Canyon congestion, watershed protection and other issues of concern addressed by two Utah legislatorsJan 31, 2022 02:14PM ● By Cassie Goff
Gondola Works released an animated video June 29, 2021, that depicts what a gondola system would look like in Little Cottonwood Canyon. (Photo courtesy of Gondola Works)
By Cassie Goff | [email protected]
On Jan. 13, Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion (District 46) and Sen. Kathleen Reibe (District 8) held an open house at Cottonwood Heights City Hall (2277 Bengal Blvd.) to discuss the 2022 legislative session with their constituents.
A majority of the 24 residents who attended the open house inquired about ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) and short-term rentals. Last year, the state legislature passed bill (HB 82) allowing ADUs in single-family zones. Cities throughout the state were required to update their zoning laws accordingly.
“We are creating the problem we tried to solve,” Reibe said. “(ADUs) are starting to be Airbnbs and short-term rentals. That was not the intention.”
Instead, the intention was to help provide solutions to the housing crisis in Utah. Both legislators mentioned their concern.
“Summit County is 70% vacant,” said Bennion, meaning 70% of the housing available within Summit County is used for short-term rentals or second homes.
“Moab is at least 15% vacant,” Reibe echoed. “We have to find more solutions.”
Both Bennion and Reibe shared that over 40% of the members of the Utah legislature are involved in real estate in some way.
They also mentioned they will be supporting a bill sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (District 37) to alter the enforcement protocol for ADUs.
Cottonwood Heights resident Runar Boman asked about Utah’s business friendly environment and inquired to the legislature’s feelings on economic development.
Reibe shared some information from a meeting she had with officials from Silicon Slopes. They believed certain barriers and stereotypes were being created as Utah continues to be a business friendly state. There are many businesses who do not want to come to Utah because of issues with air pollution, liquor laws and the LGBTQIA+ community.
“We are undermining those efforts,” Reibe said. “It’s hard to get families, women, and racial minorities to come here.”
Bennion shared that there was currently (as of publication) a bill filed to alter tax credits for big companies.
“Facebook got 50 million dollars worth of tax credits for coming here—that was not a step in the right direction for the long-term benefit for Utah,” Bennion said.
Cottonwood Heights resident Nancy Jensen asked the elected officials to touch base on UDOT’s proposed gondola for Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Reibe wants to push for more carpooling and less parking. She shared how she witnesses many travelers parking in avalanche sheds in order to keep the roads open.
When Bennion met with Councilmember Jeff Bossard from Brighton, he shared Brighton would also like an EIS for Big Cottonwood Canyon. She is in process of creating such a request.
UDOT’s solutions for canyon traffic all involve tolling. Both Reibe and Bennion would like to see tolling on the weekends and incentives for carpooling start now.
In addition to the canyons, the legislature will be focusing on the state’s watershed this year. Bennion mentioned how a possible watershed restoration initiative would coordinate state money with federal dollars to restore the watershed and reduce fire risk. It would also create partnerships that would be really beneficial for the state.
“The Great Salt Lake is down 11 feet because of our water usage and 5 feet because of drought,” Bennion said.
“Without the water, that’s a toxic bed of sand,” said Reibe.
There are at least 20 water bills anticipated for this year’s session and many state programs trying to address water usage. The state is expected to spend half a billion dollars in ARPA funds on water infrastructure.
Bennion is in support of any legislation for secondary water metering. She emphasized there doesn’t need to be a fee or tax associated with secondary water metering, but residents need to see how much water they are actually using.
Both elected officials have been working on bills related to education. Reibe will be sponsoring a bill in order to get more nurses, social workers, and psychologists into schools. The bill would allow those workers to get their accreditation funding reimbursed.
“We need to increase the number of nurses in schools. Right now, it’s about one nurse to 8,000 children,” Reibe said.
Bennion is working on a bill to get translations for licensing exams, primarily for refugee students within the Canyons School District. There are 64 languages spoken within the school system so translations for students gaining their driver’s license are needed.
Bennion and Reibe mentioned additional bills they will be bringing forward or supporting including: sex education, gun safety and storage, penalties for illegal weapons, surrendering weapons, food waste, redistricting, local control for schools, social and emotional learning in school districts, rental application fees, tourism tax, mask mandates, covid safety protocols, prison reform and incarceration alternatives.
“I can’t legislate kindness and common sense,” Reibe said.
Constituents can be in communication with both of these elected officials through email.
Bennion hosts a LISTSERV where she sends out an email every two weeks during the session, and once per month outside of the session. She will also host a virtual town hall on Feb. 10 and Feb. 24. To sign up for the LISTSERV, attend a town hall, or email Gay Lynn Bennion, visit: gaylynbennion.co.
Both encourage constituents to get their voice heard. If there is an issue you’re particularly passionate about, make sure to contact the elected officials working on the related bill, or contact the elected officials for your area. To find your elected officials, browse bills, find information on any of the bills mentioned above, or track bills, visit the Utah State Legislature website at le.utah.gov.