Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to District Five, Provo, and the World! May we find peace and love in our hearts and our community. May we have goodwill towards all. May that peace, love, and goodwill be reflected in our actions and our service to others.

West Provo

I know many of you are on the edge of your seat, anticipating my write up of December 6th's meetings. You'll have to hold on just a little longer. I'm part way through it, but much of my time has been focused on West Provo.

West Provo is the topic of this post and I recommend that anyone who has interest in the future of this area read through the end of it. It covers two topics: The requested authorization of eminent domain for the next phase of the Lakeview Parkway, and future development in the area of Provo west of I-15 and south of the Provo River, with a heavy emphasis on how agricultural uses are treated.

Eminent Domain

Authorization of eminent domain was considered at our 6 December Council Meeting, and the item was continued until our next meeting on 4 January. Many questions were raised during the meeting, to which we asked our City Engineer, David Graves to respond. He has done so. Normally this information wouldn't be published until the Thursday before the meeting (which in this case would be 29 December), but I requested that we get it out sooner to give the public more time to review it before the meeting. I'm grateful that the Council Staff were able to make it happen. So here is some light reading for your holiday enjoyment:

I should note that for the "Westside Connector" portion of the Lakeview Parkway, three separate times Public Works came to the Council to request eminent domain permission. I believe the three requests, all of which were granted, covered nine or so properties. If I remember right, 37 or so of the properties directly affected by this stretch have reached negotiated resolutions, including a majority of the nine. Only two properties haven't been settled on, and the City is still hopeful that agreement can be found on the last two without turning to the courts for eminent domain. My point is that even if we authorize eminent domain, it doesn't mean that it will be used. I believe it is everyone's hope that negotiated resolutions can be found for this next phase as well.

West Side Planning and the Purpose of Agricultural Preservation

In an extraordinary step for transparency because of the intense public interest in this topic, the Council made the meetings of the West Side Planning Committee open to the public. Even if you can't make it to the roughly every-other-Tuesday meetings, you can follow along here: You'll find summaries of each meeting, along with links to the audio of the proceedings.

One of the hot topics of study and discussion has been the future of agriculture in West Provo. We have talked a lot about "Open Space" which agricultural land can be considered, along with things like developed parks, and natural environs. A couple meetings ago, Committee members were given the "homework assignment" of explaining what they see as the purpose of agricultural preservation. I took this as a sincere question, because the outcomes that we want to achieve by agricultural preservation will determine how we go about the preservation. Avid readers of my blog (or should that be "avid reader") know that I already posted my homework submission, but for the rest of you all (or is it just "you") here is the link:

I'm checking into whether the rest of the submissions are considered part of the open meeting and can be posted. Hopefully we can get them onto the West Side Planning Committee blog very soon. So check back often!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Purposes of Agricultural Preservation

Heritage and Sense of Place
Farming has been a part of life in West Provo for the last 150 or so years. It is a part of the heritage of the area. Preserving agriculture in West Provo helps preserve that heritage. Healthy communities have a sense of place. Growth and develop in West Provo should be done in such a way as to honor and respect the heritage and sense of the area.

Psychological Wellbeing and Recreation
Agricultural land functions as a type of "Open Space". It is peaceful and can create a sense of wellbeing in many who merely look upon it. Getting out into an agricultural area can give someone a sense of solitude and a place to think, meditate, and reflect on the weightier matters of life. If we plan to spend public resources on something, we need to make sure that it is happening in a responsible, effective and efficient manner. If we set aside a certain amount of dollars to ensure that the residents of Provo have access to places which provide such benefits, we should use the use the money in such a way to get the biggest benefit for the most people. Other types of "Open Space" include developed parks and natural habitat. Certain sections near the Provo River bank allow for public access to wooded areas, like Paul Reams Wilderness Park, and the picnic tables along the last mile or so of the river before the Stake Park. Such areas could be preserved and expanded. Boardwalks could be built in the wetlands and in the coming Provo River Delta. The land could be used for developed parks, possibly even a regional sports park. All of these open spaces can provide important benefits to our community, and I think that a mix of open space types is likely to provide the best value for our investment.
Some of the best ways to provide interactive open space is through private ventures like the corn maze and the rope's course which already exist in West Provo. Other types of agritourism and recreation in natural(ish) settings may be private, public, or joint ventures. Salt Lake County's Wheeler Farm (a public park), or Young Living Farm in Mona (a private venture open to visitors), are examples from other places. A community garden would be another example. We should be prudent in how much public resources are used to support the retention and expansion of such amenities.

Food Security
West Provo has some of the best growing conditions in Utah. By restricting the land to only agricultural uses, we are less dependent on food being shipped in from elsewhere. I believe the last number of acres that we were discussing as having potential for development was 870. A rough rule of thumb is that one acre of land can produce enough food for one person ( So if we restrict development from all 870 acres, and all of it begins to be used for food production, we could theoretically feed roughly three-quarters of one percent of the current Provo population. Perhaps the bigger impact is that the population of Provo wouldn't grow as quickly, so one could argue that there would be more food security because there would be less mouths to feed. But the demand for housing in the region would not be any less and the population that wouldn't come to Provo would likely go elsewhere in the County, likely in less compact form, requiring even more agricultural land be developed which would actually decrease the food security of everyone in the County, including Provo residents. This is why the Agricultural Toolkit advocates for more compact growth which allows for less agricultural land overall to be developed.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Property Taxes and Effective Communication

I appreciate clear, concise writing. Likely because it is so hard for me to achieve. I was impressed by a paragraph in Braley Dodson's Daily Herald article this week reporting on the School District's vote to increase property taxes. I use far more words than Braley when I explain to residents why the City Council has to "raise" taxes, just to keep tax rates level. Here is Braley's description, followed by an interactive graphic that I created. Which one do you think is more effective?

"While assessed values of homes have increased locally, the amount of money the school district receives from property taxes has remained the same, meaning the tax rate has decreased. In that time, there has been inflation without any matching increases from taxpayers."

Friday, May 20, 2016

West Side Grocery

I received an e-mailed question about what it would take to get  grocery store on the West Side. Here is the question, along with my response:

Thank you Dave for the heads up on what's going on in my neighborhood. I was wondering what is it going to take to get a grocery store on the west side of the freeway? Is council even considering this after all the requests for it?

Great questions. Here is what it would take:

Option 1: Provo City creates a Department of Grocery Stores and gets into the grocery store business, buying the property, building the store, and the running the operation. Some in the community might not think it is the proper role of the City to run a grocery store. 

Option 2: Provo City signals a desire to attract a grocery store, and publicizes an ever increasing package of incentives until a group takes us up on the offer. If grocery store operators felt that they could successfully run a store in Provo, west of the freeway, they would already be there. Depending on the perceived profitability gap, the incentive package might have to be large. Some in the community might not think that offering huge incentive packages is sound fiscal policy for the City. 

Option 3: Provo City engages with the citizens to plan for a healthy, sustainable, vibrant community west of the freeway, allowing for enough people to reside in the area to make the operation of a grocery store an attractive opportunity for grocery store operators. It takes more time, but it builds the foundation for the area to thrive in the long term. The difficult part of this is helping residents think about what kind of community they want to live in, and what choices to make now to make that a reality. Not everyone shares the same vision of what the area should be. Sometimes we don't consider the longer-term consequences of our choices. If we choose to zone the area for half- and quarter-acre lots, there is a real possibility that no grocery store will ever choose to locate in Provo, west of the freeway. 

If a grocery store could appear on the Westside with a snap of the Council's figures, we would have already snapped years and years ago. I don't believe there is a Councilor who wouldn't love to see a grocery store there. I am very interested in the planning that is underway right now for the area. I am hopeful that we will make wise decisions about the future which will provide a great quality of life for all residents of our great city. 


Saturday, May 7, 2016

BRT Questions, Answers, and Discussion

I'd like to wrap up this round of the BRT saga. Much of my time over the past month has been spent communicating with residents about the project. Though much of the communication has been with people who disagree with my vote, it has generally been a positive experience, cultivating understanding on both sides. There were a few exceptions, like a new friend who called me a coward, thief, and either corrupt or ignorant, but overall it has also been one of the more rewarding experiences of being on the Council.

I want to share some snippets of conversations I've been having by email. There is no real order to the excerpts, I just skimmed through my inbox and grabbed parts that I thought might be interesting. I'm not using names, as I have not asked permission. I've taken the liberty to fix some of my grammar and edit for length. My words are in blue.
  • I wonder why we aren't putting in a train. I understand the costs. Let's put in a more safer, stable and more permanent system.
    • I am all for a train. There is a night-and-day difference between riding a regular bus and a lightrail train. The point of BRT is to try to take all of the aspects that make lightrail so appealing, and repackage them into a form that is much less expensive. BRT should feel much more like lightrail than a regular bus...UTA has indicated that they will change this system over to lightrail when there is sufficient population and demand. They note that by putting in dedicated lanes now, the corridor is preserved for rails in the future. As much as I would love to have lightrail now, I think BRT is the right intermediate step.
  • I guess the real issue for me is the vision of Provo's future. Will it remain a cute, friendly college town with strong LDS values or will it turn into another SLC.  I really don't want to see it turn into another SLC.
    • It's a bit cliche, but the most constant thing in Provo's history is change. Provo now is different than it was at the 20 years ago, which was different than the way it was 20 years before that, and so on. It has always been the heart of the County, and less rural than its satellite communities. It has remained the center through steady growth and development. Even its LDS-ness has shifted over time. In the early decades, Provo was a distance away, both physically and culturally, from the center of Zion. Church leaders in Salt Lake often chastised us for lax observance, including the slow efforts to build the tabernacle. In many ways, the cultures of the two cities have swapped.I love the culture and the uniqueness of our city, I think it is part of what makes us great. Growth and progress have brought us to this point. I think we would destroy what we have if we tried to freeze our community in place. I feel that we instead need to carefully plan how we can maintain our great quality of life even while we grow.Growth will come. Success attracts people. And much of our growth will be from our own children. Even if we could freeze our population size, we would have to give up our role as the business, education, cultural, entertainment, commercial, and government center of the County in order to shield ourselves from the impact of the large County growth.If we are going to double the number of people traveling on our roads, we can't just double the width of our roads. Traffic and congestion is coming, unless we can provide commuters with convenient alternatives. Some of our residents may never ride on a BRT bus, but they will benefit from the service by having roads that are less congested.
  • Please help keep us free.  I am grateful you are so open, I really am.  Every new regulation, every new program, every new public benefit is one degree less freedom we all are left with.  The government who has the power to give us everything also has the power to take everything we have from us. As [redacted] said, 'freedom is the fuel which government consumes'.  (This quote was attributed to a locally-elected State official.)
    • One of the freedoms that I relish in America is the freedom of self-governance. The concept of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is truer in local government than any other level. There is always tension and a tug-of-war between different levels of government, but we, as a community, enjoy a fairly broad ability to chose what kind of community we want to be and what we want to become. We have the ability to chose if we want to run our own electric utility, we can chose how we want to set up our transportation infrastructure, we can chose, to some degree, how we want to run our school system. At its best, government is the vehicle by which we exercise this freedom.
  • I do have one question; who pays to remove BRT stops should BRT fail?  
    • The lease agreement that we are considering spells out UTA's responsibility to pay for the removal of any infrastructure they put in if it is no longer used.
  • UTA proposed, in one of their presentations, that folks would ride BRT to the Orem mall, go shopping, and return by bus.  Personally, I want them to shop in Provo…but who goes school shopping for a family of six or seven on the bus when they have a family car?
    • I don't think that school-shopping families of six are the intended customers for BRT. They are welcome, but are not who this line is being built for, in my opinion. The #1 intended customer is the commuter. Imagine someone who lives in Provo and works some place north of here. BRT may give them quick access to FrontRunner. Or imagine the reverse. Some one lives north of Provo and has a daily commute into our Downtown, or to BYU, or to the Novell campus. BRT may make it much more convenient for them to take FrontRunner, because it solves the problem of how to get to where they are going once they get off the train. Imagine the impact to our congestion and our air quality if a significant number of people leave their cars at home, or at a FrontRunner station far from Provo. Imagine the financial impact to some families who will be enabled to get by with just one car, because of the option to commute using transit. I believe the second intended customer is the university student. Many BYU and UVU students feel the need to bring a car with them to college. Recent and coming changes will convince more of them that a car is an expensive luxury that they can do without. The new BYU shuttle is helping some students leave their cars at their apartments, but they still need their cars when they are going places other than campus. BRT will make two malls and our wonderful Downtown easily accessible without driving. I'm sure that BRT will be used by some other people, and will help with game-day traffic, but it is not intended to be the be-all, end-all solution to everyone's transportation needs. Even people who will never ride it will benefit from BRT because of the reduction in congestion and the improvement in our air quality that it will bring.
  • I don't think the city should be involved in using public funds to create or enhance a public transit system. If we are to have public transit, it should be run like a business. The company could contract with the city to get permission to use roads, perhaps, or build bus stops, but the funding should come from the company, not from the city. If public transit is going to be so good and so profitable, why couldn't a private investor put down capital and get a business loan like everyone else?
    • I'm curious why you think transit should be privately run, but roads should be publicly run ("focus funds on fixing roads"). We could sell our roads to the highest bidder and have them pay for the repairs and upkeep and then charge drivers whatever the market demands for usage.
      • You also bring up an interesting point regarding the government's role in public transportation vs. public roads. I had to think about that one for a bit. I guess my short answer is that if I felt there was a feasible way to privatize road building and maintenance, I would be in favor of that as well. The reason I don't think it is feasible is primarily due to ownership of land. It would be nearly impossible for a private company to coordinate the purchase and use of so many rights of way. The actual construction and maintenance can obviously be contracted out to the lowest private builder, but the ownership and control of roads is one of the few things that I think is better handled by government. It is also important to note that EVERYONE uses the roads. Everyone pays taxes and everyone benefits. 
        Public transportation is markedly different. First, there are no substantive issues with land. Any minor use by a transit service (for signs and bus stops) is on land that has already been set aside by the government. Second, the demand for public transportation is very low. It is not something for which tax dollars seem appropriate, especially when it would not be hard for a private company to offer an efficient transportation service (e.g., taxis, shuttles, etc.).

        I believe that anything that can be done privately should be done privately. The more government can deregulate and get out of the way, the better. In all of these things, we need more people like you who are willing to present the issues and engage in discourse with your constituents. Thank you for your time.
        • Before serving on the Council, I spent a couple of years on the City's Transportation and Mobility Advisory Committee, and studied and thought a lot about transportation policy. You say that "EVERYONE uses the roads" to which I agree, but I would frame it as "everyone has transportation and mobility needs". The people, at least partly through their government, set up transportation systems. Back in settlement times, roads were mostly for pedestrians, but other modes of transportation were also welcome, including horses, carts, and wagons. For a time we had a "Provo Street Railroad" ( Right now our transportation system is designed mostly around private automobiles. Other cities rely of public transit to varying degrees. Every system has consequences, both good and bad. Because of our unique geography, our automobile usage has a greater impact on air quality than most places. Building up our transit infrastructure will broaden our transportation options and will diversify our system. Even people who will never ride transit will "use" and benefit from the system, just as someone who doesn't own a car, or even is home-bound, still uses and benefits from our current system. I'm not necessarily arguing for the BRT project here, just that there is a public need for transportation, and that it is wise for community leaders to thoughtfully plan for a transportation system that best meets the needs of the people.
  • I'm sure you know, but the UTA has already been much in the news in recent years for their baffling, corrupt, and unethical actions. This is my no means intended to be an attack on ALL of UTA; I'm quite certain that many of them are honest, caring people trying hard to solve real problems. However, as the old proverb warns us, "the fish rots from the head down;" I am very concerned about giving more of our tax money to an organization of which the Office of the Legislative Auditor General so recently warned us is estimated to be approaching a shortfall $1.2 billion against their projections from 2007. Rail maintenance continues to be dangerously underfunded, there are still significant, unanswered questions about the UTA's Farebox Policy, and so on.
    • Finally, I think the willingness of UTA to enter into this unprecedented project governance model where they cede their control, is yet another indication that the agency has been sufficiently chastened and is reforming in earnest. Agency culture does not change over night, but I am seeing encouraging signs. Of course, much is in the eyes of the beholder. When the fall out from the Switzerland trip hit the news a few months back, some saw it as a sign of continued corruption at UTA. I saw it as a sign that it is no longer business-as-usual at UTA, that board members didn't follow strict, newly-created policies, and they were swiftly shown the door. I do have confidence in H. David Burton, and look forward to the continued improvement at UTA and the eventual restoration of public trust. 
  • "Listen to the people whom you are sworn to represent, please." "The majority of your tax-paying constituents are opposed to BRT.  Please listen to the people you were chosen to represent." "It seems like common sense to me to see that this is not something the people in this town want, or even need."
    • Excerpts from "Results of the 2014 Provo Registered Voter Poll 5 June 2014"
      Quin Monson

      The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy Brigham Young University

      "Bus Rapid Transit Provo City’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal has proven to be a controversial issue. However, the 2014 survey confirms that voters in Provo overwhelmingly support BRT, with nearly 79% of respondents indicating that they either somewhat (38%) or strongly (41%) favor BRT.

      "Favorability Analysis: Statistical analysis demonstrated that the area of the city in which a respondent lived does not play a significant part in the level of support of BRT, with the notable exception of those neighborhoods directly east of Brigham Young University. Among respondents in precincts 11 and 36, often referred to as the “Tree Streets,” support of BRT was significantly lower, though still above 64% overall. The key difference between this neighborhood and the rest of Provo is the significantly higher rate of “Strong” opposition to BRT, indicating that a minority of residents have intense feelings on the issue, while the neighborhood, taken as a whole, remains supportive of BRT. Our survey questions did not address specific routes for BRT, although these results are likely due to the proposed route on 9th East, to which many residents in this area have voiced opposition."

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Donkey Games

What would you do...
...if you were asked to play basketball? front of a large crowd?
...while riding a donkey?
...for a fundraiser for students?
...and the United Way of Utah County?

I said yes.

Come watch me make an, um, well, fool of myself, along with many others in the community for a good cause.

Click here for more information.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Internet Sales Tax

I received a phone call last week from "Americans for Prosperity." Perhaps you did too. The caller asked if I was aware that the Utah Legislature was considering collecting sales tax on Internet purchases. I indicated that I was. She asked if I supported this effort. I indicated that I did. And then she was no longer interested in talking with me. I can only guess at what she would have told me if my responses were different. I do know what I wanted to talk to her about. I wanted to talk about the email that her group sent me a couple weeks ago. Perhaps you received one too.

Since she wasn't interested in continuing our conversation, I guess I'll have to post my thoughts here. But before I address the email, I should establish some context.

I don't particularly enjoy being taxed. I don't like paying my cell phone bill. I often complain about the doctor's bill. But I'm glad that I have access to high quality medical care, I choose to pay for cell phone service, and I use the services provided by my city, county, state, and country. When I stop and think about it, I'm grateful for the opportunity to pay these things and for the benefits I get in return.

Two more things touching taxes. Just because I don't oppose the principle of taxes, doesn't mean I blindly support any tax. Which services should offered by the government and at what level of service are very sensitive questions and the answers may be different in different communities. An important part of our self-government is choosing, through our representatives, which services we want to receive (and pay for). Much of my time on the Council revolves around trying to provide the best value to Provo residents for their tax dollars. The City as a whole is very conscious of this balance.

Apart from the use of taxes, is the system for levying and collecting taxes. Volumes can be written on this subject, but let me just say that generally we (the people) agree that everyone should pay their fair share (and that there are many different ideas of what people's fair-share looks like).

So with that, let's jump into the email:


If you're anything like me, you buy a lot online. It's the way of the future and so much more convenient than going to the store.I could quibble here about what the future might look like or the convenience and amazing customer service I find in visiting my local stores, but that's not my main point.
And for years, when you bought something online, they  didn't collect the sales tax. But now? Does the nebulous "they" refer to the State or online retailers? This matters because the "truthiness" of this assertion depends on who "they" refers to. The state requires all residents to pay a sales tax on everything they buy and attempts to collect all of it. If sales tax wasn't collected and remitted for us conveniently at the time of transaction (like brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers with a "presence" in the State) then we are required by the State to remit this sales tax when we file our state tax return. I know from experience that trying to calculate the amount of sales tax owed on Internet transactions, where sales tax wasn't collected, is very onerous. Anyway, this paragraph is misleading, and is only true of online retailers without a presence in Utah.
Lawmakers are looking to do away with that tax break by forcing retailers to collect the sales tax on internet sales.Calling this a tax break ignores the fact we are already required to pay it. It's only a tax break in the spirit of the "five-finger discount" (which isn't really a discount).
Which means all of your online shopping is about to get 4.7% more expensive. Not to mention, its going to create an uneven playing field between megacorporations with the resources to comply with the tax code in any number of different jurisdictions and small businesses who don't have the same kinds of luxury. Not all, I'm sure any avid online shopper has noticed that some sites collect sales tax. And shopping on sites that don't, only gets more expensive if you (knowingly or unknowingly) weren't paying the required sales tax at the time of your tax return filing. The "uneven playing field" argument is ironic and laughable. Laughable, because the thought that it would be hard, or expensive, for anyone, including small businesses, to access the sales tax rate for any US address, is silly in the information age. Ironic, because any brick-and-mortar store owner would love to tell you about the "uneven playing field" that exists because not all online retailers are required to collect sales tax.
Which brings me to my next point: we need to stop this bill from moving forward. Would you mind signing our letter to lawmakers today? Tell your legislator: don't tax the net! Purchases on the Internet are already taxed. Requiring online retailers to collect sales tax only makes it easier for people who believe in the rule of law to honor, sustain, and obey it.
Your wallet will thank you later.

For freedom,

Evelyn Everton
State Director
Americans for Prosperity Utah 

Two bills are before the State Legislature which address this issue and are now being actively debated. Part of these bills is a provision that it will be revenue-neutral to the State, meaning that the Legislature will reduce the overall sales tax rate so that the overall State sales taxes generated will remain the same.

So why should I weigh in on a city-focused blog? Sales tax is the largest source of funding for City services. As more purchases move online, less sales taxes will be generated and the City will have to raise taxes elsewhere to fund the same services. Also, our physical retailers play an important role in our community in many ways, including providing jobs and convenient and timely access to goods.

I encourage everyone to get informed on this issue before contacting your Legislators or signing any petition.