The Candidates: Jackson Town Council

By on November 2, 2016

Jackson Town Council

(nonpartisan; two open seats)

Candidates: Jessica Sell Chambers, Judd Grossman, Hailey Morton Levinson, Jim Stanford

Jessica Sell Chambers

Q: Housing, housing, housing. Is it the number one issue facing the valley? What specific ideas do you have, or are you willing to explore, to create affordable workforce housing?

Chambers: Depends on who you ask, but I’d say housing and conservation issues are tied for first, and are inextricably linked. We need people/workers who are truly invested in our community full time, which involves being able to live here, which in turn results in knowledgeable residents who care for and protect our ecosystem and home. The “turnover” economy/community doesn’t serve the community, our beloved valley, or us.

I’m actually looking at “old” ideas. Most recently, I’ve begun looking into building cooperatives, such as were used in Nova Scotia in the 1930-40s. (Coincidentally apropos: Gov. Mead declared October “Cooperative Month.”) Apparently, there was some movement in this direction in the 90s in Jackson. I’d like to know what stalled it, and what we can do to encourage and support local workers and families to embark on this process. Everyone says housing is a problem we’ve had forever, which should tell us what we keep trying doesn’t work. Incentivizing the private sector to build affordable housing is akin to full-throttling the gentrification we’re already experiencing; essentially it disproportionately adds even more wealthy inhabitants to an uneven housing market, which in it of itself dismantles the community as we know it.

Q: Transportation goes hand-in-hand with housing. We’re experiencing very congested roads in the summer, and beyond. Ideas?

Chambers: Hire a transportation director and then let this person work with the planning department to move us forward; don’t micromanage him/her. Also, let’s keep the focus on the greater good of what future changes will bring with regard to protecting our environment and ensuring we maintain a sense of community. Changes are scary but they are a constant. We need to adapt to survive as a community and to simultaneously protect our delicate ecosystem.

Q: General sales tax. Are you for or against a Community Priorities Fund for housing and transportation? What about its 50-50 split between housing and transportation? Are you for or against using one penny of general sales for this fund? Are there other revenue streams you want to explore?

Chambers: I am 100 percent for the 1 percent sales tax option on the November ballot. For the moment, a 50-50 split between housing and transportation works for our current community needs, and so does the fund. If we don’t like what the electeds decide to do with money in the future—that’s why we have elections.

Given the guaranteed budget cuts statewide, we absolutely need to have some conversations about alternative sources of revenue. As I’ve said before: we do not utilize our full tax options, then we reach out our hand to the state. Additionally, we need to keep pushing for a real estate transfer tax at the state level (especially in Teton County where many property owners in the hills are getting off scot-free). They expend little to no sales tax for 49 weeks of the year as their property sits vacant but generates jobs. These properties are not taxed to the fullest. A real estate transfer tax could be profound.

Q: Has the town done enough to protect natural resources, especially wildlife? How can the town do better?

Chambers: Leadership could do a better job of prioritizing and tackling the growing list of issues we have in order to address those affecting our natural resources and wildlife. What it boils down to is ineffective and overcommitted leadership, and lack of courageous political will. One of the most alarming things I learned about our current mayor is that when asked about keeping public lands in public hands she was quoted saying, “Never say never,” which reveals a total disconnect with our community’s objectives and economy. That comment is incomprehensible when it’s pretty well documented that the pristine ecosystem we have is likely due to the immensity of public lands surrounding us. If current leadership doesn’t get it, how can we expect her to steer the ship—especially with the urgency of our environmental issues mounting?

Q: What are some of your highest priorities?

Chambers: Things are far too complex for the average person to keep up with (short of having a full-time job or staff to do so) as far as town matters. Many signed the D2 petition simply because they couldn’t understand the ordinances. I met with councilwoman Levinson the other day, and then with planning director Tyler Sinclair. We separately discussed the shortcomings of the current organization for public involvement. I have some ideas, which I discussed with Tyler, about streamlining the process to involve more people and to eliminate the rush of objections at the final hour. The process we have now is ineffective and time-consuming, and wasteful of resources with regard to staff and council obligations. Even adding a regular town hall-type meeting could be helpful to keep the council in contact with the public and vice-versa.

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Judd Grossman

Q: Housing, housing, housing. Is it the number one issue facing the valley? What specific ideas do you have, or are you willing to explore, to create affordable workforce housing?

Grossman: I’ve proposed a Workforce Housing Overlay in the walkable commercial urban core that will provide significant density bonuses exclusively for deed-restricted workforce housing, so that employers and employees can take care of their own housing needs without massive taxpayer subsidies. I support using SPET initiatives to fund workforce housing for public sector workers (first responders, teachers, etc.) on land the government already owns.

Q: Transportation goes hand-in-hand with housing. We’re experiencing very congested roads in the summer, and beyond. Ideas?

Grossman: Jackson is maxed out with people and cars. We need to refrain from expanding development rights except for deed-restricted housing and incentives for open space. We need to focus new development into the walkable commercial urban core where people can live a less car-centric lifestyle with easy access to work, shopping, entertainment, transit and pathways. We need to remove the parking requirement from deed-restricted housing in the Workforce Housing Overlay to make the housing more affordable and to reduce the impact of the added density on our traffic problem. The Workforce Housing Overlay will create more demand for START, pathways, ride-sharing and zip cars. START should expand in response to increased demand with funding from SPET for additional buses.

We need to let the traffic engineering studies guide us on how best to get traffic flowing properly. All options to optimize, expand, and connect our roads should be on the table; prioritized by return on investment with attention to the concerns of affected neighborhoods

Q: General sales tax. Are you for or against a Community Priorities Fund for housing and transportation? What about its 50-50 split between housing and transportation? Are you for or against using one penny of general sales for this fund? Are there other revenue streams you want to explore?

Grossman: I oppose the general excise tax increase. The hundreds of millions of dollars it will raise over the next 20 years will largely be used for expensive lip service. Using public money to subsidize housing for private sector employees is corporate welfare. Using public money to buy land for housing at free market rates is a huge rip-off to the taxpayers, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidies per unit allow only a handful of units to be built each year.

We are being sold a bill of goods when local government tells us that pouring over 100 million dollars of blank check money into START over the next 20 years will solve our traffic problems. Right now START handles 1 percent of our traffic. In 20 years the best-case scenario is that it will handle 3 percent of our traffic. START is important, but it’s not a game changer.

The council is playing a shell game with SPET by letting it expire after the Budge slide is paid off so that it can claim the general excise tax increase is tax rate neutral. The council knows full well that SPET is coming back at the first opportunity, and our tax rate will rise to 7 percent.

Q: Has the town done enough to protect natural resources, especially wildlife? How can the town do better?

Grossman: My conservation priorities are to protect open space, wildlife habitat and stable neighborhoods. Overpopulation is putting tremendous pressure on our resources. By halting the expansion of development rights except for deed-restricted housing and incentives for open space, and by focusing development into the walkable commercial urban core and leaving the county as rural as possible, we will avoid increasing the pressure on our natural resources any more than is necessary.

Other town specific conservation issues include: looking for ways to rehabilitate Cache Creek as it runs through town, revitalizing Flat Creek as a greenway, making sure that our new LDRs transition properly from the urban core to the wildlands that border town, and preventing Snow King from expanding its footprint in a way that scars and industrializes adjacent wildlands.

Q: What are some of your highest priorities?

Grossman: The Integrated Transportation Plan and the Workforce Housing Action Plan passed without proper examination. I will be the watchdog on the council to make sure the tough questions are asked and answered. The council has a habit of moving into spin mode too quickly and not deliberating properly. I will make sure that the town shows its work, like on a math test, so that the public can be truly informed and not just manipulated by slogans and pandering.

The revision of the District 2 ordinances should wait until after the November 8 election and the new council is seated. The current council was rebuked by the voters in the referendum, and they should not rush to push through a half-baked revision before the election to be able to say they got “something” done. We need to get it right this time. In addition to the 100,000 square feet of short-term rental potential, the District 2 bonus tool also contains a little discussed 1,200 units of unrestricted free market residential. That’s over twice as many units as contained in Rafter J. The traffic and housing implications of those unrestricted units has received almost no attention in this process.

Hailey Morton Levinson

Q: Housing, housing, housing. Is it the number one issue facing the valley? What specific ideas do you have, or are you willing to explore, to create affordable workforce housing?

Levinson: A community is made up of people. We need people living and working here to be a community.

Looking to keep working families living and working in Jackson, I support a multi-faceted approach to promote workforce housing. This includes land development regulation revisions and rezoning of areas consistent with the 2012 Comprehensive Plan focused on community character. Housing constructed with public subsidies will be deed-restricted to ensure affordability for the workforce, prioritizing rentals, and targeting those earning less than 120 percent of area median income. I support partnering with the private sector to construct deed-restricted workforce housing on purchased sites or on land currently owned by the town or county so that they stay affordable.

Q: Transportation goes hand-in-hand with housing. We’re experiencing very congested roads in the summer, and beyond. Ideas?

Levinson: For a small town, we have made some significant strides in our transportation system. It’s impressive that our START ridership is close to one million per year. Demand on the roads between Teton Village and town has increased only slightly if at all during the winter. That’s great transportation demand management. We recently modified our town shuttle to make it more convenient to use for commuting. As a one-car household, my family uses the bus to commute to work and run errands. Walking and biking are part of our transportation system too. Increased safety, signage, sidewalks, and routes have made these modes of transportation easier for locals and visitors alike. While we have made great strides, we know there are still ways we can improve. Looking at how to be more efficient with our resources is always a consideration I think about.

Q: General sales tax. Are you for or against a Community Priorities Fund for housing and transportation? What about its 50-50 split between housing and transportation? Are you for or against using one penny of general sales for this fund? Are there other revenue streams you want to explore?

Levinson: Our community has set priorities through the Comprehensive Plan. When we look at funding housing and transportation, we know a dedicated funding source that can be applied to all aspects of our needs (i.e. maintenance, operations and capital) is necessary. With a general tax, we are able to address those needs. SPET is restricted towards capital needs, which allows great projects to be built but doesn’t provide a plan for maintenance and operations. That’s where the general tax gives our community the reliability we need to make progress and a lasting effort on our priorities.

Q: Has the town done enough to protect natural resources, especially wildlife? How can the town do better?

Levinson: Town and county have a role of protecting wildlife through our built environment and through land use policies. For example, integrating wildlife-friendly zoning laws such as permeable fences, landscape spacing, concentrating density, etc., are ways we can protect wildlife. It is important to me to look at our transportation plan and how things such as wildlife crossings or improved alternative transportation will save wildlife and improve our ecosystem stewardship.

Q: What are some of your highest priorities?

Levinson: Addressing our residential LDRs is a high priority. Continuing to work on housing and transportation is always a priority. Housing mitigation and a parking study on this coming year’s work program play into that.

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Jim Stanford

Q: Housing, housing, housing. Is it the number one issue facing the valley? What specific ideas do you have, or are you willing to explore, to create affordable workforce housing?

Housing is the No. 1 issue. While finding housing always has been a challenge, in the last few years the problem has become much worse. There simply aren’t any places to rent at times, and rents have skyrocketed. Commuting from neighboring states and counties is only part of the solution—our roads can’t handle the traffic, and those commuters wind up planting roots in their home communities, not in Jackson Hole. Who’s going to volunteer for search and rescue, the fire department, to coach youth sports, or serve on the planning commission in coming years? Investments in affordable housing help retain that community.

We need to continue building deed-restricted affordable housing, and increasing our supply of housing overall. We need to fund and build the Housing Trust project at Redmond and Hall, and finish the third phase of The Grove. That’s a total of 52 affordable rental and ownership homes, fully approved and ready to go. We need to zone for more housing in the residential areas of town: allowing for duplexes, fourplexes, bungalow courts and apartments—thoughtfully designed to blend into single-family neighborhoods. The commercial strip along south Highway 89 (between the “Y” and Smith’s) is ripe for redesign into a mixed-use neighborhood of commercial and residential. It’s time to look at northern South Park, too, as envisioned in the Comprehensive Plan. Finally, we have to continue cracking down on illegal short-term rentals, which are reducing the supply of housing that should be available to people working here.

Q: Transportation goes hand-in-hand with housing. We’re experiencing very congested roads in the summer, and beyond. Ideas?

Stanford: It’s bewildering how many residents oppose upgrades to our road network yet continue to drive everywhere. The Integrated Transportation Plan lays out choices: We can reduce our vehicle trips by taking transit or pathways, but if we cross thresholds of traffic and congestion, then it’s time to consider capital projects. I support improving connectivity of our road network, relying on good design and traffic modeling. We need to continue investing in transit, particularly commuter routes and summer service to Teton Village. We need to better integrate bicycling with transit, and we need to continue building sidewalks and improving cross-town bike routes.

Q: General sales tax. Are you for or against a Community Priorities Fund for housing and transportation? What about its 50-50 split between housing and transportation? Are you for or against using one penny of general sales for this fund? Are there other revenue streams you want to explore?

Stanford: I have been a strong supporter of the 1 percent general revenue tax. It’s a more effective way of funding town and county government. The overall tax rate stays the same at 6 percent, but the town is better positioned to budget for staffing, fuel, insurance and other ongoing operational costs. We cannot make significant investments in transportation and housing without it. The town levies no property tax and receives no property tax revenue from Teton County. The town budget is tight, and we have been relying on state grants to bridge the gap between the rising cost of services and sales tax collections. Those grants have been cut sharply, and the state budget predicament is grim. It would be foolish for the town not to utilize all of our local funding options and instead slash services that residents depend on.

The Community Priorities Fund is a way to dedicate sales tax revenue from the general penny toward housing and transportation. It allows our engineers, public works team, and planning and housing staff to budget strategically, with a recurring stream of revenue. It also provides transparency for the voters who will approve the tax or call for its repeal in future years. The 50-50 split can be adjusted as needs dictate.
Q: Has the town done enough to protect natural resources, especially wildlife? How can the town do better?

Stanford: I just watched a mother and baby moose browse on shrubs beside St. John’s Episcopal Church; so it’s reassuring to know wildlife is still welcome downtown. The town has a great opportunity to enhance natural resources along the Flat Creek corridor. We have begun discussing the concept of a Flat Creek “blueway,” where habitat could be restored, setbacks widened and pedestrian/bike access improved in return for redevelopment incentives. We’re also embarking on a major infrastructure project involving stormwater drainage and the Cache Creek “tubes,”—the ad hoc network of culverts and pipes through which Cache Creek flows underground. This has the potential to improve the health of Flat Creek.

Q: What are some of your highest priorities?

Stanford: Another priority for me is the future of Snow King. Do we want the Town Hill to be a community ski area, or a commercial resort like Teton Village with amusement park attractions? Is the plan for the resort district, drafted from 1998 to 2000, still what the community desires or needs? Would we rather have high-end condos at the base or housing? My goals are preserving public access for hiking, biking and skiing; being a good steward of the mountain and having a thorough, public process to decide its future. Nearly all of the ski area is on public land—town or national forest. We should decide how it will be managed. PJH

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