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Aspen city council candidate Sam Rose gives it another go

Aspen City Council hopeful Sam Rose, left, talks while incumbent Skippy Mesirow listens during Squirm Night on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at GrassRoots TV in Aspen.
Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times
Aspen City Council hopeful Sam Rose, left, talks while incumbent Skippy Mesirow listens during Squirm Night on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at GrassRoots TV in Aspen.

This is the first of three interviews with each of Aspen's city council candidates. You can listen to the interviews with the two mayoral candidates here.

Ballots for the Aspen's municipal election went out to voters last week, and in-person early voting starts on Feb. 21 at Aspen City Hall near Rio Grande Park.

Voters will select from three candidates to fill two seats on Aspen’s City Council.

Those are Sam Rose, Bill Guth, and incumbent Skippy Mesirow.

Sam Rose is a volunteer firefighter, a member of the city’s planning and zoning commission, and would be the youngest-ever member of city council at age 29.

Reporting Caroline Llanes spoke with Rose on Feb. 2, 2023 regarding his priorities and what he hopes to accomplish.

Interview Transcript

Caroline Llanes: All right, why don't you start by telling me what made you want to run for office? And this is not your first time running, So maybe go into a little bit about what you learned from the first time around.

Sam Rose: I have such a deep appreciation for the Aspen community and everything it has to offer. For all the faults that we have this is still the best place on earth to call home. The critiques of the last couple of years were basically that I was relatively new to town and needed to, like, educate myself on a lot of the issues.

Being on the planning and zoning commission has been a huge help as far as, like, understanding what it takes to be on city council and be a good representative. With that, like, I've read the land use code—-very boring, but very important document. I've read the Aspen Area Community Plan. In the last couple of years I got a master's degree online in finance from the University of Colorado which is a huge aspect of being an effective city council member, is understanding the finances.

And with that, I've just been, like, more ingrained in the community with a couple more years of that volunteer firefighting, response-hotline advocacy.

Just everywhere I go, I run into a community that I'm a part of, and I think that's, like, one of the best parts about Aspen, is the philanthropic side and the small town charm where just about everyone knows everyone, or you're one degree of separation, and everyone's willing to lend a helping hand.

Llanes: All right. Tell me a little bit more about what you see as the biggest issues facing Aspen right now.

Rose: So I have, like, a three-plus-one priorities for myself, because I think these are the most important issues. It's basically the Entrance to Aspen, affordable housing and childcare—I group those two together—the permitting process, empty spaces and stalled projects in downtown, that's from the private sector and from the city's perspective, aka the old Taster's space and the Armory. And then the plus-one is the one that our foundation has built off of, and that's the natural environment and the people that live here and, like, making sure those are sustained because everything else is based off of those two things.

Llanes: Okay, that works out really well because you picked out several of the issues that I really wanted to ask you about. So in terms of the Entrance to Aspen, that's a really hot topic right now. People have a lot of opinions. There's a lot of work that needs to go into that. What are kind of your thoughts on the Entrance to Aspen? What do you think the council needs to be doing better on that project to not only engage the community, but make sure that we have an outcome that works for Aspen?

Rose: Right now, the city is pushing the preferred alternative with the only other option in their mind being just repairing the existing bridge. The preferred alternative probably is the least path of resistance. However, it has some very deep flaws that I believe need to be addressed and some questions that just need to be answered as far as what we want as a community.

I'll start with the questions that need to be answered, and that's if we really want to go through the Marolt Open Space. A lot of people I've spoken with believe the open space is sacred, and, like, with that, it's tough to reconcile whether like, it's worthwhile to touch that land.

Beyond that, though, if we say yes, like, we can go through Marolt, then we have to deal with the fact that the new traffic light would be on 7th and Main, potentially backing traffic up deeper into our downtown core with more idling cars, like, on Main and Mill and beyond. Another one is the second busiest bus stop in the city is at 8th and Hallam right now and the city has not said how that bus stop is going to be moved on Main Street, which is a huge deal as far as public transportation goes.

And this is something that when you reconcile with that, the preferred alternative would not help with single-occupancy vehicle traffic or just, like, traffic in the passenger lane. It would help bus traffic, which, so that probably is the greatest net positive.

And then the last one that we just need to reconcile with—it's a neighborhood thing—is the people that live in, like, the Aspen Villas and that area between the old bridge and the potential new bridge might feel like they're on an island between two highways, and it really fundamentally could change just, like, Aspen's small town character to have, like, a four-lane highway even if two lanes are dedicated to buses coming into town.

So these are the things that I'd like to get figured out before it comes to a vote, because ultimately it's going to come to a referendum because it has to go through the Marolt Open Space. But I really think it's important that we understand all these flaws that need to be dealt with before.

Llanes: Obviously, affordability is a huge issue, whether it's affordable housing or just the vibrancy of downtown, making Aspen an affordable place to live for its residents. What do you plan to do on this? What are your thoughts on how the council has done thus far?

Rose: Yeah, so incredibly tough. I will first say that, like, these complex issues have been around for so long and complex issues don't have easy solutions.

However, with that, like, the one thing, the easiest one I would answer is our permitting process—and this, like, dives into the other issue I was talking about—makes it so unfriendly for locals. It really caters only to the rich and, like, the Guccis and Pradas of the world, because they're the only ones that can afford to go through our permitting process, on the commercial side. And then on the residential side, like, if you're a local who's been here for 50-plus years and you're looking to do a renovation on your home, like, I've talked to many locals here, that the permitting process makes that impossible. The permitting process is where I would tackle that.

As far as, like, affordable housing goes, the biggest thing there, it's maintaining our affordable housing as it is. And we talk about, like, expanding our affordable housing. But really the first step of any logical solution is maintaining what we currently have and maintaining it in a proper way where it's, like, livable and workable and people actually want to live there. That's like number one.

Number two is looking for development-neutral housing options. As far as just existing infrastructure, that is very tough. We sit in the Red Brick [Center for the Arts] and I've heard, like, people wanting to add, like, affordable housing to, like, a second level of the Red Brick. And I've heard people want to move things from, like, half of the Red Brick into the armory and potentially turning the Red Brick into some form of affordable housing.

And then the really tough one that I would say is working with the development community. You know, it's tough from a political standpoint to talk about the development community, since most people see just, like, a very dirty industry, but they're going to be some of our greatest partners as far as creating affordable housing with existing infrastructure.

And then beyond that, it's about, like, building the Lumberyard. And if we're going to build the Lumberyard, which I think is a good idea, it's about making sure that we have the finance plan to pay for it.

No matter what we do on city council, whether it be affordable housing or something else, it's about making sure that we know how we're going to finance it before we do it.

Llanes: Okay. And then you also mentioned the natural environment, which is great because I wanted to ask you about that. Aspen has some pretty aggressive climate goals. Do you feel like these are realistic? What do you think the council can or should be doing better to achieve these goals and reduce the city's carbon emissions?

Rose: Yeah, it's a great question because ... that's what I commend the city on the most. I am very critical of the city just because sometimes I get to play Captain Hindsight running for city council, but other times because the city has made mistakes in the past that I think, you know, I would have done differently in the moment, at least I believe that.

As far as the climate goals, though, they just passed, like, the new building emissions code, and I think that's a huge step. And I do think the city's goals are realistic. We're moving away from fossil fuels. Well, I'm not sure if it's, like, a city-level thing, but preparing for the electric-car future since, like, that's something that, like, interrelates with traffic and the Entrance [to Aspen] and, like, cars being a dirty word, but they could be actually clean energy.

The biggest thing I talk about when it comes to the natural environment in the city, is just being an example for other communities, honestly, because we're a ski community and because our economy relies on tourism and the natural environment.

Llanes: I wanted to ask, what do you think sets you apart from the other candidates who are running in this race? You have this very unique background, obviously, you’re on planning and zoning, you’re a volunteer firefighter—these are pretty unique things. Do you feel like your background contributes to what makes you unique? Why should people vote for you as opposed to the other candidates running?

Rose: I appreciate the question and I am in a very unique position because the two other candidates, Skippy Mesirow and Bill Guth, to me, they're both wonderful people, but they are polar opposites on the political and on the personality spectrum.

Skippy is a very unique guy, and I think, you know, politely, he's more of an idealist in the sense that I think a lot of the things that he proposes, you know, are dream big but I don't think they're super realistic and probably wouldn't get done, especially in the next four years. And I'm more of a pragmatist. I don't really have the same antics or demeanor that Skippy has. And I think that would go a long way towards actually getting some things done.

And then Bill Guth, great guy, developer, business owner, brings a unique perspective himself, but I don't come from that development community and with that I feel like that makes it easier for me to be, like, an unbiased advocate for just what is best in our community. I think he'll do what's right, but I think a lot of the things he'll do will definitely, you know, benefit him and the community he's in.

As far as that business development world goes ... and I don't think there's anything wrong with that necessarily but as far as I go, I get to fight for things that don't necessarily benefit myself. And I think that's a really important thing when it comes to being a good representative to be unbiased. And then I will take steps in the right direction for the betterment of our community, for the people, and get to do it in a way that is just not for self-gain, but for community gain.

Llanes: So this is something that's come up quite a bit. The current council meshes really well together. People also have taken issue with the fact that the current council tends to find consensus a lot, that they tend to reach 5-0 votes. Is it a bad thing? Where do you sort of fit into that mix of personalities on council? Are you comfortable being the odd one out if it comes down to it?

Rose: Politics is the art of compromise. It's coalition building and I think it also puts me in a unique situation, but I do have a great relationship with Torre, with John Doyle, with Ward Hauenstein, with Skippy and with Bill, and with Tracy [Sutton]. So, like, no matter who's on the council, if I were to be there, I have a great relationship with all of them.

Now, that great relationship doesn't mean I'm going to vote in lockstep with them. I'm going to do what I believe is right. I'm going to be a representative for this community, and if that means a 4-1 vote and being that one vote, I will do that if that's what I believe. But I feel very strongly and confident about my ability to work with the others that are running and that are currently there and to make sure that I do what's right for this community.

Llanes: And then I did want to ask you about this new coalition, Aspen Deserves Better. What's the deal there? Have you spoken with those guys at all?

Rose: I have. And that's part of the unique situation that I'm in. It's because, I mean, quite frankly I'm not polarizing, I'm very sensible, I'm very common sense, I like to think I'm likable. This group, Aspen Deserves Better, has a lot of reasons, like, that I share, as far as just, like, that the city could be doing better. Their perceived support for me, while probably true—a lot of it is like an anti-incumbent vibe. So as far as Aspen Deserves Better goes they really most likely do not like Skippy and do not like Torre and that is just, like, where they are.

And that puts me in such an interesting perspective because, you know, Tracy comes from the real estate world. Bill comes from the real estate world. You got Torre, the incumbent, you got Skippy, the incumbent, and then you have me. And I'm not in the business world. I'm not in the real estate development world. I'm in the community world where I’m, like, trying to work hard for that. And, you know, they believe I'm a sensible, common sense, well-read, like, would be a great city councilperson type guy. And I accept support based on my ideas and who I am and I try not to get too deep into the polarizing nature of anyone who does support me.

Llanes: That was Sam Rose. He's one of three candidates running for two seats on Aspen City Council. Sam, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with Aspen Public Radio.

Rose: Thank you.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.
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