Social Media and Timely Issues

Aug 30, 2022

This newsletter has two foci.

First, how I approach social media.

Second, my big-picture thoughts on three huge topics that will be the focus of a candidate forum tonight, Tuesday, August 30, from 6-8 pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church.  Please attend if you can.

My hope for the forum is that it shines a spotlight on the progress the Town of Jackson has made during my time in office.  Despite the pandemic, over past four years we’ve added record amounts of affordable housing, developed a better mass transit system, devoted more resources to ecosystem health, and so much more.

To build on all this progress will take a lot more work, though, which is why I’m running for re-election. 

Caveat emptor. While this newsletter discusses subjects affecting people and communities across the globe – social media use, affordable housing, climate change, and social justice – its clear focus is on issues related to Jackson Hole and my re-election campaign.  And in truth, I use it to brag on myself a bit.  I find all this very interesting, but appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

As always, thank you so much for your interest and support.

Social Media

In all I do, my goal is to strengthen community and build hope.

To that end, I always welcome the thoughts of anyone who wants to strengthen community, build hope, and focus on the issues that really matter.  Post, call, or write – I’m always happy to exchange views.

Equally clear to me is that we can’t strengthen community by tearing down people.  And we can’t build hope through insults, half-truths, or snark.  Such behavior depletes and debilitates – not just us as individuals, but society as a whole.  And it sure doesn’t contribute to solutions.

Unfortunately, social media both rewards and is rife with such negativity, providing plenty of outlets for people who want to attack or troll.  That’s not what I want for my social media accounts, though.  As a result, when such posts show up, I remove or hide them.

Bigger picture, the ugly attack politics of national and state campaigns seems to be working its way into Jackson Hole.  All this is catnip to the media and others who thrive on faux controversy and being riled up.  Sadly, though, it gets in the way of seriously addressing the extraordinary challenges and opportunities facing Jackson and our region.  

As a result, rather than drain my life force wallowing in that muck, I’m going to focus my energies and campaign on helping all of us – Jackson, our region, our nation, and our planet – create a better future and Sustain What Matters.

The Issues of the August 30 Forum

As noted, tonight’s forum is at St. John’s Episcopal Church, and runs from 6-8 pm.  It will feature the four candidates running for Town Council, and the seven candidates running for Teton County Commission.  While the forum will not be live-streamed, it will be recorded (although it is not yet clear when or where the video will be posted).

    The forum is is co-hosted by:

  • Shelter JH, which advocates for affordable housing
  • Sunrise JH, which advocates to stop climate change
  • ActNow JH, which advocates for criminal, racial, and social justice in Teton County.

To state the obvious, each co-host is dealing with complex and important issues, each deserving of its own forum.  Do a little basic math, and during the forum’s 120 minutes, each of the 11 candidates will have only around 10 minutes to speak.  Divide that further by the three issues, and it’s clear that no candidate will have time to do any of the issues the justice it deserves.

Further complicating matters, candidates will neither have a chance to make opening remarks, nor be given the questions ahead of time.  As a result, the forum will place a premium on candidates’ ability to think quickly and deliver soundbites.  While this skill may pay dividends while running for office, it has little connection to the deliberative, detail-oriented work that is the essence of governance.

As I see it, voters deserve to know more about candidates’ views about, and experience with, the forum’s important issues.  Below are mine.

Affordable Housing

Jackson Tetons

During my time on the Town Council, Jackson and Teton County have constructed, approved, and planned for more affordable housing than in any other four year period in the community’s history.

For me, working towards this goal has been a natural extension of my three decades’ worth of work on affordable housing efforts in Jackson Hole and, more broadly, the northern Rockies.  During that time, I’ve studied and advocated for affordable housing in a number of communities, including Jackson Hole, Teton Valley (ID), Bozeman, Pinedale, and Park City.

This work has taught me there are two foundational realities about affordable housing in Jackson Hole and the surrounding area.

First, we will never build our way out of the problem.

There is essentially infinite demand for Jackson Hole housing, and far too-little supply, an imbalance that is only getting worse.  Plus, it’s far too lucrative, profitable, and easy to build high-end homes.

Second, funding is the critical constraint limiting local government’s ability to support more affordable housing (not to mention addressing every other major issue facing our community).

On average, each affordable housing unit in Jackson Hole requires a subsidy of over $500,000.  The only way to address that is to find a new, regular, and significant source of additional funding.

The most obvious source for such funding is a real estate transfer tax.  The sad reality is that if you buy a $1 cup of coffee at the mini-mart, the 6¢ you pay in sales tax contributes infinitely more to supporting housing and other local government efforts than did the nearly $3 billion worth of real estate sold in Teton County last year.  That’s not right.  It’s not even close to right, no matter how you spin it.

Simply put, if you don’t actively support a real estate transfer tax, then you can’t say you support Jackson Hole’s affordable housing efforts.

I unqualifiedly support such a tax, and have for a long time.

For at least the past 10 years , I’ve worked with local and state officials – including Rep. Andy Schwartz and other members of our legislative delegation – to craft real estate transfer tax legislation.  With Rep. Mike Yin’s bill, we’re closer than we’ve ever been, and I plan to do all I can to support it in upcoming legislative sessions.

Until we can get the legislation passed, I will continue my work with, and outreach to, local developers, trying to figure out voluntary ways their work can benefit the entire community, and not just people of means.  There is great potential here, but success will take perseverance.

One final thought.

My decades of work on affordable housing have convinced me that the only way for Jackson Hole to maintain a clear sense of community is to first identify all the land appropriate for housing, then build on it as much affordable housing as possible given environmental, infrastructure, and quality of life considerations.

To do this will require a different kind of approach to housing than we currently take, one I will advocate for if I am re-elected.

Climate Change

Jonathan with e-bikeDuring the winter quarter of 1980, Stanford University offered its first-ever course on climate change: “Human Biology 139: Seminar in Climatic Change and Human Affairs.”  Working with one of my mentors, Professor Jerry van Andel, I helped design the course and served as its Teaching Assistant.

At the time, relatively little was known about climate change.  As a result, the course description was sparse.  In its entirety, it read: “This course will consider climatic change over the last one thousand years and its effect on geopolitics, food, and agriculture.  It also will examine the interplay between man and earth’s climate and its impact on the future.”

To understate the case, the novel idea we first kicked around 42 years ago has proven increasingly prescient.

Ever since that class, I’ve been interested in, and involved with, climate change issues. For the past 20 years, I have worked formally and informally with various climate change-related efforts throughout the region, including the currently-active Teton Climate Action Partnership and JH Climate Action Collective.  Among the local efforts I’ve led or participated in are:

  • In 2009, my 1% for the Tetons effort funded Jackson Hole’s first-ever greenhouse gas emissions inventory (the “Heede Report”)
    • 1% for the Tetons also funded other climate-related projects in the Tetons region.
  • In 2015, I conceived of, organized, wrote for, edited, and published “The Coming Climate.”  It was and remains the most comprehensive look at global warming’s effects on the Tetons region.
  • In 2019, I conceived of and initiated the effort that resulted in the Town of Jackson’s Ecosystem Stewardship Administrator.  The portfolio of this first-in-the-nation position includes local and regional climate change-related efforts.
  • In 2019, I took steps to foster a relationship between Stanford University and Jackson Hole’s wildland fire team to better understand the relationship between climate change and the threats posed to the Tetons region by wildland fires.
  • In 2020, I joined my colleagues on the Town Council in adopting the town’s Net Zero by 2030 policy.
  • Earlier this year, I reached out to the CEO of United Airlines, which has committed to being carbon-neutral by 2050.  My request was to find ways for United and the Jackson Hole community to collaborate on an effort that would ultimately make the Jackson Hole Airport the most eco-friendly airport in the world, including reducing aviation-related greenhouse gas emissions.  My talks with United officials are on-going.
  • Just two weeks ago, I had my most recent discussions with the leaders of the Mountain Towns 2030 effort (a group of towns committed to being carbon-neutral by 2030) about establishing a competition between the towns to see which can lower its greenhouse gas emissions most each year.

In 2015, I concluded the introduction to “The Coming Climate” by noting:
    “…as a community, there is a lot more attention being paid, and resources being devoted, to climate change and its effects on the Tetons region than previously recognized.  However, because these efforts are small-scale and occurring independently of one another, there’s no outside awareness of them, whether community-wide or even across organizations. Perhaps most critically, the whole of this awareness and these actions is far less than the sum of its parts.”

If re-elected, I will work to have the town’s Ecosystem Stewardship Administrator help bring together these disparate elements, drawing on community resources to help catalyze local climate change efforts.

Social Justice

As I note above, Jackson Hole’s politics is becoming increasingly nasty.  As a result, I expect that, between now and the election, a number of ugly attacks will be launched at me – some from the right; others from the left.

To make things easy for those who prioritize identity politics, here are my basic realities:

  • I am a straight, white, 65-year-old male.
  • During my time on the Jackson Town Council, my mean annual Adjusted Gross Income has been $66,000.  This figure includes my $25,000/year council salary.
  • Through the flukiest of circumstances, I’m lucky enough to own my own home in Jackson.
    • In 1993, I was lucky enough to be the original buyer of a lot in the last subdivision incorporated into the town, paying $87,500 for 0.46 acre.
    • In 1997, I moved onto the lot a house slated to be torn down.
      • This was both conservationist and, critically, what I could afford.
    • Over time, I added a garage and loft space.
    • Between the modest improvements and the extraordinary escalation of Jackson Hole’s real estate prices, today the county assessor lists my property value as $2.26 million: $1.18 million in land and $1.08 million in improvements.  Both figures stagger me.
    • To both help address the housing crisis and augment my income (if done conscientiously, the Town Council is nearly a full-time job), I rent out part of my house at a below-market rate.

Moving onto the important stuff, here are four recent occurrences that reflect my thinking about social justice issues in the Tetons region.

First, in the 2017 edition of my Compass almanac, I was the first person to research and report that Teton County has the greatest income inequality of any county in America.

This finding made me far more sensitized to how socio-economics are threatening our community character.  It also led me to join my colleagues on the Town Council in constantly raising the town’s support for local social services.  This was true even during COVID when, despite making cuts in almost every other area of the town budget, we recognized the stresses the pandemic would create for the most vulnerable among us.

Second, recognizing the need to make changes, in 2020 the Town of Jackson hired Michele Weber as its first-ever female police chief.  Among the reforms she has instituted is mindfulness training for police officers.  Chief Weber is aware of no other department in Wyoming that has such a program.  (If there are other such programs nationally, Chief Weber is not aware of them.)

In just two years, the JPD’s mindfulness training program has proven so successful that Chief Weber and her team are being asked to speak about it at regional and national conferences, and to help other agencies institute similar programs.

In a similarly innovative vein, over two decades ago, the late Jackson Police Chief Dave Cameron initiated what has become a global effort to identify environmental crimes.

Chief Cameron recognized that, for instance, while someone chopping down trees in a park would be charged with destroying public property, nothing would be recorded about the environmental destruction associated with the act.  That made it impossible to systematically understand or address environmental crimes.

The work Chief Cameron began has taken root to such an extent that the International Association of Chiefs of Police has created  the Chief David Cameron Leadership in Environmental Crimes Award.  It recognizes excellence in environmental crimes enforcement and education by law enforcement officers and their agencies. 

Third, in 2021, I was part of a 4-1 vote to create the Town of Jackson’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force.  (In this vote I was joined by and Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson and fellow councilmembers Arne Jorgensen and Jim Rooks.)

This was a groundbreaking effort for the town in many ways, not least because it is the first time we paid board members for their service.  We did this because we recognized that, to ensure the task force had the greatest possible diversity and representation, the traditional volunteer model needed to change.  So we changed it.

Finally, in June 2022, I noticed that, while an estimated 30% of Teton County’s residents are Hispanic, fewer than 3% are registered to vote.

In response, I reached out to two local advocacy groups: One22 and Voices JH.  My goal was to get their thoughts, see if they wanted to do something and, if so, find out how I might help.  Voices took the lead, but ultimately decided they don’t have the bandwidth to take any action at this time.  With luck, they will in the future.  

This delay-cum-disconnect between identifying an issue and then acting on it occurs frequently with public policy issues.  Success seldom comes quickly, rarely comes easily, and is often super-dependent on perseverance.  I feel I’ve demonstrated such perseverance during my first term, and look forward to continuing to do so during the next four years.

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