Guest commentary: Basalt’s river plan overlooks community | AspenTimes.com

Guest commentary: Basalt’s river plan overlooks community

Keith Ikeda and Jim Paussa
Guest Commentary

Basalt is asking voters' permission to raise property taxes in the event that the calculations for repaying a $5 million bond aren't accurate. The money would be used to make improvements to the river and prepare the trailer park for construction of a large hotel.

The upside is that after 10 years, the town is working on the river. The downside is that multiple hotel proposals have fallen through, and now there is no plan for the trailer park after they remove the residents.

Town Hall presents its plan as fixing the river without raising taxes, moving the Latinos from their homes while keeping them in Basalt and then asking residents what they'd like to see at the trailer park.

There isn't an architect or builder who would break ground on a project and then come to the owners to ask for money and tell them the original plan doesn't work anymore, but they're still moving forward.

Basalt residents are intelligent — they can handle the truth. Please tell the voters you've done the math and think you can pay back the bond without raising taxes but on the outside chance of something going wrong, a property tax will kick in. Honestly discuss cuts in services and lack of money for other projects.

The town has moved a few of the Pan and Fork residents already. And already some have left Basalt. Others are living at the Green Drake Hotel on our dime because there's no plan for them. That's admirable but poor planning.

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If you don't care about keeping Latinos as neighbors and consider the trailer park an eyesore, you have to wonder why we are paying tens of thousands of dollars to people who are likely to leave town. If you care about the plight of the Latinos, and knowing there is no plan for the trailer park since the hotels have fallen through, ask yourself, "Why the rush?" We can, as a community, decide the vision for the trailer park, its occupants (they would be a part of the conversation), and issue a bond to fix the river when we're ready.

We are asking the voters to reject the bond, help us stop removing residents from the trailer park and participate in an honest collaborative process to make a new plan. A plan that shows compassion for merchants and Latinos in Old Town.

Town Hall's process is top-down. They make the decisions and then must "sell" it to the residents. They have meetings to explain what they've already decided. Their process has two main flaws. One is that it creates winners and losers. It pits neighbor against neighbor. The other is it is open to manipulation by special-interest people and their agendas.

That's where the truth suffers. Residents were excluded when Town Hall made the decision to buy a trailer park and build a hotel. Now that voters' approval is needed for financing, they're involving the voters. That isn't the honest approach that we advocate.

In the "selling" of their plan, Town Hall has kept the conversation narrowly focused on fixing the river. There is no plan in place for the trailer park. Basalt, as a community, doesn't know what it wants because there haven't been any visioning meetings since the River Master Plan was written 12 years ago. The conversation should be broadened to include all of Old Town Basalt because a plan that doesn't include the whole thing is doomed to fail.

The Taqueria, the Pan and Fork, Old Town merchants and Latinos, Clark's Market and the gas station are all connected. It's a policy of failure to pick one from the group and start making changes.

The name for what we advocate is a "collaborative process." With that process residents discuss all of the issues and make a vision-based upon their beliefs. That process starts with questions such as, "Why do you live here?" and "What is important to your life here?" The collaborative process is more honest because there is no need to "sell" the project to the community. It would already be the community's project. That's how the River Master Plan was written. Residents weighed the various issues, wrote the plan, and the Town Council adopted it without any fighting. The best part was the agencies that were writing grants loved the notion that the plan had wide community backing. The collaborative process is a proven success. The people of Basalt are very intelligent. Given good information, they'll do the right thing. The problems are complex, not impossible. Constructing new buildings isn't going to help the Latinos or merchants in Old Town. If we want to build something, we should build community.

Keith Ikeda and Jim Paussa are residents of Basalt.

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