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What’s Wrong With Park City’s Hotel Occupancy Rates?

I was reading tomorrow’s Park Record (I love the fact that the online version shows up the night before) and it was educating people on taking buses to the 4th of July parade. Toward the end of the article, hotel occupancy was discussed. It said:

He [Bill Malone, the president of the Park City Chamber] said occupancy was forecasted to be 34 percent during the week of June 28 to July 4, an increase of 2.5 percentage points from 2014. The biggest lodging night was anticipated to be Friday, when occupancy was expected to be 42 percent.

Occupancy rate is the percentage of hotel rooms rented each day.

While Park City’s 34% rate doesn’t sound good, I wondered if perhaps it wasn’t too bad. So I searched Statistica (the Statistics portal). I found the following average occupancy rates by month/year and region around the world:

hoteloccupancy


It appears our occupancy rate this week is a little under half the average of U.S. hotel. I’ve always heard our rates are low. This seems to confirm that.

Utah County Tells Mountain Accord to Hit the Breaks

Provo’s Herald newspaper is reporting that Utah County has told the Mountain Accord to back off on plans to incorporate American Fork Canyon into the Mountain Accord process. It appears that Mountain Accord officials planned on incorporating American Fork Canyon into the project but that they hadn’t fully consulted Utah County, its cities, and other stakeholders.

The article says:

“I think all three [Utah] county commissioners are in agreement that Mountain Accord overstepped,” [Utah County Commissioner Bill ]Lee said. When Lee first heard about Mountain Accord’s plans for American Fork Canyon, he was puzzled. “I was shocked on a couple of little levels,” he said. “First of all, they were talking about land in Utah County.” He asked himself, “Where is our representation in Mountain Accord?”

That sounds about par for the course, with the way the Mountain Accord has operated so far. It also highlights why we in Summit County need to have constant vigilance on the Mountain Accord and why it is so important that community members have taken an active role in the process.

I had heard the Mountain Accord had considered making a grand loop with transportation through American Fork. I guess I has assumed that they would have consulted with officials there first. It looks like that was a bad assumption.

Annual Heads Up on Buying Vail’s Epic Pass

Last year I noticed that Vail tacks on $20 to an Epic Local Pass in a sort of underhanded way. This year they’ll quote the price at $579 but in your cart it will be $599. This is because they add $20 pass insurance to it. Now, pass insurance could be good. It covers things like cancelling before the season, pregnancy, job transfer, etc. However, if that doesn’t apply to you, you may want to save $20.

To do that, add the pass to your cart. In the cart, click the plus (+) sign. It will show you the extra $20 charge. You can then remove it.

Treasure Mountain Junior High and FUD

There is a term in business called FUD. FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. It is often used in marketing, to attack a competing idea by eliciting fear about what could happen if a competing idea happens. In hyper local terms you could describe City Council person Andy Beerman’s appearance on KPCW this morning as FUD when he said we need to keep a seat at the Mountain Accord because the alternative was to be eaten. OMG, I don’t want to be eaten, do you?

That’s FUD.

Earlier this week, Park City School District Master Planning Committee Chairperson Rory Murphy was presenting to a group of citizens about why the School District Committee felt we needed to tear down Treasure Mountain Junior High (TMJH). He brought up a new fact that I hadn’t heard before; he said that TMJH was built using unreinforced masonry. This means that during a significant earthquake the structure may collapse in on itself, leaving many children and teachers dead. For a description of this, see a hypothetical description from the Deseret News that describes what would happen if “the big one hits.”

Scary. For sure. One Park Rag commenter said, “‘unreinforced masonry’ YIKES. TMMS is a time bomb.” It sure sounds scary.

Yet, I always have a little bit of scepticism. Is “unreinforced masonry” being used by the School District as another, in a long line of reasons, for why TMJH should be torn down? What would it take for me to believe this was actually a concern based on fact and not FUD?

  • The School District would need to provide a peer-reviewed cost of retrofitting TMJH to withstand earthquakes. People do this all the time and it is a solid alternative to tearing down a school and rebuilding it.
  • I need to understand what the risk to each of our other schools are based on a 7.0 earthquake. Have the High School, Ecker Hill, McPolin, Trailside, Parley’s Park, and Jeremy Ranch all been built to be earthquake resistant? If not, shouldn’t we be working to tear them all down?
  • Do cost estimates for building a new TMJH at Ecker Hill include making it earthquake resistant? Is that a requirement of the project? Will it include precast concrete, vibration control systems, steel plate wall systems, etc…. all of which have been shown to mitigate the impact of an earthquake?

If the answer to these the question is no, then “unreinforced masonry”, regardless of whether it’s a real problem, may just be being being used in a long line a reasons to convince the public to tear down a school built in 1983 and renovated more recently. The reasons I’ve heard for tearing it down include:

  • Contaminated (some would call it killer) soil from the mining days
  • Bad pipes
  • Cursed School
  • Hallways so tight that “someone is going to be hurt”
  • Sewer backup
  • … and now unreinforced masonry

Again, I don’t say this to make light of a potential issue. Yet, every time a new bomb is dropped, it makes it seem like all the previous bombs weren’t enough to scare the public. What I need to know to be convinced is that this issue is a big enough concern that it has been considered across all the schools in our district (present and future) and that they have estimated the price of a retrofit to the current school.

Until we get that, it seems a little bit like the District that Cried Wolf. It doesn’t mean that the wolf doesn’t eventually show up at the end of the story but it means that the public increasing discounts everything said (possibly to everyone’s detriment).

 

 

The Sparks of Class Warfare in Park City

I was sitting in yesterday afternoon’s Park City School Board public meeting on rebuilding the Kearns Campus, when a person made a very emotional plea. She said that she lived in Highland Estates and that last year’s School District tax increase almost caused her to sell her house. She said that if there is another bond that raises her property taxes she won’t be able to afford it. Her concern turned to anger when she spoke about adding on to schools that would enable Promentory residents (who are outside of our district) to attend Park City schools without paying their fair share.

Another person asked if residents of the new Park City Heights development would have to pay extra taxes, in response to a comment by school board officials that said they needed to add-on to McPolin Elementary to support the growth that will come from Park City Heights.

Another person brought up Park City High School and how $50 million of public money had been spent on building the school “and it has not gone well.”‘ Another person asked whether the school district had their financial estimates peer reviewed to ensure they were accurate.

At the most civil level, it highlights that people are starting to pay attention to how public money is being used — which is a good thing. At a less comfortable level, it highlights that many people who have lived here for a long time are getting fed up with how money is being spent and even more so at being priced out of the market.

Some might say, “that’s why we need affordable housing.” Yet, that ignores that a home owner who has lived in Silver Creek for 20 years probably doesn’t want to be forced to move to an apartment so they can continue to live around Park City. It’s an issue that runs through almost every decision that is made, and it crosses almost every traditional boundary.

For instance, most people want better schools. They also want lots of primary residents to live here to keep the community aspect of Park City intact. They don’t want sprawl or growth because that ruins the open space we have become accustomed to. They also don’t want higher taxes.

Yet, if we want better schools, either through newer buildings or the best teachers, that costs money. Secondary home owners pay much more in taxes than primary residents. The alternative to second homes is more commercial growth to increase the tax base. That induces growth.

It’s two diametrically opposed ideas, that are so far apart, common ground will likely be hard to find. It goes beyond transportation issues, affordable housing, and all the other “hot button” items. It’s a question of how Park City finds a way to stay true to itself — and in a way that should dominate every single decision.

A few years ago, a couple of people camped out in City Park in the name of Occupy Park City. The occupy movement was about inequality across America. While those people have since left City Park, the inequality still exists. And while many people want to focus on buzz words like “Keeping Park City Park City” the problem is bigger than that.

If yesterday’s meeting was an indicator of the beginning of a shift in sentiment of community residents, our leaders had better start to pay attention quickly. For this is a spark could become a full-fledged flame.

 

Why Does Affordable Housing Take a Back Seat at Park City Heights?

Park City Heights is the residential housing development behind the movie studio. It is scheduled to have 211 single family homes, 78 of which will be in line with affordable housing requirements. There will also be 28 affordable town houses. According to the Park Record, on Monday the developer was to start selling 100 “market-priced” homes. These would be the “non-affordable” type. In a few months it will list 10 of it’s affordable houses/townhomes for sale.

Doing the math, they are listing 55% of their regular inventory for sale immediately. In a few months they say they will be listing 9.4% of the affordable properties for sale. I don’t know the business, so I don’t know why they would take this approach. I could speculate that they make more off the regular homes, so they opted to do those first, but I don’t know.

Yet, according to the Park Record article, they say they’ll sell 10-20 affordable homes each year depending on demand. At the low end of estimates, that would mean the affordable housing component would be sold over the next 10 years.

This makes me wonder whether there is any time frame in either the city or county affordable housing codes that specify a timeframe for completion. Do we have an affordable housing problem now? If so, it seems like solving the problem 10 homes at a time is better than nothing… but why not have 100 affordable houses come online with the 100 market rate houses at the same time?

Something just doesn’t seem quite right with all of this.

Solving Future Problems Through Today’s Lense Likely Won’t Work.

You may know that I love the concept of autonomous cars. I have have written countless articles on them and suggested that Park City is missing out on a huge opportunity in making testing the vehicle (snow and extreme sun make it difficult for the driverless car — which we have a lot of). With that in mind, Factor has an interesting article that touts 2025 as the time when self driving vehicles will be commonplace. While this type of story is commonplace now, it makes some interesting hypotheses. For instance, space required for parking is dramatically reduced because cars could park themselves within inches of other cars. Insurance would no longer be needed by drivers because people wouldn’t drive the car (it would be provided by the manufacturer). Police revenues would be down dramatically because these cars would not speed, park illegally, or run lights. Speed limits might not even be necessary because cars would communicate with each other to determine optimal speeds. People may not even need to own a car as autonomous cars would be like an instant “Uber” service.

Some of it is a little pie-in-the-sky but it does highlight that most long term predictions, based on today’s reality, don’t take into account the massive amounts of innovation taking place. Things have changed a lot in the last 10 years. Youtube is 10 years old. Uber was founded in 2009. Facebook was founded in 2004. Those three technologies have fundamentally changed the way most people interact with the world around them. If that much changes has happened in 10 years, what will happen in 25 years, in the year 2040 where most “long-range” planning seems to be focused on in Park City?

For instance if you believe in Global Warming studies, you should also probably believe that Park City will get very little snow by 2040. If you are planning for what Park City should be in 2040 and 2050, do you trust the growth statistics from the governor’s office saying that we will grow by 100% in population but ignore the global warming studies that say our resort community will likely be just a community by then? Then, if it’s just a slightly cooler version of Salt Lake, what does that mean? Why aren’t we focused on tomorrow — given a discussion of what tomorrow will likely really be like and find ways to meet those upcoming needs?

Take public transportation, especially bussing. In Salt Lake, which seems very public-transit friendly, only about 6% of residents take public transportation. Yet, here in Summit County we seem to look at it like a solution to our Carmageddon issues. Let’s say we do rise to have 6% of our population take buses, that still leaves 94% driving cars. How exactly is the bus going to solve the transportation issue when the impact is likely very minimal?

There are likely countless examples of this from affordable housing to economic development. The problem is that if we don’t generally accept that the future will be different, we will spend millions of dollars on solutions that will meet yesterday’s needs.

 

Let’s Use Research to Pay the Most Effective Park City Teachers More

I love doing the Park Rag for a number of reasons but perhaps the most important is because I am always learning. A case in point is the letter I received from the co-chairs of the Park City Education Association (PCEA). I had written an article about teachers contracts that contemplated whether we should pay teachers with master’s degrees more (when research says the same teacher with or without a masters degree is just as effective at teachings kids) and asked whether we should be looking for a better way to figure out how we pay the best teachers what they are worth. Ed Mule and Jim Fleming of PCEA wrote a very nice letter that concluded the “Park City School District’s new licensed employee contract may not be perfect but it is a good compromise between a more traditional teacher contract and an incentive based contract.”

They also point out that while research doesn’t support master degrees as a means to ensure more effective teachers, the National Board Certifications do. I always like to fact check statements (as best I can) and in this case what Mr Mule and Fleming said is spot on (per research). Consistently research finds that National Board Certified teachers perform better than average in schools with a higher than average socioeconomic class. In less advantaged areas, that’s not necessarily the case. Yet, we are talking about Park City, which has higher incomes on average, so the research would support the national board certification as a way to define teachers that are more effective.

Yet, I delved into a 2015 study from Washington State which seems to further support my previous “Moneyball article” on figuring out a different way to compensate the best teachers. While the study begins by providing an overview of previous research on National Board Certifications, it dives deep into the fields where the certifications produce the most effective results. For instance it says, “we estimate that NBCTs [National Board Certified Teachers] produce annual learning gains that are about 4-5% of normal learning gains at the elementary school level, about 15% of annual learning gains in middle school math, and about 4% of annual learning gains in middle school reading.” They later talk about the 15% gain in math effectiveness and equate that to an additional 1.5 months of learning. Holy crap!

What this tells me is that Park City should compensate not only for National Board Certifications but we should be compensating more for national board certifications where there is so much more learning by students — and that gets into the Moneyball aspect of being strategic about how we compensate teachers. Therefore, middle school math teachers should see larger gains in salary based on passing the certification than middle school English teachers (who should still be compensated more, but maybe not at the level of math teachers taking the test). There may be other research based ways to determine how to incent English teachers who are more effective.

Further delving into this study, it marks a difference between teachers who pass the National Board Certification on the first try, rather than subsequent attempts. They say, “Except in middle school mathematics, we do not find evidence that teachers earning certification through a retake are more effective than non-NBCTs [non National Board Certified Teachers” So, except in middle school math, if a person doesn’t pass the certification on the first try, they aren’t generally found to be more effective. That appears that it should be factored in as well.

I understand that what I am suggesting isn’t easy — in negotiations or practice. It’s hard to tell a language teacher who has passed a National Board Certification on the first try that they aren’t getting the same incentive pay as the math teacher but appears to be what the science says. I suppose it’s not that different though than a state like Utah telling it’s teachers to teach Darwinism instead of Intelligent Design. Sticking to research is often harder than appeasing the masses.

In this case, though, it’s important. While the subject we are discussing are teacher salaries, the impact we are really considering is educating our children. Mr. Mule and Mr. Fleming said in their letter to Park Rag, “You will hear us argue that they [higher degrees and endorsements] can’t hurt and should be encouraged in the teaching profession.” I’m not sure if that’s true. If we pay one dollar extra for things like masters degrees that don’t seem to have any impact on student outcomes, that is one dollar less that can be paid to teachers that pass their National Board Certifications on the first try. I believe those decisions do matter.

It really is a zero sum game. Every dollar we spend on something that doesn’t matter, is a dollar less we spend on something that does. I hope in two years, when the next round of salary negotiations take place, both the school administration and teachers focus on the one thing that really matters. RESULTS. Perhaps passing the National Board Certification isn’t the end all and be all, but it seems like the most scientifically proven piece of data that indicates whether a teacher will better educate our children. I think that’s something that Mr Mule, Mr Fleming, probably the school board, and I would agree on.

I hope on the next teacher contracts, we can take a different approach and focus less on the things that sound good and more on what provides the best results for our children…. even if the process is a little painful.