Meredith C. Carroll: Lift One is not a yes-or-no question
If you live in Aspen yet lack a front door, mailbox, access to social media and email, or the will to acknowledge the existence of local news, it may come as a surprise that there’s a vote on the Lift One corridor in next month’s election. For everyone else, however, ignorance is no excuse.
Since early January, no fewer than all the fliers, emails, sponsored ads and articles, ever, have been splattered hither and yon trying to coax enough votes for or against the thing that will make Aspen the best, or, you know, the worst. Also, if you don’t vote in favor of it now, it’ll never, ever (ever) happen. Alternatively, if it happens, everything will be ruined forever and ever (and ever).
Of course, if you sense one or both sides may be inflating their own significance while downplaying or mischaracterizing the other’s concerns, you should be able to turn to the ballot to better digest what’s at stake. You should be able to, except the ballot question is a gut-bomb 298-word single sentence.
“(The ballot question) makes me want to cry,” said Whitney Quesenbery, co-director of the Center for Civic Design, a nonprofit working to bring “civic design skills in research, usability, design, accessibility and plain language to improve the voting experience, make elections easier to administer, and encourage participation in elections.”
Even then it’s still not the lengthiest ballot measure she’s seen. She remembers one Florida election with a question “so long it couldn’t fit onto just a single side page of the printed ballot. But at least it was more than one sentence.”
“This sentence would grade very badly on any sort of reading analysis tests,” Quesenbery said. “A 300-word sentence is a long sentence to know what you’re talking about.”
Aspen High School English teacher Cerena Seeber doesn’t disagree. She describes it as an “obtuse and convoluted” sentence that “would take several readings to fully grasp what is being asked.” If one of her students wrote it, she’d advise them to “‘separat(e) your ideas in order to allow readers to follow you. Let’s meet to discuss the power of a period.’”
“If this sentence is designed to allow all readers to engage with the topic, I would say it is not proficient,” Seeber added.
Aspen City Attorney Jim True said the ballot measure could have been written as separate questions to more clearly address the multiple issues the public is being asked to consider. However, “in order for the project to succeed as proposed, all of the proposed approvals have to be adopted,” he said. “In this case if any one of the project approvals fails, the whole project fails. Thus, to minimize confusion and conflicting results, one question, albeit one long sentence, was drafted and adopted.”
That Aspen City Council and the developers left voters to parse a steaming pile of 298 words in two of the busiest months of the year is no small part of the Lift One et al. problem. Speaking about the Brexit debacle on Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver wondered whether having U.K. voters revisit the issue in another election could be useful in curtailing their looming catastrophe, but then concluded the “situation is far too complicated for a (single yes or no question).” Lift One is no Brexit, although it’s also too intricate to be responsibly articulated in a single (albeit epic) sentence.
The fact is that the Lift One corridor is not a close cousin of the Ark of the Covenant, which requires Harrison Ford-like protection. And Aspen’s resort-town model isn’t predicated on keeping up with the Indiana Joneses (or Vails, Jackson Holes and Courchevels) but rather staying head and shoulders above them while still preserving the community values that make it an emotion as much as a destination.
An updated lift with well-thought-out amenities is the logical next step for the west side of Aspen Mountain. The deal shouldn’t be niggled to death because the predictable anti-development pitchforks are out and poking their tines once again. At the same time, it probably wouldn’t kill the developers to show more employee housing love than just the bare minimum required by the city; it’s hard to swallow a local-centric sales pitch (“The plan we are voting on has been designed with community and public benefits first, and development second,” Jeff Gorsuch wrote in a campaign email blast last week) that doesn’t account enough for the locals who will eventually run the joint actually living locally.
Either way, the issue necessitates — and deserves — more time, not to mention a much more coherent delivery. Because the bottom line, according to Quesenbery, is that “if this is a project worth doing, it’s one worth asking about in fewer words.”
Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at MeredithCarroll.com.
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