The Woody Creek Caucus smiles only on Hatfield
By John Colson Aspen Times Staff WriterThe Woody Creek Caucus, in what may be the first test of the possible outcome for this year’s Pitkin County election, last week gave its seal of approval to only one candidate for county commissioner – Jack Hatfield in district 4.The caucus, after a lengthy discussion with all six candidates for the three county commission seats up for election on Nov. 7, failed to reach consensus on the candidates in districts 3 and 5.In addition, the caucus members indicated support for the elimination of term limits for the offices of Pitkin County clerk & recorder and Pitkin County assessor (ballot questions 1D and 1E), but not for the sheriff’s office (ballot question 1F).Caucus co-moderator Ed Bastian stressed that the consensus poll did not represent a formal “endorsement” of the candidates or the questions, merely the feelings of those caucus members who were present at the meeting.Term limitsWhile most of the caucus members seemed to go along with the idea of repealing term limits for the offices of the clerk and the assessor, there were some who would not support the question that would allow Sheriff Bob Braudis to run for another term in 2002.The reason given was that the office of sheriff is more “political” than the other two, which were deemed “technical” offices that might just as well be filled by appointment as by election.The disinclination to go along with repeal of term limits for the sheriff was not discussed at length because, under the caucus’ “consensus” rules, any amount of dissent is enough to kill a question.Housing a key issueThe caucus’ favorable tilt toward Hatfield was based in large part on his positions concerning affordable housing, which were central to a number of questions raised by caucus members.His opponent, former Snowmass Town Manager John Young, said he supports the idea of an affordable housing project at the Aspen Mass site, located at the intersection of Colorado Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road.”Aspen Mass is not a perfect site, but I think it is an acceptable site,” said Young, after criticizing the county’s “abysmal” record at building affordable housing in recent years.Hatfield, on the other hand, called plans to put housing at Aspen Mass “a very large step in changing the character of the middle portion of our valley,” and after some prompting declared, “I am not a proponent of Aspen Mass.” District 3 candidate Michael O’Sullivan said he is opposed to “affordable housing being built on the backs of the taxpayers,” but added that he favors “some kind of affordable housing” at Aspen Mass. His opponent, incumbent Shellie Roy Harper, said she was originally against the project, but now supports it.In the District 5 race, incumbent Dorothea Farris favored building a project at Aspen Mass, and challenger Martin Fiala had “no position” because he was unsure about the details of the proposal.The matter of affordable housing took up considerable time at the caucus meeting, ranging from questions about the fate of the W/J Ranch project (currently on hold) to general philosophical declarations on the issue. And it became clear in the discussion that Young’s advocacy for a stepped-up affordable housing program was not winning him points among the caucus members, who have battled to keep such projects out of their neighborhood in favor of scattered caretaker units and other measures.Caucus member Ann Owsley, voicing strong doubts about the county’s “authority” to build housing, objected to what she termed the county’s intention to “glut the valley” with affordable housing and asked rhetorically, “where is the need” for big affordable housing projects?She called the purchase of affordable housing by local workers a “bad investment” of the workers’ money. She asked each of the candidates if they would be willing to limit the annual appreciation on their homes to 3 percent, as it is for affordable housing. Harper, Hatfield and O’Sullivan already live in affordable housing, but Farris, Fiala and Young all said they would not.Harper noted that homes were not always viewed as “investments,” and Farris noted that workers living in affordable housing generally are happy to be able to. She said that doing so involves a “judgment call,” balancing the expectations of profit in the free market in downvalley communities vs. the greater convenience that comes with occupying a subsidized home upvalley.
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