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The misdirection of Mayor Ireland

Dear Editor:

I was glad to see the Aspen mayor’s New Year’s interview. In fast-changing times, frequent updates from elected officials are welcome. Not surprisingly, I have some concerns about the mayor’s message.

Ireland’s comment that City Council should approve development projects “at a certain price point” to “create affordability” confounded me. The market, not government, should determine the pricing and quality level our guests desire. Aspen is, for now, still internationally recognized for luxury and excellence.

Land-use codes properly address mass, scale and public safety, avoiding details like thread-count of linens or contents of lodge mini-bars. In 2007 the city chased away caring investors in the Hotel Jerome by micromanaging the plans for room renovations. It is disconcerting to see government attempt to dictate interior design or pricing. Personal goals for social engineering ought not to trump land-use codes.

Any attempt to force Aspen down-market, and in so doing tarnish the Aspen brand, would be disastrous. Aspen still has small lodges offering value pricing. I’d guess that their occupancy rates fall below their more pricey competitors. No one would consider trying to force those lodges to increase prices. Attempting to force a “rebranding” of Aspen as a commodity is not an intelligent use of council’s power.

The mayor might consider the cost impacts of city-required, low-density permit fees, housing mitigation, environmental requirements, “community benefits,” expensive bureaucratic delays and taxes. These might explain why modestly priced lodging is no longer economically viable to build or renovate. Low-density combined with soaring regulatory costs require high-end pricing.

Ireland reportedly fears “privatization” of the Aspen Club, Limelight Lodge and Hotel Jerome? These are indeed already-private businesses, and should be respected as such, and protected from the threat of government power grabs. It’s not “privatization” we need to fear – instead, it’s an over-reach of government.

Ireland complains that the city is spending too much time and money fighting with critics over the results of the election. But he knows that no one questions the results. Ireland could help make the city a champion of enhanced election verifiability. Instead he chooses to help block the productive release of public records.

The mayor’s annual complaint has become, “Marilyn takes up too much city staff time.” First it was Ordinance 30, then Burlingame, now election integrity. He is right. Others ought to be more involved, and many will not out of fear of retaliation. Yes, I’m certain that the mayor’s wish is for less attention to specific issues. Consistency and full transparency would require minimal City Hall time compared to epic fights to avoid full disclosure.

Moving forward from IRV was missing from the mayor’s list of potential 2010 voter issues. Citizens will ensure that an IRV question is on the ballot this year; if necessary, by petition.

Finally, the mayor says that we should consider millions in debt for more workforce housing, and “not when we are in crisis mode.” Mr. Mayor, we have a crisis now. Current workforce housing has unfunded liabilities – scores of millions in deferred maintenance. Our crisis begs for more jobs to fill the housing we have.

Remove the policies obstructing small businesses. Interview small-business owners and hear about the difficulties of doing business here. Listen and learn about ways to address our local economic crisis. Don’t try to reshape Aspen to your imagined ideal resort. Let private enterprise respond to the coveted market sector that Aspen enjoys.

Aspen didn’t become one of the most successful resorts in the world through government dictation of pricing and image.

Marilyn Marks

Aspen


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