"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
THE "SICK OF MICK" CAMPAIGN -- GAME ON!
In an effort to encourage challengers, The Red Ant and co-conspirators launched the 2011 "Sick of Mick" campaign this morning. Here is the cover story on it in today's Aspen Daily News.
Fundraising for this effort is additionally underway. You are limited to donations of $250, however, The Red Ant encourages donations of just $19.99. This keeps your name off any and all official donation lists. (Donations above $20 must be reported to the city clerk and become part of the public record.) Please make checks payable to SICK OF MICK and send these to THE RED ANT, PO Box 4662, Aspen, CO 81612. Or just stop me on the street with a $20 - I'll be carrying a roll of pennies!
If you want yard signs or bumper stickers, please contact The Red Ant at TheRedAntEM@comcast.net and we will make arrangements to get these to you! Again, donations are encouraged but certainly not mandatory.
(UPDATE on my PAC: I am currently navigating the complex campaign finance rules and laws, and intend to have a legally established and registered Political Action Committee up and running in time for the November county elections.)
SAVE THE DATE - THE AACP STANDS TO AFFECT YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS!
Please join these local community leaders in a dialog at the Wednesday, April 13, Aspen Business Luncheon at the Hotel Jerome as they discuss "The Practical Ramifications of the AACP" on an industry-by-industry basis. Come learn how the AACP will directly affect you! At press time:
Real Estate: Penney Evans Carruth
Lodging & Tourism: Warren Klug
Building & Development: Tim Semrau
Financial Impact: Paul Menter
For information, please contact ToddShaver@AspenBusinessLuncheon.com
DWAYNE'S SEAT -- IT'S NOW RUTH'S
The interviews of the eight applicants for Dwayne Romero's recently vacated council seat were conducted in an informal group format. And we did garner several poignant responses, notably:
On the subject of "The Most Important Thing the City Should Be Working On," the AACP was at the top of nearly every applicant's list. Howie Mallory felt that the AACP should be approved PRIOR to the elections so as not to let it be politicized!?! (Huh??) He also pulled what The Red Ant calls "a Pelosi" by stating that the document should be approved although it is "admittedly flawed." (Good thing he subsequently withdrew his application in order to retain his position on the Open Space and Trails board!) Applicant Cliff Weiss questioned the intent of the AACP, calling it an "honorable but misunderstood" document, and feels that as such it should be adopted as "guiding" (vs regulatory). Marsha Goshorn deviated from the AACP priority and suggested that the city should make its #1 focus working with the Forest Service and Snowmass on developing eco-tourism, presumably stemming from the discovery of prehistoric bones in the area last fall.
Regarding "The Wienerstube Lawsuit Settlement," applicant Adam Frisch pointed out that the current building code is a "goalpost" that the city, under the AACP, continually moves around. Howie Mallory stated that the city was defensible in over-riding its own building code because council should have subjective judgment beyond what's in the code.
When questioned about "The Future of The Given Institute," Marsha Goshorn felt that finding a "non-profit use" for the facility would be best. She didn't elaborate on the financing for such use (nor was she asked), but stated that she saw added density on the site as far worse than losing the building itself. Cliff Weiss succinctly told the boys, "Find a compromise you can live with. You will have to give up something." Ya think?
Mayor Mick took time from each interview session to lament the declining population of working-age residents and asked the applicants about their thoughts on "How the City Would Provide A Workforce When Our Population Is Stagnant." Jag Pagnucco didn't share the mayor's woes, stating "Aspen is a draw. There will always be people who come here to work." Ever to the point, Cliff Weiss stated, "Make the commute better."
The most despicable aspect of the interview process was experiencing mayor Mick's lack of self-control as exhibited by his constant and undying need to argue with each applicant when their answers didn't jive with his personal politics. The worst was his beyond-the-pale attack on Patti Clapper when she noted that the city's "process" of settling the Wienerstube lawsuit behind closed doors was one city decision she would rethink. Mick literally came unglued, and berated Clapper for "misleading the public" with her answer. It was truly shameful, especially since the other 3 buffoons just sat there.
Speaking of the other buffoons, Derek and Skadron predictably proffered lame, softball, open-ended, non-policy, unimportant questions. And in my humble opinion, Torre behaved as though he'd just completed a city-wide quality-control tour of our four medical marijuana dispensaries -- only asking the applicants whether or not they'd be running for office in May -- as if that mattered. Both Torre and Derek then said they couldn't support applicants who would be running just 6 weeks from now, seemingly oblivious to the fact that both Mick and Skadron would be doing just that as they seek re-election for their current seats. (This idiotic stance prompted my LETTER to the editor of the Aspen Daily News.)
In the end, the applicants' written statements and interviews had ZERO bearing on the outcome. The selection process was as much of a joke as anything I've witnessed in recent years by these clowns. They all but drew straws for the winner in order to avoid a discussion of the candidates in front of the public!
Thankfully, Ruth Kruger emerged the victor. Her 5 years as a city P&Z member and current ownership of a commercial real estate brokerage won the day. Sadly, Ruth has stated that she will not be running in May, as she would be a very strong candidate with a good head on her shoulders. We can only hope that her business sense and maturity will help prevent chaos and corruption in the weeks to come. Congratulations, Ruth!
A BAD DAY FOR THE "BUILDING HUGGERS"
In an "I told ya so" moment last week, The Red Ant was less than surprised to learn that The Given Institute is indeed scheduled for its demise. It seems that demolition will occur in late April per the terms of a $13.8 million sale to Given neighbor Jonathan Lewis, a longtime resident and steward of the bluff overlooking Hallam Lake. Murmurs of last minute compromises continue, but for $13.8 million, if I were Lewis, I'd just tear the thing down and be done with it!
On the same day, we read news of the sales of the 1930's era Deep Powder cabins, which begs a key question: Why were city historic preservation czarina Amy Guthrie and her merry band of "building huggers" terrorizing and tormenting private property owners via Ordinance 30 for the past 4 years (failing in the end) when the owners of these cabins were all for historic preservation and donated them to the city? The city missed a great opportunity to lead by example now that historic preservation is voluntary, but instead quickly sold off these historic resources (for just $600 each). Does the city not want the voluntary program to succeed? My guess is that now the historic cabins are gone, this episode will be used as an example of "voluntary" designation's failure. Don't buy THAT argument for a minute!
Besides, speaking of Historic Preservation and Guthrie -- she was recently given public recognition and a cash award for her work on Ordinances 30 & 48, presumably for doing such a great job on a "shoe-string" budget. What!? The multi-year Historic Preservation Task Force process cost taxpayers approximately $250K, and in the end, the draconian "involuntary designation" objectives of the Ordinances were shot down. A tax-payer-funded reward for failure. Only in the city of Aspen.
MICK'S FOLLY? THE QUIZNOS RACE
Woulda, coulda, shoulda? We booed, hissed and laughed out loud at mayor Mick's proposed man-crush event to honor Lance Armstrong in 2009. But paybacks are indeed hell. The city is now kicking in $190K to "bring" a stage of the Quiznos Pro Challenge professional cycling race to Aspen this summer, despite the requirement of 700 complimentary rooms for racers, support staff, sponsors and whatnot. (Technically, the chamber is kicking in $50K, leaving the city to cover $140K, unless they can offset this cost through private sources!) Thank goodness SkiCo is on-board to co-manage the live televised event!
The idea is to bring summer business to Aspen in a typically quiet period: this event falls August 23-24, just after the Music Festival ends and before Labor Day. The lodging community's willingess to "play ball" to this degree was surprising, but they know their own year-to-date numbers and obviously see the potential for business despite the large inventory donation.
In support of the expenditure, mayor Mick stated that the event will "project an image to the world as a place that people want to come and visit - not necessarily come and buy a piece of and leave empty behind," taking his predictable stab at second-homeowners, who he regularly vilifies. Overall, The Red Ant is cringing, but trying to be cautiously optimistic.
HYDRO: FLOATED DOWNRIVER
When in doubt, procrastinate. At least that's what the city of Aspen does. Presumably to keep the Castle Creek Hydro "mess" out of the political realm this election season (yeah, right), council has tabled the hearing on how to deal with its controversial (and I would say corrupt) application for a "conduit exemption" from the feds until July 11. Yep, 4 months from now. The stated reason is to allow the two sides to "mediate" and arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. But that ain't gonna happen. When environmentalists, neighbors, government watchdogs and national organizations are all on one side against the city, there's simply not much to mediate! (Why the city can't see this is yet another example of their collective incompetence!)
As the debate heats up, we've seen a flurry of excellent hydro-related editorials lately. Connie Harvey started the rally with a piece in the Aspen Daily News (HERE) claiming that the city used "twice-recycled information that never covered all the bases to begin with and hasn't been current since the original study many years ago" to justify the hydro plant, equating the destruction of the streams as "logic on par with the Vietnam War-era statement made by an American major about Vietnamese villages: 'We have to destroy them in order to save them.'"
Harvey then went toe-to-toe with SkiCo's VP of Sustainability Auden Schendler and energy analyst Randy Udall the next day in the Aspen Times (HERE), continuing her assertion that the hydro plant "is actually a devastating attack on Castle and Maroon creeks." Furthermore, "The city now admits that its projections overestimated the amount of water by 30 percent, hardly a trivial error."
In a joint effort (HERE), Schendler and Udall presented a rationale for the hydro plant based on global warming warnings and a directive that "the only way forward, now, is for communities like Aspen to lead....We've been blessed with a great natural opportunity, one we ought to seize." Alluding to the not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) neighbors of the creeks as the primary threat to the project ("if the citizens of Aspen can't take the lead on climate action, it's not clear exactly who will"), the authors opine that "responsible energy production in our backyards and on our rooftops and local streams is not something to oppose but something to celebrate."
A week later, Matt Rice of American Rivers wrote (HERE) to the Aspen Times, reminding readers that this "is not a debate about the merits of hydro power," rather it's a case where the city is attempting to "avert the law and avoid meaningful public review of the project forever." He continues, "It is a mistake to assume that because hydropower does not produce carbon emissions, it is unequivocally green." Warning the city to work toward "a responsible plan," Rice makes it clear that American Rivers will "vigorously oppose any plan that limits public review and further degrades the creeks."
The following day, former city finance director Paul Menter likely put the nail in Hydro's coffin. His submission to the Aspen Times (HERE) outlines a half-century of US hydropower history and its unintended consequences, and questions Aspen's "leadership" in building a hydro plant while others are tearing them out. He minces no words by stating, "The Castle Creek project, for which much of the voter-approved funds have already been spent, is likely a $5-$6 million mistake." His solution? "Scrapping this project is the only way to limit financial and environmental damage. It may be a hard pill for some to swallow, but it's never the wrong time to do the right thing." The Red Ant is inclined to agree.
Clearly, this must become a MAJOR campaign issue!
The city of Aspen was hell-bent on raising its planning and development fees as early as this summer. It became abundantly obvious to me that the proposed increases are solely a result of the building department not covering its overhead costs (office rental, employees, etc.) that have not been reduced despite the enormous reduction in permit valuations (down $100 million between 2008-2010). THIS is the statement that I read to council on February 28 in objection to the fee increases. It was quite a shock to have been the only citizen in attendance to speak out against the proposed fee increases!! Not a builder or developer was in sight.
At the end of that meeting, decisions on the "fee" ordinances (#3 and #4) were continued until March 14, when council decided to indeed raise development fees beginning this summer. Their rationale: classic. They believe that 2010 represented a "normal" year in which the city "subsidized" the local building and development industry to the tune of $1.8M. Yep. They see their current heavy overhead and its resulting costs to the city's general fund as a "subsidy" of the construction business. The new higher fees will "reduce that subsidy." Puh-lease!
Don't like that outcome? Neither do I. But The Red Ant can't do this alone, folks! I tried.
MAY 3 ELECTION INFO
So who's running? There is hot speculation out there and rumors are swirling, but we won't know for certain until the petitions (currently available from the city clerk) are turned in. The deadline is Friday, April 1. (Is it just me or is that date somehow fitting?) Mayor Mick has indicated that he will run for his third term. Councilman Skadron will run to keep his council seat. And at press time, Adam Frisch has submitted his petition to run for a council post.
Voter registration ends on April 4. Register or update your address at www.PitkinVotes.org. Need an ABSENTEE BALLOT? You MUST request one by April 29 and the application is available HERE. Ballots will be mailed out the week of April 18. (Please take care of this TODAY and be done with it.) Absentee ballots must be received by the city clerk by May 3 at 7p.
As we gear up for the election, be thinking about the following issues. We actually have several to specifically ask the candidates about. Please prioritize these issues and ask each candidate where they stand. For background on these topics, visit www.TheRedAnt.com and research the pertinent issues archived there:
- · The AACP (Issues #52, #54, #55)
- · The Castle Creek Hydro Project (Issues #45, #47, #49, #54, #55)
- · A Plastic Bag/Bottle Tax (Issues #54, #55, #56)
- · And, add the subject of Subsidized Housing and Lack of Reserve Funds
The Red Ant will provide endorsements the week of April 25. Please feel free to contact me if you must fill out your Absentee Ballot before then.
FREE MONEY - DEADLINE IS APRIL 15
Don't forget your $50 food sales tax refund! The refund is $50 per person per year. If you are over 65, you will receive an additional $50 plus another $50 senior citizen allowance. Yes, these amounts are cumulative!! Anyone who can prove they were a resident of the City of Aspen for the entire 2010 year is qualified. And it's simple. Just print and fill out this form and submit it to the city finance department - they must receive it by 5pm on April 15, 2011. If you were registered to vote with a qualifying city address in 2010, simply complete the application. If you are not registered to vote here, you may prove your residency using one of the criteria on the back of the application: lease agreement, utility bills, etc. For questions, the city finance dept can be reached at 970-920-5040.