

Under “economic vitality,” addressing child care needs for working parents is a priority that council agreed to move up to this year as opposed to next.

“I have frustrations around this issue,” Torre said. “We’ve been talking about it for years. … My concern is that we are not going to do anything about this soon enough.

“For me, the child care issue has multiple impacts,” including the ability for people to continue living in the valley, he added.

Also with the local economy in mind, the council agreed to set a work session for later this year to work on how to support local businesses with government-owned buildings and spaces.

Later this summer, council will be making decisions on design standards for development on the pedestrian malls in advance of the underground infrastructure and brick being replaced in the coming years.

As far as a “safe, lived-in community” is concerned, a broader conversation about what the affordable-housing program means to the community must be had, council members agreed.

Or in Mesirow’s term, “a new social contract” with the community around housing should be redefined — who does it serve and who is it for? Is it “workforce” or “affordable” housing?

Richards said council needs to recognize that people are in different places of their tenures in Aspen, and following the rules of the subsidized housing program has its stresses.

“There’s more fear about affordable housing and the affordable-housing program than people realize,” she said. “I think we need to look at issues around housing holistically.”

Richards also said growth and change coming to the upper valley should be addressed.

“How do you talk to people about it? How do you deal with it?” she asked. “We have more growth and change in front of us perhaps now than ever before.”

Torre said he wants to zero in on wider community conversation, and create more connectivity among residents.

That means doing more things that bring people together, expanding mental health resources and knowing your neighbor better.

Under “community engagement,” Mesirow got support from his fellow council members to add the goal of 100% voter participation among Aspen registered voters.

Under “smart government,” implementing a work order system for staff was important, as was the design of council chambers so it is citizen friendly.

Richards added at the end of Tuesday’s session that it didn’t go unnoticed that the group did not discuss transportation issues, which are so large that an entire day and more will be devoted to them.

But overall, the former mayor, council member and Pitkin County commissioner said it was a worthwhile exercise with her new colleagues.

“It’s always a good retreat when no one cried,” Richards laughed.