Aspen City Council questionnaire, part 2: How to improve Aspen government
Editor's note: This is the second of a five-part questionnaire for the six candidates vying for the two open seats on Aspen City Council held by incumbents Art Daily and Ann Mullins. Aspen residents should receive their mail ballots this week. Election Day is May 2.
Today's question: What area of Aspen city government needs the most improvement?
City Council! This election is your opportunity to elect better representation, better communication and better leadership. I promise to listen to our community and get decision-making right the first time, communicating our goals to our administration and leading on important and often difficult issues. Ann Mullins and Art Daily are both good people, but they have missed the mark for four years. Both were part of a failed Power Plant process, costing the community time, money, agony and a community space. Both have voted for additional heights and variances while diminishing local business opportunities and reducing housing. Both have voted for damming rivers and flooding valleys. Both voted for development incentives and projects that were reversed by citizen referenda.
I am excited for the opportunity to return to council and represent an Aspen for all, our community and the resort. I am for maintaining the character of Aspen and championing environmentalism. I am for supporting local businesses, improving our housing program and fostering community while sustaining a vibrant world-class resort.
In past terms on council, I voted for and worked for land-use codes that reflect the goals of the Aspen Area Community Plan and balanced smart growth. I voted for integrated housing and over 300 new units of community housing. I helped mandate recycling service and ban the plastic bag. I voted to support local business and increase our economy. I voted for transportation improvements and community building initiatives
I am asking for one of your votes for council to put me back to work on these and other issues. I promise to respect your voice, Aspen's history and legacy. Please, vote Torre for council, Aspen 2017.
There is always room for improvement in the departments and programs of the city, but many times the improvement is an immediate fix or adjustment. The improvements that have the greatest effect are those that speak to a long-term plan or vision. The affordable-housing program is the department where improvement will have the greatest beneficial effect. Affordable housing in our city stimulates population diversity, supports locally serving businesses (commercial diversity), alleviates traffic problems, creates a sense of community and pushes back against our "dark neighborhoods." The program that was started in the early '70s has grown to an inventory of close to 2,900 units within the Urban Growth Boundary. But such a robust program has its problems: tracking inventory, addressing abuse, maintaining older stock, addressing emerging problems (Airbnb, VRBO), managing numerous different HOAs and formulating capital reserve policy. These are just some of the issues that need to be addressed in our housing program. Council has begun this process by hiring an enforcement officer for the program and acquiring a new, sophisticated database which will aid in identifying problems, solving them and positioning our program in the best way for the future of housing in Aspen.
The structure of our government itself. We have all borne witness to the creeping effects of cynicism, the increase in rancor and an erosion of trust in our political system. I am running to reverse these trends, to apply a younger, fresh perspective to the critical decisions that sit before us. We need to re-establish open communications, rebuild trust and use modern tools to better serve government's intended purpose of representing everyone.
Though this may not be sexy, having a common forum with mutually agreed-upon rules is the precursor to all our priorities and must be an intentional focus of at least one of our elected officials.
1. The makeup of council should be representative of the makeup of our population.
2. Members of council should be accessible to the people and open to hearing different points of view.
3. Leveraging emergent technology and across all areas of operation, including how City Council operates and how you suggest and have input on critical decisions.
4. We remove procedural and structural roadblocks to good government that obscure the facts and inhibit good decision-making.
5. Lastly, we need to focus intently on increasing voter participation.
Transparency. City Council meetings are transparent and public participation is welcomed. The number of executive sessions is, I believe, reasonable. City Council sets policy. There should be transparency in government outside the meetings, as well.
The lack of transparency I object to is in administration. Some examples are: Misleading or incorrect information presented to voters relative to Burlingame I. Granting housing for life to a city employee in a closed meeting. Constructing a "drain line" for Thomas Reservoir when one was already in place. The new drain line was used to avoid Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval by claiming a conduit exemption. There was no existing conduit to feed the hydro turbine.
Rehashing old battles opens wounds. They are in the past. We need to bury the hatchet. Hatchets were buried by the chiefs of tribes when they came to a peace agreement. In a democracy, a peace agreement is an election outcome. Like the outcome or not, it is the will of the people. We need to move forward, but we need to learn from past mistakes.
Our affordable-housing program needs some attention. In terms of percentage of local workforce served, the program is one of the most effective subsidized housing operations in the country. However, the program is aging both physically and from a regulatory perspective. Structural issues are growing in importance, and we would benefit from a comprehensive audit of the present and anticipated future condition of the physical components of our housing infrastructure and a broad-based capital reserve program in order to develop an effective and equitable funding mechanism for the necessary repairs and improvements, both today and in the future. The workforce being housed is also aging rapidly, and we need to evaluate the present and future implications of this demographic evolution. What percentage of the workforce is being housed today, and what shifts in that number should we anticipate in the next 10 or 20 years? The community would also benefit from a careful review of the various properties that are or could be made available for the development of additional housing, either sale or rental, including a study of the potential costs and timeframes required for such development. Affordable housing is a hugely important component of our built environment, both physically and socially. Let's provide it with the support that it deserves.