A movement is stirring to create a caucus that would advocate for the interests of Aspen residents in matters relating to Pitkin County government.
Aspen Mayor Torre broached the subject at a city council meeting on July 22 and offered follow-up remarks on the idea Monday in a short interview. His initial remarks were centered around the ASE Vision process, in which committees made up of area residents are tasked with coming up with a plan for redevelopment and possible expansion of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.
“I have been in conversations about the possibility of an Aspen city caucus to participate in the Pitkin County caucus process,” Torre said. “And the reason is because there’s not really a formalized mechanism for the mayor and council to represent the city before county commissioners. We can pass resolutions, we can go to [county meetings] on our behalf and we can provide information from the people that we represent, but it’s really just not a formalized process.”
He suggested that the city needs a stronger voice in discussing issues with county officials relating not only to the airport, but water, regional transportation, child care and a host of other topics.
It would benefit Aspen “to have a unified voice and participate in the caucus process,” Torre said. “My initial thought was just really about the way that county decisions impact those that live in the city.”
At the July meeting, he invited anyone with thoughts about creating an Aspen caucus to contact him to discuss it. On Monday, he said he wasn’t sure as to whether the caucus boundaries should be drawn to include the entire city limits or just the commercial core.
“That’s just part of the process that you go through with the county to start determining what the boundaries would be,” he said.
Torre said it’s becoming more and more apparent that “the impacts of airport redevelopment are going to be felt in Aspen.” At the ASE Vision meetings, “There is no formal representation for the citizens of Aspen to be participating in these county decisions.”
He acknowledged that while he and Councilman Ward Hauenstein serve on the ASE Vision Focus Committee, “that’s just one committee out of five. Are Aspen concerns being heard? At some of the meetings I felt the city needs more representation in the process beyond what [Hauenstein] and myself bring to the table as part of the focus group.”
Like Torre, real estate broker Tim Mooney serves on the focus group and has expressed some frustration that the process — which began early this year and has reached its midpoint — has yet to examine how the city would be affected by an airport expansion.
Mooney said Monday he also believes that Aspen needs its own caucus at the county level. It could be a single caucus that covers the entire city, or several caucuses that represent various sectors in the city or around it, such as the West End, downtown, Red Mountain, Smuggler Trailer Park and the like.
The county already has formally recognized several groups as caucuses — contacts for 11 are on file, according to Jeanette Jones, clerk for the Board of County Commissioners. Some of the caucuses are more active than others, she said, naming the groups that represent Woody Creek, Crystal Valley, Fryingpan and Emma as perhaps having the most communication with county staff and officials.
Other active caucuses include Maroon Creek, Castle Creek, East of Aspen, Owl Creek, Snowmass Creek and Upper Snowmass Creek.
Mooney noted that the most active caucuses recently have been “consolidating their voice” by forming a joint caucus committee.
“I think it’s important that the city be heard on the caucus level, directly by the county commissioners,” he said. “There are issues going on with impacts from what the county is proposing to do with the airport that are going to change the lifestyle in Aspen.”
Mooney, a critic of airport expansion, said Aspen and Snowmass Village are the areas of the county that are going to be most affected by the transportation facility’s expansion.
“As soon as most people land at the airport, they get into a rental car or somebody picks them up to go to the city limits of Aspen or Snowmass Village,” he said.
The powers-that-be, he suggested, are pushing an “industrial tourism model in which incremental expansionism is the bottom line.”
From the standpoint of tourism and business, the Aspen-Snowmass economy already is breaking many records, as is indicated by the last two years of sales tax revenue and occupancy. Mooney wonders how much farther the “corporate giants” will go to bring about more commercial growth.
“More tourists, more restaurants, more beds, more parking, more everything,” he said. “Once you have more flights coming in, then you say, ‘we need more beds.’ Then once you get more beds you say, ‘we need more restaurants.’ Then once you get more restaurants, you say, ‘we can handle more people, so why don’t we expand the airport.’”
Two county commissioners reside within the city of Aspen: Patti Clapper and Kelly McNicholas Kury. Reached for comment Monday evening, Clapper expressed some doubts about the need for a caucus to represent the city’s interests at the county level.
However, she said she would be open to talking about it, and may bring up the idea at today’s county commissioner work session to see what her colleagues think.
With regard to airport issues, Clapper noted that numerous city residents, and even city government staff, sit on the various ASE Vision committees, providing an important voice in the process.
She also pointed out that commissioners meet regularly with the city council to discuss common concerns among their constituencies. And both entities meet with Snowmass Village town council members as part of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee to make decisions on various transportation-related issues.
Clapper said the current caucus lineup represents unincorporated areas of Pitkin County. An Aspen caucus might open the door for people in Snowmass Village and Basalt to form caucuses as well. Elected officials of all three municipalities already work with the county and its commissioners, she said, suggesting that the extra caucuses may not be necessary.
“I need more information,” she said. If an Aspen caucus is created, “How then do the unincorporated areas of the county weigh in on what the city of Aspen is doing? Is the city then going to acknowledge all the county caucuses? I don’t know.”