Lasley hopes to defend people and places
Council candidate running to preserve communities.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: October 1, 2008
When Louise Lasley came to Jackson in 1984, she was drawn by the vast tracts of public land, the mountains and the rivers, and she stayed in the valley because she found a small community where people supported one another.
Twenty-four years later, Lasley is running for a seat on the Jackson Town Council because she believes the town’s leadership is following a path that will destroy the human and natural communities she feels make the valley unique.
Lasley grew up in Hobbs, an oil boomtown in southern New Mexico. Though she would not characterize her family as politically active, she said there was an awareness of politics that in a sense pervaded the area.
“There was a knowledge of political activities, because the oil industry was providing taxes but our community was not reaping the benefits,” she said.
Lasley’s childhood also laid the groundwork for her love of the outdoors.
“Growing up in the desert, I was outside constantly; you just weren’t inside,” she said.
Lasley sharpened her political teeth participating in interest groups during years spent in Boulder, Colo. There she was active in the League of Women Voters at the local and state level, and in efforts to make Boulder a nuclear-free zone.
Once in Jackson, Lasley continued to battle the nuclear industry and tried to bring more attention to human-rights abuses in Central America, but she said much of her time and energy was focused on exploring the region’s outdoors.
“I have probably hiked, skied or boated anything for 100 miles in any direction,” she said. “Part of it is just being outside, and part of it is a connection to a sense of place.”
Lasley came to the valley as a high-school geology teacher but has held a variety of jobs to keep herself in a place she loves, including stints assisting photographer Tom Mangelsen, working in a law office, working at the library, working with the Wildlife Conservation Society, teaching yoga and aerobics, and her latest position working as public lands director for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. Lasley said her experience has given her a unique perspective on Jackson Hole as a community, because it has brought her into contact with so many different people.
“It exposed me to a much broader cross-section than if I worked in an office and saw the same people over and over and over,” she said. “I had the privilege to move to Jackson Hole when it was much smaller and there was an incredible sense of community, and I feel it is still there.”
Lasley said she was motivated to run because she thinks the current council, by not placing more strict parameters on growth, is not doing enough to protect the natural and human communities of Jackson. She said she chose running for a council seat over one of the openings on the Teton County Board of Commissioners “because it was in greater need of a different perspective and a fresh voice.”
“My perception and the message I keep getting is that [the council] is distinctly pro-growth, and a rapid pro-growth,” she said. “Even though you have two newer members on the council, the direction it has gone hasn’t changed that much.”
Once she hit the campaign trail, Lasley said, she found that her voice was echoed in that of many prospective constituents’.
“The message I hear most frequently is that we need to slow growth,” she said.
While she would not go as far as formally capping growth, she said some additional regulations might slow growth and benefit the community.
She said she would like to get rid of the controversial planned mixed-use development regulation, would like to cap building heights at three stories and would favor keeping existing zoning instead of granting requests for upzones.
“There is a cap on growth now in zoning,” she said. “It says there will be this many people in these places.”
Lasley also said she would like to raise the affordable-housing mitigation rate to 25 percent and consider future increases of that rate.
Though almost all of the community’s affordable-housing needs are driven by growth, Lasley said, she believes that the community can create additional work-force housing opportunities independent of new development.
“Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I see someone coming in and saying, ‘I am not going to build a multimillion-dollar home, I am going to build a multimillion-dollar building for work-force housing,’” she said.
Much of the land Lasley loves lies outside town limits, but she thinks the council can help preserve resources outside its borders by checking growth and considering the environment in all its decisions.
“As we continue to deplete or diminish our natural resources, they will increase in importance,” she said. “If we are not willing to pay the extra price now, we will suddenly find ourselves without these things that make us unique and are the reasons people live here.”