Candidate Q&A: Blair Picard
Editor’s note: Steamboat Pilot & Today has asked each of the local candidates in the 2021 Election on Nov. 2 to participate in a Q&A to better inform voters, asking the same questions related to each specific office. Visit SteamboatPilot.com/election for the latest election news and information.
Blair Picard is running for Steamboat Springs City Council District 2.
Why are you running for City Council?
I seek this office for two reasons. As a visitor for 30 years, a property owner for 15 and a resident for six, it seems like I read about the same issues year after year. Plenty of talk but seldom any action or progress. As an 11-year council person and mayor in Illinois, I know my community would have been aghast at such prevarication. Lasting solutions require foresight, analysis, decisions and action. And often mid-course adjustments. Use common sense, at a certain point, quit the talk and act. This lack of action has taken much of our resident population to the affordability breaking point. This is my No. 1 issue. Without a middle class workforce, merchant, retiree and student population, our city as we love it is dying. The solutions require action and money, which I will address frequently in the following paragraphs.
Do you believe short-term rentals should have restrictions? If so, what specific restrictions would you support? And if not, why not?
Short-term rentals should be identified, licensed, regulated and taxed. There are 3,000 out there, we have identified 211. First identify them. We should be able to find 90% working with owners, Airbnb, VRBO, Granicus and an anonymous hotline. Work on a license and tax structure right now and apply it within six months. Add to the tax rolls as we go, don’t wait. Make the regulations tough and enforce them tough. You hide? One strike and you’re out. Bad actors (i.e. noisy, trashy etc.), three strikes and you’re out. I support very limited no-fly zones in obvious neighborhood or inappropriate settings. The owners have invested plenty but they will have to be closely regulated and excluded in the obvious settings. This is an example of adjust as you go.
In your opinion is transportation a key service the city should be providing to the community, and do you have any ideas on how the city can provide sustainable funding to continue the service at current levels or expand it?
We should provide this service. Given our resident affordability problems, free buses ease that burden. My desire to add paid parking ASAP will steer visitors to this alternative. The benefits to our Climate Action Plan accrue for every vehicle mile we conserve. Draw the lines around the downtown area and get the plan going in three months. You can adjust rates seasonally, by weekday etc. The technology is there. Locals park free at the rodeo and on a somewhat limited basis elsewhere. Work with Ski Corp. to charge in their lots. Ski area free parking is a dinosaur. Aspen operates a fine bus system paid by parking. So can we.
What parts of the Climate Action Plan do you think need to be prioritized? And how can they be funded?
Concentrate on the big emitters. That’s low hanging fruit. They are commercial and residential buildings and vehicles. Citywide trail development should be pushed. Free buses. We also must convert the City to electric vehicles and push the public to do the same. Every trip in town should be promoted hard as 1) Walk; 2) Ride a bike or other non-polluter mode; 3) Free bus; 4) Use the rideshare board the city should offer; and 5) Other. Ease all heating systems toward electric with some kind of 10 year planning horizon. Compost and recycle to reduce landfill emissions. Work with all parties on reforestation, forest and grassland management. Specific funding is a challenge. If the community believes, we should find the dollars.
The city has a goal to diversify its revenue streams and reduce its dependence on sales tax revenue. How would you propose accomplishing this?
I advocate short-term rental license fee, stiff fines for miscreants and a tax. It should be in place in six months. No reason to tarry, the property roster will catch up. Vail and Breckenridge, with similar sales taxes as Steamboat, collect $4.8 per year in lodging taxes versus our $1.2 million. We should push to get a nonresident parking fee/meter system in place in coincidentally. These two nonresident taxes could raise $3 to $4 million yearly. Figure average residential water and sewer and charge a premium for excessive usage. We’ll need capacity and its expensive. Hate to say it, but a property tax may be the future. Get the smartest tax man and figure out how to give lower value property/income residents a break. Resident affordability is under siege. It will take money to fight win this war. Our community is at stake.
What steps should the city take to ensure that there is affordable housing now and into the future?
$24 million in land just fell from the heavens for Brown Ranch. More than $125 million more needed on top of that to provide infrastructure. Gov. Jared Polis hints at big dollars from the state. We should camp in his office to make it happen. Politicians love shovel ready projects. It will require some money to get there. Above you saw my revenue ideas. Let’s break the current dawdling mold and move. Candidates who want to economize our city spending and still help the locals are fooling themselves and you. Resident affordability also means child care. This joins with affordable housing. I have never been a tax and spender. But we are under taxing our annual $500 million tourist spend and will badly need funds to lift to community needs.
Council has prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion for a number of years. What steps do you think the city should take to move forward in this space?
Our community is 87% white, 9% Hispanic, about 1.5% each Asian and Black. The first goal is managing to eliminate bias. Make every attempt to represent these groups in our employee and committee etc pools to the above ratios at a minimum. Push volunteer mentoring. Likewise look at age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the like. Highlight and celebrate our advances and achievements. And more than that, we must all respect each other. Given our location and history, we are not close to the national averages re minorities. Sounds trite, but first do no harm. Second, do some good.
If elected, what would you do differently than those elected before you?
All officials, before and after me, want to do the best for their community. The difference is delivering on those goals. The 21st century world has shrunk. It moves faster and is more competitive. I am, and believe our City needs, council people who can recognize and act more effectively and quickly than we have in the past. We can’t prevaricate on tough problems like short term rentals and resident affordability. They aren’t going away. Higher income visitors and wealthier real estate immigrants are long-term trends that are accelerating. The longer we delay in facing up to these issues the more we fail our residents. We can make the rules in our city. If elected, I refuse to falter. If elected, I will not let you down.
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