Archived Ants

ISSUE #119: Hunt cAN'T Build Base 2  11/3/15

"It looks as if our old friend Hugh Bris is back in town."  -- Gore Vidal


The unofficial results are in, and after serving as a Pitkin County election judge for 12 hours today, I'm gonna keep it short and sweet.

For the most up to date election results and for all measures on the ballot throughout Pitkin County, click HERE


I'm actually surprised that it wasn't MUCH MUCH closer!  Base 2, the 37-room affordable lodge proposed for the corner of Monarch and Main, was handily defeated 1427-728 (66% - 34%).  This issue was far less about the proposed lodge and far more about shuttering development in Aspen.  Mark Hunt's Base 2 Lodge became a proxy for development sins committed by city councils past and present (think: Art Museum).  The opponents objected from the get-go to land use concessions granted to the developer for his plans to build a long-desired (by the community, or so the Aspen Area Community Plan has said for the past 40 years) affordable lodge.  And yes, there were several.  But now we get a new building, arguably a bit less dense than the proposed Base 2 lodge, that will likely house a national bank, a chain pharmacy or a mega-brand retail store at street level with offices or residential above.  

This campaign was yet another ugly chapter in Aspen's electoral politics.  The developer was vilified for not revealing who his investors are (as if it's anyone's business) and publicly accused of being dishonest and disingenuous. The fear campaign was mounted citing Hunt's numerous other properties in town and predictions of "variances gone wild" should Base 2 have been approved.  How quickly the Aspen electorate forgets that just last May the voters stripped council of its ability to grant future land use variances!!

One curious situation emerged amidst the campaign when Carl of Carl's Pharmacy was convinced to oppose the Base 2 lodge.  How he got this wrong is anyone's guess.  If a lodge were to be built across the street from Carl's, he would have had a captive audience of 37-74 people, inches from his business, 24/7/365.  We all know that Carl's sells EVERYTHING, so his shop would become the "bodega" for Base 2.  Beer, sundries, socks, snacks -- you name it.  If I had been Carl, I'd have been quickly on the other side of this one, and would have also looked into plans to replace the long-lost soda fountain and counter to serve his new neighbors!  Now Carl has to wonder -- who will be his across-the-street neighbor and will it be a competitor? 

But the most egregious part of this whole issue came from comments in numerous letters to the editor throughout election season.  There is widespread discontent here in the People's Republic of Aspen over the recent and growing success of our tourism seasons.  It seems the locals resent the visiting crowds and wish there were far fewer people who come to town.  Yes, the same people whose very livelihoods are pegged to a service-based tourism economy want to pull the drawbridge up!  These folks vehemently opposed a new lodge of any sort because they don't want any more people here.  (Just think, you probably subsidized the roofs over may of these same people's heads.)

As I have earlier stated, I now hope the concept of "affordable lodging" in Aspen can die.  This was our shot; after this vote, I can't imagine what other developer would ever deign to try it again.  Frankly, it would be foolish.


This question was an attempt by the State of Colorado to de-Bruce the existing marijuana taxes collected by the government, ostensibly so that more funds can be spent on school construction, marijuana education and prevention programs and youth programs.    

The measure passed 3418-878 (80% - 20%).  Let's hope that money somehow finds its way to the schools!


This question asked voters if the county should opt out of Senate Bill 152 which bans governments from offering internet services to the public.  Pitco does not want to offer broadband services itself, rather, the county seeks to invest in broadband infrastructure improvements for residents who live in rural, remote, rugged, low density areas.  

The measure passed 92% - 8%.


The Armory building at the northeast corner of Galena and Hopkins Streets is where City Hall is currently located.  Council has determined that it prefers to move all city offices under one (to-be-constructed) roof in a 52,000 sf new facility in Rio Grande Plaza rather than continue to house city offices a block away their current location, at other city-owned facilities throughout town, and some at a new (smaller than 52,000 sf) facility.  One alternative use for the Armory space would be a community center, for events, meetings, dances, gatherings.  This is an advisory vote on the matter.

At press time, since these are merely unofficial results -- city offices 1044 (51%), community use 1021 (49%) -- this one is simply too close to call.  


This property tax increase for the schools passed 2369 - 1180 (67% - 33%). The additional $1 million raised for the schools is just the beginning of the tin-cup rattling campaigns and tax increases to come.

I am looking forward to meeting with the Aspen Education Foundation to discuss better and more reliable long term funding options for our schools because the nickel and diming has got to stop! 


Similar to Pitkin County 1A above, Colorado Mountain College wanted to get out from under SB-152 too in order to have the authority to offer broadband service should it ever be needed for its campuses or the communities it serves.  

The measure passed 3421 - 472 (88% - 12%).


This is neither a new tax nor a tax increase.  Originally passed in 1995, this question is for the extension of the existing up-to-1.5 mills mill levy through 2020.  It has been re-authorized in 2000, 2005 and 2010 at the same rate. 

This measure passed resoundingly 2835 - 1147 (71% - 29%).


The Red Ant looks forward to opining on the political topics of the day, including upcoming topics:

  • The Library Expansion: what's going on over there and where did all the money come from??
  • The near and long term future for the Old Power House:  Library? Liquor? Litigation?
  • Aspen's Millennials:  Entitled whiners? Entrepreneurs? Employees? 

ISSUE #118: ANT Alert - Yet Another Election  10/12/15

"Voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another, this country and this world."   -- Sharon Salzberg


It's fall in Aspen and that can mean a lot of things: colorful foliage, dustings of snow on mountaintops, ski conditioning classes ... and yes, elections. We obviously can't have too many elections here!


Election Day is Tuesday, November 3.  This election is a statewide one, so everyone (not just city of Aspen residents) can and should vote!  

  • Your mail-in ballot will be sent to you on October 12
  • Are you registered?  Check your voter registration and mailing address at 
  • Beginning October 20, you can drop your ballot off at the Pitkin County Clerk's office, 530 E. Main Street, 8:30a - 4:30p
  • There is a NEW voter service center at the Jewish Community Center, 435 W. Main Street 
  • Beginning October 26, early voting commences at the JCC, M-F 8:30a - 4:30p, Sat October 31 10a - 2p and Mon November 2, 8:30a - 4:30p
  • The LAST DAY your ballot can be sent to you is October 26
  • Once mailed back in, track your ballot HERE
  • Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 7a - 7p
  • Questions and concerns? or call the county clerk at 970-429-2713


This November's ballot is a hodge-podge of state, county, municipal and district issues.  In the name of brevity, not to mention a severe case of election fatigue, I am weighing in on most, but not all, of the presented issues. For things like school board and CMC board elections, I will leave these to your good judgement. Furthermore, I am reticent to opine on issues that affect communities other than my own. Apologies to readers in Basalt, Carbondale and beyond. 


This question is an attempt by the State of Colorado to de-Bruce the existing marijuana taxes collected by the government, ostensibly so that more funds can be spent on school construction, marijuana education and prevention programs and youth programs.    

I have a few issues with this.  Most pertain to TABOR - the taxpayers bill of rights.  TABOR states that the government can only keep voter-approved tax revenues (above a determined baseline) equal to inflation plus growth (a factor of population).  I am fundamentally a fan of TABOR.

The specific issue at hand stems from the recent legalization of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado.  2015 is already on track to nearly double the marijuana tax revenue that it collected in 2014.  For reasons of this argument, use $40 million collected in 2014 (it was actually a little more, but 40 is an easy number).  Call inflation 2% and growth 3% -- 5% of $40 million is $2 million.  Under TABOR, the state can legally keep $42 million of 2015's pot tax revenue.  But if/when the revenue doubles, as it is on track to do, what will happen to the additional $38 million collected that the state is not allowed to keep?  It must be returned.  To whom? The retailers!?!

When the state collects such sums (far more than TABOR allows), the inclination is to change the law and permanently "de-Bruce" the revenue stream.  I personally like the protections of TABOR and worry about item by item unraveling of these taxpayer rights.  But it raises an even greater question:  if not the government, do we really want ginormous refunds to the pot retailers??  Should they reap the windfall?  If government is the answer, if not TABOR, what is the control mechanism for proper and transparent stewardship of the funds?  In this case, it reads to me intentionally vague, likely because lawmakers don't know.  They're leaving it open. Ugh.

Many will say, "Hey, it's a sin tax.  Let the government keep it and use it where they see fit."  But we are talking HUGE dollars here in Colorado.  In my opinion, neither option is a particularly good choice.  This is one of those "least worst" scenarios.  As voters, we approved (or at least some of you did) the legalization of recreational marijuana sales because they told us the torrents of tax money would flood to the schools.  Since we've yet to see that, I remain skeptical.  But I suppose I'd rather see the excess money have a chance to get there.


This question asks voters if the county should opt out of Senate Bill 152 which bans governments from offering internet services to the public.  Pitco does not want to offer broadband services itself, rather, the county seeks to invest in broadband infrastructure improvements for residents who live in rural, remote, rugged, low density areas.  Approval will enable the county to ensure needed infrastructure is in place through public-private partnerships.


Question 2A is THE hot button Aspen issue du jour.  It pertains specifically to the development of a 37-room lodge at the northwest corner of Main and Monarch Streets, where the Conoco gas station currently stands.  A brief history: On June 1, city council approved the lodge's development application that included zoning variances for parking, total square footage and setbacks in order to gain a long-desired "affordable lodge" in the downtown core.  A local group circulated a successful citizens petition to "unwind" council's approval of this application or send the issue to a public vote.  Well, here is the public vote.

It is never as simple as it sounds, however.  In this particular project's brief lifespan, council has been stripped of its future ability to grant variances to developers (in the May 2015 election) and anti-development sentiment has reached a fever pitch not seen since the late 80's when the historic hysterics were fighting the Ritz Carlton.  You'd think the apocalypse was upon us!

This ballot question has far greater implications.  Developer Mark Hunt has come forward with a plan (obviously appreciated by council) that meets a long-desired and stated community need: affordable lodging.  For at least the last 40 years, the community has been kvetching about "lost beds" and at least the perception of the loss of small, affordable lodges.  Now we have a guy who has stepped forward to answer the call.  He bought the valuable and well-located dirt.  He is willing to build an affordable lodge with small (under 200sf) rooms to meet the changing needs of the evolving Aspen demographic.  He very easily could build - within existing zoning - a nice commercial building for a bank or mega-brand with a penthouse on top, but he's willing to build a lodge.  As with all gives, there are gets.  That's what the opposition ceases to understand.  You want an affordable lodge in Aspen, well then, you're gonna have to give up a few things: some square footage, some setbacks, some housing mitigation.  It's called compromise.

I, for one, think it's a little disingenuous to offer "affordable" lodging in our otherwise "not affordable" town; it simply creates an expectation of affordability that we simply cannot meet.  But the community has long wanted this, so if it works for Hunt, I say let's give it a try.  The market will always determine what succeeds.  And furthermore, despite what you've heard, Base 2, as the lodge is called, is hardly a "big box;" it will not "ruin Main Street" nor "destroy Aspen's character."  It will merely provide 37 very small rooms right downtown, a mere block from the Jerome.  It could very well be the right solution for a long-lamented issue.

Now, should the community decide that these zoning "gives and gets" are too rich for its blood, ok. Mark Hunt will do just fine with his mixed use development opportunities for the property.  The affordable lodge will go away.  But then can we shut up about affordable lodging in Aspen once and for all???  (Do the opponents really think someone else is going to develop something like this??)  I see this as now or never.  Let's give it a go.


The Armory building at the northeast corner of Galena and Hopkins Streets is where City Hall is currently located.  Council has determined that it prefers to move all city offices under one (to-be-constructed) roof in a 52,000 sf new facility in Rio Grande Plaza rather than continue to house city offices a block away their current location and at other city-owned facilities throughout town.  One alternative use for the Armory space would be a community center, for events, meetings, dances, gatherings.  This is an advisory vote on the matter.

My beef is in no way with the idea of a community center.  Nor is it with the fine group of citizens whose desire to see the Armory return to its 1950s-era community use.  Their intentions are well and good.  Charming even.  I just can't stand the hubris of our local government.  It is the ultimate in hypocrisy to build a 52,000 sf edifice to bureaucracy in downtown Aspen when the municipality owns several buildings of varying sizes throughout town that the government is falling over itself to give away and/or to re-purpose for various (and dubious) "community uses."  (Think: Old Power House.)  

Of course shiny and new is preferable to used and re-purposed.  Of course paid-for-with-money-on-hand is preferable to asking for a bond (never mind why we have stashed away $40+ million taxpayer dollars for a new municipal castle).  Of course having everyone under one roof is preferable to spreading them among other city-owned properties. But is it prudent? Is it responsible? Is it necessary?

I say no.  A 52,000 sf municipal building is nearly 2 acres in size.  The city says it won't look that big because from Main Street because it will drop down in back several floors to Rio Grande Place.  But what about from that side? It will surely be a centerpiece of environmentalism, but will its stacked boxes function in terms of community engagement?  Surely there are numerous divisions and departments that have little or no public interface needs.  Why should they be in the center of town when other (city-owned) locations are available?  And for those functions that exist for public interface, then absolutely, keep them front and center.  My guess is that the proposed building is about 40% larger than it needs to be.

Furthermore, in the event that the Armory "reverts" to community use, are you aware that the (city-owned) Wheeler has already given early indication of its interest in managing the facility?  This begs numerous questions, not the least of which is why the city would be getting into the publicly subsidized event space business that will compete with other private enterprises.  And financially, we all know that the pot of gold that the Wheeler sits on from the (0.5%) RETT revenues is just funding looking for expenditures.  Could there be some financial cross-pollination that enables Wheeler RETT money to further subsidize the operations of and/or improvements to this proposed "community" venue??  A lot of questions, not a lot of answers.

In short, it comes down to this.  Do you want less net new development?  Well then, City Hall should absolutely stay where it is, use existing spaces already owned by the city, and expand at Galena Plaza only as much as it needs to.  If massive net new development makes you happy, then a 52,000 sf office space for our pals on the public payroll is right up your alley.  


This one is an emotional hot button.  It's a property tax increase for the schools.  According to school superintendent John Maloy, this property tax increase - the first for the schools since 2010 - will bring in almost $1 million a year "to preserve the current quality of education the community has stated it values and supports."  The problem is, this new $1 million a year, which will come from a mill levy over-ride of $2.99 per $100,000 of assessed value, will not come close to covering the projected shortfall, which is estimated to be $2.3 million next year.  We will still have a huge funding gap.  Much of this gap will be covered by an existing (circa 2011) Aspen 0.3% sales tax which kicks in $1.4-$1.8 million a year, but this tax expires in 2016.  (Read: look for a "renewal" of this tax in one year.)  Note:  the 2011 decision to add solely to Aspen's sales tax set a dangerous precedent.  Where was Snowmass Village up front?  Aspen stood front and center of the financial universe as usual -- what's the incentive for Snowmass Village to buck up now??  Just sayin'.

Clearly, the economic situation in the state of Colorado for education is dire.  This is not the fault of our local administrators, rather one stemming from funding decisions at the state level.  On one hand, you could argue, "Anything for the schools."  They are indeed a very important part of our community.  But on the other hand, while Snowmass Village (where over 20% of the district's students reside) dithers over how to contribute (they don't want to raise their sales tax any higher because it's already over 10%) and the Aspen Education Foundation raises $400K-$700K annually in charitable donations, can't we as a community do better?  I'd like to think so.

As school board member Sheila Wills has stated, "We need to find a local solution we can rely on."  Yes, Sheila, we do.  Here's one.  How about we re-allocate the RETT.  Yep, that 1.5% real estate transfer tax that goes (1%) to subsidized housing and (0.5%) to the Wheeler Opera House endowment can and should be promptly re-allocated.  The Aspen schools should benefit from this revenue.  This CAN be accomplished -- not easily -- but it CAN be done. Just look at the financial fortunes of the housing program and the Wheeler since the advent of the RETT. (FYI, in 2015, the RETT revenue forecast for housing is $8.4 million and for the Wheeler it's $4.5 million.)  It's time to select new beneficiaries.  As a community we can and should step up and make something big happen -- a real local solution that the schools CAN rely on.  But in order for this to happen, the piecemeal nickle and diming has got to stop.  


Similar to Pitkin County 1A above, Colorado Mountain College wants to get out from under SB-152 too in order to have the authority to offer broadband service should it ever be needed for its campuses or the communities it serves.  


This is neither a new tax nor a tax increase.  Originally passed in 1995, this question is for the extension of the existing up-to-1.5 mills mill levy through 2020.  It has been re-authorized in 2000, 2005 and 2010 at the same rate. These monies are not for new construction but to maintain funding levels to cover the costs of new technologies, staff development and education, community health and well-being services, care for the indigent and maintaining low nurse-patient ratios.  Think of it as a community commitment for local control of healthcare in the upper valley.  Short of a single-payer healthcare system, there will always be costs like these that fall to us.  It's simply what we pay to have a good hospital in our community.



ISSUE #117: I'm JubilANT - Bert Beats Mick

"One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician's objective.  Election and power are."   -- Cal Thomas


Yes, it's over.  The results are in.  Bert Myrin unleashed a can of old-fashioned whoop ass on Mick Ireland in yesterday's run-off election for the remaining council seat, 1305 - 684 (66% - 34%).  

This hometown shellacking comes on the heels of the entrenched political class showing how little they have. The angry, class warfare-inciting, anti-business, anti-development, "bring back the quiet years" mob used Bert Myrin to compose and coordinate their anti-development Referendum 1 (which passed in May), only to allow it to be co-opted by Mick as a revisionist history come-back campaign platform.  Once Bert and Mick were in the run-off for the last council seat, this cabal swiftly threw Myrin under the bus and backed Mick with everything they had. Thankfully, the community has a long memory, and was not swayed by their shameless backing of Aspen's former mayor.

Many thanks, Red Ant readers, for voting.  When just 2000 people show up at the polls, your votes make a HUGE difference!!


Bert overcame the lack of support from both local papers, who preferred Mick's "experience" to Myrin's "new voice."  Interestingly, Bert had zero support from the council table either.  Mayor Skadron, Ann Mullins, Art Daily and yes, even Adam Frisch, vociferously endorsed Mick in the run-off.  Bert, a long-time community activist and P&Z commission member, won over the electorate with a sincere message that echoes the outcome of Referendum 1.  The community has clearly lost confidence in council and its decisions regarding development and, as the author of the new law that strips council of its ability to grant variances, Bert is now well positioned to implement the new rules and begin healing the divide that led to such a draconian change to our city charter.  Vowing to represent the community's small town character and values amidst the business interests of the resort, Bert clearly struck a chord.  I am not in agreement with Myrin's us/them characterization of the community and the resort -- I feel strongly that one is nothing without the other -- but am hopeful that Bert's proven ability to work across the proverbial aisle will serve the community well as we face the challenges inherent in applying Ref 1.  

Bert won because he is a gentleman.  He was undaunted when abandoned by the old guard, his erstwhile supporters in the Mick Machine.  He reached out to all corners of the community.  He has a record of always being prepared and he respects the process of good governance.  He communicates professionally.  Reach out and congratulate him.  It's the dawn of a new day.


Mick's shameless attempt at a council comeback was shown all the respect it deserved, which is far more than what he showed the electorate over his many years as county commissioner and mayor.  Time's up.  This was Mick's first loss as a candidate at the polls.  He tried to re-write history.  It didn't work.  The community did not fall for his 180-degree turn when he strongly backed Referendum 1.  He was, after all, the mayor when the most egregious variances in Aspen's history were granted.  Voters were also confused by Mick's criticism of city management and its lack of controls, because as mayor, he directed the granting of Steve Barwick's $170K/year contract and never followed up with annual reviews or a modicum of council oversight.  This led directly to Parking-Gate, among other Barwick financial follies.

The Red Ant was simply 4 years ahead of my time.  The community is indeed Sick of Mick.  (Many thanks to those who have donated to keep the up on the internet.  I knew it would come in handy again someday.)


Sitting council members would be well served to reflect on the outcome of this election.  It could easily be interpreted as the public's approval of city council in general.  The voters stripped council of a major responsibility in May, then showed all 4 members exactly what they thought of their unanimous endorsement of Mick's return. 

Bert will bring good government processes to the council table.  This will help amidst Skadron's frequent confusion.  He has also vowed to live up to his reputation as a patient listener.  I am optimistic.

In our little world, the concept of "mandate" is often brought up after elections in attempts to "elevate" certain council members above others based upon votes earned at the polls.  Let's all keep in mind that Bert just handed it to Mick in a more decisive margin than any of us could have hoped for.  

Welcome, Bert.  You have our support.  Let's get to work!


ISSUE #116: Render Mick IrrelevANT

"An election is a moral horror, as bad as a battle except for the blood; a mud bath for every soul concerned in it
."   -- George Bernard Shaw


Bert Myrin was just 10 votes short of winning a council seat outright in the May 5 election, finishing in second place behind Adam Frisch with 994 votes.  He was notably 181 votes ahead of Mick Ireland.  The two now face off in a run-off where the winner takes all and will serve on council for the next 4 years.

Now it's our turn. There is no good reason to allow Mick another stint in elected office in Aspen.  He has served tirelessly as a county commissioner (three 4-year terms) and as mayor of Aspen (three 2-year terms).  It's simply time for a fresh voice.  Besides, is it really possible for someone who has been mayor for 6 years to resist the urge to run the show!?!  Please take 2 minutes to vote, vote for Bert Myrin and do it today!!

The run-off will be Tuesday, June 2. This too will be a mail-in ballot election; ballots were mailed out on May 15.  Look for yours.  Early voting begins on May 18 at City Hall.  Don't procrastinate!!  If you know you will be out of town during the election season, please complete the absentee ballot request form HERE.  The post office will not forward ballots!  Be sure to check the box indicating that you need a RUN-OFF ballot.  Questions?  Please call the city clerk at 970-429-2685.



10. Bert listens to others' opinions

9.  Bert considers how his decisions affect others

8.  Bert gets things done

7.  Bert is approachable

6.  Bert respects speaking and meeting time limits

5.  Bert takes disagreements in stride

4.  Bert is friendly to citizens of all political viewpoints

3.  Bert is smart

2.  Bert does his homework


And the number one reason to vote for Bert Myrin:

1.  Bert's will be a fresh, new voice on council



On a personal note, I have worked with Bert (specifically on defeating the Hydro Plant) and, while our politics are not always in line, I found this unlikely collaboration to be an efficient, strategic and goal-oriented experience.  Not to mention, successful.  I learned A LOT from Bert and will be forever grateful for his guidance with that process.  For those of you who opposed the Hydro Plant, that's yet another reason to support his candidacy!

We have just elected two incumbents.  It's time for a new voice on council -- Bert's.



Whether you want Bert to win or Mick to lose, your endorsement of Bert could really help A LOT.  Many people I have contacted have said they will vote for Bert and additionally urge their friends to do so.  This is good, but for Bert to win and Mick to lose, we're going to have to do even more than that.  It will require pressing ALL the mechanical levers of the campaign.  In Aspen elections, being able to show A LOT of endorsements is one important lever.  Please consider endorsing Bert, which means he would include your name in his ads.  (Yes, I'm on his list.)  You can do so by replying to this email and I will forward it to Bert.



For those who cannot take a little humor, this isn't for you... Mick has long been the political nemesis of The Red Ant, therefore, I won't throw any softballs.  I don't want him re-elected to anything.  No way, no how.

Here is an anonymously submitted riff on the "Top 10 Reasons to Vote for Bert" (above):


10.  Bert is NOT an insufferable bore

 9.  Bert is NOT narcissistic

 8.  Bert is NOT the only person in the room with a worthwhile opinion

 7.  Bert wears normal clothes and glasses to business meetings

 6.  Bert DOESN'T suck the oxygen out of all discussions

 5. Bert DOESN'T call people bad names just for disagreeing with him

 4.  Bert DOESN'T weave lectures on Citizens United and Climate Change into zoning discussions

3.  Bert DOESN'T constantly remind everyone he went to law school

2.  Bert DOESN'T consistently exceed his allotted speaking time


And the number one reason to vote for Bert Myrin:

1.  Bert DOESN'T troll the Saturday Market in spandex bike clothes reminding chicks "I'm the Mayor."


Furthermore, it's time to send Mick a message once and for all.  We're SICK OF MICK.  I am. You are. Aspen is.  Check out the website if you need a refresher as to why!


ISSUE #115: ANT Alert - The Empire Doesn't Strike Back

"Winning the election is a good-news, bad-news kind of thing.  Okay, now you're the mayor.  The bad news is now you're the mayor." -- Clint Eastwood


Mayor:  Skadron (incumbent) beats Torre 58% - 42%

Council:  Adam Frisch wins outright with 1207 votes and avoids a run-off.

Bert Myrin (990) and Mick Ireland (881) will likely* face off on June 2 for the second seat.

Referendum 1:  The controversial charter amendment prevailed 53% - 47%



*A run-off is likely, but not certain.  There are 23 outstanding ballots that must be verified today before being counted.  If Myrin gets 12 more votes, I am told that he too will clear the threshold of 45% + 1 to win the second council seat outright.  

If necessary, the run-off election will be Tuesday, June 2.  Ballots will be mailed out on May 11 with early voting beginning on May 18 at City Hall.  If you know you are going to be out of town on June 2, please complete the absentee form HERE.  Check the box indicating that you need a RUN-OFF ballot.  Questions?  Please call the city clerk at 970-429-2685.



Yay, us!  The bullet voting strategy worked!  By electing Adam Frisch in the first round, we successfully preserved one sane vote on council.  Furthermore, I am personally thrilled that I'm clearly not alone in being Sick of Mick -- the municipal election of 2015 could very well go down in history for handing the old dragon his first electoral defeat!

As for Referendum 1, I think the community will live to regret this change to our charter.  It's bad legislation designed to cripple future councils.  And ironically, the incumbents, Skadron and Frisch, who vehemently opposed the measure, were handily re-elected.  Meanwhile, the measure's authors, anti-development stalwarts Myrin and Ireland, now fight for their (own) political survival.   

Much more to follow.  Just wanted you to know the (unofficial) outcome from last night.


This election was city clerk Linda Manning's first in her new role.  To complicate matters, it was the city's first all mail-in ballot election.  I served as an election judge throughout the process and want to assure the community that we are in EXCELLENT hands with Linda.  She ran a meticulous election. Thank you, Linda.


ISSUE #114: Don't be HesitANT to Vote!

"Every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods." -- H.L. Mencken

 "I never voted for anybody.  I always voted against."  -- W.C. Fields


Gotta start off with something positive.  Don't forget to collect your $50 food tax refund.  Deadline is April 15.  HERE is the form.

                                                  * * * * * * *

The lack of enthusiasm for this year's election has been palpable.  In any case, it's still important that we all vote in the May 5th municipal election even when it's akin to having one's wisdom teeth pulled without anesthetic.  I also see voting as, among other things, an act that upholds my right to complain about the outcome. 

 My feelings are changing as election day approaches, however.  As I've gotten to know the candidates and where they stand on the issues, I am a bit more encouraged than I've been.  But that's not saying a lot.  Mick joining the race was a monsoon on everyone's parade and really threw a wrench in the system, but all is not lost.  Some see his return to council as a fait accompli.  I hope and pray that's not the case.  We just need to be strategic.  Very strategic.  And in this election, there are some very strange bedfellows indeed.


Reminder:  this election will be by mail-in ballots only.  Ballots were sent out yesterday, April 13.  You will have yours this week.  Look for it.  Mail-in voting is ripe for election fraud.  If you choose to abstain from voting, please destroy your ballot.  Again DO NOT THROW IT IN THE TRASH AT THE POST OFFICE!!  You will need $0.70 for postage or you can drop your ballot off at city hall.  (Questions regarding voting or your ballot, please call the Aspen City Clerk at 970-429-2687.)  The official election day when votes are counted is Tuesday, May 5. 

I've gone to the ACRA Candidate Forum.  I've read the local papers' candidate interviews.  And in most cases, I have met with the candidates themselves.  In other words, I've done my research.  Why wait.  Vote now and be done with it.  Here's how and why:



Referendum 1 is the "no variance" ballot measure that seeks to remove Aspen city council's flexibility on land use applications by subjecting variances affecting the mass and scale of buildings in the commercial core to a public vote.

I get it - the whole horse-trading exercise in the wee hours of the morning between council and developers has grown old.  And many of the "deals" have proven more than just a wee bit out of character for Aspen. The proposed charter amendment will take away council's ability to grant variances to 4 key parts of our code:  height, mass, subsidized housing and parking.  The four biggies.  And it only applies to commercial and lodging zones (single-family homes and duplexes are excluded). 

I agree, we should get out of the "governing by variance" business.  But I look at it differently.  If specific variances are so good, then let's codify them so they're available to everyone.  This whole brou-ha-ha is a land use issue so let's change the land use code.  Regardless of what side you're on, the argument comes down to:  CHANGE THE DAMNED LAND USE CODE SO IT APPLIES FAIRLY TO EVERYONE!!  The question is one of process.  This shouldn't be done as a charter amendment.  But don't take my word for it.  I have some unlikely support:

  • Former Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling: "The charter is Aspen's constitution, and our charter addresses how we govern ourselves.  It is not a document that should be addressing land use, environmental control and zoning issues.  Any group of US citizens who were unhappy with the president and his cabinet for allowing public buildings to be built too massive of tall would not even suggest that the constitution be amended to address such an issue.  It would be dealt with by petitions or through legislative action."  
  • The Aspen Times' Andy Stone: "On one team, we have The People's Choice, the city council (NO on Referendum 1). On the other team, we have We The People, the citizens (YES on Referendum 1).  So do we trust the wisdom of the people? Or is it really the wisdom of the mob?  Remember, it was those same people who, in their collective wisdom, elected the council in the first place.  So, in short, do you trust the untrustworthy council? Or the people who selected that untrustworthy bunch?"

And support from those who see "the law of unintended consequences" lurking once again:

  • Neil Siegel:  And what makes this situation even worse and very bad precedent is that it encourages other single issue groups to bastardize the city charter with provisions cast in concrete that should be the subject of code changes which can be amended and tailored by council as conditions evolve.  It is unquestionably true that the city charter is not the place to vent frustration or pursue personal agendas, but that is exactly what is happening here."

Furthermore, there's a significant loophole in the charter amendment concept.  If someone wants a variance and decides to go for it at the polls, what's to say that the variance-seeker doesn't sweeten the proverbial pot with some sort of bribe, packaged as a "community benefit?"  Horse-trading will continue; it will just wear a different hat. 


In 2013, Steve Skadron and Torre met in the mayoral run-off, which Skadron narrowly won.  2015 marks Torre's 5th run for the office.  If we're rating the candidates on the "good guy" element that so often drives local electoral politics, it's a tie.  Both are friendly, good guys.  Smarts?  Neither will wow you.  So let's move on...

While things with Skadron as mayor have been an improvement over Mick, let's not forget that ANYONE would have been an improvement.  It wasn't a high bar.  Could things get worse with Torre as mayor?  Sure, anything can happen, but I say let's give him a chance.  And consider, there is no love lost between Torre and Mick.  This is important and part of the strategy with Mick running for a council seat.  Mick's candidacy is not to be underestimated.  In the god-awful case that Mick is elected again, Torre will not put up with Mick's pontification, bloviation and rampant BS.  I just don't see Skadron keeping Mick in line for one minute. 

And as far as leadership goes, Skadron has been a disappointment.  He rarely grasps complex issues and often decries citizen input when things get technical, admittedly preferring "hearing about the issues from city staff."  He is solely responsible for adding the Aspen Brewery's proposal  to a citizen committee's list of finalists for the Old Power House, a blatant act of political pandering.  This, in the face of his very own directive that the space not be "handed over to private, commercial or office space use."

Skadron also thinks we should keep building and building and building subsidized housing "because (in his opinion) we need it."  And worst of all, despite years of citizen activism against the hydro plant (CCEC) including an advisory vote to kill the project, Skadron still ignores leading environmentalists and citizens alike with his willingness to complete the project.

Now don't get me wrong, Torre is no panacea.  We disagree on plenty, not the least of which is Referendum 1 (above).  Torre is also an advocate for subsidized commercial space in Aspen (puh-lease), in addition to acknowledging what he sees as "a never ending need for housing."  Torre has vexed me for years, however the specter of Mick back on council makes me open to giving Torre a try this time.

Torre DOES recognize the lack of leadership in city hall and favors greater oversight of city management.  (Those who work in city hall are frightened at the prospect of Torre as mayor - you can bet I like that!!)  His housing priorities are more narrowly focused than just "more" - he wants to see us build for specific demographics and pragmatically states that we need to take care of the inventory we have before we prioritize new construction.  I have had a constructive conversation with Torre about his ideas for "fixing" Centennial and no, he is not advocating a government bailout (phew!).  He wants to provide help, but more along the lines of a loan vs outright gift.  He sees where council MUST have better direction of processes and projects and opposes a new 70,000 sf city hall.  And I particularly like his priority of "protecting our streams, NOT a third try at the hydro plant citizens voted against."  And who can argue with the formation of an advisory board of second homeowners, to whom Torre would like to give a voice?  Furthermore, mystery solved!  HERE is how Torre became just "Torre."

  • The mayor must be elected with 50% + 1 of the votes cast
  • Let's give Torre a chance
  • It's a hedge against Mick being elected to council and trying to run the joint


I have long espoused the benefits of what's called "bullet voting."  This is a process that makes it more likely that your candidate will be elected when running for one of several openings (in our case, two) amidst a field of competitors.  The theory is to vote for just your favorite candidate, thereby boosting your candidate's total by one with your sole "bullet" vote.  By not voting for another candidate although you are permitted to, your candidate's total increases while others' totals do not.  My "bullet vote" will be for Adam Frisch. 

With this voting strategy, Adam has a solid shot of being elected in the first round on May 5 (45% + 1 vote). That is the goal.  Simply put, we need to get Adam in, especially with Mick lurking in the wings.  To get Adam on council gives us one "friendly," and hopefully, by employing the "bullet vote" strategy, keeps Mick relegated to the run-off.  (I may be crazy to think this, but hope springs eternal...) 

Adam has demonstrated common sense and respect at the council table.  His spirit of collaboration is to be admired.  He comes to meetings prepared.  And most importantly, Adam is accessible.  He reads and responds to inquiries regularly.  This is not a trait found elsewhere on council.  I personally appreciate his willingness to listen, read and ask questions of concerned citizens.  There are issues too numerous to count that come across his transom, and I have found Adam to be a patient and willing ear.  In his four years on council, Adam has gained confidence and perspective; no longer does he take the word of city staff as gospel.  I encourage Adam to keep focusing on his principles.  He CAN become a VERY strong voice for fiduciary responsibility, and we need that now more than ever.  Please, "bullet vote" for Adam.

Now remember, Mick too might just get it done with 45% + 1 on election day - but I sure hope not!  Hopefully people are simply SICK OF MICK (click it for some good laughs)!  But let's not be foolish here - Mick WILL command a lot of votes.  And in a run-off, Mick may still win a seat.  But the June 2 run-off election will focus on just those in contention, and I do see a candidate or two who might be able to give him an honest run for his money!


Political newcomer Andy Israel is one of the more interesting candidates to join the fracas in recent years.  An outspoken advocate for Wagner Park, he has long highlighted the limited public access to the park as an example of how the city of Aspen does not act in the best interest of its citizens.  This CPA and Wharton MBA was motivated to run for office because of what he sees as a "unacceptable lack of institutional control" at city hall as evidenced by, among other messes, the parking scandal.  "The numbers don't lie" and "parking scandals don't last 4 years," he states.  As self-proclaimed "deal maker," "problem solver" and "closer," Israel, a dark horse who claims he will "get things done," promises to work to "eliminate confusion and communication breakdowns" in Aspen government.  I welcome Andy to the mix and am pleased and entertained by his refreshing candor.  Oh, and did I mention, he studies the city budget in far more detail than anyone on council.  Plus, he can read a spreadsheet.  And no, this straight-shooter won't take any BS from Mick, Barwick or city staff. 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Now some of you are surely puzzled, if not shocked, by my endorsements.  But as I've written, we have no choice but to hedge against Mick.  That has been my driving rationale.  And sometimes that means picking "the least worst" candidate.  Sadly, Mick's candidacy really iced several good community members' campaigns.  Instead of being able to look at the full slate of candidates and ask, "who is the best candidate," Mick's candidacy makes this election one of "who can win?" 

Local activist (and author of Referendum 1) Bert Myrin is parlaying his tenure on P&Z and political capital from a successful "career" in the challenge-city-hall-through-citizen-petitions business into what's shaping up as a very competitive run.  I have worked with Bert (to kill the hydro plant) and know him to be a tireless advocate for his chosen causes.  He's a real muckraker. To say that "Bert cares" is a gross understatement.  Mick (ever the purveyor of revisionist history) has managed to co-opt Myrin in this election by glomming on to the momentum of Referendum 1.  They're being seen as a package deal. And this alliance makes people nervous. 

Long-time community and civic volunteer Marcia Goshorn , former APCHA director and councilman Tom McCabe, and bartender and former coffee shop owner (Parallel 15) Keith Goode got lost in this season's election shuffle.  While Marcia and I disagree on subsidized housing issues, she has a proven track record of commitment to important civic boards, including the Citizens Budget Task Force.  Her perspective informs her belief that the resort and community are NOT against one another, rather, they are dependent upon each other.  Tom, as a former locally-serving business owner, laments the lack of affordable lodging and commercial space for business in Aspen.  Keith, while a newcomer to the election game, has served on the city's Planning & Zoning board.  This is truly valuable experience given the land use issues of the day.  He brings a unique perspective that highlights the close interface between those in the food & beverage industry and our visitors.  These candidates deserve our respect and gratitude for throwing their hats into the ring.  It's more than I've ever done.

  • In order to be elected, a candidate must garner 45% + 1 of the votes on May 5.  With 7 candidates running for two seats, the likelihood for a run-off is great.
  • On May 5th, if only one candidate passes the 45% +1 threshold, that candidate is elected and the next two candidates with the highest number of votes advance to a run off on June 2.  The candidate with the highest number of votes on June 2 wins.
  • On May 5th, if no one hits the 45% + 1 threshold, the four highest vote-getters advance to the run-off on June 2nd, where the two highest vote-getters win.
  • The run-off election is Tuesday, June 2.  Ballots will be mailed out on May 11 with early voting beginning on May 18 at City Hall.  If you know you are going to be out of town on June 2, please complete the absentee form HERE.   Check the box indicating that you need a run-off ballot.  Questions?  970-429-2685

The Red Ant sent each of the candidates a questionnaire several weeks ago that touches on issues of the day.  Every candidate responded and for that I am grateful.  The questions are as follows, with notable excerpts from individual responses.   Links to the candidates' full responses are at the end of this issue.

Where do you stand on the "no variance" ballot measure that, in many cases, strips city council's responsibility for granting development variances and waivers?  Should the city charter (Aspen's "constitution") be changed or is this matter better suited to a change to Aspen's land use code?  Please explain.

  • Skadron:  I oppose the ballot issue.  It's a land use code item that does not belong in the charter. The charter is the framework of our government and should not have land use items attached to it.  I believe the amendment undermines the principles of representative democracy.
  • Torre:  I do support Ref 1.  I think it's unfortunate that it has come to a citizen referendum, but I too want a land use process that reflects community values and promotes positive development opportunity.
  • Myrin:  The red herring here is the false choice between direct democracy and representative democracy.  A YES vote on Referendum 1 upholds representative government.  Our representative government doesn't negotiate land deals; it follows the rules and changes the rules for everyone if needed.
  • Frisch:  Oppose.  The real issue is that the maximum allowed height was not addressed in the land use code soon enough, not the approval of variances.  I have asked the supporters of the referendum for a single example of a building in town that was granted a height variance that is out of line with community values - it has been over a week and not a single example.  Again, the buildings in town that are 'big' were all approved under a prior Council that did not downzone soon enough.
  • Goshorn:  The land use codes have needed to be revised in a responsible manner for years, but the councils have not been willing to do that.  The ballot question is not something to be feared.
  • Israel:  I signed the petition.  I plan to vote yes in favor of Ref  1.  I don't agree with many of the recent decisions made by various councils.  I have lost faith in the process.
  • Goode:  I believe that this (variances) is something that should go to the voters.
  • Mick:  I am more concerned with the proposals to alter the land use code to subsidized high end development.  The need for luxury lodging is not well established.  The variance "process" encourages real estate speculation.
  • McCabeI am not in favor of the "no variance" ballot measure.  It is akin to using a pile driver to do the work of a hammer.

Steve Barwick is the city manager.  As such, he reports directly to council and, per the city charter, is responsible for running the administration of the city, not developing or directing policy.  What will you do to foster greater accountability from the city manager?  How will you change the focus to Council-directed policy as opposed to simply "playing catch" with policy initiatives that originate with the city manager?

  • Skadron:  I disagree with the premise.  The question implies that the city manager is developing and directing policy and that's not the case.
  • Torre:  I will bring leadership and accountability to city hall.  I will focus council for clear policy directives.  I will then follow up with the city manager and staff to enumerate and execute service and outcome measures.
  • Goshorn:  The buck stops with the city council.
  • Israel:  If I am elected I will push for an immediate audit of the CofA books and accounting systems by a legitmate 3rd party auditor. Projects and events get pushed so far up the ladder before council is even aware of them. The city manager reports to council, not the other way around.
  • Frisch:  The City Council is a policy board.  It is their job to set goals and objectives on behalf of the community with a long term vision in mind.  The City Manager is responsible for executing those goals. On Monday, April 13th, Council is participating in its first formal 360 review of the City Manager since I joined Council in June of 2011.  This should have been my fourth; standard operating procedure is on an annual basis.  I wish I had a valid reason for this not being done until now, but I do not - no excuses.
  • Goode:  Council each year takes time to create a top ten goals that they hope to achieve.  I would hope to use these as our base for direction.
  • Mick:  The city manager should be subject to annual personnel review by the city council including a "360" review by his peers and subordinates.

Surely you are familiar with Aspen's parking scandal, discovered in 2014.  While a recent audit of the city's internal controls has been presented to the current council with recommended steps for process improvements and evaluation of risks, how do you feel about requiring a quarterly review of the city's actual financial condition?  What about the employment of an auditor who reports to council (not staff) and has a statutory obligation to make reports to council and the public? Please explain. 

  • Skadron:  I would support consideration of retaining an auditor to report to council.
  • MyrinWe need to bring in outside, independent and transparent auditors to review the city's financial controls.
  • Goshorn:  In 2008 I was a member of a 26 person citizens budget task force that gave the city a list of recommendations that included regular audits.  The recommendation was not acted on.  The city needs regular oversight now as it did then.
  • McCabe:  The difficulty with anything as complex as the city budget is that the expertise of the professionals is typically beyond the experience of those elected to oversee it.
  • TorreI will do whatever it takes to ensure the fiscal competency of the city.  I support community oversight and if necessary, outside evaluation.
  • Goode:  Hiring an auditor shouldn't be out of the question, but tightening the controls that are already in place might be a better solution.
  • MickThe City of Denver has an elected auditor.  I would not go that far but it is worth considering a direct report to council and periodically changing auditors.  I like the idea of reports to the public and I believe city financial data should be online.

The FERC permit for the Castle Creek Energy Center (CCEC) hydro plant was not renewed in February.  Is there ANY circumstance in which you would vote as a member of council to continue spending money on the CCEC.  Yes or no? Please explain.

  • Skadron:  Yes. One circumstance to support further expenditures would be a citizen petition to re-establish the energy center program. 
  • Frisch:  No.  For years, I have been clear and consistent in my comments that the community has spoken.
  • TorreI will not be supporting continuing with the CCEC.
  • McCabe:  No.  It is not OK to spend more money unless the citizens demand it by way of a vote.
  • MyrinAspen should sell the turbine ASAP.  This would put to rest continuing to spend money on the CCEC.
  • Israel:  I would never vote to continue the CCEC.  I don't want to hear about it or see any time or money dedicated to it.
  • Goode:  No.  The community has spoken very clearly about their opinion of the hydro plant.
  • MickNo.  My side lost the election and I do not intend to pursue the license.  

The APCHA housing inventory is comprised of over 2800 rental and owned units.  There is great speculation of widespread non-compliance.  In order to better understand our current and future subsidized housing needs, would you support an independent and comprehensive audit of the entire portfolio to determine who lives there, where they work and whether or not they comply?  If not, why not?

  • Skadron:  Speculation is different than the evidence which suggests widespread compliance.
  • Goshorn:  Speculation is forming of a theory without evidence and has a life of its own.  The housing board has already begun a discussion of how we could accomplish an audit.
  • Israel:  I too believe there is a lot of non-compliance with APCHA.  I am in favor of an audit or review of this entity conducted by a different party than the financial auditor.
  • TorreI believe that we should have a compliance component to our program, even if this is best realized by an outside source.
  • Goode:  Yes, I've spoken with the new housing director about this already.  Even if there is only 10% out of compliance, that's 280 units!
  • MickAPCHA owners are required to certify their eligibility periodically under penalty of perjury.  The affidavit requires affirmation that the owner knows the rules and is in compliance.
  • McCabe:  I convinced the council and commissioners (years ago) to increase the APCHA legal budget by a factor of 6, for 5 years, so APCHA could chase down the more persistent rumors of cheating.  This provided APCHA the resources to prosecute some headline-generating cheaters and to develop better investigative tools.
  • Frisch:  Contrary to popular belief, the APCHA staff and board have long suggested a review.  The policy suggestion seemed to run out of steam prior when it comes to the elected officials (we need to remember the Pitkin County Commissioners have an equal say on policy direction regarding APCHA housing issues).

Reports of APCHA housing inventory in physical decline have been attributed to (among other things) speculation about the lack of adequate HOA reserves and deferred maintenance over the years by HOAs.  Would you support a legally mandated level for reserve accounts at every APCHA HOA?  If not, how do you envision the prevention of further decline of these valuable community assets? 

  • Skadron:  Moving forward with new properties, I would not be opposed to further deed restrictions mandating a level of capital reserves.
  • MyrinCouncil and staff have been focused on deferred maintenance of our resort bed base and not nearly as much attention has been paid to this equally important issue.  If we are intent on maintaining our community, we must work on solutions to sustain our affordable housing inventory, not just building more.
  • Israel:  I am in support of a mandated HOA reserve.
  • McCabe:  On the ownership side, almost all deed restricted homes (condos) are members of an independent, non-profit HOA.  Existing HOAs falling under the deed restrictions of APCHA cannot legally be required to comply with any level of reserve account funding by local political jurisdictions, which includes APCHA, the city or the county.
  • Frisch:  Not only would I, I already have, both on an individual basis as well as through my leadership on the Housing Frontiers Group.  With Frontier's lead, capital reserves are now mandated for all AH projects from Burlingame-II and going forward, including AH built by private developers. 
  • GoodeI don't think that's out of the question to set a baseline for reserves for every HOA.  What I would question is who is responsible for funding that?  The new tenants to old units?
  • MickThe issue is not confined to APCHA housing.  It is common for HOAs to struggle with maintenance of capital assets.  Some APCHA units were not properly built for this climate.  I believe the city has a role in helping analyze long term capital replacement needs and requiring adequate reserves.
  • Torre:  I do believe in mandated standards for HOA management of APCHA housing.  Before we are building more housing, we need to iron out the wrinkles that we have experienced as our AH program enters it's 40's.

The city of Aspen has a $100+ million budget in 2015.  Just because we have it, should we spend it?  Where do you see waste/abuse?

Please be specific in your evaluation of the City's overall financial condition and budget priorities.

  • Skadron:  I agree. Money should not be spent just because we have it. I have expressed that to various departments within the city. City projects are scrutinized by the council and there are times when council directs staff to re-study a project because of the money.
  • McCabe:  To some degree I am sure that fees are used to get around the TABOR restrictions.
  • Torre:  The $616K intersection project at Gondola Plaza and the proposed $2.7 million Castle Creek Bridge narrowing are issues.  And the fact that this council is spending $2.8 mill for architectural designs on 2 options on over 70,000sq.ft. for a new city hall. I think we need a revised budget process that involves a more public friendly explanation of budgeting and reconciliation.
  • Goshorn:  The continual studies by consultants that cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars are repetitive and in many cases unnecessary and often placed on shelves and ignored.
  • Israel:  I see waste and abuse everywhere.  I see a culture of excess at city hall.  Just because we have "an embarrassment of riches" doesn't mean we need to make foolish decisions about money.
  • Frisch:  To add a bit of detail, the total approved appropriations in 2015 is $124,206,420.  Having said that, the total revenue in the General Fund, which is the only part of the budget that City Council totally controls, is 'only' $24.4 million.  The rest of the monies are voter supported initiatives.  The recent parking scandal is a good example of the City needing to be extra diligent in financial practices.  The fact was with increasing revenues from the department, it became less critical to double check the books.  The generosity of the community is based on very prudent management of our vast resources.
  • GoodeIf we decide to set up a rainy day fund then that is something I believe should go to the voters.
  • Mick:  The $100 million is an attractive political target. Reserves should be increased in anticipation of the next crash.  Our reliance on a fairly narrow, volatile segment of the upper end of the economy makes us suceptible to boom and bust.  I agree that the city's present buildings should be considered first for housing city departments.

What is your position on fees vs. taxes?  Under what conditions would you support adding/increasing fees to cover the cost of government services that were previously covered by taxes? Do you support independently raising revenues on your own authority or do you believe that major changes in funding should follow the spirit of TABOR and go to the voters?

  • Frisch:  While many may think a fee and a tax are the same (money ends up in the government's coffers), it is important to know that fees can be voted on and changed at the Council table.  From a policy standpoint though, moving revenue collections from a 'tax' to a 'fee' for the purpose of avoiding a public vote is something I would not support.
  • Skadron:   I support compliance with TABOR and all laws and court decisions relating to raising revenues.  As in the bag case, fees are authorized under the law under certain circumstances.
  • IsraelI'm for taxes rather than fees.   I believe that major funding changes should go to the voters.
  • GoodeMajor changes in funding should go to the voters.  If we are lowering taxes but increasing fees, what difference does it make to the individual? I'm not a fan of changing wording to confuse people.
  • TorreI do support public input and votes on questions of taxation.

How do you want City staff to report to you on their progress and accomplishments? Do you think the City would benefit from a set of publicly-produced outcome-based performance measures that show how the City is addressing the demand for services? Aspen does not produce any such reports for Council or the community even though such reports are considered "best practices" by every professional government association (International City and Council Manager Association, Government Finance Officers Association, American Society for Public Administration, etc.).

  • SkadronThe City annually produces a Goals & Outcomes Measures report that is made available to council and public for review.
  • MyrinTransparency is important in building trust.  We need to get away from the fear of "not invented here."  As special a place as we consider Aspen to be, our problems are likely not unique and have been addressed elsewhere.  We should continually look to discover and adopt best practices.
  • TorreI do support performance measures to ensure that public services and programs are meeting community expectations. I believe we can improve the communication between citizens, council and staff.
  • McCabe:  Pretty charts are cool but the over-use of Power Point is a dead giveaway that staff doesn't have a lot to offer so they attempt to distract with pretty pictures.

The city plans to build 70,000+ sf of municipal office space in the near future.  Given that the costs (currently estimated at $40 million) are to be borne by the Aspen taxpayer, how do you justify this?  What steps will you take to ensure community buy-in?  Would you support an "up/down" vote on the expenditure?

  • SkadronAt this point the city is simply exploring the replacement of existing space plus some small increments of public space required by code and additional space for the Police Department. The city is not trying to increase its footprint. If bonding backed by a property tax pledge is required, I would support an up/down vote on the expenditure.
  • TorreI believe we should take care of the municipal needs we have like the Police Department relocation, and other office space losses. We should build on the Zupancis property on Main, but we do not need 70,000 sq.ft. This council chose not 1, but 2 of the largest options to take to design level.  I definitely would do every effort to reach out for community participation and buy-in.
  • MyrinOf the proposed developments on the horizon, this may be the largest runaway project without public buy-in.  I support an up/down vote by the electorate as the final checkpoint.
  • Goshorn:  This is another situation that the voter buy-in needs to be based on verifiable facts not assumptions.
  • Frisch:  While the politically expedient answer is "no way," some amount of new space needs to be built; it is a 'necessary evil' for lack of a better term.  Build as small and humble as possible.  I am a proponent of having any new building being located behind Galena Plaza. 
  • IsraelI am totally against the plan for a new city hall.  First of all the $40 million estimate seems very low.  Second, we just gave away a perfectly fine 7,200 sf building to a brewery.
  • McCabe:  Fifteen years ago the city council purchased the Zupancis property with it in mind as the location for the offices that were badly needed at the time.  The city needs decent workspace for its employees.  That is way overdue.
  • GoodeThe town is in need of more space, as well as updated facilities.  Public outreach has already started and Aspen should have the right to choose by voting if this is the direction we should go in.
  • MickI don't think we should vote on the "need" for new police space or relocation of existing departments, those are necessities.  Some things that might require a vote would include a new building behind city hall that is park space.

To read the candidates' responses in their entirety, and I encourage you to do so, click their name:

      Steve Skadron     Torre     Adam Frisch          Andy Israel     

          Bert Myrin       Marcia Goshorn       Tom McCabe   

                    Keith Goode         Mick Ireland 




ISSUE #113: The ANTithesis of Optimism

"What people forget is a journey to nowhere starts with a single step,too."           -- Chuck Palahniuk 


May 5 looms like a dark cloud on the Aspen horizon.  You see, it's municipal election time yet again in the People's Republic of Aspen and we might just be in for a doozy.  Every two years, two of the four sitting city council members must run for re-election since they serve 4-year terms, and the mayoral post, with just a 2-year term, is always up for grabs.  This cycle, sitting councilmen Dwayne Romero and Adam Frisch are up - Frisch has thrown his hat into the ring, however Romero has elected not to do so, citing family obligations and his professional commitments in Snowmass.  Steve Skadron will run for re-election following his first 2-year term as mayor.

Now here's where it gets juicy: the old dragon is back.  At least he wants to come back.  Former mayor Mick Ireland is running for one of the two council seats.  His platform?  "It's always about the local economy," Ireland told the Aspen Times.  "About not letting the real estate, second home, residential industry basically snuff the local economy and the tourist economy."  In other words, class warfare!  Imagine that!?  It's been quite nice having him out of local government these past two years but it's widely speculated that the erstwhile tax attorney who has made elected office his profession in truth really needs the $22,000 annual stipend and healthcare that accompanies a council seat.  The good news, judging by online comments after the announcement of Ireland's candidacy, is that Aspen is indeed quite Sick of Mick (see website from 2011) but one cannot overlook the sad fact that the guy has won every election where he's been on the ballot.  Mick's controversial tenure in local office is sure to bring out some entertaining letters to the editor in coming weeks, and leave it to Neil Siegel to put it perfectly:

"The true architect of the art museum and other grotesque, out-of-scale buildings is asking voters for (at least) four more years in office.  No amount of gibberish on the part of the former mayor can erase from the cityscape his legacy, and Aspen will have to endure it for generations to come.  That alone should be a disqualifier for future public office.  And let's not forget his complete turnaround that placed a knife in the back of the broad consensus for the Lift 1A development, dooming an opportunity that has come and gone.  Other than his own ego, it is difficult to discern what type of "growth" he truly favors.  What makes the candidacy of our former mayor so utterly stuffed with hypocrisy is that he has the gall to contend that his past mistakes are actually a plus.  Simply put, going forward, Aspen should not be punished for any more of Mick Ireland's mistakes."  God help us.

Only a tad less nauseating (but pretty nauseating none-the-less) is the return of Torre, the one-named tennis instructor who has twice graced us as a councilman.  This time, Torre is making his fifth run for mayor.  The Torre vs Skadron match-up is notable given that the two squared off just two years ago in a run-off for mayor where Skadron narrowly prevailed.  This time, Torre has been quick to jump on the "no variances" platform championed by Mick Ireland and others in the community who have spearheaded the effort to get a measure on the ballot that will relieve council of its responsibilities to grant development waivers; instead, those requesting variances will have their request determined by a vote of the people.  My early prediction is that this one is a toss-up, and the momentum is frighteningly with the "no variance" crowd.

Look for further details on each of the candidates in the next issue of The Red Ant, including answers to a brief survey.  In the meantime, prepare to be uninspired.  Here are the names of the other candidates for city council:

  • Andy Israel (former commercial real estate professional with a Wharton MBA who currently operates AspenSpin, a local blog)
  • Bert Myrin (attorney and seven-year member of the city's planning and zoning commission, and the architect of "Keep Aspen Aspen," the "no variance" ballot measure)
  • Tom McCabe (former Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority director)
  • Marcia Goshorn (Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority board member)
  • Keith Goode (planning and zoning commission member)


The May 5, 2015, municipal election will be a mail ballot election.  Registered voters in the city of Aspen will receive an official ballot at their mailing address on their voter registration.  To register, confirm or correct your mailing address, visit

*** If you expect to be absent from your mailing address from April 13 - May 5, you may request to vote absentee-by-mail.  HERE is the link for an application for an Absentee Voter Ballot.  Please note: The Post Office will NOT forward ballots!

And be advised, should either of the races necessitate a run-off, that election will be held on June 2.  Details tbd, but I'll let you know.  For further information, contact the city clerk 970-429-2687


Frustrated by wheelings and dealings between city council and various developers over the years (think: Art Museum and other "settlements" that enabled property owners to negotiate waivers on mass and scale, parking, subsidized housing mitigation, etc.), local anti-development, no-growth zealots seek to punish city council (and stifle development) by changing the city charter so as to remove council's ability to grant any variance to a land use application in the commercial core (CC), commercial (C-1), Service/Commercial/Industrial (SCI), neighborhood commercial (NC), mixed use (MU), lodge (L), commercial lodge (CL), lodge overlay (LO) and lodge preservation (LP) zone districts.  Some exclusions apply, including single family homes and duplexes.

This is clearly a land use issue and the solution is not with a change to city charter.  It has long been known that Aspen's land use code is ridiculously complex and doesn't apply equally to all comers, yet the sitting council did nothing until the 11th hour to even address making the long-overdue changes.  (In the end, they elected to do nothing, but they did discuss it once the "no variance" measure was officially on the ballot.)  As a result, the "Keep Aspen Aspen" campaign has built significant momentum and is well positioned to prevail in May.  If this happens, all variance requests in the aforementioned categories will be put to a public vote.  In other words, the local voters will decide property owners' fates based on the "what's in it for me" mentality that so pervades the local electorate.  Think: mob-ocracy.

 In The Red Ant's humble opinion, as reflected in an email I received from a reader, the need to update and simplify the land use code is "up against people with a compulsive desire to make rules, to control what isn't theirs, and presume they have the greater wisdom, in this case not only among their contemporaries but among all yet to come."  In other words, the class warfare-waging element of the Aspen voter base.  More to follow on this sorry state of affairs.


Late on a Friday afternoon, the city of Aspen's community development department sent out a seemingly innocuous email -- its March newsletter.  The contents of the newsletter, however, shocked and awed local architecture and development businesses.   Citing council's November 2014 approval of new development fees for the utility department "to offset the costs of the department's plans review and inspection functions for new permits," the new fees were presented as thus:

For MINOR REVIEW of new construction (projects with 100 - 10,000sf of affected area) the utilities development permit fee which had previously been $0 (subsidized by existing water customers and reviewed by existing staff), increased to $1.50/sf with an additional review fee of 65% of the permit fee.

Yep, so a 5000sf house would be charged as follows:

Permit fee:    5000 x $1.50 = $7500

Review fee:    $7500 x 65% = $4875

Total Utilities Development Fee:  $7500 - $4875 = $12,375 (in the past, this total would have been $0)

And yes, this fee is in addition to the "water tap" fees. 

For MAJOR REVIEW of new construction (projects with more than 10,000sf of affected area), the utilities development permit fee which had previously been based on a proposal and invoicing from the city water engineer and reviewed by existing city staff, increased to $0.75/sf with an additional review fee of 65% of the permit fee.

For a BASIC PROJECT (remodel, repair, addition to existing structure), the utilities development review and permit fees were previously subsidized by existing water customers and performed by existing city staff (smaller projects) and/or for larger projects, an outside engineering consultant was used, which developers/owners would paid for directly. With the NEW fee structure, the addition of 0.01 to 0.05 ECUs (Equivalent Customer Units - a measure of average consumption of either water or electricity) will cost a flat rate of $50. The addition of more than 0.05 ECUs now costs $59.09 per 0.05 ECU.

How did these significant fee increases sneak through?  They were buried in a massive 2015 Budget Development packet that council approved as part of Fee Ordinance #36 late last fall.  See it on page 28 HERE.  Recall that several years ago (in one of Mick's administrations), the city embarked on an initiative to cover the full cost of every service activity with fee revenue.  Isn't it enough that we pay their salaries?  At the time, they published a 600+ page budget book that covered their analysis of each fee-generating activity.  Plain and simple: this is the city's initiative to generate even more income without having to go to the voters.  (Council can approve fees without having to deal with TABOR - the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.)  What do you want to bet that this fee increase was never even discussed by council before they voted to enact it as of January 1 of this year?  It certainly raised no objection nor was it covered in the papers.  The city exacts so much from us in fees, it makes one wonder what tax money is used for anymore!


In yet another act of abject stupidity, city hall has recently brought forth plans to NARROW the traffic lanes on the Castle Creek bridge.  Yes, you are reading that correctly.  The idea stems from the Open Space and Trails board and Aspen's powerful ride-your-bike-everywhere lobby, and the unconscionable details were recently developed by the city's engineering department and presented to council.  The gist of the plan is to spend $2.7 million (in reality it will surely double) to remove 1' from each of the two lanes of the Castle Creek bridge (Aspen's primary access artery and already the source of massive traffic congestion) in order to widen the existing pedestrian walkway to 8'.  The concept is to make the walkway a "multi-use" corridor for both pedestrians and bicyclists. Currently, bicyclists, even though they have a dedicated bike path through the Marolt property and onto Hopkins Avenue, illegally use the "pedestrians only" walkway to cross the bridge to conveniently access the West End and this is quite dangerous.  Ya think?!  

Thankfully council has sent the foolhardy proposal back to the engineering department for further public input as well as traffic studies, but it is rather unbelievable that anyone would even consider constricting the entrance to Aspen!  The plan, originally slated to be snuck past council for a spring 2015 start date, should be completely tossed and started over from scratch.  To enable cycling enthusiasts (who do not represent the majority of our town and never will) to dictate a major change to traffic flow into and out of Aspen is idealistic at best.  For now, the plan has been pushed back to spring 2016, but is being overseen by the same city employee who oversaw the intersection "remodel" at Gondola Plaza.  Remember how well THAT worked out with the "face-planters" that, under the guise of serving as stormwater drains, ate up a not only a well-used bus stop but several unwitting pedestrians?!  Keep your eye on this one. 


City council is set to choose the least worst of five applicants for tenancy at the 7200sf city-owned Old Power House where the Aspen Art Museum used to be.  Their idealistic goals are to give the space to the non-profit entity most in need of space that would reach the broadest base of the community.  I spoke out at a recent work session about the applicants and their proposed uses for the facility.  If the city "needs" 70,000sf of new in-town office space (or so they say), how can they possibly justify giving a city-owned facility of this size away? Needless to say, despite the obvious financial offsets to the future tenant, I am none too keen on establishing the Old Power House as some sort of rental "party barn" where any and all comers can lease the space for large throw-downs, not the least of which is because the facility is located in a densely populated residential neighborhood.  Mine.

Here is what I said to council:  "The Old Power House, located at the junction of South Mill Street, Gibson Avenue, North Spring Street, and Red Mountain Road, is also uniquely situated in a residential neighborhood that, despite its density, enjoys a remarkable quality of life and quiet enjoyment.  For well over 30 years, the neighborhood has grown up around this historic structure. Unlike those who foolishly buy penthouses above bars and amidst restaurants and then complain when the noise is too great, those in this neighborhood have enjoyed a collegial, quiet and neighborly relationship with the Power House's last tenant, the Aspen Art Museum.  The Art Museum operated during business hours and on the rare occasions when they held evening events on-site, they notified the entire neighborhood in advance by mail with details on the event, its nature and especially the timeframe when we might expect to hear noise emanating from its property.  There were few if any problems because the events did not run late into the evening.  We are sorry that they have moved.  The Art Museum was a great neighbor and steward of the Power House.

The applications before you are certainly diverse. And I respect your attempts to bring some sort of "utopian use" of the facility to the community.  But really.... How about first, do no harm.  There are several infrastructure issues that need to be addressed before ANY group is given a lease. 

  • First, where will people park?  There are just 22 parking spaces on the property.  Furthermore, South Mill Street, Gibson Avenue, North Spring Street and Red Mountain Road all prevent on-street parking, and the junction of the 4 is hardly conducive for a bus stop or for cab/shuttle drop-off.  And don't say "park at Clark's" - we all know Britt the boot guy will put an end to that in no time! 
  • Second, what will the operating hours be, and I point out to you again that the Power House is currently zoned residential (R-30 with a PD overlay).  A STRICT curfew that honors the residential neighborhood needs to be established and set in stone long before any lease is executed.  While there may be a "desire" for "party barn" usage of this facility to offset costs for the occupants, the neighborhood will simply not stand for it. 
  • Third, pedestrian access is troublesome at best at this location. Have you walked the pathway from the Hunter Creek bus stop to the Power House?  Very few pedestrians walk all the way down Gibson to cross at Red Mountain Road and back up the other side; they just cross the hill on Gibson, a steep hill that is icy most of the winter.  I cringe at the thought of kids running across that street to science camp! 
  • And the on-site café issue - is this really necessary?  Again, there is terrible access to the facility and to exacerbate this with an attempt to draw even more people who are stopping by to pick up a pizza is simply ludicrous.  The Art Museum managed to survive (and thrive) without an on-site eatery.

Given the nature of its residential neighborhood location, there are very few optimal uses for the Old Power House.  My personal choice is to spare the community the cost and your desire for 70,000 new square feet of office space in the core and instead choose to house non-in town-essential municipal functions in the 7200sf space: human resources, IT, special events, there are plenty of potential city users.  Heck, even the police department.  But if this body is going to insist on giving 7200 sf of publicly-owned space away, please take into account the inherent challenges of the space as well as the quality of life and quiet enjoyment of those who live nearby. 

Three of the five applicants have BIG plans for BIG events at the Power House: the Gathering Place wants a community center there, GrassRootsTV proposes a nifty archive lounge and larger tv studios - but with a space for large public events for up to 250 people, and the Brewery/Incubator concept brings us an expanded brewery and beer garden coupled with a shared-workspace incubator situation, a tv studio and on-site event planners who hope to lease the facility for public and private events that are expected to raise over $1 million the first year.  No thank you.  Not in a residential neighborhood.

On the other hand, the Red Brick has its sights on performing arts and rehearsal space including a stage for up to 160 people.  Assuming that they can manage the "where to park" and "how to get there" challenges, they have already proven themselves as excellent managers of a city-owned facility that also happens to be located in a residential neighborhood.  They get it.

The Science Center too has a nice neighborhood appeal.  With a proper curfew for the outdoor stage and amphitheater and some serious work on kid-pedestrian access, this too could work at the space.

Council, idealism is nice.  But this is a public asset and I ask you to please take reality into account when making your decision. Please, do no harm."

Council is expected to make a decision next week.  I expect it to be a purely political decision, and what is authorized by law (such as zoning) will have nothing to do with it.


Recent articles in our daily papers promoted what is clearly a city-driven cover-up of Parking-Gate.  Late last year, council approved $48K for an independent audit of the city's cash handling, transaction accounting and recording procedures, and the results are apparently in.  Of course, the results came in to the city manager and not council and the city then gleefully promoted that contrary to popular belief and speculation, the city ONLY lost $230K in the scam.  This info was released to the papers late on a Friday afternoon and they ran with what the city said, clearly not reading the report.  The report itself tells quite a different story.  My friend Maurice Emmer encapsulates it best in his immediate response to the paper:

"The March 6 Aspen Times reports the city 'actually' lost $230,000 on the parking scam.  The article, based on a memo and report released at 4 PM on a Friday when little attention is paid, is incorrect; a reading of the article and the report on which it is based confirms that the 'actual' loss is unknown.

The report commissioned by the city acknowledges that $692,000 of fraudulent transactions occurred.  The report then applies 'models' based on 'assumptions' to claim that the actual loss is in the neighborhood of ONLY $230,0000.  A typical 'assumption' is that fraudulent parkers would not have parked if they actually had had to pay.  Maybe.  But if fraudulent parkers hadn't occupied the spaces, maybe paying parkers would have.  Who knows?  I only know that the 'models' and 'estimates' used in the report leave many questions of accuracy.

Was the report designed to minimize the loss and save face for city management?  Notably, the report is not rendered to city council, as required by the City Charter.  It appears that city management ran the relationship with this 'independent' auditor.  Otherwise, the report would have been rendered directly to city council without city management intervention.

The cover memo from the City Finance Director acknowledges that 12 lapses in cash management are revealed in the report.  One in particular bears on the parking department: 'Ability to divert parking credit card proceeds' - The contract with Global Payments, the City's credit card processor, is currently signed solely by the Controller. This one individual can establish and change the bank account to which City revenue streams are deposited, which would allow the controller to divert revenues from the City to their personal bank account.'  It was suggested to city council months ago that it should investigate whether the city received all the proceeds it should have from the GOOD credit and debit card transactions.  This report fails to do so.

When a parker uses a valid card in one of Aspen's machines, the money doesn't go directly to the city.  There is at least one intermediary that could skim funds.  Only a proper audit would detect skimming.  The money goes first to the credit card collection company or the Canadian parking company, and only later to the City of Aspen.  The above instance of lax cash control confirms it would be possible for some of the city's money never to reach the city.  (If this was not a realistic possibility the auditors wouldn't have mentioned it.)  It was specifically suggested to city council in the past that the auditors should trace the cash proceeds from their initial deposit in the credit card collection account to insure that they ultimately got to the city's account.  This would detect any skimming.  The report does not indicate this was done.

I wish I could say that the results of audit work commissioned by the City of Aspen had settled the questions of how much the city lost on the scam and whether the city receives (even today) all the money it should from the parking system.  Sadly, the audit work missed the mark on both counts."

And in a council work session to examine the report, it became abundantly clear that the scope of work was actually more a high level evaluation of risk than an actual audit of specific parking transactions and revenue.  In other words, the entire $48K effort was a diversionary tactic to change the focus from the missing money to possible future process changes, not that these aren't necessary.  And to add insult to injury, the presentation was wrapped up with some "joking" about fraud, when in fact, it was fraud that the audit was originally designed to uncover.  Classic Aspen city hall:  nothing matters... (And what if it did?)

I'll be watching to see what council actually decides to do next.  One thing is clear, however, they still are unwilling to hold city manager Steve Barwick accountable for gross dereliction of duty.  He has failed in his management duties and failed to communicate such problems to council (and the public). Barwick has only succeeded in again sweeping a major scandal under the rug.

There is also widespread conjecture that there might be a different kind of parking scam currently in play.  Apparently, after using a credit card to pay the meter, several residents have reported hearing from their credit card companies that their cards had been "compromised" and therefore cancelled.  It is suspected by many that the origin of said "compromise" is the parking meters.  It seems something hinky is going on.  Buyer beware.


Ever had to get permission to cut down a tree in the city of Aspen?  As you can imagine, like everything else, it's not easy!  Native trees 3+" in diameter, coniferous trees (pine, spruce, fir, cedar) 4+" in diameter and deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves seasonally) 5+" in diameter all require a tree removal permit (see it HERE).  In addition to fees (determined by construction or non-construction related), a city forester will determine the "value" of the tree ($41 x 3.14 x (D/2) squared).  In other words, that 6" diameter tree that you just want moved (non-construction related) will cost you, if approved:

 Application fee:        $75

Value of tree:           $41 x 3.14 x (3 squared =9) = $1158.66

Mitigation plan (relocation of tree or replacement):  as determined by city manager of parks and recreation or his designee in an effort to preserve to the fullest extent possible existing trees considered desirable.

Total:  $1233, before mitigation

And then one fine Wednesday in February, over TWENTY large coniferous trees were cut down on Galena Plaza, east of the Library and west of the jail.  This was done to make room for the library expansion which just got underway and in anticipation of reconfiguring Galena Plaza.  Here are a couple shocking before and after photos that I took that day.

Apparently the city can lop down old growth trees with impunity, but if you have a tree on your private property, get ready to pay to get permission to take it down.  Greenies In Name Only = GINOs.  Ahhh, the hypocrisy!


Hot off the press - the long-awaited residential job generation study is finally here.  Or, more accurately, it has finally been publicly released.  The study, commissioned over a year ago, was allegedly designed to address the hotly-contended issue of subsidized housing mitigation requirements for single-family and duplex construction.  Recall that the city feels strongly that an increase in square footage translates directly to the need for more full-time workers in town who need subsidized housing.  Those of us who have been awaiting the survey's release are not surprised by the results.  The numbers clearly do not support the city's narrative and they have obviously been scrambling (and likely working with the marketing research firm to "massage" the numbers to help their cause).

 In short, the city is contemplating changes to its subsidized housing mitigation requirements.  The city currently requires the provision of an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) or cash-in-lieu payment when a house is demolished and replaced with a larger house.  The current requirements are based on a 1990 ordinance that established a standard of one-full time employee for a house of 3000sf of floor area.  The new study (still in draft form so don't get excited) suggests this standard should be LOWERED to .445 employees for a house of 3000sf of floor area.  This would lower the cash-in-lieu requirement from $79.97 per sf to approximately $35.59.  Again, this is surely a huge disappointment to the city.  Their subsidized-housing-need-generation belief completely ignores the obvious:  given our enormous subsidized housing portfolio, any local employee hired (for a wide variety of services) beyond the construction phase is likely underemployed and happy to have the work!  And let's not forget the number of folks who do their own "work" at home!

HERE's the draft study if you're so inclined.  I'll be at the exciting open house on the topic in a couple weeks and will report back on what I learn.


ISSUE #112: Who's The ANTagonist Now?




You've probably heard - there's a major effort underway to get a ballot initiative in front of Aspen voters this spring that will strip city council of its ability to grant land-use variances.  A dedicated group (vociferously supported by Mick Ireland and other anti-development zealots and class warfare inciters like Marcella Larsen and Marcia Goshorn) is working to collect 300 signatures (5% of Aspen's registered voters) by February 4.  The idea stems from a recent action in Telluride where "a resident petition drive began over fears that big development was threatening town character," according to The Aspen Times.  Telluride's town council ultimately adopted the petition, stripping itself of the right to grant waivers to developers.  Of course, this has the anti-development crowd in Aspen salivating.

Aspen's version proposes that ANY council-approved variance on height, floor area, housing and parking be subject to a public vote, no exceptions.

The Red Ant has very mixed feelings on what I unfortunately see as a fait accompli.  I am a huge advocate of grassroots politicking and commend the petition organizers for their undertaking; I know all too well the work involved in a petition effort.  However, the law of unintended consequences - a frequent visitor to the city of Aspen - waits in the wings for yet another sojourn to our little town.  I believe variances should ALWAYS be a possibility, on a case-by-case basis however, not as a party favor.  To change the city charter restricting variances to those only approved by a public vote is simply too "mob-ocracy" for The Red Ant.

I also see this petition to change the city charter as Mick Ireland's tactic of hijacking the local democratic process and "schooling" the current city council simply because he can.  He knows more than all of them combined ever will about manipulating the public process to attain his selfish goals.  He is going to show them - and us - that he doesn't have to hold elected office in order to control this place his way.  Mick simply cannot handle the new level of civil discourse enabled by his departure 2 years ago.  Instead, he prefers an iron-fisted fiat.  This variance issue is one of land use, not something to be changed in our city charter!  (And this of course begs the inevitable question:  will the old dragon be announcing his candidacy for office this spring, using this issue as the platform?  Another story for another day....)

I saw one of the signature collectors at the market this week and learned that they have already collected well over 300 signatures.  Once something like this gets on the ballot, it's as good as won, given the "screw the rich," anti-development, bring-back-the-quiet-years activism that runs rampant in Aspen these days. 

Former mayoral candidate (oh, if only) Maurice Emmer recently outlined the pros and cons of the proposed amendment to the city charter.  He makes very good points.

Pros (arguments FOR removing council's variance-granting power):

  • Councils inevitably devote too much time to variance requests while neglecting councils' more basic functions, such as supervising city management.  Removing this power would allow more time for other functions only councils can perform.
  • Knowing that all councils inevitably grant major variances, developers over-invest in real estate, virtually requiring a variance bailout from councils.  If councils were powerless to grant variances, developers wouldn't over-invest and wouldn't require the variances.
  • Fights over significant variance requests are unnecessarily divisive in the community.
  • The variances inevitably granted can negatively impact the character that many locals prefer for our city.
  • Significant variances would still be possible, but the case would have to be strong to win a public vote.

Cons (arguments AGAINST removing council's variance-granting power):

  • Because variances have a widespread effect on the city, elected officials should make the call.  This is a representative democracy, after all.
  • Because no two real estate developments are alike, the system should not be so restrictive as to prevent reasonable variances.
  • It isn't necessary to repeal council's power; it's only necessary to elect different council members.

I absolutely understand the proponents' frustration - the variance shakedown game has truly gotten out of hand.  Current/recent councils have made some really bad decisions on granting waivers that have only encouraged more developers to ask for more exceptions.  But I truly lament the fact that council has not taken pro-active steps to avoid such a dramatic showdown.  They have only themselves to blame, I'm afraid.  It didn't have to be like this.  There has been plenty of opportunity for council to engage the "no variance" proponents as well as others in the community (like myself) who strongly and vociferously support much-needed changes to the city's land use code and have for a long time.  Instead, they are about to have their wings severely clipped for good, and have it written into the city charter!  Sadly, failing to have reformed the land use code or otherwise tackle this problem before activists seized the initiative is, itself, indicative of poor management by council and makes the case for curtailing council's powers.  (Imagine, for example, a relaxation of the land use and zoning codes so that rational rules apply to everyone.  This could alleviate the need for most all variances.)  By its own inaction, the current council (and its successors) is soon to be left powerless in the dust.

Since this "no variance" measure appears poised for success, there ARE several "companion" reforms that council should work to enact.  Pronto.

  1. SIGNIFICANTLY reform the land use and zoning codes to make them more rational, easing pressure for needing variances for every development project.
  2. Reform the subsidized housing program, emphasizing the management of current inventory instead of continuing to build more units.  This would result in less burdensome requirements for every new development to contribute to additional "housing" stock into perpetuity, therefore reducing the call for variances.

The measure is distinctly anti-development with heavy class warfare undertones.  Have the proponents determined that ALL development is bad?  I think they have.  It's in their DNA.  How a "no variance" measure will specifically and economically impact future development in Aspen is anyone's guess, but with NO POSSIBLE EXCEPTIONS to the current rules without a public vote, the environment for development has certainly just gotten a lot worse. 

BEFORE YOU SIGN THE PETITION:  Consider, this measure will take council's quasi-judicial role - where they act like a court, evaluating matters affecting individual property rights - and turn it over to the "mob-ocracy."  Land use decisions are NOT legislative decisions.  They are quasi-judicial because they impact individual rights, in this case property rights.  If this proposal were brought up anywhere but in a western mountain town, it would be challenged as unconstitutional because it delegates decisions on individual property rights to a popularity contest.  Additionally, how is the land use code to be updated in the future?  If only the voters can approve variances, how can the code be amended by council?  Must all land use code changes be put to a public vote as well?  Just imagine having to stage a campaign to assert your property rights.  That is precisely what this measure will require.  Any property owner wanting even the smallest, legitimate variance from the code would have to go through an election process - essentially a popularity contest - for approval.  And what of the slippery slope?  It gets truly terrifying.  What other individual rights might be trampled by a community electorate that is becoming a homogenized, subsidized housing plutocracy whose power arises not from their wealth or their contributions to the community but from their collective ignorance and narrow-mindedness?

NOTE:  At press time, council has directed city staff to craft some changes to the land use code that would limit council's ability to grant variances.  Perhaps this is a last-ditch effort to appease the "no variance" proponents?  I'm not sure.  My guess is that the "no variance" measure will be on that May ballot regardless of what council does at this late date.  Perhaps the hope is that voters might see council trying to self-police on variance granting and therefore decide that the "no variance" measure is too extreme and inflexible?  Good luck with that.  It's a day late and a dollar short.  Changes to the land use code by council should have been made long ago.  The chickens are finally coming home to roost.

And just today, a fabulous letter to the editor ran in the paper, courtesy of Neil Siegel.  When I can't say it better myself, I have no problem yielding the floor.  Here it is:

"Isn't it ironic that the biggest cheerleader for Bert Myrin's ill-conceived ballot initiative is our former mayor? Yep, the same guy who strong armed and proudly put his stamp of approval on the Aspen Art Museum among other skyline altering projects now wants to neuter council's authority and put the brakes on all development.

Make no mistake, this is every bit as much of a power play as if the former mayor still had the gavel in his hand. But, however meritorious the issue, the battle is being waged on the wrong terrain. The Home Rule Charter is no place for the bile and whims of those distrustful of elected officials (past and present according to Myrin) to spill out. Rather, it is the land use code itself that needs to be revised so that reasonable development can proceed apace without the requirement for wholesale variances, project after project.

Consider the just-approved Molly Gibson Lodge, a project all agreed had appeal and considerable merit as a step forward for the community. It was approved with multiple variances granted on allowable floor area and setback requirements. But, if Myrin's proposal was law today, council would be hog tied and the proposed project would have to go to the voters for approval, a costly waste of time and energy for everyone.

More properly, these issues are properly debated in the realm of the land use code itself. Today it is an entanglement of requirements worthy of Dickens' Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce in Bleak House. Why can't the protagonists here back off and focus their efforts and expertise on a revised, understandable and enforceable land use code that reflects a consistent and sustainable vision on the critical issues of mass and scale, parking and affordable housing requirements. Rather than tear the town apart, an unbiased and robust debate could yield positive results, and I do not mean another treatise of rules and regulations.

A revised code would have real teeth and put all developers on notice that the horse trading and Persian-rug-market environment we see today will simply not be allowed. A variance, by definition, is a departure from the rule, yet today we are upside down because it is the norm. Everyone agrees that needs to be fixed. For example, a revised land use code should set forth a very high threshold requiring a compelling showing that any variance by itself is clearly in the public interest - that is, not one justified as the result of bartering with the city. A very high bar would give council a substantive reason to say 'no' and at the same time build a record based on firm requirements embedded in the code."

Bravo, Neil.


Ask Mark Hunt about the development environment.  It's bad enough today, yet he still gets to negotiate civilly with council.  Sure, the guy is asking for some significant variances for the proposed "affordable lodge" developments he is willing to build in the downtown core.  After all, the community has long been bemoaning the loss of small lodges and affordable beds.  Think about it - as I've said before, why would Hunt build affordable lodges on the two valuable parcels he owns (730 E. Cooper where Domino's Pizza is located and the Conoco gas station at Main and Monarch) without some concessions from the city?  Affordable lodges are hardly the best economic use from a development standpoint, but he is willing to build what the city says it needs - if the city will play ball.  This is why variances are necessary!!  You don't get something for nothing in this world, folks.  City hall is going to learn this the hard way.

Late last week, Hunt "iced" the Main Street lodge (called "Base 2") proposal.  Council balked at the requested variances (off-premise parking, increased floor-area-ratio, a break on subsidized housing mitigation) because the parcel is across the street from the technical downtown core, so for now the project is on hold.  But don't hold your breath.  My bet is that Hunt maximizes his investment and builds a commercial project that meets the current zoning on the site.  Kiss 40 affordable lodge rooms goodbye.

The Cooper Street project (called "Base 1") is still deeply mired in the muck.  Within code at 17,000 sf, Hunt is requesting a waiver on 25 off-street parking places, $40,000 in impact fee waivers and a waiver on subsidized housing mitigation for 1.97 employees.  Hunt is negotiating with the city for 25-50 parking spaces nearby in the Rio Grande garage, but council is pretty dug in against this project with any of the requested waivers.  Simply put, they want an affordable lodge ($150-$200 a night) but don't want to give up anything to get it.  As if.


It's been almost a year since city hall commissioned a survey to "determine" a scientific multiplier for the number of employees generated with each square foot of residential housing development.   It's bad enough that the city only looks at new development as rationale to build more subsidized housing instead of perhaps providing much-needed jobs for our under-employed-yet-living-in-subsidized-housing workforce.  But the reality, a year into the "study," is that there is no report.  Excuses are rampant, including "no draft yet" and "no survey results have been provided."  To this I say BS!  It has become clear that the survey results and the consultant on the project (and perhaps the staff over-seers as well) cannot support the conclusions the city desires so they are working on other ways to justify the proposed increased housing mitigation numbers.  The level of obfuscation is growing by the day.  And council has been silent.  The only pressure on the city to produce a report (for which taxpayers paid $33K) comes from concerned citizens.  I'm one.  Lifelong local Mike Maple is another.

If employee generation cannot be easily and logically proven, with a narrow range of deviation, it should not require mitigation.  Period.  Furthermore, any viable report must include an analysis and quantification of the multiple means by which Aspen property owners already pay for subsidized housing.  Isn't 2/3 of the RETT (1.5% of the purchase price of every Aspen property) enough subsidized housing mitigation? In my book, more mitigation sounds a lot like double taxation!  Furthermore, a resident-occupied dwelling likely already provides housing far in excess of its impacts.  This too should be given consideration in any analysis.

Sadly, I'm not holding my breath.  The city will go to great lengths to justify its desired mitigation numbers.  This will be yet another survey that uses too many "existing" data sources (census, Bureau of Labor, etc.) that have limited if any relevance to Aspen, and will inherently assume that every job created by residential development will go to a new employee who needs subsidized housing.  I have very little trust in this process - never have - and even less in the outcome of the survey, if we ever see it.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, as I've said numerous times before and will continue to say, how can we even begin to discuss subsidized housing NEEDS when we don't know what we have, who lives there and whether or not they're compliant?  This entire issue needs to be first addressed with a comprehensive subsidized housing audit.


A recent council meeting exposed the cluelessness of council and city staff when it comes to proper due diligence in evaluating "finalists" (that they've chosen) for tenancy at the Old Power House, recently vacated by the Aspen Art Museum.  The newly-added requirement that whichever entity "wins" provide a public food and beverage operation is nothing short of ridiculous.  Is the idea of this "café" to somehow drive traffic or to feed employees?

The 5 finalists for the city-owned 7200 sf space include four local non-profits:  Aspen Science Center, Powerhouse Performing Arts Center, The Power House Aspen (a community gathering place) and Aspen Media Powerhouse (a new studio and archive facility for GrassrootsTV).  The fifth finalist is a commercial tenant, Power Plant Brewery operated by the Aspen Brewery.  I wasn't originally aware that the city was considering a commercial lease for the property; I always thought that council was trying to "assist" a local non-profit with a public facility at a very favorable rate (the Aspen Art Museum paid $1 a year in rent to the city during its tenancy, 1979-2014).  And notably, quick research yielded the fact that the Old Power House site isn't even zoned for commercial use!  Council would have to amend the planned development uses (PUD) to ok the Brewery! It's pretty clear council doesn't really know what it's doing.

The rational and responsible thing to do would of course be for the city to utilize the Old Power House for its own needs, but let's face it, no city staff wants to be so far from Peach's!!  Staff wants to work "in town," preferably in the proposed new palace on Main Street!  By leaving the Old Power House out of the mix (for potential municipal uses, despite allegedly "needing" 70,000 sf more space), the city has concluded that there is no suitable public use for that building.  But, they are willing to spend money from the public coffers to upgrade it for a new tenant, including quite likely a commercial kitchen!  This, while looking to house a city function or two in the recently-vacated teeny tiny Mountain Rescue cabin on Main Street.  It simply defies common sense.

Council is currently situated to choose the least incompetent of this group in coming weeks.  Typical.  Yet another missed opportunity.  In its desire for a utopian "unique community asset," the upcoming decision will be a purely political one.  Best use for the space and what is authorized by law will have nothing to do with it.

Local resident and city watchdog Neil Siegel points out in a recent letter to the editor that it's not too late for council to "pull the plug" on this very flawed process, take a step back and evaluate the best potential uses for the valuable city-owned site and start anew.  Read it HERE.  I wholeheartedly agree.

Short of that, and short of a commercial lease (which should be put out into the competitive marketplace as opposed to being granted to a select for-profit tenant), the only reasonable choice is GRTV.  It's the only entity that has proven to be a sustainable community asset that can demonstrate funding and a solid record of operating a facility for over 40 years.  In fact, several of the other finalists are newcomers to scene and cannot demonstrate much!  Good grief.  (Besides, GRTV is dedicated to free speech.  And I like that.  A lot.)

For the highly curious and easily entertained, check out the original applications and council's (laughable) evaluation matrix HERE.


The federal permit for the hydro plant on Castle Creek expires on February 28.  Phew, right?  Not so fast.  The preliminary permit, originally granted for 3 years in 2008 and renewed in 2012, should clearly be allowed to lapse, given council's direction to city staff to cease work on the hydro plant and pursue other renewable energy options last year.  "Should" is the operative word.  City staff filed a progress report with FERC last March stating that "The Aspen City Council has not abandoned the project.  The project remains a viable project at this juncture..." despite a November 2012 advisory vote that told the city to stop.  Then, council decided to pursue other renewable projects (not CCEC) in April and the city settled a lawsuit over water rights for the hydro plant in June.  Both the settlement and the subsequent council resolution specifically stated that "the city will not be pursuing or seeking to complete the CCEC hydroelectric project at this time."  But, in September, in defiance of council and the terms of both the settlement and resolution, city staff sent FERC a progress report that suggests the nail is not yet in the CCEC's coffin.  "In the event the city council decides to proceed with the CCEC project as a chosen alternative, the city will move forward as appropriate," according to the document.  What???

This says to me what I have long written here: city staff is hell-bent on completing the CCEC hydro plant and only plans to wait out the current council.  As soon as they have a hydro-favorable board seated, we'll quickly be back in the hydro business.  The good news is that FERC isn't real keen on granting 3rd successive preliminary permits, however, the city continues to pay its outside water lawyer to keep the dream alive.

As recently as December, staff was still lying to council about the hydro plant.  City attorney Jim True/False told council in an open meeting on December 14 that in the June 2014 memo to FERC, he informed FERC that the city had determined not to pursue the CCEC but would be pursuing micro-hydro options.  In researching this June memo, there are indeed references to micro-hydro but not to CCEC.  There was only one small acknowledgment of CCEC's demise and that was in a deeply buried exhibit.  The letter itself bragged on and on about all the things the city continues to do to advance the CCEC hydro plant. 

Under the auspices of "pursuing micro-hydro" projects on Castle Creek, city staff desperately wants that permit renewed.  This is entirely unnecessary.  The city can let the current permit expire, as it should, and then apply for new permits for micro-hydro projects if and when these come to fruition.  But don't be fooled, city staff desperately still wants the CCEC hydro plant and until it's really dead, it remains alive.

NOTE:  At press time, council has directed staff to let the FERC permit expire.  In the reporting of the decision however, there is strategic use of the term "for now" when referring to the CCEC hydro plant being "dead in the water."  The next step for council is to direct staff to immediately sell the custom $1.7 million turbine it ordered as soon as the votes for the hydro plant were counted in 2007.  We'll only get pennies on the dollar for it, but at least it would be gone.  This would be a logical and responsible next step toward the final death knell for the hydro plant.  In the meantime, we watch and wait.


On a very different note, here's something that came across the transom that really, really disturbed me.  I got the following email from a concerned citizen (name withheld from this publication):

"I was told the environment in Aspen over Christmas was less than pleasant because the town was so incredibly crowded and the visitors were rude and obnoxious.  I wish council was capable of weighing the balance between opening the flood gates to increase profit versus being a good steward before all Aspen charm is lost.  Aspen has become too large both high season winter and high season summer.  Council is elected to PRESERVE Aspen and its charm, not make decisions based solely on profit and greed. God help us!"

This begs numerous questions.  Is COUNCIL responsible for controlling the "flood gates" that ostensibly "let" people in (or "keep" them out)?  Is anyone?  Who gets let in?  Who gets kept out?  What's the criteria?  Or, are we a resort destination whose economy is tourism based?  Really!!  I'm appalled.

As far as I'm concerned, we get to live in a world class resort that, as a result of its success, is able to sustain a diverse and vibrant local community.  Neither could exist without the other, but I think it's safe to say that without the tourists, Aspen would no longer be a resort.  We'd have no economy.  Some community THAT would be!


  • Mail-in Election in May:  All registered Aspen voters will receive a ballot in the mail for the municipal election on May 5.  Ballots will be mailed out on April 13.  Detailed info is not yet on the city's website, however if you are planning to leave Aspen for spring travels prior to April 13, I encourage you to contact the city clerk ASAP to work out how you can get a ballot and vote!!  Don't worry, I'll let you know what I'm thinking about candidates and the issues!  Clerk Linda Manning can be reached at and 970-429-2687
  • Get Your Food Tax RefundHERE is the food tax refund application form.  If you are a registered Aspen voter (prior to January 1, 2014) who has lived in the city for all of 2014, you and your dependents qualify for $50 each.  The city created the food tax refund as an incentive to encourage voters to support a sales tax referendum.  It was intended to reimburse voters the approximate amount of sales tax that they would pay annually on groceries due to the 1% city sales tax.  More info HERE. Deadline is April 15 at 5pm.  Free money from the city.  Get yours.
  • Repeal of Bag Ban in Huntington Beach, CA:  I have long opposed the City of Aspen's half-witted plastic grocery bag ban and "fee" (which I see as a tax).  HERE is an interesting piece on an Orange County community's decision to repeal their bag ban.  Theirs didn't have the fee/tax implications and controversy that ours does, but the situation raises some interesting points none-the-less.

Happy New Year from The Red Ant ... Just home from skiing in Austria.