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Thursday, September 27, 2007
Politics and Punch II: City Council Candidates and Issues

Streets. More streets. NIMBY, by gum. Water. Other stuff. First impressions of candidate Jason Porter. Three endorsements and a choice I'll have to ponder.

This is the second of three posts on tonight's PTA-sponsored "Politics and Punch" event in American Fork. The previous post sets the stage in several ways. This one addresses American Fork candidates and issues. The third treats education issues, principally vouchers. Note that, not ten minutes ago as I write this, I managed to lose some of my notes in a freak cut-and-paste malfunction, so I won't be able to give you a couple of good direct quotations. Next time, I must remember to copy-and-paste. 

Moderator Kevin Barnes noted near the beginning that a large percentage of American Fork-related questions dealt with a few critical streets. Given the recent, relatively public tempests on the subject, this is not a surprise. Even the water pressure-related questions were rooted in a street issue. So let's look at streets first, then water, then another item or two, then challenger Jason Porter. Then I'll make a couple of early endorsements at the end, in case you're interested in that sort of thing.


[Note: Alert reader Wendy Hickman sends a correction. The three-lane streets which I original called "minor collectors" in this section actually are called major collectors in American Fork's official terminology. I have corrected the errors below. To avoid confusion with Highland's different terminology, I now refer to three-lane collectors simply as "collectors" below. I also removed an unnecessary parenthetical remark of mine at the end of the first paragraph, which should not have been in the published version of the post. See Ms. Hickman's further comments and a good link below.]

The highest-profile street flap lately has been about 9600 North in Highland, which skirts the border of American Fork for a brief stretch. As you may recall, plans to make this a three-lane collector (one each way, turn lane in the middle) -- for which it is already wide enough for much of its length -- got blown up rather badly in some folks' fact-resistant imaginations. But 9600 North wasn't mentioned much tonight. When it was mentioned, it was in the valuable insight that the 9600 North people want the collector to be 1120 North, and the 1120 North people want the collector to be 700 North, and so on. The cooler heads on the Council noted that they're all supposed to be three-lane collectors, to keep any one of them from having a huge impact its neighborhood.

There was much discussion of extending 1120 North to the west, to meet 900 West, which will happen soon because it must (see the following section on water pressure). There was some mention of extending it to the east, across Art Dye Park, which is not likely to happen with the current Council. Actually, let me rephrase that. Based on tonight's discussion, it will not happen with the current Council, and is not likely to happen with a future one. (But you never know the future. Vigilance is warranted.)

Current Council members did a fairly clear job of explaining how 900 East is not going to be crossing the railroad tracks to reach State Street, another point of contention. It's in the city's general plan that way -- some officials say by mistake -- but it's really not practical. The key is a federal guideline, adopted by the state, that requires two existing railroad crossings to be closed for every one that is opened.

There was some discussion about funding for these road projects, but no real revelation on the subject. Predictably, there is not enough funding available at the moment for all the urgent projects.

Candidate Jason Porter -- who has lived in four states and two foreign countries, he reported -- also noted tangentially that some cities have embraced the rail lines running through their downtown areas and turned them into positive assets. I'd like to hear more of this idea.

I just this moment decided that I'm not in the mood this evening to bash the collector alarmists in general any further. I will simply note, before moving on, that one questioner asked, "Does the City Council even care?" about traffic and streets. He or she would know better than to ask that rude question, if the questioner cared enough to learn the facts, processes, and personalities involved, before throwing around thinly-veiled accusations.

Water and Water Pressure

There was some discussion of pressurized irrigation, but nothing newsworthy, except perhaps that Councilman Gunther cited previous councils' inaction on the subject as one of his motivations for running for office two years ago, and also observed that groundbreaking on the system may come as soon as November, when the engineering and the bonding are sufficiently complete.

More discussion was devoted to water pressure issues on the west side of American Fork. Extending 1120 North to 900 West also includes extending a 16-inch water main, which will then run south along 900 West to the Meadows and adjacent developments. The lines serving the area right now are barely adequate for fire protection. The larger supply is needed for the remaining major phase of the Meadows development; without it fire safety there will be compromised.

Moreover, some residential development in that area currently suffers insufficient water pressure, which has some serious possible implications for fire safety, and therefore some sobering potential legal liabilities attached. Someone asked if the pressurized irrigation system would not sufficiently remedy the water pressure situation to the west. The short answer is, no. The longer answer wasn't very clear; the unstated part of it was that, even if the culinary system as a whole has enough water, the pressure will still be low in a particular place if the pipe leading to that place is too small. So there is some urgency about the 1120 North westward extension, with its 16-inch water line.

The Meadows and the Past, and the Park

Someone asked for an explanation of the "20-year tax break" the City gave the Meadows development. (I don't think it was as long as 20 years, and its size decreases steadily over at least ten years, so it's not as complete as it sounds.) But no one present was on the City Council when those decisions were made, so no one offered to explain. Two or three of the incumbents did assure the audience that the current Council has served notice that the next phase of Meadows development will not receive such a break, and that they're looking for ways to get back some of the previous break. This seemed to satisfy the audience.

There was some discussion of inadequate traffic access to Art Dye Park, including possible additional access points which are being studied.

First Impressions of Candidate Jason Porter

In his opening statement, City Council candidate Jason Porter noted that he hasn't been to City Council meetings and is only now beginning to study the issues, but it eager and able -- the latter presumably because of some business success which allows him some free time -- to devote significant time to public service. (One wonders if he appreciates yet how much time most members of the current Council devote.) He seems bright, articulate, and sincere. (A politician should be articulate, if he can possibly manage it.) He alluded to some executive experience somewhere in the high-tech sector. If he can ride the learning curve as well as he thinks he can, I believe he would make a valuable contribution on the City Council.

That said, I must note some reservations. Some are probably insubstantial, mere vagaries of one evening's piecemeal rhetoric. Perhaps others are more significant, but it's too soon for me to tell. See what you think.

First, he doesn't seem to be an astute and aggressive campaigner, or to be in the capable hands of someone who is. This alone is probably enough to insure defeat in November. (To his credit, he did show up tonight, unlike one of the incumbents he's challenging.)

Second, he adamantly insisted that government should not go into business under any circumstances -- I mostly agree -- and expressed his delight that the City is trying to sell AFCNet, its municipal broadband system. I realize that a businessman is not necessarily an economist -- the reverse is also true -- but if his rhetoric were mine, I would temper its absolutes a little with an awareness of what the economists call large externalities -- a situation where it makes perfect sense for government to enter a market.

Third, more than once he said that in our democracy, it's an elected official's job to do what the people want. He's eager to serve, he said, but he needs people to tell him what they want -- and he gave his e-mail address two or three times, so we can. For my part, I want my elected officials to understand that I elect them to use their own judgment and intellect, informed by all the wisdom and sensible opinion they can absorb, to do what is best for the city. That is not remotely the same thing as doing what the people say they want in each matter, like a some sort of human weathervane. I'm not saying he should be indifferent to constituent input, but I'd be more comfortable if he felt his duty was, after considering all sides of a matter, to do what he believes is wisest in the things which matter most to people.

Direct democracy is a scary, often foolish, sometimes tyrannical thing. To pretend that we have it is to do injustice to our wiser system of government, a democratic republic, in which we elect leaders democratically so we don't have to have the people decide every little question democratically. Maybe, again, I make too much of one evening's rhetoric. Maybe not.

In any case, if Mr. Porter does not win a City Council seat in November, which doesn't seem very likely at the moment, I dare say he could make himself very useful in a significant volunteer role, and might make a very effective candidate in the future.


Truth be told, I want to get this little matter of endorsements out of the way so I can concentrate my election attention mostly, in coming weeks, on November's biggest ballot issue, school vouchers. Therefore, speaking for myself personally -- or in other words, speaking for all of us here at the blog:

Endorsement: Dale Gunther. A no-brainer, I know. Philosophically, I don't like a candidate running unopposed. In this case, though, I'm happy that he'll be continuing on the Council. He is an enormous assessment in several respects, not least the fact that he works very hard.

Remember that, except for Councilman Gunther, who is running unopposed for a single open half-term, there are four candidates for three seats on the Council.

Endorsement: Sherry Kramer. Smart, experienced, hard-working, sensible, and passionate about some things without getting carried away. I'm pleased she decided to file as a candidate only a few weeks into her interim appointment to the Council. If this race were such that she had to campaign full-bore, her campaign would be fun to watch and might make her the top vote-getter in the race. I wouldn't want to be caught on the other side.

Endorsement: Shirl LeBaron. I like his legal expertise, his experience on the Council, and the fact that he communicates -- meaning he answers e-mails, returns phone calls, and even blogs regularly. I think he is well suited to his role as a city councilor. One day soon, my endorsement will likely appear at his web site, since he asked.

This leaves two candidates and one seat unaccounted for among my endorsement. I offer no further endorsement, but I will describe the choice you and I have. If we're inclined to stay the course, we elect Councilman Rick Storrs to a fifth term. He's a good man and not a bad choice; he has his virtues, including most of two decades on the Council and some insights into City staff an operations which the other members of the Council don't have.

Or if we're inclined toward new blood, there is a good alternative -- which is high praise for the challenger, Jason Porter, in my mind. He seems able, willing, and capable of learning quickly. He might add a valuable dynamic to the Council and prove to be very successful. If he turned out merely average, that wouldn't be a disaster, either.

We have about five weeks to decide.

In reality, I'm not sure Rick Storrs even has to campaign in order to run away with first place in the four-way voting -- so maybe he isn't campaigning much. Porter does have to campaign a lot, if he wants to comptete, but we haven't seen him doing it yet. So unless something earthshaking happens, Porter is likely to end up -- in this election, at least -- as one of the more interesting and promising also-rans we've seen of late.

Just remember: There's no substantive polling or other research behind my predictions, just gut feeling. Sometimes -- often -- I'd be better off flipping a coin.

The final segment treats school vouchers and other education-related issues.

Wendy Hickman comments (9/28/07):

As I understand it, 1120 North was intended to be a MAJOR collector. I can't speak about the other roads (which I personally thought were also MAJOR collectors), but both Heidi and Sherry had personally confirmed that 1120 N was MAJOR. Also, it will have a MAJOR impact on our neighborhood because of it being a major collector.

I verified per the American Fork Transportation Plan that 1120 North, 700 North and 9600 North are ALL intended to be MAJOR (not minor) collectors. You can see this for yourself on pages 3, 4, 15, 16, 24, 25 and 34 of American Fork's transportation plan.

This is the text from page 34:

1120 North, 560 West to 900 West

This street, running west from 100 East, has been developed with a street width corresponding to the major collector section. 1120 North provides important east-west movement of traffic in the northwest part of the city and will be an important route in the future to access the 900 West corridor. As new development occurs, this roadway should continue to be developed westward to 900 West.

You said they were minor collectors and thus would have a minor impact. I think it is important for you to correct your information. I personally am not trying to pass off traffic intended for 1120 North. In fact, I would like to see all three developed in order to minimize impact on any one road. But make no mistake, the impact of finishing 1120 North will be major to our neighborhood.

David Rodeback comments (9/28/07):

You're right, my bad. I have noted and corrected the error above. Thanks for the correction and for the excellent link.

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