More than a few years ago when I started my first job in a news department at a small TV station, some of the poorly paid reporters were expected to drive their personal vehicles to cover stories. There were only a few station cars and so I would sometimes hop in my car and zip off to a fire or a meeting.
After about a year I took my concerns for what I thought was an unfair practice to my boss. He didn’t have much sympathy. I talked to a few other reporters and photographers and suggested a “strike” or “unionization” if the situation wasn’t changed. They agreed to support the idea and I met with union organizers. I went back to my boss and again explained the situation and informed him there was support amongst the troops. He went to his boss and the situation was changed.
Point being, I am not unfamiliar with worker action when warranted.
Now, I’m not the smartest guy in the valley but it still irks me when foolishness starts to show up in a smart community. Foolish oozed all over social media (Facebook) last weekend when there was a call for a “Local Worker’s Strike” on the busiest weekend of the year against local business. According to the new FB page it is hoped that a strike from Friday, July 1 through Monday, July 4 will result in:
“1) Regulations for AirBnB and VRBO which would limit these rentals to the property owners primary residence only which may then be offered as a short term rental for a maximum of 60 days per year.
2) A livable minimum wage of $20 per hour for all workers in Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte South.
3) The creation of 500 affordable housing units (condos, duplexes and single family homes) in the next three years funded and subsidized by a 3 percent “Gaper tax” on all hotels, short term rentals, van shuttles and restaurants.”
The primary organizer, David Gottorff, said he and a couple of other people were discussing the idea casually and came up with the strike idea. In other words, it was basically a bar conversation that goes on every day in the valley. So unless there was obvious overwhelming support (and the opposite appears true), it doesn’t seem worthy of, say, a front-page news story. But Gottorff has great skill in agitating and using the tool of social media to tweak people. It has served him well in his role as president of the Lake Irwin Coalition. He is an agitator and he is good at it.
This latest idea has struck some nerves and amplified an ongoing conversation. But David has no skin in the game in the sense that he is not an employee of a local business willing to take the risky step of leaving his boss in the weeds, nor does he own a business here with employees that would put him up the creek. So I think it is worth an opinion page piece.
The affordable housing and income disparity issues are real. The frustration is legitimate. I am a believer that in a resort environment like Crested Butte, government subsidy for affordable housing is appropriate. To keep a town like Crested Butte vibrant you need locals living there year-round. Given market prices, it takes support and—absent a magic wand to solve all the problems—there is actually widespread backing and action toward addressing the problem in the Gunnison Valley.
So this strike idea seems to me silly. It would have been like me at the TV station going to the viewers and threatening to take a sledgehammer to their televisions if I didn’t get what I wanted. That would show ‘em. Huh?
Gottorff can see a problem (Scarp Ridge/Irwin/Eleven, affordable housing, income disparity) and push the buttons to get people riled up. He is not wrong in some of his concerns—but he is not right in his methods.
Frankly, this call for a “strike” has managed to take an issue that has almost universal support in the valley—taking action to increase affordable housing for workers—and driven a wedge between people who agree with one another. Gottorff’s call to employees disrespects the overall community. Local business owners want their workers to live near their jobs. It makes for happier employees and better business.
By attacking local business to make a known point, the idea kicks them in the nuts. I’ve owned businesses in Crested Butte and believe me, the dollars that fill the bank account on July 4 are not used for yachts and gold-plated toilet seats—they are used to pay the rent, the heating bills and the wages in October.
Heck, maybe local workers should picket the sewer plant. It makes about as much sense. But at least then you might still have a job on July 5.
Look—I understand solutions aren’t keeping up with the demand right now. But there is no magic answer. If there is—give me one. Instead there is community direction and that direction is being taken. It is apparently easier to scream “strike” than do a little research so here are some facts:
The town of Crested Butte more than any other regional entity has worked to address the affordable housing issue for decades (see the 20 Years Ago Today column this week). Heck, when I was on council in the early 1990s, we put in a “trailer park” at the entrance to town despite some vehement resistance. Red Lady Estates continues to house a good core of the community.
—As for workforce housing on the ground, there are currently 210 deed-restricted housing units in Crested Butte. Within the next eight years, there will be more than 300 units with deed restrictions and that will amount to 25 percent of the town housing. That is real.
—There is a Crested Butte citizen’s group meeting right now to try to figure out the best way to regulate short-term RBOs (rental by owners). Recommendations should come before council this summer. I’ll speculate there will be some time restrictions and higher fees suggested.
—The possible “hybrid” development north of Crested Butte being overseen by the town and county could result in an acre of land being set aside by developers (Cypress Foothills) for affordable housing.
—The $6.5 million Anthracite Place sits at the entrance to Crested Butte and will provide 30 apartments for local workers. It will open this summer. So far, 47 people have put in applications.
—On the county side, it too contributed to Anthracite Place. County and OVPP reps have started discussions about how to pay for more affordable housing. That could mean putting a ballot issue before voters for a tax on short-term rentals that would raise money for more workforce housing. They have broached the idea to use Western State Colorado University housing over the summer.
—In Mt. Crested Butte, seven deed-restricted units are coming online this summer at the Timbers project. A duplex is under construction in the Homestead subdivision by the Community Rebuilds group. There is a triplex designed for Homestead that could potentially be built if the town could pre-sell them but staff has not yet discussed this with the council. There are approximately 75 deed-restricted units in Mt. Crested Butte.
—The Crested Butte-Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce will be holding a meeting with local business people to get their perspective on the housing crunch. That will take place June 8 at 8:30 a.m. at the Crested Butte Town Hall.
So as I said before, there is legitimate frustration and these are real issues. A strike would only poison tangible efforts and cost some people their jobs. This is a community of smart people. Smart people don’t do stupid things (often). Closing your eyes and clicking your heels three times would have as much impact on the issue as a strike against local business.
It may not be obvious to Gottorff and his few followers, but a solution won’t magically come by not working. It will come by rolling up your sleeves and actually adding to the good work already taking place.