WEST VALLEY CITY — West Valley leaders continued to protest the site options for a new homeless resource center Monday, accusing Salt Lake County of using a "fake process" for identifying and soliciting public input on the sites.
"This is not a process; this is the appearance of a process, and that is unacceptable," said West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle.
A group of legislators representing West Valley City and surrounding communities also joined the fray, penning a letter Monday calling on the county to "return to the drawing board."
If it comes to it, West Valley City would go as far to launch litigation against the county to stop a homeless resource center, Pyle said.
"We will fight this process with whatever means we have available," he said.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams earlier this month announced five possible site options — three in West Valley City and two in South Salt Lake — to be considered for a third homeless resource center, in addition to two planned to be built in Salt Lake City in order to overhaul the county's homeless services model.
Legislation signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, HB441, requires the county to recommend a site to the state's Homeless Coordinating Committee by March 30, and gives the state the power to choose the site despite any city opposition.
Leaders from West Valley City and South Salt Lake have protested all five sites, arguing their communities already do their fair share of affordable housing or homeless services, and that a new facility with up to 300 beds would drain and strain their already stretched police and fire departments.
On Monday, Sens. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, and Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, along with Reps. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, and Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, released an open letter "voicing our staunch opposition to the proposed sites for a new homeless shelter."
"There are many reasons for our opposition to these sites. Chiefly among them: safety, compatibility with our communities, and impacts to businesses and homeowners," the letter states, with the lawmakers decrying the lack of discussion with local officials.
The group asks the homeless commission to "come up with a solution that does not simply sweep the state’s homeless population onto the west side of the county where they will be out of sight and out of mind."
West Valley Mayor Ron Bigelow and South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood have also criticized McAdams for selecting the five sites with little collaboration with city leaders.
They also say the process has been too rushed, and that the five sites aren't a right fit for the shelter.
"As a city, we have no intention of being railroaded," Pyle said. "We've had our staff do some of the due diligence the county could have — and should have — done before announcing the proposed sites, and this is yet another way that exposes the county's process for what it really is."
Pyle said in the few weeks since the five sites were made public, West Valley staff have identified at least 40 other sites in Salt Lake County that would be appropriate for a homeless resource center, using criteria such as proximity to transit.
Though McAdams has said he's open to recommendations and has encouraged other suggestions, Pyle said West Valley officials won't share the list because they don't want to pit their city against others and that the list was one Salt Lake County should have produced in the first place.
"In addition to us not wanting to pit us against other cities, this is work the county should have already done," Pyle said. "They've got the staff, they should have come up with this list. Why didn't they?"
McAdams wasn't available for comment Monday, his spokesman Michelle Schmitt said, but the county mayor has said his staff, when selecting sites, did have some other sites lined up, but real estate negotiations didn't pan out.
McAdams has also said site options become more limited the farther south they are because the criteria for a new homeless resource center — including a 1.2-acre lot size and proximity to transit to create access to Salt Lake City's downtown homeless services — must be balanced with an affordable cost.
Though McAdams has acknowledged the time constraints require an "abbreviated" public process, he has said county officials are working to ensure public opportunity for input is "robust."
Salt Lake County has held two open houses to solicit public input on the sites to help the county make an "informed decision," McAdams has said, and county officials are taking the input to heart.
"I'm here listening. We do care," McAdams said at an open house Saturday, which was attended by about 300 West Valley and South Salt Lake residents. "We want to make the best decision possible."
Recource center meetings
An open house is scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. in West Valley City at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, 1355 W. 3100 South.
More public comment is scheduled during the county's site evaluation committee meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Capitol in Senate Building Room 210.
The county's site evaluation committee is expected to deliberate and rank the five sites for recommendation March 28 at 6 p.m. at the Capitol.