FEATURE: We the People

By on November 1, 2016

An election issue for the people, by the people.

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The Planet has always given candidates the floor in its election issues. But this year, as we face the most important election in the valley’s history, we also wanted to hear from you.

So we sat down with folks across the spectrum of age, profession and background, and asked them two things: What issues matter to you most this election and what personal experiences have shaped your perspective? Among those who agreed to be in this issue—and the ones who participated but do not appear only because we ran out of space—one concern repeatedly surfaced. Unsurprisingly, it is this community’s overarching desperation for housing.

The folks we interviewed lamented an increasing litany of friends and family who have left the valley—people who actively and meaningfully contributed to the community. People who reluctantly surrendered to the housing crisis once and for all and will not return.

Locals are also leaving, we were told, because their salaries are not keeping pace with soaring rents. All of this after Jackson Hole received its least glorious honor to date. In June, a report from the Economic Policy Institute designated Jackson Hole the most economically unequal place in America. Here, the top 1 percent earns more than 68 percent of the valley’s income.

What does this tell us? That what we’re doing is not enough.

We know it’s going to take “bold” moves, as councilman Jim Stanford espoused at a July 2015 town council meeting, to address the housing crisis; to create a climate where the middle class backbone can plant roots here. Stanford’s bold moves, The Planet reported (The Buzz: “Silently Opposed,” July 7, 2015), included ideas to rezone areas at the base of Snow King—currently slated for commercial development—for residential, along with neighborhoods near the Brewpub and north of Miller Park. “We can be bold and zone [for downtown residential],” Stanford said. “This is what the community is asking for and we have the opportunity to do it … we are not causing economic hardship, we would be creating opportunity all around while nurturing the heart of our community.”

During that same meeting, with help from the JH Conservation Alliance, 40 some residents became housing activists, appearing in town chambers holding signs that read “Housing not Hotels” and “Middle Class not Marriotts.” But even as audience members raised their signs in support of Stanford’s suggestions, the council did not budge.

Then, a year later, after the housing crisis had claimed more victims, tightening its stranglehold on the valley, about 100 housing advocates and residents joined the housing advocacy group Shelter JH at a town council meeting this summer. Both children and adults stepped up to the podium during public comment. Bleary-eyed and hunched over the microphone, faces crumpled in despair, they told their stories of working three jobs to pay rent, of living in their cars, of losing exemplary employees who had no place to live. They pleaded with the council to enact emergency housing solutions. But the council has yet to implement any of the proposals (or shall we call them bold moves) that Shelter JH brought before them that day.

If there was ever a time to be bold it is now. We have the opportunity to decide the future of Jackson Hole with our vote, to ensure this is a place for middle and working class people for years to come, not just a capacious playground for second and third homeowners and out-of-state developers.

In a place like Jackson Hole, where there is a tendency to misread healthy political discourse concerning candidates’ positions and actions as personal attacks, I hope you find the candid perspectives from your friends and neighbors on the following pages refreshing, even if they are different than your own. Because a great community is nurtured by its appetite for differing views, and the courage of its leaders to digest and respond to those viewpoints.

After all, our local leaders and those who aspire to lead us have one duty that eclipses everything else: to make decisions in the best interest of the public. We just hope they’re listening, because the people have spoken and they need something bold.

— Robyn Vincent

Be ‘bowled’ with all the candidates 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, November 2 at Hole Bowl during the valley’s inaugural candidate speed dating forum. Bring your friends and enjoy five minutes grilling each candidate on the issues that matter to you. Booze, food and bowling are encouraged accoutrements to this special event brought to you by The Planet and Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

Housing and transportation are two issues important to me in the local election. However, these issues are intermingled with two other concerns. I love Jackson Hole for the quality and diversity of our human population but also for our wildlife, which always needs protection.

I hope our elected officials will think creatively about ways to create more housing for local residents. Helping people live closer to work could ease traffic congestion and reduce our carbon footprint. We should also consider strategically designating wildlife crossings around the valley.

I am fortunate to teach swimming at the Rec Center where I interact daily with children, parents, grandparents, caregivers and staff. It is a diverse group but I hear many of the same things from all. People like Jackson Hole’s lifestyle and natural beauty. They participate in community events. They enjoy having nice public facilities such as the Rec Center. They enjoy the national parks nearby. They have some economic opportunities. They want their children to grow up and continue to be able to enjoy these same things.

However, I hear concerns as well. People are not certain they, or their friends or co-workers, will be able to afford to stay here. They say rents are going up, the number of rentals is shrinking and home buying is out of reach for most. Lack of housing security keeps many from being able to put down roots. I raised my family here and appreciate that many local young people want to live and raise their families here too. I hope we elect officials who bring new and creative thinking about housing. I encourage electeds to scrutinize each proposal through the lens of benefitting local residents, and try to balance the needs of people with business development. I hope we elect people who are willing to say “no” to projects that are not in the public interest.

— Mary Pat Walker

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

In this election, I am most concerned with housing and the zoning that goes with it. I understand both sides of the issue, but if we don’t start putting an emphasis on housing and the people that work in this town, the town will lose its heart. As more and more hotels, and second and third homes are built here, the more people who put their hearts into this place are being pushed out. We need candidates that are focused on the people of Jackson, not just the businesses that have moved in. Unless something drastic is done, Jackson will lose the people that have made it such a great place to live.

I have lived in Jackson for more than 10 years now and feel like I have found my home. What drew me to this place are the mountains and all of the outdoor activities that come with them; but what has made me stay is the people that live here. Over the years, some of these friends have been priced out of town. One friend in particular had a job that paid well, but when he decided to start a family with his wife they quickly realized it was too much of a financial strain on them to stay. They loved this place, and the town is definitely worse off without them.

It is also a shame to know so many people who live in their cars or bounce around from couch to couch. It is one thing if someone lives this way to save money, but it is very different when they are in their car because their landlord raised rent 30 percent. With the lack of affordable housing and affordable rentals, good people continue to leave. Greed has ruined many great places. Unless something is done, Jackson is next.

— Oliver Tripp

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

Whether it’s people worried about rising rents or people who don’t have a place to live, housing is the biggest issue here. As a caseworker for One 22, I see this problem every day.

Next year my rent will go up 20 percent. That means moving out of Jackson. Yes, we have the option to move to Victor, Driggs, or Alpine, but for me that is not an option—I am too involved in the Jackson community. But if I have a long commute to work every day, I will not be able to volunteer here; my extra time would go to driving. I am also concerned with my kids’ education and I think they have more opportunity in Teton County than surrounding areas.

Some people have said, “If you cannot afford to live in Jackson you should leave.” But I grew up here. I love this community. I want my kids to grow up here, and I am going to fight until the last moment, until I have to leave.

One of the things we also have to look at is the cost of living. We were rated No. 1 in income equality in the country. That means the 1 percent makes about 225 times more money than the 99 percent. But some of the people making the lowest incomes in Jackson are making that small amount of money from two or three jobs, and then 90 percent of that goes to rent.

I think elected officials are finally hearing the Latino voice in this town. There are a lot of youth and Latinos who are now eligible to vote. One thing shocked me recently. I was talking to some seemingly wealthy people. I told them Jackson’s Latino population fluctuates between 20 and 30 percent. They said, “Really? Where are they? We never seem them.” For me, it was an eye opener; I realized some people don’t see the people, or issues, in their backyard.

— Jorge Moreno

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

Local politics is where change begins. At no time has this statement been of more veracity than this year. Teton County is facing an election that will shape the next decade of growth in our valley. Perhaps the most important vote is the 1 percent sales tax for housing and transportation. The idea of comprehensive housing and transportation funding is a keystone to developing a sustainable valley.

To create a viable economy in Teton County, a burgeoning middle class needs to be encouraged. Making a middle class that can thrive in Jackson requires funding transportation services and creating housing for the valley’s employees. If police, firemen, EMTs, and teachers can’t find adequate housing in our valley, how can we expect to advance as a community? With a new housing plan approved, the next step is providing the necessary funding. Our elected representatives have laid out the plans to begin finding solutions to our housing crisis. But without a revenue stream how can we accomplish the goals we’ve entrusted our representatives with? Developing a valley that can provide for the entire population is the most important part of a functioning economy.

The simplest argument for voting “yes” on the 1 percent general revenue tax is that we keep our promises. The county and town have supported the Integrated Housing and Transportation plans. Leaving a plan without funding is the equivalent of not having passed the plan at all. Without money, we are just participating in a theoretical exercise.

My views are shaped from having grown up in this valley—I’ve watched the growth of Jackson. When I was growing up, the valley was made up of a mix of working, middle and upper class families. At one time, believe it or not, home ownership was attainable to a majority of the valley population.

— Alexander Lopez-Wilson

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

It is difficult to see past the housing crisis and all the collateral issues that arise from it.

Over the past year, I watched two world-class professional service industry colleagues deal with the lack of housing—both in different ways. One slept in his truck all summer, showering at the gym. The other simply packed up his family and left for a cottage on a lake in New England. Rent: $350 per month.

So we bring in the J-1ers. They will live four-to-a-room at the Gables or the Western. For the most part, they are good kids who want to do a great job. But just about the time they develop the flair and confidence needed to provide a genuinely hospitable experience to guests, their four-month stay is over.

A short while ago I was talking with a much esteemed and well-respected colleague of a more mature vintage. His wife is a thoughtful, graceful and compassionate woman who volunteers at a local nonprofit dealing with demographic-specific populations struggling to adjust. They are both longtime valley residents, engaged and savvy. The housing subject came up in the conversation, as well as the proposition for more commercial zoning.

“Fine with me,” I replied, “but who’s gonna work there, and where are they going to live? While it might not be a perfectly accurate number, I have heard the Marriott is going to employ 300 people when it opens.”

“Oh, but they have promised to also build more suitable housing for those additional employees required to run those businesses,” the gentleman replied.

“Promised? What does that mean? Who promised?”

“The politicians.”

There was a brief pause. We all took a good look at each other. Then we burst out in a chorus of laughter.

— John-Mark Roufs

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

I’ve lived in Jackson for 12 years. I have two kids—a 6th grader at JHMS and a 5th grader in Colter. My husband, Jeff, runs his own marketing business. My background is in graphic design and baking. I wish there was a sexier way of saying “stay-at-home mom,” but today, that is what I am and I love it.

Lack of affordable housing is a real problem that affects our whole community, not just those who can’t afford to live here. I have been in many businesses around town and have waited a long time to be helped, or received substandard service because there are not enough employees. The cost of buying a home is out of reach for most people. The wealth in this town is not trickling down. It is unfortunate to see people’s homes torn down for more hotels or expensive condos.

Traffic downtown is a nightmare. Having to travel through town several times a day is frustrating. Every summer, the traffic seems to get worse. We need to figure out a way to divert some of that traffic. I hate to say it, but one way is to expand our roadways. It is the cost of promoting tourism in this area and to deal with the growth we are experiencing. If new roads are built, it has to be done with the least amount of impact to the environment and wildlife possible. START Bus should also expand service to neighborhoods south of town.

Education is always on my mind because I have kids. Overall, the public schools in Teton County are good, but I do worry about overcrowding and kids falling through the cracks. My 10-year-old son, who sometimes struggles in school, has noted that oftentimes the children who excel in academics are transfers from other states. I’m glad the school district is building a new elementary school, but I wonder how all those kids are going to fit into the middle school and high school down the road.

— Barbara Wogoman

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

I think Jackson’s most pressing issue is housing—how to finance affordable housing and where that housing should be located. I am watching the departure of my extended family members, and I’m losing new friends. The housing crisis is causing a fracture in our community fabric. I think town and county leaders need to make difficult decisions with the intent of serving not the most recent non-familial arrivals but rather the seventh generation, as the Lakota Sioux do.

Another key issue is continuing the sense of community, generationally. My great-grandparents had a homestead at Porcupine Creek. My grandmother remembers bringing the chickens in at night to share the cabin’s dirt floor cabin. Eventually the family moved into town where my great-grandmother decorated coffins, worked as a postmistress, and staffed the town switchboard when telephones arrived.

Living in Jackson has traditionally been a trial by survivor. We arrive, fight to stay, and when we do, the kindness flows. Better leadership is needed, generally, in all areas. Leadership is not a single topic issue. It is a leveling and rising of the community all the time at all levels. Jackson is a hard place to make a living. But hard work and helping your neighbors are two underlying values that are admired, respected, and rewarded by the community.

— Mark Nowlin

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

I was born at St. John’s Hospital and have lived in Jackson most of my life. My dad built the house I grew up in with his own two hands, a tiny cabin in the woods. Today, after much hard work, I am a college-educated woman, married to my husband (also a Jackson native), and we both operate our own small businesses here. We rent our residence, and would someday like to expand our family. We have become very realistic, and we will work as hard as we can to maintain our lives in Jackson, but someday my hard work may not be enough to keep us here. Our main concern is that there are not enough places to live. Also, as a renter, I strongly wish that rental properties were regulated by how much of a rental increase renters can annually incur.

Commercial property is my second largest concern about Jackson, but maybe not in the way most people think about it. I DO want to see commercial growth. I want small, homegrown businesses to have a chance. I am the sole proprietor of my business. I do not have any employees, and I work out of a space that is less than 600 square feet. I know plenty of other local entrepreneurs who would fit that same category. They just need a small space to house their ideas. They have no employees, just a dream to have their own successful business, and that is not an easy feat in Jackson.

I would like to see Jackson as a place that my family can grow and my business can continue to thrive; a place where the community isn’t in constant fear of ending up without somewhere to live, or losing their uniqueness in an ocean of corporate capitalism.

— Amy Dowell

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

Our family’s insulation business is one of many in town being affected by the shortage of housing. We could always use more help, and we pay really well for good work. But it’s hard to travel long distances to get to work. We have actually purchased some affordable housing in Victor, and are building more units as we speak for our employees and others in need.

I believe change starts with each individual. Setting examples of living a life of kindness, love, and compassion can create a trickle down effect and become a standard for us all, like paying it forward. I like to share the love of nature through my peony garden. It’s a small thing, but I see people enjoying the beauty of the flowers and that makes me happy. I am also involved with the Oneness meditation group locally and internationally. Their goal is to help move the planet into higher states of consciousness to create more peace, love and joy in one’s life. I personally have had amazing experiences with this meditation. I believe any form of meditation is good for the soul.

We can talk forever about politics, and what changes need to happen locally and nationally. But for me, I like to see the bigger picture and find peace within that vision, and pass it on as best I can.

— Kathy Bressler

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

I am concerned by the lack of logic, critical thinking, interest in macroeconomics, and philosophy that many of my friends and neighbors display. Our lives would be much better if most of us were well-versed in reason and required scientific evidence, and recognized mainstream media, governments, and crony-capitalism for what they are. If only my friends and neighbors understood that local, state and national politicians don’t really get to make choices different than what their ultimate boss “recommends.”

I do not desire to have rulers or to rule others. To vote for a ruler would legitimize the superstitious concept of authority, and even though I know that “someone” will seek to rule my fellows and me, I cannot vote for bad things and then claim to have integrity when I call those things bad.

There is not really any material difference in the principles of any candidates, only in their preferences. All agree that landowners ought to have money stolen from them each year simply because they own land. All agree that a person may not build on their property without a government permission slip. All join the hysteria that Mother Earth is on her last legs and that controlled burns are OK, but that the wealthy may not build as many fireplaces as they choose. They view people not as individuals, but as the ridiculous abstraction they call “community.”

Thus it is in Jackson Hole, and every other place in the world. I might be wrong in my perceptions. However, my study and observations have led me to think that the emperor is naked, and I will not degrade myself by entering into a discussion about the appearance of his new robe, or in other words, voting. I respect myself, and I respect my neighbors, too much to participate.

— Shepard Humphries

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

My earliest political memory is of my mom taking me on a drive from Huntsville to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to a Jimmy Carter re-election campaign event in 1979. The route took us through the town of Athens, where a man dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia stood in the center of an intersection handing out hate riddled flyers to everyone passing through.

My mom rolled down the window, accepted the flyer, and said “thank you” as we continued on our way. I saw my mother’s dignity stripped away as she thanked him for his hatred. I was shocked and befuddled. It was the most disturbing thing I had seen in my 11-year-old life.

We made our way to the Carter event, but not before driving past a crowd dressed in white robes waving Confederate flags, spewing racial epithets, and promoting the Grand Ole Party. My shock turned to trauma.

This was the point my young mind made a correlation: he/she who flies the Confederate flag is probably a Republican, and could be a racist.

Thirty-seven years later, has much changed within the GOP? From racial demagoguery and authoritarian dictatorship promoted by George C. Wallace, to acceptance of alt-right philosophies and stop-n-frisk police tactics being endorsed by their current presidential candidate.

When it comes to local politics, I am admittedly pessimistic in Jackson’s collective ability to develop affordable housing solutions given the range of issues. This includes the lack of available land, height restrictions, median home prices, low-wages, and the inability of working class people to make a 20-percent down payment, which all make homeownership difficult to attain. We’re beyond the point of conventional solutions, and indeed, we’re in the Hail Mary stage of the housing game. My fingers are crossed, but I’m not holding my breath.

— Stacy Noland

(Photo: Megan Peterson)

Between my husband and I, we hold four jobs, working far more than 60 hours a week, each. We have struggled to balance work, family, and housing over the past few years. Although we enjoy the quality of life that this valley provides, we have made some difficult sacrifices, including staying in a trailer with unreliable heat and no hot water with our three-month-old daughter. It has brought me to tears feeling as though I am not providing for my daughter, even while my husband and I are working as hard as we possibly can.

Our community is facing a housing crisis. Over the years I’ve watched talented, educated, and hardworking friends and co-workers leave this valley, unable to make ends meet even when they work two or three jobs. The disregard this community has had toward those who serve it has to stop. This election is about showing our middle class families that they matter to us and to this community.

I am hopeful that the 1 percent local option sales tax will address the most important issues facing families like mine: affordable housing and transportation choices. I will be voting yes for the 1 percent (and those candidates who also support it, such as Natalia Macker and Greg Epstein) because real funds for real solutions is the only way to move forward. The candidates who oppose this measure have no plan and offer no solutions for the issues that matter most to our community. If we don’t come together now to pass the 1 percent, skyrocketing housing prices and traffic congestion will continue to get worse, and that is unacceptable. I will be using my vote to make sure that people who work hard and serve our community can afford to stay here.

— Karyn Greenwood










About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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