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Conservation, Voices, Housing

Jessica's responses to the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance's questionnaire.

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?

Preserving and protecting the area’s ecosystem means aiming for symbiosis between people and other life in the valley. It means taking action to ensure our needs or desires do not overwhelm those of the natural world around us. It means cultivating and maintaining the delicate balance between our physical presence in the valley and the unnecessary harm to the valley, its organic systems, and wild inhabitants.
Three specific actions our community should take in the next four years are:
1. Focus on creating a sustainable community, where the individuals who support our community are valued and considered with regard to housing and transportation actions. When people are valued they invest in the community and care about its future, which in our case is inextricably linked to our environment and wildlife.
2. Fully commit to the changes and priorities outlined in the Comp Plan and the Integrated Transportation Plan. For instance, we can’t say we want to reduce cars and then actively make decisions that continue to encourage them, i.e. upping the required parking spaces. People will meet the expectations we have of them and this town.
3. Reach out to other public entities, such as the Teton County School District, to ensure future development needs are tackled collaboratively and reflect the interests of the entire community and our expressed conservation and development objectives.

What role do you think the Town and County can and should play in regards to protecting Jackson Hole’s wildlife?

An obvious role the Town and County can play in regards to protecting Jackson Hole’s wildlife is minimizing human-wildlife conflict by constructing safe wildlife crossings, by keeping wildlife habitat connected by smart zoning and development and lands held in trust, and as already mentioned, by addressing the housing and transportation issues we face.

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?

The next steps I’d take to keeping people and wildlife safe on our roads following the adoption of a Wildlife Crossings Master Plan would be to get people off of the roads and continue the work of intelligent zoning and land development regulations that help reduce human-wildlife conflict, improve habitat connectivity, and improve inhabitant/worker investment in the community.

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?

KEEP PUBLIC LANDS IN PUBLIC HANDS. We do not have the funds at a state level to care for the lands. This would result in the privatization of these lands, which is not in any way, shape, or form, beneficial for our community, our wildlife, the ecosystem, the environment, sustainability, our economy, etc. Privatization would mean definitive mineral extraction. Wyoming is grasping at straws with regard to mineral extraction; we must move toward sustainable energy sources and economy. We need to buckle down and think about what’s best for our long-term future and not just the next five or ten years of a boom cycle. It’s so odd to me that a state that was settled by frontiersmen and pioneers, that prides itself in being self-sufficient, bootstrapping, and independent could fail to recognize the shortcomings of finite endeavors. We must not sell ourselves out; we must look at the long term interests of our families, our communities, and our lands.

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?

The simple answer is the community should build enough units of workforce housing over the next ten years. But, we need to quantify what 65% of the workforce looks like. If we’re currently housing less than 60% of the workforce as per the Town’s 2016 Indicator Report, how many people need homes to get to 65% and then let’s divide that over 10 years. Also, let’s focus on this idea of ‘keeping up’ with employment growth. There is only so much growth possible – and we need to stay focused on what’s creating the growth – is there a way to curb it? The 2016 Report indicates the problem is the job growth rate (5%) is almost double that of the development rate (2.6-2.8%). We’ll never catch up if we don’t look at the underlying causes for this disparity. Understanding the problem with concrete facts and figures is the number one step in strategizing to get housing built. Density and intensity in the Town of Jackson has already been agreed upon as a way forward. The LDRs need to be updated so as to allow for it and make it motivationally lucrative for developers to build housing and rentals, and we need to target all mid-low income brackets. We have surpassed the point of being overly picky about our backyards. Either we take action to fix the problem or we should stop complaining about it. Balance and sustainability is usually the wisest answer to most problems and that should guide our decision making; let’s stay focused on the long-term value of having a community in Jackson.

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?

Having our residents and visitors be able to safely, efficiently, and economically move within our community and region by many modes of transportation is a great goal. Again, understanding who is on our roads and focusing on reducing those travelers is key. Also, START updates must be done in tandem with other area updates, such as development and incentives and regulations. Research shows that by getting people off roads and onto buses or whatever else, people see less traffic and start driving again — back to square one.
Prioritizing ease, sensibility, and predictability of START bus routes is a key. The first time I tried to take the bus after moving here I couldn’t find the town shuttle stop to get me back to where I started – it was different from the one where I arrived. Coming from someone who lived in a city with an “uptown-downtown-crosstown” public transportation system – I was confused to the point of walking. Simplifying the routes to East-West Town and Crosstown loops/lines could be hugely beneficial. Using the buses for random or non-uniform travel is often out of the question because the system as is, is not intuitive. We need a Broadway Line with an express option and a Snow King Avenue Bus with common hubs at the end of the line, ideally at parking lots. This would need to be coupled with pedestrian friendly streets to be effective, which the Town is already doing. We shouldn’t put the cart before the horse – we need ridership first.

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?

Ideally, it will motivate the Council to move decisively on updating LDRs in surrounding zones in order to speed up the process of housing and residential unit development in established neighborhoods. I would also like to see the Council implement some protections for renters, who currently do not have many (if any) in place. It serves everyone in the community to have housing security.
It is my great hope we can incentivize the development of residential units, especially for the smaller scale, local developers, that greatly benefit local businesses across the board.
Finally, institutions are adding to community ‘growth’, outpacing development, but our community benefits from the vast array of services these institutions and non-profits provide, the town should work toward solutions to keep this workforce living locally. The services these groups provide are services not required from the Town but improve the quality of all of our lives.
As for offsetting general commercial growth and housing demands, I’m not convinced it is the job of businesses to provide employee housing. This ties people to their jobs through their housing or vice versa, which does not tie them to the community. Additionally, the benefit is largely to the business, and in some cases is another avenue for profit and indentured labor. I’d prefer the Council address a livable wage than require businesses to provide housing.

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?

The Town and County must ensure the Comprehensive Plan is adhered to if and where possible. If we continue to make exceptions to the vision of the plan and our specified long-term objectives, what is the point of the Plan? I like the golden goose analogy: We have a goose that lays golden eggs; if we kill the goose that provides the egg, we will have no more eggs in the future.

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?

Jackson tops the nationwide list for wealth and income inequality. Simple put, people under 40 and Latinos are largely underrepresented because they’re working and trying to find housing. Therefore, if we want these people to be better represented we need to take actions to make their lives more conducive to participation.
Some concrete steps Town and County staff can take to make public processes more accessible and to increase participation are to have Spanish materials and translators.
They can commit to solving the housing crisis; repeating not everyone can live here is failing before we try.
The Town of Jackson and Teton County making a proclamation that they value all of its workers and families, including our Latino families would be a great start, even if symbolic. We tend to qualify who is worthy and who is not of our actions and attention. In my book, even if you’re a ski bum, you’re working in our service industry. Even if you’re a housekeeper or a dishwasher, you are the lifeblood of an industry that sustains our local economy. Our town shuts down without the contribution of all of our workers and we need to value them.

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?

Current wildlife and resource protection regulations lack sufficient protections for our natural resources, which results in unnecessary human-wildlife conflict, the degradation of habitat, migration corridors and watersheds, and the pollution of our waterbodies, waterways, and wetlands. To curb or improve these issues, we need to greatly minimize development away from rural areas and open spaces and into already developed areas. We need to minimize or neutralize our impact on our surroundings. We need to establish expectations and norms that respect and protect our ecosystem and the vocal inhabitants of our valley will accept them as natural to our well-being as a community and to our tourism based economy.
Workshops that involve the community at-large are very productive and helpful for bringing varied stakeholders to the table. Soliciting help from or partnering with any number of the various organizations who advocate for conservation and the ‘voiceless’ resources is also highly effective. In the end though, strong and thoughtful leadership from our electeds is required. Our long-term interests as a community are not always apparent to us as individuals, and therefore it is the job of leadership to make informed decisions, using the tools and information detailed above, for the long-term benefit and sustainability of our community. Protecting our environment is not a question in my mind – not in the least here in Jackson.

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