Press enter to see results or esc to cancel.

No trust… No vote… No money

Thank you to the people who made their voices heard on the proposed changes to the Summit Water Distribution Company (SWDC). It appears that over 70% of people voted against changes that gave very broad power over water consumption  to SWDC and would reduce the number of board members making decisions.

In my mind, this is another data point that highlights the changing ways in which voters in our community make decisions. If our leaders aren’t paying attention to what is happening, it’s time.

First came the Park City School District bond election in 2015. The school bond was defeated and the school board lashed out at the “uninformed voter.” They went to such lengths that they hired a research company to prove the board was right. Next came the South Summit School District bond. It was defeated too. This, despite the fact that many people would agree South Summit Schools are fairly crowded.

Most recently came the aforementioned Summit Water Distribution Company vote. I have to imagine that 10 years ago the board’s changes would have passed with flying colors. No one would have even know it was going on.

What we are learning is that today isn’t yesterday. Yes, something as arcane as changes to the bylaws of a local water company are questioned and defeated.

Why is it happening? I believe there are a number of factors converging that change the way decisions are made by the Park City area public.

It begins with community members’ interactions with employees of an organization. Those everyday actions appear to be shaping public opinion of the entire organization. In the case of Summit Water, the Park Rag received a number of phone calls describing the arrogance of SWDC employees. We’ve already reported about our neighbor’s interaction with a SWDC employee who told him he better get rid of his grass because they were going to cut back his water. We heard from one person who was told they had no right to use their water outside. When the person asked SWDC how they can keep their trees alive, apparently the response was that they could probably “spritz” them every once in a while but if they got caught they’d be fined. I had an experience where a representative from SWDC was walking the streets marking water mains in each persons’ property. When after two minutes he was frustrated that he couldn’t find the main, he yelled at me and told me that I had better find it or I would have to pay someone to come out and find it for me. It turned out he was just looking in the wrong place.

These every day interactions shape peoples’ feelings about the company and their trustworthiness. When you hear multiple stories that paint a negative light, it highlights a problem with either the culture or the leadership. Those feelings carry over into decisions like whether you should support the water company being able to restrict water to encourage conservation or whether you are Ok with the number of board members being reduced. If you love and trust the organization, you’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll do the right thing. If you don’t trust the leadership or the entire organization, you’ll question everything, and you won’t give them the rope to hang you with.

There are other examples of that. On the failed Park city School bond, there were pre-bond public meetings.  Early-on, there were three meetings at the school district offices with members of the community. The first meeting didn’t go great, so the second and third meetings were stacked with teachers to make it more orderly. During the meetings the goal was to decide where our schools would go. Better put, the school district appeared to have already decided where they wanted the buildings to go, so they crafted meetings to have the public agree with them. They did this by breaking the attendees into six tables, each with a school board or master planning person at a table to drive the conversation. They then created maps of the Basin and little stickers of schools. Each group was able to select where they would put their schools. They could put the stickers anywhere in the Basin they wanted as long as it was at Ecker Hill or the Kearns Campus. Not surprisingly, five of the six groups came up with essentially the same plan — the plan that had been devised for them.  The only group who did something else, was led by Terri Orr, who challenged the assumptions and put some schools on the west side of Highway 40, across from Home Depot.

The above sounds more conniving than it probably was. It’s likely the school board and master planning committee knew what they wanted and were trying to find a way to get public buy-in.  To the outsider who observes it, though, it starts to shape your view that the powers that be are trying to manipulate the public. That then makes you question everything going forward. So, when the final survey was done on why the Park City School District Bond failed, it told a story of uninformed voters. There’s probably some truth to that. However, informed or not, if the public doesn’t trust you, they aren’t going to vote for you.

A more recent example is a school dual-immersion introduction meeting held last week. I wasn’t there but heard from many community members that it was confusing and didn’t paint the process in a good light. Is that one meeting going to doom the next school bond. No but it does once again shape the public’s view of the organization. Much like if when you check into the hotel and the front desk clerk is a jerk, you start to get a negative opinion. The opinion can either be confirmed or reversed throughout your stay by other employees at the hotel. That opinion, sometimes shaped over years and hundreds of interactions, will alter how people process information, change the way they make decisions, and impact the way they vote.

What has also changed is the way people share those feelings about an organization. In years past, people gossiped at Rotary or maybe wrote a letter to the Park Record. Today people post information to Facebook and Next Door. The reach is immediate and wide. I feel confident in saying that Next Door has become more influential in shaping the public’s opinion than the Park Record. Yes, there are crazy posts out there. However, the information is often useful. Also, the discussion between residents often proves more useful.

Our local governments aren’t blind to this fact. You’ve probably seen the influx of the “community-relations-specialists” into our government positions in the past few years. One of their jobs is to help shape public opinion about their respective organizations.They do this in traditional ways by making sure the Park Record and KPCW have information from their organization’s point of view. They also try to use Facebook, Twitter, and in some cases Next Door to spread information. Their use of these new tools, though, isn’t as useful in forming public opinion. That’s largely because they are one person and a naturally-biased source. Again, they are doing their job, but it’s just not as effective as organic information coming from citizens.

This leads to outcomes like we saw with the Park City School Bond and SWDC vote. It’s also likely to impact any future vote over Treasure.

So, how do our local organizations adapt to ensure their best chance of receiving funding or have decisions go their way?

It’s hard to prescribe one answer for everyone. What I would say is that it begins with culture. Culture leads to having the best people in individual roles. Culture prescribes a way of an organization interacting with people.

If ultimately our local organizations can instill a culture that of trust, through hundreds of tiny interactions, we-the-public are likely to vote for their plans. It has to be real. It has to be from the heart. There can’t be an ounce of artificial nature in it.

If they can’t do that, we’ll likely continue to see failure after failure.

While there are exceptions, we believe a number of our local organizations have a long way to go to earn the public’s trust. Without, they are going to be grasping for reasons their funding plans fail… when the real answer is they need to look in the mirror.

We truly hope they figure it out. We do have a lot of needs in the Park City area.  Ultimately, it’s up to our local organizations to make changes that encourage people to both trust and fund them.

Invocation for the Sundance Film Festival Visitor

Thank you oh thank you Sundance Film Festival Visitor.
Thank you for the millions of dollars you bring to our community each year.
Thank you for screening films, so the rest of us can watch them on Netflix.
Thank you for taking every hotel room, so we can ski fresh powder.
Thank you for paying a $100 for a burrito, so our restaurants can survive.

May you find a town that has metamorphosed into just what you want, for at least a couple of weeks.
May you actually listen to Robert Redford’s opening remarks, because they actually mean something.
May you get six inches of snow tonight, so Park City appears to be the place you think it is.
May you have rented a 4WD, in case you actually get that six inches of snow.
May you not experience a drug overdose, on Main Street, at some club at 3AM.
May you not get Harvey Weinstein’d in that same club at 4AM.
May you treat locals you meet with respect, or at least not be a complete douchebag.
May you find the perfect pair of fur underwear at Alaskan Fur.
May you find some meaning (any meaning) in the respect rally.
May you know how to perform a zipper merge on Highway 248.
May your wardrobe include something besides black, since the PIB monicker is getting really old.

So, thank you oh thank you visitor to the Sundance Film Festival.
While many of us will do everything we can to avoid you,
We do appreciate that you come.

Summit County has failed us

Summit County government has failed the populace with its decisions on Woodward at Gorgoza.

As you may have heard, The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission approved a new development at the Gorgoza Sledding Park. According to the Park Record it will “include a more than 52,000-square-foot action-sports center, equipped with indoor trampolines, ramps, foam pits, pump tracks, concrete skate park and a digital media studio. Other amenities would include a food court, lounge and coffee house, and a party room.” Outdoor amenities planned include lift served snow sports, riding and teaching terrain, expanded snow making tubing, a four-person chair lift, an outdoor skate park, expanded mountain biking trail system and freestyle-mountain biking terrain.

Also, keep in mind the 52,000 square foot building will be 45 feet high. That is 13 feet taller than is generally allowed in the Snyderville Basin. Just for reference, that is over 25% bigger than the new Whole Foods and over 10 feet taller.

So, how did we get here?

In 1999 POWDR Corp signed a development agreement with Summit County that speaks to a small indoor lodge and outdoor recreation. The Project Description says “Gorgoza park will offer a variety of non-motorized outdoor recreational activities that may include: snow tubing with up to 5 tube tows with up to four lanes per tow; snowplay; snowboarding accessed via a chair lift with a terrain park and two half pipes; snowblades and skiing; ice rink and skating; snowshoe and ski trails; winter alpine slide rides; toboggan and luge/bob rides; all terrain carts and thrill sleds; a climbing wall; a skate park and an all terrain skateboard area; BMX and mountain bike trails; alpine slide rides, and other uses consistent with the mountain outdoor recreation setting.”

What was approved then was truly an outdoor recreation facility.

What we will have now is that outdoor recreation facility, plus a 45 foot tall, 52,000 sq foot building (with a food court, coffee shop, etc, etc, etc.).

From a public perspective, it’s not the same thing that was originally agreed to in 1999. Yet, Summit County seemed to bend over backwards to make this work. In December 2016, the Summit County Council voted 3-2 to allow the height exception enabling the overside building to be built. Their reasoning seemed to be that we want recreation around Park City, and this development can’t work without a 45 tall building, so they allowed it.

They seemed to remember that Parkites like recreation but forgot that we have a water problem. They forgot we have a traffic problem. They forgot we have an affordable housing problem. They forgot we have a problem with employees driving up from the valley to work.

They also forgot that this decision could set a dangerous precedent for exceeding height restrictions. If all someone needs to prove is that you need the extra height to function, that’s a pretty low bar. I should say not all forgot, as council member Roger Armstrong cited that concern and voted against the height exception.

If the Council would have enforced the height restriction, and a 45 foot tall building was required to make the building viable, maybe Woodward at Gorgoza would have remained an outdoor facility as originally agreed to. Possibly, Woodward at Gorgoza may not have happened at all. Either way there would likely be less impact.

The second issue that happened along the way is that the Summit County Planning Department ruled that the 52,000 sq ft building was an accessory use to the property. This opened up the ability for the Woodward folks to apply for a conditional use permit (CUP). Once a CUP is all that is needed for development, all that can really be done per Utah law is to try and mitigate issues like traffic.

This then led the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission to approve the conditional use permit. While it would be easy to blame them for their approval, all they can generally do is try to mitigate issues once they are facing a conditional use permit. It’s much like the judge that has to let the murderer go on technicalities. In this case, all they can really do is to try to fix as many issues as possible. They can’t prevent it. They were put in this position by the decisions made before the issue came to them.

Of course, there are people who are excited for this development. They think it will improve property values. They believe it will be great to have a recreation facility so close to Pinebrook and Jeremy Ranch. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. That doesn’t change the fact that this development isn’t like what was originally approved. Given our current issues, it’s hard to see how the new agreement is better for the populace than what was originally agreed upon in 1999. In fact, if the development was delayed (or never happened at all), it would likely be better for traffic, noise, pollution, affordable housing, and the water issues we currently face.

The county buys a property like Cline Dahle for millions in order to put in a transportation hub and affordable housing, and then just further exacerbates the problems we are all trying to solve, by enabling something like Woodward at Gorgoza. It makes no sense.

On this one, we believe Summit County government completely botched this.

We don’t need the USA Today to tell us we have good schools

Today someone sent in an anonymous tip linking to the Park Record story on USA Today ranking Park City High School as the best high school in the state. First, whoever you were, thanks. We love community feedback and appreciate ideas from the public. We usually won’t post something the Park Record has posted because if you’re here at the Park Rag, you’ve probably run out of things to read at the Park Record and are trying to figure out how to fill what-used-to-be your ski time. Maybe we should copyright that?

That said, at a macro level our schools are great. Our teachers are great. Our administrators are great. Our school board is great much improved and we are hoping that time shows greatness. Again, these things are at a macro level. At a micro level, there are crapy teachers. There are crappy administrators. There are individual people and actions that aren’t as good as they should be. As a whole, however, our schools are great. I can’t imagine wanting my kids to go to any other public school in America. As an aside, my sister’s kids go to what is arguably the second most desirable private school in Chicago and it doesn’t seem to hold a candle next to what our district accomplishes in Park City. By the way, a lot of that difference is due to things that Superintendent Ember Conley brought in.

So, I love our schools.

However, let’s look at the USA Today rankings. First, it is USA today. Here is today’s front page for their website:


So, if you’re tired of working for Delta, it looks like Area 51 is hiring….And don’t worry about James Franco. He is OK. Oh, and your kid is a socialist.

Digging deeper, USA Today rankings are based on rankings from a website called Niche. It then factors in student to teacher ratios, graduation rates, and AP test enrollment. Here is Park City High School’s Niche rating:


So, it looks like we are the #1 high school in Utah according to Niche… but wait. For college prep we are the 4th best public school? Your kid is going to college right? As we suspected, if you care about your kids college prep, you should get them to Skyline High School in SLC, stat! 

We have great teachers right? What? We only have the 5th best teachers in the state. Yep. If you want the best of the best teachers, you better enroll them in one of four charter schools that have better teachers than Park City.

It’s what Niche says… and therefore USA Today.

Frankly at some level these rankings are all bullshit. Our kids’ education is made up of a million factors. The ranking tells you that your school is or isn’t complete crap. Does a ranking of number 1 really mean anything to your child?

I happen to believe my kids will get a great education in Park City. If next year, USA Today or TMZ ranks our schools as #10 in Utah, I definitely won’t be freaking out.

Everybody wants your money …

The past few years in Park City have been interesting.

Do you want better schools?
Here is a bond.

Do you want to fix transportation?
Here is a sales tax.

Do you want more recreation?
Here is a bond?

Do you want to save Bonanza Flat?
Here is a bond.

Do you want to try again to fix transportation and affordable housing?
Here is a bond.

Do you want to buy half of the Treasure Mountain project?
Here is a bond.

We wonder when this will lead to complete bond fatigue?

It reminds us of this classic scene from Airplane:

Perhaps the lack of snow is just what we needed …

What does it mean if it doesn’t start snowing?

Well, it makes winter here less fun… but it also means our local governments miss out on sales tax, report taxes, and Transient Room Tax (basically taxes paid by visitors using our hotels that can be used for specific things like tourism, recreation, etc.).

It appears that sales tax makes up about 15% of Summit County revenues. Taxes make up over 23% of Park City’s revenues.

Right now, due to lack of snow, our city and county managers have to be concerned. Is there enough money?

I had family in town over the Christmas holiday. I guarantee you they didn’t go back to Chicago and tell their friends how great Park City skiing is. I would imagine they are not alone. The lack of snow is going to impact reservations for MLK, Presidents’ Day, and spring break bookings. It’s also going to impact next Christmas as folks are going to be wary about coming during the early season, next year.

During a recent County Council meeting, County Manager Tom Fisher said he feared another recession (as he probably should). It doesn’t look like a recession is on the books… but this could impact us similarly. The problem is that the government has expanded our services based on the anticipation of these taxes. The Summit County budget, for example, has increased dramatically over the past few years (0ver 30%), while population growth has not.

Yet, in some ways I won’t be sorry if we have a winter without snow. Things feel over heated here. I enjoy skiing but I could give that up for a year, if it meant some stabilization. I’d like to know where we really are. I’d like to know what our community can really afford. I’d like to see mortgage rates at normal levels, so we know how much home people can really buy long-term. I’d like to know whether we really need another hotel at the Colby School. I’d like I’d like to know whether the current housing prices are an outlier or not, so we understand whether our schools will see an influx of children (if housing prices drops) or whether second home owners continue to rule.

I’d also like to know whether we truly have money to continue our bus program. I have fallen in love with the bus, and especially the 10 minute intervals for the Electric Express, but I’m not sure it makes sense economically.

I’d like to see whether we have good leadership. It’s often easy to lead when you are flush with cash… but the true test comes when there is adversity.

Frankly, no one knows what the weather will bring. We could record amazing snow through February, March, and April and no one may remember that this year started slow.

However, if it keeps the current pace, I likely won’t be sad. I’ll feel for those individuals who have to endure the hardship, but in the long-term our community will probably benefit from knowing what it truly is and what its capabilities are.

You may be losing some of your rights related to water

Last summer, Summit Water Distribution Company (SWDC) limited the days of week people could water. A neighbor accidentally watered on the wrong day and was visited by a representative of SWDC. According to the neighbor, he was told that he had better think about getting rid of his grass and landscaping because next year they were going to severely cut back his water. I told him that wasn’t possible, because he likely had rights to about 250,000 gallons a year. They can pro-rate the amount of water allotted during a shortage but how would an employee know a year ahead of time whether there would be a shortage?

We now know one of the ways they are planning on restricting water. 

If your water provider is SWDC, you would have received a notice of a “Special Meeting of the Summit Water Distribution Company.” This notice contains a voting slip, and a link to documents showing what changes they are proposing. In the Summary of Changes Articles, Article IX, it currently says “The Board of Directors shall have the power to adopt rules and regulations governing water use and shall, in the event of shortage, pro rate the available water….”  This is changed to  “The Board of Directors shall have the power to adopt rules and regulations governing water use and shall, in the event of shortage, or to encourage conservation, pro rate the available water….”

So, SWDC’s ability to limit your water would no longer be governed by an actual shortage but by the concept to encourage conservation.

Now, we have nothing against conservation. We live in the West where water is as valued as gold. We also realize that water rights have likely been oversold in Summit County.

That said, I do have a problem with signing away my available water. If this passes, it’s likely you’ll never have access to your full share of water again. You’ll probably pay the same amount each quarter but get less for it. 

The second problem is that the term encouraging conservation is so broad. There is no limit on it. We could have 5 record years of rainfall that replenishes our sources completely but they could still want to encourage people to conserve. Likewise, it seems they can use this broad term to limit levels to whatever they wish (as long as all people in a class have the same limits imposed). Does your 250,000 gallons get limited to 240,000 gallons or does your 250,000 gallons get limited to 50,000 gallons. That’s a big difference.

The third problem I have with this is that it’s a major change that was tucked away in a document. It’s as if they didn’t want people to see it. To gain my trust, I would have expected an accompanying document explaining this large change and why it is needed. Give me concrete details. Tell me what you are planning and why you are doing it.

There may be valid reasons SWDC wants to increase its level of control. However, I don’t currently trust the process. Perhaps if there was some limit on the level of reduction available due to “encouraging conservation” I could be more supportive. Likewise if there would be some explanation of why these changes are being made I may be more supportive. Otherwise, I’m left wondering why this change is happening. Have they mismanaged the water and there isn’t enough? Is this a way to make more money? Or maybe it is more benign and they just want some insurance and control should things go bad.

I will be voting no. I would encourage any share holder in SWDC to read the changes to the Articles and decide how you want to vote before the January 16th deadline or at the meeting being held January 16, 2018 at 6PM at the Jeremy Ranch Golf and Country Club.

Download document describing changes