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West Valley City Journal

WVC captured accreditation, fought off shelter in 2017

Jan 01, 2018 01:08PM ● By Travis Barton

In a year that was bookended by a potential homeless resource center and breaking ground for new development at Fairbourne Station, West Valley City experienced a little bit of everything. 

Homeless Shelter

Possibly the biggest event to take place in Utah’s second largest city in 2017 was its unwilling participation in the homeless shelter site selection. 

Seven possible sites were announced on March 10 for one of the county’s planned homeless resource centers. Three of those were in WVC. Salt Lake County was required to make a site recommendation to the state’s Homeless Coordinating Committee by March 28, a mere 18 days after the sites were announced. 

The legislation that was passed on March 9 appropriating more than $10 million to help build the centers also removed local cities from having any formal say on the matter. 

“It was interesting to me the process that had been set up,” said Mayor Ron Bigelow. “In order to force a decision, the legislature passed these extremely arbitrary time frames and methods.” 

Bigelow said not including any cities or interest groups in the selection process gave it a very negative perception. “You would have gotten a lot more buy-in by letting a lot of groups have their participation. I think you would have gotten better results too.” 

Though he did understand why it was done and the difficult position Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams was put in. 

After a month long process of mobilization by city employees, elected officials and residents protesting the sites selected by flooding open houses and implementing information campaigns; 3380 S. 1000 West in South Salt Lake was selected.

City Manager Wayne Pyle said what he remembers most about that time period was how impressed he was with the city’s quick reaction going “from zero to 100 mph.”

“To have that whole dynamic imposed on us and the response we were able to muster in that short amount of time and be successful, in my mind, was really gratifying,” Pyle said. 

It was a full-city effort, he said, from handing out flyers door to door to business owners making videos. 

“I have great respect for our whole staff, our elected officials who put their faces out there in front to deal with this,” Pyle said. “Our business community who was willing to do the same and our residents and neighbors who were willing to mobilize themselves.”

He was also happy with how they presented their argument in a balanced way, making their point without being offensive or against this class of people. WVC has been working with homelessness for decades, Pyle said adding he would completely reject anyone who thinks the city doesn’t care or isn’t cognizant of the issues homeless people face. 

“We’re not doing them any favors by letting them live in these encampments,” said Pyle, who has spent considerable time visiting transient areas with police officers. “The conditions are unsanitary, there are crime issues that occur, they have problems between them, some with criminal records are preying on the other ones.”

Though the WVC sites weren’t selected, the SSL site is only a stone’s throw away from the city’s border so the city has continued to prepare for its eventual arrival. 

Before the sites were announced, WVC had already put together a Homeless Task Force in November 2016. Made up of 10-12 people, the force is made up of various members in the city such as police intelligence, legal department and business licensing. Its strength is its coordination. 

“The task force has made us more savvy and powerful in our efforts,” Assistant City Manager Nicole Cottle told the city council in October. 

An ordinance that prohibits panhandling on major roadways to curtail accidents was passed unanimously in April. Pyle said they’ve had success in shutting that down. 

Pyle said they’ve also done encampment cleanups all over the city in undeveloped areas, vacant lots and most notably, along the Jordan River. They’ve partnered with the county health department, UDOT, Rocky Mountain Power among others to maintain the river. 

Probably the most meaningful preparation, Pyle said, “is the physical efforts we’re actually taking to make sure those problems are taken care of.” 

Economic Development

Economic development within the city has blossomed over the last five years, with Pyle estimating just in the northwest section of the city it’s been over half a billion in capital investment with 2,000-3,000 jobs and another 3,000 ancillary jobs generated by development. 

Bigelow said it is significant growth to what the city’s seen in the past. 

“Compared to anywhere else in the state except Salt Lake, that’s huge,” Pyle said. He added 201 Commerce Park (approximately 4400 West and 2300 South, just north of Stonebridge golf course) also saw a number of big projects going on. 

But perhaps the most visible sign of progress happened in November where ground was broken for a nine-story, 225,000-square-foot office tower built on Fairbourne Station. The tower will replace Staples and Toys “R” Us and will serve as a city center. 

Mark Nord, redevelopment agency (RDA) director, told the city council “this will truly be our shining star for a downtown Fairbourne Station.” 

For the city’s economic development, the tower will be a tangible sign of the city’s continuing progress and growth, Pyle said. 

The office tower, parking structure and potentially iconic bridge is part of a partnership between the city, RDA and Wasatch Commercial Management, owned by Dell Loy Hansen. Its expected completion is set for August 2019. 

At a ground breaking that featured Hansen, elected officials and city employees; Bigelow said this is a sign of WVC’s changing face. For a city that used to be known as a “bedroom community” where residents worked in SLC or Kennecott, it now brings a city center to them. 

“What a great time to be here today, what a great opportunity it is for our city to shine on and for others to see what is possible in Utah’s second largest city,” Bigelow said at the groundbreaking. 

Police and Fire

WVC’s public safety experienced an eventful year. From the police department becoming the only nationally accredited force in the state to the fire department sending four firefighters to help with the wildfires in California. 

And that doesn’t include the one year anniversary memorial of fallen officer Cody Brotherson or that WVC is now searching for a new police chief. 

WVCPD was awarded the accreditation certificate in May and is considered the gold standard in law enforcement, held by fewer than five percent of police departments nationwide. 

The city renamed a stretch of 4100 South from 2200 West to 3600 West to Cody Brotherson Parkway. While the city has other streets named after people such as Martin Luther King Jr., this was the first named after a West Valley resident. 

Pyle said people have responded well to the street being renamed. “It’s a nice reminder to me of the efforts, not just of Cody and his sacrifice, but what everyone is doing out there every day.”

Efforts are underway to hire a new police chief after former chief Lee Russo retired in September describing some of his achievements with the city as “some of the proudest of my career.” 

It was a retirement city officials were prepared for, Pyle said, knowing this might be Russo’s last place of work. Their search for a new chief has gone nationwide with the city advertising in national publications, trade and government journals. 

Pyle said the goal is to have the new chief on and accepted of the job by the end of February. 

Bigelow expects more scrutiny from the public on this than other items of business “because of the visibility of what’s happened in the past and the accomplishments of our former chief with (accreditation).” 

“Having had great success there, (residents) will want us to repeat that,” he said.  

The mayor and city council identified public safety as its highest priority in spring 2017, primarily the police department. When city council approved the city budget in August, they authorized $1 million for police personnel (adding six more police officers) and another $350,000 for non-sworn officers. That can range from security at WestFest to relationships with the business community. 

While law enforcement numbers are down almost 10 percent across the state, WVC has been no exception as it struggles with recruitment and retention. Though Pyle estimated they’ve hired around 30 officers in the past year, in terms of turnover and addition. 

“We’ve still got a ways to go with that but we feel we’ve made some really good strides in the last year,” he said. 

WVCPD also purchased 192 Glock firearms in October after discovering a defect in the Sig Sauer pistols that had been purchased the year previously. 

Progress on two new fire stations is right on track, Pyle said, with stations 72 and 76 being built and station 71 being remodeled. The fire department also sent four firefighters to California in October to protect homes as wildfires blazed. Those firefighters were recognized by the city council in November.  

Elections and Personnel 

2017 also saw four elected seats up for grabs: mayor and city council seats for an at-large, District 2 and 4. 

Mayor Ron Bigelow earned a second term over challenger Karen Lang, city councilwoman for District 3. 

“I was very excited for that opportunity to serve again and to actually bring to closure some of these things we’ve been working on in the city,” Bigelow said. 

While city councilmen Lars Nordfelt and Steve Buhler both retained their seats, respectively, newcomer Jake Fitisemanu Jr. will replace Steve Vincent, who had been on the council since 2002. 

“I’m honored that I’ve been selected by the community to represent them, and I’m ready to get to work,” Fitisemanu Jr. said. 

Of the 40,618 eligible registered voters, according to the Salt Lake County Recorder’s office, 12,976 cast a ballot which means an almost 32 percent voter turnout. 

Kevin Astill retired as the director of the parks and recreation department in 2017 having started the department 32 years ago. 

His replacement was Nancy Day, who was serving the city’s assistant parks and recreation director and as facility director for the Family Fitness Center. 

“I’m proud that the city has thought enough of me to give me this opportunity. It is crazy,” Day told the Journal after her appointment. 

Upcoming Projects 

2018 will see some projects begin or continuing into 2019. 

Preliminary work is in progress on three new capital facilities buildings for public safety, public works and parks and recreation. Granger Medical is set to begin its construction in 2019.

Implemented in 2017, the city is running a pilot program to diminish property crimes. The Ring Program uses a security camera that turns on when its sensors are tripped by movement. A flashing red light comes on the doorbell to scare off potential criminals. 

Whether it’s public safety or economic development, city officials are focused on ensuring residents enjoy where they live. 

“That’s what it’s all about. For the residents, that’s what you’re looking for is do they consider where they live a livable and enjoyable place to be?” Pyle said. “It’s maybe the best single measure of everything we’re trying to accomplish whether that’s ED or public safety.”