Roger Marolt: Roger This
Aspen, CO Colorado
The Burlingame employee-housing project is $75 million over budget. So what’s all the squabbling about? Exposing this fact makes no difference.
I have been thinking lately about this affordable-housing situation that appears to be not so affordable. For those of you that have been away or are here visiting, I’ll give you the lowdown.
You don’t need to know about any of the complexities of local affordable-housing rules, regulations and goals, or the difficulty of finding land to build it on or even trying to figure out whether we need any more of it. These issues are particulars to this place, and contemplating them is likely to shrivel brain cells more quickly than sniffing acetone-based glue. All you need to know is that Burlingame is a government project, and you know enough, because those are about the same everywhere.
That said, this particular government project was predicted to cost local taxpayers about $14 million when it was approved by the majority who could think of nothing better to do than go to the polls one stunning fall day three years ago. Now, about halfway through the project, local officials are guessing that it will cost the taxpayers somewhere in the loosely gated neighborhood of $89 million.
It’s a lot of money, and I got myself worked up over it because that’s what good Americans do. At one point I was so distraught that an observer of my countenance might have guessed I had just left my wallet on the bus, with that amount of cash in it. I was trying to think good thoughts to ease my mind when a strange twist to the saga struck me. I was remembering my first dog, Crackers, who, before you get too sentimental, was a mean puppy and bit nearly everyone that came into our yard over the seven or eight years he owned us.
At that time, Crackers was the only stray anything we had ever harbored, so we got used to his agitated antics and came to believe that this was the way dogs behaved. Since he frequently bit us when we threw the ball or tossed the Frisbee for him, we wondered what all the fuss was about when friends kicked and swore, and Fosbury-flopped the fence to get away from him after he sunk his fangs into their calves, as he certainly didn’t discriminate against anyone. Sometimes people would pitch these types of fits and the only thing that happened was that their pants’ hems got torn. We believed they should have felt lucky.
Needless to say, Crackers was an excellent guard dog, and we loved him very much, maybe even more so now that he is gone and his jaws are clamping down on the hands that feed him in that great ranch in the sky, where we hope to meet him again someday ” and pray that he will recognize us.
Anyway, after letting my mind wander back to those happier times, I realized that Crackers reminded me a bit of our mayor, and that got me to thinking about politicians in general, and that led me right back to Burlingame. But in taking such a long journey back to where I began, I saw the big picture along the way, as so often happens on the circuitous route. And along that rooted path is where I stumbled over my conclusion: What difference did the enormous cost overruns at Burlingame make?
The answer is “none,” and I doubt that you believe this yet, so let’s resort to a quick show of hands to show what I mean.
OK, first of all, everybody who voted in the Burlingame election raise your hands. Just as I thought ” I’ve seen more hands on moving day. Now those of you with your hands still in the air who voted for Burlingame the last time, how many of you would change your vote if you had the chance today? I see … two? Now how many of you even read the brochure that shorted the projected cost by a factor of six? None? Interesting …
Now ” and here’s the stupid question ” how many of you who voted against Burlingame in the election would change your mind now? Just as I thought ” none. And the same question I asked the other group: How many of you bothered to read the brochure that understated the cost of Burlingame by the combined sticker prices of a couple of private jets? Yep, just as I suspected ” zippo.
Surprising? Not to me. Money has never been a factor in any political decision I can remember here that was decided by the electorate. Quick, how much did our new high school cost? The new middle school? The ARC? The artistically cantilevered bike path along Red Butte (bonus points if you can even tell me where it is)? See? We know they each cost a bundle, but nobody remembers even remotely how much. It didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter now. We wanted these amenities, and we got them. We’re spending each other’s money, and that makes it a game.
Look at the airport! Look at the shops! Look at what waiters spend on bicycles! In this town, we are financially twisted. There is so much green around here that we get warped and bowed by almost any whimsical wind. We see an $80 million overrun as the financial equivalent of five homes on Red Mountain and yawn. A dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to around here.
We Aspenites are spurred by emotion. Taking sides in local political debates is sport. We care only about numbers with descriptions following them, like 12 inches of champagne powder on a cloudless morn or 20 miles of single-track winding through wooded hill and dale. Put a dollar sign in front of any figure, and we tune out; what comes next can’t possibly interest us.
As the old saw goes, if you have to ask, you can’t afford to live here. And as long as we’re making it happen, I’m sure we never will.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold amounts of suffering and disruption, and we’ll probably tell those stories for the rest of our lives.