Aspen is calling for citizen input! On Jan. 16, the city will host an open house and they are calling it “Share Your Ideas to Get Aspen Electric to 100 Percent Renewable.”
Great idea. We have some very smart people in town. Why not see what they might come up with?
I have some input and I will get to that but first I must complain. I can think of very few instances locally or otherwise when public input has much of an effect over policy outcomes. Those outcomes are determined by elected officials who apparently go through the motions and gyrations involved in getting public input because it is required, not because they want to hear it.
Time and time again, the people speak in strong majorities but the brokers already have made up their minds. Garfield County commissioners approved a waste transfer station in Carbondale after days of testimony from citizens opposing it. Thanks for your input … approved! Garfield County is the poster child for making decisions against common sense and the will of the people. Clean air and water? The gas companies got this! Cattle Creek development? Approved again and again! Thompson Divide? Drill baby drill!
In Carbondale, citizen input is being sought by the Colorado Department of Transportation on new designs for Highway 133. Too bad for us, the decision to put in roundabouts is so far down the road that we can’t talk about roundabouts. Instead, it’s “what kind of roundabout do you want?” Well, none actually. The fracking and logging trucks have trouble seeing bikes in roundabouts.
The Village at Crystal River? That development would have been approved by town trustees, but it got put to a public vote where it was soundly trounced, surprising many of the officials and reversing their will. Now that’s public input.
Want to keep your town manager, your police chief or your superintendent? Can’t. Why not? Can’t tell you.
Ever send correspondence to your state or national representatives? If you are lucky, they get back to you thanking you for your input and further elaborating on their already well-thought-out positions. It doesn’t work anymore!
Public input into public decisions has become so ineffective that often only the whackadoos will speak out at public meetings, sometimes drowning out the voices of reason. But when something big comes up and the people speak out in droves in a unified voice, those voices often land on calloused ears.
Look at the culture of politics. If you change your mind, you are a flip-flopper. If you have an open mind, you have no convictions. If you govern for the people’s general well-being, that can be opposite of what corporate interests want and where the money flows.
It is possible that the elected know more than the electorate and we should just trust that they will follow the platform that got them elected. For example, I pretty much knew how the Garfield commissioners were going to vote on the waste transfer station. They are who the majority elected. They got all the input they needed at the ballot box.
But, OK, Aspen wants feedback on reaching Canary Initiative electricity goals. Well, Aspen could start by turning off the electric heating elements warming the sky above the Cooper Avenue mall at Aspen’s open air “fire hearth.” This finger to the environment has been burning and glowing for years now and someday, maybe when the waters are lapping at Whole Foods parking lot in El Jebel, we’ll say, “can you believe Aspen installed that thing when they knew better?”
I know that those electric heating elements are just a small thing but they are symbolic of a bigger disconnect in our environmental consciousness.
One way Aspen could introduce more solar is by giving wealthy people an opportunity to offset their impacts by financing a solar fund. Put in a kiosk at the airport and downtown where people can calculate the consequences of their private jets, heated driveways and bubbling hot tubs. Then give them a chance to offset those offenses by contributing into a solar fund. When the solar fund gets enough money we start a new solar project at the high school, the hospital, town buildings, the airport and employee housing. We’d be covered in solar panels in no time.
Shut off the electric and gas elements in the fire hearth. Install kiosks dedicated to giving people an opportunity to calculate their impacts and donate to a fund to offset those impacts by installing solar projects on municipal buildings. Those are my two ideas for next week’s workshop.
Steve Skinner will contribute to the solar fund. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .