GUEST OPINION: Zombie Politics

By on May 3, 2016

A lobbying group’s agenda would only exacerbate the housing crisis.

160504GuestOpinionJACKSON HOLE, WY – Throughout the Town of Jackson’s District 2 rezoning process, one thing has remained clear. The public is overwhelmingly opposed to increasing the commercial development potential in the Town and County beyond what the Comprehensive Plan allows.

After taking precious time away from jobs and family to organize against increased development that would negatively impact the community as a whole, residents were rewarded with a resounding victory at January’s Town and County Joint Information Meeting, where elected officials agreed to limit future non-residential development to an additional 5.1 million square feet in Teton County.

It’s important to note that while many residents feel this additional 5.1 million square feet (which has not yet been built) is already too much, they recognize that it is the number the community agreed to in the Comprehensive Plan, and are willing to accept that reality.

But a new group in Jackson is not.

“Think About It, JH” is a lobbying group which recently burst onto the social media scene with a slick new website and a Facebook page. Paying to have their posts boosted, they’ve suddenly become very high profile.

Their message is seductive. If you read the headlines, you would think that their main objective is to solve the housing crisis and reduce traffic. These, of course, are issues that are foremost in the minds of most residents.

Yet buried in the fine print is really only one actual policy proposal: to allow for more commercial development than was agreed upon by the Town and County in January.

Let’s be clear about one thing. All additional commercial development will worsen the housing crisis. If you are serious about the housing shortage, you cannot be in favor of adding more commercial, period.

So who is behind “Think About It, JH”?

The website and Facebook page are anonymous, and when I posted a rebuttal on their Facebook page a couple weeks ago, it was quickly deleted. That, obviously, is their right, but it certainly seems that they’re more interested in a marketing campaign than in publicly debating the issues. That’s understandable, of course, because that debate already took place and the pro-growth position lost.

The group did, however, write a guest shot in last week’s News & Guide. It was signed, unsurprisingly, by a group of property and business owners, some of whom stand to profit personally from allowing increased commercial development. Among them are Mike Halpin (developer and owner of Lost Creek Ranch), Joe and Denise Rice (owners of six local restaurants and additional undeveloped property), Mark Barron (business and property owner and former mayor of Jackson), and Ted Staryk (owner of Snake River Brewing Company and former director of the McKnight Foundation, a private foundation with more than $2 billion in assets).

The known backers of “Think About It, JH” are not people likely to ever have any first-hand experience with housing insecurity.

This is zombie politics. No matter how often we reject these policies, they just keep coming back. Voters who are strapped for time with jobs and families only have so much time to commit to politics, while the pro-development forces have seemingly unlimited time and money. They can afford to keep coming back. They have all the time in the world to keep walking these dead proposals back to our electeds, searching for yet another pound of flesh from the working class of our community.

“Think About It, JH” says they need more commercial development to support small businesses. Unlike them, I actually am a small business owner with insecure office space. But when I see families who have lived in this community for years evicted from their homes and literally left homeless, I find it amazing that increasing office space availability for start-ups should be a top priority for anyone.

They also talk about how downtown businesses will help solve the housing crisis if we only give them more commercial development, which means more jobs and more workers who will need more housing. They talk about solving our traffic problems by adding more downtown commercial space, as though more space will not attract more customers who drive more cars.

I don’t know what their strategy is. They have no actual policy proposals, much less any ideas that could ever get past an informed electorate. But they do a great job of highlighting problems, while pushing policies that will only worsen them. Their Facebook page has more than 500 likes after just a few weeks. Perhaps they plan to show this to the electeds as proof of support for the destructive policies they’ve buried beneath the feel-good headlines. They’ve clearly enlisted the help of some talented marketing people, and this a campaign to misinform the public and to weaken the resolve of voters by muddying the waters.

Locals have resoundingly rejected more commercial development. It’s time for an end to the zombie politics of more growth, of more for the haves while ignoring the distress of those who have not. The community has spoken, and we must move forward to finding positive solutions to our housing and traffic problems.

There are desperate people in our community—some that can’t put a roof over their heads or food on their plates. They are our friends and neighbors and co-workers. They are our teachers and dishwashers and landscapers. They’re the people who get their hands dirty and do the heavy lifting in Jackson Hole. They deserve better than being forced to expend more precious time, energy and money fighting these zombie proposals. Let’s think about them, Jackson Hole. PJH

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