Tribune Editorial: Building a needed hospital. Throwing public money at sports palaces. Seeing that freedom of speech can be ugly.

Building a hospital to serve a lower-income part of our community is apparently not as much fun as committing what could be millions in public funds to shiny new sports facilities for two of the state’s most powerful families.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah Health plans to build a new hospital in West Valley City at 3750 South 5600 West, pictured Friday, March 29, 2024.

Utah sometimes sees an uncomfortable level of tension between its elected officials and its public universities. A lot of unproductive political fuss about our colleges supposedly being too woke.

But our lawmakers, to their credit, didn’t let that stop them from joining hands with the state’s flagship university to create an institution that will do a lot to level up the quality of life for an underserved part of our community.

With the Legislature’s authorization to issue up to $800 million in bonds — double the previous allowance — the University Health system’s plan for a new hospital in West Valley City will move from the drawing board to reality.

Construction at 3750 S. 5600 West is set to begin early next year, with some services open by 2027. It won’t be a moment too soon.

University of Utah President Taylor Randall notes that average life expectancy in some west side neighborhoods falls as much as 10 years short of that enjoyed by those living further east, in the shadow of the U.’s hilltop hospital complex. Having a state-of-the-art health facility nearby, not a 40-minute drive away, should help ease that disparity.

The U. has also launched what it’s calling its health professions pipeline. That’s an effort to direct interested students, including some from the West Side, into training to be nurses or other health care professionals.

The U., especially with this new facility, needs the staff. Our children, especially those on the west side, need the job opportunities. Opportunities that not only pay well, but can’t be offshored.

And all of Utah needs more examples of this kind of cooperation between our political class and our academic institutions.

Public should keep a wary eye on taxpayer support for sports palaces

Building a hospital to serve a lower-income part of our community is apparently not as much fun as committing what could be millions in public funds to shiny new sports facilities for two of the state’s most powerful families.

Otherwise why would the state’s conservative governor and Legislature and the city’s liberal mayor and City Council be such enthusiastic cheerleaders — and check-writers — for the Miller family’s proposed Major League Baseball stadium in the Fair Park neighborhood and Ryan Smith’s planned downtown NBA/NHL arena.

There’s nothing wrong with some more fun and games for our city. The ballpark could be a grand Field of Dreams for a part of town that could use a boost. And it would be better to keep the Utah Jazz, and a possible hockey franchise, downtown rather than lose one or both to Daybreak or the Point of the Mountain.

Though it all looks a bit garish when higher fees for municipal ball diamonds are pricing some families out of youth sports. Since 2015, rental rates for Salt Lake City’s baseball fields have shot up from $2 an hour to $18 an hour, for facilities that are often in need of repair.

For the national pastime to truly thrive in Utah, we should support not only the pros, but also the kids who play for the fun of it.

Note that Ryan Smith recently told The Athletic that a reason why the NHL should consider Salt Lake City for a relocated or expansion team is that its downtown is booming. Which undermines the argument that downtown needs a taxpayer-subsidized arena.

Note, also, that the voters of Jackson County, Missouri, aka Kansas City, just soundly defeated a ballot initiative to continue a special sports authority sales tax to help build a new downtown baseball park and make improvements to their old NFL stadium. This in a city that loves its teams, but not necessarily the power brokers who own them.

Salt Lake City taxpayers won’t be asked to vote on our planned sports palaces. That fix is in. It is still essential to keep a wary eye on just how much public money will be going to these projects.

Projects that may bring joy but, according to the best economic analysis, don’t really do much to boost a community’s overall economy.

Freedom of speech: Good, bad and ugly

A couple of recent examples in our community illustrate how messy and uncomfortable America’s commitment to freedom of expression can be.

At the University of Utah, many students were justifiably appalled at a presentation, hosted by a student group, in which an imported speaker spread his pernicious argument that “transgenderism must be eradicated.”

The valid concern is that some will hear the message that transgenderism must be eradicated and conclude that transgender people must be eliminated. That violence and death will occur.

But those who oppose the rising acceptance of transgender people have a First Amendment right to state their case. While others have an equal right to publicly express their disgust. Which many U. students did, in a relatively peaceful manner.

Hopefully the teachable moment here is that the world can be an ugly place, and that it would be better if no one makes it uglier still by getting violent or denying others their rights of free expression.

In South Salt Lake, the dispute between one member of the City Council and the rest of the governing body keeps getting more and more ridiculous.

The council recently censured and banned Council Member Paul Sanchez from its meetings, requiring him to participate online for 90 days. The council had taken offense at what members said were some decidedly uncivil social media posts Sanchez had directed at other council members — posts that have since disappeared from the internet.

On March 13, Sanchez was arrested when he tried to attend a council meeting. He says police used “excessive force,” though police body cam footage of the incident suggests officers acted professionally and without violence.

Both sides in this conflict need to grow up.

The censure of Sanchez is appropriate. Banning him from taking his seat at council meetings, where he remains a duly elected member, is not.

Unless Sanchez actively disrupts the proceedings, only the voters of his district can take that spot away from him.