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

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

                              -- Antonio Villaraigosa



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

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

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


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