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John Florez: Salt Lake should stick to 1999 master plan for light rail

SHARE John Florez: Salt Lake should stick to 1999 master plan for light rail

Well, it's fall and it looks like Lucy has once again pulled away the football just as Charlie Brown was ready to kick it. And west-side residents believed that this was certain to be the year they could trust their city planners. But it appears developers now have other plans.

City planners had asked west-side residents for their input to "create residential communities that allow residents to live, work and play in their neighborhoods and foster a sense of community." So, with the same hope as Charlie Brown, west-side residents once again believed in the city officials — that they would follow the policy of seeking and considering the recommendations from community councils.

Up until now, it was looking like the city planners would do that, which included plans for the construction of the airport-to-downtown light-rail line. But now, it appears that The Gateway developers want to change the master plan that was approved in 1999 — a plan they knew about as they developed The Gateway property. The original plan for the airport rail called for the tracks to run from the airport east, then right on 400 West. It made sense because it would connect with the Arena Station on to 200 South, then to the Intermodal Hub on 600 West.

Now, the city planners are siding with The Gateway developers who want the airport rail to turn right on 600 West. Neighborhood residents are fighting the change because, once again, it further divides and isolates their neighborhood. The city planning staff claims when they created the plan they never anticipated the building of the Intermodal Hub on 600 West. Documents show otherwise.

What is most disturbing is that government officials seem so willing to violate the public's trust in their desire to please big business. Our government institutions are created to protect and promote the public good. When the integrity of a government entity is compromised, the confidence and trust on the part of citizens is gone. And that may be the greatest loss.

Historically, politicians talk about the "revitalization of the west side" as a priority during their campaigns but later ignore it. However, dismissing the voices this time has not dampened the new energy generated by the residents who have taken over the improvement and revitalization of their neighborhoods. Their involvement in the planning process gave them new hope that they had the power to control their community's future. Now, new businesses and developers are joining in renewing the pride and sense of community that have been the hallmark of west-siders.

For The Gateway developers, one would hope this experience might help them see that being a responsible corporate citizen is an investment in their community. Being a good neighbor is good business. It gives them the opportunity to examine their corporate behavior and the values they reflect. Healthy communities are realized when citizens, government and the private sector work together.

Hopefully, planning staff, too, have learned the most important thing they bring to government during their stewardship is trust and involvement of citizens. The value of sound planning is that it provides stability and predictability upon which people can invest and plan for their future.

The City Planning Commission can keep the public's trust by maintaining the integrity of the 1999 master plan rather than making it so people have to fight their own government. Who knows, maybe someday Charlie Brown can trust Lucy to not pull the football away at the last minute.

Utah native John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations and has served on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch and on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards. He also has been deputy assistant secretary of labor. E-mail: jdflorez@comcast.net