Utah Lake

The first peoples in Utah were the Fremont and the Anasazi and then later the Northern Shoshone, Goshute, Bannock, Paiute, and Ute peoples. Like the herds they followed for food, they migrated throughout the state during all types of weather. White explorers encountered these tribes throughout the 1700-1800’s. Fur trappers were the first whites to have discovered Utah Lake and in the mid-1800’s Mormons began using and settling around it’s east and west shores. Historians report that Brigham Young first sent a fishing party to the lake to see what species inhabited the water and then in 1850 established a permanent settlement near its shores named ‘Fort Utah’ (in honor of the Utes living there), then later ‘Fort Provo’ (after the well-known French-Canadian trapper, Etienne Proveau who first saw the lake in 1825).

Utah Lake is a freshwater lake on the west side of I-15 in Utah County, about thirty miles long and seven-ten miles wide. Over the years it has been known as Ashley Lake, Little Uta Lake, Utaw (correct spelling) Lake, and Laguna de Nuestra Senora de la Merced de Timpanogotiz. The most important use of the lake has always been to water crops and provide irrigation, and in the 1800’s water users wanted to make sure there was enough water in the lake for late season crop irrigation. In 1884-1885 Mormons got together and effectively set the level of the lake to control water use. Fast forward sixty some odd years and Utah Valley saw the creation of a $200 million steel plant financed by the federal government to make sure that there would be enough steel to meet the military needs for supply. The plant opened in 1944, three years after the Japanese attached Hawaii. The plant operated for two years as a government facility and then was sold to U.S Steel for $47.5 million. It closed in 2001, the blast furnaces used to melt the product were demolished in 2005 and then in 2017 the master-planned community of ‘Vineyard’ was announced. In 2020 the new city was the fastest growing place in America, which had a growth rate of 10,687%.

Now developers have produced a grand plan to built islands in the lake for a mixed use of housing and businesses. The legislature is looking at a myriad of bills about water use and Utah Lake, including one to create an agency to oversee the management of Utah Lake. While elected officials try to figure out how to save on water use during this decade’s long drought and to get more water to the endangered Great Salt Lake, developers (“Lake Restoration Solutions”) want to dredge the bottom of the lake so they can build thirty-four islands. They would get out sludge made up of decades of sewer and industrial waste at the bottom which could turn the notorious white, murky waters of Utah Lake into something cleaner. Readings throughout the summer of water quality there are often bad enough to close beaches. The Utah Legislature ends March 4th.

Can’t Pop that Bubble

For those of you hoping that the crazy housing market is just a bubble about to pop, the news is baaaaad.  Home prices in February have shot up in Salt Lake County by a whopping 23% over last year with Utah County coming in at a record high of 30% in 12 months, Davis County up 25%, Weber County up 26% and Tooele County beating out all other areas by coming in at and increase of 43%.

The researchers and statisticians at the University’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute estimate that 67% of Utahans can’t afford a median priced single family home. The U.S. Census Bureau reported our total statewide population as 3.36 million in 2022. Sixty seven percent of that estimate would mean that 2.25 million of our neighbors can’t afford to live in this state.  Where could you move to afford a home?  Zillow estimates homes in Boise, ID average @$534,806 and in Phoenix, Az @$404,000. Realtor.com reports the average home price in Reno, NV is $555,000 and in Las Vegas $406,000.

You know gas prices for cars and trucks is insane right now and food prices just keep going up, up and up. Just before the pandemic in 2019, the annual inflation rate in the U.S. was 2.3%.  In Feb. 2021 to Feb. 2022, that rate jumped to 7.9%-the highest since 1982.  Meat’s poultry, fish and egg prices are up 13% in the last 12 months; fruits and veggies up 7/6%, gas prices up @8%.  All this bad news adds up to everyone having a lot less take home pay at the end of the month.

If you had purchased a home last year your 30 mortgage rate would have been in the high 3% to low 4% rate. Now it’s jumping to around 5%. The payment on a mortgage of $500,000 has gone up almost $400 a month in just a year (principal, interest, taxes, insurance) from around $2700 a month at 3.5% to almost $3100 a month at 5%. That drastic increase pushes out many first time buyers who can’t qualify for the higher payment.

We are currently down tens of thousands of housing inventories to meet the demand of not just home buyers but also renters. This bubble won’t burst soon given that as of 3/17 we had only 515 properties for sale in Salt Lake County (all prices), with 10,500 members of the Salt Lake Board of REALTORS trying to put offers on these properties for their clients. In a normal market we’d have 2-3000 homes for sale. More people are moving to Utah that out of Utah and that alone puts immense pressure on housing inventory. Stacker.com reported this month that Utah has massive amounts of people moving here, from California, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, and Texas in that order. Although we’re in a building boom we are definitely not keeping up with supply, nor does it look better in the next few years for anyone hoping to find a deal on their first home.

NEEDLE PARK

Decades ago, in New York City there was a forgotten 10 acres of public space called Bryant Park at 1071 Avenue of the Americas between West 40th and West 41st Streets. By the 1980’s it had become our version of what our Pioneer Park looked like-a campground for the unsheltered, a place to buy and use drugs. Locals avoided it as much as possible even though it had some rich history in a great location in Manhattan. It was a site for military drills during the American Revolution and in the early 1800’s it became a public cemetery to bury unknown or indigent people. It was designated a public park in 1871 but according to the book ‘The Power Broker’ it became neglected and “a haven for drunks and idlers”.

On this side of the Mississippi River, Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City was originally Pioneer Fort, what the Daughters of Utah Pioneers called “What Plymouth is to New England, the Old Fort is to the Great West”. It was the landing place of Mormons who arrived in 1847 and within a week they began building a fort with log cabins and adobe walls. After 1890 it was used as ap playground and in 1898 it was dedicated as Pioneer Park and ever since then locals have struggled as to what the use should be for the land. In the 1940’s some wanted to turn it into a larger area for a golf course then in the 1950’s plans were made to re-create the first school house and original cabins there. In the 1990’s The Deseret News reported that it’s location near the bus station, Rescue Mission, Salvation Army and shelters made the place a natural congregation for transients.

Since the main downtown shelter has been bulldozed, less transients are seen at the park. They have been ‘pushed’ to other places in the city by police and the Health Department. Having lived for 20 years a block away from the park, I sat on many committees as to what to do with the greenspace to make it more inviting. Now the City is once again hearing ideas that would make it more like what Bryant Park has become today-a fabulous mid-town gathering place for concerts and a sponsored Winter market that runs from October through March each year with almost 200 vendors. Salt Lake City staff and a group called ‘Design Workshop’ have requested $20mil to add pickleball courts, a café, water misting feature, bus stops, a basketball court, all age playground and fitness circuit and enhanced dog park. Bryant Park gathered massive financial support for the businesses surrounding it whereas Pioneer Park has support but not even 1/10th of funds from businesses to date and relies on the City to fund the changes. Everyone wants a better park if the City has the money, but lets not forget there are several other green spaces that need attention in this town with minority input.

MULBERRIES

I love local history, and this time of year history is in bloom. Mulberry trees which are scattered all over the Salt Lake Valley and down as far south as St. George are getting ready to produce fruit this summer which can be used for jam or wine. These historic trees were planted by the first and second wave of white pioneers to the state who were determined to create a silk economy within the confines of our borders. Dr. Sasha Coles is writing a book: Nation’s Wealth Surrounds a Worm”: Mulberry Trees, Silk Cocoons, and Women Workers in Mormon Country, 1850s-1910s and I had the opportunity to hear her give remarks about this web of our past and her research.

During the 19th century, Utahns were looking at many different ways to create money making industries for their families and their church. Raising silk worms didn’t take a lot of capital investment-you could trade or purchase the worms for very little.  Male run households in a myriad of cultures around the world found that women, children, elderly, native and enslaved peoples that were too old or too weak could generate capitol with this home business. Basically, anyone could be employed doing this business. Silk manufacturing kept them at home in modest home-factory operations. Plus, it was a self-sufficient industry, not like farming sugar beets, raising sheep for wool, planting cotton, mining silver, gold and iron. This home based industry didn’t rely on imported goods and Latter Day Saints created an economy by and for Mormons based on the fibers created by the insect. Silk industry-women and children planted trees, produced cocoons, invested in an economy “worthy of Christ’s second coming”.  Saints synthesized cooperation’s and centralized planning with the incentives and infrastructure that fueled 19th century capitalism

Leaves of the white mulberry are silkworms’ food of choice.  Latter Day Saints brought seeds with them across the plains. One home farmer, Pricilla Jacobs tried to time the silkworm hatching to trees getting their leaves but complained that once they started eating the leaves it sounded like “rain on the trees” as they kept their creatures in the attic munching on the freshly harvested mulberry leaves. Relief Societies across the state offered each other advice on how to keep the trees and worms alive. The trees were susceptible to heat. Worms were kept cool so they wouldn’t hatch. One woman put them against her chest to heat up and left services to run home and get them to their food source. The industry was touted as an automatic money maker for investors, but it really wasn’t easy to get the final product.

The railroad came to Utah in the later 1800’s and that helped get resources and product in and out of the state. The 1983 Chicago World’s fair had a ‘Utah Building’ which featured silk scarves, thread, upholstered items, drapes, and clothing and touted ‘See real live Mormon girls making silk!’. The industry died off in the early 1900’s despite a $.25 cocoon bounty authorized by the legislature to encourage production. The Saints couldn’t compete with Japan’s and China’s infrastructure and silk mills. Many of the trees died off but some do live on.

 

Gas Attack

OMG. Have you filled up your gas tank this past week? As someone who virtually ‘drives for a living’ I’m not a happy consumer at the pump. What’s causing these hellish gas prices? Primarily, GREED.  We have enough gas for the vehicles in this country in reserves, but suppliers cut way back during COVID because simply, we weren’t going anywhere. Now, EVERYONE wants to travel, and demand is not keeping up with supply. When that happens, producers can gouge us. Do NOT think Russia is responsible for the shortages. It’s our own oil drillers, and refineries that are really the root cause of our shortages right now.

There’re some great tips from www.energy.gov on how to save on gas, which will also help reduce pollution and improve energy security. Here they are:

-minimize idling your car. In NYC you can be fined $400 for idling your truck for more than 3 minutes and there’s a huge industry of people who video the truck, send in the relevant info and get @$90 for reporting the offenders. We need that here!

-avoid aggressive driving for many reasons. Speeding, rapid acceleration and hard braking can lower your highway gas mileage by 15-30% and city mileage by 10-40%.

-avoid driving at high speeds. ABOVE 50, mph gas mileage drops rapidly for every 5 mph, which equals about $.30 per gallon of gasoline.

-those fancy roof racks cause drag, decreasing fuel economy. Try and put your stuff IN the car.

-try and work from home more. Use public transit, carpool, etc.  Check out www.rideutah.com

-use the right grade of motor oil for your car. Using a different grade can lower you mileage by 1-2%

-make sure your tires are inflated to the right pressure. If you can’t read your tire it might be on a sticker on the driver’s side door jam.

The bottom line for best gas mileage is to drive more efficiently, keep your car in shape, buy a more efficient vehicle if you can afford it.  We’ll be moving into warmer weather and known that running your car’s air conditioning is the main contributor to reduced fuel economy during the dog days (hot) summer-even more so on hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric (EV) vehicles.  The down side is to think opening all the car windows instead of using AC might help but that just causes wind resistance and lowers fuel economy. It will work however, if you lower your windows driving at city speeds and not on the freeway.

Gas prices in Utah are somewhere between $4.25-$4.50 right now. For the first time in 70 years the U.S. is able to produce as much crude oil and gas as we consume, but a lack of pipelines and refineries is hindering gas prices to come down anytime soon. As summer approaches people will be hitting the road or flying to vacation destinations. You might want to book your flight for that end of summer of early fall trip now rather than later because airline tickets are going up just as fast due to airline fuel supply chain problems.

FREE FARES NOW

I had the opportunity to serve for two years on the Utah Transit Authority Board of Directors before the Utah State Legislature put a kaibosh on a Board of any kind and turned over the major decisions to a few people appointed by the Governor. It was a fast and fascinating education about mass transit in our state-what we had at the time and what was being planned. I grew mad respect for the bus drivers of those vehicles used for special differently abled riders and TRAX drivers who have to hit a button every 15 seconds to ensure they are alert and not having medical issues in driving the light rail trains. Most of my fellow directors were mayors of cities serviced by Utah and several like me were in favor of free mass transit for all.  There is a free zone in the downtown area that is poorly advertised for TRAX and buses, but generally riders pay $2.50 to jump on a bus or TRAX.

Albuquerque, NM just because one of the largest cities in the U.S. to pilot a zero fare program for 12 months. They recognize that most riders are low income travelers and although it only cost $1.00 to ride a bus, that fee made an impact on thin wallets. Who’s picking up the bill? The Fed, of course will throw most of the monies at this for a year. This Zero Fare program is going to put this western city on the road to reducing traffic and pollution and move them in the right direction for an equitable public transportation system. It should also help promote healthy lifestyles and boost ridership throughout the system.  Some detractors think that crime on the system will increase but the City Council is committed that this is really going to help their city. Not spending money on transportation allows people to spend more on rent, food and utilities.

As Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Front grows the argument to woo Utahns away from their cars is valid in reducing our awful inversions. Now that our ski resorts have a great snow pack the parking lots could be a lot emptier with regular free bus service.  We are going to be getting a great deal of funds from the Feds here this year for infrastructure improvements and some transportation costs, and our legislature has the tools to put UTA on a free fare track virtually anytime they want.

It’s about time the free fare zone downtown is expanded to the entire UTA system. Just recently if you show your airline boarding pass you can hop on TRAX or a bus to ride to the airport free of charge. Sometimes they instigate a ‘free fare day’ when the air is too thick to breathe, but this needs, in my opinion, to be 365 days a year. Mayor Wilson said a few years ago that “There isn’t a person in the county who doesn’t understand the importance of clean air.” Well, it’s time!  Good luck Albuquerque-I hope we’re the next experiment!

So High!

As we like to say in real estate sales, “They ain’t building any more land!”  Dirt that you can build on is a precious commodity in all our major cities in Utah right now, so the next best frontier is to build UP.  I always thought that if I moved back to New York I would want to sell ‘air space’…the air above buildings.  I could sell airspace in Utah, but for now it’s not a common commodity…yet.

When you buy a piece of land or a home, you own all the way to the center of the earth and all the way above the earth’s surface. You have the right to develop up or down without interference by others unless there is a water, mineral, air traffic right or utility easement blocking your way. “Whoever owns the soil, it’s theirs up to Heaven and down to Hell” became common law in the 13th century. I remember back in 2005 when a small church in NYC sold its vertical development rights for $430 per sq. ft. so a high rise could be built above it. They walked with $30 million, and the church and the high rise co-exist.

Developers in our capitol city just broke ground on Astra (Latin for star) Tower on the northwest corner of 200 South and State Street where the recent Carls Jr. stood. It will be the tallest building in Utah when completed in 2025 at 450’ above the street.  This will beat out the Wells Fargo Center at 422’, the LDS Church Office building at 420’and Tower 8 of City Creek (95 State Street) at 395’.  Technically there are no height restrictions to buildings in Salt Lake or New York City for that matter. One World Trade Center in NYC which replaced the World Trade Center towers is 1176’ above sea level, Central Park Tower is 1550’ and the new ‘basket’ at 30 Hudson Yards is 1270’.

Oldtimers in Utah will wax on that “No building can be taller than the LDS Church Office building”, but that my friends, is a myth. For many years the COB was indeed the tallest structure in Salt Lake City and it actually looks taller because it’s sitting on a hill leading up to the State Capitol Building. As we built up our capitol city for the 2002 Olympics we found from our city planners that building height restrictions downtown was a myth, and the Church proved that when they built the high rise condominiums at City Creek just in time for the games.

Astra is not going to be affordable housing. Indeed, it will be 372 luxury apartments for rent. There will be 40,000 sq. ft. of communal amenities including an elevated urban park on top of the 7-level parking structure (similar to Salesforce Tower in San Francisco…which is now badly leaning!), clubhouse with a chef’s kitchen, pool on the 22nd floor, a roof terrace and 24-hour concierge service. They will also seek the highest level (Gold Certification) for green building.

Salty Roads

We’ve had a few good storms this year, enough that UDOT has brought out the plows to scape our streets in our northern cities in the state. With the plows comes a mix of salt and dirt treated with magnesium and calcium to spread on the roads to make it safer for Utahn’s to drive. Yet each time they coat the roads a little more salt gets into our drainage system and ends up washing into the Great Salt Lake, ponds, wells, and streams.

UDOT has used salt up until 1997 when they added a brine solution, which is carried in tankers and laid down before a big storm hits. When the snow does fly whatever water comes down mixed with the salty water on the road to create a surface layer that helps break down the ice. By doing this treatment UDOT saves on salt costs. The Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies in New York has found that salt use has in the U.S. has tripled in the past 50 years and that more than 20 million metric tons of salt are poured on the country’s roads each year. The New York Dept. of Transportation also uses brine, and with some of the storms they’ve been pounded with this winter, they need a lot of it. They found that brine treatment takes about four times less salt to prevent ice from building up on their roads, that brine is more cost-effect than just salt, better for the environment and was less damaging to the roads.

UDOT purchases is salt through various contracts and their station managers try and predict how much they will need for roads in their neck of the woods. They must try and guess mother nature in the fall. Salt is stored at over 100 maintenance facilities and storage areas around the state where snow falls enough to need salty roads. You may have driven by some of these sheds along our highways. The mined salt must be covered because wet salt will soon reform with a hard crust that’s difficult to break up. Most of the rock salt UDOT buys comes from an underground mine in Central Utah, but we do get solar salt extracted from the Great Salt Lake. Each UDOT manager in the state must figure out what’s the best mix of ingredients for their roads to keep safe for travelers.

Back at home know that throwing down salt on your sidewalks, driveways and front steps is bad for animals and dogs. Plain old salt is deadly for dogs to ingest and can simply irritate their paws. Luckily nowadays there are alternatives to salt and chemical deicers that are pet-friendly but can be expensive. You can always use cheap kitty litter or sand to lay down on slick surfaces to stop falls. Read the label before you buy-make sure your product is pet-safe, salt and chloride free. If it’s labeled kid-friendly, then it’s pet friendly.

Buggery 2021

Mosquitos in November? Who thinks about them when you you’re trying to swat the last of fall flies and sweep up those interminable elm bugs? November is the time of the year when people who own property must pay their annual property taxes, and part of those taxes in Salt Lake City/County go towards mosquito abatement. I got my tax bill and $51.63 will go towards getting rid of those pesky things, but next year my estimated tax is going to go to $90.24. What gives?
According to the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement Department (MAD) officials say they need to pay for more employees and for more studies of mosquitoes. How do we get rid of mosquitoes? Sadly, we kill them with chemicals/neurotoxic pesticides – that certainly can’t be healthy for humans or Mother Earth. On the flip side, these flying pests aren’t great for humans because they can carry diseases like West Nile and even Lyme. In September they sprayed around the Utah State Fair site as eleven people had been diagnosed with West Nile virus from Weber to Salt Lake Counties, with one person dying of the virus. That’s better than in 2017 when 62 people were diagnosed with West Nile.
What’s really sobering is the fact that the Utah State Prison is being relocated directly west of the new airport. Thousands of employees at both sites, and prisoners will be providing mosquitoes with some juicy blood next bug season. They go away for good during our first freeze, but start to come back in the spring, peak in the summer and then taper off in the fall. Right now, the only mention of them is on our tax bill but you can bet when the new prison opens and phase two of the airport is completed, we’ll have more reports of mosquito swarms and bites. The $780 million state prison is getting ready to house 3,600 inmates coming this January and those people will attract mosquitoes with every exhale of carbon dioxide.
The executive director of the MAD trapped hundreds of mosquitoes at the current prison site in a 24 hour measurement, but then lured thousands in 24 hours at the new prison site. It’s horrible being in prison for many reasons, and this looming plague just adds another layer of hell to both inmates and staff at the new Utah State prison opening next year. It is built on wetlands that will certainly turn into drylands with this ongoing drought, so it’s possible the bloodsuckers will dry up themselves. Alternatively, there will be less feed for the birds, reptiles and mammals to eat.
Although Salt Lake City homeowners pay for abatement out of property taxes, the state has been paying for treatments/sprays out of the state prison construction fund. Whether those monies will continue to flow will be up to the legislature. Hopefully, the burden will not fall to Salt Lake City residents who will unfortunately suffer from not just the insects, but the toxic chemicals used to treat them.

Gas is Only Cheap At Taco Bell

Just when you thought there was enough bad news to go around, it appears we’re in for another kick in the pants with predictions that utility prices are going to jump this winter.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in October that residential propane prices (most of us don’t use propane in Utah) were starting the winter heating season at their highest level since 2011. For people back east who use heating oil, they will see higher prices than what the past two years brought. ‘Winter Fuels Outlook’ forecasts that U.S. households who use natural gas to heat will spend an average of $746 on heat bills from October-March, which is 30% more than last year. Dominion Energy is passing on an 8.9% increase in natural gas as of this month to all us users in Utah. We’re lucky though that we get our gas from nearby states and Dominion stores it for later use, which keeps the price down.
It’s completely logical that residential prices for energy are going up because more people are staying at home working and using more gas and electricity. Utah has the lowest water prices in the west thanks to our Utah State Legislature, so don’t expect to see any jump in water bills despite the statewide drought.
There are a ton of options to help you pay your bills if you get into financial troubles. The website www.needhelppayingbills.com-ut is a terrific website that will help you find financial help and how to apply for assistance programs in all cities and counties in Utah. Residents who qualify can receive grants for paying utility bills, free medical care, rent or mortgage help. It gives you info on the Food Stamp (EBT cards) program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) as well as free legal aid, benefits for the disabled, social services and emergency assistance.
The Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that this winter will be dryer in Southern Utah and the entire region is forecast to record above normal warmer temperatures. For weather geeks like me this year is another La Nina year-just like 2020. But the good news is October brought an early snowpack and sometimes La Nina surprises us and we end up with less snow in the valleys and above average flakes for the mountains. Last year Alta celebrated 553” of snow and we can all fast on Impossible Whoppers and pray to Cryokinesis, the Goddess of Snow for another banner year.
In Utah, Dominion Energy offers help for customers experiences hardship in paying their gas bills. They suggest for any customer to consider a gas Budget Plan that divides an estimated annual gas bill into 12 equal payments. That way instead of paying $300 in January you might just pay $60 a month every month. Commercial customers can also ask for a six month break on past-due balances. To make arrangements, email customercare@dominionenergy.com or call 800-323-5517

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/