Alexis Bauer owns Octopus Coffee on Horizon Drive. Last week she emailed me to talk about the proposed community recreation center on the upcoming April ballot. (We differed on what we think about it. I am for it). As we got into a longer conversation, Alexis sent a follow-up email in which she offered a variety of insights from her standpoint as a western slope resident and local business owner. She talked not only about the Rec Center, but also other issues facing Grand Junction, like the housing shortage, the cost of doing business, her experience with the local workforce, City Council’s recent approval of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and what it portends for the City, the buzz she hears from customers, and more.
I found Alexis’s insights interesting and felt they deserved a wider forum, so with her permission I am sharing her email to me below, edited slightly for clarity, in hopes others find it enlightening as well.
Hi Anne,Maybe I need to let go of the rec center. I’m very biased against it because one of the original organizers would have her meetings in my shop. She is from somewhere urban and lives in the Redlands and is relatively affluent. When she was chatting with me one day, she shared that she really wanted a pool for her boys. I asked why they didn’t use the pool in Orchard Mesa, and although she was too well-spoken to say it plainly, it was clear she didn’t want her children associating with Orchard Mesa kids. From that moment, it felt very much like a gentrification issue and I do worry, quite a bit, that we’ll attract another wave of Texans and Californians if we build it.Also decreasing my enthusiasm is how much I’ve noticed that my helicopter parent clients just love the idea of the rec center because then they can hover comfortably around their children and supervise every moment of their lives. If you read [City Councilman Randall] Reitz’s letter to the editor in the Daily Sentinel rallying for the center, he used the word “safe” at least 8 times in 3 paragraphs. As if playing outside isn’t safe. But playing outside is a core G.J. value, or at least it was when I moved here.Having lived in northern California for nine horrible years, I’ve seen the results of helicopter parenting, and I think we can all agree it’s awful. When I moved here, I did study the trending parenting style as an indicator of community culture, and when I saw kids playing unattended in their yards or riding their bikes in a group to the park, my heart sang with hope. (I was looking to move here and start a family, although in the end I did not get so lucky.)
In nine years of living in North Bay, I only saw an unattended group of children playing one time, and as someone who hires the young, I’m very aware of the devastating effects helicopter parenting has on mental health. I wanted to move as far away from that trend as possible. I wanted to move to where the nation was raising children able to withstand the storms of life. I was exhausted by the feeble, miserable children who stressed out to the max over their untied shoelaces or couldn’t handle something as simple as being interrupted mid-crafting a beverage by a customer who was looking for the half and half. Yet, last summer I had 2 young people stress out and quit over customers looking for half and half. “They’re so rude!” the last one said. “She could see I was working, and she just said it anyway!” She literally couldn’t handle being asked a question by a sleepy person who just wanted to get to work and was too sleepy to find the half and half on her own. So it’s here now, just like housing scarcity and a surge in homelessness and everything else California-style culture has to offer. I may have escaped the version of Hell Gen-X calls parenting, but I guess I only escaped for a few years. I worry, very much, about where the town is heading, both from the poor thinking of the far right and the poor thinking of the far left.Indeed, town just passed funding to help homeowners build ADUs … In order to qualify for a tax-funded ADU, homeowners have to pledge not to vacation rent it for five measly years. Crested Butte did this same strategy, and I believe Telluride and Aspen tried this also. What happens is one of two things: it fails right away, or it fails in five years. What happened in Crested Butte was all the homeowners sued and successfully won, and all the ADUs became vacation rentals overnight. Overnight, your neighborhood turned into a hotel lobby, with people wandering about, and raging parties in the quiet hours of the night. It goes so fast, it’s astonishing. The home values skyrocketed from $450k average to $1.2 million in two years. Now everyone lives in Gunnison, Paonia or somewhere else. Of course CB, Telluride and Aspen all failed to build affordable housing because once people are paying over a million for a house, they don’t want neighbors with rowdy bumper stickers and three dogs. Instead, they funded free bussing and now the working class rides an hour or more to and from their jobs every single day. Or farther. Telluride working class are now displaced to Olathe and most of Aspen’s workforce lives in Rifle or Parachute. Ski bums do not do well with being forced off like this, and suicide rates have skyrocketed. Worse though, the sense of community is just gone. Walking down the street, no one waves or says hello because why would they? They’re just hotel guests in the hotel lobby that used to be a village. They’re not going to be friendly at all. In Crested Butte when I last checked, the number of year ’round locals is about 380 people, down from 2,000. Town averages 10,000 tourists a week in high season — just imagine that workload, distributed across 380 people. Even the second homeowners are angry, because they thought they were buying a home in a village and they weren’t. Restaurants are only open 3 days a week, city tax revenues fall because sales cannot happen because no one can operate a full business on the skeleton crews that remain. Morale for these crews is awful, and why wouldn’t they be? They’re sleeping in tents for the entire summer season and their drive in to work passes nothing but row after row of empty homes that they are not able to live in, nor will most of them ever be able to. No wonder they lose their hearts and kill themselves. Their whole world is nothing but a hot mess.The best case scenario is that in five years, G.J. will get a crop of vacation rentals and then, overnight our town will convert to a hotel. It’s just so obvious, but council doesn’t seem motivated to really do the research. The towns displaying how these scenarios work out are literally surrounding us, yet I have to charge $13 for breakfast burrito so my crew can pay their climbing rents. There’s no land scarcity here, so how did the rents double in the past 18 months? Why do we complain so loudly when oil and gas extort us, but merely whimper when the landlords collaborate and push rents sky high?Last summer, I overheard two developers in my shop discussing the “last best” option to make “killer returns” on housing. Their game was to buy a trailer park and then, because moving a trailer costs 5-10k, double the lot fees. “Check it out,” the one bro said to the other, “They’re too poor to move, so you double your return overnight!”
They high-fived in delight, but I had such a line of cups to fill, and such crew shortages from the housing market gone crazy, that I couldn’t cross the counter and engage them on what kind of community devastation they’re unleashing — issues that tax payer money then has to clean up. Issues that make me have to raise my prices to insane levels. Everyone’s talking about inflation raising costs and how it’s Biden’s fault, but my COGs [costs of goods] are well within margins. I’m forced to raise pricing just so my crew can keep roofs over their heads, and the culprit is greedy landlords and city councils that refuse to knuckle down housing costs. I did some research and found there are programs to combat this by creating collectives to purchase their own community-run [housing] parks, in Colorado we have one called Thistle, I believe.Yikes, I’ve gotten long winded!I apologize, this email has wandered all over. But I know you as someone who deeply cares about the community and I guess I needed to get it all out. What to do about it, is my question. I have recently qualified for a mortgage so I’m trying to buy a duplex or triplex so I can lock in some staff housing now, even though real estate is already so high the rent won’t be terribly reasonable. I think all storefront owners should start aggressively purchasing housing, to survive the next housing market explosion. Interest rates or not, it’s coming for us.I want to do more though, but I’ve found that I can’t stay up late enough to attend city council meetings and participate that way (downside of being a baker, I fall asleep by 8 pm, if not 730. Yes, I hate daylight savings time, lol). I do have a reach to the public at the shop and I do get ideas out there, I’ll be sharing your work the next two weeks – both on the city council candidates but also on the trouble with the charter school replacement in OM. What an eye opener that is!Thanks for reading! And thanks for your valuable research, so thankful for the illuminations you provide!Happy Tuesday,Alexis