Mountain Town News: Why this laid-back mountain town wants to secure government offices |

Mountain Town News: Why this laid-back mountain town wants to secure government offices

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen city officials are taking steps to make it harder for somebody with a gun or other weapon to intrude into city offices.

"Anyone can walk into our buildings at any time, and that's not good," Jack Wheeler, the city's capital asset director, told The Aspen Times.

"Are we really different than anyone else?" said Jeff Pendarvis, the city's facilities and property manager. "We are one incident away from having a tragedy and being the next Sandy Hook."

Measures being considered for a new city hall now being designed include "duress" alarms and a universal door access control system. The latter is common in new government buildings around the country. Ballistic liners are also being incorporated into key areas in the city council chambers, as is now provided for the desks, commonly called the bench, where judges preside. Other sites within the city hall where staff and others could take shelter from a shooter are also being evaluated.

Aspen's city hall has traditionally had open doors. You could walk in the front door, up the stairs, and into the office of the mayor. Residents take pride in that traditional small-town feel.

Plans to upgrade security, two years in the making, came to light recently when a restraining order was issued to limit access by Lee Mulcahy, a former ski instructor.

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Mulcahy had been dismissed by the Aspen Skiing Co. He then sued the company. Without local employment, as required by terms of his residency in city-owned affordable housing, he was evicted. The Times says he is now embroiled in a lawsuit with the city's housing authority. But he has also made what the newspaper describes as "veiled threats" to government officials. A restraining order has been issued.

A new police headquarters being designed will also have upgraded security. Bill Linn, a police sergeant, told the Times that the new cop shop will still be open to the public, but access will be limited. Gone will be the days when a person could walk into a patrol room or that of the police chief. He and other city staffers have visited other government buildings elsewhere in the United States to study their security measures.

City councilmembers in Aspen, famously laid-back if often frisky, are accepting at least some recommended changes only with reluctance. The tension between safety and that small mountain town sensibility was evident in January when Aspen police asked for permission from the city council to install bollards outside the new police building. Bollards are sturdy, short vertical posts, kind of a like a fire hydrant, designed to prevent a truck from barreling into the office.

"Very un-Aspen-like. It's not what we want," said one council member. But the bollards were approved, reported the Aspen Daily News.

Union seeks to organize 4,000 workers at Whistler Blackcomb

WHISTLER, B.C. – A small group of ski instructors at Whistler Blackcomb is pushing to unionize the 4,000 workers employed there by Vail Resorts.

Whistler Pique reports the instructors, anonymous but dubbed the Whistler Workers Alliance, have been working for a year with the United Food & Commercial Workers Union. If successful there, the union wants to extend union representation to other sectors of the community's service economy.

Union organizer Keith Murdoch said the union is prepared to throw its full weight behind the organization, including hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We understand that, when you're going against a billion-dollar corporation, you need to have a budget and you need to have resources behind you to ensure workers' rights are upheld."

If the union is focused on the ski company now, it intends to expand outreach to other frontline staff members of the resort community's economy.

"This is a long-term project, so we're not looking to go away anytime soon," he told Pique.

Instructors contend they are being unfairly compensated. They cite the giant gap between their income and the prices assigned their services by the ski company. They are paid an hourly rate, with additional monetary incentives available dependent upon the type of private lesson and if the clients are repeat customers of the instructors.

The instructors want to get 10 to 30 percent of the revenue received by Vail. It's not clear how much they're getting now.

"We are scared about our job positions, we're scared about our wages, we're scared about the future," one instructor, who requested anonymity, told Pique. Why they are scared is not clear.

A Facebook page, Fair Wages for Ski Instructors, has 682 likes and 676 followers. It talks about ski instructor wages in other resorts, too.

Whistler instructors object to the cap on wages for seasonal workers. "Maybe you worked hard all year, working extra hours, and just because you're making that $22 or $22.50 an hour, you're never entitled to another raise again," said one instructor.

Vail tells Pique it is working on raising the cap.

Another complaint of the disgruntled ski instructors is the allowances for ski gear. They want Vail to cover the cost of ski equipment in its entirety.

Currently, staff is entitled to a 20 percent discount at all company outlets and a 45 percent discount on essentials. Skis are not considered essential. Helmets, however, are free.

Laments in Park City about town's change demographics

PARK CITY, Utah – Park City is going in the wrong direction. That comes from one of its elected leaders, Becca Gerber, who grew up in Park City and is now in her 30s.

"I just don't like who we're becoming as a community. We are getting older and wealthier, and we're losing our diversity. … We're losing our (immigrant) Latino population. Our immigrant (Latino) population can no longer afford to live here. Our work-force population can no longer afford to live here. Our middle class can no longer afford to live here. And it's ugly. It's really ugly," Gerber said at a meeting covered by The Park Record

At community events, such as screenings of the Park City Film Series, it's usually the same set of older, retired people in attendance, she said.

Rents that she said are rising $20 a month are a particular frustration.

The story seems to have touched a nerve, judging by an unusual number of responses on the newspaper's website. One reader thought the council member guilty of ageism, given her complaints about older people. But she did seem to agree that Park City's economy is out of whack.

"I don't know what the answer is, but I'm glad affordable housing is on the table," the writer said. Pointing to a statistical database, the writer also reported astonishment at learning that Park City had a poverty rate of 15 percent.

Snow arrives, but for some precipitation far below average

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Bill Jensen, chief executive of the ski company at Telluride, last week stood atop his mountain to tell viewers of a TV station in Dallas his happy news. The ski area, he said, had received 5 feet of snow in the last three weeks and has "miles and miles of nice blue runs" open along with heli-skiing for those more adventurous.

For Telluride, the drought has relented. But it's not broken. A drought map released last week, before the latest storms, shows a red blob across southwest Colorado.

Portions of New Mexico have been in red, extreme drought. Taos Ski Valley was able to boast of 23 inches of new snow but still only 49 of the 110 ski trails were open, relatively few of them black diamonds.

That same map showed California in brown and yellow, not as severe as Colorado. Still, the San Francisco Chronicle on Feb. 17 reported experts believe it will take a Miracle March such as has never before occurred in recorded history to pull the Sierra Nevada out of its deep drought.

"But the odds are long and even a very wet March would be unlikely to erase the very large snowpack deficits that exist statewide and the equally deep rainfall deficits across southern California," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist the University of California Los Angeles.

California has also had periodic and extended droughts. It had been dry for five years when, at the end of February 1991, the snow-water content in the northern Sierra was 6 inches. "Then all of a sudden in March 15 inches of snow-water equivalent fell. The average in March is 3.5 inches of snow-water content," David Rizzardo, chief of snow surveys at the California Department of Water Resources, told the Chronicle.

In mid-February, the average water content in the Northern Sierra stood at 4.9 inches "If a Miracle March moved the region up another 15 inches, as occurred in 1991, we'd still be a long way from reaching what's considered normal," the newspaper reported.

"That Miracle March was 15 inches, and we're trying to add 24 inches to get to normal," Rizzardo said. "It's extremely unlikely."

The problem this year — and in past droughts, too — is a high-pressure system that is causing storms to swing north through Alaska and then southward. A new hypothesis reported in December predicts increased likelihood of that high-pressure ridge in coming years due to melting sea ice in the Arctic.

Whether evidence arrives to corroborate that hypothesis or disprove it, other work continues to sound an alarm about more extreme weather.

The latest report, by Stanford University's Noah Diffenbaugh and colleagues from Columbia University and Dartmouth College finds that even a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperatures could increase the likelihood of extreme weather.

Previous studies have demonstrated how accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased the probability of record-breaking hot, wet and dry events in the present climate.

Diffenbaugh and his colleagues examined climate models to estimate the probability of future extreme weather events depending upon the rise in global temperatures. Those rising temperatures, in turn, are linked to how well the world's countries meet their greenhouse reduction targets as specified by the Paris Climate agreement of 2015.

Even if countries meet their commitments, according to their study, a 2 to 3 degree increase will also likely result in a greater than three-fold increase in record-breaking wet days over more than 35 percent of North America. The hot days will be accompanied by milder cold nights and shorter freezes.

Heavenly plans to shave its slopes to accommodate low-snow years

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Heavenly Mountain Resort plans to widen a dozen trails and remove potentially hundreds or even thousands of trees and scale down boulders to improve skiing during low-snow seasons.

By making terrain more skiable with less snow, the operators reduce the amount of snowmaking necessary to open runs, explains the Reno Gazette-Journal. The newspaper noted that the changing climate is expected to produce more drought winters.

"During low snow years, a great deal of energy and water resources for snowmaking are required to provide enough snow on these trails so they can be safely opened," notes the draft environmental impact statement prepared for the U.S. Forest Service.

Height of the natural features can require up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) or more of snow before runs can be opened, the assessment says.

A case at the intersection of criminal and immigration laws

JACKSON, Wyo. – Miguel Cortes Hernandez was 8 years old, when he arrived in the United States from Mexico and then, with his family, made a life in Jackson Hole. He was on the high school wrestling team, graduated and co-founded a nonprofit group called Community Soccer Camp, which aims to connect youth of Jackson Hall of all backgrounds to soccer and each other.

Now 21, he made a mistake when he was 19, explains the Jackson Hole News&Guide. That mistake has sent him to Mexico, where he is facing a very different life far from most of his family.

Hernandez' case illustrates what a Teton County prosecuting attorney calls a "surreal time where the crossroads of immigration law and criminal prosecution are drifting in each other's lanes."

That attorney, Steve Weichman, is prosecuting Hernandez on charges of second-degree abuse of a minor. In 2016, he was arrested for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend. Wyoming law allows consensual sex with minors who are 13 to 15 years old, but only if the older of the two is no more than 4 years older. Hernandez was four years, two months older.

Then, when President Donald Trump took office in 2017, he issued two executive orders affecting undocumented immigrants with criminal charges again them. That gave Hernandez the choice in October of staying and fighting the criminal case or quickly leaving the United States before he was deported. Had he been deported, he would have been unable to get a visa for 10 years.

So, he flew to Mexico City and then traveled to the town of Leon, where his grandmother still lives. There, he is trying to face the criminal charges in Jackson Hole by telephone while building a new life.

A family in Jackson Hole had taken him in, and he stays in touch. They say he has seen the poverty and has been robbed twice since October. Seeing this poverty in Mexico, he wonders if he can give more there. But, of course, his family remains in Jackson Hole.