Rogers: It’s a curious race for Aspen council, mayor
I can see the effort among the anti-STR tax forces from last fall and hear their confidence in taking elected city seats as consolation for getting crushed in the referendum.
I just wonder how merited it is. The city’s voters have been clear of late how they feel about development, developers and perceptions of those interests asserting themselves in city governance, including with short-term rentals.
But folks also seem grumpy about city affairs in the still-early emergence from the pandemic and those ripples in screaming real estate, screaming inflation and plain old screaming at all the undone construction, traffic congestion and seemingly no way to avoid that arm, that leg in the bill for a beer or a burger.
You’d think the snow this year would take the edge off, and maybe it has. I’ve taken my first year in 20 off from snowboarding and am loving the alternatives — finally finding time to learn Nordic and discover my new favorite workout, uphilling in snowshoes. Best rehab for a cranky knee I’ve found yet.
The one moment the council candidates lit up that night last week at the chamber candidate forum was when they were asked their favorite ski spots. Otherwise the forum carried an extra edge emotionally, following as it did the prank call about shooting up a school that morning, complete with terrifying sound effects. I took some solace knowing this was only one of a bunch of such calls across the state, meaning the culprit or culprits were not local.
Or it may be that the campaigns are just turning meaner as election day approaches.
I’m looking in vain for how Vancouver’s rather clever residential vacancy tax fits that reliable GOP epithet: communism. “I’m not a communist!” I think all the council candidates reinforced that point once Bill Guth put it into play. Sigh. At least no one has accused other candidates of sleeping around or taking bribes. Leave that to the congressional tilts.
But back to Vancouver: Their “empty home” tax applies to 1% of the people. Here, with something like two-thirds of the free-market homes in Aspen largely vacant investment properties, something more than the same ol’ same ol’ may be called for. The concept probably should not be dismissed out of hand, as it has been. The idea is not kooky. It works elsewhere and may well work here.
Between empty homes and the tide of STRs, the community part has taken a shaving. Which leaves the age-old question of incentives vs. souring the milk, so to speak, in the aim of resetting a balance.
Developers tend to like incentives and streamlined permitting with more understanding in enforcement when rules happen to be bent.
Community advocates, more cynically perhaps, tend toward iron all around.
And then there’s Mark Hunt, with unfinished construction projects dropped like scat throughout downtown. Are we really talking about development here, or one “builder”? Should a blanket of rules have covered the one all along, or did he happen to find creases that led to this?
Strategically, I wonder if the council incumbents erred in stirring up a predictable hornets’ nest by raising the specter of the Castle Creek Bridge, tick-tocking toward the end of its useful life a dozen years hence.
The original sin was in the ‘90s — the 1890s — when Aspen took what seemed like the easy path snaking onto Main Street, setting up decades of traffic congestion that apparently is the incumbents’ fault now, too.
Seems the City Council already had plenty to answer for, looking at child-care hiccups, a half-hidden mess at Centennial with pending litigation clamming up what incumbents can say, and this curious living lab debacle over a couple of blocks downtown while retail pumped in record sales tax revenue, bitching all the way.
If you are challenging for a seat, you make what you can with what’s at hand. I might observe that the enduring economic effects of the pandemic — inflation, worker shortage, near impossibility for would-be employees to find a place to live — are the more powerful forces at play. But we like our scapegoats, and the local electeds are easy enough targets.
“They don’t listen; they vote 5-0” is, well, pretty lame material, also lazy, and maybe a signal why there are only five candidates for three seats despite all the angst.
I do see this as the STR tax payback election at root, with the same forces against the tax and against the building and STR moratoriums before that aligned with challengers for mayor and council, clearly hoping to pull enough of that 62% vote for the tax back their way.
It would be ironic, though, if anger at Mark Hunt ultimately led to a more development-friendly council.
Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org