Local Business owner weighs in on rec center, affordable housing, the workforce, development

Octopus Coffee on Horizon Drive

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.)

Alexis bakes home made cinnamon rolls. Mmmmm.

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. 

Octopus coffee

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,

  18 comments for “Local Business owner weighs in on rec center, affordable housing, the workforce, development

  1. Thanks for posting Alexis’ great letter! I agree with a lot of what she writes, having come from the Bay area to live in GJ by default due to a parent living here. It was very affordable to live here then, as we are quickly closing that affordability/density gap. People move to rural areas precisely for ease of living, space around them, and in the Grand Valley, for access to our incredibly special outdoors. Personally, I have trouble reconciling this so far non-existent marijuana tax to pay for the rec center. So they bungled the lottery issue from the get go and finally the selection is being squeezed in at the last minute, March 30th.
    For the new rec center, I think the lap pool must be expanded and heated!!!

  2. Sadly, the older population in GJ still do not have an adequate sized senior center. I think if I were a senior, I might not vote for a rec center until a new senior center gets built. Unless, a new senior center will be part of the rec center. Not sure?

    • Medicare gives older adults free or highly discounted memberships to rec/community centers (mine is free), and these centers have exercise classes for older people, pickleball, and so many other great events and classes. We older adults are really excited about the rec center in GJ.

  3. I agree with Alexis on her points in re gentrification and shortsighted housing planning.

    But blaming a particular style of parenting is nonsensical in re wait staff being overwhelmed with simple requests.

    In re weak Colorado youth – they are anything but weak and it’s really rude to imply otherwise.

    In re suicide of displaced workers, that’s a whole thing on its own.

    Rural Colorado youth have suffered multi-generational suicide of their elders, siblings, cousins, and friends for decades before helicopter parenting was a thing. So long that local great-grandparents have childhood histories of multiple loss and bereavement.

    Poverty and lack of opportunity are historic drivers, as is lack of access to basic health care. Mesa Valley D51 students suffer 50% food need (chronic hunger), and low pay for new teachers are just a few glaring problems. School students often have less than 10 minutes to consume their lunch and spend less than 20 minutes on the playground each day. And rather than trusting that adults will keep them safe, small children are burdened with armed assailant training from kindergarten. Think about that for a long moment, about how wise it is to force a little child to practice how to respond to their own attempted murder.

    Imagine if young rural Colorado coffee shop workers had been affected by 12+ years of simulated armed assailant drills, hunger, and generational suicide among other stresses, because they have.

    I’m also thinking that daytime coffee shop patrons maybe aren’t representative of the entire rural Colorado community. In Colorado kids can, and do, operate farm and ranch equipment & hunt big game at age 12. I suspect few readers understand how many minors under age 16 work more than the (Colorado labor law) max of 3 hours on a school day, 8 hours on a non-school day, and in excess of 18 hours during a school week.

    Ask youth if they think a rec center is a good idea. Then do what they say.

    • It’s for all ages, for Families, singles, grandparents who bring their grandchildren. In fact older adults (20%+ of CO population are older adults) are top users of rec centers today. After-school programs, team practices, especially great for lower-income families, my adult children practice with rec league teams at these centers. These are full-service places helping the entire community.

      • Debra, I agree with you that rec centers are good for all ages.
        The reason I wrote about youth is that the business owner blamed helicopter parents for creating easily overwhelmed young people, which is nonsense on so many levels.
        I remember similar talking points from Archie Bunker.
        Young people are not weak. https://youtu.be/X1XskfzNeeE

        • I agree with you. Thanks for responding further.

          I lived in Aurora until pretty recently. I used the Aurora rec centers. In the afternoons I saw a lot of young people there in pick-up basketball games, weight-lifting, running on the indoor track, swimming including swim team practice & much younger children in after school group physical activities on the basketball courts & learning about yoga & meditation, also learning about the native plant gardens outside the center. A lot of children would not have these opportunities any other way. When looking at Grand Junction as place to live, the 4 top things it needed were hospital, college, good public library & rec center. Excited for this rec center. The original poster comments very middle-class affluent oriented & that’s not even the majority of families anywhere including the west slope – plus not accurate comments anyway.

  4. I completely agree with Alexis assessment of the helicopter parent issue. I see it everywhere. Her letter was so insightful. As for the rec center, it’s hard to believe GJ still does not have one. It’s high time GJ gets a rec center! Lastly, I’m a landlord and I charge my tenant $500 less a month than the going rate. Why do I do this? Because I was dumbfounded when rents went up so much in the past three years and I believe it’s super bad karma to be greedy. I also believe you get a much better tenant when you charge less than going rental rates in this ridiculous market.

  5. Anne – great post as ever! I too feel GJ needs a Rec Center. Last year I met a charming, retired dentist, Dick, who served on the first committee for a Rec Center in 1989 and he told me that Committee unanimously recommended building a Rec Center! 34yrs ago, YES! true story! Why many publicly say they “are for this in concept” but are voting NO is just beyond me at this stage! GJ citizens have been asking for this community rec center for DECADES! I also don’t want to offend by making too many comments about over parenting, but I’ve felt this has been the case in the U.S. for many decades now! Here’s a “for instance,” ….I hike the Monument often because I love every inch of it, but I have to report that I rarely see teenagers hiking the trails or meadows ALONE without an adult EVER! Go figure…here is this magnificent natural playground and kids/young people do not ever explore it??? Most of the trails are very safe too, but no teenagers ever! As for the horrible Dist. 51 School Committee, and especially the Terrible Trio, who’s conservative partisan approach is dreadful. One other issue which can only be explained using the ol’ local sarcasm of, Dysfunction Junction, is the complete nightmare that has transpired in opening the Pot Shops! Really, too many egos trying to cover every conceivable angle and scenario when they just should have selected a solid committee who knew the business cold, called for applications and references/bank statements, selected the strongest candidates and MOVE IT ALL FORWARD. But no…instead they write a system so convoluted, complex and weird it probably doomed for yet more confusion and unhappiness and failure -!- and NO REVENUES in sight! Finally, at some point “developing” every natural plot of land and farm needs to STOP and planning affordable housing must begin. Why the council had neglected this is also a disturbing disappointment. The huge condo building going up on Rood is going to be so deluxe no one on an ordinary salary will live there unless they are cramming three or four people into the apartments! Also, the lands near the Monument MUST STOP being developed as there are precious animals and flora all around the Monument which cannot be encroached upon! The animals/creatures have NO WHERE to go! STOP building or “developing” desert lands near the Monument. The Monument is our greatest natural treasure! We all must protect it!

    • Dr. Jack — with respect, how can you possibly relate seeing teenagers on trails with their parents to helicopter parenting? I love hiking with my kids (family time, anyone?), but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t encourage them to go without me. Frankly, I, along with most parents these days, find it difficult to get kids on trails at all — with or without parents. So kudos to the families who make it a priority to hike together. Family hikes < lonely hikes.

      Where you’ll find helicopter parenting: schools, in the justice system, internships/employment, etc. But not on the beautiful trails or the mountains in the Valley.

  6. I doubt that many people check on whether GJ has a community rec center before they move here.

    The conservative candidates for GJ council seem to want to increase their profits as contractors and owners of rental units by eliminating development fees and building and owning short term rentals. The problems described above will increase if they control the council.

    • I loved the letter from Alexis and I agree with her observations about helicopter parents.
      My husband and I moved here from a resort area in the Eastern Sierra and the housing problems there are a carbon copy of the problems Alexis describes.
      It seems that any “affordable housing” scheme will eventually get scammed.
      Our two ski mountains were purchased by Alterra. I always wondered if the US Forest Service would have had a way to force these companies who use public lands to provide housing for their employees.
      We need to think outside the box to solve the housing issue.

    • I disagree about whether people check for a community/rec center in GJ. I did it early on, along with a hospital and public library. I was disappointed that the only rec center sort of nearby was in Fruita. And so did my older adult friends who were considering a move to the west slope or to Grand Junction. The older adult group (which is very large percentage-wise in moving to West slope and growing as we are living so much longer), are trying to stay healthy and age well, and under Medicare we get free or reduced cost gym memberships, and do not want to have to drive a long way for that. Some of us can’t drive anymore and need it to be close by, or will in the near future. Many lower-income families use a community center for family activities, sports, after-school care and activities, etc. I will take my grandson to the community center a lot too. Yah for a community/rec center in Grand Junction!

  7. The assumption that a rec center automatically leads to widespread helicopter parenting feels kinda ridiculous, as does the implication that kids wouldn’t play outside anymore. Not to mention the fact that it would be a benefit to residents of all ages!

  8. Alexis, thank you for your assessment of problems that affect so many Colorado towns and cities. Please keep visiting Anne’s blog, because you are informative. Octopus is definitely on our list for coffee.

  9. I agree with some of what she says, though I, too, endorse the Rec Center. Just like it was greedy oil companies raising prices, not because they needed to, having the highest earnings for a business in the history of the world, it is greedy landlords raising rents, not because the location is now improved but because they market has. I lived in the same apartment for 10 years until about 2 years ago and during that time they did absolutely nothing to improve it, though they raised the rent, I think it was 4 times. When the coin op washing machine in the washroom broke and leaked water into my pantry and under my kitchen sink, causing black mold to grow there, I could not report it because the would have just had me move out so they could remediate it. At that time I had nowhere else to go. I did point out the black mold when I moved out and they tried to bill me for the cleanup even after keeping the damage deposit. Something absolutely needs to be done to not only get affordable housing in this city but curtail the greedy landlords. Years ago in Boulder, the renters formed something called “The Boulder County Tenants Organization” and were able to get the Boulder city council to pass an ordinance calling for a minimum level of habitancy so they would stop renting out unfinished basements for exorbitant fees. Maybe something like that needs to be done here. Renters banding together could be a huge and powerful voting block.

  10. Basing her decision to not have a rec center on one person’s comment is ridiculous. GJ needed a rec center years ago. To not have one in our community considering the size says a lot about the priorities of the city. WE NEED A REC CENTER that’s opened all day (unlike the OM pool).

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