City Council: My wish list
As the new Aspen City Council begins the daunting task of making Aspen the utopia it was always meant to be, there are a few imperatives requiring attention. This council, in particular, serves as a brain trust, made up of highly intelligent people who possess vision and the will of the voters – so now is the time for bold action. Vision will spur constructive debate in interpreting the will of the voters, but if there is one word that describes what the council’s vision ought to be in regards to development: it is “restraint.” In this, the Aspen electorate has targeted two important issues: resident housing and the environment.Aspen’s surplus of second homes has inflated the local economy while eroding Aspen’s civic capital. Vast fortunes have been made, but the cost to community comes from ostracizing the resident work force through economic segregation.Resident housing is the underpinning of any viable community, especially when commuters cause traffic snarls on Highway 82, bring gridlock to Main Street, fly into fits of road rage, and contribute to a hectic urban crush that has no place in the “Athens of the West.”Short of commandeering vacant monster homes to serve as boarding houses for workers, city council must continue to provide a stock of affordable housing. While this adds to growth, it will eventually reduce traffic and mend the disparity among social classes. Democracy will function far better in Aspen when working people are enfranchised by their votes and invested with property ownership.On the environmental front, council is challenged by carbon emissions that cause global warming and threaten the ski industry. The Canary Initiative strives to reduce the city’s carbon footprint, a daunting challenge given the ostentatious lifestyles commensurate with Aspen. Monster homes, private jets and humongous SUVs are the prime culprits, all of which reflect the dubious prosperity on which Aspen is built. Blatant material appetites are counterintuitive in a community that prides itself on liberal social politics and healthy living.Monster homes consume energy 12 months a year, and council must address this energy sink if Aspen is to have any credibility as an environmental leader. You have to wonder if the affluent, well-educated people still building these absurd palaces have any clue as to the impacts of their obsolete sense of scale. The Renewable Energy Mitigation Program, which levies a fee for excessive energy consumption, is somewhat effective for new construction, but it only requires a payoff to circumvent the intent. Pay the fee and you can gobble fossil fuels like Jabba the Hut.The city-owned electric utility needs council’s continuing support to buy renewable energy and reinstate the hydro system that once provided all of Aspen’s electric power. Wasteful homes should pay a premium for energy, with discounts for efficient homes.Private jets and over-sized SUVs are consumer choices. Exorbitant landing fees should penalize luxurious air travel, while a sliding scale for auto registration fees should do the same for Hummers and their ilk.As an immediate and symbolic gesture, council should dismantle the gas fireplace in the mall, extinguishing the flame on the Tomb of the Unknown Drill Rig. The city should also curtail decorative exterior lighting, natural gas “ambiance” fireplaces, and the midwinter, open-door policy of many retailers.If the council really wants to approach something of merit and novelty, it should support growing food locally. This means more than a community garden, but rather a community farm. Plow the earth, irrigate fields of oats, barley, potatoes and fruit trees, then hold a community-wide harvest to celebrate life in this blessed utopia.Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays.
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