Friday, January 26, 2007

Responsible Citizenry

This time, last year, newly elected officials spent a day in training with the Utah League of Cities and Towns. We began by standing up, each in turn, to say why we had sought elective office. There was a good laugh when Pleasant Grove's Lee Jensen, still looking shell-shocked from the campaign, said, "Clearly I'm here for the money and the glory."

Mayor Thompson, when it was his turn, explained that he had served American Fork on its planning commission and as a president of Downtown American Fork, Inc. Having done so, he said, he saw that the City's needs, as he assessed them, matched his skillset, and he felt that running for office is one of the things a responsible citizen does.

Last week we were back with the Utah League of Cities and Towns, this time for the annual Local Officials' Day at the Legislature. The League's purposes for us were twofold: First, to provide a preview of the season's legislative agenda; and second, to give us a chance to lobby our legislators over lunch. Which we did.

For entertainment, the League shared a video. The video was modeled after a Jay Leno "Jay Walking" segment, wherein a very personable reporter posed elementary civics questions to Utah residents. Most could name all the judges on American Idol, but few could identify their mayor, senator, or governor. Most had equal difficulty with questions about how taxes are levied or how laws are made.

The League produced this video to show how important it is for us, the elected officials, to connect with the electorate. But the message I took was of the citizenry's overwhelming neglect of some of its most basic responsibilities -- to become informed, to vote intelligently, to practice oversight of government.

After the video, Governor Huntsman addressed us briefly. What he said triggered the memory of what Mayor Thompson said last year. The governor said, simply, that most of us are here because our turn has come to serve. Then he thanked us for taking our turn.

Mayor Thompson, in 2006, saw that the City's needs, as he assessed them, matched his skillset, and he felt that running for office is one of the things a responsible citizen does. So he took his turn.

Why do we need to be civically engaged? Because we are free citizens, and civic engagement is one of the most basic responsibilities of a free citizenry.

And because we never know when our turn will come.

My turn certainly took me by surprise. I never expected to do more for my country than vote -- until I moved into a community without parks. That's when I learned that a semester of government and a stubborn red-headed temperament are almost enough to make a difference. As the saying goes, "That plus a nickel 'll buy me a soda." To which I add, "That plus a thousand meetings can effect lasting change."

Why do you need to be civically engaged? Because your turn may be next, and we all need you to be prepared.

It's one of the things a responsible citizen does.

Friday, January 19, 2007


The wheels of government turn very slowly.

Here's a case in point. This time, last year, the City Council was invited to hear a presentation by the Shelley Elementary School Community Council. Problem: Sidewalks.

Everybody who is anybody was there: the principal, the PTA, the parents, school district officials, the Mayor and members of the City Council. There were handouts; there was Power Point; there were pictures. There was even a special guest appearance by Michael Gray, a fifth-grade student who makes his way to school each morning in a wheelchair.

We were given to understand, in vivid technicolor, exactly how bad the sidewalks are in the Shelley area. The overwhelming consensus, on the part of the City, was of the urgent need to fix the problem.

Now we fast forward one year to the present. One could almost conclude that nothing has happened. The sidewalks remain in the same sorry condition. Michael Gray braves the same route to school he did last year, a route that follows crumbling sidewalks, roads with no sidewalks, and corners where he has to bump himself down off the curb -- there are no curb cuts for ADA access.

Because of this apparent lack of progress, we on the City Council felt a pressing need to account to the Shelley Community Council. So we asked for a meeting. Here is the report we gave, summing the year's progress:
  • We authorized a transfusion of $100,000 to the sidewalk fund. This is the fund the City uses to split the cost of sidewalk repair with property owners. Before the transfusion, this category was funded at $10,000 per year, not nearly enough to address the need for safe sidewalks throughout the City.
  • We passed a tax increase to raise the money -- a tax increase which is surely a pulsing pustule on the public posterior -- but which was needed to fund this and many other cases of deteriorating infrastructure throughout the City.
  • We ordered the Public Works department to conduct a city-wide sidewalk inventory. The inventory showed $140,000 of need in the Shelley area alone. (Winter weather has stalled the inventory's completion, but we expect to have a complete picture of the City's needs later this year.)
  • We made the decision not to split the cost with the property owners in this low-income area, but instead to seek federal aid for the match money. The Public Works department is now in the process of applying for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) -- a process which includes meetings, meetings, meetings, an income survey, a public hearing, and waiting, waiting, waiting. The Public Works department has also secured the services of an outside engineering firm to help with additional grantseeking.*
If our grantseeking efforts do not succeed, it will take the City a minimum of two years to fund the entire Shelley sidewalk project. On the other hand, if we do get these grants, the project will be fast-tracked, and completion will be within reach by the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year.

This will be just twenty months after the request was made, not bad for a project involving both local and federal governments and $140,000 of taxpayer money. But it will be too late for Michael Gray.

For in those same twenty months, Michael will have graduated from fifth grade to sixth grade, and from sixth grade to junior high.

Conclusion: The wheels of government turn very slowly.

This kills me. But the good news is that when the sidewalk inventory is complete, and with the sidewalk fund receiving $100,000 each year, the City will be able to make steady progress toward the goal of safe routes to all our American Fork schools.

*Note: In this discussion of sidewalks in the Shelley area, I'm actually referring to the roads along the school's "Child Access Routing Plan." This is the route the school is required to file with the school district; it includes only the most immediate walking routes into the school. Thus, the $140,000 mentioned above does not cover all sidewalks in the Shelley area, and the waiver of property owner participation applies only in this area which has been defined as low-income by CDBG standards. Fortunately, the Shelley area also includes many neighborhoods of newer development where the sidewalks are still in good repair.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Utah Lake

Utah is a state famed for its "great and peculiar beauty," and Utah Lake is one of our state's great treasures. This is why I 'm so pleased with three recent actions American Fork has taken to preserve and enhance this beautiful natural endowment.

Utah Lake Management Commission

The first is not so recent, but came when the City Council voted last Spring to join the Utah Lake Management Commission. The Commission was created out of a belief that "Utah Lake is one of Utah's great natural treasures and that cooperation . . . would promote beneficial utilization of the natural resources of the lake, facilitate orderly planning and development in and around the lake, and assist in the . . . management of Utah Lake and its shoreline." [From the Interlocal Cooperation Agreement.] Its stated purposes include stewardship of both the natural environment -- meaning the water quality, the wetlands habitat, and the fish and wildlife -- and the human environment which surrounds the lake. Transportation, recreation, trails, access and parking, development, land-use planning and economic activity -- and the funding of all of these -- all are concerns of the Commission.

American Fork is represented on the Commission by our mayor. He is joined by the mayors of all other cities and towns bordering on the lake, by Utah County, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, and by various natural resource agencies including the forestry division and the division of wildlife resources.

Marina Overlay Zone

Second is the new marina overlay zone which was adopted by the City Council earlier this week. The result of long and careful study by the Planning Commission, this ordinance allows for private facilities which will enhance the American Fork Marina -- including picnic and camping areas, boat storage areas and launching ramps, recreational housing facilities, eating establishments and curio shops -- provided they fit within the designated area and comply with the regulations of the zone. The zone will not allow development on designated open space or protected wetlands or stream corridors, but, in time, it will allow more residents to access and enjoy Utah Lake. Kudos to the Planning Commission and the Planning Department for their vision and hard work.

Resolution Concerning the Alignment of the Mountain View Corridor

Third: At Mayor Thompson's behest, the City Council Tuesday night passed a resolution pertaining to three transportation issues: the proposed Mountain View Corridor, the Main Street interchange off I-15, and the possible restriping of State Street to become 7 lanes through downtown American Fork. The resolution establishes an official City position that staff and elected officials will represent when working with UDOT.

Each issue is significant by itself, but it is the Mountain View Corridor that impacts Utah Lake. Proposed as an alternative east-west traffic corridor, the Mountain View Corridor is intended to relieve congestion on I-15 and SR 89 (State Street). Various alignments through American Fork have been proposed. Tuesday's resolution establishes the southern alignment as the only acceptable alignment for American Fork. Why?

(1) Any more northern route will split the community south of I-15 in two. True, there is not much development there at present. But any future development will be forced into the same divisive residential pattern that now exists along our Main Street, with schools and congregations and scout troops straddling an artery that is physically impassible by pedestrians (and almost impassible by cars). This makes it very difficult to establish community bonds.

(2) The proposed southern alignment runs along the hundred-year flood line of Utah Lake, a line that also marks the boundary of American Fork's shoreline protection zone. Positioning the Mountain View Corridor along this line would create a natural barrier to development, enabling the City to protect the natural wetlands, stream corridors, and recreational opportunities that exist here. Any more northern alignment, and it will be difficult to prevent developers, with their passel of property rights and precedents, from encroaching into this zone -- even though any development would be at high risk for flood damage.


I grew up in western Washington state, a land liberally endowed with lakes, rivers, and streams. Every tiny town had some kind of lake access. Some of my best memories are canoeing with my brothers or scrambling through the woods to hunt for bullfrogs in the marsh. Lakes in our Utah desert, by contrast, are few and far between. I am so pleased to see American Fork taking these steps to preserve Utah Lake as the beautiful scenic monument it deserves to be.

Friday, January 05, 2007


January is aptly named for Janus, the Roman god of doorways and passages who is depicted with two faces on opposite sides of his head. In January, we look back on where we have been and forward to where we are going.

Looking backward, Councilmember Shirl LeBaron has listed highlights from 2006 in his blog, here.

Looking forward, Mayor Heber Thompson has listed priorities for 2007 in the January 4 American Citizen article, here.

Here follows my own personal to-do list for 2007. These are quality of life goals which pertain to my committee assignments. My hope is that these steps will inch us closer to the vision articulated in my campaign when I asked the question, "What Kind of City Do You Want to Live In?"


1. With the Mayor and City Council, work towards the Mayor's outlined objectives, including secondary irrigation, transportation, downtown revitalization, capital facilities planning, broadband transitioning, and the development of a sensitive lands ordinance.

2. Work with the Beautification and Shade Tree Committee toward becoming a Tree City, USA.

3. Work with a highly qualified task force to upgrade the Arts Council charter.

4. Establish a partnership between the Arts Council and The School of Music to stabilize and continue the tradition of excellence in our Concerts in the Park.

5. Work with the Library Board to inventory the library's holdings, a preparatory step to creating collection development goals that will meet the needs of our community.

6. Establish strong public communications policies and procedures for the City.

7. Assist with the creation of a mission statement for economic development in American Fork.

8. With the Public Works department, follow through on a promise made to the Shelley Elementary PTA by installing and repairing sidewalks on the school's Child Access Routing plan -- significant and meaningful progress toward the goal of safe routes to school.

9. Finally finish (if I may be so free with the English language) the parks bond by installing curb and gutter at Art Dye and Hunter Parks, and, if funds remain, finish the two unfinished ball diamonds at Art Dye park and install lighting at the skate park. Road upgrades in the neighborhood of the skate park were also promised, and I intend to agitate for this.

10. Do all the above within the limits of existing budget -- which, by interpretation, means no new tax increases.

There is a little-known law on the books which states that one blog post may not obligate future posts. Nevertheless, I predict that subsequent posts will see further development on many of these topics.

New Year's Resolution

Am looking at the date of the last post. August 24. Sheesh.

If you must know what happened, I will tell you. First, there was the water bond. An unbelievably intense period of research, evaluation, and public education.

Then the holidays were upon us. Need I say more?

My successful blogger friends tell me that the secret to successful blogging is to prioritize the blog. Accordingly, my new year's resolution is to blog faithfully once each week, no more, no less, rain or shine, news or none. I shall do it on Fridays, begging indulgence only during summer vacation, when my children's daytime presence will necessitate a shift to weekend blogging.

I know it seems wrong, but I usually do follow through on my new year's resolutions. Now that you know this, and now that I know you know it, there's no choice but for me to follow through!