SALT LAKE CITY — Marlene Jennings, who lives on Salt Lake City's west side, campaigned for Gov. Gary Herbert in 2016, but on Thursday, she took her campaign shirt back to the governor's office to send a message.
"I want him to know he has support from Salt Lake residents, and we expect him to represent (our) interests in vetoing SB234," Jennings said, as she handed the shirt to the staffer at the governor's office front desk.
The staffer, Brooke Hussey, told Jennings the governor wasn't available because he was in a meeting, but accepted the shirt and said she would relay the message.
Jennings was one of several Salt Lake City residents who gathered at the governor's office on Thursday to protest SB234, a bill that would create a governing board to oversee the development of a global trade area in Salt Lake City's northwest quadrant.
The bill — which Herbert has indicated he will sign with plans to make tweaks to it at a future legislative session — would create the Utah Inland Port Authority, an 11-member board made up of a majority of state officials, with one seat from the Salt Lake City Council and one seat from Salt Lake City International Airport.
"My concern is the state is taking away our representation," Jennings said. "We elected (council members) to represent our interests with the city. We elected Mayor Jackie Biskupski. We didn't elect our state representatives to manage our city."
The governor was in meetings away from Capitol Hill, so he was not aware of the visit by Salt Lake City residents, governor's spokesman Paul Edwards said in a statement.
Edwards noted that since March 1, the governor's office has handled 973 complaints about SB234.
"As is our policy, every constituent who has requested a response from this team will receive one," Edwards said.
"Since the passage of SB234, Governor Herbert has overseen an inclusive and deliberative process to understand the concerns raised by those who oppose this bill," Edwards said. "He has met with Mayor Biskupski by phone and in person numerous times to listen to the city’s concerns. He has also counseled closely with the bill’s sponsors and legislative leadership."
The governor's office declined to comment on a question of whether Herbert still intends to sign SB234.
The Governor's Office of Economic Development, however, issued a press release 30 minutes after the group's visit to the governor's office calling the inland port a "win for Utah" and stating Herbert "has indicated his intent to sign the bill in the coming days."
“An inland port in Utah means thousands of jobs and opportunity to the state,” said Val Hale, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and co-chairman of the state's Inland Port Committee, which Hebert created in 2016 to study the potential of an inland port in Utah. “Our robust economy, proximity to other regions and strong workforce in the state will attract international companies and continue to strengthen our robust economy.”
Under SB234, the port authority would have the power, through an appeal panel, to override city administrative land-use decisions. It would also be able to capture 100 percent of the project area's tax increment over 25 years.
City leaders, as well as members of the Salt Lake County Council and the Utah League of Cities and Towns, have decried the bill as an unconstitutional land and power grab of nearly 20,000 acres.
Though city leaders were in negotiations with state leaders on the bill since the beginning of the 2018 session, a surprise version of the bill swiftly passed the Utah Legislature on the second-to-last day of the 2018 session, leaving city leaders outraged.
"We were told at the beginning that this bill might ruffle a few feathers," said Dorothy Owen, chairwoman of the Westpointe Community Council. "The final bill has plucked the bird totally, and the state's taken the meat, and they're leaving the entrails for local government to clean up."
Owen and Jennings noted they stand on opposite sides of the political aisle — Jennings a Republican and Owens a Democrat — but they stood shoulder-to-shoulder on Thursday to urge Herbert to veto SB234.
"This isn't just a Salt Lake City issue," Owens said. "It's not an issue of Salt Lake City versus the state. This is an issue for the entire state and it has to do with local representation and local control."
Owens also had a message for other Utahns across the state, urging them to call on Herbert to veto the bill.
"This time it's our community, but any community will be at risk if this bill is signed — and your community could be served up at the next state banquet," she said.
Owens said she and other Salt Lake City residents want an inland port and the economic benefits it could bring, "but it will fail if it's not done in a truly cooperative effort."2 comments on this story
Bernie Hart, a Central City resident, said he's "totally uncomfortable with the mixed dialogue" from state leaders, who have championed local control values with issues such as Bears Ears, "but then they fail to practice their values" when it comes to Salt Lake City.
Bobbi Brooks, chairwoman of Jordan Meadows Community Council, protested how a last-minute version of the bill passed the Utah Legislature with little discussion and urged the governor ensure a Utah inland port is created in a more transparent way.
"We've had enough closed-door sessions," she said. "We need more transparency on what's going on and how these things are affecting the people."