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Bill Guth hopes business experience will help Aspen's City Council

Aspen City Council hopeful Bill Guth, right, takes part in Squirm Night on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at GrassRoots TV in Aspen.
Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times
Aspen City Council hopeful Bill Guth, right, takes part in Squirm Night on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at GrassRoots TV in Aspen.

This is the second of three interviews with candidates for Aspen's city council. You can listen to our interview with Sam Rose here and our interview with the mayoral candidates Torre and Tracy Sutton here.

In-person early voting starts today at Aspen City Hall on Rio Grande Place for the city’s municipal elections.

Voters have three candidates to choose from to fill two seats on Aspen’s City Council.

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

Bill Guth is a local entrepreneur, real estate broker, and previously chaired the city’s Commercial Core and Lodging Commission.

Reporter Caroline Llanes spoke with Guth on Feb. 3, 2023 about how his experience informs his approach to local government.

Interview Transcript

Caroline Llanes: All right, Why don't we start off with you telling me a little bit more about why you decided to run for city council.

Bill Guth: After 12 years of being pretty passionate about the issues facing our community … and, you know, Aspen's been so great to me. I'm so passionate about it. I have tried to give back to the community in many ways over the years and continue to do so.

But I feel that now is the right time for me to jump in and help Aspen work towards improving some of the issues that we're facing as a community. And I think that my experience and my perspectives can make a meaningful impact on our issues and helping us … you know, I'm not sure “solve” is the right word, but I think, improve on a lot of our issues. I think I can really make a difference.

And so I want to give back to the community and I want to help Aspen be the best that it can be for me, selfishly, for my family, and future generations, including my kids.

Llanes: Okay. Can you share what you see as the biggest issues currently facing Aspen are?

Guth: I think all of us feel the same things, all of us community members. I think everyone sort of has their top three, but they almost all coalesce into a top ten that's very, very similar to one another.

The three issues that I have chosen to focus on in my campaign are workforce housing, which I think is the obvious one and probably makes everybody's top three list.

Secondly, affordable food and beverage and retail, locally serving retail, locally owned retail. I'm super passionate about this one and really think I can be impactful here as well.

And then lastly—and I think this is on everybody's minds—traffic and the Entrance to Aspen. Obviously a hot topic in the community right now, both because traffic is bad and getting worse, it seems, and because this preferred alternative is being promoted heavily by the city. And I don't think that's the right solution for us. I think that there are a lot of things that we can and should do, but that isn't one of them.

Llanes: Okay. You mentioned some key issues here. Let's start with the Entrance to Aspen. You say you don't love the direction the current council is taking. What do you think the current council should be doing differently to engage the community and come up with a plan that works for Aspen?

Guth: You know, we're dusting off an old plan that considered an Aspen of a very different era. I think engagement and community outreach is good, but maybe too early. I think what we need to be doing is rather than trying to independently solve this problem or improve this problem, I think we need to start with really engaging some true national or international traffic-flow experts. Bring people in who do this all day, every day for a living and are considered experts in their industry. So that's one place I'd start.

I have a variety of ideas that I think we should test and implement, at least on a trial basis, pretty quickly. But again, I'm not a traffic engineer, so before even suggesting those, I would like to run them by someone that we engage and see what their opinion is on it.

And to be clear, I do have a personal issue with the preferred alternative because I live at the corner of 8th and Bleeker, which would be quite impacted, I think, by this. But that's not the reason I'm most opposed to it.

I'm trying to take myself out of the situation, out of that bias situation, and explain that this is a very expensive, highly disruptive proposal that isn't going to solve our traffic problem, period. And that's a stated fact from the city of Aspen. It's on their Entrance to Aspen website. I mean, that to me is just unfathomable. Like, how could we do a project that is likely in the $250 million range, opens up all sorts of other issues and doesn't solve our problem and doesn't even meaningfully improve on our problem. So to me that's absolutely not the right course of action.

Llanes: Another issue you brought up is affordable housing, the perennial Aspen issue. Talk to me a little bit more about that. What should the city be doing better to make sure that people can live and work in this community?

Guth: There's really a couple of things we need to do. Clearly, we need more, but I think we need to very carefully examine what we need more of. Everything is necessary, I understand. I understand that we don't have an oversupply of anything and that there's demand for all types of housing. But I think we need to take a critical look at what we need most right now and then start working towards fulfilling that need first.

I would like to lean in more into the public-private partnership approach that I believe has been successful recently in Aspen. There's three projects that were done 802 West Main, the project on Park Circle, across from the bottom of the Smuggler hike, and the Castle Creek project across from the hospital. These were all done in partnership with the private developer who's now managing them. I believe that they are attractive projects. They were executed quickly and efficiently and they were great for the community. They put heads in beds faster than the city can do it alone. So I would like to continue to pursue that path. I believe that's a win-win for everyone in our community, and I think that's something we should be exploring immediately for the Lumberyard.

I think we should also be focusing on incentivizing developers rather than just focusing on fees and mitigation. I think we should also add some carrots to the pot, right? You know, things that are not mandatory, that are totally voluntary, that come with a true benefit to the free market owner, developer, builder, and a true benefit to the community.

And then lastly, I think that we need to continue to optimize our existing program. You know, we've got the world's best workforce housing program. We were obviously pioneers in this realm. We've learned a lot over the last 50 years, and I think without any threat to existing tenants and owners, we need to continue to optimize the program so that it can serve our community and our community’s future needs as best as possible. And that covers a broad spectrum of things, it covers rightsizing and it covers employment requirements, I think, and it covers passing units down to descendants.

Llanes: The one issue that I really wanted to ask you about that you didn't list at the start of this interview is climate change. The city has some pretty aggressive climate goals. Do you feel like those are realistic? What should the city be doing to reduce Aspen's carbon footprint?

Guth: I'm obviously acutely aware of the climate crisis. I'm acutely aware of the fact that humans are contributing to climate change. I understand how it's impacting the environment that we live in, and I'm respectful of that. I'm not sure that this should be one of our top priorities.

I think that there are bigger issues that are impacting our community that we should be focused on. Now, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be respectful and be mindful of it and continue to create legislation that works on climate change. I do believe in all of that. But I think that making it one of our top three priorities, one of council's top three priorities—the current council—I think is representative of a lot of virtue signaling and is distracting from working on issues that are really affecting our day to day lives.

What I mean by “virtue signaling” is by making our buildings the world's most efficient buildings, that's obviously very commendable, but it's irrelevant compared to the amount of coal that's being burnt in a small town in China on a daily basis, for example. So it's, again, not something that I don't think is important. I just don't—I think it's been elevated to a level of importance that is causing our community to focus on the wrong things.

Llanes: Let's pivot to some more election specific things. What sets you apart from the other candidates running? Why should someone vote for you as opposed to one of the other candidates?

Guth: Yeah, I think I'm quite different from Skippy [Mesirow] and Sam [Rose]. My background and set of life and business experiences is drastically different. So, I'm the only young parent of the three. You know, I have three young children, and obviously have a very informed experience about raising children in this valley, which is crucially important to me and many others. I've been very entrepreneurial in my time in Aspen, so I know what it's like to own and start a business and employ people and fight tooth and nail to make a business profitable, which is not easy here. I think we get distracted often by how much wealth exists in our community, but that doesn't mean that it's easy to make money in business here.

And I also think I bring a perspective and an understanding about business and the real estate industry and business in particular that would be really valuable in helping us achieve our goals as a community. I think a lot of the approach that the current council has taken has not been collaborative.

I think I would collaborate with people that I know very well in the real estate industry and other industries to try to work together to help improve on some of our community's issues rather than to decide unilaterally what I think is going to improve on those issues—that turns out to have very little buy-in from the community and will create some perverse incentives, in my opinion, that will be detrimental to the community ultimately.

Llanes: Let's talk about the current council. They reach consensus pretty frequently and they mesh really well together. Where do you sort of fit in there? Is it a bad thing that there's a lot of 5-0 votes? Are you comfortable being the odd one out in maybe future voting situations?

Guth: Yes, I think we have a problem with the democratic process on the current council, although it's admirable that they mesh well and that they are in agreement on a lot of things, it's antithetical to the democratic process. I believe the statistic is something like in 2022, 72 roll call votes were made on ordinances in city council chambers and 71 of those were unanimous. So to me, that means something's broken there. It's impossible for me to believe that all of Aspen's varied interests are being represented and considered if we're having that type of voting record.

So I am not coming into this with an intention of dissenting on every single vote. I hope to be collaborative with the people that I'm serving with, and I hope I can convince people that a different approach gets us somewhere. I'm certainly going to dissent on some things, and I think that's very healthy in the democratic process. But I'm not coming into this with a mission of being a roadblock or opposing everything. I think that's not the job.

The job is to represent the interests of myself and my constituents and people that I respect that I believe are critical to the fabric of Aspen. And that includes both Aspen residents and voters and nonvoters, like people who own businesses in Aspen, people who visit Aspen for one night once every five years, or people who commute to Aspen daily to work in our economy.

Llanes: What's the communication been like with you and the other candidates running for both council—that’s Skippy Mesirow and Sam Rose—and the mayor's seat—Mayor Torre and Tracy Sutton? Also, have you spoken with this new coalition, Aspen Deserves Better? What's the deal there?

Guth: Sure. So as far as I know, Aspen Deserves Better is a group of concerned local citizens whose mission is to make sure that people are participating in the democratic process, who are informed, and who are hopeful that more members of the community can be represented in city council in the future. I'm not an active participant with Aspen Deserves Better. I respect what they're doing. I think it's critical for our community and happy to have them involved. And I think they're doing a great job putting out information and not being biased. They're really just taking a neutral stance and making sure that there's a platform for dissemination of information.

And then on your second question, I've met with Skippy a couple of times. I've met with Sam many times, I've known Sam for quite some time. I've known Tracey for many, many years. I sat down recently with John [Doyle] and Ward [Hauenstein] and Torre. And my hope is to, you know, whomever I end up on council with if I'm elected, that I have a good, respectful working relationship.

I think what has become very evident to me is that none of us are far apart on what the issues are facing our community. We're very close. Again, what my top three are might be different from what any one of those individuals’ top three issues are, But I think within the top ten, we all sort of have a very similar list. And what really differentiates us is what our approach to improving upon those issues will be.

I think I have a very different approach that's sort of informed by practical and real life business experience that's different than others.

Llanes: That was Bill Guth. He's running for one of two seats on Aspen City Council. Bill, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with Aspen Public Radio.

Guth: Thank you, Caroline. I appreciate it.

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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