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Three Salt Lake City councilmen say Becker's public outreach falls short

Published May 5, 2013 4:46 pm

Sugar House Streetcar • Mayor, staff taken aback by residents' resistance to push for 1100 E. route.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the wake of a boisterous public hearing last month, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's "public outreach" regarding the proposed Sugar House Streetcar extension is being criticized by some City Council members as inadequate.

The proposed 1100 East route from 2100 South to 1700 South was touted by Becker's administration as being well-researched and thoroughly vetted with various community groups.

"We are relying on expert analysis, a robust public process and wide-ranging collaboration to guide us to the best decision," the mayor stated in a newsletter.

According to the administration, more than 200 people participated in three public open houses, four stakeholder workshops and numerous one-on-one meetings.

The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the proposal at an April 23 public hearing appears to have caught some at City Hall by surprise. It indicates the city is not doing enough public outreach on important issues, according to some council members.

"When you are dealing with planning decisions that deal with more than a block, I do think it's an insufficient system," said Councilman Luke Garrott of the city's public-outreach efforts. "When you only have small group meetings, you are going to miss a lot of people."

Councilman Charlie Luke said the outcry about the 1100 East streetcar proposal is reminiscent, in some ways, of the public reaction against the so-called "road diet" for Sunnyside Avenue, where the city planned to reduce automobile lanes. Residents and commuters assailed the proposal and complained they had little knowledge of it until it went to the council for final approval.

After a showdown with the mayor a year ago, the council voted down the road diet.

"Having been part of the Sunnyside road diet and a big part of this, I believe we have to rethink our public outreach," Luke said. "If we don't broaden public outreach, we will continue to have these problems."

Councilman Soren Simonsen, who represents Sugar House, said he has consistently heard from his constituents that the 1100 East extension was not popular. Somehow, he said, the administration did not get the message.

"We seldom do any public outreach that is exhaustive," Simonsen said.

But a spokesman for the mayor said all city officials, particularly council members, are responsible for public outreach.

"Hundreds of people attended multiple workshops and meetings and many more participated via email and written correspondence," said Becker spokesman Art Raymond. "While we are always working to improve and expand our communications with constituents, criticizing the amount of input we received in this process only goes to demean the time these residents took to engage and register their sentiments."

csmart@sltrib.com