Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Two quick items this week: one pat on the back and one swift kick to a point slightly lower down on the anatomical chart.
The pat on the back goes to the community of Carbondale for standing up and making its voice heard – loud and clear.
As everyone should know, just one week ago, the town voted – by almost 2-to-1 – to reject the proposed Village at Crystal River development.
That’s the second time in less than a decade that Carbondale voters have rejected a major development on the same parcel of land along Highway 133, at the western outskirts of the town.
Arguments over the project were, as always, hot and heavy.
Those who supported it predicted great prosperity would follow approval – and almost certain doom and gloom if the development went down to defeat.
That is, of course, the standard set of predictions for people favoring a development. Now that I think of it, I don’t believe I have ever heard anyone specifically predict a Plague of Locusts if their project is turned down, but I’m sure that will come along one of these days.
In the election campaign, the pro-development forces outspent the opposition 6-to-1, but in the end that didn’t seem to matter.
Opposing the project were people who said, in effect, that the town, as it now exists, is a treasure and that its unique qualities could be lost in a welter of big-time developments.
They argued that plunking down a major project out on the highway would drain money and vitality from the town’s Main Street, which most (including me) consider a real treasure.
There were sincere arguments from residents who said they wanted the project approved because they wanted their children to be able to grow up and find a job in their hometown.
And there were equally sincere arguments from those who said that if the project was approved that “hometown” would no longer exist.
It’s a curious part of these development debates that there are always experts on one side or the other – or most often on both sides. But it seems to be the way of the world that you always can find an “expert” to draw whatever conclusion you (or your bankroll) needs to have drawn.
So, in the end, we all have to go with what we intuitively feel is right.
And then pretend we have good reasons for feeling the way we do.
Only time will tell what is next for Carbondale, but certainly we all can look around and see scattered around this valley the skeletons of projects that made grandiose promises and then turned to dust and rust.
The would-be developer wasn’t evil. The town just felt – strongly – that he was wrong.
So a grand “Hurrah!” for Carbondale.
And now the other, ugly side of the coin.
A few days ago, an Aspen Times columnist named Charlie Leonard wrote a letter to the editor (apparently he couldn’t wait for the next installment of his column) declaring that Aspen’s real problem is that we don’t show enough appreciation for the super-rich among us.
Normally, I wouldn’t write about something another columnist said. Or about a letter to the editor. But since Leonard doubled down with a column and a letter, I think a response is required.
In the course of his letter, Leonard tossed a handful of quick insults at Mayor Mick Ireland (which is always fun for all). And then, just for good measure, he splattered a bit of righteous mud on Robert Frank, a senior writer from that reliably socialist publication, Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.
Frank, who covers “wealth” for the Journal, wrote a book called “The High-Beta Rich,” which pointed out, among other things, the risks of relying on the super-rich. Leonard suggested that Frank “should take his next vacation” in Cuba.
Anyway, early in his letter, Leonard said, “It is only through the benevolent generosity of wealthy Aspen residents and visitors that Aspen, as we know it today, exists at all.”
Actually, there is some truth in that statement. But many would say we need to drop “benevolent generosity” – and then debate whether “Aspen as we know it today” is actually something for which we should be thankful.
The Aspen of a few decades ago – before the “wealthy residents and visitors” really got their hooks into it – was a pretty damn nice place.
But to really get to the heart of Leonard’s mix of ignorance and arrogance, we should move on to this statement:
“Does any serious-minded person even think we would have skiing in Aspen if not for the profits derived from real estate development?”
Well, actually, yes, Mr. Leonard, many serious-minded people – anyone who has any real knowledge of Aspen – think, or rather, they know that skiing came to Aspen and flourished in Aspen long before there were any “profits derived from real estate development.”
In fact, Leonard has it exactly backward. There would be no real estate profits if not for skiing.
Aspen used to be a ski town, and a lot of people liked it that way. And that was the seed that drew the rich, then the super-rich and, eventually, the slobbering rich, who would seem to be Leonard’s constituency.
But wait! There’s more!
Leonard adds this gem:
“Those of us who have dared to take some risks and earned some rewards have such little patience for people who have never created a job or even tried to pay their own way, yet have plenty to complain about instead of just saying ‘thank you.'”
Well, gee, Mr. Leonard, since you put it that way, please let me stand up for all of us worthless little people, the scum, the parasites, we who have never even tried to pay our own way and say, “Thank you, sir!”
You will never know how much your shining example means to us all.