Archived Ants

ISSUE #153: Calling All AmeliorANTs  5/9/19

"It can be difficult to speak truth to power. Circumstances, however, have made doing so increasingly necessary."   -- Aberjhani

As the recruitment for Steve Barwick's replacement gets underway, the folks from Peckham & McKenney who are conducting the search want YOUR help in shaping a candidate profile.
Three public engagement sessions have been scheduled:
  • Monday, May 13 from 8-9a at the Pitkin County Library (Dunaway Room)
  • Monday, May 13 from 5:30-6:30p at the Aspen Police Station 
  • Tuesday, May 14 from 12:15-1:15p also at the Aspen Police Station
Since we have not undertaken a search for a new city manager in more than two decades, now is the time to make your opinions known.  Discussion points for these outreach sessions include:
  • The current and future challenges Aspen faces
  • Service priorities
  • Communication
  • Management
  • Leadership style and approach
  • Community involvement philosophy
Since the headhunters are ostensibly interested in specific "desired qualities" for this individual, The Red Ant would like to add:
  • Experience initiating cultural change in organizations
  • Appetite for questioning/challenging the status quo
  • Experience with a $120 million annual municipal budget 
  • Experience with a diverse, highly-educated, highly-engaged, politically active municipality 
If you are unable to attend one of the sessions and would still like to participate, please send your thoughts in an email to Drew Gorgey at Peckham & McKenney:

Time is distinctly of the essence as the consultants plan to provide feedback to council on Tuesday afternoon, following the third public session.
For example, if you feel strongly (as I do) that Aspen would benefit from fresh blood and fresh thinking in order to dramatically change the culture of city hall, let that be known.  My greatest fear is that those making the decisions on the candidate profile (the current outgoing council, none of whom have ever even contemplated such high level hiring, yet alone ever met a payroll) don't have the knowledge or experience base to draw from to provide critical direction on what we really need.
I particularly fear that we somehow limit the search and by default, simply hire from within.  THAT is no solution.

We don't get opportunities to impact hiring matters at city hall very often.  And given what we endured in the Steve Barwick era, your thoughts CAN make a difference.  We need to replace Barwick AND hire an assistant city manager to replace aptly-named Barry Crook.  I know you have opinions.  I certainly do! 
Please take a moment and send a quick email today.

Oh, don't worry, this one isn't going away! 

Look for sobering updates in future issues on the so-called "public process" (can you say "illegitimate"??) that got us where we are today, as well as the results of an extensive forensic accounting process that will reveal the REAL project costs, including expenditures to-date, cost estimates and funding sources the city doesn't want you to see.

With our new council named, it's not too early to support them. In that vein, The Red Ant says, "PLEASE sign the petition" HERE.  This is important. It's not a legal document nor is it binding, but it WILL show Torre and his new council that the community encourages them to give the new city office building a good hard look. Please add your name.  (You do not have to be an Aspen voter.)
If you agree that Aspen can do SO MUCH BETTER, join us!  Let's work together to build the best building we can.



ISSUE #152: ANTipathy for Mediocrity  4/22/19

"We don't need no education
 We don't need no thought control
 No dark sarcasm in the classroom ...
 ...All in all it's just another brick in the wall."

                                                       -- Pink Floyd


Congratulations to Torre, Aspen's new mayor!  In early April, Torre defeated Ann Mullins in a run-off election, 1527-1184, a 56-44% margin.  For the first time in recent memory, Aspen will have a new mayor and two new council members when the new council is sworn in on June 10.  Opportunities abound.  The sitting lame-duck council has officially been replaced by candidates who ran on platforms of shaking up the status quo, implementing far better and transparent communication and outreach, and changing the culture of city hall. Let's do it!
This is also good news for The Red Ant's press for changes to the new city office building.  During the recent run-off campaign, Torre issued the following statement in response to the growing outcry over the lack of public process for the design of building, "I support a review and changes to the final design and programming of the new city office building. The current iterations have unclear space/program allocations, do not appear to address community goals, and provide the city of Aspen employee generation and growth without mitigating for those impacts.  I support new office space being built at the Rio Grande location.  However, I share the concerns I have heard from others, that the current design is not as efficient inclusionary and complete as it should be. This municipal building is a chance to exemplify our current values and aspirations.  As such, it deserves careful attention."  Bravo, Torre.  Finally, some vision!

During the current and longer-than-usual lame-duck session, there is also an unprecedented leadership void in city hall (no city manager, no assistant city manager).  With zero oversight for the next 7 weeks, the environment is ripe for lots of staff-driven shenanigans, and the nonsense has already begun. You can bet that after reading the last issue (THE RED ANT #151), staff is freaking out.  Despite there being no completed plans, no publicly available construction schedule and no building permit, a rush to vertical construction is on the horizon.  (The current utility work - essential for whatever is eventually built there - is slated to pause at the end of May for the summer season and wrap-up in the fall.  Former-city-employee-who-is-now-in-the-big-bucks-as-owner's-rep-on-the-project Jack Wheeler recently announced that he will be pouring the foundation on June 1.  Anything to force the current plans into place despite their mediocrity. And to start collecting his inflated fee.) 
And, Sara Ott, our interim city manager, is already demonstrating how out of her depth she is in the role. In light of the current kerfuffle over the demonstrated lack of public process for the new city office building, Sara has publicly made some laughable claims to the tune of "This is an exciting time for our community to collaborate and celebrate the mountain-to-river connection," and "The city has been working on the bigger picture of connectivity from Aspen Mountain to the river for many years," never mind there has NEVER been ANY discussion of this at ANY point in the project's history until recently when The Red Ant and others pointed it out. And never mind, there is zero "connectivity" featured in any of the current plans, unless you count a nod toward better landscaping, and I don't.  Nice try, though, Sara.  But revisionist history doesn't fly with city hall watchdogs who have been watching for years. (We did note your stated promise to include the public in discussions this summer regarding interior programming and will hold you to it!)
Enter Torre. He is a disruptor. And he is also the new mayor. The Red Ant plans to support him in shaking things up.  Aspen's government is well-known for accepting and advocating for mediocrity.  It would be so much easier for The Red Ant to be an advocate FOR great things, but the city simply doesn't do great things.  If Torre can bring great things forward (like giving this ill-conceived and uninspiring project another look before starting construction, for starters), then I am all-in as an advocate. Thank you in advance, Torre.  I agree that it's far better to pump the brakes now than to own this mess and have to clean it up later.

Taking a page from the thaw in Sino-American relations in the 1970s (think Nixon's Ping-pong diplomacy), several of Aspen's community leaders, including former mayor Bill Stirling, Harry Teague and Howie Mallory recently convinced council to discuss their ideas for the new building, which focused specifically on landscaping issues and future collaboration with the parks department on external components (as opposed to the building's design itself). Council bought in to the necessary "river-to-mountain" connection, yet only gave permission for changes to landscaping aspects of the project, in collaboration with the parks department. The Red Ant absolutely agrees that landscaping decisions can contribute positively to the building as it relates to connecting town to Rio Grande Park.  Absolutely.  A lively and beautifully landscaped Galena Plaza will be fantastic.  However, respectfully, landscaping is only a band-aid for the grievous wound: the uninspiring and ill-conceived building itself. My guess is that the parks department won't want to spare too much of its budget putting lipstick on this pig. Sure, tulip diplomacy is a great first step.  We know from history that such inroads can lead to great change. But a few additional daffodils along the Jail Trail are not going to diminish the "wall" that the building itself creates. 

Notably, however, tulip diplomacy begins to address one of many aspects of the new building that are glaringly lacking.  Thank you, gentlemen, for your leadership, your vision and your very diplomatic work getting council to slow down, focus and hear you out. I am very hopeful that your input will positively impact future landscaping decisions. 

Nothing against tulips.  They are quite likely my favorite flower. And as I said, fabulous landscaping in this civic area is indeed important. (Of course it is, this is Aspen. We love our landscaping!)  Also important, however, when looking at a $46-$49 million project that includes 37,500sf of office space for our local government, are aspects of the building that truly address our community values and ideals. These aspects include: 
  • Housing:  It's appalling for the city to give themselves "credits" for housing built in the 1990s to avoid mitigating for housing now! 
  • Building Height: 47' is way too high and serves to visually finish off the "city wall" that will forever block town from Rio Grande Park and beyond, especially when the entire top floor is earmarked for 7200sf of unnecessary meeting space!
  • Programming: To date, the design is still incomplete on what's being built inside, aside from the absurd amount of meeting space.
  • Energy efficiency: Shouldn't this building be a showcase for the world's most cutting-edge technology?
  • Transportation: Imagine soon-to-be-ex-mayor Steve Skadron, he of Aspen's war on cars and feckless mobility lab experiments, defining his legacy with zero transportation improvements!?
Imagine if we'd actually had a public process and not Barry Crook's sorry excuse for "outreach" when, in show-and-tell fashion, he placed foam-mounted sketches on easels and told people what the city was doing?  If citizens had been given the opportunity to weigh in, think of how the new building would be a net zero showpiece, with visionary parking and transportation solutions, proper subsidized housing mitigation in line with what the city requires of all developers, appropriate programming where what is built is a true reflection of what is actually needed, and the building itself would actually adhere to the city's own building code. But no.

Now that Torre has been elected, however, A LOT is still possible. Tulip diplomacy has cracked open the door for the community to additionally weigh in on other aspects of the project. Ward has indicated that he wants "story poles" erected to visually convey the new building on the actual site, now that demolition work is nearly complete. This is yet another positive step. But lame-duck councilman Adam Frisch is fighting this. Hmmm, another typical decision by the sitting council that flies in the face of transparency. Adam tells The Red Ant that if the public sees the story poles now ("after the fact" as he puts it), they will immediately be shocked at the bulk, mass and height.  Of course they will.  It's one big, ugly, dense box.  And it's hardly "after the fact" when the plans are not yet complete, so this is EXACTLY the time to erect story poles!  It's curious to see Adam fight this so vehemently. But he did acquiesce, "If the new council plans to open up that discussion (on bulk, mass and height), they can."  Of course they can.  I just hope they will. And notably, after the passage the emergency moratorium of 2017 (reducing building heights to two stories or 28 feet) which excluded properties owned by the city, Adam justified this stating, "The city can be relied upon to restrict itself." Right.

The Red Ant, recognizing the current council's lack of appetite for making bold decisions (likely the reason three of them are on their way out, why Ann lost her mayoral bid and Ward is thankful he didn't have to run this cycle), suggests two imminently do-able solutions, neither of which change the footprint of the building. While not the best possible outcome, these solutions would go a long way toward much-needed improvement:

1.  Eliminate the top floor.  We do not need 7200sf of new public meeting space. WATCH this quick and compelling 2-minute video for a shocking example of how much under-utilized public meeting space is already in the immediate area. The city claims a "meeting space crunch" when none exists.  And at $653/sf (estimated), the cost savings would be nearly $5 million. Furthermore, this unnecessary third floor "box" creates the 47' height that is so objectionable. Getting the building down to 32'-34' would activate Galena Plaza for the highly desired (and frankly necessary) "connectivity" that anyone with a vision for this project acknowledges is vital.  And with that top floor gone, a little tulip diplomacy could well lead to far better capitalization of that unique parcel as it serves to unite town and the Riverfront District. (Needless to say, the elimination of the top floor would additionally remove the future potential for the city to move its entire enterprise out of the Armory and under one roof, a plan rejected earlier by voters but still conspiratorially swirling inside city hall.)
2.  Mitigate properly for housing.  What's good for the goose is good for the gander.  No more double standards!  The city should NOT play by a different set of rules than other developers and should certainly pay its own way for housing mitigation. The city should set an example. How about 100% mitigation? Show some leadership! It is stunning how councils (past and present) continually bemoan the lack of and need for more subsidized housing and in the same breath approve a building that skirts new housing mitigation?  Even more appalling is that the city says that housing they built in the 1990s paid it forward, and those units are suddenly now "credits" toward housing mitigation for this 2020 construction. Seriously. You can't make it up. Do we have a housing shortage or not, people?  Properly addressing the housing mitigation for this building wouldn't change a thing with the building itself, but it would be one giant step toward doing right for the community.

It is never too late to pause a bad project and re-group, especially when the bad project has yet to begin construction.  Let's get story poles up post haste.  The public (who is incidentally financing this thing) has a right to see what the city is planning. Yes, there will be financial repercussions if we push the pause button, but to accept mediocrity simply because the project is already in the pipeline is not strong leadership.  And accepting mediocrity is not the Aspen way.  Tulips are just the beginning.  They're a great component, but not likely to be appreciated by future generations to the degree that an inspiring, efficient and notable building that connects the urban core to Rio Grande Park will be.  If that is simply a bridge too far (and I pray it's not), at the very least, we can easily reduce the building by 7200 unneeded square feet (by losing the top floor) and properly mitigate for housing. Let's not be pansies now.

With our new council named, it's not too early to support them. In that vein, The Red Ant says, "PLEASE sign the petition" HERE.  This is important. It's not a legal document nor is it binding, but it WILL show Torre and his new council that the community encourages them to give the new city office building a good hard look. Please add your name.  (You do not have to be an Aspen voter.)
If you agree that Aspen can do SO MUCH BETTER, join us!  Let's work together to build the best building we can.

Check out Paul Menter's recent Aspen Daily News column on the subject HERE.

ISSUE #151: FrANTically Fighting the City Wall  3/26/19

"Walls are immoral."


                             -- Nancy Pelosi

"The alternative to good design is always bad design. There is no such thing as no design."
                              -- Adam Judge

Last fall, Aspen voters approved the construction of a new city hall at Galena Plaza.  The issue (specifically its location) had been tied up in a lawsuit, but when voters spoke, they said yes, 57% - 43%.  (Never mind the question wasn't technically a YES/NO on what The Red Ant has long lamented as the "Taj Mahal City Hall."  Rather, it was a "this or that" vote between "the Taj" at Galena Plaza and the purchase of an in-town commercial property from a local developer.  Needless to say, anti-developer sentiment won out and the city is already in demo mode with plans to fast-track the 37,500 sf edifice to Steve Barwick and staff-driven bureaucratic excess.)

The long and short is that Galena Plaza is indeed where our new city hall will be built. Ok, fine. But its preliminary design, and how this building functions as the seat of our local government and as a civic space we can be proud of, is FAR from its potential, and hardly what befits Aspen.

This ugly wall of a building is intended as Aspen's new 21st Century city hall. Yep, it looks like a cheap imitation of a commercial facade at Willits in the mid-valley.  And, as planned, it will effectively close off pedestrian access from town, aside from via that meager staircase.  It's nothing more than a wall that screams "stay away" and exacerbates the building's already "off the beaten track" location.
And while no one is questioning the location of this building any longer, it is worth noting that the 2006 Civic Master Plan presented clear consensus that Galena Plaza was a failed public space.  The subsequent idea to add a meeting room to the library in order to increase vitality failed miserably.  The planned city offices are currently programmed with 7200 more square feet of meeting space (the entire top floor), plus office space on the ground floor, and a jail. Lovely. 
Why all this new "meeting space" when there are already many meeting rooms nearby at the library and new police station?  No one at the city can explain where the purported "meeting space crunch" comes from.  It's obviously just a ploy by city staff to build extra space to accommodate future growth. According to city asset managers Scott Miller and Jeff Pendarvis, they want THIER OWN meeting space, besides, the extra space can always be used as "an employee cafeteria."  Seriously.  
What's proposed is hardly a great "people place."  Hardly a center for community vitality.  And hardly what Aspen is all about.  But it doesn't have to be this way!
A great deal of change is coming to "the riverfront district" north of Main Street in the coming decade.  The SCI zone on N. Mill Street is facing a major redevelopment, Clark's and the Post Office are likely to be redeveloped or at the very least, upgraded, the Old Power House will be somehow repurposed, Theater Aspen is exploring a permanent structure, and the Recycling Center is likely to go away.  This is "the last frontier" of Aspen's downtown.
With this district soon to become a more modern and cohesive part of downtown Aspen, it is critical to do everything we can to integrate it with our existing commercial core. Mill Street, northbound, is not a very pedestrian-friendly route, but alternatively, there is a strong linear spine straight down Galena Street with a visual sightline connection from Paradise Bakery straight down to Rio Grande Park.  It is critical that we keep this vital artery open (visually as well as access-wise) as we seek to link the core to the park, the river and the gateway to our trails system.  
At that very nexus will be our new city hall.  This is our chance to make this building something functional yet visionary, in line with Aspen's values.

 From Paradise Bakery (Cooper and Galena), it's an 8-minute walk to the riverfront, with the largest grade change between Galena Plaza and Rio Grande Park.  This is EXACTLY the location of the new city hall.  Here's the spot, here's the opportunity.  And the responsibility.

This location, while currently off the beaten track, doesn't have to remain "out of the way." In fact, historically, the area around Rio Grande Park was once a hub of activity, beginning with the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad yard that served Aspen's mining industry.  Then, through the first part of the 20th Century, there was a lead and zinc concentrator and the local dump along the riverfront.  Later, when the passenger train stopped service in 1949 followed by the end of freight service 20 years after that, in the 1970s the rail yard was replaced with a parking lot. By the mid-70s, residential development across the river was underway with the Hunter Creek condos and the Smuggler trailer park.  During this time, there was a farmer's market in the parking lot, but it was still a light-industrial back-water; hardly a destination for Aspen's tourists.  By 1980, however, Clark's Market and the Post Office were developed, drawing commerce and vitality to an area where increasing numbers of Aspen residents were living.  Galena Plaza, however, remained mostly empty.

The turning point was in 1989 when the area underwent a major transformation.  A group of volunteers organized to create the Aspen Community Art Park, which was the beginning of Aspen Theater in the Park. Galena Plaza was developed into the parking garage, ACRA offices and the Pitkin County Library.  This is when the area truly changed from its roots serving the mining industry to being valued for arts, culture and a riverfront park; reflective of how Aspen's economy had changed from its mining roots to a year-round resort community.

By 2012, the entire area had filled in with Obermeyer Place, the John Denver Sanctuary, the stormwater wetlands project, the Recycling Center and the skate park.  2018 brought a new police station and an addition to the Pitkin County offices. Each of these "additions" was built in a vacuum, with little to no thought about integration with town on one side (across Main Street) and the park/riverfront on the other.  As a result, it's a hodge-podge of disjointed buildings with little-to-no vitality, that in the aggregate, serve to cut the park and riverfront off from town with each new structure.

Our new city hall will be built on the last remaining parcel on this plane. Therefore, the concept of integration and cohesion with the park and riverfront district lies with how we design this building and how it serves to unite the surrounding neighborhood.
A new design, in addition to offering a more modern, efficient, inclusive and functional seat for our local government, has the potential to create an impactful gateway to Rio Grande Park, our trail system and the riverfront district that has developed into an important in-town hub for arts and culture.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop what will be one of the most highly visible buildings in Aspen that will set the standard for all other projects in the community.  It also provides a rare opportunity to truly improve the vitality of Galena Plaza.  These are just concepts, but imagine building INTO the grade vs building a 47' structure up against it.  Here are a few images that illustrate how this could look:
Around the world, municipalities and private corporations alike are striving to integrate their office needs with the given landscape and environment.  It's urban planning at its best when function can be combined with form, which ultimately prioritizes usage by people in the community.  In other words, not a single-use government office building.
And, just saying, instead of looking back years from now and saying, as we always do, "Why didn't we think of that?"  We can also explore the incorporation of modern transportation and parking solutions.  

Aspen's very specific Civic Master Plan (2006) states 8 core principles:
  • Civic & Arts/Cultural belong in the heart of town.  Aspen has the fortune of an integrated civic core in the heart of downtown and the substantial community character that has resulted.
  • Mixed-use buildings and mixed-use areas create vibrant, memorable places. Integrating complimentary uses can result in a more active and more interesting environment.
  • Focus on creating great people places.  These public places then become the backdrop for social interaction.
  • Affordable Housing & Affordable Commercial space ensure viability of civic functions and vitality of town.
  • Parking.  Address the need for parking while not inducing additional traffic.
  • Public-Private Partnerships.  Private enterprise may significantly extend the public's ability to reach public goals.  Explore win-win scenarios.
  • Pedestrian Connections. The design, programming and implementation of civic projects should focus on the pedestrian quality of the district.
  • Arts & Culture are intrinsic assets.  A sustained cultivation of the arts and culture in Aspen will further enrich the Aspen community, reinforce its international profile and strengthen its economy over the long term.
The current city hall design fails on ALL of them.

And a 2016 "addendum" makes preposterous justifications for the droll proposed design.  Imagine trying to convince people that Public Open Space will be honored by the new building's "site plan and landscape plan (that) include an improved street edge along Rio Grande Place."  Gee, thanks!  Oh, and the "current staircase will be reconstructed into a stronger design element." These are simply pathetic explanations for how the design meets the Civic Master Plan!!  The fact is, it just doesn't!!
Furthermore, in 2011, city staff prepared an assessment of long range office needs.  Notable is the rejection of the Zupancis parcel for city office needs.  (This is where the new Aspen Police Station now sits.) The memo states, "This (Zupancis) site has little or no potential for incremental development; it would have to be built all at once, at a substantial price.  Full utilization of the site means a 25,000 square foot, three-story building, which is two and 1/2 times what is necessary to consolidate city offices."  Yes, in 2011, a 25,000 sf building was considered 2.5 times what was needed.  And now we are building 37,500 sf (7200 sf of which is meeting space).  What changed in 8 years?? Clearly, the "programming" for the new building needs a good review!
The real tell as to how we got where we are today is that in 2014-2015, at Barwick's behest, the 2006 Civic Master Plan was obfuscated by a nearly 500-page Facilities Master Plan.  Lord knows what this tome cost us, but in the end, it reflected Barwick's desire for major civic projects and, regarding new city offices, his uncanny way of creating a confusing mix of options for where to stuff 50 pounds of potatoes. But this was just a distraction from the more pressing issue of whether or not we really need 50 pounds of potatoes.  The 5-year process that brought us to today was primarily focused on the new city office building's location, not its design.  When the 2018 vote determined the location, somehow the programming for and design of the new building were completely kept from the public process.  And these remain mostly under wraps today. All post-election efforts were immediately focused on funding mechanisms and a speedy demolition of the ACRA building on Galena Plaza, underway at this very moment.

The 2006 Civic Master Plan is now 13 years old and arguably needs to be updated.  But the city cannot have it both ways.  If the Master Plan is outdated and to be ignored for purposes of the new city hall, then stop pointing to it when considering potential changes to the SCI zone and the recycling center!

(Please let me know if you're interested in seeing any of these documents.  I am happy to email them to you!)
Following the November 2018 vote (when what was decided was the location for the new city hall and approval of a budget of $46-$49 million), between November 16-18, Mayor Skadron, Adam Frisch and Ann Mullins each responded to inquiries about the DESIGN of the new building, now that the site was determined.  The crux of the inquiries centered around the proposed plans "lacking substance," and questions about the new building having "the lasting significance of the architecture of the Pitkin County Courthouse, the Armory and the Wheeler Opera House," buildings which "set the tone and serve as the foundation for the character of our town." The three responding council members each stated their support for discussions about the building's design to commence.

Steve:  "I'm forwarding your note to Charles Cunniffe, the lead architect, for his thoughts.  I'm interested in his response because the direction we gave him parallels your suggestions."
Adam:  "Thanks for reaching out and sharing.  We are getting an update from staff 22 Jan."
Ann:  "You are of course correct, we want something that we are proud of, a notable piece of civic architecture.  We will have several more meetings before the final design is decided.  Please come to our meetings and express the same concerns you state in your emails.  In the meantime, I will continue to push for the best civic design."

The Red Ant is trying to get the city on record as to whether or not there will be a public process for the building's design.  Last week, in a public meeting with neighbors impacted by the demolition work, it was clearly conveyed that the architects are currently working on the design of the building so that it reflects council's direction.  (In other words, the city is building the airplane while it's in the air.)  The Red Ant is cautiously optimistic that there will be some form of public process; the city knows it has to conduct one.  But the degree to which any of the proposed plans can be changed is yet to be determined.
**At press time, council, in a 3-1 vote (Adam was absent), has enabled a small group of citizens led by community leaders Bill Stirling and Harry Teague, who spoke at last night's council meeting, to make suggestions that might improve the plan.  This is a good baby step, but several on council want to keep much of the existing plan with potential changes limited to exterior and landscaping elements.  But it IS a first step.
A lot changed in city hall between the election in November 2018 and January 2019.  Barwick got canned. (The new city hall was his baby.)  Capital asset director Jack Wheeler, whose $113,714/year job had been to oversee the design, space, size and programming of the new building, left the city to start his own firm. Through a no-bid contract, Wheeler wound up with a $455,000 deal to serve as the "owner's rep" on the new city hall project and the remodel of the Armory. (Great work if you can get it and just perfect for a Barwick crony.)
In the leadership vacuum in city hall (no city manager, no assistant city manager and a lame duck council), Wheeler (in his new role) and Jeff Pendarvis, his replacement on city staff, are currently pushing with full force to fast-track construction with little-to-no oversight.  And no publicly-approved design.
Architectural fees are mounting. The base contract with CCA for $2.3 million plus over $900K in change orders puts us at $3+ million to-date. In its sneaky and opaque way, the city is loathe to make clear exactly where the money is going.  But here we are, $3+ million in design fees in, and we don't even have a physical or digital model that's available to the public. Council, clearly in over their heads and in full deferral mode, doesn't know how simple it is to send a set of architectural plans to someone in Asia and have a 3-D model sent back the next day for $50. 
Following the 2018 vote, council was quickly removed from the process, and public input was denied.  When pressed as recently as February 11 about the public design process, Steve Skadron completely freaked out and threw a very public fit, claiming any questions about the building's design were "attacks." (Looks like Skadron, our lame duck mayor, wants to end his tenure as he served, playing the pawn of city staff.)
To-date, council has approved over $4.6 million, but again, the numbers are hard to follow.  Architectural fees, change orders, a $3.1 million demolition contract, Wheeler's deal... It all sounds like more than $4.6 million to me.  In any case, it's growing. Demolition is underway and utilities in the area are being upgraded/replaced this spring.  (This work needs to happen regardless of design.)
The plans to issue Certificates of Participation (COPs) to fund the estimated $46 million project are in motion, despite the sincere and appropriate questioning of this methodology by councilman Ward Hauenstein on March 11. Again in full freak-out mode, Skadron lashed out at his colleague for wanting to make sure that COPs are indeed the best route.
So yes, the crazy-train has definitely left the station. The preliminary design is incomplete and has never been discussed, so in The Red Ant's eyes, it has not been approved.  (Just because Barwick ok'd it and Jack Wheeler wants to start collecting his big fee doesn't mean Aspen is stuck with this crappy concept for a new city hall.)
Sure, costs will be incurred.  But while the utility work is being done this spring and fall, if we can just slow down this runaway train to contemplate, evaluate and create a really good design, we can lay this nonsense at the feet of long-gone Steve Barwick and a soon-to-be-out-the-door council that had no idea the degree to which they were being manipulated by city staff.  Besides, Jack Wheeler's fee alone ought to cover A LOT of the incremental costs!
In a strange twist of fate (or perhaps by Barwick's design), the financing decisions and the hurry-up demolition and utility work is happening in a 3-month "lame duck" session of city council. Uniquely, due to the municipal election being moved from May to March this year, the sitting council will not hand over responsibility until June.  Therefore, decisions to finance, decisions to pump the brakes, decisions to call for a true public process on the building's design, and many other big decisions must be made during this time.  But by whom? Lame ducks (Bert & Adam) may or may not be inclined to act; they may no longer care.  Angry term-limited mayor Steve Skadron will likely fight to defend his anemic legacy of ineptitude.  Sitting council members (Ward & Ann) may or may not be invested in Barwick's plan and willing to re-visit past discussions and decisions.  Newbies (Rachel, Skippy & possibly Torre) may or may not be willing to get involved.  But each of them definitely should! These are critical decisions, and now is the time to stop the madness.  While the utility work is happening, let's pause and re-group on the building's design.

With a mayoral run-off on April 2, the good news is that this issue is going to be A MAJOR campaign issue. At least it will if The Red Ant has any say.  The tea leaves are certainly promising.
On March 13, in response to growing public outcry over the lack of a public process on the design of the new city hall, Torre issued a statement: "I support a review and changes to the final design and programming of the new city office building. The current iterations have unclear space/program allocations, do not appear to address community goals, and provide the city of Aspen employee generation and growth without mitigating for those impacts. I support new office space being built at the Rio Grande location.  However, I share the concerns I have heard from others, that the current design is not as efficient, inclusionary and complete as it should be.  This municipal building is a chance to exemplify our current values and aspirations.  As such, it deserves careful attention."

The Red Ant is quite confused by Ann Mullins (a successful landscape architect and urban planner who was involved in the redevelopment of Denver's Union Station), whose statement to the Daily News regarding her candidacy assured us she will "focus on long-term planning vs short term action."  Surely this implies Ann too is willing to revisit the critical design aspects of the new city hall?  Hmmm.  I hope so, but when specifically questioned by The Red Ant whether she'd be willing to re-evaluate the building's design, she lamely responded, "The interior programming, landscape design and exterior spaces have not been finalized." Right, Ann.  Like carpet and paint colors and a couple of trees are going to make the kind of difference this project desperately needs?! C'mon. Always reticent to question city staff's decisions, she is clearly going to need to be shown the light. 

What I fear the most is that those on council today are gripped by the fear of re-opening the application to the point that it may be subject to another lawsuit or referendum.  Apparently, they'd much rather rush a mediocre (at best) project through than strive for a great one due to their fear of embarrassment and the risk of legal action.  Ugh.  Such a weak way to lead!!

Many citizens have joined together to hit the pause button on the new city hall design.  In all likelihood, this building won't begin vertical construction until spring 2020.  There is plenty of time for a public process on the building's design.
  • Support community leaders Harry Teague and former mayor Bill Stirling with a letter to the editor expressing your desire for a public process on the design of the new city hall.
  • Sign the petition to join us.  We just want a public process that will yield the best outcome for Aspen.  Sign it HERE.  It's not legally binding, and no, you don't have to be a city resident.  Send a message to council that we can do A LOT better!  
  • Send an email to council (plus Skippy, Rachel and Torre) with your thoughts on the need for a public process for a better building design.
Time is most certainly of the essence, but your input can help make a difference.  Thank you in advance for participating.
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The Red Ant thanks Peter Grenney for the use of his slides in this issue.





ISSUE#150: One GiANT Leap for Aspen  3/18/19

"You can't always get what you want

But if you try sometimes
Well, you just might find
You get what you need."
                              -- The Rolling Stones



It was far closer than The Red Ant predicted, but the Lift One Corridor measure passed at the polls on March 5, 1562-1536.  The narrow 26-vote victory means that the historic western portal to Ajax will soon see a long-needed shot in the arm and resurrection from its blighted third-world appearance, with the addition of Lift One Lodge (34 fractional units and 6 condos), Gorsuch Haus (81 rooms), plus bars, restaurants, skier services, an underground parking garage, ski museum ... and the piece de la resistance, a replacement for Lift 1A located 500 feet closer to town at Dean Street.
Notably, the city clerk's office reported that many voters had contacted the office to inquire about the location of this single ballot question on their mail ballot.  In the end, 135 ballots did not have a vote for or against the Lift One Corridor question. What on earth is up with that??
Here is a photo of my ballot before I mailed it in.  Hello??  I have looked at this from every angle and cannot for the life of me figure out how voters couldn't see the single ballot question right there.  
2019 Ballot 

But The Red Ant doesn't think it was because of the date change to early March.  (Recall that in November 2018, 62% of Aspen voters elected to change the municipal election date to March from May in an attempt to improve voter participation, never mind the elections are by mail ballot and the city clerk will mail your ballot anywhere so that you can vote.)  In last week's election, nearly 60% of registered voters (3220 of 5398) cast ballots.  The previous record for voter turnout was 2544 voters in 2009 (the Marilyn v Mick mayoral contest).  It is my firm belief that the Lift One Corridor ballot question drove voters to the polls.  In fact, the earlier election date made it far more difficult for candidates and issue committees to reach and inform voters amid the chaos of high season and the clutter of everyday relevant news and happenings in wintertime Aspen.  

There will not be a run-off in the council race this year.  Both Skippy and Rachel received the required 45%+1 votes to be named to city council on the first ballot.  You're right - not my endorsed candidates, but they won, fair and square.  Here's how the candidates stacked up:

Rachel Richards:  1736
Skippy Mesirow:  1441
Bert Myrin:  1219
Linda Manning:  1079

Notably, there were 993 "undervotes," illustrating that 993 voters either "bullet voted" for one candidate or abstained from voting in this race.

The Red Ant is not just a little disgruntled with this outcome, primarily because these two candidates will be coming to the table with slates of ambitious and idealistic policies, including: housing 60% of our workforce in town, utilizing city-owned real estate for low-rent commercial spaces to assist "local" businesses, bailing out subsidized housing HOAs from owner neglect of their physical plants, bringing Aspen's voice to bear in national politics, "scalable solutions" to the global climate crisis, 100% voter participation and addressing the high cost of healthcare.  The next mayor will have his/her hands full...

These are strong personalities.  Rachel, Aspen's godmother of subsidized housing and ever the career politician, couldn't even get out of her first post-election interview without lamenting that she won't be on the payroll until June.  Skippy will quickly learn that governing is quite different from self-promoting.  How he adapts will determine his effectiveness.  Right now, he's a lot of drama.  Can he check his ego at the door and transition into substance?

It was clearly not The Red Ant's night when it came to endorsed candidates. No candidate received the 50%+1 votes needed to be elected mayor on the first ballot, so Ann Mullins will square off against Torre in a run-off on April 2. Look for your mail ballot TODAY.  (Any questions, contact the city clerk 970-920-5060.)  In-person voting begins at city hall today as well.

Here is how the mayoral votes came in:

Torre:  1288
Ann Mullins:  943
Adam Frisch:  840
Cale Mitchell:  83

There were 77 undervotes in this contest.

The Red Ant is particularly sorry to see Adam Frisch leave the council table. He always made himself accessible to discuss the issues, even when we didn't agree.  Please take a moment to read his magnanimous thank you letter HERE.

Since you asked, The Red Ant is not endorsing either candidate for mayor. In what has shaped up to be the absolute worst choices for a very important role in Aspen politics, I simply cannot get behind either one of them.  

For a short while, I saw Ann as the least worst.  This, despite the fact she has never so much as acknowledged or returned an email aside from my candidate questionnaire. She supported the Lift One Corridor and I thought this ought to be rewarded.  But after receiving answers to a few very pointed, very pertinent and very direct questions, I realize that she is just another politician - afraid to take a strong stand and articulate it.  Hardly mayoral. This should have been a lay-up.  HERE are her answers to questions about the future of the Old Power House, the formation of a citizens financial peer-review committee to assist council with financial analysis, a new and improved design for city hall now that Barwick is gone and we can change the outdated blueprint that he worked tirelessly to railroad into being with no public design process, the pros and cons of developing the BMC lumberyard into subsidized housing, actionable ideas to actually intercept cars at the Intercept Lot, and her opinion on the city's plans to add 11 employees at a cost of $1 million to the city payroll.  

That said, I REALLY don't want Torre as mayor either.  In addition to being uneducated and unqualified, Torre is a know-it-all who regularly takes the position that no council has done anything of any value unless it was a council he was on.  Torre opposed the Lift One Corridor and spread misinformation about it.  His single most important priority is to have city-wide composting.  He hadn't shown up at a council meeting in ages until it became politically expedient for this 6th run for mayor.  And his life experience at the Smuggler Tennis Club, the Snowmass Club, Channel 82 and at New York Pizza, despite providing a "great connection to Aspen ideals and ethics" is hardly proving ground for someone who seeks to lead an organization with a $120 million annual budget!  These are hardly real-world "waypoints" that can serve as any basis for making critical decisions.  Besides, when The Red Ant asked Torre about his appetite for a large underground parking facility somewhere TBD in town, he answered, no thanks, adding "However I have advocated for raising the skating rink and putting parking under it." Okaaaaay.... 

Complicating the issue, should Ann be elected, the new council (Ward Hauenstein, Ann, Skippy and Rachel) will be charged with selecting a replacement to fill the remaining two years of Ann's council term.  There will be an application process, but it's jokers wild as to how THAT will go.  And it could very well go sideways (think of the nincompoops who might apply and be selected).  And if the Big 4 at the table cannot reach a consensus, the issue will get kicked back to the voters for yet another election.  As if we need that.  But that would mean that somehow it's better if Torre is elected.  Ugh. The prisoner's dilemma.  

The good news?  This incoming council will only be seated for 21 months, not 24.  This is a result of the 2019 election being moved from May to March.  The current (outgoing) council was sworn in to their terms which end in June 2019 so that's when the new cabal will be seated.

Me?  I plan to save my stamps and sit this ballot out.  The choices are THAT bad.




ISSUE #149: Yes on Lift 1 - It's THAT ImportANT  2/19/19

"Censorship no longer works by hiding information from you; censorship works by flooding you with immense amounts of misinformation, of irrelevant information, of funny cat videos, until you're just unable to focus."

                              -- Yuval Noah Harari


There's an INCREDIBLE amount of misinformation circulating related to the one measure on the March 5 ballot - The Lift One Corridor.  The Red Ant is all for political discourse, but the intentional spreading of blatant falsehoods designed to mislead is simply too much.


I wrote in depth about the myths surrounding the Lift One Corridor plan in last week's issue.  Read it again HERE.  


In short:
  • The requested change from Conservation to Lodge zoning DOES NOT jeopardize an animal refuge, migration corridor nor protected land. The existing Conservation zoning DOES, however, allow for residential development, among other impactful uses.
  • The city's $4.36 million investment in the overall project IS NOT a subsidy to the developers; these funds will finance the necessary infrastructure work on Dean Street and S. Aspen Street, plus the parks. There is no subsidy, unless you count workforce housing.
  • There is subsidized housing for 67 employees provided by the developers, in accordance with the land use code.  These units will be available prior to the certificates of occupancy being granted for the lodging properties. And both properties will continually contribute to the RETT, generating millions of dollars toward hundreds more units of subsidized housing over time.
  • The new lift alignment (500' further down toward Dean Street) WILL NOT require the removal of "tens of thousands" of trees.  This was just some hysterical BS featured in a letter to the editor,
  • This proposal CANNOT and WILL NOT go back to the council table for "revisions."  This is it.  If voted down, Lift One Lodge moves ahead with its existing approvals that preclude a lift corridor down to Dean Street. SkiCo WILL NOT replace 1A unless the bed base is increased by the two proposed properties.  World Cup WILL NOT return unless we replace the lift and develop a first-world base area there.  This is NOT an a la carte menu. 
  • The status quo is NOT AN OPTION.  Change is coming.  It's the Lift One Corridor proposal or it's four single family homesites.  Public or private access. Period. You decide.
  • SkiCo is NOT planning to replace 1A "just because."  That lift is old and there aren't many parts left.  But without a significant development to justify the cost of a new lift, the current lift is what we'll have ... until it breaks down one last time.
In case you missed it, Mike Kaplan, President & CEO of SkiCo penned an endorsement of the Lift One Corridor.  I'm printing it in its entirety here because it's vital for you to know where SkiCo stands.  They are a critical stakeholder in the proposal and worked diligently with the city and both lodging partners to negotiate this great solution. Don't just take my word for it!


Almost two days after a snowstorm last week, I skied a favorite line between Henry's and Super 8. It's tight, steep, every turn counts and, as usual, it was mostly untouched. Aspen Mountain holds all sorts of stashes like that. It's why Ajax skis so much bigger and so much more interestingly than its acreage might suggest.

One reason that line gets overlooked is because it's accessed by a 47-year-old fixed-grip double chair: Lift 1A. I wondered about that as I skied it. Will adding a modern, higher-capacity lift as part of the Lift One corridor project mean more tracks in my favorite places? What will the new lift - and the whole corridor plan - do to the experience of skiing that special side of the mountain?

It'll change it. You can't argue that. And since choices in Aspen are so often framed in terms of their downsides, much of the conversation has gone that way. But as I think it through, I see a lot of upsides: The new lift will give better access to the Dumps and the whole west side. It'll make doing laps over there a first-choice option. Come springtime, that's where I would start-carving corn turns on Fifth Avenue and Silver Rush, and then watch from a patio at the new Gorsuch Haus or the Skier's Chalet Steakhouse as Aspen Mountain's army of experts rip down Corkscrew and Slalom Hill.

People develop personal attachments to the way they ski a mountain, particularly Ajax. 1A has long been that treasure you hit later in the day. But could drawing skiers over there earlier have effects elsewhere? Maybe an extra Walsh's-to-Jackpot lap on a powder morning or another pass through the Dumps as skiers are more balanced between the Silver Queen Gondola and the new lift. I expect we'll see a new moment of pause at Rubey Park as people get off the buses and make the call. Two portals at the base is rare in the ski world and in this case they'll force a reassessment of what to ski when by even 2,000-day Ajax regulars.

Of course, the most basic skier upside of the 1A proposal is obvious. Ski area planning 101 says you bring the lift to the bottom. This goes farther: It brings the lift all the way to town. At SkiCo, we have obsessed over making sure the plan meets our requirements for ski area operations, World Cup-scale events, skier safety and flow. We would never agree to a base reconfiguration that ignores the skier experience or undermines our ability to host ski racing in the future.

At 60 feet wide at its narrowest point, the proposed ski return leading to the new lift is comparable to the bottom of the Little Nell run as it funnels into the right side of the gondola, which is 58 feet at its narrowest. Simply put, the skiing works. And while losing the last few turns on Norway is not ideal, it's necessary to make the project work. The overall tradeoff for more balanced usage of the west side of the mountain offsets that small terrain loss.

The proposal honors our skiing past in a way that seems fitting for a town as history-obsessed as Aspen. Frankly, the current state of the original Lift 1 artifacts should embarrass all of us. They'll be front and center now, more accessible to the public and a reference point for a ski museum brought to life by the Aspen Historical Society. That's just one aspect of a revitalized base area that will include dining, après, and skier services. The new development will bring vitality to a side of the mountain that has been too sleepy for too long, and it's what would justify SkiCo adding lift capacity to that side of the mountain.   

I'm not ignoring the fact that the plan comes with two sizable buildings. But with the Hotel Lenado and the Mountain House having joined the list of the lodges we've lost over the past few decades - totaling hundreds of lost beds - I welcome Gorsuch Haus and Lift One Lodge. They're in a location where bed base belongs and where they'll have the least impact compared to adding them elsewhere: walking distance to both transit and all of the amenities in the core.

On balance, the upsides really do outweigh the downsides here. I've seen lots of ideas for the revitalization of the base of 1A, and this is the best plan I've encountered. Let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Please join me in supporting the Lift One corridor proposal at the ballot box.
            - Mike Kaplan, 2/15/19

In addition, in an article in today's Aspen Daily News, the developers reiterate what Issue #148 explained - it's now or never.  And again, SkiCo weighs in, "Cutting the master plan into its constituent parts compromises the individual elements and cripples the master plan."  Read it HERE.  

And, due to an online edition snafu last week, you may have missed columnist Paul Menter's thoughts on the Lift One Corridor.  Read it HERE. "Everyone gave up something to get a lot for the community. Primary among the collaborators, the Gorsuch Haus folks gave up having the Lift 1A terminus adjacent to their planned hotel at the top of South Aspen Street. The Lift One Lodge folks, who already had development approvals in hand, reworked their building design in order to provide access for the ski return to pass through their property. The city of Aspen pushed for the community-serving amenities, including the lift relocation, a new ski museum, refurbishment of the Skiers Chalet building, reconstruction of Dean Street, and a consolidated Willoughby/Dolenisk open space, and put the capstone on the collaboration by agreeing to provide up to $4.36 million towards the completion of those community-serving facilities."

The Lift One Corridor question is truly critical for Aspen.  It's far more important to consider the immense community and ski area benefits before indulging individual interests, whether they be those of NIMBY neighbors or a desperate politician whose only hope at re-election is to ride the coattails of manufactured dissent.

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Still undecided?  Have specific concerns that you'd like to personally ask the principals?  Jeff Gorsuch, Bryan Peterson, Michael Brown and others involved in the plan will be at The Gant on Thursday, February 21.  Please stop by to personally get at the heart of the issues that YOU are concerned about.  One-on-one.

What:  An Evening for Undecided Voters
Where:  The Gant, 610 S. West End Street, Aspen
When:  Thursday, February 21 starting at 5:30 pm
Who:  Partners from Gorsuch Haus and Lift One Lodge
RSVP:  Click HERE to let them know you'll be coming!

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You should have your ballot by now.  Questions?  970-920-5060 or 970-920-5180

Register to vote today.  HERE's the form.  Fax it to 970-445-3007


ISSUE #148: You cAN'T Vote Without These Endorsements  2/13/19

"You've got to do what's right, or what you think is right. And you've got to make tough decisions. And you've got to be willing to take on your friends when you disagree with them."

                              -- Antonio Villaraigosa



As noted recently in Issue #147, another municipal election is upon us.  In fact, my guess is that you received your mail-in ballot today. Don't wait.  Vote and return it now.  HERE is my "quick and dirty" cheat sheet if you want to go blind-faith with me. And no, of course I don't mind.  Otherwise...
Please take time to consider the candidates for mayor and council.  After all, this board makes the big decisions that affect our lives.  Prior councils have brought us the hydro plant, the brou-ha-ha over a brewery at the Old Power House, building moratoriums, geothermal drilling experiments, and summer 2018's narrowing of Aspen's chokepoint, the Castle Creek Bridge, in order to widen a bike lane, among other mind-bending pet projects and pipe dreams.  But to keep it in perspective, we've survived many a nincompoop on council and even more stupid decisions.  We willsurvive the outcome of this council election too, but we better our chances by keeping our focus on the "least worst" candidate(s). 
This is actually a much bigger deal than which "great guys" (or gals) we elect on March 5.  The sole measure on the ballot pertains to the "Lift One Corridor."  We finally have an incredible and collaborative solution to the western portal to Ajax that both honors our history and ensures vitality in this blighted area for the future.  This is a generational decision; one fraught with some of the most nonsensical objections based primarily on rumor and false information.  I've been nothing short of appalled at the lengths that the old "bring back the quiet years" cabal have gone to convolute the matter at hand in their misinformed hopes of maintaining the decrepit status quo. 
This is our chance as a community to reinvigorate and revitalize the western portal to Ajax along South Aspen Street. I've written about the components in their many iterations over the years, but what we finally get to vote on is the result of an incredible, negotiated compromise between the city, SkiCo, Lift One Lodge and Gorsuch Haus.  Among other things, the project will bring 185 new "keys" to our lodging base, housing for 67 employees, a replacement lift for 1A that begins 500 feet further down the hill at Dean Street, Skiers Chalet Steakhouse will see new life as a restaurant at the new base area, Skiers Chalet Lodge will become a long-desired ski museum, and a reconfigured Willoughby Park, Lift One Park and Dolinsek Gardens will be combined into a year-round publicly-accessible open space the size of Wagner Park.  Check out these fabulous winter and summer renderings:
I hit on a couple of "fake news" rumors in the last issue, specifically pertaining to the underlying zoning and a purported taxpayer subsidy.  I will reiterate the facts here, and dispel several other myths that detractors, including several candidates for office (ahem, Torre and Skippy) are blabbing about. I encourage you to verse yourselves in countering the misinformation that is circulating.  Everywhere I go, someone has heard some of this BS.  And it is BS.  We will not get a second chop at this question, despite what you hear. Please join me in doing what you can to educate the uninformed.
  • Myth #1:  "The proposed land for the Gorsuch Haus project is 'conservation land,' designated to be protected forever not unlike a land trust or animal refuge." WRONG.  Aspen's land use code specifies permitted uses for "conservation zoning" (C) as residential dwellings, stables, cemeteries, railroad and temporary special events, plus conditional uses such as sewage disposal, ski lifts and other ski facilities.  Land zoned "conservation" is NOT "protected" like a nature preserve despite the word "conservation" confusing some folks.  The ballot question proposes re-zoning this (C) land to Lodge zoning (L) - not SKI as previously reported.  (FYI Lodge zoning is even less impactful than SKI, which would have provided for more elaborate ski area base operations.  Now that the lift terminus will be lower at Dean Street, it is no longer necessary for such extensive re-zoning at the top of South Aspen Street.)
  • Myth #2:  "The city is giving the developers a $4.36 million subsidy." WRONG.  Nope. Not a subsidy at all.  The city is INVESTING $4.36 million in the overall project, with funds specifically going to the PUBLIC access and amenities along the proposed Lift One Corridor.  (And not until the replacement lift is running.)  These include long-overdue and necessary improvements to infrastructure that the city SHOULD ABSOLUTELY pay for, such as South Aspen Street itself and the reconfiguration of city-owned Willoughby/Lift One/Dolinsek parks (which will be combined into a huge open space) to accommodate the new lift alignment. (Recall that the COMMUNITY pressed for the lower lift terminus which brought the city to the table with our public park parcels.)  And, in case you were wondering about the ski museum, the old Skier's Chalet Lodge is  being moved and renovated by the developers, and will be administered as a museum by the Historical Society.
  • Myth #3:  "There is no subsidized housing associated with this project." WRONG.  This is the most egregious fallacy.  The developers are providing housing for 67 (SIXTY-SEVEN) employees upfront, prior to certificates of occupancy, in full compliance with the city's land use code. In addition, Lift One Lodge and Gorsuch Haus will continue to fund subsidized housing through both the RETT and the housing sales tax.  It is estimated that over the next 30 years, the two properties will generate over $40 million specifically towards housing.  For a project that will add 185 "keys" to Aspen's lodging inventory, that's approaching a 1:1 ratio!  As an interesting data point, as part of the city's "lodge incentive program," the W (Sky Hotel replacement) is mitigating for two employees. TWO. Instead of housing, under the current program they paid "retail" for parking and trip generations during construction (a LARGE expense for sure) which enabled this small housing mitigation number.  The same dollars to the city, but the only permanent byproduct is the housing for TWO.  Again, this is allowed.  (Got a problem with the housing requirements?  Challenge the land use code, not the project!)  
  • Myth #4:  "The new lift alignment will require the removal of 'tens of thousands of trees.'' WRONG.  And horse-puckey.  The new lift terminus will be 500 feet lower than where it is today, and the only "environmental" impacts will be the reconfiguration of the three parks. This is simply a ridiculous exaggeration!
  • Myth #5:  "Elect us (Torre and Skippy) to council and we will send this back to the table to get 'a better deal.'"  WRONG.  This one doesn't go back to the table.  If approved by the voters, it's happening.  If voted down, re-zoning for the Gorsuch Haus doesn't happen so that hotel won't get built. SkiCo has already said that without both Lift One Lodge AND Gorsuch Haus, they will not replace Lift 1A.  FIS has told Aspen that without a refurbished base area and a replacement lift, we will not see World Cup races here again.  Most notably, Lift One Lodge is already sitting on approvals for an earlier design and they can begin construction immediately. Which they will. Their earlier design DOES NOT include the Lift One Corridor down to Dean Street; that land will be used for their already-approved project.  All of these are material facts.  There is no second pass at this, regardless of what you hear.  This is it.
  • Myth #6:  "I like 1A the way it is.  Vote NO and keep it that way."  WRONG.  The status quo is not an option.  If this measure goes down, the 11 acres in question at the top of South Aspen Street will remain zoned "Conservation." Recall that Conservation zoning already allows for residential development.  Look for that land to be sold and up to four (4) large private residences to be built on that site in the very near future.  For those of you who remember the Ski Club land at the top of South Mill Street, take a spin up there this week.  Or better yet, ski past on Summer Road and look down.  See all of those mega homes where the ski jumps used to be?  You get the picture.
  • Myth #7:  "What, like SkiCo won't just replace 1A when it's time?  Of course they will."  WRONG.  The Red Ant loves a good "I told ya so," but this one pains me to think about.  SkiCo has made it clear that they won't replace 1A without the Lift One Lodge AND Gorsuch Haus rooms added to our lodging inventory.  They sure as heck won't take a shine to putting a brand new lift in for four private residences.  Oh, and do you really think 1A has a long lifespan ahead.  Really?  We all love "Aspen's 5thMountain" over there on the west side.  I for one won't like it nearly as much if I have to hike.
The Lift One Corridor question is a generational opportunity for Aspen.  We built the gondola in 1986 and The Little Nell in 1989.  These pivotal changes were controversial at the time too, but in the end became essential (and beloved) assets to Aspen the ski area, Aspen the town and Aspen the world-class destination resort.  We have a similar opportunity to enhance our ski area, our town and our world-class facilities with the Lift One Corridor.  This is a great solution.  Let's do this today, because if private homes are built on that site, we can't just go find another.  VOTE YES.  And bring the mountain back to town.

And who better than to back me up on the virtues of this issue?  How about the Aspen Daily News' Paul Menter.  Read his assessment of the project HERE
For more information, visit  I am attaching these images because they most vividly show just how great the Lift One Corridor will be:

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We're electing a new mayor because Steve Skadron is thankfully term-limited out, and two council seats are up: Bert Myrin is running for re-election to his, and the seat currently held by Adam Frisch is up for grabs since Adam is term-limited out.
As has become par for the course here in the A-town, much of what we're given to vote on is a race to the bottom - of the barrel.  For as intelligent a voter base as we have here, it's a crying shame when "the usual suspects," like phoenixes rising from the ashes, crawl out of the abyss and try their hands again and again to win Aspen's "good guy" contest.  Thankfully, I have found the best solution(s).  Or should I say, "least worst."
I have asked each of the 8 candidates (4 for mayor, 4 for council) to answer a brief questionnaire.  What's different this time around is that each questionnaire is different - tailored to each candidate in order to delve further into some of their specific platforms.  Each questionnaire ends with the same Yes/No section and a quick "lightning round" so that you can compare their stances on the issues of the day.  Each candidate graciously participated, so I encourage you to take the time to read each one, as submitted (linked below).
But I'll keep it simple, since it's abundantly clear what needs to happen.  We need to elect a new mayor.  VOTE ADAM FRISCH.  Period. It's been generations since Aspen had someone who is raising a family here in the mayoral role.  We spend a lot of time talking about how difficult it is to do this, so who better to address the issues head-on?  Adam is by far the most qualified candidate, with a proven 8-year run on city council.  He has been a champion of our subsidized housing program and has supported governance changes and the program-wide census and inventory that we desperately need. Sure, I too wish he was more of a hard-ass and had taken a stronger and earlier stance against city manager Steve Barwick (moving to remove him at some point sooner during his 8-year tenure), but in the end, it was Adam's vote that finally got Barwick out the door, so that pulls a lot of weight with The Red Ant.  While Adam and I do not always agree, that's okay, we ALWAYS communicate, and for that I am grateful.  And you should be too.  Adam is accessible.  We need a listener in the mayoral role as we navigate a critical crossroads in city hall, including the hiring of a new city manager and a generational opportunity to change the culture there.  The Red Ant wholeheartedly supports Adam. He has the best understanding of the relationship between the resort and the community.  Local business owners won't be frozen out of issues affecting them, as Hopkins Ave restauranteurs were when the city tried to remove their parking places in favor of a bike lane, and transportation providers were by the Skadron-Barwick regime and their fatally flawed "Shift" proposal.  Term-limited out as a councilman, Adam will not have a role on council unless elected mayor.  We need him at the table.  VOTE ADAM FOR MAYOR.
Three other fellow citizens have thrown their hats into the mayoral race, including sitting councilwoman Ann Mullins, who still has two years left in her current term.  (Ann is playing with house money in this race -- if she is not elected mayor, she will still serve on council until 2021.  One way or the other, we'll still have Ann.)  Ann's bid for mayor is interesting, especially with Barwick leaving. She felt that 19 years wasn't long enough to evaluate keeping the old fart around.  That alone, and her record of over-reliance on city staff recommendations vs evaluating proposals and making decisions on her own, tells me that while a valuable (and most often dissenting) voice on council, she is certainly not suited to lead, especially at this critical juncture.  To quote my friend and favorite writer of letters to the editor, Maurice Emmer, "With Ann at the helm, there will be no fear of progress." And maybe I shouldn't bring up her tenure on the Red Brick Center for the Arts board (the city-owned home for arts organizations) which, like Nero, fiddled while the executive director embezzled $150,000 right from under their noses.  Ooops. I guess I just did.  Ann on council for two more years?  Whatever, fine.  As mayor, with oversight of a $120 million annual budget, not so much.
And, Torre.  It's his 5th run for mayor.  I simply don't see it.  Never did. (The 80's called. They want their one-named tennis instructor back.) Torre wasn't the right guy for mayor before, and I have a hard time believing that his "life experiences" in the meantime on the courts at the Smuggler Racquet Club and the Snowmass Club, and at New York Pizza have prepared him in any way to lead the board of what is effectively a corporation with a $120 million annual budget.  He's a smooth talker alright, but about what exactly? Mandatory composting?  More work on the roundabout and S-curves? Really??  We have to hire a new city manager, face pressing development challenges, address housing needs and oversight, and contemplate a major airport expansion, among other real issues.  We can't be electing people best suited to ride in the Winterskol parade (which has been cancelled for years, by the way).  What this town needs is leadership.  I respect Torre's passion, but sorry, the 5th time isn't the charm either.
An honorable mention goes to Cale Mitchell, a newcomer to the political scene.  That he actually works (two jobs) and is willing to serve is notable and to be commended.  Thank you for jumping in, Cale.  It's always great to get the perspective of an outsider on the nonsense that we too often come to accept as a matter of course. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, especially relating to environmental stewardship.  A "Green New Deal" for Aspen may be a bridge too far (it certainly is for The Red Ant), however, your thoughts are not in a vacuum, and I encourage you to get involved on citizen boards where members are likely thinking similarly about hemp, composting and sustainability.  That process will broaden your knowledge of the government - resort - community dynamic and better position you to jump in again (should you choose to) with more experience.
For council, this one is easy.  We've done it before.  It's called "the bullet vote."  You can vote for two, but The Red Ant says, no, this time just vote for one - the best one - and get that candidate elected on the first ballot.  Don't advance a second candidate "just because."  In this election, The Red Ant says, BULLET VOTE FOR LINDA MANNING.  Let's get Linda in.  She is the very best candidate in the race.  Our current city clerk (who has seen the sausage being made in city hall and is over it) brings an enthusiastic, pro-business, fresh perspective to the ballot.  All too aware how hard the city makes life for business owners and residents alike, Linda knows the systems and the hurdles to streamline.  And how to get this done.  She has been in the closed meetings where "the whole story" is discussed yet kept from council and the public.  She'll be an incredible asset when questioning staff on their selective facts.  She is a 40-year-old political newcomer who actually works for a living and lives in subsidized housing.  When it comes to representing these two critical constituencies (workers and housing residents), with Linda on council, she will check the boxes no other office holder can. With few exceptions, for far too long we have elected a bunch of under-employed, free-market housing dwellers to make decisions that affect those whose lives and livelihoods are entirely foreign to them.  Her peers in Aspen's NextGen (especially) and the business community will be very well-served with Linda at the table.  Who better to understand the ins and outs of APCHA, especially when faced with critical governance and policy changes, than someone who actually lives in an APCHA unit (and if elected, will be faced with assuring her own program compliance by giving up one "real" job and finding a new one)?  Who better to address government inefficiencies and roadblocks than someone whose job at the city deals with the frustrations of the business community on a daily basis?  Linda is far and away the best candidate for city council that we have been presented with in years.  Let's bullet-vote her in on the first ballot, and deal with council seat #2 (hopefully) in a run-off. 
Cue the "least worst" scenario...
Bert Myrin and Rachel Richards comprise an interesting match-up for that second council seat.  Both are qualified candidates.  I agree and vehemently disagree with both of them.  Bert was my choice four years ago when we all bullet-voted Adam onto council on the first ballot, pitting Bert vs our old nemesis Mick Ireland in a run-off.  I've worked with Bert successfully in the past to defeat the hydro plant, and respect his intellect, but found myself frustrated during his first term on councl when he had solid ideas and opinions yet was never assertive enough to take an independent and strong stand.  He was always for Barwick's removal, but waited for two other votes versus pushing and politicking to get them.  (The Red Ant wants representatives who lobby against all odds for what they believe, even if they go down 1-4 every time.) Stand for what you believe! It matters!  I think he is 100% on the wrong side of history with his current and vociferous objection to the Lift One Corridor.  Bert, if you don't like the housing requirements of the city's land use code, as a councilman, you should have worked to change them!
I do hope that Bert ends up in a run-off against Rachel, however. She and I rarely see eye-to-eye politically, and I am concerned about the "career politician" role she has worked hard to create for herself by serving 26+ years in local elected office. (And you thought Mick was around for a long time!?) Elected experience is one thing, and if elected, she certainly shows up on day one ready to roll.  But I'm concerned here as I would be with any longtime local about the lack of "waypoints" learned through real world experience. This makes it very difficult for these folks to navigate real world issues.  (We've seen it all too often with Mick Ireland and Skeve Skadron.) Besides, how will she adjust to a lowly council role after serving in the rarified air (and paycheck) as mayor and then county commissioner?  With such past leadership roles, how will she adjust to serving with a first-time mayor?  I worry about her lack of experience in anything but elected office, and wonder what she plans to do work-wise in order to remain in compliance in her APCHA unit. But I do know that she does support the Lift One Corridor.  For now, I say let's keep these two on ice and hope for a run-off when we can delve a lot deeper in a head-to-head match-up.
Sorry, I simply cannot get behind Skippy Mesirow for council. Our youthful and uber-enthusiastic community organizer remains the empty suit that I had him pegged as when he ran two years ago.  At the time, I wrote that he "speaks in flowery platitudes from 20,000 feet." The only thing that has changed is the elevation; it's higher.  He has, however, spent the past two years marshalling his forces and organizing his support. He wants power THAT badly.  But he knows very little, relying on his relationships to extend his credibility. He's another smooth talker and "ideas man," not to mention a subsidized housing zealot, hell-bent on housing 60% of Aspen's workforce IN TOWN.  At any cost. He doesn't care that our urban growth boundary is nearly tapped out; according to Skippy, we can just buy units on the free market and sell them on the cheap to employees.  This, and his steadfast belief that without a government effort to "rebuild Aspen's middle class, Aspen will cease to exist," actually scare me.  It should scare you too.  That hefty $120 million annual city budget has the potential to subsidize all kinds of foolish experiments if put in the wrong hands.  Don't we know it!?  Just how concerned should we be when one of his supporters writes to the papers that Skippy is "smart enough" to serve on council?  The Red Ant says "very." A utopian idealist with youthful naivete and lack of any real-world work experience or pressure, during a time when we are trying to change the culture in city hall away from pet projects and overly-dramatic declarations, portends a scenario of chasing unicorns over the rainbow.  The final straw for me, however, is Skippy's reluctance to wholeheartedly support the Lift One Corridor.  He should be cartwheeling in the streets about the opportunity itself, not to mention the housing provisions, but he's not.  He purports to be "getting there," while lamenting that the hotels are not dorm rooms, and begging voters to elect him to "fix" what has been proposed. Puh-lease.  And, no thanks, Skippy Ocasio-Cortez.  (But can he dance?)
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How can you get involved?  Support a candidate.  Every $10 donation helps. Lend your name.  Volunteer.  Retail politicking is a dying art, but it's a proud tradition in Aspen.  Join in.



ISSUE #147: Cautiously ExuberANT .. with an Election Looming  1/29/19

"Things won't change unless we have new types of candidates."

                               -- Elise Stefanik


In a long-overdue move heartily endorsed by The Red Ant, city council recently asked for and received the resignation of city manager Steve Barwick.  His actual departure cannot come soon enough, but the ninnies on council who narrowly voted 3-2 to remove him are now grappling with how and when to show him the door.  Ward, Bert and Adam voted to axe him, while Ann "needed more time" to consider it (despite him being in this role for 19 years). I wasn't there, but I assume Steve Skadron wept.  The dearth of real-world work experience by any single member of this board became immediately evident.  Upon accepting Barwick's resignation, they neglected to discuss or even contemplate appointing an interim successor, restricting his actions (hiring/firing/promoting/demoting) in city hall, and setting his last day.  So, in this leadership void, as he has always done when serving as overlord to our feckless elected bodies, Barwick took control and ran the table.
By the terms of his overly-generous 2010 employment contract, negotiated by his old pal Mick Ireland when he was mayor, Barwick exits with what will likely be a $500,000+ payout, payable within 20 days of his departure.  This includes a year's salary ($200K) + the buy-back of his city-owned house* ($210K) + and an equity buy-out on the appreciation of said house since its purchase in 1995 (~$100K).  Oh and don't forget all of those vacation and sick leave hours he has undoubtedly banked. My guess is this will be an additional five figures. Next (cue the harmonicas and windchimes), led by Bert Myrin, our ineffective leaders started singing kumbaya, and with your money have decided to REWARD Barwick for his service with a bonus of 6 additional months in the "city-owned" city manager's house, plus 6 additional months of city healthcare.  Why? Because Barwick had the audacity to ask for it.  And, as Ward told me, "It's just not right to kick a guy when he's down."  (Note to Ward: Complying with the terms of a mutually agreed upon contract is hardly kicking someone when he's down.  And why would he be down? He's a half million dollars richer and dancing all the way to the bank!) The next challenge is getting the man out of the building.  At press time, Barwick sits in his office, ostensibly looking for his next opportunity, but in the meantime, remaining on the payroll until he deems it time to leave, continuing his poisonous reign and fostering the toxic culture of hubris that has infected our local government for decades.  Rumor has it that the city will be hiring a search firm, and that citizens may have roles on a search committee, but for now, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  More on council's rationale for removing Barwick HERE.
One bright light is that Barwick's assistant and henchman, aptly-named Barry Crook, has officially left the building.  Gone.  He has 6 months to sell his city-owned condo back into inventory. *This concept of "selling" city-owned assets (that you and I paid for) to city employees is one that must stop.  Immediately.  That it started in the first place is a travesty. Each city-owned dwelling should be rented to key city employees and tied specifically to their employment by the city. No ifs, ands or buts. But no. The city of Aspen has numerous units that they do rent to employees, but even more that they have sold. The game is supposed to mirror APCHCA's policies, but in one quick glance, it became obvious that Barwick made some special deals for his special pals, specifically one aptly-named Barry Crook.  The Crook purchased a 3-bedroom condo at #7 Water Place in 2009.  At the time, he was making $110K/year.  He has zero dependents (so why a 3-bedroom??), which put him in Category 4, according to the APCHA guidelines which the city "must" follow. Or not. The Crook paid just $151,000 for this unit that dictated a Category 4 sales price range of $209,000 - $309,000, a discount of $58K - $158K -- from Steve Barwick. (This research was obtained through an open records act request of the city HR department.  But the information was "misrepresented." The Red Ant cannot confirm if this was intentional, but a quick look at the county assessor's records on the unit cleared up all discrepancies.)
Clearly, such favorable sales have been selectively doled out by Barwick over the years, at prices that are effectively raises (more like gifts). Why should city employees get privileged deals like these, outside of the governing rules of APCHA, when other members of the community cannot?  As these units turn over, it is imperative that we get ourselves out from under the vicious cycle of buying them back with appreciation.  These assets should be utilized as rentals to attract and retain key city employees, period.  If employees wish to own their homes, they are entitled to apply to APCHA, just like everyone else.  In the meantime, they can rent. 
So now, notoriously passive-aggressive Barwick clogs the drain, occupying his 3-BR duplex at 705 Cemetery Lane for another full year, and in so doing, prevents the city from attracting the very best replacement because we won't be providing housing.  And that's AFTER cashing his half-million dollar check.  (As I've often said, as long as we elect people without real-world work experience to govern, we will get outcomes that reflect their cluelessness.)
It's time.  With the passage of Aspen 2A in November, Aspen's municipal election is now scheduled for March 5.  And as much as I am loathe to tell you, campaign season is in full swing and voting will commence in three short weeks. Key dates to put on your calendar:
  • February 6 & 13:  Aspen Business Luncheon - meet the candidates
  • February 7:  Squirm Night - sponsored by the Aspen Times & Aspen Daily News
  • February 11:  Ballots mailed out / Ballots available for early voting
  • February 11:  The Red Ant endorsement issue out this week
  • March 5:  Election Day
DO NOT VOTE until you have received The Red Ant's endorsement issue, which will include candidate questionnaire responses and my thoughts!  Again, this is a municipal election, so only Aspen residents may vote. Verify your voter registration and mailing address HERE
We will be electing a new mayor (Steve Skadron thankfully cannot run again because of term limits), and two council seats are up, those held by Adam Frisch and Bert Myrin.  
Adam is running for mayor, as is sitting councilmember Ann Mullins.  The mayoral contest looks like this:
  • Adam Frisch
  • Ann Mullins
  • Cale Mitchell
  • Torre
On the council side, Bert is running for re-election and there is one open seat (Adam's, since he is running for mayor).  Here's the docket:
  • Linda Manning
  • Skippy Mesirow
  • Bert Myrin
  • Rachel Richards
We will also have one ballot question enabling us to finally approve the Lift One Corridor -- the revitalization and redevelopment of the western public portal to Aspen Mountain, including the replacement and realignment of Lift 1A that will bring the lift down to Dean Street. More on this in the upcoming endorsement issue, but in the meantime, don't fall victim to the "fake news" circulating out there:
Fake News #1: The proposed land for the Gorsuch Haus project is "conservation land," designated to be protected forever not unlike a land trust or animal refuge.  WRONG. Aspen's land use code specifies permitted uses for "conservation" zoning (C) as residential dwellings, stables, cemeteries, railroad and temporary special events, plus conditional uses such as sewage disposal, ski lifts and other ski facilities. This land is currently NOT "protected" despite the word "conservation" confusing some folks.  The ballot question proposes re-zoning this (C) land to "Ski Area Base" (SKI), a category designed specifically for property at the base of ski areas with the intent to provide a mixture of uses related to ski area uses and operation, including lodges and hotels. BINGO.
Fake News #2: The city is giving the developers a $4.36 million subsidy. Nope. Not a subsidy. The city IS kicking in $4.36 million to the overall project, but these funds are specifically going to the public access and amenities along the proposed Lift 1A corridor.  And not until the replacement lift is running. These include long-overdue and necessary improvements to infrastructure that the city SHOULD ABSOLUTELY pay for, such as South Aspen Street itself and the Dolinsek property (a public park affected by the new lift alignment). Furthermore, in case you were wondering, the creation of a ski museum at the old Skier's Chalet is being funded by the developers - not taxpayers - and will be administered by the Historical Society. 
It's a short ballot, but a critical one.  
As you recall, much was made of the opportunity for "seasonal resident" participation in our elections by those who pushed for a March vs May contest.  Never mind the ease of having a ballot sent to registered voters 
anywhere on earth, the March date prevailed, which ostensibly means that our seasonal folk are now signing up.  But just who is "seasonal"?  According to Colorado's Secretary of State, you can register to vote here, with or without a Colorado driver's license, if you have been here for 22 days before an election.  Hmmmm, my second-homeowner readers... Is what's good for the goose good for the gander?? Aren't you too a "seasonal resident"? I dare say yes.  Remember, this IS America, where one can only be registered to vote in one place at one time, but if one deems oneself a seasonal resident and can testify to the 22 day "residency," well then, like seasonal workers, one can be an Aspen voter now!  HERE is the form.  (Fax it to 970-445-3007.)  No Colorado driver's license?  In #3, use the last 4 of your social.  Where you live, #4?  Your physical city of Aspen address, of course!  #5 and #6, where your receive mail and where you want your ballot sent? You pick.  They will mail your ballot wherever you specify.  Don't forget #8, you ARE updating a current record. Sorry, Peoria, you are changing your voter registration to Aspen.  People move all the time.  (When you move back in Peoria, change it back.)  


I admit, at first blush, this is a slippery slope.  But if seasonal workers qualify by claiming Aspen as their "sole legal place of residence" for voter registration purposes when it technically is not (since they don't live here full time either), should they - and not you too - be making critical decisions for this community? Just sayin'...
The Red Ant will help you with your March 5 election decisions! Look for the endorsement issue during the week of February 11.

ISSUE #146: We cAN'T Take Barwick Any Longer

"Will people ever be wise enough to refuse to follow bad leaders or to take away the freedom of other people?"

                               -- Eleanor Roosevelt



Steve Barwick
City Manager
City of Aspen

cc: Citizens of Aspen & Readers of The Red Ant

Dear Mr. Barwick,
It's time for you to go.  For years you have "led" the City of Aspen like a lazy consultant, directing staff to pursue idealistic pet projects with no eye toward fiscal restraint, and serving as overlord to the feckless city councils the voters of Aspen have put into office, despite that by law, you report to them.  Your ineptitude spans years, as outlined here in Issue #41 (circa 2010), timed for when you sought and were granted a $170K/year contract despite your demonstrated poor performance. Sadly, for Aspen, nearly a decade later, nothing has changed, and your bad decisions continue to plague our community to this day.

Each election cycle, various candidates espouse their desire to show you the door, but whether it's intimidation or just stupidity, once on council, these former campaigners ignore their promises to hold you to account.  Those days are numbered, Pal.  If you don't think your ongoing employment is going to be a MAJOR 2019 campaign issue, I am here to tell you otherwise. I am going to make it one.  And yes, that will definitely include bouncing you from your city-owned housing on Cemetery Lane.
You are infamous for the $18 million BMC lumberyard purchase in 2008, at the height of the economic downturn.  That you made this purchase without an appraisal and paid nearly twice (as local lore has it) what the sellers were willing to take, makes you the fool for all time.  The fact that this expensive parcel sits, undeveloped (for housing) a decade later is a travesty.  And that's before we get into the millions wasted on the attempted hydro plant, including the $1.5 million custom turbine that you ordered before the project was approved (which it never was) that gathers dust to this day.  Where?  Ironically, at the lumberyard. Of course! Your idiocy and incompetence spans decades now.  Recall how: 
  • In 2005 you intentionally misled voters with a city brochure for Burlingame subsidized housing that stated there would be a $62,500 per unit taxpayer subsidy when in reality it was closer to $400,000 per unit. And this wasn't a "brochure error," as you stated when trying to make excuses for the ridiculous discrepancy; you personally promoted the $62,500 in the media and then later even tried denying that the city ever used that number!!
  • You enabled the Burlingame housing project to be built (by the city) without a budget, unless of course you count the one on a McDonald's napkin, that resulted in over $75 million in unexpected costs.
  • You led, oversaw and continue to lead wasteful expenditures of millions of dollars of public funds on unrealistic, ill-conceived, cart-before-the-horse failed projects and programs such as the ZG Master Plan, the Main Street Median, geo-thermal drilling experiments, and 2019's in-the-works war on cars experiment called "the Mobility Lab."
  • You enabled and approved, then later defended the use of city employee "purchase cards" for meals at Aspen restaurants totaling more than $250,000 in 2007 and 2008.
  • You gave "free housing for life" at a city-owned ranchette (valued at over $14 million) to the city public works manager in order to keep him from leaving Aspen for a job elsewhere.
  • You attempted to have an Aspen citizen "punished" by the local Rotary Club for dissenting with the local government, despite his constitutional right to do just that.
  • You oversee and encourage a culture of intimidation in city hall, where public records searches and general harassment plague those who "align" with The Red Ant, who own historic properties and may wish to re-develop, who place political signs in their yards, and who work for the local government yet resist publicly speaking out for fear of losing their jobs.
  • Your 2008 $26 million "land-banking" spree has yet to yield a single subsidized housing unit.
  • You "lost" $475,000 in an off-the-books deal with the developers of Obermeyer Place pertaining to public improvements.  (No records were kept nor were the funds ever discovered.)
  • You enabled the city to fraudulently collect parking fees from 2008-2011, beyond the 10a - 6p paid parking window, and blamed software for the enormous financial windfall, yet never revealed the amount.
  • You enabled the city to get bilked for over $800K over 4 years by parking scofflaws who exploited a widely-known fault in the city's parking meters (using zero-ed out debit cards as methods of payment for parking). Yes, this is different from the 2008-2011 over-charging debacle!
  • You assigned the city's auditor to audit the city's internal revenue collection and management systems in 2014 after "Parking-Gate," until public outcry forced you to relent and hire an independent 3rdparty auditor.
  • You oversaw the RFP process for a suitable non-profit tenant for the Old Power House, that in the end was awarded to a for-profit group to use the facility as a brewery and event space ... until the neighbors shut the concept down.
  • You supervised the disruptive 2018 "narrowing" of the Castle Creek Bridge (Aspen's notorious transportation choke-point) in order to create a dubious lane for pedestrians and bicycles, to the tune of $TBD millions (the numbers aren't yet finalized).
  • You tried to award an $800K contract to Lyft for subsidized ride-sharing services during the summer of 2019 to support your "war on cars," but local transportation providers and citizens spiked it.
  • You agreed to add 11 new city employees (and $1 million in payroll) in FY 2019 because of the financial windfall that puts the city's annual budget at $120 million/year.  If you've got it, flaunt it, right?
  • You approved the addition of a new $158K/year communications director position to specifically work to better publicly convey the city's myriad "initiatives." Did you ever contemplate that the core issue is that the initiatives just stink??
(Ok, you get the idea.  In Aspen, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Promise one thing, and 2-3 years later, deliver something else after everyone has forgotten the original deal.)

The most recent proof that you have outlived any modicum of usefulness is illustrated by the unfathomable deal you struck earlier this year with Aspen Housing Partners (AHP), an out-of-state developer who hoodwinked you and council into paying a $2.7 million developer fee for building 45 subsidized housing units on three separate parcels.  I wrote about this terrible deal earlier this year in Issue #139. This developer promised to build the complexes, secure 9% federal low income housing tax credits on all three parcels, and manage the facilities for 15 years.  But then you didn't require him to do that.  He didn't even go through the brain damage of applying for the 9% credits (there was no way these projects would ever qualify).  In the end, he could only deliver a non-competitive 4% credit on a single parcel.  And, in your zeal for subsidized housing, and with the embarrassment of riches in the city's coffers, you additionally agreed to finance the projects for the developer at 2% per annum.  (The developer has been laughing publicly for months at his incredible loan terms at Aspen's Bank of Barwick.) 
For nearly a year now, nothing has happened.  No ground has been broken, no housing is in sight.  That is, until last week when your assistant and henchman, aptly-named Barry Crook, sprung a 289-page document on the housing board.  In the eleventh hour, you tried to force APCHA into becoming an operating partner in your bad deal with AHP so that the city would benefit from the housing authority's non-profit status and receive millions of dollars in tax breaks.  The dense partnership agreement contained no proformas and no financial contributions to APCHA for its costs associated with taking 45 more units into inventory, dealing with qualifications, deed restrictions, legal costs and operational management.  What happened to the developer's promise to manage the units?  Now you're off-loading that responsibility onto APCHA with no compensation?  We've all known for nearly a year what a loser this deal is for the city.  Without the promised tax credits, the costs skyrocketed.  Of course they did. That should never have been a surprise.  I certainly told you so.  To go to the housing authority mere days before finalizing the construction loans and development agreements with Shaw Construction was both desperate and shameful.  And, good for the housing board for calling you out.
Want a reminder of how the AHP deal "sausage" was made? HERE is a mind-numbing waste of time that illustrates your incompetence in action.  (It's a city PR puff piece featuring the AHP principal and the city of Aspen housing asset manager, touting the projects.)  Notably:
  • At 2 minutes: Bradshaw (AHP) brags that his group brings a source of capital in the form of tax credits and debt so the city does not need to use its own money for the project.  In reality, the tax credits yielded far less than promised.  And the city is now providing most of the development capital at 2%.
  • At 5:32: Bradshaw indicates that his group will be responsible for all cost overruns.  If this is the case, why is the city responsible for the sales and use taxes on construction materials?  Who exactly now covers the cost overruns????
  • At 14 minutes: Bradshaw describes how he first got involved with Aspen through a "call to Barry Crook."  Interesting that immediately after that call, the city put this project out to bid and presto - AHP magically won the RFP.  What a coincidence?!?! 
  • At 22:30: Bradshaw says his group will operate the units for 15 years and only then would it be necessary for APCHA to become involved (once the tax credit period is over).
Somehow, the city hall housing development "brain trust" of you and Crook missed the basic fact that private developers are not exempt from sales, use and property taxes.  And since the city agreed to the developer's terms that puts the responsibility for cost increases on the city rather than the developer, why would the developer point this out? What will surely be millions in additional costs will be borne by Aspen's taxpayers because you failed to include a tax-exempt developer partner in the deal from the start!
It takes a particularly acute form of unaccountability to send a minion to face the criticism that you deserve, but that's exactly what you did last Tuesday.  Unwilling to stand up and admit responsibility and be accountable for your team's failure, you sent asset manager Chris Everson, hat in hand, to beg the APCHA board to bail you out for your incompetence.  After years of being treated like mushrooms (that is, being kept in the dark and being fed nothing but BS), the APCHA board said NO, and delayed a vote on your lame proposal.
APCHA's final decision today should be NO as well.  Here's why.  The city of Aspen is a tax-exempt corporation.  The APCHA board should recommend to council that the city take on the responsibility that your staff and the developer are trying to foist on the housing authority.  And then let's see what council has to say about that! Recall how YOU promised the clueless city council that they would not bear the risk of being a developer, but you are now trying to pass off that risk to another organization at no benefit to them, while gaining the financial benefit of their agreement - a benefit you and your team should have identified at the beginning but only figured out at the very end.  THIS is definitely not how a competent, reputable leader treats his partners. It's simply disgraceful.
Your incompetence is breathtaking.  As it stands, the AHP developer still gets his $2.7 million fee.  For what exactly?  It's clearly not because he has delivered on what he promised in his bid.  He promised far more than he ever intended to do and is now getting paid the same amount anyway.  Furthermore, did you just now recognize that you need a non-profit partner to save millions in development costs in the absence of the promised tax credits?  The fact that the city will now have to eat those additional costs (as opposed to the developer doing so) is a shining example of how poorly you manage the city and the millions of dollars of taxpayer funds you are responsible for.  (The current city budget is $120 million/year.) And just watch, the projected costs of the developments are going to skyrocket.  There will be significant construction cost over-runs.  As I told you before, two of the complexes are on very steep slopes with challenging soil conditions, which will create great technical challenges.  Since you are the bank, just watch and see, the developer will most certainly be back for more money.
(And how was it that the city came to select Aspen Housing Partners as the developer for these parcels? There were locally-led bidders who proposed reasonable solutions and were willing to deliver what they proposed, but they were passed over in favor of an unknown outside entity - with no track of housing success in the valley - who offered the moon.  And the city agreed to contracts that allowed him to get paid regardless of what is ultimately delivered - terms that let the developer off at every turn.  All because of Steve Barwick.)
The housing board* is absolutely right to hold you and your minions accountable.  Finally someone is. And it's about time! You have always viewed the housing office as merely an instrument of your political goals, never a true partner in housing development and management.
*Hey, APCHA board, I know you have a meeting on this today. Kill any "deal" that foists this responsibility on you, even if it includes a sweet "bribe" from Barwick in the form of cash (rumored to be $150K - $400K) straight from the public coffers.  It simply is not right to throw even more taxpayer money at this terrible deal! And, I'm sure you're all well aware of the cozy "buddies lunch" yesterday when Barwick met with your board director and assistant director, Ron Erickson and Rick Head, to discuss a $150K "bribe." To cram this AHP nonsense down APCHA's throat and use public funds to get you to vote yes is hallmark Barwick. Like a wounded and rabid animal, he is backed into a corner and is in major damage control mode.  Unfortunately, he is also armed with the public's checkbook.  Do the right thing.  JUST SAY NO.
Mr. Barwick, with a municipal election merely 12 weeks away, I reiterate that you can count on your ongoing employment becoming a major campaign issue.  Do us all, and yourself, a favor and ride into the sunset.  And take the Crook** with you.
**At press time, The Red Ant is pleased to announce the abrupt resignation on Friday of one aptly-named Barry Crook from the city of Aspen, following a profanity-laced tirade at the conclusion of last week's APCHA board meeting when they voted to delay the approval of this terrible proposal.  Crook notably called the board "mother-f**king extortionists."  Overnight last night, Crook was mysteriously placed on immediate paid administrative leave by the city, so there is some good palace intrigue going on. In any case, Crook is a goner. Hopefully sooner vs later. 
And P.S., readers, if you haven't read enough about the low character of Steve Barwick, the man (just his lousy and incompetent managerial skills), here is something that will illustrate his true colors.  Mr. Barwick is a member of our local B.P.O.E. - "the Elks Club."  Few people know that I too am an Elk.  I affiliated with the local Elk's lodge in a community near where I have a summer home.  "My" lodge is a gritty, low-key affair where dedicated efforts are put toward veterans programs and combatting the heinous opioid crisis in the US northeast. The Elks are known universally for, among other things including patriotism, their reciprocity in welcoming fellow members to their lodges, so imagine my horror to be FORCIBLY thrown out of our local Aspen Elks lodge where I had joined other visiting members for a drink.  I was told by the reluctant lodge manager that "the city manager had banned me for life from that establishment." 
THIS is Steve Barwick: a weak and impotent man who has coasted in his role as CEO of the city of Aspen, effectively a corporation with a $120 million annual budget, with zero (council) oversight, who flexes his muscle at a local institution known around the world for its non-political, non-sectarian works. (In order to be a member, one must be a citizen, believe in God, and be of good moral character.) Just as he tried to punish a fellow Rotarian for opposing the local government, Barwick attempted to censure The Red Ant, for being a journalist who covers city hall.  

Be gone, bad man.