Saturday, February 18, 2017

Charging ahead

We already have a formula for development funding affordable housing. Why not make car chargers a mandatory addition to all building permits?

When I’m driving my “uber tesla” I get a lot of riders from California. These are mostly people who already own a Tesla. Eventually the conversation turns to charging and the availability of charging stations. Simply put- the lines are long in the Eureka State.

Battery technology is undergoing a rapid and long overdue boost. Electric car prices are lower and will continue to be lower as the battery price goes down and efficiency goes up. The cost of electricity is not the issue- the issue is how many charging stations are there? Right now my plug share app shows 26 in the Roaring Fork Valley. “Good" you say? Take a look at our traffic and imagine 1/3 electric - then you’re getting a better idea of how many chargers we are going to need- the question isn’t “if” but  “when”?

Chain letter

Chain stores? In Aspen we ain’t talkin’ Target. Prada, and Louis Vuitton those are our chain stores.

Prada......which used to be Andres- with backgammon and dancing on the top floor- I saw plenty of $100 bills being exchanged on that top floor- arguably as much money transferred hands then as now...

Ever wonder why we don’t have a Duane Reede on every corner? Could it possibly be because you have to make enough money to pay your rent?

The only exceptions I can think of are the ones where the retailer owns the real estate.

The vicious circle comes back to the price of real estate and the price of real estate is largely due to our government restricted building codes.  Scarcity increases price it’s a simple economic principle.

Our choice is not “chain stores” our choice is do you want government regulated building inhabited by government subsidized retail?  Remember how well that’s worked in the past? I whisper “Cooper Street Pier” from the wings.

What would happen, I wonder, if restrictions on retail beyond the commercial core were a little more loose? Could we infuse our “dark” neighborhoods with a little more life? Would it encourage less driving to the core if you could pick up a carton of milk on the nearest corner? What if our free electric car service brought the groceries to you instead of you to the groceries?

What if our attempts at manipulating the Aspen economy were not quite so hamfisted as they have been?

What if we took a good long calm look and made one overarching rule in our government ordinances “First, do no harm.”?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

January 20- letter to the editor

Let’s do a little experiment in this time of political division. Let’s take stock- let’s start with a baseline- and let’s make it personal. Write a list of all those things which you hope or fear from the Trump administration. Make it personal- how do you expect your life to be better/worse than it is at this moment. A list- as of today. Then seal that list in an envelope and put that list in a drawer.

Don’t look at it this year.

Don’t look at it next year.

Nope- don’t look at it two years from now or three years from now.

No- still not yet…. no peeking….

Don’t look at it till the next presidential election- right before you vote.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Zen and the art of the S curve

Aspen. We are victims of our own success. That leads me to believe that we need to redefine success.

We have some perpetual problems. When a problem lasts for decades then it's something which is symptomatic of something deep- a division at the root of our community. Traffic is one of those problems and the S curves rear up like a cobra's head bobbing back and forth while we look for a local mongoose or at very least someone with a bit of charm and a flute. County and City have just authorized another $500K study of the entrance to Aspen.

Popular wisdom points a finger at construction traffic.  The guests we can ferry in and out pretty well. We could make that more efficient with simple cost effective measures like a shuttle directly to arrivals and departures at the airport. That would be easy. We're allergic to easy, but that's another discussion.

Back to construction traffic. Will an army of brick laying drones save us?  Will modular mansions drop from helicopters giving us 3 day builds? Errrrr... probably not... Luddites you may rejoice.

Are there ways to slow the real estate/construction market? I mean other than whinging that we don't want more growth while we pocket all the cash growth brings?

You could reduce the second home owners claiming residency in their 2nd/3rd/4rth home by imposing a City/County income tax- targeting the $million income crowd and that would force a few out- but probably not before they tried to make a profit on a re-sale.
We could ignore our aging buildings and infrastructure and let it rot. Some of us remember Aspen when it was full of derelict houses - if you like that sort of thing move to Cisco Utah - or the top of Aspen street. Live with no indoor plumbing, running water or heat a couple of years and then decide if that’s quaint and cozy.

Construction could certainly be more efficient. Now we're so grateful to get a contractor who will deal with the draconian depths of the Aspen Planning department we’re willing to say yes to any timeline.

What about stopping new construction? Once those older edifices have rotted it’s certainly easier to build new.

Moratorium you say! Allow me to gently whisper “supply and demand” to remind everyone how we got our first real estate bubble in the 70’s. Limit the supply and the demand soars.

Kill the goose you say! Sabotage the lifts, bomb the Wheeler, nuke the mountains then people will leave us alone in the rubble. I mumble again “Jim  tried that…"

Destroy City Hall you say! It's all the government's fault. Well, if you really want anarchy default on a couple of City and County loans which might wreck the credit rating - that should bring the budget and the bureaucracy down.  Referendums are ham fisted inelegant blunt force weapons use the silent stiletto of finance. It worked with the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and devaluation of silver in 1893.

Does this sound like "a modest proposal"? Well, it is. These solutions eat our own children, force doesn't work,  from the rubble new stakeholders will emerge all seeking the same comfort and power as the regime they helped destroy.

Maybe we want something other than Mad Max in the Rockies. Maybe we want a positive strategy which enhances the quality of life rather than smashing things in a hissy fit. Maybe quality of life is more than money. Maybe it's quality of life for every life.

What is the answer to that long snake of traffic which makes Aspen a miniature FDR drive or 405? There really is only one answer which I can think of. Reduce the number of commuters. House laborers and their equipment at the point of need. Support more telecommuting and remote offices.  Allow "pop up" mobile housing for the duration of the project.

Shigeru Ban's architecture- when it works

Encourage the nomadic workforce of the sharing economy (Oh, what one Basque sheepherder and his flock used to do grooming Aspen Mountain in a summer) .

Don't just target by age, income or time in the valley. Prioritize essential services. Work with what you have. Practice the art of the possible.  Water takes the easiest path and to quote Doctor Who, "Water always wins".  If none of that works for you - look around you and rejoice in what you have - practice acceptance.

We should update the Consultant Bingo Board.

Finally, don't do what we've done with every other traffic study we've ever paid for- don't pay for it and shove it in a drawer kicking the can down the S curves for another generation.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Four to One letter to the editor

Four to one that’s the number Sun Tzu gives. The baggage train needs 4 servants to every one warrior. Look at Versailles 1000 aristocrats and 4000 servants in the palace plus 60,000 in the town. Count the cars coming round the S curves and you’ll find the ratio hasn’t changed much.

Give me 8000 new best friends during food and wine give them each 4 servants….

The servants .… well… there’s your problem.

Okay- you want to quibble about that 32,000 estimate, after all the art of quibblage is an fundamental Aspen sport. Count the number of cars coming round the S curves- I say 32K- but I’ll give you odds on 16K. Feel better?

When you look at the S curves ask yourself this simple question. Do you want to see Aspen with 16,000 more families? They would be diverse working class residents. They would force more real people retail like $5 food and shoes. They would make us less seasonal.  Right now our guests never see the man behind the curtain, or the maid in the grocery store or the plumber at the deli.

We, like Epcot, have multiple secret doors behind which the servants hide while the paying punters walk the streets. The servants are only visible when they commute. Can you envision 16,000+ more people living inside the city limits? If you need a reminder go to the Historical Society and look at a few pictures of 19th century Silver Boom Aspen.

Is more government built housing the answer? Nope. Not when the affordable house starts at $1,000,000. You’d have to make $240K a year to afford that house payment even at current interest rates.

But we love our little town we want to keep it small  and we love our skiing and music and mountains. If we want it all then we pay the price in traffic or…. the servants need to live in the palace and walk to work.

What would make a sustainable Aspen? How could employers house their own employees? How do we enable that scenario in our big balloon real estate market? The top floor wasn’t always a penthouse, not in the pre transferable development rights (TDR) and Burlingame years. Our well intentioned government housing incentives targeting development resulted in a wild west real estate market and a wider social divide between rich and poor. We have never taken a long hard look at what it takes to support a sustainable community.  Let’s do that. Now.