Thursday, August 24, 2006


My apologies: I learned at tonight's monthly Arts Council meeting that, contrary to what I said in a previous post, Sam Payne is NOT the headliner at Saturday's Concert in the Park.

Saturday's booking is actually an LDS Music Fest, which Mr. Payne opened last year.


Nonessential Services?

Rather than raise taxes by twenty percent (an increase of $64.89 per year on a $170,000 home, or $5.41 per month), should the Council have shut down the Arts Council, the city celebration, and other so-called nonessential services? Some who were present at the August 8 tax hearing suggested this course of action, but the Council couldn't see the wisdom in it.

Here's a gem from our handbook, Powers and Duties: A Guide for Utah Municipal Officials, published by the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
The development of a sense of community is an often overlooked role of local government. People like to belong. Preserving an existing community or building a new community is in many ways as important as providing services. People's identities are tied to where they are from. One role of local officials is to make that place special. This is the reason festivals, town days, and ccmmunity events are held. Arts councils and youth recreation leagues are not a waste of time and money. They are part of what builds a sense of belonging and place. No one ever identifies themselves as being from service district number five. Everyone wants to have a home town. A local official's job is to make sure this happens.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Concerts in the Park

I grew up in a family of chauvinists.

The doctrine in my family of origin is that the piano is superior to all other instruments. My mother is a superb concert pianist who taught her children to love the piano. Mostly she did this by propping the music of Bach or Chopin in front of us at the keyboard; these spoke directly to our hearts. But she wasn't above using a little propaganda. Dinner table discussions often followed this line of reasoning:

"If you master the piano, you will be able to use it all your life. You will be in demand as a performer. You will be needed to accompany in churches and schools and many other exciting places. But if you spend your time on the clarinet" -- then came the worst threat imaginable -- "YOU WILL NEVER PLAY A SINGLE NOTE AFTER YOU GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL."

I would never, ever want to suggest that my mother was wrong. Especially not on the record.

But tonight in the American Fork amphitheater, I heard a memorable performance by a hundred instrumentalists -- all of them high school graduates, yet not a single pianist among them.

This was part of the Arts Council's Concerts in the Park series. We were treated to a beautiful performance by the Wasatch Winds under the very able direction of John Miller. I suspect that many members of the Wasatch Winds -- the Arts Council's new community band -- are graduates of the American Fork High School band program.

The Wasatch Winds were followed, tonight, by yet another superb ensemble, the Utah Premiere Brass. Led by another outstanding American Fork resident, Alan Boyer, the UPB seeks to revive the tradition of the British Brass Band. Here again, I suspect the group is largely peopled by AFHS alumni.

Two exciting ensembles peopled largely by high school graduates whose instruments -- clearly -- have been doing anything but gather dust.

I'm not saying my mother was wrong. Certainly not.

But I will cautiously suggest that neither she, nor I , ever suspected that a community like American Fork could provide so many outlets for musicians. [And I haven't even mentioned the American Fork Symphony or the Timpanogos Chorale. ]

If you are one of those people, who, having once performed a piece of music, can never again be content just to listen to it, then American Fork is the place for you.

If you haven't taken your family to hear at least one of the Concerts in the Park this summer, you've missed out. But there are still two more chances: Come hear Sam Payne on Saturday, August 26, or Ryan Taylor and the Utah Freedom Band on Monday, August 28. Both concerts begin at 7:00 p.m. in the amphitheater at 845 East 700 North, American Fork.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

How the Council Has Changed My Life

Here's another thing government service does to people: It changes the way they speak. I didn't realize this myself until my family confronted me with my latest addition to the Rodeback Family Rules of Conduct.


1. Time. Family Council shall be held every Sunday evening, commencing at 8:45 p.m. sharp.

2. Attendance. All members of the Rodeback Family (hereinafter "Family"), including the youngest members, shall be expected to attend.

3. Seating. Dad shall sit at the head of the table. Other members of the Family shall sit in their customary dinner places. All Family members shall occupy their assigned seats until Dad pronounces the conclusion of Family Council. Members shall sit in "listening position" (i.e. sitting with respectful posture and facing the Family).

4. Advance preparation. Dad shall have prepared a print copy of the Airset weekly calendar. Mom shall have prepared entertainments for the youngest Family members.

5. Governance. Dad shall chair the Family Council. The chair shall have power to conduct the calendar session and introduce other topics of discussion. No other member of the Family may change the subject without the chair’s permission, respectfully sought.

6. Conduct. No rude or derogatory comments by or about any member of the Family shall be tolerated at any time. Interruptions shall be disincentivized. Family members shall keep all hands, feet, and other pertinent bodily appendages to themselves at all times.

7. Refreshments. Refreshments, where applicable, shall be reserved until the conclusion of Family Council, and shall only be shared with those whose behavior has been deemed appropriate by Mom.
Personally, I think it's perfect.

Now It's Official: Twenty Percent Tax Increase

This is one thing service on the City Council does to people: It turns them from people who protest tax increases into people who raise taxes.

At least, that's the idea folks had at Tuesday's hearing, before the vote. (The Daily Herald thrilled to report the evening's sensationalism; nevertheless, the article does gives a complete picture of the evening. )

In truth, I do not feel this vote has compromised my integrity in any way. The way I see it, I have progressed from one who speaks on behalf of families and neighborhoods needing better parks, sidewalks, etc., to one who has the means to provide them.

The Herald said, "City Council members unanimously approved the increase after a public hearing where no one spoke in favor of the increase and many derided the idea." Actually, nobody spoke UP in favor of the idea. But several came to me afterwards indicating their support. I also have several emails to the same effect.

Tax increases will never go unprotested, and this is right. We do not want to give our governments carte blanche. But my read of the families of American Fork, based on years of activism, one very intense political campaign, and now months of close study, is that they want and need the basic services this increase will provide: safe routes to school; road maintenance; police, fire, and ambulance protection.


FIRST: The Council voted to reduce the increase yet again. First it was fifty percent, then thirty-five. The final vote set the tax increase at twenty percent above last year's rate. The reason is that valuations came out just the week prior to the vote, and in many parts of town, the increases were prohibitively high. Truth in Taxation -- as explained in a previous post -- does hold taxpayers harmless against the appreciation of their home values, but this only works in the aggregate. In the up-close- and-personal, many families were hit with punishing tax increases, so we did all we could to reduce the blow. I only fear that we went too far. The cut was made possible by reducing the "fund balance," which is the reserve fund for meeting emergencies and other unforeseen needs. High winds in Provo the other week wiped out Provo City's emergency reserves. I would have felt much safer keeping the fund balance intact.

SECOND: The Herald article said that Council members "struggled to answer" residents' questions. This suggests that the Council did not have answers; in reality, the problem was the difficulty of explaining governmental regulations clearly in the fifteen seconds an angry resident allows before he interrupts. For all who left the evening befuddled about Truth in Taxation, help has arrived. My husband, the closet math professor, has posted an elegant explanation of the law on his blog. You'll find it clear, concise, and helpful -- but you won't be able to reduce it to a fifteen-second sound bite.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Zoning Along 900 West: Top Ten Myths

Item 3 on Tuesday's City Council agenda, "Review and action on an amendment of the Land Use element of the General Plan for the area adjacent to 900 West between 450 North and 750 North," will be the most controversial item I have seen in all the years I have been monitoring these things.

Controversy tends to bring out people's emotional sides, and emotions often cloud fact. This is one reason why the Council tabled this item for two weeks, sending it back to the Planning Commission with a request for a more conclusive recommendation and better information.

Tonight we will vote, but before we do, I take this opportunity -- for my own benefit as much as anything -- to correct the misinformation that has crossed my desk.


10. "It's my property and I can do what I want with it." Actually, property owners may only develop land within the limits of its zone. From the time of the industrial revolution, our country has allowed cities, through zoning laws, to group compatible land uses together. As a result, all development must conform with the city's general plan, which is written by our city planners, adopted by the City Council, and overseen by the Planning Commission and City Council. So the landowner may only do as he pleases if his land use conforms with the general plan. We do, from time to time, make changes to the general plan. This area is a case in point. Right now, no commercial activity is allowed here. Commercial could only be allowed if the City Council voted to approve the zone change, and that will only be done if the Council determines that the requested change is "necessary to the promotion of the health, safety, morals, convenience or general welfare of the public."

9. "It's either commercial or high-density residential." False. The Planning Commission has repeatedly denied any validity to the idea that American Fork City would allow multi-family housing in this area of town. The highest that could happen is R-2 (twin homes), and these would only be accepted if needed to buffer the transition from a commercial zone to the existing low-density residential area.

8. "If 900 West remains in residential zoning, 500 North will go through." The fear is that 500 North will be opened on to 900 West, and this will become a thoroughfare for Costco traffic. But the question of 500 North is not related to this zoning question. The larger issue of traffic through this northwest neighborhood also includes questions about 600 North going through to 900 West; about pushing 1120 North through to 900 West; and about opening 540/560 West to Pacific Drive. It all needs to be part of a larger traffic study that the Council will consider funding. But none of it will be decided tonight.

7. "Residential dwellings will bring more traffic to the neighborhood than a commercial zone. " Not true, according to guidelines used by the planning department. Trips generated by Costco are expected to number about 6,000 daily. Contrast this to 30 new homes (10 acres multiplied by the current zoned density of 3 units per acre), which, in suburbia, typically generate 12 trip ends per day. 30 x 12 = 360. Far fewer than 6,000.

6. "Approve office space and American Fork will attract more high-end restaurants." But I am told that thirteen percent of our office space is currently unoccupied -- a high number for this market. It won't help to oversupply the market.

5. "We need more commercial retail to support our tax base." The hope here is that we can avoid future tax increases to our residents if we have more retail. But we already have more retail than we can fill. Only sixty percent of the space at the Meadows is developed; 62 prime Meadows acres are still being peddled in the national marketplace. We have 1,000,000 square feet of empty commercial near the 500 East interchange. Our downtown district is showing empty storefronts. There's plenty of commercial space to meet the demand. And, in fact, commercial demand only increases in proportion with new rooftops. We actually need more rooftops before our demand will meet the current commercial supply.

4. "If we don't get these national retailers here, they'll go to Lehi or PG, and so will their sales tax." Not true. The Meadows is the one and only place to be right now, and will be for the foreseeable future. Google an aerial map of the area and you'll see how our unique mix of traffic patterns and population explosion make this THE place. Then go check out that new strip mall at the Pleasant Grove interchange. It's empty.

3. "Commercial will bring a higher sales price to the seller." Actually, once we provide the necessary buffering between the commercial development and the neighboring homes, the marketable percentage of that property goes way down -- enough to make the $300,000 per acre residential price look very attractive.

2. "The highest and best use of the land is commercial." "Highest and best" is the subjective standard planners apply to land use decisions. But it does not refer to sales price. "Highest and best" is a situational standard. In the Meadows, "highest and best" is clearly commercial. But how, in a neighborhood well appointed with churches, schools, and parks, can there be a higher or better use for land than a family home?

1. "It's just a bunch of Relief Society sisters opposing the commercial zoning." I have never seen more professional conduct or a more thorough approach to research than what the concerned northwest neighbors have shown. If Relief Society is where they learned this, then there's another reason for me to be proud of my own membership in the largest and oldest women's organization in the world.