The Conservation Alliance asked our candidates for mayor, town council and county commission the following questions regarding our wildlife, wild places and community character. All responses are reprinted here as submitted by candidates, without any editing.
Jump directly to an issue: preserving & protecting our ecosystem | protecting wildlife | wildlife collisions and crossings | American public lands | workforce housing | transportation | new nonresidential development | Snow King Master Plan | young people and Latino involvement | Natural Resource Regulations.
The Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan’s vision is to “Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.” What does “preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem” mean to you, and what are three specific actions you think our community should take in the next four years to work toward this vision?
Sara Flitner: 1) Continue to prioritize wildlife protection by protecting public lands and working with local conservation organizations 2) Work hard to make sure we can house biologists, Park personnel, transit experts, and others who are the “in the trenches” soldiers for protection, 3) Promote civility and open dialogue as nonnegotiable values, and underpinnings for a healthy ecosystem.
Stephen McDonald: Conservation and preservation need to be at the helm of every town decision. Not money. Not big promoters and developers making “conservation” calls while they build massive projects that sweep wildlife and working families aside.
Pete Muldoon: “Preserve and Protect” means we can’t leave the future of this special place we’ve been entrusted with to the free market. We have to take positive steps to limit growth. The Comp plan is clear about how that looks, and we should follow it. Three things we can and must do include increasing the percentage of workers who live locally, improving our public transportation, leading the way with green energy and reduced CO2 emissions.
Mark Obringer: It means we should make sure the policies we adopt do not deplete our natural resources and that they do not degrade the environment. We need to understand the factors that are driving the issues we all react to. For example, how do we provide housing and meaningful employment at the same time. I believe we need to better address the demands that accompany the luxury lifestyle. We need to be open and honest when we talk about growth management because nothing impacts the environment like more people.
What role do you think the Town and County can and should play in regards to protecting Jackson Hole’s wildlife?
Sara Flitner: Adhere to the comp plan vision, with zoning that supports protection of corridors, habitat and healthy wildlife populations. We can also continue to act as a partner with private organizations like the Jackson Hole Land Trust, as they work on critical habitat throughout the county. The private sector has been extraordinarily successful in conservation efforts – Grand Teton National Park Foundation and Jackson Hole Land Trust have leveraged tens, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars to protect our wildlife and open spaces. This is one of the greatest success stories in our community, and frankly many of the NGO’s and professionals have greater expertise than government agencies do. I’d love to continue to partner with NGO’s like JHCA, TU, and biologists from the Park, BTNF and rely on their expertise to meet our community wildlife protection goals.
Stephen McDonald: Conservation is a choice of the heart- not a budget item. As mayor, I’ll get Jackson off the road to exploitation and back on the trail to preservation.
Pete Muldoon: Reducing the number of cars on the road by improving workforce housing, pathways and public transportation will be critical on a local level.
Mark Obringer: During my time on the Town Council, we acquired all of the NRO lands in the Town. That included the Karns Meadow and important properties along Flat Creek.
An average of 114 deer, 35 elk, and 15 moose are struck and killed by motorists on Teton County roads every year. The County is currently overseeing development of a Wildlife Crossings Master Plan. Once that plan is adopted, what are the next steps you’d take to keep people and wildlife safe on our roads?
Sara Flitner: I am interested in the wildlife crossings, where they would go, how much they would cost, and how we would pay for them. There are people in the community who have already expressed an interest in raising private dollars for this kind of an effort, and I would love to see that happen. JHCA could play a significant role as a leader in leveraging the support already garnered and helping fund such a laudable effort. In the meantime, I applaud the successful efforts of the Wildlife Foundation and other local residents who have been champions of lower getting lower speeds on especially sensitive stretches of road. WDOT has been a great partner to our community, too, by allowing local values to guide and decide speed limits in these areas. We can continue to achieve results by working together effectively and civilly.
Stephen McDonald: Start Bus is a classic bloated government program that doesn’t work. Fewer cars means less wildlife collisions. Getting people out of their cars will take leadership, not lectures.
Pete Muldoon: We could look at reducing highway speeds in places. But nothing will be as effective as reducing traffic.
Mark Obringer: I would call Darin Martens who ran the design process for the Feds and ask him what to do next.
What is your vision for the future of our Teton County federal lands, and what is your perspective on the ongoing region-wide effort to transfer control of our federal public lands to the states?
Sara Flitner: I am proud to have worked with National Parks Conservation Association, The Conservation Fund, the Jackson Hole Land Trust, and others, to pass the legislation that enabled Wyoming state land to be transferred to federal ownership to protect park interests. As Mayor, I will continue to work to protect our federal lands interests, because they shape our quality of life, our economy and our sense of place.
Stephen McDonald: All public lands currently under federal management should stay as such.
Pete Muldoon: Our federal lands belong to all Americans, and the state has no business trying to take them over. Let’s be clear – states aren’t trying to take over federal land so it can manage it more effectively. They’re looking to sell it to the highest bidder. But it’s not ours to sell.
Mark Obringer: Maintain Federal ownership.
Our community established a goal through the Comprehensive Plan of housing at least 65% of our workforce locally. The recent Housing Action Plan identified a need of 800 units over 10 years just to “catch up” with the existing workforce housing deficit, and 2000 more to “keep up” with employment growth. How many units of workforce housing do you think our community should build over the next 10 years, and what strategies and tools in the Housing Action Plan would you prioritize to get these units built?
Sara Flitner: We have to create more inventory, and we have to protect our community character at the same time. Honestly, I think these numbers serve little value other than to incite fear. Some people are scared it’s too much, and others will worry it’s not enough. We need to look at the housing solutions from more innovative perspectives. My goal is to tie as many homes – those built and to be built – to the local community as we can, which means looking at employment-based deed restrictions on existing stock, too. We are not going to build our way out of this problem, and every home purchased to a second or third homeowner is inventory taken out of circulation for local working people. This is where we need to stay focused.
Stephen McDonald: The Comp Plan is wrong on this issue. Jackson is terrarium and excess growth will poison the system. Everybody who wants to live here simply cannot be given a house or apartment. This wild growth will destroy our ecosystem. The responsible thing is to choose the long term- and the ecosystem will always win in these choices.
Pete Muldoon: We’ll need more than 800 units. But we need to shift the priority from ownership units to smaller, denser rentals that fit the community goals of reducing traffic and providing housing security. That kind of goal is attainable. It will cost money up front, but it’s a good long term investment.
Mark Obringer: Depending on who you talk to, the numbers always change. I believe our primary challenge is to create one, unified, regional Housing plan that has oversight from the five governing bodies that provide housing now. That would be the Town of Jackson, Teton County, The Hospital, The School District and our Federal Agencies.
A Plan that is tied directly to The Transit Plan and a plan that includes Daycare.
Our community has also established the goal of residents and visitors being able to safely, efficiently, and economically move within our community and throughout the region on foot, bike, and transit. What specific projects, programs, and policies from the Integrated Transportation Plan should we prioritize over the next four years to continue on our journey toward this goal?
Sara Flitner: We have a great pathway system and people love it and use it. What if our connections within the town were as effective? I am going to focus on where sidewalks, foot bridges, safe crosswalks and other pedestrian-friendly strategies can be used to get people out of their cars and walking around this beautiful community. The Wellness Department at the Hospital, Friends of Pathways, and many others have been incredibly effective at making sure we understand how small improvements make a big difference. From a big project standpoint, I want to see us really explore the hub and spoke system, allowing us to use smaller buses in neighborhoods and get maximum ridership on commuter routes. We have to finish the maintenance facility in order to maintain the rolling stock we’ll need to meet even half of our goals in terms of cars off the road. These are exciting times, from a transportation standpoint, because we can really begin to implement proven strategies.
Stephen McDonald: Start Bus is broken. It needs to be completely redrawn. It is a complete waste of time and money. It could be so nice.
Pete Muldoon: I’d really like to highlight the continued development of pathways and promoting the use of bikes. I recently had a first hand look at what that can be like during a trip to Amsterdam. The bike path system is highly developed through the urban core of the city, and virtually everyone (of all ages) rides bikes. The roads are mostly empty, the businesses full, the city is quiet, and there is a striking contrast with other cities that have not gone in this direction. The bike share program here was a great start, and promoting a bike culture through better paths and infrastructure will really pay off.
Mark Obringer: The first step in the Plan is to create a Regional Transit group that includes our sister cities. The next step is to build the infrastructure that will support expanding the system. So we have an administrative step and a Capital Improvements program that should be payed for with SPET funds.
The Town Council and County Commission recently voted unanimously to limit additional new nonresidential development potential to “+/- 0 square feet.” How do you see this decision impacting the next four years of land use planning decisions?
Sara Flitner: I believe it signifies a collective desire to be careful and conservative when it comes to changes. We all love so much about this town. It’s vibrant, friendly, fairly well connected(see above for some improvements!), and attractive. Over the next four years, we will want to stay focused on incentivizing redevelopment for community priorities and we’ll see if our “tools” are effective. It is clearly the desire of locals to focus on the community here, now, the small businesses here, today, and our collective need for housing.
Stephen McDonald: It is a benefit to wildlife, the ecosystem and to the quality of life for town people.
Pete Muldoon: This decision was essential if we are to have a chance to reach our community goals.
Mark Obringer: I believe that the move to adopt a new District two with short term rentals in addition to commercial zoning changed the direction of that vote.
Snow King Mountain Resort is proposing a significant expansion on US Forest Service, Town and private lands within Teton County. What role do you think the Town and County should play to ensure this proposed expansion aligns with our Comprehensive Plan?
Sara Flitner: The question in my mind is, “What role should the community play?” And it should play a big one. Snow King is at the center of our universe in town, and everyone loves it. I support efforts to keep the mountain sustainable, and I also know how sensitive people are to changes. Snow King is coordinating with the Town in terms of process, and I’d like to see them engage in a very robust community process to tease out what people really want to see in the future. I’d like to see conversations, not presentations, and I have complete faith that good outcomes would result. We need a clear vision of what we want the Town Hill to be in 10 or 20 years, and I don’t think we’ve had that conversation yet.
Stephen McDonald: Why should we let town government whore our environment and ecosystem for short term profits? Not on my watch! We are a the greatest gateway to protected land in the lower 48, our visitors will see we sold out and they will too. The decisions have been made- our town is on the honky-tonk road to being like Myrtle Beach and Gatlinburg, Tn. If we’re going to sell out, why do we put such a low value on our town?
Pete Muldoon: The Forest Service has said it will consider the opinion of the Town and County during the expansion approval process. The T & C can’t just rubber stamp these proposals; it must ask for concessions and negotiate on behalf of our citizens. If we can’t find a way forward that benefits the community and advances its goals, the T&C should oppose the expansion.
Mark Obringer: Snow King has an adopted Master Plan that The Town Controls with advice from the County Commission.
Large parts of the community, such as Latinos and residents under 40, are significantly underrepresented in civic affairs and decision-making. What is your vision for involving the Latino community and younger people in decision-making? What are concrete steps that Town and County staff can take to make public processes like land-use planning more inclusive?
Sara Flitner: I can’t speak for the County, but one of our most recent hires at the Town is fluent in Spanish and that was a big priority. Personally, I am making an effort to meet with both leaders of the Latino community and also individual workers. What I have found is that many Latinos are working multiple jobs and that is a big challenge when it comes to serving on local boards or engaging in the process. I am confident, with continued efforts, we will overcome this challenge and have more Latino representatives. As far as the younger set being under-represented, I don’t see that. We have several elected officials serving who are under 40, and most of the board and commission appointments I’ve made recently are younger people trying to get their foot in the door in terms of serving. It’s impressive. I see a lot of young people involved, and their biggest obstacle seems to be wondering if they can be here 10 years from now.
Stephen McDonald: I am bilingual in Spanish/English. I feel we ARE one- community relations w/ Latinos are excellent.
Pete Muldoon: I believe that elected officials have a responsibility to consider the well-being of all the members of our community. Not just those who can vote because they live in town, are a certain age or have the legal standing to do so. This means going out and actively talking to people (whether they vote or not) and learning what will help with their well-being.
Mark Obringer: We need to change the public dialogue back to workshops instead of public hearings. People like to sit and talk over pizza and a beverage a lot more that a three minute comment in front of a angry crowd.
In order to be an effective community leader people need to take a blue collar approach to public service. They should start in the trenches and work there way up the leadership ladder. There are plenty of great opportunities to serve out there like the START board. When you start at the top it can be a real challenge because it is hard to take the class and teach the class.
The Comprehensive Plan calls for the Town and County to “Evaluate and amend wildlife protection standards for development density, intensity, location, clustering, permeability and wildlife-human conflict” (1.1.S.4) and to “Evaluate and update natural resource protection standards for waterbodies, wetlands and riparian areas” (1.2.S.1). Town and County planning staff are preparing a Natural Resource Regulations update for review and adoption. What issues do you see with our current wildlife and resource protection regulations and what are your suggested solutions? What is your plan for engaging all the key stakeholders, including those who represent the wildlife and resources that can’t speak for themselves?
Sara Flitner: Water, water treatment, and water quality will become an increasingly important conversation. My suggested solutions and plan are to continue with exactly the kind of proven stakeholder engagement groups that I have used for two decades in the private sector and have begun using at Town Hall. I don’t view representatives of wildlife interests any differently than representatives of water quality issues: they are all important, and using talented experts in technical areas as stakeholders will help us collaborate and arrive at sustainable solutions.
Stephen McDonald: The mayor and incumbent officials are clearly on a greedy grab for more promotion and bigger development- straining our ecosystem and town to the max. Somebody has to blow the whistle- and that’s me. Less strategy… more caring.
Pete Muldoon: I’m not a wildlife expert. Luckily, we have access to experts on staff and elsewhere. I intend to take good counsel and rely on the expertise of those who have dedicated their lives to wildlife conservation.
Mark Obringer: I believe that in the town we have done a great job of protecting wildlife.