Stone: Listen carefully and you can hear it: bzzz … kersplat!
September 24, 2014
I went out to clean off my car's windshield, splattered with the remains of bugs that had the misfortune to cross my path while I was running the usual senseless errands.
And as I scrubbed their tiny carcasses off the glass, I found myself thinking about a friend who told me how he was forced to sell his Aspen house and move.
He said he was forced out by high property taxes — and that sounded odd to me because local property taxes aren't really all that high. Yes, taxes are painful, but property taxes around Aspen are a lot lower than they might be, thanks to all of our nonresident rich folks who pay a lot of taxes on their huge houses for services, like schools, that they don't use.
Then my friend explained in more detail: He bought his house way back when you didn't need to be a multimillionaire to even consider buying a place in Aspen. It was a little outside the city limits, a typical older Aspen subdivision: quiet, laid back, nice homes that weren't mansions.
The neighborhood had, of course, a steady influx of ever-more-wealthy residents, which isn't necessarily a problem unless you feel the need to keep up with Mr. and Mrs. Got-Rocks. (She's actually the third Mrs. Got-Rocks. The first two — having married well and divorced even better — are living quite comfortably elsewhere. None of our business, I know. I just like to keep you informed.)
Eventually, the rich became the super-rich and the super-rich became the uber-rich. Billionaires pushing out millionaires and all that. (Quick note: I'm using the term "billionaires" loosely. Some of these guys probably could barely scrape together half a billion.)
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Soon enough, the new guys decided that they needed to "improve" the neighborhood, and they decided on major road improvements.
The neighborhood had gotten along quite nicely for decades with the roads it had, but no matter. The new guys controlled the homeowners' association, and they voted for better roads — along with a substantial neighborhood property tax to pay for the work.
And, just like that, my friend's tax bill rocketed upward. Not because of schools or the Roaring Fork Transit Authority or any other madness of our local government. His bills soared solely because his billionaire neighbors voted to improve their neighborhood and tax themselves to pay for it.
My friend got scooped up in the deal because he was one of "them" by virtue of living in that neighborhood — although he most definitely was not one of "them" based on his bank balance.
A curious case: He didn't want to keep up with the Got-Rocks, but he had to pay the price of keeping up or move away.
So he sold his house and moved. And he undoubtedly made a nice profit on the house he really didn't want to sell.
So, OK, not the saddest story in the world. And, despite my snarky tone (sorry, I just can't help myself), there are really no bad guys here, no villains.
Those newly arrived, uber-rich neighbors were just doing something entirely reasonable: upgrading a slightly shabby neighborhood to meet their own exacting standards.
(Gosh. Do the terms "upgrading" and "slightly shabby" sound familiar? Hmm.)
My friend just happened to get caught up along the way. Like those bugs I was scraping off my windshield. And I'm not a villain — or, if I am, it's not because of the carnage my windshield creates in the local bug population.
When I'm driving around, I'm not even thinking about the bugs. I barely even notice them — except perhaps when I get a little annoyed that I'm going to have to clean my windshield.
And the billionaires (again, using the term loosely) who, accidentally and incidentally, forced my friend out of his longtime home certainly did not have a single evil thought in their minds when they did it.
They were just people who want what they want — like all of us. Except that this bunch pretty much always gets what they want. That's because — and that's why — they're billionaires.
Again, they're not villains.
A lot of them are people I probably agree with on major political issues. We might not agree so much on local political issues, but that's mostly because they really don't care about local political issues.
Until local politics get in their way.
And then, without much thought, they glance around, looking for the fly swatter.
Not villains. Just people dealing with a minor annoyance.
The problem for the rest of us — a.k.a. "the annoyance" — is that these people are colossi. Like Cassius said about Julius Caesar: "Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus; and we petty men / Walk under his huge legs, and peep about / To find ourselves dishonorable graves." (Which is about the best a swatted fly can hope for.)
And so, without even really thinking about it (because they have a lot of other things on their minds), our uber-rich are remaking Aspen in their own image.
To be sure, that has been happening over and over again through the years — starting with the miners who remade the entire landscape and extending, since Aspen's rebirth as a resort, through waves of athletes, entrepreneurs, ski bums, artists, hippies, developers and assorted creative misfits of every stripe.
And while the town has certainly changed, its essential core has held solid through it all as the people who moved here recognized the value of what Aspen was and adapted their desires to match the place they came to love.
But this newest wave feels very different.
They do not adapt to Aspen — why would they? They are used to making the world adapt to them.
And if we object, we will discover that, if they notice, they just don't care.
Or, as the age-old story goes: Bug meets windshield.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is email@example.com.
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