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What is Consensus Decision Making?

If you been following recent Mountain Accord developments, you’ll know that they often say that the Accord’s Executive Committee will make decisions based on “consensus.” So for instance, if Park City didn’t want a gondola going from Brighton to PCMR but other parties did, the Executive Committee would decide what to do based on consensus.

So, what is consensus? I thought I new. I’m sure you probably think you know. I’m sure most people in our local government think they know. I’d bet you a steak dinner at Grubb Steak that you, me, and our leaders don’t really know what it means.

I thought consensus meant that a simple majority wins in any vote. That’s not necessarily the case. According to the Wikipedia article on consensus decision making, the decision making process lies somewhere on the spectrum below:

  • Unanimous agreement
  • Unanimous consent (See agreement vs consent below)
  • Unanimous agreement minus one vote or two votes
  • Unanimous consent minus one vote or two votes
  • Super Majority thresholds (90%, 80%, 75%, two-thirds, and 60% are common).
  • Simple majority
  • Executive committee decides
  • Person-in-charge decides

So consensus decision making is either a unanimous vote, the person in charge decides, or somewhere in between.

So, I have two questions. Who is the PERSON in charge of the Mountain Accord process. And do you really feel that “a consensus” gives Park City and Summit County some level of protection against a tunnel?

The Mountain Accord is Now Funded by the Office of Economic Development

On Friday I learned from a concerned citizen something that sounded so crazy I didn’t believe it. He told me that all state of Utah funding for the Mountain Accord was now coming from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). What’s GOED’s mission you ask? According to their website, “The mandate for this office is to provide rich business resources for the creation, growth and recruitment of companies to Utah and to increase tourism and film production in the state. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development accomplishes this mission through the administration of programs that are based around industries or “economic clusters” that demonstrate the best potential for development.”

Holy crap. And it’s true.

If you listen to Mountain Accord supporters they’ll tell you the impetus behind Mountain Accord is protecting watersheds, wildlife, and our mountains. They’ll put the complete environmental spin on the program and downplay the transportation aspects. If that was the case why isn’t funding for the program coming through the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)? What’s DEQ’s mandate? “Safeguarding human health and quality of life by protecting and enhancing the environment.” Wouldn’t a Mountain Accord funded through that organization make a little more sense if the powers that be were interested in an environmental solution?

So, how much money is GOED putting into Mountain Accord? $3 million this year and a total of $22 million between now and 2017. This compares with a total of $5 million being put in by all other organizations, including Park City and Summit County. People in Mountain Accord like to say that we need to stay in the process so we can have a “seat at the table.” That’s great but realize that GOED’s chair at the table is 88 times bigger than ours in Summit County.

GOED has also been given a seat on the Mountain Accord Executive Committee, which I guess isn’t surprising since they have all the money. The issue with that, of course, is that any disputes, like say Park City and Summit County not wanting a tunnel but Salt Lake County and Sandy do, are decided by a consensus of the Executive Committee. Of course, they also added “an environmental representative to the board as well. But that’s like your favorite baseball team trading for Clayton Kershaw and a player to be named later. Which is going to have all the power ? The player that makes the most — or in this case the one contributing all the money.

So where does that leave us? At least all the pretenses are gone. We now know this is chiefly an economic plan, with a few environmental pieces inserted in order to try and appease the right people. It’s really a shame as there were some good ideas in the Accord but the truth seems to be slowly rising to the top. Perhaps our theory that this wasn’t a plan to manage growth but instead was a plan to encourage growth wasn’t so far fetched.

I’ll be patiently waiting for the second act of the Mountain Accord where cost is no object and growth targets must be met. It will likely include a train up Parley’s, a tunnel through to PCMR, and 5 new hotels north of Highway 40. Whatever it takes to get as many people here as fast as possible.

I’ll look forward to Governor Herbert standing on top of PCMR, gazing down at Park City, with a banner behind him that says “Mission Accomplished.” His speech will begin with the words, “sometimes you have to destroy the village to save it.”


Is the Environmental Aspect of Mountain Accord Mainly Marketing?

Any time there is contention over the Mountain Accord, supporters of the idea will always say that the detractors shouldn’t focus on the transportation aspects… what the Accord is really about is the environment.

I’ve been reading through the 13 pages of meeting minutes from an October joint meeting of the Summit County and Park City Councils regarding Mountain Accord. Do you know how many times the environment, or watershed, or sustainability, or wildlife, or pretty much anything not to do with transportation came up in the meeting? One time. The minutes read: “Liza thinks there are possible economic and environmental benefits to getting people out of their cars.” That’s it. How many times did the word transportation show up? 25.

If the environment was the focal point of this process, I would have expected at least one comment like, “a tunnel doesn’t sound great but if it allows us to continue to have clean water it is worth it!” Was there anything like that? No. The pro Accord talk was all basically we need to study the economic benefits/consequences more, see what positive impacts it could have on transportation in the Basin, and do whatever it takes to keep Guardsman Pass closed.

I know they would like us to think it’s about the environment, but when they don’t even talk about it, it makes one wonder if the environmental angle is all just marketing.


Mountain Accord Meeting HIghlights How our Elected Officials View Mountain Accord

In October there was a joint meeting of the Park City and Summit County Councils to discuss the Mountain Accord. We’ve recently been provided with the meeting minutes and it’s a fascinating read. It provides great understanding of the positions by various council members and some of the outside forces at play. If you have time, we’d recommend reading the whole thing. If not, here are some of the key points, as provided in the meeting minutes:

Ann [Ober… Park City Municipal] said there was a unified voice that included Vail, members of the Park City Council, members of the County Council, and Steve Issowits representing Deer Valley, against opening Guardsman.

Andy [Beerman, Park City City Council] continued by saying Summit County is also in favor of all other aspects except a tunnel or train through the mountain to Park City from the Cottonwoods.

Cindy [Matsumoto, Park City Council] said she was willing to stay in the talks about rail if there was a guarantee there would not be cars over Guardsman.

Jack [Thomas, Mayor] wondered who benefits from a connection from Salt Lake City and Park City. Who might also see a negative impact? He sees this as a connection for folks to funnel into Park City to take this train to the Cottonwood Canyon Resorts, creating more traffic and congestion. He feels it will also change the nature of town. He asked if any other Council members were concerned about that. Andy said Council could formulate some conditions to shape the connection. Jack wondered who would benefit from the connection. The resorts don’t think it is to their advantage. Does it benefit the small businesses in Park City, does it benefit the ski resorts? He asked if it would change the dynamic of our community.

Liza [Simpson, Park City City Council] commented she doesn’t think there is any way of knowing until an economic impact study and some information is received.

Cindy said she does not see a benefit to the community of getting people from Sandy up to Park City twenty minutes faster. The only benefit she sees for the Park City community is preservation of a certain un-named property. And in the distant future, a rapid train that come directly to Park City from the airport.

Liza mentioned when the Transportation group talks about transportation, they are talking about two distinct cohorts of people using it. She wouldn’t mind getting on a train that meandered around the Salt Lake Valley as long as she didn’t have to schlep her luggage on and off the bus or train. Jack said in his experience in the planning industry, people are interested in getting to their destination quicker. Liza said her point is that the leisure traveler is different than the commuter. The leisure traveler will do what is easy and convenient and the commuter needs what is consistent and as quick as possible.

Jack agreed with the connectivity aspect. He said what he looks at is the nature of the issues in our community. Over the past few years, congestion and impacts issues, along with the frustration of navigating through them have been identified. He said he doesn’t understand the nature of the train connection to another market, another region. There is substantial cost, billions of dollars. He continued that as soon as those connections are made, growth will accelerate in both places.

Dick [Peek, Park City City Council] said at an Open House he attended, Senator Neiderhauser approached him and said “you guys need a tunnel”. He continued, saying Neiderhauser is very pro-transportation. That is why the Mountain Accord process could be affected because there are people at the state who would like to see a tunnel.

Tim [Henney, Park City City Council] asked the Mayor how he arrived at his decision about the connection? Jack said, he would call it common sense. Park City has a captive market. We’re surrounded by mountains, we are a unique environment. We have the core values that we embrace and love that are fundamental to our community and the small-town nature of it. Having studied mass transit, including the Bay area rapid transit and other systems in Honolulu, he said that when you put in new nodes and connectivity with mass transit trains, you get dramatic concentric rings of growth are created, even in areas that are built out. He believes the changes coming our way changes our nature; changes us from a small town to more a connected component of a mountain urban system.

Cindy commented there might not be room for growth within the city limits of Park City, but if there was a train connection here, it might encourage growth in the County that we wouldn’t have any control over.

Tim said Council is trying to manage growth, not create or facilitate additional growth. He said Park City can either let the growth happen to us or figure out how to manage it in a way that reduces congestion, gets people out of cars, and gives them alternate modes of transportation.

Tim noted there is a dirt/gravel road that people consistently go up and down every day and that traffic is increasing. He thinks if that can be stopped and the land up there can be preserved, he is willing to consider the connection. Jack told Tim he was welcome to disagree with him.

Liza commented the growth is coming whether Park City participates in the planning process or not. She continued that this could be the only chance to anticipate, mitigate, and channel the growth to where it’s more appropriate. A gondola over the top from the Cottonwoods to Park City would add to the guest experience. She said she just doesn’t know if it would be good for the community. She is not in favor of Guardsman remaining open to single occupancy vehicles or improved so that year-round traffic can utilize it. She feels the only hope Park City has as a community is managing the growth in partnership with some of these other entities.

Andy asked for feedback from Kent and/or Diane as to what can be forced upon Park City by the State officials. Ann said there were significant restrictions to somebody coming in and doing this to us. One restriction is the original agreement that Council signed addressing how decisions are made in this process. The agreement says a consensus is necessary before something moves forward.

All agreed and Liza said she wanted to make one more point relating to the conspiracy theorists. If Neiderhauser does have a magic wand and could make the tunnel/train happen, it wouldn’t make any difference whether Park City wanted and supported it or not. Staying in the process gives Park City the relationships and partnerships necessary to support our position.

Liza said she was concerned that if Park City gets too positional, we will get back to being viewed as elitists. Saying that we have concerns about the connection is entirely fair and expected.

Cindy asked again if the group was worried that if they study it, they will get it. Claudia [McMullin, Summit County Council] answered with a resounding yes.

Roger [Armstrong, Summit County Council] clarified that what the Transportation Systems committee walked into their Wednesday meeting there was a slide on screen that said we want you to vote to forward to the Executive Committee either A or D. He said that in choosing these two extremes, it would force the Executive Committee to study all the concepts.

Chris [Robinson, Summit County Council] said the only option that gives both the Wasatch Front and the Wasatch Back what they need is Concept D. He said they need to let it be known Summit County is opposed to the connection, but other facets consider both sides of the mountain.

Dick said his concern is that the Salt Lake Valley has an unlimited supply of demand. Park City and Summit County have a limited supply. If we open the conduit so the two can meet and fill that demand, we’re going to get fundamentally ruined as Park City and Summit County.

Questions Abound About Rebuilding Treasure Mountain

I received some feedback that I was “all over the place” with my previous post about the School Board’s Master Planning Committee and the rebuild of Treasure Mountain. I’ll gladly take the feedback. I’m definitely not a writer. And I’m just happy someone read it :-). That said, I do want to make sure my point is as clear as possible.

So, here is the bullet point version:

  • The Park City School Board formed a Master Planning Committee to decide whether Treasure Mountain Junior High (TMJH) should be rebuilt.
  • Some would say they formed a Master Planning Committee because they wanted it rebuilt.
  • During Wednesday’s meeting of the Master Planning Committee, participants were divided into groups and tasked with deciding where they would put schools on a map.
  • I heard little discussion at all about tearing down Treasure Mountain; however, every single group decided to tear down TMJH, which seems strange.
  • When I look at the facts, there aren’t glaring reasons to tear it down. Test scores are as good at TMJH as our best designed schools. People claim that it will cost more to fix it than to rebuild it, but the glaring problem with the school is allegedly the pipes and that has been estimated at a $3 million fix (versus $25 for a new school). People talk about the soil being bad, although it’s not dangerous according to the EPA … and regardless the EPA said they’ll pay to fix it.
  • When the master planning committee started, it was about fixing a junior high. Now it is about building a new junior high, adding on to the high school, moving the learning center, building a new district office, moving Dozier field, adding a field house, redoing the high school gym, building a PC CAPS building, and creating a community center.
  • This could cost upwards of $50 million.
  • If a bond is necessary for rebuilding the school, this is going to eventually bite teachers in the *ss because residents are going to have tax/bond fatigue. When the next round of teacher raises come up, that requires a tax increase, people may say no thanks.

So, there you have it. I hope that’s a little easier to follow. It’s more blunt and more direct, but that’s how I see it.

Why Again Should We Tear Down Treasure Mountain Junior High?

During last night’s School Board Master Planning Committee meetings, people were divided into 6 groups. Each of these groups decided where they should put schools on a map (if they were to choose). This included tearing down and building new schools. The process started with Molly Smith, the meeting organizer, presenting example solutions. A participant asked why Ms Smith had not suggested tearing down Treasure Mountain in her examples. The participant essentially said she thought that was a given. Someone then chimed in that Treasure Mountain would cost more to renovate than to rebuild. They said it would cost $29 million.

When the 6 groups came back and all recommended tearing down Treasure Mountain, with not a mention of why, again it seemed like a foregone conclusion. I’m not sure why that is. One of the original reasons the Master Planning Committee was brought together was to decide if Treasure Mountain Junior High Should be torn down.

Yet now, it wasn’t the focus of the discussion at all. It’s like a murder trial where guilt is assumed and the jury spends all their time on how they should kill the man.

To be fair, I was not sitting with each group throughout their discussions. Perhaps there were lengthy discussions in each group on whether it made sense to tear down Treasure Mountain. Yet, my gut tells me there weren’t many discussions (perhaps participants could validate or invalidate that assumption).

My guess is that it was a foregone conclusion in most people’s minds. The participants had a huge teacher component. Have teachers heard “through the grapevine” that Treasure Mountain was going to be blown up? Has it been said one too many times on KPCW? What was it? I’m not sure, but it sure seems like a given.

My problem with assuming Treasure Mountain should be torn down is that it shouldn’t be a given. I understand that there is a universal dislike for Treasure Mountain school. There are universal dislikes for many schools, but it doesn’t mean they should be torn down. I understand that there are problems with pipes. According to rough estimates by the school, that’s about a $3 million dollar problem to fix. I understand the soil tested (which was on the ball fields and grass by the way) is no danger to students but should be remediated. The EPA said they would pay for that.

I then look at the document that everyone references when they say it will take $29 million to FIX Treasure Mountain. That includes adding an auditorium, widening halls, a new lecture hall, upgraded electrical, etc. Some of that $29 million is likely REQUIRED but not all of it… not a large part of it.

Then I look at SAGE test scores for Treasure Mountain Students. We are supposed to be a data driven school district. Treasure Mountain’s SAGE results of 57% competency in language, 51% in Math, and 56% in science are in line with our flagship High School (53%, 46%, 55%) and Ecker Hill (59%, 50%, 59%). What I heard last night from one teacher, that got positive ovations, was that we want to spend money on things that educate our children. Looking at the two “best” schools in our district, just building a school doesn’t seem to help that.

This isn’t to say that I necessarily think tearing down a school built in 1983, doesn’t make sense on some levels. But I don’t think it should be assumed though.

I’m sure there are a flood of people, many of them teachers, reading this and thinking I have two heads. I can hear them say, “you try teaching there!” or “Don’t you care about the children?”. I actually do care about the kids (and you) and that is why I’m concerned.

This effort is going to cost a lot of money. A bond will likely be issued to pay for it. All home owners around Park City are going to be paying this off for 40 years. This comes on top of a basin rec bond last year and tax increases by the School District and county over the past few years. At some point, citizens will likely stand up and say ENOUGH. That’s not likely to happen with this bond because it has already been drilled into everyone’s head as a foregone conclusion. However, it very well may happen on the next tax increase. That tax increase, if passed, would probably be for teacher salaries.

Because I completely agree that the most important things are what’s being taught and who’s teaching it, I want our kids to have the best we can afford. If we keep spending huge amounts of money on things that may not be necessary, we just may find that when we really want something, the public isn’t going to allow it. That would be too bad. But it is avoidable.

So do I advocate keeping Treasure Mountain and not rebuilding it? I’m not sure. However, I do advocate having a public discussion about that in depth with good information that isn’t used to mislead people.

That said, it already feels a little too late for that. So, we’ll likely steam-roll forward to a bond in November for what was originally supposed to be just rebuilding a school but is now probably redesigning a campus — that may not even be needed.

Will there be a cost to our kids and teachers if this comes to pass? If so, how big? We’ll probably find that out in a few years.


What’s the Take Away From Last Night’s School Board Master Planning Meeting?

Last night I live blogged the School Board’s Master Planning committee. The live blog was probably a little hard to follow, because so much of what was done was visual. In effect the members of the committee worked in six teams to place cutouts of schools (i.e. the high school, Treasure Mountain, McPolin, etc.) on a map of the Snyderville Basin.

Each group then presented their ideas in front of the committee. These ideas were recorded by the planners and the planners will use the 6 proposals to find common ideas and work their way down to two to three scenarios. Then during the next meeting, the committee will look at those scenarios and put costs alongside them, in order to make a final recommendation.

Of the six groups, five were essentially the same. These groups want to knock down Treasure Mountain, add on to the high school to support 9th graders, build a new district office, leave McPolin where it is, and move the Treasure Mountain School somewhere. These five groups varied on some concepts. Most, but not all, also wanted to build a fieldhouse on Kearns. At least one group wanted to build a PC CAPS building. Some groups wanted to move Treasure Mountain School to a property at Bear Hollow. Other groups wanted to move Treasure Mountain School to the Ecker Hill campus. Most groups wanted to move Dozier field to another spot on Kearns. One group wanted to leave Dozier Field where it is.

The sixth group presented an out of the box idea to move the High School to a spot between Trailside and Round Valley. The discussion around the idea led to further discussions about converting the existing High School in to some sort of arts school. While the group admitted this was presented to just make people think about alternatives, it really does represent the only different idea. Therefore, it is very likely that this idea won’t be in the mix.

So, the proposed outcome is becoming clearer. Here is my best guess of what will happen:

  • Tear down Treasure Mountain
  • Add on to current High School to support the 9th grade
  • Move learning center to north side of High School
  • Redo entrance to McPolin so it is easier to access
  • Rebuild Treasure Mountain at Bear Hollow
  • Rebuild the District office on Kearns
  • Move Dozier Field and the baseball diamonds to a new location on Kearns

That means the elementary schools will be Pre-K to 4th. Treasure Mountain at Bear Hollow will be 5th and 6th. Ecker Hill will be 7th and 8th. The high school will be 9th to 12th.

Of course, Treasure Mountain could be built next to Ecker Hill Middle School. I believe the traffic concerns will push them to place the school at Bear Hollow. They may also decide to build a fieldhouse on Kearns. However, I believe they will start to see the total costs of this project add up and it will discourage them from doing so.

So, what will this likely cost? That’s a good question and without specific plans, it’s really a guess. I’m willing to try, though. Rebuilding Treasure Mountain will probably be about $20-$25 million. Adding on to the High School will probably be around $5 million. A new district office will probably be about $3 million. Moving the fields and redoing the entrance to McPolin is probably under a million. Building a new learning center is probably $1-$2 million. The tear down is probably another million or two. Permits and paying to mitigate traffic (which they will likely have to do) are probably another million. So, I would guess we are looking at around $40 million.

If they want to add a fieldhouse, then maybe $45-$50 million. Currently, the school district has about $18 million in the bank. Look for them to use just part of that money (maybe $5 million) on this project. So, we are probably looking at a bond of $30-$35 million.

Then there will also be the costs of “portable classrooms” that can be used while this construction is taking place and outfitting the schools with equipment. That likely will have to come out of the School District’s budget.

The next Master Planning Committee meeting, where a recommendation will be finalized, is May 14th.

It should be an interesting summer.

Why Does Park City Need Reassurances on Mountain Accord?

Today on KPCW, Park City City Council Member Andy Beerman was talking Mountain Accord. At one moment he said:

“I’m not terribly concerned about us having veto power over this… We are not ceding our land use authority to the Mountain Accord. So if Park City or Summit County decides they are opposed to something we can refuse to participate in that and it’s not going to get done to us.”

Then in the next sentence he said:

“We’ve had further reassurances, and there has been a lot of concern about this and Summit County and Park City went to the Management team of Mountain Accord which is a select members of the Mountain Accord and everyone assured us that we ultimately maintain our veto power over this.”

My question is if “land use authority” stops a tunnel from being pushed on us why did we need further assurances? If our authority over our land is rock solid and we can say “no tunnel will be drilled into Summit County or Park City” then why do we need someone to assure us?

Perhaps its because our land use authority isn’t all that rock solid. So, now we are relying on verbal assurances. That’s verbal assurances from the same people that devised the tunnel scheme in the first place.

The more I hear, the less better I feel.


The State Would Never Push Something on Park City?

This morning, KPCW’s Lynn Ware Peak talked to Park City City Council person Andy Beerman about Mountain Accord. His response to a question regarding “vetoing” a tunnel from Brighton to Park City was interesting…

Lynn Ware Peak (KPCW): So if you go through the whole [Mountain Accord] process do you maintain the veto power?

Andy Beerman: I’m not terribly concerned about us having veto power over this [the Mountain Accord tunnel]. We are not ceding our land use authority to the Mountain Accord. We’ve had further reassurances, and there has been a lot of concern about this… everyone assured us that we ultimately maintain our veto power over this. At the end of the day, the feds or state could do this to us, whether we’re at the table or not, but we don’t expect that to happen. It would be fairly outrageous for something like that to happen.

Our question is … is that really outrageous? Take the Park City Film Studios. That was a very contentious project. I’ve heard many stories that if Summit County or Park City didn’t approve the studio, the state would have found a way to make it happen. Perhaps those are just rumors. Perhaps not. Either way, it doesn’t shock me. I don’t find the concept of a state “threat” as outrageous.

With the tunnel concept, it doesn’t seem outrageous to think that the state could “do this to us” if someone powerful enough in state government decided they really wanted a tunnel.

I think Mr. Beerman knows that too.