Archived Ants
Monday
Mar182019

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

 

 

YAY - A WIN FOR 1A
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 

VOTER TURN-OUT WAS WAY UP...
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.  

SKIPPY AND RACHEL JOIN COUNCIL
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?

A RUN-OFF FOR MAYOR: ANN v TORRE
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.

HOW TO VOTE FOR MAYOR
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.

 

 

Monday
Mar112019

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.

VOTE YES ON THE LIFT ONE CORRIDOR.  The time is now.
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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


Thursday
Feb142019

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). 
 
THE ONE BALLOT QUESTION
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. 
 
VOTE "YES" ON THE LIFT ONE CORRIDOR
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 www.liftonecorridor.com  I am attaching these images because they most vividly show just how great the Lift One Corridor will be:
 
 


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THE CANDIDATES
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).
 
Mayor:
 
Council:
 
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.    www.AdamforAspen.com
 
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?)
 
BULLET VOTE FOR LINDA MANNING.
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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.

 

Tuesday
Jan292019

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

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

                               -- Elise Stefanik

 

DING, DONG...
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.)
 
SPEAKING OF ELECTIONS...
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.  
 
THE "SEASONAL RESIDENT" VOTE
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.
Wednesday
Dec192018

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
81611

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.

 

Wednesday
Dec192018

ISSUE #145: tANTalizing Election Results  12/3/18

"Every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods."

                               -- H.L. Mencken

 

BUT FIRST, A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO GET INVOLVED
As many of you know, the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (ASE) is likely to be redeveloped in coming years.  This enormous project stands to be the largest infrastructure project on the western slope since Glenwood Canyon over 20 years ago.
 
Please consider participating on one of four volunteer advisory groups that are being established to inform decision-making on the airport modernization and improvement. There will be four distinct advisory groups: 
  • The Vision Committee will serve as the advisory committee focused on holistic project development.
  • The Community Character working group will evaluate and provide input on priority issues related to community values, neighborhood character and quality of life.
  • The Airport Experience working group will evaluate and provide input on how the overall airport experience integrates with the regional community.
  • The Technical working group will evaluate and distill complex technical topics into readily understandable concepts for community-wide discussion.
These volunteer roles will begin in early 2019 and will meet throughout a 14-month "visioning" process.  Six meetings are anticipated, and members should expect to commit to 3-5 hours per month.  I encourage you to apply.  Seriously. Just think of the usual suspects who regularly populate the critical committees in Aspen, and ask yourself, "Do I really want THEM making key decisions on the airport redevelopment?" (I didn't think so.)

To apply, visit www.asevision.com for more info.  Questions? Call 970-309-2165 or email info@asevision.com  The deadline for applications is December 7. Again, this is NOT a major time commitment, and your input is vital.  Please get involved!
AND NOW, THE NOVEMBER ELECTION RESULTS
The Red Ant had a particularly poor showing on November 6, however, one bright light managed to overshadow many head-scratchers and an abundance of outright idiocy.  Mick got whipped. Clobbered. Decimated.  In what was seen by many as a fait accompli, Mick's hopes of yet another elected post (this time: County Assessor), government salary and benefits, and power over those he disdains were surprisingly dashed by political newcomer Deb Bamesberger. Endorsed by her boss, outgoing assessor Tom Isaac, Bamesberger had neither the name recognition, mastery of local campaign how-to, nor support of the local political machine, but she prevailed in a not-at-all-close contest, 62%-38%.  Congratulations, Deb!  
 
As a reader recently wrote, "Hopefully Mick's crushing defeat was a wooden sword through his heart.  The margin was surprisingly large, which certainly reflects his unpopularity.  Hopefully we finally have him in the rearview mirror."  Amen to that.
 
In a quick rundown, here are the results from the ballot measures covered in Issue #143. (For more information on the various ballot questions and The Red Ant's endorsements, please refer to that newsletter.)

Aspen 2A:   To move Aspen's municipal elections from May to March.    
YES 68% - 32%
Look for electioneering to begin in the immediate term; candidates must declare by December 26 and will campaign throughout the winter season for a March 5 election.  Also, look for a concerted effort to register transient "seasonal workers" to the voter rolls.  

Aspen 2B:    To enable the city to issue debt for "enterprise funds" without voter approval.
NO 67% - 33%

Aspen 2C:    To enable city council to grant "franchises" without voter approval.
NO 57% - 43%

Aspen 2D:   To build the Taj Mahal City Hall or purchase a building from a local developer
OPTION B:  Build the Taj    57% - 43%
Look for an open checkbook for this folly as the city finally gets to play developer again and build an edifice to its own incompetence and largesse. While Option A presented a fixed contract price of $45 million for the completed buildings on Hopkins and Galena Streets which will be developed anyway, Aspen voters went with Option B to build the custom Taj based on unfounded construction cost estimates (no construction bids have been obtained but are guesstimated to be between $42 - $52 million, and this does not include the land cost), the perception that the city was over-paying for the Hopkins/Galena buildings due to dubious appraisals obtained by Steve Barwick, and because they didn't want to "put money in local developer Mark Hunt's pocket." Watch this one spiral out of control. City as developer, again. Like a bad re-run.

1A:   To extend and increase the property tax mill levy for Health & Human Services.
YES  69% - 31%
Look for the county to continue to manage an increasingly large budget ($120 million this year) while crying out for "critical" health and human services needs above and beyond this amount.  How about funding these "critical" HHS expenditures as part of the base budget and hitting up taxpayers for discretionary programs when and if money is additionally needed?  But that would make too much sense when the entitled Aspen electorate doesn't pay attention, doesn't hold its elected officials accountable, and instead unnecessarily taxes itself.  Or us, as is the case!

6A:  To raise the property tax mill levy by 1.325 mills to benefit the Aspen Fire Protection District.
YES 72% - 28%

7A:   To create a 2.65 property tax mill levy and bonding authority for RFTA.
YES 53% - 47%
Look for RFTA to be back rattling its tin cup in a short matter of time.  No way they stay quiet through 2040. This was yet another tax measure sold to local voters as "preparation for future growth." In reality, the new revenue will merely cover a budget problem due to underfunding critical capital replacement needs. RFTA inefficiency will continue, just in nicer buses.

7D:     To de-Gallagher Colorado Mountain College (CMC) and enable the elected board to adjust the CMC mill levy upward to maintain revenue levels that will be lost due to implications of the Gallagher amendment.
YES  73% - 27%
Look for potential abuses now that an elected board can monkey with a constitutionally protected mill levy in the name of "addressing revenue shortfalls."  What could possibly go wrong?

Amend A: To change the language in the state constitution to clarify that convicted felons are not slaves.
YES 66% - 34% (In Pitkin County, YES 81% - 19%)

Amend V: To lower the age qualification from 25 to 21 for a member of the general assembly.
NO 64% - 36% (In Pitkin County, YES 53%-47%)

Amend W: To group judges on the ballot by court type.
YES 54% - 46% (In Pitkin County, YES 62% - 38%)

Amend X: To change the definition of "industrial hemp" to align with the federal definition.
YES 60% - 40% (In Pitkin County, YES 75% - 25%)

Amend Y&Z: To develop new processes for congressional and legislative re-districting.
YES on both 71% - 29% (In Pitkin County, YES 83% - 17% and 84% - 16%)

Prop 73: To abolish Colorado's flat income tax rate in favor of income tax brackets, dramatically increasing income taxes on corporations and high income earners, ostensibly to benefit schools.
NO 54% - 46% (In Pitkin County, YES 59% - 41%)

Prop 74: To require compensation from the state/local government for laws and regulations that result in the reduction of private property values.
NO 54% - 46% (In Pitkin County, NO 56% - 44%)
Look for more frivolous, self-serving, idealistic government regulations in the absence of accountability and severe financial repercussions.

Prop 75: To attempt to "level the playing field" among candidates for office by raising the individual contribution limit when a candidate contributes $1 million or more of his/her own money to the campaign.
NO 66% - 34% (In Pitkin County, NO 59% - 41%)
Look for more wealthy candidates "buying" elections with their own money.

Prop 109: To issue $2.5 billion in bonds for transportation infrastructure.
NO 61% - 39% (In Pitkin County, NO 60% - 40%)

Prop 110:  To raise Colorado state sales tax to 3.52% and to finance $6 billion in bonds for unidentified state, local and multi-modal transportation projects.
NO 60% - 40% (In Pitkin County, YES 52% - 48%)

Prop 111:To limit interest rates on "payday loans" to 36% per annum.
YES 77% - 23% (In Pitkin County, YES 84% - 16%)
Look for the number of low-income poor-credit borrowers to increase and end up in a financial death-spiral because this new limit will only serve to incentivize both borrowers and lenders to come to longer loan terms for larger loan amounts at this new lower rate.

Prop 112: To place greater restrictions on the oil and gas industry in Colorado.
NO 55% - 45% (In Pitkin County, YES 72% - 28%)

BOCC:  Patti Clapper 61% - Rob Ittner 39%
Look for more of the same from this career politician who proudly espoused her two greatest accomplishments as a four-term county commissioner as "traveling to New Orleans after Katrina" and arranging for a bear-proof trash can outside of the county courthouse.  Can't make it up!

Sheriff: Joe DiSalvo 78% - Walter Chi 22%

Congress, District 3: Scott Tipton 52% - Diane Mitsch-Bush 44%
Other Races:  Click HERE (State) and HERE (Pitkin County)

NOTEWORTHY OBSERVATIONS
There were four measures (above) where Pitkin County voters were in stark contrast to the rest of Colorado, a state known for its fiscal restraint and moderate-to-liberal social views.  I highlight these to illustrate just how wildly progressive Aspen and Pitkin County are.
 
Beginning with Amendment V, while the rest of Colorado saw the wisdom of having general assembly members be at least 25 years of age, locally, it was far more popular for younger (21) and even less educated and experienced candidates to qualify.  Then there was Prop 73, which sought to abolish Colorado's flat income tax rate in favor of tax brackets, with hearty "escalators" on high income earners.  This "soak the rich" measure was VERY popular locally, tangibly illustrating the pervasive class warfare we all know exists here.  Prop 110 further drove home the point that local voters are just fine with increasing sales taxes, regardless of the dubious nature of the beneficiary.  While much of our sales tax revenue is generated by our tourism economy, this is just more "soak the rich" mentality. Imagine Aspen with a 9.92% sales tax and Snowmass Village at 11.62%?!  Local voters don't care - the tourists are the ones who pay it! And Prop 112, which would have placed severe restrictions on the state's thriving oil and gas industry, was heavily favored by local voters.  Never mind that this measure would not have improved drilling safety nor environmental impacts, local voters simply saw the evil words "oil and gas" and hit the NO button.

While we continue to contribute subsidized housing to local voters through the 1.5% Real Estate Transfer Tax, buyer beware.  While you are housing them, local voters are clearly voting to tax you at every turn.  They will surely continue to prevail locally, but for now, the rest of the state is not quite as punitive. As with any entitlement, the answer is always "more." And with over 3000 units in the APCHA inventory, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who the bulk of local voters are.  They're looking out for their lifestyles first and foremost, and to the degree that you can fund their "land of the free" - free museums, free concerts, free trails, free buses and free newspapers - with your investment, philanthropy and taxes, all the better.  For them.  Look for this trend to continue as transient seasonal workers are encouraged to participate in our upcoming elections.  (Of note, 10,000 Pitkin County voters participated in the November 6 statewide election, of 15,000 registered.)

COMING SOON
Amidst a cornucopia of nonsense such as a ski season-long campaign season culminating in a March 5 municipal election and a ridiculous 2019 summer-long "war on cars" (a "mobility lab" that is going to inconvenience workers, residents and tourists alike when the city tries out an elaborate bribery experiment to reduce auto traffic into town), we will hopefully be voting to approve Gorsuch Haus and the development of the western portal to Ajax now that plans exist to bring a new Lift 1A down to Dean Street.  Stay tuned.  And as always, stay in touch!
Wednesday
Dec192018

ISSUE #144: Awesome EndorsemANTs  10/26/18

"I believe that voting is the first act of building a community as well as building a country."

                               -- John Ensign

 

 

CHECK THESE OUT!!

Don't just take my word for it - check out the endorsements of these candidates and issues by those who really know!

ROB ITTNER FOR BOCC
When his colleagues on the BOCC (Michael Owsley 2005-2017, Dorothea Farris 1997-2009 and Jack Hatfield 2001-2013) overwhelmingly support Rob's candidacy vs his opponent, take it from them, he's the right guy for the job!!

 

Please support Rob's campaign with a donation.  Go to www.VoteRobIttner.com

 

DEB BAMESBERGER FOR COUNTY ASSESSOR

Retiring County Assessor, the long-serving and well-respected Tom Isaac, emphatically endorses Deb over Mick, saying "she is the perfect choice to run the assessor's office."  Read his full endorsement HERE.  Everyone is SICK OF MICK.  Visit the website www.SickOfMick.com 

OPTION A: CITY HALL AT 517 E. HOPKINS AVE
City Councilman Bert Myrin has a list of 4 compelling reasons for voting for Option A (Question 2D).  These include:
  • Option A means one less monster construction project, one less monster building full of people competing in housing lotteries and contributing to traffic congestion in perpetuity.
  • Option A preserves the opportunity to build 15-20 units of affordable housing (including additional parking) in a smaller footprint than what is consumed by the enormous Option B shell.
  • Option A preserves 20 existing parking spaces consumed by the enormous Option B footprint.
  • Option B is a 3-story Taj Mahal 1.5 times bigger than the square footage of the Art Museum.
Click HERE to read a dozen more details on why Option A is far better than Option B.

Get your ballot in today!!
Friday
Oct192018

ISSUE #143: VOTE! Without ANTipathy!

"No part of the education of a politician is more indispensable than the fighting of elections."

                               -- Winston Churchill

 

 

IT'S BALLOT TIME! 

HERE is the Pitkin County ballot for the November 6, 2018, election.  It's a 5-pager should you print it out, but after reading this issue, if you want my "cheat sheet," print THIS instead. Your ballot was mailed to you on October 15.  If you don't have it yet, it's on its way.
 
This issue is solely an overview of how I am voting, and why. I am not telling anyone to vote in any particular manner.  But, what you have come to expect from The Red Ant is that I do my research.
 
Now, before anyone gets all hysterical about my choices and comes to any great conclusions ("OMG, she's a Republican!"), I will say it again, this is how I am voting.  Vote any way you'd like.  But I dug in and did the dirty work to form my opinions and am sharing them with you in this issue.  I do hope you find my research helpful.
 
Most importantly, vote, although it is indeed your right to abstain.  (Heads up, there's a strange undercurrent in Aspen to compel voter participation in the future.  Look for that to raise its strangely-shaped and ugly head!)  And don't forget, it's also a-ok to leave any of the issues blank. If you really don't have an opinion, or just don't care, it's ok, skip it!  Be deliberate!
 
ASPEN MEASURES
ASPEN 2A: This measure seeks to move Aspen's municipal elections from May to March, ostensibly to increase voter participation.  Since May technically falls within Aspen's off-season, recent cries of "voter disenfranchisement" have led to a citizens petition to get this on the ballot.  (Technically, it's our cabal of Whiny Millennials who haven't figured out how to submit their mail-in ballots.)  When I hear about "voter disenfranchisement," the first thing I think of is - what are they REALLY up to?  Aspen and Pitkin County voters are among the most enfranchised voters in America.  To say they are "disenfranchised" is a slap in the face to Linda Manning and Janice Vos Caudill (our city and county clerks, respectively), who move mountains to ensure everybody who wants to vote can vote. No clerk in any other locale would make it ok to vote (provisionally) via fax from Bali when a resident forgot to send in his ballot!  First of all, our elections are mail ballot elections.  Up until 3 weeks prior to any election, you can arrange to have your ballot mailed to any address.  And you can do it in about 30 seconds online.  When you receive your ballot, you have 3 weeks to drop it off or mail it back in.  Those who cannot figure this out are either stupid or lazy. Likely both. That alone is one reason to vote NO on this measure.  

Another is, if the whiners really want to increase voter participation, city elections should be aligned with the state/federal election cycle (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November).  Obviously.  Furthermore, there is a concerted effort in Aspen to register seasonal workers to vote in our elections.  This will clearly impact the power of SkiCo to push its progressive and environmental agenda, while also encouraging the transient workforce to impact our elections despite only being here seasonally.  And lastly, as if those reasons aren't enough, a March 5 election sets the ballot by December 26, with voting beginning February 11 (in the very height of ski season).  Read more HERE. While it might be tempting to elect a new mayor ASAP to get rid of Steve Skadron earlier than next May, who can run for elected office in this high-season timeframe?  Those who do not have to work, that's who.  We desperately need qualified candidates to join the circus!  We certainly should not be precluding them simply because they're out there earning a living and contributing to our resort economy when town is packed to the rafters!  I am obviously voting NO.
ASPEN 2B: This provision will allow the City of Aspen to issue debt in support of its "enterprise funds" (electric, water, sewer and storm drains). In essence, it permits entities created by the city to obtain funding sources outside the city budget process and without voter approval.  I for one don't want city council or city staff doing any such thing.  I'm voting NO.
 
ASPEN 2C: This overly broad provision would essentially allow city council to grant monopolies in the form of a "franchise." Without voter approval.  Clearly, it is an invitation for favoritism and spoils.  Besides, city attorney Jim True claims that the franchise agreements are too complicated for voters to understand so these decisions are best left to council (because council does whatever staff tells them to).  Huge red flag. The less power we give city council the better.  I'm voting NO.
 
ASPEN 2D:  This is the question we've all been waiting for! Kinda. To Taj or not to Taj. It comes down to Option A vs Option B.  One is awful, the other is good+.  But Option B is the dreaded Taj Mahal City Hall on Galena Plaza.  (I've written about it HERE and HERE.)  And finally, this is the vote to shoot it down for good.  Instead of a long-desired vote up or down on the Taj, we find ourselves with a good-but-not-perfect alternative, Option A: office space at 517 E. Hopkins, 50 feet across the street from the Armory (which will remain the primary location of city government). It's already under contract pending the outcome of this election.  Yes, it's true that genius negotiator Steve Barwick did yet another astonishing deal that spends between $5 - $7 million more taxpayer dollars than the property's appraised value (that's another story for another day), but Option A is a known entity, to be built by the developer at a fixed price.  Read more at www.VoteOptionA.com.  Option B finds the city as developer, again.  And we sure don't want that!  I won't even get into the numbers put forth for Option B because a) they're too incomplete and sketchy, b) the city is not being transparent and releasing a comprehensive cost analysis, and c) the city can never stay on budget, which makes their estimates - whatever they may be - absolutely worthless.  A commercial building is going in at 517 E. Hopkins one way or the other.  Let's put city offices there, in the downtown core across from the Armory, and preserve Galena Plaza.  Oh, and regarding the street-front level of 517 E. Hopkins, don't worry, those spaces aren't for sale, they will still be stores.  And don't forget that Bill Stirling and Howie Mallory AGREE with me!  Anything but the Taj.  I'm finally voting for Option A.
 
PITKIN COUNTY MEASURES
1A:  This measure seeks "a stable funding source for health and human services, and community non-profit programs" though the extension of the existing mill levy and a property tax increase.  I am always wary of a tax increase.  I also see the good that comes from these programs.  But it's not about that, nor are these programs technically in financial jeopardy.  (The county has plenty of money to fund them, it's a matter of prioritizing them.)  My beef with this increase to and extension of the existing mill levy is rather straightforward.  This mill levy is constantly held up as a "critical" funding source for the many programs that rely on it.  But as "critical" as these programs may be, this funding source regularly requires a vote to fund it!  This is a perfect example of how governments intentionally ask voters for extra money to pay for "critical" items, while the bureaucracy is funded from ongoing sources that are safe from the voters.  It's quite disingenuous to tell voters how "critical" something is and then ask them to pay extra for it.  If this is so "critical," why doesn't the county prioritize funding these grants from its recurring revenues as part of its base budget?  There are certainly several million dollars in base operating costs that are of lower importance to the community than the healthy community fund! How about fund the "critical" stuff with the money taxpayers already provide the county, and then decide whether or not to ask voters to fund the genuinely discretionary parts of the budget? And again, don't worry, nobody is going to let these grants go unfunded. It will send a loud and clear message to the county to fund these "critical" programs as a priority from their existing budget, that's all.  For that reason, I am voting NO.

6A:  The city of Aspen has relied on the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department since the 1880s. Its current 0.874 mill levy has been in place since 1953.  Even with the requested 1.325 increase, the first in its history, Aspen will still have the lowest mill levy of any fire district in Colorado.  Read more HERE.  Did you know that despite the enormous city ($150 million) and county ($120 million) budgets, the AVFD does not get a single dime from either?  Aspen Fire protects over $25 billion in real property value throughout its 87 square mile district on a $2 million annual budget. That's significantly less than the Aspen Chamber's advertising budget!  Currently, the fire department's 37 volunteer firefighters are supported by 6 paid staffers. The new revenue will fund a paid training officer, support the construction of firefighter housing near the North 40, provide funds for capital improvements to equipment and stations, and establish a reserve fund in the event of a wildfire or other emergency. (This issue comes to us now because of the impacts of the Gallagher Amendment** which requires that 45% of all property tax revenues come from the residential sector and 55% come from all other property types.  The recent growth in Denver has created a scenario that despite residential property values soaring, the property tax revenue remains at 45% of the total, dragging down the revenue that counties and special districts collect.  In the case of the Aspen Fire Protection District, the estimate will be a $557,000 decrease, a crippling scenario for a department that strives to maintain its volunteer model.)  How about those fires over the summer??  Given Aspen Fire's vital role in protecting our community, and its long history of fiduciary responsibility, I am unequivocally voting YES.
 
**THIS VIDEO contains an incredible explanation of Colorado's Gallagher Amendment.
7A:  If you think a MASSIVE property tax increase for RFTA "to pay for the cost of growth" will reduce congestion along Highway 82, you surely think pigs can fly.  This one is a pig.  We are already taxed to support RFTA via our sales tax, and I'm sorry, unless there are wholesale changes to the commute on the entirety of 82, I don't care if you're in a nifty new Veloci-RFTA electric bus or on an old Greyhound, you're still gonna be stuck in traffic.  There's a lot of nice-sounding fluff built in to this measure, such as access to and maintenance of the Rio Grande Trail, construction and maintenance of down-valley park-and-ride lots, and of course the purchase of new electric buses, but in the end, the key is getting commuters out of their cars.  Enough carrots.  Time for the sticks.  Over the years, throwing more and more money at RFTA and buying some new buses have helped to a point, but now we're at or likely beyond the point of diminishing returns when it comes to efficiency (too many empty seats being driven around the growing service area). Read THIS.  It seems that RFTA is not really preparing for future growth; they're covering a budget problem due to underfunding their capital replacement needs.  When it comes to RFTA, I am not going to give them permission (via hiking my property taxes) to perpetuate their inefficiency. And in case you're wondering, I'm a RFTA rider.  Hunter Creek is my jam.  Charge me to ride if it helps.  It's ok, and frankly long overdue. But I'm voting NO.
 
7D: Colorado Mountain College (CMC) is asking voters for relief from the impacts of the Gallagher Amendment by enabling their elected trustees to adjust their mill levy in order to maintain the revenues that would otherwise be lost. Affected by the same legislation, Aspen Fire (6A above) approached it differently.  They touted their issue, their needs and their reputation, and boldly asked voters for a mill levy increase.  The ability of a board (elected or not) to monkey with a constitutionally protected mill levy formula is not my preferred choice for addressing revenue shortfalls, regardless of how justified they may be. I'm sympathetic to the need, but I just don't like the method.  I am voting NO.
 
STATE OF COLORADO MEASURES
Amendment A: While it didn't pass last time (WTF?), this amendment changes the language in the state constitution dealing with imprisoned convicts. Current language mimics the 13th amendment to the US Constitution, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime where the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States."  The proposed language prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in all circumstances. Convicted felons are not slaves, they are convicted felons. Maybe we can get it right this time. I am voting YES.

Amendment V: Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning a reduction in the age qualification for a member of the general assembly from 25 years to 21 years?  Seriously??  All you need to do is look at the buffoons in our city government to know that having little-to-no real world work experience (having a real job, budgetary responsibility, making a payroll, ability to read a spreadsheet) is not a great resume for public office.  Do we really want college students in the state assembly?  I don't really see that as highly likely, however, 25 is still plenty young and millennial, but still with a modicum of time to gain scant real-world experience.  More experience, even in life, is more.  Good grief. It should be 30.  I am voting NO.
 
Amendment W: Under current law, a separate judicial retention question must be listed for each judge or justice on the ballot. This amendment to the state constitution would allow for judicial retention questions to be grouped together on the ballot according to court type.  This will help shorten the ballot by allowing the clerk to use one common caption for each level of court with the mandatory language, and just the names below.  Easy.  I am voting YES.
 
Amendment X: Amendment X is a housekeeping measure that removes the current definition of "industrial hemp" from the state constitution and gives the term the same meaning as in federal law and state statute. In the event that federal law changes, Colorado would maintain compliance with federal regulation.  I am voting YES.
 
Amendment Y  
Amendment Z:  
These kissing-cousin amendments address the very real problem in American politics of gerrymandering, the manipulation of boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class.  Y & Z amend the Colorado constitution to establish new processes for state congressional (Y) and legislative (Z) re-districting.   The formation of 12-person commissions, comprised equally of representatives from the Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, will replace the state legislature (Y) and apportionment commission (Z), who currently have these responsibilities.  This is to ensure that no political party controls the re-districting process, lobbyists are prohibited from serving, there is a structured court review process, and approvals require a super-majority (8 of 12) which encourages compromise.  I am voting YES on both.
Amendment 73: This constitutional amendment puts an end to Colorado's flat income tax rate (currently 4.63%) and creates a massive income tax increase from Coloradans earning more than $150,000 a year by establishing income tax brackets. The amendment exempts itself from TABOR, so it can increase unabated in excess of TABOR's annual limits. Income tax on both individuals and corporations will be impacted.  (Corporate rates will increase 1.36%.)
Here's how:  
Yes, our school funding is definitely screwed up, but the issue has far more to do with how current funds for education are allocated and individual district's willingness to fund their educational systems. Almost half of Colorado schools already spend more than the national average per pupil.  (Aspen's per pupil funding is $21,283, the second highest in the state FYI.)  The problem is not the amount of money spent on education but how it is prioritized and allocated.  I am voting a resounding NO.
 
Amendment 74This measure will expand the circumstances that require a state or local government to compensate a property owner if a law or regulation reduces the fair market value of his or her property.  Currently, the loss in value must be near total to trigger compensation. This Libertarian's dream will have far-reaching consequences due to the potential liability for large payouts. Municipalities, such as ours, will have to think long and hard before enacting restrictive laws and regulations that negatively impact our property values.  The dollars at risk will be enormous.  In the end, many frivolous, self-serving, idealistic regulations will surely be avoided by our local government for fear of devastating financial backlash.  I am voting YES.
 
Amendment 75:  This measure attempts to "level the playing field" between candidates for state office by increasing the amount candidates can collect from individuals when another candidate contributes more than $1 million to his or her own campaign.  Current individual contribution limits in Colorado range by office from $400 - $1150.  A candidate may make unlimited contributions from personal funds.  This, while definitely an individual's right, creates a tremendous disparity.  Colorado's individual limits are among the lowest in the country, and candidates who rely on individual contributions are at a significant disadvantage when running against a wealthy opponent.  I am sick and tired - and outright disgusted - by the obscene spending on elections. This measure is not likely to change that, unfortunately, but it will make it more difficult for a wealthy candidate to simply buy an election.  I am voting YES.
 
Proposition 109:  This proposition authorizes $2.5 billion in transportation bonds for transportation projects to address our failing transportation infrastructure.  It proposes to compel the state to issue bonds without any new taxes or fees to pay them back, and to complete 66 priority projects already identified by CDOT as priorities.  This would require the legislature to re-prioritize funds from the state budget to pay for these improvements.  It's a priority - they should.  But to borrow $2.5 billion (with a 20-year repayment limit of $5.2 billion) specifically dedicated to road and bridge expansion, construction, maintenance and repair is a heck of a lot of debt to take on when the state (in 2018) has made $1 billion in initial commitments from existing funds, and under current leadership, CDOT has not been held to account.  And where is all that gas tax revenue going?  It's increased 30% since 1999.  Without CDOT transparency and a specific plan, the proposition in its current form is irresponsible. It's headed in the right direction, but still needs more time at the drawing board. I am voting NO.
 
Proposition 110:  Where Proposition 109 (above) asks voters to use existing revenue to build 66 identified projects, Proposition 110 asks them to increase the state sales tax rate from 2.9% to 3.52% to generate $766.7 million annually, and to finance $6 billion (with a B) in bonds, and pay for unidentified state, local and multi-modal transportation projects. Yes, our transportation system certainly needs funding, but this is a general revenue raising measure that is not tied to any performance requirements or specific improvements. For perspective, Aspen's sales tax is currently 9.3%.  It will go up to 9.92%!!  And Snowmass Village!!  You're looking at a 11.62% sales tax! No way. I am voting NO.
 
Proposition 111:  This proposition, clothed as a moral issue, would restrict the annual interest rate charged on payday loans to 36% per anum, but it would likely result in the very opposite of its intended outcome.  Payday loans are a form of credit, utilized by individuals who are unable to qualify for bank credit, or who choose to avoid the credit markets for whatever reason.  These are intended to be short-term loans, lasting no more than days, to bridge the gap between a cash-flow need and an individual's payday. Currently, payday loans can include a finance charge of up to 27.5%, an interest rate of up to 45%, and a monthly maintenance fee of up to $7.50 per every 30 days a loan is outstanding.  By lowering the cost of this last resort source of credit to 36% per anum with no fees, this initiative will likely increase not decrease the number of low-income, poor-credit borrowers who end up in a debt spiral.  This is because it will incentivize both lenders and borrowers to come to longer loan terms for larger loan amounts.  This is a bleeding heart proposition that will have grave unintended consequences. I am voting NO.  
 
Proposition 112: This measure seeks to increase setbacks for oil and gas development from occupied structures or vulnerable areas to a minimum of 2500 feet from the current regulation of 500 feet for residential and 1000 feet from high occupancy buildings, such as schools and neighborhoods with at least 22 buildings.  It also increases the land unavailable for exploration per well to 450 acres from 18 (residential) or 72 acres (high occupancy building), effectively barring exploration from 80% of non-federal land. I'll say it again, barring exploration from 80% of non-federal land.  This proposition won't improve drilling safety or environmental impacts, but it will make Colorado less competitive in the energy sector.   It will reduce revenue, dramatically reduce private property mineral right values and create incentives for drillers to seek permits on protected public lands, including places like Thompson Divide. While the Democrat and Republican candidates for governor, Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton, disagree on how to best regulate the oil and gas industry, both oppose this measure.  I am joining them in voting NO.
 
THE CANDIDATES
I am voting for the following candidates:
 
Representative to the US Congress, District 3: Scott Tipton
Re-elect our incumbent congressman, a small business owner and entrepreneur who understands and values not only the importance of agriculture and water in our unique district, but also the critical balancing act of being able to access and preserve our public lands while responsibly developing them.
 
Governor:  Walker Stapleton
Regardless of your political leaning, Colorado is a fiscally conservative state with economically responsible voters who have supported Walker through the past 8 years (two terms) as State Treasurer.  Colorado's Public Employee's Retirement Association has underscored his fight for fiscal sanity in the face of bipartisan criticism. Proven economic stewardship.  Yes, please.
 
Secretary of State:  Wayne Williams
Responsible for election integrity, among other things, Williams was lauded by The Washington Post (HERE) for his dedicated efforts to make Colorado the safest place to cast a ballot.  In his first term, Williams has paved the way to establish Colorado as the leader in election security, doing "virtually everything election experts recommend" to stave off a repeat of 2016, when Russian hackers targeted 21 states in their election interference campaign.
 
State Treasurer:  Brian Watson
 
Attorney General:  George Brauchler
I love a former DA and military prosecutor in this role.
 
CU Regent (at large):  Ken Montera
 
CU Regent (District 3)Glen Gallegos
 
State Senator, District 5:  Olen Lund
Bipartisan community leader Lund has a proven record of working across the aisle and against big-spending politicians of both parties.  He will bring those skills to the state house to stand up for western Colorado priorities: roads, access to healthcare, and creating good jobs. 
 
State Representative, District 61:  Mike Mason
 
Pitkin County Commissioner (District 1): Rob Ittner
It's time to get this strong business and community leader back on the BOCC, where he served as chairman of the board in 2014.  As owner of local-favorite Rustique restaurant for the past two decades, Ittner has lived the daily challenges facing his constituency in this seasonal resort economy, including retention of employees, housing, access to healthcare, and parking impacts, among others. The perspective of an independent local business owner is invaluable at the table where governing happens.  He knows the real-world implications of bureaucratic decision-making and how good ideas can easily become laws of unintended consequences instead of solutions.  Too many of our elected leaders lack fiscal understanding, not to mention discipline, and live in a parallel universe where the harsh realities of their idealistic decisions have terrible impacts on those who actually make our economy run. Rob is who we need on the BOCC as we look toward generational decisions for the future, specifically the improvements to Sardy Field and the new Aspen Airport Terminal.  www.VoteRobIttner.com
 
Pitkin County Commissioner (District 2): Kelly McNicholas Kury
 
Pitkin County Clerk:  Janice Vos Caudill
Yay, Janice!  She's running unopposed so we get this kind, honest and dedicated woman as our county clerk for the next four years.  We are incredibly lucky!
 
Pitkin County Sheriff:  Joe DiSalvo
I'm no fan of Joey's sanctuary city policies, but we still have law and order in Pitkin County and for that I am grateful.

JUDGES
I am voting to retain all.
 
Pitkin County Assessor:  Deborah Bamesberger
If you need just one reason to vote for Deb, it's "Mick." Yes, the meanie is back.  Seeking not only a government paycheck and health insurance, this vengeful man wants nothing more than the power to pry into your private property ownership records and tax you. My favorite comments on his bid for office include: "Ireland keeps turning up like a bad penny," and "What better way for a notoriously mean and vindictive person to punish his enemies than to become their tax assessor."  Deb currently works for retiring assessor Tom Isaac.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Aspen is SICK OF MICK so let's keep him out of office.  If you vote in this election and don't care about anything else, vote for Deb.  Read more HERE.