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Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come appears on Black Friday

 Before I draw nearer to that stone, tell me! Are these the shadows of things that must be, or are they the shadows of things that MIGHT be?Ebenezer Scrooge, to the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come

In the case of Park City, they are shadows of both the way things are and what is yet to come.

Friday afternoon, traffic backed up from the Kimball Junction exit ramp of I-80, onto to Ute Boulevard, up past the library, through the roundabout, past Walmart, past the new Whole Foods, through the second roundabout, and into the Tanger Outlet Mall. A Parkite reported that it took him 20 minutes to get from 224 to the roundabout.

The larger concern is what happens once the new Whole Foods is completed. That turns this once a year inconvenience, into a daily nightmare.

But before you think this is just another whinge-fest or your eyes glaze over with thoughts of CARMAGEDDON dancing in your head, let’s dive a little deeper into why we are in this mess.

First, let’s get the oft-cited cause for traffic out of the way. Yes, Park City is a desirable place to live and to visit. Yes, in 20 years there will be a billion people here. However let’s talk about yesterday, today and tomorrow — not 2030.

Do you remember when Walmart wasn’t a Super Center? Do you remember when the Village at Kimball had about half as many stores as it does now? Do you remember when the outlet mall didn’t have the expanded area on the north side? We assume you remember when the new Whole Foods was just a parking lot, since it was a couple of months ago.

What do all these have in common? They were conscious decisions by our county leaders to LET these happen.

Would there be as much traffic along Landmark drive if Walmart didn’t have a grocery? Probably not … but in 2008, the County Comission voted 2-1 to allow Walmart to expand (Commissioner Sally Elliot voted against it).

Would there be as much traffic in Kimball Junction if Smith’s was smaller and there was no Cafe Zupas, Five Guys, Jimmy Johns, Simply Mac, Spectrum Salon, AT&T Store, Barking Cat, Pure Barre, Park City Bread and Bagel, and Vessel Kitchen? Probably not … but in 2012, the Syderville Basin Planning Commission, and ultimately the County Council, allowed the expansion.

Would there be as much traffic if the Tager Outlet mall was smaller? Probably not … but in 2014 the County Council approved a 23,000 square foot increase and allowed the expansion.

Starting next spring (and forever) will there be more traffic due to the new Whole Foods? Definitely.

The upcoming Whole Foods is an interesting example. The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission debated whether (and how) to allow Whole Foods to set up shop across from Walmart for months. They knew it would be a traffic nightmare and debated the minutia, inlcuding how people would turn out of the parking lot and whether it made sense to have more roundabouts. Yet, only one member dissented to the Whole Foods, Commissioner Bea Peck. According the meeting minutes of the final vote, “Commissioner Peck acknowledged the efforts the applicant and Staff have made, and she believed this would be a great plan and opportunity for Whole Foods, but she did not believe Landmark Drive is the right place for it. The more she hears about extraordinary efforts being made to try to address the traffic that will be generated, the more she is convinced this is the wrong place. It is a good plan and a good development, but she does not see how it can fit on Landmark Drive.”

Somehow Ms. Peck came to the same conclusion that most Parkites would have. Thank you, Ms. Peck.

If you were to ask each of the leaders that voted for any of these expansions, they would have a reason. Many times it’s that the property has an affordable housing component. In the case of the Whole Foods, there are 20 affordable housing units.

Other times, there are benefits to other local groups. In the case of the outlet mall expansion, Tanger was going to give over $500,000 in gift cards to the Peace House and affordable housing (it turned out a little different due to some legal complications around the gift cards).

Sometimes, they just think it’s the right thing to do. For instance, on Whole Foods, Planning Commissioner Mike Franklin “commented that the applicant is entitled to build on this property, and they have worked hard and been before the Planning Commission four times. Taking everything else into consideration, he believes the applicant is entitled to this because of property rights,” according to meeting minutes.

What we believe, is that these decisions really come down to a person’s world view. For instance on Whole Foods, the Park Rag’s argument would be that the land where it sits was part of a previous agreement called Canyon Corners. The original (and approved) Canyon Corners design had more, small buildings, with the same square footage of space. However that property had sat there dormant for over a decade (and very well may have stayed that way for another decade). The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission DID NOT have to let the plan change to accommodate Whole Foods. In our opinion, the only reason to allow a change would have been for the PERFECT design — and not a horrible compromise.

If traffic is our biggest concern, we need people with the world-view of limiting traffic as a chief concern. While our County Council did enact language in our General Plan that said there would be no new entitlements (i.e., we won’t let more to be built on existing land than is currently allowed), somehow Whole Foods wasn’t viewed with the same spirit. This really comes down to:

  • Electing county council persons who will consider traffic with every vote they make
  • Electing county council persons who will pick Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioners who will consider traffic with every vote they make
  • Electing County Attorneys based on whether they believe they can find ways to support our County Council in limiting development that will increase traffic.

We do want to be clear. We are in full support of a person’s property rights. If a person or company has the right to build something, then by all means they should be able to build, and our government should work with them to limit traffic impacts. However, what we shouldn’t be doing is approving expansions that aren’t required, that we know will cause a mess, find no way to mitigate that mess, and then spend years trying to fix the mess. How about we don’t let the mess happen in the first place?

We also want to be clear that we like Whole Foods. We also understand why they wanted to move. They just shouldn’t be moving to Landmark Drive. In ten years, they will likely have wished they moved out by the Home Depot.

Finally, we also don’t want to give the impression we are blind to other factors that encourage development. It’s not lost on us that in 2012, the county, still suffering from the Great Recession, may have wanted to spur the economy (and tax dollars) by allowing things like the expansion of the Village at Kimball. We understand that traffic hasn’t always been concern number 1… but now it appears as it is. It seems we like to say that Parkites are willing to be taxed if it is for the broader good. However, maybe we are also willing to forgo some bad development, even if it means higher taxes.

As we look forward, its not hard to see this pattern repeating itself. We need to make sure that our school district doesn’t fall into this same trap. Can you imagine what adding a 5/6 school would do to traffic by Ecker Hill? During the bond debate, the School District’s stance was that the county would need to figure out the traffic impacts on Kilby Rd, if a new school was added to the Ecker Hill campus. That’s just not right. It’s no longer acceptable to just do something and then expect someone else to use magic to clean up the mess.

Another example is traffic along Kilby Road between Summit Park and Fresh Market. Gorgoza wants to add all sorts of recreation to their sledding hill but their agreement to expand has expired. Word is that the County Attorney’s office feels Gorgoza’s rights have vested — meaning, we guess, that they can develop whatever they want there. Now the County Council and Planning Commission are debating the height of a building. It’s another case of fiddling while Rome is burning. If everyone considered traffic first, it’s likely someone would have come up with a solution to limit this expansion in the first place (since the original agreement expired).

Yes, Park City is a desirable place. However, the more we look at traffic issues, the more it seems some of this has been self inflicted by our leaders. While we can’t go back, we need to stop making the same mistakes.

Just like Scrooge, we have the opportunity to change our ways — but just like Scrooge — our time is running out.

The red line represents the traffic backup on Friday afternoon
The red line represents the traffic backup on Friday afternoon

h/t to Sam R for tipping us off on the traffic jam and the use of his picture

 

We Parkites should stop freaking out about Trump and concentrate on our real issues

Can Park City stop freaking out about the election of Donald Trump yet? We hope so.

From schools saying they are going to enforce bullying (we thought they already did that), to worries about whether snow will continue to fall during a Trump presidency, to the Sheriff’s Department saying they “won’t participate in any sort of roundup” of undocumented immigrants… it’s frankly becoming a little too much.

We don’t say that because we support groping women, or want to build a wall, or want to defraud you and your kids with some “school” aimed at changing your life. We don’t condone any of that.

Yet, the immediate issues that will have an impact on us seem much more pressing. We hope you don’t get disillusioned with government over a Donald Trump presidency. It’s too important of a time to turn yourself off now.

Here are the local issues we are thinking about:

  • We as a community have a lot of wants: Better transportation. Better schools. More Ice Skating Rinks. Better fire service. Better recreation. More Pools. Better athletic facilities. More Open Space. Higher teacher salaries. That all has a cost. Do we have the money for it all?
  • Park City has benefited from the financial bubble we have been living in. The wealthy have done well and that has flown into Park City. Interest rates have been low and that has benefited both construction, business formation, and home prices (for home owners). Can that continue?
  • More importantly, what does the above mean for tax revenues? Government additions over the last few years have to be supported. Transit Centers have to be maintained. Additional employees have to be paid. Capital expenditures have to be funded. Have those costs been adequately accounted for?
  • The good thing about recessions is that they temper growth and development. It’s been a long time since we had a recession. There’s been a lot of growth. What does that mean when the next recession hits?
  • This is the first time we have had five democrats on the Summit County Council. There was always something refreshing about Republican Dave Ure’s perspective. Tal Adair, a Republican who took over for Mr Ure did a fine job in his short tenure. We’re not fearful, but we wonder what it will be like now.
  • From what we hear, people close to the school board’s new master planning effort say it is an improvement over last year’s failed bond. We’ve heard nothing official but hope they can find the right balance that will achieve broad public support.
  • While we don’t doubt they exist, who is going to buy all these new $400,000-$600,000 homes and town homes that are being built? There are only so many people that can afford a half a million dollar house (or second home).
  • Then’s there’s that little Treasure Mountain deal. That’s a mess.
  • Oh, and then there is Bonanza Flat… Park City voters were willing to raise property taxes to put $25 million toward buying it. We’re not savvy real-estate folks, but we’d guess the real number to buy it is at least 4 times that. Will Parkites be willing to pay that much?
  • Then there is our pet issue, transportation. If you’ve read the Park Rag recently, you know we were against the sales tax increase for transportation. The voters voted to give the city and county money to fix the transportation problem, and that’s OK with us. The people have spoken So, now literally, the rubber hits the road. City and County, you’re now on the clock.

We think those local issues, and many others, are much more important that fretting over a Trump presidency — especially before anything has been done. We hope we can all concentrate on the real tasks at hand.

Expanded Run-A-Muck parking is a welcome addition

On any given weekend morning, Run-A-Muck, Park City’s first off-leash dog trail will see hundreds of visitors. It’s one of the shining successes of Summit County in recent memory. Within the last few weeks, that experience has become even better.

While the trails were always great, the parking left something to be desired. The main lot had room for about 10 cars and was always packed. This forced trail users to park across the street and cross a road with speeding traffic headed to and from Utah Olympic Park (UOP). The other alternative was to park along the road which impacted cyclists trying to ride down from the UOP.

Recently Summit County and Basin Rec have expanded the parking for the dog park. Now it’s possible to fit 20-25 cars at the facility. It’s the type of development we like to see. Start with something small, see how it goes, and then expand as demand warrants.

Summit County is doing very well with this property. We hope they keep it up.

runamuck

How Summit County’s ballot manipulates the vote

Like many people around Park City, you’ve may have already sent in your ballot for next Tuesday’s election. You may have even cast a vote for or against local initiatives called Proposition 9 or Proposition 10 (on transit and buses). If you have voted, thanks! It’s one of the cornerstones of our democracy. What worries me, though, is how that cornerstone of our democracy can be manipulated. I’m not talking about some grand conspiracy theory foisted by national candidates. Instead I’m talking about how each of our votes can be manipulated at the local level.

If you still have your ballot, take a look at it. If not, you’ll notice that the front has the candidates for local elections, each with an oval next to their name. On the back, there are judges, constitutional amendments, and our two local propositions (#9 and #10). In every case for candidates, you select the oval next to their name. In the case of three constitutional amendments, you select that simply you are either FOR or AGAINST. For example with Utah Constitutional Amendment C, you choose either:

FOR
AGAINST

However, in the case of the two propositions advocated by our county, you choose:

FOR TRANSIT EXPANSION
AGAINST TRANSIT EXPANSION

and

FOR ROAD IMPROVEMENTS
AGAINST ROAD IMPROVEMENTS

What? What happened to the simple FOR or AGAINST used elsewhere throughout the ballot? Why the extra language? It’s structured in such a way that it’s asking you, “Are you for good roads or against good roads.” Who is going to say they want bad roads?

It’s much akin to a school bond ballot asking, “Are you FOR kids or are you AGAINST kids?” Who is going to say they are against children?

It is completely manipulative. If there was no thought put into it, wouldn’t it just say FOR or AGAINST? Since there is specific language, it indicates that there was at least some thought put into crafting the answers. Was the bad ballot design just coincidence or was it on purpose? Good question. Either way, it likely will influence the election. That’s not good democracy.

That said, this ballot was published ahead of time, as required by law, and it could have been challenged. Unfortunately, we weren’t paying enough attention at the time. Lesson learned.

The take away is that words do matter. In this case, on our local initiatives, the words betray the truth. You are already paying a sizable amount of money for transit and roads. The question is whether you are FOR or AGAINST paying more for those.

ballot

Why I’m voting against Park City’s new sales taxes for transportation (Proposition #9 and #10)

Two weeks ago I was interviewed by the Park Record on my opposition to the proposed sales tax increase. What I learned is that it is difficult to summarize a 30 minute interview in a few paragraphs. So, while I think they did a fine job, I wanted to provide more context…

There are three primary reasons I am against the sales tax:

  1. Money from the sales tax will likely help the county buy the parcel of land between Jeremy Ranch Elementary School and the Burt Brothers (it’s called the Cline Dahle parcel). One of the proposed uses for this parcel is a park and ride. If this area becomes a park and ride, it will increase traffic along Rasmussen Road and decrease children’s safety. There are few obvious ways to improve traffic flow or redirect traffic around this area. My fear is that this sales tax will enable the county to make a grave mistake around Jeremy Ranch Elementary. At best it will make dropping kids off at Jeremy Ranch a nightmare and at worst endanger our kids. I’m not willing to bet my children’s safety on the hope that they’ll get this one right — especially when they haven’t in the past.
  2. I question whether buses are an actual solution to transportation issues. I don’t believe Summit County residents will adopt buses in large scale. The old adage is that everyone loves buses because they hope someone else will ride them. I believe that is especially true for us because most people stop at multiple places when they drive their car. We drop our kids at school. We exercise. We go to work. We stop at the grocery on the way home. It just doesn’t lend itself to busing. Even with more frequent runs, I don’t see people riding buses.
  3. A solution to traffic based on busing is very complicated and likely won’t work. The argument for adding additional funding to buses is as follows: people don’t ride buses because it takes too long to get anywhere. So, we need to add more frequent stops. Therefore, we increase taxes to pay for more buses. However, people won’t ride buses if they are stuck in the same traffic as cars. So, we need to add bus lanes to let the buses “speed” on by the cars. So, we increase taxes to pay for additional bus lanes. However, the roads those bus lanes travel over are managed by UDOT, and not ourselves. So, we have to convince UDOT to add bus lanes. However, UDOT’s concern really isn’t 224 or 248 as they have bigger fish to fry like to I-15 and I-80. So, we need to show them that we have skin in the game to show them we care. So, we raise taxes. However, UDOT is the most powerful entity in the state. Their budget is over a billion dollars a year. Our $8 million allotted for this (if taxes are raised) is like a gnat. But, we hope they decide to work with us on projects. So, we increase our taxes. Then, if UDOT decides they will do something, we need to work with them to ensure that what they will actually do is what we want them to do. Then, given all that, we hope it works.

Believe me, I understand Park City and Summit County’s pain. I believe Summit County Council Chairman Roger Armstrong when he says that people corner him and demand an answer to what he is doing to fix transportation. The problem is that:

THERE IS NO SHORT-TERM FIX TO TRANSPORTATION PROBLEMS.

The long-term fix is designing our neighborhoods around transportation. The long term fix is self driving vehicles that have 3 feet between them as they cruise on 224. The long term fix is planning Park City and the Snyderville Basin for the year 2030 (and beyond) based on what our community will look like in 13 years (do we still have snow below 9000 feet?).

The mistake is doing something for something’s sake. The mistake is wasting money when it could be used later … AND BETTER.

If YOU specifically will commit to riding the bus to ski, to work, and to dinner then it probably makes sense for you to vote for Propositions 9 and 10 on the ballot on Tuesday. But if you can’t, do you really think others will commit to it in significant numbers? No.

That’s my fear.

If Proposition 9 and 10 do nothing for me, wouldn’t I be better off donating that money during Live PC Give PC so that the Park City Band could have more instruments? Yes.

If Proposition 9 and 10 do very little for our community, couldn’t we have spent the money in many better ways? Yes.

If there are side-effects like endangering kids and making traffic worse around Jeremy Ranch Elementary school, shouldn’t we think twice before we enable that? Yes.

That’s why I’ll be voting NO on Tuesday.

 

 

Lack of privacy is a huge concern with Park City student drug testing

During this week’s Park City School Board meeting, a draft policy of the district’s proposed drug policy was presented. While drug testing for Park City students has not been approved, now is the time to provide any objections. One of our major concerns is student privacy.

The district policy describes who will have the results of the drug testing. It says:

  • Information regarding the results of the drug tests shall be kept confidential among the building principal, designees, any employee with a need to know, the student’s parent or legal guardian, and the student.

Unfortunately, nowhere in the draft policy does is mention the word privacy. The only time it speak to confidentiality of results is the above bullet point.

Let us give you an example of our fear. Let’s say Johnny Smith plays wide receiver for the Miners Football team. On Monday he gets pulled out of class for a random drug test. He fails. He is then suspended for two football games. Sure, officially only the Principal, the Assistant Principal, a school counselor, and his coaches know that he has been suspended for failing a drug test. However, it doesn’t take a genius for his classmates to figure out he failed a test (why isn’t he playing in these two games?). Then various people at school turn to social media and post that Johnny failed his drug test. Then the whole school knows. Then so do colleges that wanted to recruit Johnny for football … or maybe it’s the college admission officer who is reviewing his application for Westminster.

We just don’t see how the school can protect our students’ privacy. They can’t outlaw freedom of speech — especially when it’s true. We don’t have to look much farther than last year’s security scare at the high school, to see how fast and far social media spreads.

Messing with kids’ lives in order to have the appearance of “doing something” is a horrible approach. We hope the school district stops this madness immediately.

 

 

American Academy of Pediatrics recommends AGAINST drug testing in schools

As the Park City School District moves closer to drug testing our students, there’s one group adamantly opposed to the idea. It turns out that the American Academy of Pediatrics “opposes in school drug testing due to lack of evidence.” In fact they created a policy paper and technical report on it. Their main concerns?

  1. Limited evidence of efficacy
  2. Decreased participation in sports
  3. Breach of confidentiality
  4. Increases in use of substances not included on testing panels
  5. Increases in the number of students facing disciplinary action (whether official or not)

We find #4 interesting. During an interview on KPCW, Superintendent Ember Conley noted that drug tests don’t screen for synthetic drugs, which is the type of drug that allegedly took the life of two students in Park City recently. Does drug testing just drive other kids to those same dangerous, synthetic drugs because they won’t be caught?

Perhaps the better question is if your child’s pediatrician recommended something for your kid, wouldn’t you do it? Then why are we going to ignore their recommendation this time?

New 5th/6th and 7th/8th schools are a done deal in Park City?

This morning on KPCW, Park City School Board member Julie Eihausen made a comment about new 5/6 and 7/8 grade schools. KPCW’s Leslie Thatcher asked Ms. Eihausen whether we were still going forward with those new schools, especially in light of some potential new board members stating a preference for K-6 schools.

Ms Eihausen commented that the board had voted for the new schools last year and that’s what was going to happen, in some form or fashion (i.e. two schools or one 5-8 campus, etc.) somewhere. She said it would take a vote of the board to rescind that directive. She also said she would be hard-pressed to change her mind.

We thought that directive likely died with the school bond, but it appears not. We wonder if the new school board will at least want to discuss whether plans made by different people, in a different place, that were essentially struck down by the public, are still valid.