It is not uncommon to describe our place as being in a bubble. High in the mountains away from the mainstream, Crested Butte and the valley offer unique experiences not normally found at the mall in Sacramento.
While we may be in a high valley bubble, that bubble is inevitably connected to things going on away from the magic and they are things we should not ignore.
Police attitude and attitude toward police
The horrific video of Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols that hurt my heart has unfair consequences to good law enforcement officers throughout the country. It is not always reasonable but that unfortunate tether from Memphis to the high mountain bubble is there. We reached out to our community law enforcement leaders and heard back from a couple of them. The primary message is that they too found the actions in Memphis horrific and understand the need for law enforcement leaders in a small community to provide leadership that emphasizes relationships between the departments and the citizens. It is about the culture created.
Crested Butte chief marshal Mike Reily said that the situation in Memphis could happen anywhere with the wrong attitude from local leaders. “Some days our community seems so unconnected to that type of incident — that it would not be possible here. However, as police leaders, we know anything is possible if a culture permits that type of disrespect to exist,” he said. “We are all dedicated to ensuring our officers are professional, trained and embrace a culture where our commitment to partnerships with the communities we have sworn to protect would never accept anything approaching that level of disrespect for life. We, as agencies, must ensure respect and accountability at all times.”
Gunnison County sheriff Adam Murdie had a similar take. “I feel that the Gunnison Sheriff’s Office serves a small enough community that I, as an administrator, have an opportunity to further develop a professional culture within this office. Our role is not one of hostility and fear, but to be seen as HELPERS — the ones our families should feel safe coming to when times are dire,” he said. “Along with that culture, I am not only responsible for implementing policies and procedures, but continuing training that fosters a professional relationship with all citizens we serve. Between frequent training throughout the year, providing strong leadership that sets an example, and having accountability to our staff and citizens alike, I feel we are on the right track.”
The bubble is lucky to have such thoughtful leaders.
City Market merger with Safeway
If the proposed national merger of Kroger, the parent company of City Market, and Albertsons, the parent company of Safeway goes through it could have a big impact on Gunnison and the entire valley. Colorado attorney general Phil Weiser popped into Gunnison last weekend to listen to local citizens and understand what the impacts might be if a merger was approved. Given the two groceries are the only two major groceries in the valley (along with a regional grocer in Clark’s and several small independent food suppliers), the impacts could be significant here and Weiser seemed to empathize with that.
The most obvious impact could be a rise in food prices and the loss of one of the locations. Bean counters at HQ would go over spreadsheets and likely conclude that by adding another half dozen self-check-outs in City Market, a lot of money could be saved. Employees could be eliminated, facility costs could be reduced, at least one supply chain cut.
Gunnison county commissioner Liz Smith said she has seen an analysis where the typical American family spends a bit more than 10% of their income on groceries – and that is probably more here with higher food prices and lower service economy wages. To see food prices go up could really tighten the screws on some local working families. Add to that the contraction of SNAP benefits and some of our friends and neighbors could be squeezed. Smith mentioned losing an independent supply chain for the valley, seeing the community ripple effect of higher prices for struggling families and other major concerns.
Smith has worked with Weiser on a variety of issues, and she noted he has a background in such merger law and he understands the struggles that could be experienced in rural Colorado through such a merger. He said that even though the merger might bring prices down for most customers, if it negatively impacts a significant minority of people, regulators take that into serious consideration. She is confident he will be a voice for places like Gunnison and that is a good thing.
Weiser told the CB News his Gunnison visit was productive and he was grateful for the feedback on the merger proposal. “From concerns about pharmacy access to the impacts of food insecurity, workers, concerned shoppers, local leaders shared thoughtful insights that my office will consider in our review. The conversation was enlightening and underscores the wide range of experiences of Gunnison Valley residents.”
Here in the bubble, we are members of the minority.
Crested Butte sits at one of the headwaters of the Colorado River. Tuesday was the deadline day seven states that rely on water from the Colorado River were given by the feds to come up with a solution on how to allocate the disappearing water. Six of the seven including Colorado, California being the holdout, signed on to a model that would drastically scale back how much water each state was using. The idea is to keep the water behind Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam so that there is enough water to produce electricity along with providing needed water for people and agriculture. That could take cuts of about a third of the current use. Without California on board, the feds will probably have to figure out the new reality and deal with long-term lawsuits and old agreements while the climate continues to make the river’s supply dwindle. Dwindling water in the West will impact this and every bubble around here.
Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District general counsel John McClow said the issue is complex and not easily summarized, but in the immediate future, you won’t notice any change. “The proposal will not impact the Upper Gunnison Basin in the near term because it is an early step in a process that will continue until 2026,” he said. “That process is the modification and renegotiation of the 2007 Interim Guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead operations. The outcome of that process will determine how the water users in the Colorado River basin will be able to continue to operate with a diminished water supply. If the process breaks down or is interrupted by litigation, we may not see the outcome for ten years or more.”
Swastika found at CBCS
As some leaders push hate and anger between ethnic groups around the world, one of the most offensive antisemitic symbols was graffitied on a poster at the Crested Butte Community School this week. That is a stain in the bubble. Some might dismiss the act as a high school prank, but it is not. It is a reminder that such antisemitism and associated racism exists here in this relatively monocultural upper middle class white bubble. It is not something to be blown off as a prank or taken lightly by school officials and the community in general.
Deep discussions over race and bigotry were held in this liberal community a few years ago as part of the Black Lives Matter effort. It became evident that an attitude of institutional racism and a corresponding hurtful, if not always aware attitude toward friends and neighbors of color was damagingly prevalent in the valley. Awareness has led to some institutional and personal changes and that is a good thing. With the discovery of a swastika in the school there is opportunity for further education. Frankly, constant vigilance of cultural cracks that encourage racism or antisemitism is a good thing whether it happens in the mainstream or here in a relatively isolated valley.
Ukrainian coat drives
And the bubble outreach works the other way too. The latest tangible example is the overwhelming response to Beth “Hurricane” Carter’s coat drives to help the beleaguered people of Ukraine who are facing the evil of Vladimir Putin and his effort to destroy their civilian power and water infrastructure during the brutal winter months. Locals from both ends of the valley contributed new and used winter clothing to help those people make it through the winter. It will make a difference and that, more than anything is what ultimately counts both inside and outside the bubble.