Aspen needs change down at City Hall
September 10, 2007
Charging to park anywhere is the final straw. This has been the summer of war on locals ” particularly those who work ” by the Aspen City Council.
When the original parking plan was written, the committee operated under what used to be an Aspen ideal ” privileges shouldn’t just go to the rich. We evened out the parking game by allowing the rich to pay for convenience while the rest moved their cars.
Instead of cruising for “cheaters,” we should have the parking staff cruise the offices and shops in town, selling monthly or daily parking passes or matching carpooling groups. We have become so focused on sticks, the other half of the equation, that the “carrots” have completely fallen by the wayside. But I digress.
The point is, we are losing it here, folks. We thought growth management would retain the “old Aspen” and instead we are making Aspen a playground solely for the rich. Our aristocracy travel from estate to penthouse confident when they return to Aspen they will be pampered and catered to by an intelligent work force, living like the serfs of old in small, cramped housing but grateful to be alive … in paradise.
What is so astounding is that the City Council and the board of county commissioners continue to enact laws and codes that push the equation to favor only the most royal. Every time I open the newspaper there is but another ordinance or proposal to make it harder for the working class to function.
We must preserve and protect this gorgeous valley. Aspen is a legacy that we are stewards of. But we do not have to do so at the expense of the people who are the fabric of this county. We don’t have to make it so expensive to build that only the world’s wealthiest can. We don’t have to make it so tough to get to work.
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How? First embrace or at least understand that working in service or most offices means the wages and benefits are so low it is unlikely you can ever get ahead of your bills. The brightest of our work force (and Aspen is noted for having bright people) quickly recognize this and try to move into other professions. The hospital, schools and government jobs provide benefits, but affordable housing shortages and restrictions become impossible if they start a family, so they leave. (Notice how few council members are married with families?)
Public policy shrunk the zoning for retail, small businesses or light industry. The only opportunities left for financial growth and housing choices are real estate and construction. And this group has been under attack for years with this summer escalating into complete madness. The city and county are pushing the game out of the local entrepreneurs’ hands like the Maple, Wilke and Hanson into a game only WestPac, Centurion or Hyatt can play in. With the “master-plan concept” you took construction management out of the hands of guys like Clapper or Anderson and put it into mega outside companies like Gould. Professional level income that used to stay in the community goes to L.A., N.Y. or Denver.
Council needs to cease its reactive mode and develop a big-picture perspective. Council needs to recognize that vital downtowns are not quiet or tranquil. The council needs to stop trying to placate people who have chosen to reside in the core with all these absurd rules to give them a “quiet and peaceful environ.” If you want quiet, go live in the country.
Secondly, the council needs to stop the touchy-feely processes that consultants steer us into. No business or organization can devote as much energy as government here does to goals and vision statements without accomplishing anything. I was flabbergasted when I read the outcome of the council’s retreat. The ideas and mission produced are the same ones that came out of a retreat I participated in as a county commissioner a decade ago!
Your meetings need revamping. The judicial format is designed to look back into case law and precedent and away from creative or forward thinking. Council needs to interact with the public and applicants. I spent too many years in that format and I tell you it deadens your mind.
Folks, you’ve got to get beyond the conflicting goals of the community plan and get a game plan going. You have hundreds, if not thousands, of affordable-housing units that will be occupied by retired people. How are you going to provide senior services? And where are you going to put the next generation of employees? The community plans avoided economics, but economics drive everything.
And old-time Aspen locals, you absolutely need to let go of the image you carry in your head of the perfect Aspen with dirt streets and Gary Cooper in front of The Red Onion. Unless some calamity occurs, which reduces the world’s population by half, we can’t regain that idealic period.
The idea of no growth has spread downvalley. People from all over the country are moving to these idealistic settings close to Aspen’s world-class entertainment. And when I say world class, this is not rhetoric. The music, theatre and lectures this summer were testament to the fact that even the world’s top entertainers and thinkers want to summer in Aspen.
You have approved seven fractional projects with two more pending, but you haven’t even done a financial or social analysis of this extraordinary conversion of residential and commercial use. No other resort has approved as many fractional projects as we have in such a short time. Do you really understand who fractional serves?
You continue to avoid addressing the Entrance to Aspen. The transit plans developed 10 to 12 years ago included CARS and parking. Even then we understood we might need a parking garage under Wagner Park. The direct alignment into Aspen is part of our clean-air plan. You tout the Canary Initiative but fail to take action on the Entrance.
I do not envy the elected. There is so much at stake and it is increasingly complicated. Aspen really is one of the most beautiful and exciting places on the planet.
My advice is to cease tying up the time and energy of all of us with reactionary gestures like controlling work hours, Ordinance 30, parking fees and instead focus energy back into the big picture. It is obvious that all the laws you have enacted just tip the money game to the wealthiest of the wealthy without making life here any better. Time to try a new approach.