Rogers: What the survey says |

Rogers: What the survey says

Aspen Times editor Don Rogers

Sometimes, I like to use the weekly newspaper poll for possible answers to questions embedded inside the ones we ask. These surveys are blunt instruments, thoroughly unscientific. But broadly, at least, they can be remarkably accurate.

For instance, the first sign the Pitkin County sheriff’s race last fall would not go the way most observers believed showed up in challenger Mike Buglione’s numbers edging incumbent Sheriff Joe DiSalvo’s in our poll.

Marginally less surprising indicators were in the early polling on the Aspen City Council race this spring strongly suggesting Sam Rose was on the right campaign track and Bill Guth had a real shot, if at least in part showing in a curious softness of support for Skippy Mesirow.

I wanted to test a theory about a darker underbelly of APCHA’s blessing in making housing affordable for a sizable part of the Aspen community: Do lower rents and more so, deed-restricted lower mortgages cause residents to feel trapped?

I embedded two questions about APCHA housing into a question about what keeps you living in this area. The great outdoors bounty, as predicted, got the most votes, 31% of the total that week. A quarter of the people answered “this is simply is home,” which is a lot less than normal America if still significant.

But I really was interested in whether people who had won APCHA’s lotteries felt more liberated or more trapped. I have long wondered why Aspen has a higher share of pessimism among locals than other ski towns and, for that matter, other resort communities. I grew up in Honolulu and spent my 20s in Santa Barbara, so I know tourist towns pretty well, having spent a quarter century in my beloved ski towns and nearly all the rest in beach towns.

Aspen has what was and is cutting edge APCHA to throw at the housing crisis, which has endured at least since the earliest ’90s, about when the high country economy derailed by the oil shale bust of the Colorado River Valley got back on track and then roared.

The city and county figured out the best way to deal with early housing pressure far ahead of the others. Of course, as always, there will be unintended consequences. Like deed restrictions trapping people along with making their homes more affordable.

I know the free-market side of this puzzle is similar, an inverse of the “Hotel California” song: You can leave any time you like, but you can never (afford to) come back. We were able to trade up selling our home and buying in a less expensive place in 2017. Had we done this in ’21 or ’22, I suppose I could have retired, if retiring were in my nature.

An APCHA “winner”? Not so much. Clawing our way back to the Colorado high country will be hard. Our two-story in the oaks and pines on five acres, can’t see the neighbors, would be worth how many millions the closer it were to Aspen? But there’s some consolation, especially at sunset with the view on our hill an hour from Tahoe, two to the beach, while we figure this out. Meantime, I don’t mind the broom closet in Aspen with everything right out the door.

That house on the hill somewhere else becomes much more the impossible dream if you’re currently housed by APCHA, I think. Maybe that’s a good guard against leaving in the first place if you’re only going to want to come back at some point. Also maybe a bit too philosophical a thought if feeling stuck in the here and now.

Most telling in the survey question about why people stay in Aspen for me was the 50-50 split in APCHA answers, with 7% saying they felt trapped by their APCHA housing to 6% saying they were liberated.

Consider that people who answered the survey skipped over the blessings of the outdoors life, the artistic and cultural benefits unique to Aspen, and even that this is simply home to answer directly to their APCHA housing. That 7% suggests a significant share of people who feel so trapped that this overrides everything else.

I might be extrapolating too far; I probably am. I wouldn’t rely on one of these polls. There’s no methodology, no care taken to understand who is taking the survey or how many times. We don’t have those resources and the feature is a lark anyway, like comics, crossword and the horoscope. We like our larks.

But among the sweet trilling, suggestions of harsher notes leak through. A nest become however beautiful a cage, at least for some, is worth consideration in the current housing crisis.

Is there a possible win-win in freeing nests as well as those who have come to understand them as prisons? Or shall this remain a moral consequence of what once seemed like the best of luck, but now means enduring that Faustian sentence for having made our bed, had our cake through APCHA?


Among the most boneheaded things we’ve done, out of no doubt plenty of boneheaded things, was running a story from The Colorado Sun last week about how the state banning the banning of plastic bags and plastic straws was confusing cities, especially Denver, whose lawyers had found the fine print.

Reader Maurice Emmer checked the statute number cited in the story, which didn’t exist. But the statute itself shows the ban on banning. And then shows the ban rescinded as of July 1, 2024.

Here’s where we’d gone really, really stupid: A new statewide ban on plastic bags begins in 2024, which we and everyone else have widely covered (and apparently promptly forgot). The story we ran last week is actually from 2019.

How that happened is a mystery to me. A very stupid one. And who made the stupid, very stupid braindead mistake to run the piece?

Well, I did. This was entirely my fault. No excuse for it. All I can do is pull the story, which I did, and apologize. I’m very sorry for such a dumb error.

Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at