The following piece originally appeared in Planet Jackson Hole as a guest opinion by Craig Benjamin on January 5, 2016.
Eleven things we can do in 2016 to improve the place we call home.
Jackson, WY – It’s that time of year, when we resolve to create a better future, for ourselves, and for our community. In that spirit, let’s consider 11 things we can do to create a better future for Jackson Hole in 2016.
Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive list and touches on just some areas to shift our focus. But here’s the thing, if we work together and start with these 11 items (every one of which we can realistically accomplish!), we’ll create a better future for our community and take a large step toward living in balance with nature.
First, let’s start 2016 with a bang and help our elected representatives take a huge step in the right direction and choose housing the middle class over more Marriotts.
On Tuesday, January 12, at 3 p.m. in Town Hall, the Jackson Town Council and Teton County Commission will hold a Joint Information Meeting to discuss two vital questions put before them by staff: How much nonresidential development potential is appropriate? And: How should residential incentives be counted against build out? How they answer these questions will shape how our community grows for decades.
The easiest and least costly thing we can do to deal with our housing challenge is to limit new commercial and lodging development. So please join dozens of your friends at this meeting and 1.Speak in support of staff’s recommendation of zero additional non-residential potential (which means not adding more commercial and lodging potential to the more than 5 million square feet of existing entitlements). Also, since we need innovative and balanced policy solutions that will result in more housing for hard-working families. 2. Please speak in support of staff’s recommendation to monitor incentives against a set cap.
Shifting gears to Grand Teton National Park, 3. Please join hundreds of your friends and neighbors, and thousands of people from across America, in commenting on the Moose-Wilson Corridor DEIS by January 30, 2016. Let Park officials know you appreciate their transparent, science-based, and participatory planning process, and the steps they have taken to discourage the use of the road as a transportation corridor. Tell them they can go further toward protecting wildlife and habitat in the corridor, while making it easy and safe for people to visit the area on foot, bicycle, or corridor-appropriate public transit. Please visit parkplanning.nps.gov/MooseWilson to submit your comments today.
On a more personal level, as stewards of this incredible place, let’s fulfill our responsibility to respect wildlife when we recreate. To know before you go, 4. Please visit JHAlliance.org/dontpoach/ to download high-resolution maps of which backcountry areas are closed seasonally to protect wildlife. In addition, let’s also fulfill our responsibility to do what we can on our property to make life easier for wildlife and prepare for wildfire. 5. Please take five minutes to check out WildNeighborhoods.org to learn what you can do.
As we move into the State Legislative session in February, 6. Let’s actively fight back against the big money special interests pushing their extreme agenda to privatize our public lands.
Across America, and right here in Wyoming, big corporations (led by Koch Industries) are funding a well-orchestrated campaign using front groups with deceptive names like the “American Lands Council” and the “Environmental Policy Alliance” aimed at snookering us into transferring our public lands to state, and ultimately, private, control. Despite all of their slick rhetoric and elaborate arguments about “taking back” our land (which Western states never owned), the goal of this campaign is to privatize our public lands so they are open to fossil fuel and mineral extraction. Since our public lands define our quality of life, support our wildlife, and drive our local economy, it’s up to each and every one of us to let our elected representatives know they can take our public lands from our cold dead hands.
Shifting back to our land use rules, let’s make sure they encourage walkable neighborhoods surrounded by protected open space, working agricultural lands, and connected wildlife habitat, and help ensure that at least two thirds of the people who work in Jackson Hole are able to live here. To make this happen, let’s support our Town and County elected representatives in updating our policies and regulations to 7. Allow and incentivize deed-restricted workforce housing, 8. Shift development from our rural lands to appropriate town or complete neighborhood locations through a “conservation incentive program,” 9. Successfully mitigate the housing impact of commercial and lodging development, and 10. More effectively protect our natural resources.
Finally, 11. Let’s support our elected representatives in leading us to a better future by providing our community the choice to approve a package of capital investments funded through the specific purpose excise tax (SPET) and funding for operations and additional strategic capital projects through an increase in the general sales tax.
Specifically, let’s support them in providing us the opportunity in November to approve a new, consistent and predictable funding source — like an increase in the general sales tax — to implement our county-approved plans to address our housing, transportation and habitat connectivity challenges. In addition, let’s make sure we have the opportunity in August to support a comprehensive list of capital investments appropriate for funding through SPET, like the implementation of our wildlife-crossings master plan, an expansion of the START maintenance facility, and shovel-ready projects that will help hard-working families afford to live here.
The only reason we won’t get all of this done is if we don’t step up and make it happen. Let’s make 2016 the year our community rose to the occasion, took charge of our future, and fulfilled our moral responsibility to leave things better than we found them and create a better world for our children.PJH
Craig Benjamin is the executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.