By on September 13, 2016

160914fromreadersPlayground for The Rich

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Hats off for the wonderful editor’s note last week. Your column [“The Price of Silence”] and Natosha Hoduski’s well-researched cover story [“#JHDreaming”] made the issue the best I’ve seen in any newspaper.
But it wasn’t the blue-collar people Natosha profiled that drove up housing costs in Jackson or pushed up the cost of living. The reality is Jackson Hole is a rich person’s playground and may always be. For the people working four and five jobs to make ends meet, the choice seems clear: move or find a way to create a business, a future based on the region’s stark beauty and recreational opportunities.
When the steel industry collapsed in the late 1970s, 100,00 people in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania lost their jobs. One hundred thousand. Many people moved away where the jobs were. And the people who stayed began to create an economy based on the region’s natural strengths: institutions of higher education and medicine. Today, even this economy is giving way to new economic engines as far fetched as self-driving cars as Google and Uber have set up shop in the city.
All of this is cold comfort to the service workers in Jackson who are trying to adjust to another off season, I know. But trying to convince real estate moguls and developers that they should stop selling their products for “what the market will bear” i.e. at the highest possible profit, no matter how hurtful and unfair to service workers, is an uphill battle at best.
Keep up the great work.

—Kris Mamula
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Serfs vs. The Lords

The Planet’s September 7 cover story, “#JHDreaming,” asked, “How many jobs does it take to keep a Jackson Hole address?”

The answer is only one, if it pays a living wage.

The conventional ratio that lenders use for qualification for a home loan is that no more than 28 percent of your gross income should be spent on housing.  So let’s set the minimum wage in Teton County, Wyoming, at a level that corresponds to those standards.  Take the average rent of all residences advertised in the previous year, multiply by 3.5, and you will find that the minimum wage should be over $55 per hour rather than $7.50. If the minimum wage were indexed to actual costs of living and annually adjusted, as market forces evolve back into a fairer balance between workers and housing supply the legal minimum wage would actually go down.

Already I hear JHMR and every hotel and restaurant owner in Jackson calling for me to be tarred and feathered. “If we had to pay a living wage instead of importing young girls from Romania and hiring survivors of the Coyote Trail from Guatemala we’d be forced out of business and there would be no jobs at all.”  

And they are right, given the current economic system.  Welcome to Jackson Hole, the most unequal enclave in a nation that has devolved from the middle class country of the 1970s to an oligarchy where wealth only trickles upward and a trillion dollars per year goes toward maintaining a global military empire.

So what kind of community do we want? A part time home to the ultra-wealthy and commuter destination to the serfs who cater to them, or a community with a solid middle class who can put down roots and contribute to the social life of the town?

Everybody in Wyoming considers themselves a cowboy conservative and worships at the temple of the free market. Planning, density overlays, height restrictions and all the other tools of bureaucracy haven’t exactly created a town of Jackson that satisfies anyone.  So let’s throw them all overboard and put the cowboy ethic to the test. If a developer wants to build a 12-story tower with 800 square foot apartments and no parking, and rent them for $500 per month, let him do it.  Apart from following building code and safety standards, let the developer and his architects build whatever they want.  Couldn’t be much worse than what we’ve seen built in the past decade.    

However, the community should require one condition: In order to receive a building permit a developer should be required to sign a “use lien” similar to a tax lien except that it requires the developer to post a bond sufficient to pay for the expense of tearing the building down.   In the event that it isn’t at least 50 percent occupied two years after completion, the building would revert to Teton County, which would use the lien funds to immediately demolish it.  Let the market decide what is needed rather than some planners’ attempt to herd cats, or even my personal esthetic taste.

The combination of a smaller work force that is paid a living wage and developers freed from all the restrictions they say hold them back would result in affordable housing for everybody once supply and demand has a chance to achieve a balance, but there is a quicker way to open up the market.  Let’s apply the use-it-or-lose-it standard to all houses and condos in the valley.  

If a residence is vacant more than 50 percent of the time for two years it should revert to Teton County, which would then put it up for sale at public auction.  The spectacle of Granite Ridge owners advertising their second and third homes for rent for $1.00 per month in a frantic effort to keep them out of foreclosure would be more entertaining than watching roller derby.  

But seriously, the impact of hundreds of condos and guest houses suddenly entering the long term rental market would rapidly eliminate the current price gorging and total lack of rental availability.

I’ve got to be joking, right?  No way “they” would ever allow such a thing to happen.  

Wait a minute. This is supposed to be a democracy. The quaint notion that regular people can have a voice in the political process has long been buried by American money-style election media circuses. But given a level playing field—equal advertising budgets and media access—I kind of like the chances of 5,000 serfs who live paycheck to paycheck versus a few hundred lords.  

—Crazy Horse
Jackson, WY

Taking Action in Jackson

I could not agree more with Craig Benjamin’s guest opinion piece [“The Elephant in Jackson Hole’s Room,” August 31]. Climate change is an overriding issue that needs unprecedented leadership. So why won’t JH even do a feasibility analysis on any of the top three actual, measureable greenhouse gas reduction strategies we could take? If we are serious, we need to move past exhortation to action.

  1. Jackson Lake hydro. There is no identified impact to the park from retrofitted this existing dam with hydropower. It could provide around 30 million kWh of carbon free power, enough for 3000 Jackson homes. It would enhance energy security and reliability in the valley. LVE would be glad to have this new clean local and cost-effective power source.
  1. Waste to Energy. The new technology is ultra clean and in use throughout Europe. Each year, we ship 25,000 tons of post recycled waste over 100 miles in heavy polluting trucks to be buried in a landfill where it will make methane for decades. Even if Teton County’s new recylcing goals are met, the amount of waste going to landfill not go down by much from today’s level. There are modular and clean WTE units that are to our scale, enhance recycling, eliminate landfill greenhouse gas, and generate electricity energy that is lower carbon than that the grid average. There is every early indication that this strategy is cost effective for us.
  1. North bridge. I know, this is a third rail issue, but it would results in millions of miles of avoided car travel and all the associated auto emissions. It would take pressure off highways 22 and 380 and the Teton Village to Moose Road. It would avoid at least some wildlife mortality.

There may be a good reason not to do any of these. However, if we are serious about climate change, there is not a good reason to avoid talking about them or doing a feasibility analysis so we can have a fact-based understanding of the trade-offs.

—Paul W. Hansen
Jackson, WY

Send comments to

About Various Authors

Sometimes it takes a village.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login