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Friday, October 17, 2008
One Group's Arguments against AF Bond Issue 1

Some are solid. Some are false and counterproductive. Some are in between.

One of American Fork's five bond issues has aroused some organized resistance, and I don't mean the two amateurish cardboard signs someone illegally placed on stop sign posts at 1120 North and 150 West the other day. There was a meeting of 40 or so residents on Tuesday evening to harden and organize opposition to the first bond issue, which is for road improvements in three locations in the city. What these residents care about is the extension of 1120 North westward to connect with 900 West.

I wasn't at the meeting, but -- despite the fact that Caleb Warnock's front-page American Fork Citizen article doesn't say where it was held (perhaps the Legacy Elementary library?) -- I trust his reporting sufficiently to base some comments on it.

Unless you're new to my blog, you know that I have already documented my opposition to all five proposed bond issues in two posts, where I explain what I see as the problems with each of the five and some administrative dysfunctions behind the scenes. My intention here is not to rehash all that, but to address several major points raised by the opposition and cited in Warnock's article. Some of the points have considerable merit and ought to be pursued; some of them don't and should not.

I'd be grateful if the bond issue's opponents would remember, as I suggest that some of their arguments are weaker than others, that I just said (again) that I'm opposed to the bond issue, too. 

Subsidizing Highland and Alpine

Residents argue that the principal (the article says "only") beneficiaries of the 1120 North extension would be Highland and Alpine residents going shopping, and that the full length of 900 West should be improved first. Warnock quotes organizer Kathryn Meiners saying, "Are you willing to pay $50 a year for 22 years so people from Highland and Alpine can go shopping?"

The background here, unmentioned in Warnock's article (so I don't know if it came up at the meeting) is that Highland in particular has for decades been unwilling to create sufficient and reasonable corridors within Highland for east-west traffic, and 900 West, a desperately needed north-south route, is severely underbuilt and already at what the engineers call "failure." I think it's reasonable to fear that a lot of traffic Highland should be handling with its own east-west arteries will end up using 1120 North, especially if 900 West is not upgraded before 1120 North is extended.

That said, American Fork and Lehi benefit from all that shopping. Sales tax revenues are the most direct benefit, but there are others. So it is an overstatement to claim that only Highland and Alpine residents would benefit.

This argument is a keeper, but opponents of this bond issue don't need to overstate their case. It is strong enough and more credible on its actual merits. The full length 900 West needs to be upgraded first or simultaneously -- nothing in the proposed bond issues would upgrade all of it -- and it would be even better if we waited a while for Highland to get its east-west act together.

(Can I be crazy for a moment? If Highland still won't get its east-west act together, maybe we should make the bridge that is part of this extension a toll bridge for nonresidents of American Fork. Tee hee.)

Those Darn Sneaky Council Members

As the argument goes, that dastardly City Council is trying to pit different sections of the city against each other by "sneakily" combining three projects into a single bond issue. ("Dastardly" is my word; sneakily apparently is theirs, if it's actually a word.) This is a typical and predictable paranoid stance some folks adopt when they try to relate to politics and government, but there are several problems with paranoia generally and in this specific case.

First of all, it should be clear to anyone who has really been following these bond issue proposals as they have developed that there's no sneaking going on. There are (1) a lack of prioritization -- an abdication of the responsibility to prioritize, really -- and (2) a thread of unprofessionalism running through it all. But I have seen no signs of (3) excessive calculation, in the sense of trying to pit one part of the city against another. Frankly, I'm still looking for a sufficient level of calculation in all this.

Second, the City Council is not unified where these bond issues are concerned. The vote to propose the bond issues was 3-to-2 (Councilors Storrs and Rodeback dissenting), and if we could know how each of the five votes on November 4, I'll bet that fewer than three of them vote for the bond issues. [Later note: I am advised that the vote to put the bond issues on the ballot actually was 5-0; I was remembering the 3-2 tax increase vote, I suppose. But if you ask the two I thought voted nay, City Councilors Storrs and Rodeback, you may find that they did so for some reason other than that they support and advocate the passage of the bond issues. -- DR, 10/20/08]

Third, making this argument in a meeting none of the Council could attend, because they were in their regularly scheduled City Council meeting, doing their jobs, is a bit of a cheap shot.

Fourth, paranoid arguments tend to prove intellectually lazy a lot more often than they prove true, and making them at all discredits both the people making them and their position on an issue.

Fifth, do people seriously think the City should have split up this proposed bond issue into two or three, so we'd have six or seven on the ballot? Five is already too many.

Sixth, there are still quite a few folks out there who are put off by personal attacks over political issues, which is one more way in which this argument hurts the cause of the people making it.

Seventh, bundling like projects together in a single bond issue is very common practice where there is no sneaky motive.

This argument belongs on the cutting room floor. Opponents of this bond issue don't need to indulge unjustified paranoia. Their other arguments are strong enough and more credible if they just drop this one.

Now Is Not the Time for More Debt

As Caleb Warnock reported it, "Residents also said [that] during this time of crisis, the city should not be taking on additional debt."

This argument was strong a month ago. It is much stronger now, a definite keeper. This one alone kills all five bonds issues, I think.


People who follow politics, especially local politics, are well acquainted with NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard. A stronger version is BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (or perhaps Anybody). In these neighbors' case, it's technically NIMFY, because we're talking about a street in front of homes, not behind them, but I'll stick with the accepted acronym.

NIMBY arises virtually every time a city is involved in the building or approval of anything. It's usually not as frenzied and irrational as it is when Energy Solutions, Inc., wants to transport and store nuclear waste to Utah, but it's usually not effective, either, at least with experienced elected officials.

Here's why. They expect it. It doesn't surprise them. They are to some extend immunized against it, because they see it so often, and they would be paralyzed if they responded to it even half the time.

Sometimes NIMBY works. That's how the American Forkers near the Carson properties along 900 West got themselves a good, non-commercial buffer between them and commercial development. (On this subject, by the way, see MFCC's recent blog post. If you don't know who MFCC is, see my recently expanded list of personal blog acronyms.)

But a key point in the anti-Carson case was that people bought houses next to the Carson property with the understanding that it was zoned residential, not commercial. That's a pretty good argument against rezoning to commercial.

Residents who complain about 1120 West being completed and attracting a lot more traffic than it has now simply don't have a case, especially when they complain about it changing the character of the street. The argument that the street will no longer be safe to play on is a variety of this; it holds no weight because it's not safe to play on now, and it was obviously never intended to be a cul-de-sac or a quiet side street.

Those who bought homes or even lots on or near 1120 West could have seen from the beginning what is still obvious: the portion of the street that exists is very wide and is obviously intended to be a collector. If they couldn't see that when they bought, or weren't sure what it meant, they could have checked the City's master traffic plan; 1120 North's role in that plan is not a new development. In short, they either knew or should have known what they were buying when they bought, in terms of the future character of 1120 West.

By the way, residents argue (according to Warnock's article) that 1120 North will "take up to 12,000 cars a day in front of American Fork Junior High, a fact which made residents furious." I do the junior high run with a student or two on some days, from more than a mile away, because there's no bus. I thought it already took 12,000 cars a day.

Seriously, if I were a betting man, I'd bet lunch at Mi Ranchito that the number (12,000) is either exaggerated or misinterpreted, or both. Moreover, if those "furious" local residents cared so much about the traffic in front of the Junior High, some of them would insist that their children walk to school. And a lot of them would be lobbying relentlessly for better walking routes to AFJH, including a light at 1120 North and 150 West with a proper high-traffic crosswalk. Moreover, the AFJH rush hour happens twice a day for maybe than half an hour on slightly less than half the days in a year. At other times, 1120 North could easily take a lot more traffic than it does.

If they needed this argument at all, which they don't, I might think it would be a keeper where a a public vote is involved, because NIMBY always resonates with some voters. But it is usually useless for swaying the votes of elected officials, even the attentive and sympathetic ones.

Elk, Fox, Deer, and Graffiti

Warnock writes,

Residents also said a bridge over Mitchell Hollow, a wetland open space, would destroy the natural beauty of the area and draw drug users and gang members, who would write graffiti on the bridge. The elk, fox and deer now living in the hollow would be forced onto the road, putting drivers in danger.

Actually, a big reason for using a bridge is to put the road where elk, fox, and deer can go under it, instead of battling automobile traffic on it. Similarly, a bridge is less intrusive on the wetland than a simple road.

The "natural beauty of the area" argument is ubiquitous. I am disinclined to give it a veto over a sensible, long-term traffic plan, but I would want the project not to have an unnecessarily negative impact on the local environment.

The drug users/gang members/graffiti argument smacks of the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to political persuasion. Local residents can do three very effective things to avoid these troubles: Make sure the area stays on the AFPD's radar screen, make sure the project design allows for relatively easy policing, and, better still, keep their own eyes open and maybe even organize Neighborhood Watch.

This set of arguments will have traction with some local residents, I suspect, but I think most people will see that it is possible to have both the 1120 North project and reasonable management of these issues. This is not the group's best argument, and they don't need it, but I'd be wasting electrons if I tried to persuade them to scrap it, especially the part about natural beauty.

Cannot Be Trusted

Last and possibly least, we're back to paranoia. Warnock reports,

In addition, the city cannot be trusted to actually spend the money the way they have promised, both Meiners and audience members said.

Actually, the City would be legally obligated to spend the funds in a matter consistent with the wording of the bond issue on the ballot. The combination of official corruption (or ineptitude) and public inattention that would be necessary to subvert this is rarer than most people think and extremely unlikely in this case.

I suggest that those who worry about this sort of thing involve themselves in local politics on an ongoing basis sufficiently that the aforementioned public inattention becomes an impossibility. If they actually do this, there's a reasonable chance that they'll also get to know the leaders involved. Then they'll understand why I dismiss this argument by saying that, for all my disagreements with things at City Hall, including these bond issues, I do not find it necessary or even defensible to suggest, for my own political advantage, that people I know, and whom I actually believe to be honest and law-abiding, are neither of these.

This argument doesn't help their cause. Inasmuch as it is both wrongheaded and slanderous, it actually hurts their cause. It belongs in the nearest dustbin.

Parting Thoughts

I'm opposed to the bond issues, but I'm in favor of good, responsible government, not just on the part of elected officials in their executive and representative roles, but also on the part of the people at large, in our sovereign role.

I've rather arbitrarily divided the meeting's reported discussion into six discrete arguments. Of the six, two are solid, and one of those is a show-stopper citywide, not just in one neighborhood. These arguments display the people of "government by the people" at their best and most responsible.

Two of the arguments are false, irresponsible, and counterproductive. These are self-government at nearly its most useless and self-defeating. Informed, justified paranoia is rare indeed; the knee-jerk, uninformed kind we see here is all too common.

Two of the six arguments are between these extremes, somewhere slightly on the useful side of the middle. They are effective if carefully applied to the right situations, and they are ineffective otherwise. They are unavoidable here, I suppose, but without them the two solid arguments would be more than enough to defeat the first bond issue proposal on November 4.

Finally, this good, responsible self-government I'm talking about needs a lot of light and only a little heat. It just doesn't work very well when we're "furious," to use Caleb Warnock's word, especially when we're furious in groups.

Wendy Hickman comments (10/24/08) (indented passages are from the post):

You said:

"By the way, residents argue (according to Warnock's article) that 1120 North will "take up to 12,000 cars a day in front of American Fork Junior High, a fact which made residents furious." I do the junior high run with a student or two on some days, from more than a mile away, because there's no bus. I thought it already took 12,000 cars a day.

Seriously, if I were a betting man, I'd bet lunch at Mi Ranchito that the number (12,000) is either exaggerated or misinterpreted, or both. Moreover, if those "furious" local residents cared so much about the traffic in front of the Junior High, some of them would insist that their children walk to school. And a lot of them would be lobbying relentlessly for better walking routes to AFJH, including a light at 1120 North and 150 West with a proper high-traffic crosswalk. Moreover, the AFJH rush hour happens twice a day for maybe than half an hour on slightly less than half the days in a year. At other times, 1120 North could easily take a lot more traffic than it does.

We made a mistake with our numbers. A major collector is built to handle 8,000 to 12,000 cars, so we went with 12,000 possible cars as our high number. Actual estimates at build-out put the number at 8,000 cars per day on 1120 North. We have used 8,000 cars per day since we got the new numbers (and also wrote to the Daily Herald to correct our error). In our defense, the city has three studies that completely contradict each other. We had two of those, but not the most recent one (which we now have the numbers from). Also, we haven't been able to determine if any of these studies account for the new MAG plan that designates 1120 North as a major east/west road from Cedar Hills to Lehi.

Also, our group IS currently working with AFJH to make better walking routes. My son (actually all of our children) already walks to AFJH. This, admittedly, raises our concerns about safety along this road. We're promoting raised cross-walks, speed tables, blinking lights and a better traffic design over-all. We're currently working with the PTA president and the AFJH principal to advocate for increased safety. Our efforts have already started the ball rolling on some of these changes. We see AFJH's start time as being particularly problematic because it will occur at the same time as the A.M. rush hour.

Wendy Hickman comments (10/24/08) (indented passages are from Mayor Thompson's op/ed piece, a link to which is below):

(Here are my responses to the Mayor's article (where he makes criticisms based on Warnock's piece). I have posted these on the Daily Herald site.)

I just wanted to send some clarifications/comments on the Mayor's editorial which appears in the Daily Herald today.

It has been implied that Highland is not stepping up to handle east-west traffic flow in their city, relying only on A.F. streets like 1120 North to carry their traffic.

I don't know if Highland is stepping up to carry their own traffic or not. However, my concern is that because Highland's road is not yet sufficiently improved for major east-west traffic, Highland, Cedar Hills, and Alpine drivers will develop a habit of using 1120 North instead. This will result in a dangerous amount of traffic in front of American Fork Junior High. In my opinion, Highland's roads need to be improved BEFORE we connect 1120 North and safety improvements need to made at AFJH.

It has also been implied that the City Council was "sneaky" in packaging both "good and bad" plans together "pitting different sections of the city against each other."

These comments were made by residents attending the neighborhood meeting, not by those organizing it. I do not personally agree with those residents.

The mayor and/or some Council members could have attended the neighborhood meeting and could have corrected some of the misconceptions aired there, but we knew nothing of the meeting.

Our original meeting was planned for a different date, but was changed to accommodate my birthday. It was an unfortunate coincidence that the city meeting was the same night. We did invite Andy Spencer (city engineer) to represent the city, but he was unable to come. There was no conspiracy planned here.

David Rodeback comments (10/24/08):

Wendy Hickman had her own op/ed piece on 1120 North in the Daily Herald earlier this month.

Sara Poulsen comments (10/14/08):

I am also one of the organizers of the 1120 North Opposition. We invited not only the Daily Herald, but also the Deseret News to this meeting, and you are welcome to read his much more accurate version of the meeting.

I have also been advocating many meetings with city engineers in regard to safety measures, wetland permits, water lines, better bridge designs and have e-mailed many of my concerns with their plan to Council Members beginning last September. We are simply trying to inform uninformed voters on the issues at hand. Please also see our blog to see several city documents regarding the issue. Please be careful who you trust for your facts. Thanks.

David Rodeback comments (10/24/08):

As a matter of fact, I linked to and cited the Deseret News article in a subsequent post, and linked to the 1120 North's group's blog there, too.

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