It was a one-two punch. At the same time the Legislature was rendering moot the entire reason for forming cities, Salt Lake County was peddling a vision of reforming homeless services, primarily by dispersing existing homeless shelters away from valuable downtown real estate.
The bill placed what should be local community decisions into the hands of Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, leaving him to go behind closed doors and make momentous decisions about shelter placement that may affect the future of our city for generations. The mistrust of city government (closest to the people) and the lack of open process is simply unjustified.
It seems to us to be an amazing coincidence that through this "exhaustive process" every single one of the sites designated by McAdams just "happen" to be west of State Street and north of 3300 South. What are the odds? You would think it would be unlikely that you would just "happen" to designate all the eligible sites within a stone's throw of one another in such a geographically well-defined and limited area. And in just two of the 14 cities in Salt Lake County! Amazing, indeed!
West Valley City has not been a conscientious objector in the war on homelessness. Far from it. We have poured dollars, sweat and tears into doing our part. We have invested millions over the years in direct and indirect costs related to curing homelessness. We have supported long-term solutions such as crisis housing for families, permanent housing for the chronically homeless, low-income seniors and the disabled and host some 800 "beds" of just this sort. West Valley City is home to 33,000 affordable housing units. Let me repeat: thirty-three thousand. We surpass every other city in Utah in that category, save Salt Lake City.
While never invited to the table, West Valley City has stated and demonstrated early and often that we would absolutely be part of the long-term solution for homelessness. In fact, just one year ago, we sat eye-to-eye with McAdams and we stated categorically that we were at capacity in doing our part and would never support locating a shelter in our city. We were assured by McAdams that he recognized our significant contribution and this was not his intent.
This is not a case of "NIMBY." It is not a case of being unwilling to do our share. Not only are we doing our share, we are doing the share of several other nearby cities. Our "backyard" is quite full, thank you, especially when compared with the backyards of our wealthier neighbors. Because we are already fully involved, and because other, more prosperous cities in this very county are not, we will oppose this action with whatever means are at our disposal.
All cities and towns in the state ought to reflect on the process that got us to this place, and look over their shoulders while wondering when the same will happen to them.
Wayne T. Pyle is West Valley City manager.