Crucial Matters

By on October 11, 2017

Underneath the beauty, horrendous matters exist in Jackson

JACKSON HOLE, WY— As I am looking out of my window to the distant mountains that are already speckled with snow, I cannot help but to feel blessed that I live here all year round and that I can experience the changes of the four seasons. It brings to my mind one of the horrendous realities existing in Jackson Hole.

Anywhere from 35 to 40 percent of the habitations in our county are occupied less than a month out of the year, a fact that must upset people commuting every day from Lincoln County and Idaho.

In Whistler, British Columbia, regulations impose a tax on homeowners who leave their house empty more than ten months a year. The owners pay proportionally to their period of absence. I believe that we should consider something similar. The proceeds could finance affordable housing. It would be very unpopular with the homeowners who would be taxed, but it could prompt some of them to offer their empty houses to local people who seeking accommodations, which would not only ensure the property is looked after, but also help to solve the lodging problem. 

Since we are in Wyoming, most of the taxes we want to levy in Teton County have to be approved by big brother in Cheyenne. It could be circumvented if the Land Development Regulations of the county were modified to include the taxation. Just a thought.

As I write these words it does go through my mind that I am bound to generate some negative and positive reactions, but I’ll risk the kickback to be true to my beliefs as a garden-variety person who gets troubled when the deck of cards is skewed, and injustice becomes too flagrant toward regular people.

I also want to bring to the fore two words that affect the quality of life in our county: Commercial and business. These two words are prejudicially, in my opinion, viewed as anathema in this valley. Any mention of commercial development provokes a knee jerk reaction of disapproval from certain groups in our community, and unfortunately, for years these groups opposed to commercial development have been successful to thwart innovations. The result is a disproportionate distribution of wealth that we face today.

Until we seriously consider that tourism as well as construction cannot be the main resources of income in Teton County, and if we do not plan for other sources of revenues, the wealth disparities will not budge. We need a middle class, which would add significant diversity to the valley enterprises and consequently provide higher levels of revenue. Until this happens, seasonal and low wageworkers will remain predominant.

Perhaps we should promote ourselves as an innovative business area. Several communities in the Mountain West have done it with great success. In Jackson, though, we have never had an economic development road map, and we move along with our good fortunes, relying on the fact that Yellowstone is a wonder of the world, that Rockefeller and Albright created Teton National Park and that a Californian named Paul Mc Callister had the brilliant vision to create a unique ski resort. Since those days, though, then the well of innovation has dried up.

Another thought comes to my mind that some may see as preposterous: We should include in our county and town budgets the promotion of Jackson Hole has a non-environmental impactful business destination. It is a pipe dream at the moment because the housing market makes it an impossibility to provide adequate lodgings even for people moving in with a  $200,000 dollar salary. In Jackson Hole, convictions are many and exchanges of viewpoints are often confrontational.

I recently attended a private gathering of well-meaning citizens who advocated that civil communications in this county are a must if we want to move forward on primordial issues. It is a noble endeavor, but we need some mass education on that practice. I only have to watch town and county public hearings to witness that feelings are mostly expressed in non-conciliatory manners, and one can feel the smoldering aggressiveness underneath the exchanges. We need to respect other viewpoints but agreeing to disagree cannot be a solution. We have to reconcile our differences. The existence of our community is at stake.

On a separate issue, I have always been concerned about our isolation from the rest of the country. Does our geographic position makes us cut off from the rest of the nation? Our working folks were certainly not spared from the 2007 worldwide economic upheaval.  We can observe through the media’s national and world coverage, but we are insulated from most upheavals.

Nevertheless, events do catch up with us. Our Latino population has to live in fear of being arrested and deported by ICE with the devastating consequence of destroying their families. A simple act the rest of us take for granted, such as filling out any kind of form or legal document, can become an act sealing their fate. A simple visit to the Emergency Room at the hospital could be the start of proceedings for deportations. Those people are our brothers and sisters and make this valley function and we have to protect them because we respect and appreciate them. If there were no demands for them, they would not have come here in the first place.

The hypocrisy that we show has to stop. A recent poll organized by a local paper asked: “What should congress do about the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” or DACA?” It showed that 51 percent of the local people were in favor of, and I quote, “Let the program expire and the country’s undocumented youth CAN FADE INTO THE SHADOWS OR BE DEPORTED.” I found this response by our community absolutely nauseating for a county that prides itself to be one of most charitable in the nation.

Still, all is not lost: We have several non-profit organizations that take care of the many needs of our Latino population, and they show that decency has not completely disappeared from our valley.

Long term empty real estate properties, need for new economic stimuli, necessity to have civil dialogues and altruistic behavior toward our Latino population: All those points are vital if we sincerely want to be a more equitable place to live. PJH

Yves Desgouttes was born in France, became a US Citizen in 1990 and a permanent JH resident in 1995. He served a stint in the French Mountain Commandos before studying at Southampton and Oxford.  He is a former Alpine ski racer with a career that has spanned several fields and countries: a geologist in Canada, a trader and financier in London and New York.

He has owned and operated two lodging properties in Jackson and now owns office buildings in the area. He is married with four grown up children, four grandchildren and two cats.

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