Trolley backers refuse to back down, propose ballot initiative | AspenTimes.com

Trolley backers refuse to back down, propose ballot initiative

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen’s trolley supporters have now submitted a ballot question to the city clerk’s office and will seek signatures in support of the measure in hopes of changing the City Council’s mind about holding a trolley vote.

Jon Busch, the unofficial leader of the Aspen Street Railway Co., submitted the necessary paperwork for the ballot initiative at City Hall on Thursday, two days after the council agreed to move forward with its plan to give the trolleys away.

Meanwhile, Assistant City Manager Ed Sadler sent out e-mails yesterday morning to 15 municipalities and trolley companies that have expressed an interest in taking one or more of Aspen’s historic cars off the city’s hands.

Busch said members of the railway group and its backers will circulate the petitions for about two weeks and bring them to the council at its April 8 meeting.

The group hopes to collect enough signatures to prove to the council there is community interest in a trolley line to replace the Galena Street Shuttle. Busch and his colleagues are also hoping the council will rethink its decision to give the six trolley cars away before Aspenites have a chance to vote on a proposal to use them here.

Busch declined to comment Thursday on what action the railway group plans to take if the council refuses to reconsider.

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As proposed, the ballot question reads: “Shall the City of Aspen allow the Aspen Street Railway Company to replace the Galena Street Shuttle bus with the city-owned historic trolleys in a privately funded system within five years of this election.”

The language goes on to note that the trolley line would not use overhead electric wires and that the operating budget won’t exceed the annual cost of running the shuttle buses.

The railway group envisions a trolley line that runs between the post office and Dean Street, up Galena Street. The line would run in mixed traffic, could be installed in one spring off-season and would not result in the loss of parking spaces, Busch claims.

The community’s many questions about the operation and costs of the system would be answered in the weeks leading up to an election, he said.

Busch and his colleagues imported the antique trolley cars from Lisbon in the late 1970s, but have never made much progress on their dream of a local trolley line.

The city was poised to give away the cars last year before a last-ditch plea from the railway group convinced the council to hang on to the trolleys for one more winter. Last September, the council told the railway group to come up with a ballot question to gauge community support for a trolley line. That election, however, was supposed to occur in May.

The trolley group failed to act in time to initiate a special election in May. After missing the deadline, members argued that a spring vote would produce a light turnout and the results would not be particularly meaningful. Timing the trolley election with the Aug. 6 primary has been suggested as a more logical approach.

The timing of the election is actually up to the city, assuming the council agrees to have one, Busch noted. If the council can be swayed to hold an election on the issue, he said the railway group would be open to rewording the ballot question if the council has qualms with the language that has been proposed.

“We still want the City Council to be confident that the question being asked is clear and unambiguous,” he said.

Convincing the council to once again delay disposal of the trolleys may, however, prove difficult. Four of its five members were unwilling to give the trolley backers any more time to seek support for a ballot measure.

“I don’t see it happening, but I don’t know,” Councilman Tony Hershey said yesterday. “It was a dumb proposal 20 years ago and it’s still a dumb proposal.

“If they want to collect signatures, that is their prerogative. I look forward to seeing what they bring forward.”

Busch is accepting the blame for the railway company’s failure to act on its opportunity to initiate a spring election on the issue. Busch said his father’s death in December kept him busy with other matters.

“The bottom line is, I always seem to have been the guy who moves the group to taking action,” he said. “I just let it slip. It fell through the cracks.”

An advisory referendum cannot actually be forced onto the ballot through a citizens’ initiative, but council members had indicated they would put a trolley question on the ballot if the railway group collected enough signatures on a petition.

An initiative would require signatures from 789 registered city voters – equal to 15 percent of the votes cast in the last municipal election.

“It may well be we don’t have the required signatures within two weeks,” Busch conceded, but he hopes the group garners enough support to convince the council to hold an election.

Potential takers for the trolleys, meanwhile, have been directed to submit proposals to the city as soon as possible. Sadler’s e-mail indicates the cars will be awarded in late May.

He is asking for a written commitment to restore the cars, a commitment to remove the cars from their storage sites within two months after they have been awarded, and for a description of the community’s existing or planned trolley system. Preference will be given to those that have an existing system or can show they have funds to build one, according to his e-mail.