Quantcast

John Florez: Do city governments really listen to the people?

Published: Saturday, May 5 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this 2009 file photo, Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker listens during a public hearing Tuesday before the Salt Lake City Council regarding ordinances he proposed to protect gay and lesbian residents from housing and employment discrimination.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

City governments are supposed to be best because they are closest to the voters. Politicians, while campaigning for office, listen to the people and their concerns so they can represent them when elected. However, once in office, they tend to latch on to the latest fad and listen to the "experts" who sell them on the idea du jour. Forgotten are the people.

When Salt Lake City's mayor first campaigned for office, he listened to residents and gave hope their concerns would be carried out. Now, he seems more interested in doing what's in vogue. In the past, it was preservation of our neighborhoods; maintaining the historical stock of our homes; and green and open space throughout our neighborhoods. Now, the new buzzwords are "sustainability," bike paths and walkable neighborhoods.

The mayor and council members seem to have forgotten the attractive character of an urban city is the diversity of its population, including the young and the elderly, who built the city, take pride in their property and pay taxes. They want neighborhoods that are "accessible," safe, clean and affordable. Instead, the mayor and council approved an $18 million bond for the design of a theater, yet decided not to replace burned out streetlights. If residents want lights, the mayor has proposed an additional $2.29 per month added to residents' utility bills. Public safety, one of the main purposes of local governments, seems to have been ignored.

The new members of the council said they were elected to make sure voters had a greater voice in city hall. Now, they have joined the mayor in listening to the urban planning "experts" that have sold them on promoting the mayor's "sustainability" agenda. The experts have told him the city needs more population density that makes better use of existing land.

As such, the mayor has proposed a new ordinance, Accessible Dwelling Units, or ADUs, also called "mother-in-law" units. It is sold on the idea that younger people would want to be close to their aging parents. How about increasing population density by providing incentives for building on the many vacant properties that could be turned into housing units, or penalties for leaving them vacant?

Most egregious is how city officials have been disingenuous and violated the public's trust. Even though they knew past ordinances and codes prohibiting ADUs have not been enforced, they say they don't have the resources to enforce them. To solve the problem, they propose to "grandfather" those that have violated the old ordinances applicable to ADUs. They claim the new ADUs will require the owner must reside on the property. So, how can elected officials, in good conscience, propose an ordinance that they know will not be enforced? City officials are supposed to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities by assuring their laws are being enforced in a timely and cost-effective way.

The question is, who needs ADUs and more population density? Alert residents know the city is unwilling to enforce existing codes that encourage slumlords to flourish and the deterioration of neighborhoods, including public safety.

While we have grown to be skeptical about state and federal government, we still want to believe that city government is best because it's closest to the people. Salt Lake is the capital city and ought to lead in having a government we can trust. Politicians should not pass laws they are not willing to enforce. Our government is too precious to leave to the experts and leaders who are unwilling to stand on principle. It's up to citizens to keep politicians honest. It ought to be the citizens, not the "experts" who decide what's good for our community.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS