Someone broke into Tia Barner's car last week.
Her Buick LeSabre was parked nearly under her bedroom window, in the driveway of her Cottonwood home, but someone jimmied the lock and stole her cell phone, some coins and a bag full of dry cleaning."I never dreamed this would happen - not in my neighborhood - but that's the kind of place we're turning into. And I'm not sure what to do. Do I start Neighborhood Watch? Do I get a security system?"
Barner, mother of three children under age 6, isn't the only one wondering.
The majority of Utahns are troubled by increased crime, air quality and travel time that will result from continued growth along the Wasatch Front, according to a study released this week by Brigham Young University professor Lawrence Walters.
And 86 percent of people said some increase in property tax toward improving safety would be "fair and reasonable," according to the survey, sponsored by BYU and Envision Utah and paid for by the National Science Foundation.
"Utahns have often been characterized as fiscally conservative and anti-tax," said Walters, an associate professor of public policy and management. "But these results show Wasatch Front residents are willing to pay for specific improvements that are important to them."
After learning about the study late Wednesday, Barner agreed.
"What are the alternatives? Nothing. We can move," Barner said. "Salt Lake is the big city."
And so it is.
There will be three times as many people along the Wasatch Front by 2050, experts predict.
We will grow by 43,000 residents - adding a community about the size of Bountiful - each year. In 23 years, this area will reach the size of San Diego.
The study is part of a statewide effort to plan for Utah's inevitable growth in coming decades. It was based on 1,316 usable responses collected from 10,000 surveys sent to residents in Box Elder, Davis, Salt Lake and Weber counties; and revealed the following sentiments:
- One quarter do not feel safe in their own neighborhood, and more than half said they will feel less safe with substantial growth.
- Forty percent of people with lower household incomes - defined as $15,000 to $29,999 annually - do not feel safe now.
- The poorest residents, with incomes less than $15,000 each year, were the most willing to pay higher property taxes to improve safety. Nearly 95 percent said they would find some increase "fair and reasonable."
- Although 70 percent said they were troubled by the concept that growth will mean more people can't afford to buy a home, 42 percent want to minimize low- or moderate-income housing.
- Only 57 percent of people were moderately to considerably pleased employment will continue to grow in this area, increasing by 21,000 jobs each year. In analyzing the survey, Walters noted that increased employment was the only growth factor seen as even slightly positive.
- More than half the respondents didn't care that many more people will use public parks, nature trails and bike paths.
- About 80 percent of people were willing to pay more property taxes for more parks.
- Three out of four residents characterized air quality as a "quite important" or "extremely important" aspect of their neighborhoods, ranking it ahead of travel time to work and property tax rates.
This point was most surprising to Dave Hymas, a BYU master's candidate who worked on the survey.
"The only things that worried them more were violent crime - rape, murder, assault, robbery and property crime," said Hymas.
Pam Hoffmeier, who spent Wednesday night with her teenage son scouting the Cottonwood Mall for new sneakers, said this shouldn't be a surprise.
"Look outside. The air is filthy some days. And Utah doesn't have the best reputation for taking care of air problems," she said. "As a mom, I want to know someone is looking out for those kinds of things we can't see, along with the things we can, like buildings and tons of cars."
Soon, residents like Hoffmeier and Barner will have a chance to register comments on the huge growth planning effort now under way in the Beehive State.
In January, Envision Utah will launch a public awareness campaign and will outline four possible "growth scenarios" for the future of this area. At that time, state officials will have figured out the costs and consequences for each scenario: how mass transportation would work, how air quality would be affected, how much water Utahns would need given a certain growth pattern and how much each choice would cost.
Envision Utah, which is sponsored by the Coalition for Utah's Future, does not advocate a particular growth strategy.