Mayor Ralph Becker will veto the Salt Lake City Council's newly minted management plan for Parleys Historic Nature Park a move sure to incense dog lovers and, according to insiders, cost him votes if he runs for re-election next year.
The veto the first-term mayor's first will be formally issued as soon as the Mayor's Office receives the plan in writing, likely within a couple of days, Becker spokeswoman Lisa Harrison Smith said Wednesday.
The City Council voted 4-3 (a margin that couldn't overcome a veto) late Tuesday to allow dogs off-leash on the south side of Parleys Creek, something Becker has long opposed. He argues such access would harm water quality and deny residents without dogs a place to enjoy the 63-acre gulch.
To override a veto, the council would have to schedule a vote during its next meeting, scheduled Jan. 4. The council would need five votes to quash Becker's veto.
If the council fails to secure a fifth vote, as expected, Becker's latest management plan would take hold, said Smith, citing the opinion of city attorneys.
"The south side would [be] non-accessible to dogs," she said.
That restriction would fundamentally alter the allure of the gulch, according to Kate Bradshaw, spokeswoman for Millcreek FIDOS (Friends Interested in Dogs and Open Space.) She said the mayor "hasn't made any attempt to contact us."
"We're disappointed. It takes away the shade. It's so hot down there in the summer. Part of what makes it great is to do the loop and experience the more-forested side."
At the same time, Bradshaw said, FIDOS will continue to press for a compromise. "It's not the end of our effort."
Under the veto scenario, dogs still would be permitted off-leash (albeit inside fencing) on more than 10 acres of flat ground on the creek's more barren north side. Water access for dogs would remain in two spots. An off-leash dog entrance would remain on the west end near Tanner Park, but dogs would be barred from entering through the neighborhood to the south at 2870 East.
Becker's plan outlaws dogs on the slopes, which have been designated as restoration areas. A 50-foot buffer from the creek would remain, as would protection of the springs, wetlands and historic sites in the gulch. Environmentalists argue the mayor's blueprint allows plenty of off-leash acreage while providing necessary off-limit zones to preserve native plants, bird habitat and the Bonneville Cutthroat trout spotted upstream.
In an eleveth-hour move designed to sway the council, Becker produced a letter by a state watershed expert that said E. coli levels, likely from dog waste, are off the charts in the creek. The letter calls on the city to eliminate all water access for dogs.
Council members Jill Remington Love, Soren Simonsen, Stan Penfold and Luke Garrott comprised the majority for Tuesday's vote. They had hoped to persuade Councilman Carlton Christensen to provide the fifth veto-proof vote. That didn't happen.
"I'm not that vote," Christensen said Wednesday. "I venture to guess there won't be five people to override it."
Christensen said the veto was not unexpected. "It was pretty clear that the proposal that was before us was uncomfortable for him."
Late Tuesday, Becker expressed disappointment in the council plan, saying that it effectively allowed off-leash dogs everywhere except on the newly completed north-side Parleys Trail.
"It causes me great concern," Becker said before the vote, "both from an environmental standpoint and a user standpoint."
But Garrott said Wednesday the veto is a "big problem for me," noting the council went a long way toward affirming the goal of balancing recreation uses with conservation measures.
"We've come pretty darn far," he said. "I'm frustrated because we've met significant preservation goals."
Garrott and Simonsen say the veto presents an interesting division-of-powers debate at City Hall. There may be a legal question, they note, about whether Becker's plan would prevail without further legislative action.
"He can only execute established city policy," Simonsen said. "And established city policy is an off-leash park. The biggest environmental problems are on the north side, and that's the side that is going to remain off-leash. So I don't understand the argument."
The city has wrestled with how to balance recreation uses in the gully since 2007, when a council resolution granted temporary off-leash status until a management plan was adopted. The Mayor's Office spent $100,000 on a consultant, whose report called for no dog access on the south side to help restore the damaged riparian corridor.
Even so, dog lovers argue that restricting that much access for their pets would ruin the Parleys experience. And if those dog owners also vote, Garrott and Simonsen say that could pose a problem for the mayor.
"This is a constituency that can rally against him," Garrott said. "It could galvanize them."
Simonsen, lauding Becker's overall effectiveness during his first term, said it's difficult to gauge the overall impact, but "I know there are people who won't vote for him because of this. I don't know why he is so intent to do certain things when there is clearly a consensus in the community against it."