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West Valley City Journal

Councilman’s request to potentially change city name rebuffed

Jul 20, 2018 12:33PM ● By Travis Barton

A request by one councilman to consider changing the city name from West Valley City was met with opposition by the majority of the council. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected] 

In 1980, residents from Granger, Hunter and Redwood voted to incorporate and became West Valley City. That name is not changing anytime soon. 

Despite a passionate plea to consider changing the city’s name by Councilman Tom Huynh, the West Valley City Council informally voted to not continue discussing the possibility. 

Huynh brought forth the idea with a possibility of putting it on the ballot in November. Huynh said city culture has changed from 38 years ago when WVC was covered in vacant land, today is about having high tech companies. And while he acknowledged a simple name change would not do it, he said it would initiate an adjustment to a “new goal, new narrative.” 

During a heartfelt speech to the rest of the council, Huynh focused on the possible paradigm shift of what a name change could do to the city’s brand. This would, he said, make the city more competitive in bringing big name companies to the city, encourage a clean slate rejuvenation from everyone and change outside perceptions of the city. 

“In the long run, you look back you see we’re doing the right thing,” he told the other councilmembers. 

But they were not moved.   

Councilmembers Steve Buhler and Lars Nordfelt said they weren’t interested and Councilman Jake Fitisemanu Jr. said he would need a compelling point to consider putting that on a ballot, such as empirical data or a public outcry. He wondered whether companies even consider the name of the city. 

“People from the outside may have a different perception of the name than people from the hood – us here (in WVC) – (where) there’s not the same stigma,” Fitisemanu said when the topic first surfaced in a June study meeting. 

Fitisemanu said a culture shift can be implemented, but it doesn’t require the city being renamed. “We can make incremental changes within each department without having to change the name.” 

Huynh would have liked to see a list of four or five options for city names placed on a ballot for the people to decide. The name would only be the start, he said. 

“You cannot change the name and expect change,” it needs to come from within, little by little, Huynh said. “You have to have faith, have courage to do this.” 

The two-term councilman Huynh from District 1 cited other examples of cities doing this and the benefits that followed. 

This includes Joe, Montana, a small town of less than 30 residents near the North Dakotan border. The town changed its name from Ismay to Joe in 1993 after the famous football player, Joe Montana, joined the Kansas City Chief. It was a publicity stunt to raise money to fix its fire truck, but ended up affording them money to buy a new fire truck and build a community center. The city’s name later returned to Ismay. 

He also highlighted Stonecrest, Georgia. Located 20 miles east of Atlanta, the city council voted fall 2017 to de-annex part of the city to be renamed “Amazon” to lure the major conglomerate’s proposed second headquarters. 

Councilman Don Christensen was adamantly opposed to changing the name. He said companies choose location based on need rather than name, referencing a company who chose Salt Lake City over Woods Cross because it needed two miles of available railroad track and not because of the name. 

Councilmembers identified with Huynh’s passion, but ultimately decided against pursuing the possibility. 

“I feel you from the heart, but not from the head,” Fitisemanu said.