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Today's word on journalism

May 12, 2009

The Last WORD


The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium —St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season —the WORD's 13th —peters out.

It's been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that's below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and —of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded —dozens of daily newspapers ("I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying--it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off." --Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it's hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe --we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods --like tapioca, dog biscuits and salmon --while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.
Summer well, friends.

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Feedback and suggestions --printable and otherwise --always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Logan city reclaims lost park strips

By Logan Clifford

May 4, 2009 | After years of planning and a new motto to "restore the vitality of our neighborhoods" Logan city officials began this summer with a two-year project consisting of the demolition and removal of the paved-over park strips within the Logan communities and replacing them with sod and vegetation.

Paving over city-owned park strips has been against Logan City ordinance since its establishment in 1866, but for the past 50 years lack of resources and an influx in the population, due largely to the increase in student enrollment at Utah State University, regulation of the park strips has been neglected. In addition to the ordinance, park strips do not belong to the property owner, but are city property.

Many residential and commercial properties have paved over the once green park strips and added pavement in order to provide adequate parking for tenants and customers, but this year the city has said, "No more."

"We want to reclaim the streets," said planning manager Glen Goins, adding, "We want the residential streets to feel residential again, not feel like parking lots."

The planning department's goal to green the park strips is consistent with a national movement to reclaim park strips and medians. For example, Gillian Gillett, a California homeowner, has been working hand-in-hand with her local government to provide more green space for her community.

Though employed full time, Gillian, with the help of local officials, began doing public surveys with a market researcher and interviewing neighbors about what their streets needed. Just about everyone was in agreement: more green space. "There were only four trees on my block," says Gillett. "There was no room for plants on the sidewalk, but we could green the median."

After the research was completed and had been analyzed, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a proclamation calling for 5,000 trees a year to be planted, and soon after appointed a "green czar" who was looking for pilot projects.

Gillett said in an interview with Sunset Magazine, "This project connected me to the neighborhood." Gillett says of her now seven-year quest to improve not only her own block but also her entire community, "This was never about plants. It was about making a neighborhood I could walk in."

Logan City shares that goal.

Goins, who arrived in Logan City in Oct. 2008 to fill the new position of planning manager for the department of community development, came into the situation with what he called a "third party perspective" since the decision to tear out the paved park strips had already been made in early 2007.

"Being new to Logan meant I could see problems right away that maybe others didn't even notice, like the paved-over park strips," said Goins.

But not everyone shares Goins opinion about the park strips.

Sam Dahle, a Logan resident, said in an interview with the Herald Journal, "We think it's been a big mistake. They came and took our parking out (that) we've had for 60 years or longer." Another resident said that instead of motivating him to stay and take care of his neighborhood the removal of the park strips could encouraged him to move away.

Although many homeowners are worried about how this will affect their property value, students living in the rental units have felt the impact immediately. Landon Putnum, a USU student living on 500 North, said simply, "I'm pissed! They took away our parking. There are, like, six of us here. How are we supposed to share one driveway?"

Although the city does sympathize with those living in rental units who were under the impression that parking was allowed on the park strip they say there is not much they can do about it.

"It is the landlord's responsibility to provide parking," said Goins. "We are sorry that you moved in under false pretenses, but we cannot make exceptions," he added.

A group of 30 homeowners, calling itself the Citizens to Protect Property Rights, LLC, has filed a lawsuit with the 1st District Court claiming the city was unlawful in tearing up their property. Charges include "violation of plaintiffs' due process and other rights," "violations of plaintiffs' equal protection rights" and "substantial economic loss," among other complaints.

Goins said that he cannot imagine that they will win, in view of the fact that the property that the city is tearing up is city owned land. "It's all about the bottom line," comments Goins. "No one would care if they didn't think it was going to impact their bottom-line income."

"We are standing on firm legal ground," said Kimber Housley, City Attorney.

One question that has been posed by Kent Dunkley, a member of Cache-Rich Association of Realtors, is whether or not the right to park on park strips had been grandfathered, as residents have been parking there for years.

"How can the city enforce a rule that has not been enforced for years and then expect everyone to be OK with it?" said Dunkley.

Attorney Su J. Chon, who wrote the opinion for the office, wrote that unless property owners could show a legal right to park in the strip prior to when the ordinance was created, that right would not be grandfathered.

Many property owners, especially owner occupied properties, are pleased with the new enforcement.

Jack Bennet, a longtime Logan resident living on 500 North, said he was very excited for the new park strips. "The cement looks junky," said Bennet. "We think it's about time the city does something about it."

James Geier, neighborhood improvement coordinator, says the new green park strips will add to the aesthetics of the neighborhood, which will in turn increase property value. "It's about safety, too," adds Geier. "These park strips weren't made to be big enough for cars to park there, so when one does it obstructs the sidewalk. The green park strips will give our streets a greater level of walkability."

One resident, whose park strip was replaced last fall, expressed appreciation to the city for improving the fašade of their property by planting trees and grass. "We didn't like the cement in the first place," they added.

"The overall purpose is to respond to citizens in those neighborhoods who have come to the council and mayor and said, 'Please, clean up our neighborhood," said Councilwoman Tami Pyfer in a Herald Journal interview.

Concerns about funding for the project have also been expressed. City Councilmen Steve Thompson says the city has been "shortsighted" in its approach, believing that the city will not have a big enough budget to complete the project and will have to raise property tax.

Goins disagrees. "The money used for this project has been appropriated into the budget. It is the same money used to fix roads or prune trees," said Goins. "There will not be a need for increased taxes."

Despite some disagreement and one lawsuit, the city will continue its project with high hopes of achieving their goal of revitalizing Logan neighborhoods. "This is going to make our neighborhoods better," said Goins. "A few complaints aren't going to stop this project, it's too valuable a program."

The project highlights 40 trouble properties between 300 East and 600 East, 300 North and 980 North.

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