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Winter Storm in the Canyon Country. 1978

winterstormcanyoncountry78

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ARCHES NP…1976

The old Devils Garden ranger residence. Occupied by seasonal park rangers and thousands of mice.

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ZEPHYR QUESTIONS RE: SAN JUAN COUNTY TOURISM PROMOTION, A REPLY BY COMMISSIONER PHIL LYMAN, & A ZEPHYR FOLLOW-UP

Last week, The Zephyr sent a series of questions…tough questions…to the director of San Juan County Economic Development & Visitor Services about proposed increases in tourism promotion. Natalie Randall declined to comment and suggested we file a GRAMA request with the county clerk. But she forwarded the questions to Commissioner Phil Lyman, who replied at length.

Commissioner Phil Lyman

Here are the questions and his responses. The Zephyr will respond next week when we post the October/November issue of The Zephyr…JS

Hi Natalie Randall,

I’m writing a Zephyr article about the “Make it Monumental” promotion that San Juan County plans to implement and I’d like to ask you some relevant questions. First, my article in September was a cautionary tale about the way Industrial Tourism established itself in Moab  twenty years ago, and was never intended as a personal attack on you. In fact, I was unaware of ROAM industry until just a couple days before we posted the issue, and I simply raised questions and concerns that were never discussed or mentioned in the county weekly newspaper. Obviously, the commissioners are pleased with your work and support your efforts. Days after The Zephyr story posted, the  “Monumental” campaign was announced in the San Juan Record.

Phil: The TMPF grant was a big one for San Juan County. TRT and TRCC are revenue to the county, but the uses are statutorily laid out. Essentially, the county can use 2.25 of the 4.25 percent collected in TRT and all of the restaurant to “mitigate the impacts of tourism” on the county. The balance must be used to promote tourism. Because we lump the two together, and because they are based on two different sales criterion, an exact percentage of what the county can use for mitigating expenses is a moving target. Here is the data from the latest financial statement. TRT and restaurant tax are lumped together, and this is just for the eight months ended 8-31.

Here is the same view for the year ended 12-31-17

One thing that you can see pretty clearly is that our property taxes are dropping, and our TRT is increasing. I think our restaurant tax was around $100K which would have put the TRT at around $913K. The county would have been entitled to use $583k for tourism related expenses other than promotion. (calculated as follows: $913K x (2.25/4.25) + $100k). This would leave $430K earmarked for promotion.

In the past the county has spent as much as 100% of the money on promotion related activities leaving the county holding the bag for any tourism related mitigating costs. Educating the previous economic development director earned me a sea of troubles including allegations of mismanagement, sexual harassment, racism, tax fraud and any other slander the director could conjure. Fortunately I can still add and subtract despite the defamation.

Even with our categorization, it is not completely cut and dried as to what is promotion vs visitor services, and both are considered to be out of the “promotion” bucket of TRT and TRCC. In 2017 that expense was $698K. You could, and I would, argue that the county should have kept that closer to the $430K mandated amount, but since the law does not punish us for using too little of that money for mitigating costs. Prior to my taking office, the narrative was that this money belonged to the economic development director and that any use outside of promotion was, in his words, illegal.

At any rate, the infusion of $200k of state money for promotion, frees up $200k that the county has been spending on promotion that can now be used for mitigating costs. That is a big deal, and indirectly puts $200k right back into our general fund. So yes, the commissioners were please with Natalie’s efforts to tap those state resources rather than only using local general funds to run her department.

I also understand that some of these questions relate to decisions made before you became the economic development director. Again, my questions are not personal. But I believe San Juan County citizens have the right to know that decisions are being made and goals are being established by local government that could affect many more of the county’s citizens than those with a vested financial interest in a booming recreation economy.

Phil: While the recreation economy may be booming, it is not booming in San Juan County, and the environmentalists, using the BLM as their weapon of choice, continue to destroy our lives and businesses. The counties lost revenue is one thing, but the drop in taxes is due to a drop in value of mineral producing property. Along with that drop in value is loss of real jobs for real people. It is not right, and I would go to jail in order to defend our right to work and use our land, but in the end, Tourism money has provided a way for some people to remain in the county that would otherwise have had to relocate. Ideal it is not, but reality is rarely ideal.

First, I recently examined the “assessment” that you provided to Jami Bayles. When was the “Roger Brooks International”  firm hired by the county, how much time did they spend in the county, when was their work completed, and how much were they paid?

Phil: I don’t know.

DICIO Group, a public relations firm, is reportedly being paid $5,000 a month by the county. Can you confirm that and what is their role as it relates to tourism?

Phil: We hired DICIO group after a brief stint with a couple of other PR firms. During the Bears Ears gang bang from your old friends at SUWA, we had more publicity than we could have ever paid for, and it was mostly negative. I lobbied for over a year to get the county to hire a PR firm to help with the messaging. We anticipated that we would terminate our agreement with DICIO after the reduction, but as attacks have only increased and as the narrative continues to grow both positive and negative, we feel like our small effort to direct the immense amount of attention is providing a tremendous return on our investment. DICIO is not paid from TRT money, they are a line item of the commissioners’ budget.

As I understand it, a firm called “Relic Agency” is doing the ad campaign. How much are they being paid and when will their campaign be ready for public dissemination? And how long will the campaign last? If the county believes it has been a success, is there a plan to increase promotion even more?

Phil: This is who the Utah Department of Tourism uses for a lot of their media work. Since our TMPF (Tourism Marketing Performance Fund) grant is a partnership effort with the State, and since they do this routinely and we do it not at all, we are happy to have them direct much of the technical side of this promotional grant.

In your June 2018 working meeting with the commissioners, you said, “…we’ve done small matches in the past of like $10,000 or less. This year we’re kind of pulling a big one. We’re doing a $400,000 campaign project. We already have $200,000 that were typically allocated in our budget for marketing. This type of marketing specifically so we want to capitalize on that.”

That’s a 2000% increase from previous promotions (4000% counting matching funds), based on your comments. That is a dramatic increase. Is there any limit that the county might impose upon itself to keep tourist promotion from spiraling out of control?

Phil: I think I have addressed this. This is not necessarily an increase in marketing, since the county has spent a lot of money on marketing in the past. If you want to call it a 2000% increase in revenue that Natalie was able to secure, that would be accurate. I am sure we will see an increase in marketing expenses this year, but rather than just spending $200k that was budgeted, we have a match from the state. As for imposing a limit, the budget is the limit, and the question you pose about spiraling out of control is more of an indictment than a question. The commissioners’ primary function is budgetary, and there is nothing spiraling out of control other than our legal defense costs. What you have with funding tourism is a powerful lobby and a well-funded engine. If the county works harder to keep TRT spending closer to the prescribed formula, and it is successful. Spending on promotion will increase year over year as mandated by the code. Sales tax revenue, property tax revenue, and the portion of TRT used for mitigation will also increase. If that is the definition of spiraling then it will spiral, but within the strict confines of the code. Typically we think of spiraling downward, which could also happen if tourism shrinks. Then promotion would shrink, and tourism would shrink even further.

You also stated that, “across the county there’s a lot of support for the campaign and there’s excitement for it.”

Phil: That is no doubt true. Some people are thrilled to have a national monument. Some are thrilled to have a good promotion of the area. Some are thrilled to have more customers in their restaurant. You should not conflate the monument with the promotion or with the grant. They are three separate things that stand alone.

Can you tell me which tourist businesses specifically signed on and can you tell me what other businesses and individuals, not tied to the tourist industry also support the plan?

Phil: I don’t know specifics. But I am not tied to the tourist industry and I applaud Natalie for taking the initiative to bring in State grant money. (Yes I have clients in tourism, and I have a group of local developers trying to put together a Fairfield Marriott project, so I might be more tied to tourism in the future.)

San Juan County has a population of over 16,000. What percentage of the county’s residents do you think was aware of the “Make it Monumental” campaign as it was being developed, before it was finalized and on course to be initiated? In other words, how many of the county’s citizens were aware enough to object or offer criticisms before it was too late to bother?

Phil: What do you mean by too late? You know, our economic director applied for a grant and it was awarded. A couple of very rough draft conceptual videos have been produced and are under editorial review. None of them mention the monument or use the tag line make it monumental. The tag line has never been the focus of the effort except by those who are hostile toward San Juan County. The trib and the San Juan Record saw an opportunity to disparage Natalie and the County by making their own narrative about this campaign. It pains me to see you and Jami jump on board with them. This is another gaslighting accusation put in the form of a question.

Further, you talked about building new tourist infrastructure and told the commissioners that you would first, “reach out to the residents…is there anyone that wants to take on that need? And if there isn’t, then our office (is) going out and recruiting, and bringing in outside business to do that. We’d like to keep it local first if possible, and then grow from there.”

Phil: Yes, if we plan to engage people as they pass through our communities, we need more restaurants and hotels. A major survey was performed a few years ago and residents said they favor growth if it can be accomplished by locals. It is hard to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps so to speak but that is the sentiment that Natalie was referring to.

So if there isn’t the interest locally, or more likely there is a lack of expertise and the financial resources to build a bigger tourist infrastructure, you plan to go outside the county to recruit new businesses to exploit what you clearly regard as a lucrative opportunity. How does that benefit the local economy, other than an increase in the county’s tax base? (which is exactly what Moab and Grand County said and did 25 years ago.)

Phil: You are clearly suffering from PTMD – post traumatic Moab disorder and think that because Moab promoted mountain biking or restaurants that any community that wants a couple of restaurants and bike trails is going to hurt you. Cedar City also promotes their ATV trails, their Biking, their college, and their hotels.

Logan does it. Provo does it. Even Price and Brigham City does it. (can you name that tune?)

Moab’s flaw is that they hate Mormons. As a result, everything they do is an affront to Utah. Bluff has the same disease. Park City to a certain extent. But Blanding does not hate Mormons for the most part. Monticello has aligned themselves with an anti-Mormon element that I predict will cause problems for all of us.

Your comments also remind me of remarks made to the San Juan County Commission four years ago by Ashley Korenblat,  the executive director of the Outdoor Business Network (now “Public Lands Solutions.”). She said,  “You’ve got to advertise to get people to come and to encourage people to start the businesses, but unless the business is there,  unless the restaurants and grocery stores and hotels are there, you don’t really see the revenue. It’s hard to see the benefit of the advertising. So it’s sort of this thing that has to evolve… Like, it’s just pure entrepreneurship.” (emphasis added)

Phil: That statement is 100% pure fact. There is nothing about that statement, other than the person saying it, that is even remotely inaccurate. I read Saul Alinsky’s book rules for radicals, twice. It is infuriating and an afront to decent people, even dedicated to Lucifer, that first great organizer, but it is also nearly 100% true. Why would you advertise fine dining in a town with no restaurants, and why would you build restaurants and then not advertise them. Remove the PTMD and it is pure entrepreneurship, Cal Black style.

Do you think that sums up the county’s views as well? Bill Haven, a passionate promoter of tourism has also aligned himself with Korenblat, writing in the SJ Record that he “gives (her) a lot of credit for trying to organize businesses and getting involved in the land use debate.”

Phil: Ashley’s business could be a case study for marketing students on how to build a profitable business using other people’s land and money. Bill and I have discussed this and we both agree, but recognizing the genius is not saying that her business model is virtuous. Its like saying someone is a consummate politician, or a hugely successful writer.

Does your office work with PLS in any way and do you and the county commission share her approach to tourism and recreation?

Phil: I don’t think the county has any association with Ashley. Our paths cross occasionally. I have burned my bridge with Ashley by exposing her participation with Juan Palma and Brad Peterson in the “Boycott Utah unless they support bears ears campaign. PLS will continue to win, not on its own merits, but because liberals drive the BLM bus and Ashley is from the right tribe.

I’d like to ask for your comments regarding some of Mr Haven’s other remarks at the September 4, 2018 commission meeting. He told the commission that in 2016 the county had “put in for kind of the same marketing grant in 2016 and we did receive acceptance of that grant…. but we never used that grant because of the situation at that time with the Bears Ears National Monument. We re-met as a group and said maybe it’s not appropriate right now, with what the county’s doing and the citizens of the county, with regards to the monument.”

Phil: I know that the Blanding Area travel council and the city of Monticello teamed up to do a billboard campaign promoting the area to the Denver and Phoenix market. I think they backed off because it was simply drawing too much negative attention. Plus we were being inundated with visitors that we had not anticipated when the promotion was first proposed. And it had nothing to do with promoting a monument.

The citizens who have contacted me recently about this matter cite the fact that the “Monumental” promotion, in name but also in its size and scope, smacks of hypocrisy. What’s different now?

Phil: Those people fail to realize that tourism is a major economic engine for the county and has been for the past 100 years and will be for the foreseeable future. I dislike the tag line very much. Natalie was not involved in all the carnage surrounding the PLI and the monument designation. As an economic development director we do not pay her to be a political pundit but to see what works economically. Apparently the “make it monumental” tag line resonated with visitors to whom it was targeted. It did not resonate with me, and I have gently encouraged the use of a different tag line. This entire campaign is at its alpha not its omega, and it makes absolutely no sense to drop a hammer on someone who is tasked with actually doing something, and who is asking for some constructive feedback. Since this ultimately will come down to a commission decision, and since we like Natalie a lot, we have offered our feedback. She also has an advisory board that has offered their feedback, and at the point that it finally made it to a public meeting, the purpose of which is to engage the citizens, we are now able to get additional citizen feedback.

Also, Mr Haven said at the meeting, ” I never heard one person say ‘my goal is to turn into Moab’.”

The fact is, NOBODY in Moab, twenty years ago, thought it would become what it is now. I lived there for 32 years and was one of the few to suggest that an Industrial Tourism economy could spin out of control.

http://www.canyoncountryzephyr.com/2013/12/02/new-west-blues-by-jim-stiles/

I am sure that no one in their right mind, not even Mr Haven, wants to see Blanding become the “next Moab.” But could you tell me what your office and  county government thinks it can do to assure that San Juan County promotes a tourist economy that is predominantly beneficial to the people who live there now?  What specific steps can be taken to assure that goal? Does the county have a plan? How does it assure that the jobs created are living wage jobs? (And also, what kind of efforts is your office making to bring non-tourism jobs to the county? Can you be specific?)

Phil: Unlike the BLM San Juan County does not have totalitarian delusions. We tend to follow the philosophy of Joseph Smith, “let them govern themselves.” It is each persons responsibility to support themselves and not the counties job to assure anyone a “living wage job.” If someone wants to build a resort style hotel, sell alcohol, rent jeeps, and give river tours, God bless ‘em. If someone else wants to try to create an outdoor school to promote appreciation for Gaya and her many gifts, God bless them too as long as they do it with their own money and not with government subsidies. Moab citizens took a passive stance when they should have been proactive, at least if they wanted to control the local economy.

I must again identify your PTMD at work here.

And how does the county plan to deal with impacts to the community and the area caused by sudden increases in tourism? Is there a plan for that as well?

Phil: Sudden increase in tourism? Obama took care of that for us. We have had a huge increase in traffic and we were unprepared for it.

Regarding tourist-related jobs, Haven made an extraordinary comment to the commissioners on September 4 when he stated, “There’s a lot of people that work in the tourism business and cleaning rooms was never meant to be a career, it’s a way to make some extra money, and most people that do it say ‘great! I made some extra money!”

Haven makes it sound like people who work in the tourist economy cleaning toilets do it as a sideline. Very few Moabites who work in marginal tourist-related jobs (sometimes they work three jobs just to get by),  think of it as a hobby or a quick way to earn some extra fun money.

I can tell you that there are hundreds of people in Moab and untold thousands in other tourist communities in the West who would take issue with Haven’s remarks. In fact, I suspect they’d be furious. People in Moab are working minimum wage jobs and trying to survive in a community where housing prices have spiraled out of sight. They may not have “meant” for it to become a career, but hard economic realities have often made it so.

Does your office look ahead to deal with these kinds of issues?

Phil: Jim, seriously.. your line of questioning is so accusatory. I have not seen this side of you, but it bugs me. Why should Natalie opine on Bill Haven’s comments? Why should she, or in this case I, have to respond to a set of questions that are little more than a tirade against Moab. Do you think that we are not sentient beings? Do you think that having lived in Moab first as a radical Ed Abbey environmentalist and then as the pariah of the environmentalists, gives you a moral high ground that warrants this sort of gotcha questioning. Of course the San Juan County economic development department looks ahead. They are a branch of the county government and as such, have all the restraints and all the accountability that is required of county governments. It is a wonder any department can function at all in this over-sensitive, irrational environment, but ours do a decent job. We have a hard time finding good employees and an even harder time firing bad ones. Natalie is one of the best. You really should seek to understand before casting dispersions. You have missed the mark and led a bunch of people down a really unfortunate path on this issue. You have given ammunition to our enemies, and distracted people from their lives and responsibilities. I don’t mean this as anything but a candid exchange between friends at this point, but on the record as you stated.

And finally, Haven states that “this is the first marketing plan the county has come up with (in at least in 11 years).” Obviously it’s a massive spending increase from the previous decade.

You and other community leaders have seen the effect of tourism on Moab and Grand County. So why now? Nothing has changed in San Juan County except the creation of Bears Ears National Monument. While you and the commission may believe that a slight name change will solve the public relations issue,  the real concern for many is the amount of money being spent and the aggressive way the county is suddenly going after tourist dollars. Or was the county’s leadership opposed to the original monument proclamation only because of its concerns about federal government overreach?

Phil: “Nothing has changed except the creation of Bears Ears National Monument”?? That’s like saying nothing has changed except Donald Trump was elected president, or Nothing has changed except for the passage of FLMPMA, or nothing has changed except traffic increased by 180% almost overnight. And asking if the county’s leadership was opposed to the original monument proclamation only because of its concerns about federal government overreach, is like saying that rape is essentially the same as consensual sex. Process matters much more than the final product.

This is another loaded question directed inconsiderately at the wrong person.

After all, this promotional campaign comes on the heels of a very strong and united resistance by many San Juan County citizens who not only opposed the original proclamation but who also objected to and resented the massive marketing of the area by mainstream environmentalists and the powerful outdoor industry. A monolithic tourist/recreation economy is not a future that many San Juan citizens want. In fact, with good reason, many dread the notion.

Consequently, does your office and local government understand why so many citizens — in and out of the county — are looking at this tourist promotion as a contradiction?

Phil: Yes

And I think it’s also fair to ask why a county government that prides itself on its conservative views feels it’s appropriate to publicly fund private industry. How is this compatible with the standard conservative perspective that government should stay out of private enterprise?

Phil: https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title59/Chapter12/59-12-P3.html

San Juan County did not invent TRT yet we are obligated to collect it. And you want the county government to both stay out of private enterprise and to ensure a living wage job. Another loaded question filled with animus.

Haven even stated at the September 4 meeting that, “Some of the businesses have done some marketing on their own and has (sic)  success with it.” That makes perfect sense. I don’t expect San Juan County to help promote The Zephyr. Why should any business in San Juan County assume it should? As I understand it, the Transient Room Tax is not mandatory. (correct me if I’m wrong). The counties choose to impose the tax and at what level. Most conservatives oppose the heavy burden of taxation on citizens by any government entity. The TRT does little to help anyone in the community except those with a vested financial self-interest in tourism.

Phil: I don’t think any business in San Juan County assumes that San Juan County “should” promote their business, however, as I have said, this TRT machine is a formidable one. If you would like to lobby to have it repealed or to get the county to opt out of the local element of TRT, knock yourself out. But to try to affect an industry and legislative institution like TRT by demanding that Natalie answer for it or for the county is yet again an affront to common courtesy.

Those are my questions for now. I may have more later. Both Mr. Haven and your husband chastised me for not asking you questions directly when I wrote my first short article on bike trails…I hope this series of questions provides your office a greater opportunity for transparency with citizens of San Juan County.  I’d appreciate a reply to these questions at your earliest convenience, and please note that I regard all correspondence as on the record.

Jim, Natalie’s office is completely transparent. What you call providing an opportunity for greater transparency is nothing but an assault. I know your animus is not directed at Natalie and I am glad she directed this to me because you seem to have a healthy disdain for pretty much everything above, below, and surrounding the county, tourism, TRT, Bill Haven, mountain bikes, and who knows what else.

I am glad that this correspondence is “on the record” because I think a lot of those who see you as a voice of reason, myself included, may start to recognize a less friendly motive than the one you portray. Scott Groene would be pleased.

Regards,

Phil

In Response…

I can only reply by saying that for almost 30 years, I have consistently expressed the belief that an “Industrial Tourism” economy can have a devastating effect on rural communities and on the very resource environmentalists claim they are trying to protect. I first expressed those concerns in 1991 in an essay called, “New West Blues.” When I wrote that article, Moab was still a quiet “economically depressed” town. It was the first of many “cautionary tales” that I have written since then. I am not driven to write these articles by partisanship or  ideology– I can’t. Any journalist who abandons objectivity to please his friends abandons his integrity as well.

And so, this has never been about “switching sides;” I tried to follow the issues, the information, and the facts.

Consequently, the mainstream environmental community, especially in Utah, has indeed, as Lyman states, labeled me “a pariah,” or worse. My opposition to a runaway tourist economy led my old environmentalist friends to portray me in public as a mentally unstable man with mysterious, deeply rooted “anger” issues.

As recently as last Spring, when a Salt Lake City  journalist mentioned The Zephyr to a SUWA staff attorney, I was dismissed out of hand as an irrelevant “crank.” (I object to ‘irrelevant!’)

And for trying to take what I regard as a principled stand on Industrial Tourism, I lost most of my advertising support in ‘New Moab.’  The print version of The Zephyr ended in 2009 mainly for that very reason.

My well-documented concerns about Industrial Tourism as they relate to the Bears Ears controversy resulted in allegations that I’ve become a shill for the oil industry, white supremacists, Governor Herbert, the “alt-right,”  and yes, even Phil Lyman.

So when Commissioner Lyman writes that, “Scott Groene will be pleased,” he may be right, but for a very different reason.

My old friend “Groan,” and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Friends of Cedar Mesa, Patagonia and North Face, and their associates in the outdoor industry, and the urban environmental community across the country— all of them believe that the best way to eliminate the rural extractive American West is to pursue the “Industrial Strength Recreation” economy that the Trust’s Bill Hedden once said could doom it.

Whether this consortium finds support for that idea in the Liberal preferences of Moab, or the Conservative pursuits of San Juan County, it doesn’t matter. To them, as long as the outcome is the same, it’s a victory.

So yes, “Scott Groene will be pleased.”

Ultimately it may well be that San Juan County embraces full-fledged Industrial Tourism as the solution to its economic woes…But the citizens must be the ones leading themselves to the future. The only way they can make those choices is to be privy to all the facts.  They can’t make honest and intelligent decisions without them. That’s all this publication ever attempts to do. We ask questions and look for some answers…JS

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: After the publication of the “Monumental” article and this blog link, we heard, via email,  from Commissioner Lyman…

LYMAN

Jim,

I read your piece, and the complete email exchange between us. I have not received the email follow up that is included in your article. Did you actually send that to me?

Phil

STILES:

Phil,

I don’t understand your question.  We posted your ‘on the record’ comments. In it you wrote:

“I am glad that this correspondence is ‘on the record’ because I think a lot of those who see you as a voice of reason, myself included, may start to recognize a less friendly motive than the one you portray.”

You wanted the public to read your comments. I responded publicly.

LYMAN:

I am glad to have the email exchange included. My question was that you included in your piece what you claim was a response to my email but which I have no record of you ever actually sending to me. My question is quite simple. Don’t try to read more into it than I have asked.

The part from your article that you claim to have sent me in response follows. I simply asked if you actually sent this to me or if you were just trying to give that impression to your readers?

FOR ALL ZEPHYR READERS, INCLUDING PHIL LYMAN….

In case any of our readers were similarly confused, the italicized response, which is also in the larger Monumental article, was our public response to his ‘on the record’ comments. It was not sent privately to Mr. Lyman…JS

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COMMENTS BY NICOLE PERKINS AND JANET WILCOX ON PBS

Nicole Perkins
Back in May of this year I was invited to participate in an interview done by a group of students under the direction of a more seasoned reporter who had previously worked for, I believe, ABC (or CBS, on of the major networks). I was under the impression that they wanted to get all perspectives of San Juan County residents and understand why trust the media has fallen so drastically.  I don’t remember them saying anything about this also becoming a PBS story.

I felt the article included in the SJ Record was done much better than the PBS story, although there was a quote in the printed story that was taken out of context. The same was done in the PBS story where they had shown a small part of my interview that gave them this quote.

This is the quote they gave.  “The raids–when they came and raided Dr. Redd, and his family and the other people here.  You saw all the local people, they came in with guns and vehicles just like we were ISIS or something.”

So if a person is to read that quote they could get the impression that it was the local people that came in with guns and vehicles like ISIS.  I was obviously struggling with some emotion when I gave that quote and had a hard time putting my words together (the interview they showed was really really awful).

Had they included what I said IMMEDIATELY after that, it would have been very clear that it was the federal agents that came in armed. That the citizens of the county had stood by peacefully and forced to see their neighbors terrorized.

During the interview, I shared a conversation that I had with someone who had recently moved to Blanding right after the raids. He was asking me questions about the raids and the experience here. I told him it was overkill, to put it mildly.  What they accomplished through brute force could and should have been done peacefully and should have been done in coordination with the local sheriff.

He had the perception that it was necessary for the federal agents to come in “loaded for Bear” because just about every man, woman, and child owns a gun and they didn’t know what to expect. He also had a negative perception of the citizens here and that we were somewhat backward, uneducated and racist renegades.

Now let me ask you, since he was someone who was brand new to the area, no relatives or previous friends or contacts that were from or knew anyone from San Juan County, where do you think he had obtained this redneck stereo type of us? Yep, the mainstream media.

I agreed with my friend that a significant number of residents in San Juan County own guns and are armed. Yet there was not even one resident who pulled a gun or tried to in any way interfere with the Federal Agents.  We had to stand and watch as our neighbors were drug, half dressed at times, out of their homes and held at gun point along with family members.  There was no vigilantism or even a whisper of an attempt to take the law into our own hands as much as it hurt to watch those we knew as good people be brutalized in such an unnecessary manner.  (Sorry, long sentence)

Switching gears for a minute:  There are two main library branches in San Juan County.  One in Monticello and the other in Blanding.  More than half of Blanding’s population is Native American and the rest is mostly Anglo.  Monticello has fewer Native Americans but a number of Spanish speaking residents along with anglo residents.  There are 3 other “satellite” libraries in the county.  One in La Sal, one in Montezuma Creek, and one in Bluff.  The county has also partnered with the schools in Monument Valley and Navajo Mountain and their High School libraries in helping to fund materials and help pay for librarian salaries so as to be able to extend library hours.Health Services in San Juan County:

1 hospital and 1 clinic in Monticello owned by the county

1 clinic in Blanding owned by the county

1 clinic in Blanding under UNHS (Utah Navajo Health Systems) which is an IHS facility

1 hospital in Blanding (Blue Mountain Hospital, not owned by the county or under UNHS)

1 clinic in Montezuma Creek under UNHS, again an IHS facility.  Brand new, spacious and top notch…

Why is this information important? Well, it was conveniently left out of the PBS report and presented the people in San Juan County as enjoying “white privilege” when it comes to these important services offered throughout the county.

People who are familiar with the reservation understand why services are located where they are without there being anything nefarious involved.  If you look at where the density of the populations reside in the county, the location of these services makes perfect sense and rather than anything to do with white privilege.  Also, remember that more than half of Blanding’s population is Native American, where there are 2 clinics and 1 hospital and a main branch county library.

Roughly 3000 sq miles of the almost 8000 sq miles in San Juan County is reservation, making it nearly impossible to offer services within a half hours travel time to everyone living here. The population that resides on the reservation is very spread out. Services offered on the reservation are located where the population is more dense, such as Montezuma Creek.

One other point that I would like to include. One of the students that was part of the interviewing followed me to the library after meeting at Janet’s house to do some filming there.  I introduced him to my staff.  At the time, I had 2 Native Americans and 1 Anglo and 1 staff member who was half Mexican and half Native American.  No mention of this anywhere in the PBS story…

So, to end where I began…

A group of students came to San Juan County with a seasoned reporter to spend some time among the residents and to report on their findings in a fair and balanced manner.  One of their questions: Why the growing distrust with the mainstream media?  My answer (which they quoted correctly in the SJ record) “You watch the national news and you sit here from home and you think, ‘What?  Where did they get that?’ We have been so villainized in the media…People are just turning away from your major national news sources in rural areas more and more because they know what is being told is false due to their own experiences.”

My trust with the mainstream media has dwindled, if possible, even more after this last experience.  I would suggest that next time any journalist students would like to learn more about an area and the people that live there and then do a fair and balanced report, leave the seasoned mainstream journalist behind…

Janet Wilcox:

“Like the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the Annenberg team had a hidden agenda when they came to San Juan County. Even though what they wrote for the local paper was innocuous  and reader-friendly,  lurking in the future was the goal to disparage San Juan County and expose the supposed disparity in services and representation of Navajo people.  What they failed to investigate was the convoluted laws and decisions imposed by Navajo tribal government itself, that interferes with real progress in Utah.  Much of San Juan County is reservation lands and because Navajos claim to be a sovereign nation, services such as ambulance’s, police, water development, and electricity are responsibilities managed by the Navajo tribe.  Because their homes are on Navajo land – which they can never own– they pay no property taxes in the county.    No where in the story does it discuss the responsibility of the Navajo tribal government, and why they have been neglecting their own people.  For decades Utah Navajos have been treated like orphans by the Navajo Nation. Almost to a person, any Utah Navajo would corroborate this (unless, of course, they had a position on the tribal council!). This was a huge part of the story never included in the team’s investigation.

During those same years, the productive oil fields of Montezuma Creek and Aneth have been generating millions of dollars which should have been used to bless tribal members living in Utah.  Those oil royalties were going to the Navajo tribe, with only 1/3 of it coming back to help the Navajos in Utah.  Finally, this past year, thanks to the efforts of Commissioner Rebecca Benally and others, that ratio was changed, and now 2/3rds of the royalties are finally coming back to Utah where they belong. With wise management, these monies can make a big difference in the quality of life Navajos could have been having all along, on the Utah side of the reservation.

Perhaps it is time for Utah Navajos to secede from the tribe and claim these lands as their own and manage all the royalties generated, thus becoming 100% San Juan County citizens and tax payers.

Posted in Uncategorized.

SAN JUAN COUNTY WORKING MEETING JUNE 19, 2018

This is a verbatim transcription of a June 19, 2018 working meeting with Natalie Randall, Economic Development Director and the San Juan County Commission…Bruce Adams, Rebecca Benally, and Phil Lyman. Also present SJ County administrator Kelly Pehrson. Minutes and audio can be found here.

https://www.utah.gov/pmn/index.html

San Juan County Work Meeting, June 19, 2018

Natalie Randall: The big thing for tourism right now is the co-op grant is due in the next couple of few days. And so the co-op grant is where we can match our budget for additional funding. We’ve done small matches in the past of like $10,000 or less. This year we’re kind of pulling a big one. We’re doing a $400,000 campaign project. We already have $200,000 that were typically allocated in our budget for marketing, this type of marketing specifically so we want to capitalize on that. So just making you aware of it, because the state runs on a fiscal year and we’re on a calendar year. So my request…

Commission Bruce Adams: That comes from the state, right?

Randall: Yeah, that comes from the state.

Adams: Yeah, this is one that I brought up in the past that I thought we were missing the boat on because we were only looking at a $10,000 grant and I could see other counties were getting much, much more than…

Randall: So we’ve pulled together and organized a campaign. This campaign, we’re not saying no to international just for this specific campaign. We’re calling a Monumental Campaign. Focus is a monumental experience, a monumental vacation, kind of a play on words. But with our ad agency that we pulled on a lot of the metrics drive that this will be a successful draw. The markets that we’re looking at are California, specifically LA, Denver and Phoenix. We’re ranging everything from Facebook, Instagram, social, all the digital SCO side of things that we can continue to track adding to billboards into Denver that continue the same consistent message, and then extending to Hulu in Phoenix and California and then cable networks in Denver. The Hulu networks are interesting because you can track the demographic all the way down to the type of activity that the person wants to do or where they like to eat for dinner. Like types of restaurants they like. So we can really narrow down our target market. We’ve identified a primary and a secondary market within those states. The primary market that we’re looking at are ages 25-50 with 2-3 kids at home, income $60,000 and up. And then the secondary market are empty-nesters, 55 and up with a $200,000 net worth or $75,000 income. So we feel that that falls within line. We’ve canvased the entire county, we’ve met with the majority of the tourism businesses one-on-one. Everyone seems supportive of it. We’ve received letters of support from business owners in Bluff, met with Monument Valley yesterday at Gouldings, we’re receiving a letter of support from them. Met with Monticello businesses, Blanding businesses. So, across the county there’s a lot of support for the campaign and there’s excitement for it.

Commission Rebecca Benally: So is there any way to track how many tourists come to the county and how many days they stay here and has there been an increase? Has it sustained? Has it decreased within the last year?

Randall: So, the best tracking mechanism we’ve had until now is TRT. That’s the other project we’ve been working on out of our office. So what we’re onboarding next year, and starting in January, is Visa View. Visa View tracks any Visa card, both domestic and international that comes through our county lines. And then we can track back the user to their zip code, where they originated from, country code and even cities within countries. You can see their average daily spent. Typically you can then track like the stay because they continue using their card throughout.

Benally: Oh. Wow.

Randall: So that’s what we’ll metric. So this campaign is not based off of that, this campaign’s based off of what we’re seeing, interest into our area. And then looking into 2020 our next campaign will then focus in on, ok this is who we brought in to the area, now extending like the stay with those individuals. So we’re changing our metrics.

Benally: So you’re just developing the baseline information now?

Randall: Yeah, TRT’s the best way we could track before but there were a lot of guesses with that, too. Like property value, like an individual room rate could increase. We haven’t really had a huge influx up until now of properties expanding and growing, so the TRT has gone up, but there’s are a lot of assumptions that can be made of why that happened.

Benally: Yeah

Randall: But overall it is going up, so…continuously there’s a continuous trend of 10% increase.

Commissioner Phil Lyman: We’re on track for 2018 to see another 10%?

Randall: To continue…yeah, at this point we are.

Lyman: Ok. And does that include the restaurant tax?

Randall: Restaurant tax is down.

Lyman: Is it?

Randall: Yeah. And it’s been down, I think it’s down 14.5%. But last year it was down as well. I mean we had restaurants close. I wasn’t with the county then, but just seeing in Monticello the trends that were happening was less restaurants.

Kelly Pehrson: Yeah you had two in Monticello close.

Randall: And so that affects the restaurant tax for sure. But again, there’s kind of shift we see like Yak’s is open on Sundays now for brunch. Peace Tree’s onboarding. Another is Doug’s Ribs, he’s going to be open partway through the week for that. With Gristmill opening up a restaurant, so hopefully for 2018, we won’t be able to make up for that initial negative, but I think that the trend will continue to increase. But that’s also the other thing, working with the Blanding Area Travel Council, working with Bob, kind of what we’ve identified is almost a model of, from them we need to find out what the gaps are. What are the gaps and needs of the businesses in your community as you’re serving and meeting the expectations of visitors, a big thing, if they’re restaurants? And then from there, reaching out to the residents, is there anyone that wants to take on that need? And if there isn’t, then our office going out and recruiting, and bringing in outside business to do that. We’d like to keep it local first if possible, and then grow from there. The only thing with the, and I know this will have to come into commission meeting, but just a letter of support for the grant that we will be utilizing our $200,000 as a match. And I can draft part of that letter, but if we could just have a letter of support for that.

Adams: Do you want to just type up that letter, put our names on it and we’ll sign it, I think?

Randall: Ok. Yeah, I will do that and then bring it back to commission meeting today just so I can have it.

Adams: Yeah, just go ahead and write the letter and bring it in and we’ll sign it.

Randall: Ok. Thank you. Any other questions?

Lyman: Thanks.

Adams: Ok. Good report, Natalie.

 

Later in the day, the commissioners met to vote on the “Monumental” promotion. It was unanimous in support.

San Juan County Commission Meeting, June 19, 2018

Pehrson: Natalie has a support letter that she wants you guys to sign, talking about how we’re using some of our TRTs to match some of the state funds.

Adams: And I think this’ll increase us from the possibility of getting, from $10,000 to  $200,000. Right?

Pehrson: Correct.

Adams: Okay. Two letters?

Pehrson: Yeah.

Adams: Ok, do we have a motion?

Benally: Motion.

Adams: Ok, motion by Rebecca.

Lyman: Second

Adams: Second by Phil. All in favor say Aye.

All Commissioners: Aye

Adams: It’s unanimous.

Pehrson: I think it needs all three of your signatures.

 

From the official minutes for June 19, 2018:

“Kelly requested that commission sign a support letter indicating that the county will use some of the TRT money to match state funds. A motion to sign the letter was made by Commissioner Benally and 2nd by Commissioner Lyman. Voting was unanimous.”

Minutes and audio can be found here. https://www.utah.gov/pmn/index.html

Posted in Uncategorized.

ZEPHYR LETTERS TO & FROM NATALIE RANDALL

NOTE: On September 18, I sent a long series of questions to San Juan County Economic Development director Natalie Randall. Here is the email, her reply and my follow up…JS
 
 
EMAIL TO NATALIE RANDALL, September 18, 2018
Hi Natalie Randall,
I’m writing a Zephyr article about the “Make it Monumental” promotion that San Juan County plans to implement and I’d like to ask you some relevant questions. First, my article in September was a cautionary tale about the way Industrial Tourism established itself in Moab  twenty years ago, and was never intended as a personal attack on you. In fact, I was unaware of ROAM industry until just a couple days before we posted the issue, and I simply raised questions and concerns that were never discussed or mentioned in the county weekly newspaper. Obviously, the commissioners are pleased with your work and support your efforts. Days after The Zephyr story posted, the  “Monumental” campaign was announced in the San Juan Record.
I also understand that some of these questions relate to decisions made before you became the economic development director. Again, my questions are not personal. But I believe San Juan County citizens have the right to know that decisions are being made and goals are being established by local government that could affect many more of the county’s citizens than those with a vested financial interest in a booming recreation economy.
First, I recently examined the “assessment” that you provided to Jami Bayles. When was the “Roger Brooks International”  firm hired by the county, how much time did they spend in the county, when was their work completed, and how much were they paid?
DICIO Group, a public relations firm, is reportedly being paid $5,000 a month by the county. Can you confirm that and what is their role as it relates to tourism?
As I understand it, a firm called “Relic Agency” is doing the ad campaign. How much are they being paid and when will their campaign be ready for public dissemination? And how long will the campaign last? If the county believes it has been a success, is there a plan to increase promotion even more?
In your June 2018 working meeting with the commissioners, you said, “…we’ve done small matches in the past of like $10,000 or less. This year we’re kind of pulling a big one. We’re doing a $400,000 campaign project. We already have $200,000 that were typically allocated in our budget for marketing. This type of marketing specifically so we want to capitalize on that.”
That’s a 2000% increase from previous promotions (4000% counting matching funds), based on your comments. That is a dramatic increase. Is there any limit that the county might impose upon itself to keep tourist promotion from spiraling out of control?
You also stated that, “across the county there’s a lot of support for the campaign and there’s excitement for it.”
Can you tell me which tourist businesses specifically signed on and can you tell me what other businesses and individuals, not tied to the tourist industry also support the plan?
San Juan County has a population of over 16,000. What percentage of the county’s residents do you think was aware of the “Make it Monumental” campaign as it was being developed, before it was finalized and on course to be initiated? In other words, how many of the county’s citizens were aware enough to object or offer criticisms before it was too late to bother?
Further, you talked about building new tourist infrastructure and told the commissioners that you would first, “reach out to the residents…is there anyone that wants to take on that need? And if there isn’t, then our office (is) going out and recruiting, and bringing in outside business to do that. We’d like to keep it local first if possible, and then grow from there.”
So if there isn’t the interest locally, or more likely there is a lack of expertise and the financial resources to build a bigger tourist infrastructure, you plan to go outside the county to recruit new businesses to exploit what you clearly regard as a lucrative opportunity. How does that benefit the local economy, other than an increase in the county’s tax base? (which is exactly what Moab and Grand County said and did 25 years ago.)
Your comments also remind me of remarks made to the San Juan County Commission four years ago by Ashley Korenblat,  the executive director of the Outdoor Business Network (now “Public Lands Solutions.”). She said,  “You’ve got to advertise to get people to come and to encourage people to start the businesses, but unless the business is there,  unless the restaurants and grocery stores and hotels are there, you don’t really see the revenue. It’s hard to see the benefit of the advertising. So it’s sort of this thing that has to evolve… Like, it’s just pure entrepreneurship.” (emphasis added)
Do you think that sums up the county’s views as well? Bill Haven, a passionate promoter of tourism has also aligned himself with Korenblat, writing in the SJ Record that he “gives (her) a lot of credit for trying to organize businesses and getting involved in the land use debate.”
Does your office work with PLS in any way and do you and the county commission share her approach to tourism and recreation?
I’d like to ask for your comments regarding some of Mr Haven’s other remarks at the September 4, 2018 commission meeting. He told the commission that in 2016 the county had “put in for kind of the same marketing grant in 2016 and we did receive acceptance of that grant…. but we never used that grant because of the situation at that time with the Bears Ears National Monument. We re-met as a group and said maybe it’s not appropriate right now, with what the county’s doing and the citizens of the county, with regards to the monument.”
The citizens who have contacted me recently about this matter cite the fact that the “Monumental” promotion, in name but also in its size and scope, smacks of hypocrisy. What’s different now?
Also, Mr Haven said at the meeting, ” I never heard one person say ‘my goal is to turn into Moab’.”
The fact is, NOBODY in Moab, twenty years ago, thought it would become what it is now. I lived there for 32 years and was one of the few to suggest that an Industrial Tourism economy could spin out of control.
I am sure that no one in their right mind, not even Mr Haven, wants to see Blanding become the “next Moab.” But could you tell me what your office and  county government thinks it can do to assure that San Juan County promotes a tourist economy that is predominantly beneficial to the people who live there now?  What specific steps can be taken to assure that goal? Does the county have a plan? How does it assure that the jobs created are living wage jobs? (And also, what kind of efforts is your office making to bring non-tourism jobs to the county? Can you be specific?)
And how does the county plan to deal with impacts to the community and the area caused by sudden increases in tourism? Is there a plan for that as well?
Regarding tourist-related jobs, Haven made an extraordinary comment to the commissioners on September 4 when he stated, “There’s a lot of people that work in the tourism business and cleaning rooms was never meant to be a career, it’s a way to make some extra money, and most people that do it say ‘great! I made some extra money!”
Haven makes it sound like people who work in the tourist economy cleaning toilets do it as a sideline. Very few Moabites who work in marginal tourist-related jobs (sometimes they work three jobs just to get by),  think of it as a hobby or a quick way to earn some extra fun money.
I can tell you that there are hundreds of people in Moab and untold thousands in other tourist communities in the West who would take issue with Haven’s remarks. In fact, I suspect they’d be furious. People in Moab are working minimum wage jobs and trying to survive in a community where housing prices have spiraled out of sight. They may not have “meant” for it to become a career, but hard economic realities have often made it so.
Does your office look ahead to deal with these kinds of issues?
And finally, Haven states that “this is the first marketing plan the county has come up with (in at least in 11 years).” Obviously it’s a massive spending increase from the previous decade.
You and other community leaders have seen the effect of tourism on Moab and Grand County. So why now? Nothing has changed in San Juan County except the creation of Bears Ears National Monument. While you and the commission may believe that a slight name change will solve the public relations issue,  the real concern for many is the amount of money being spent and the aggressive way the county is suddenly going after tourist dollars. Or was the county’s leadership opposed to the original monument proclamation only because of its concerns about federal government overreach?
After all, this promotional campaign comes on the heels of a very strong and united resistance by many San Juan County citizens who not only opposed the original proclamation but who also objected to and resented the massive marketing of the area by mainstream environmentalists and the powerful outdoor industry. A monolithic tourist/recreation economy is not a future that many San Juan citizens want. In fact, with good reason, many dread the notion.
Consequently, does your office and local government understand why so many citizens — in and out of the county — are looking at this tourist promotion as a contradiction?
And I think it’s also fair to ask why a county government that prides itself on its conservative views feels it’s appropriate to publicly fund private industry. How is this compatible with the standard conservative perspective that government should stay out of private enterprise?
Haven even stated at the September 4 meeting that, “Some of the businesses have done some marketing on their own and has (sic)  success with it.” That makes perfect sense. I don’t expect San Juan County to help promote The Zephyr. Why should any business in San Juan County assume it should? As I understand it, the Transient Room Tax is not mandatory. (correct me if I’m wrong). The counties choose to impose the tax and at what level. Most conservatives oppose the heavy burden of taxation on citizens by any government entity. The TRT does little to help anyone in the community except those with a vested financial self-interest in tourism.
Those are my questions for now. I may have more later. Both Mr. Haven and your husband chastised me for not asking you questions directly when I wrote my first short article on bike trails…I hope this series of questions provides your office a greater opportunity for transparency with citizens of San Juan County.  I’d appreciate a reply to these questions at your earliest convenience, and please note that I regard all correspondence as on the record.
Thanks,
Jim Stiles
RESPONSE FROM NATALIE RANDALL…September 18, 2018
Hi Mr. Stiles-

Thank you for your email, I appreciate you reaching out with all the concerns and questions you have addressed. Due to the extensive nature of the request, the amount of requests being received by our office, and per procedure; I will need to request that you submit a GRAMA request. Our county clerk John David Nielson <jdnielson@sanjuancounty.org>, also cc’d to this email can help you with filing the request.
Thank you for reaching out and your understanding.
All the best-
Natalie
STILES REPLY…September 18, 2018
Ms. Randall,
I’m sorry but I disagree with you.
I am familiar with and have filed several GRAMA requests in the past with various government entities. As you know, the Government Records Access and Management Act provides every person the right to request records from any governmental entity in Utah.
GRAMA gives citizens the right to access government records, documents and correspondence related to a specific topic.
While I did request some hard facts, like the cost of tourism ad campaigns, I was mostly asking you, as the economic development director of San Juan County, for your opinion and perspective on the impacts of a significant planned expansion of the county’s tourist economy.
I’ll happily file a GRAMA to secure the documents that contain some of the cost details, if your office refuses to provide it, but I still believe it would be appropriate for you to respond to many of the other questions in a timely manner.
In fact, I have no idea how a GRAMA request would have anything to do with most of my questions, unless you are saying that your opinions on these subjects are somehow concealed in a document or folder somewhere among the county records..
Thanks again and I still look forward to hearing from you.

Posted in Uncategorized.

COMMENTS ON THE SAN JUAN COUNTY ‘MAKE IT MONUMENTAL’ CAMPAIGN

When it became clear that the San Juan County Commission had indeed thrown its complete support behind the campaign, the reaction from many county residents was one of surprise and disappointment. Here are some of the comments The Zephyr received. They are predominantly from San Juan residents who actively participated in efforts to rescind or reduce the size of the monument. Many were actively involved in the group, Stewards of San Juan, though to be clear, these comments only reflect their personal views. 

Also included are some remarks by former Grand County Councilman Lynn Jackson.

KIM HENDERSON:

As far as the “Monumental” campaign, it was a result of miss/lack of communication on a project that is not even complete. I feel that the commissioners didn’t ask enough questions about the campaign and yet again, there was a lot of non local influence behind the campaign. Influence from m individuals of whom are either unaware of, or uninterested with local concerns about the future growth of SJC.

JAMI BAYLES:

I’m really scared for this county, and frankly, I am shocked that our elected officials and some business owners cannot see the damage that they are about to create by supporting this Make It Monumental campaign. These are the same people who were behind the #NoMonument movement, have said over and over that we do not want to become the next Moab, and that we do not want to solely depend on tourism for our economy. But that’s exactly what this campaign promotes and it makes SJC look like a bunch of hypocrites.

It’s like they’ve developed this “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and it’s disheartening. Knowing that it’s being supported by our own elected officials is a slap in the face to many of their constituents and it mocks those who are still fighting the #NoMonument battle. I thought they were better than that. I thought we all were better than that. I also thought this was about protecting the area, and trying to save it from being trampled to death. Wasn’t that the point?

Many of us still believe that and are still fighting because we love this area and know that the fight is far from over. But when you wake up and see that those who are supposed to be representing you have not only stopped fighting altogether, but are now trying to promote the hell out of the place (even when a management plan isn’t in place), it makes you wonder what their personal priorities are. Was it really all for protection? Or is it all for profit?”

JANET WILCOX:

–While I have often used a “play on words” to sell an idea or stir interest on posters or stories I was working on, my heart and mind did a backward flop when I first read that “Make it Monumental” was San Juan County’s new marketing theme.  Why?  Because I and thousands of others were part of a two-years grass roots effort fighting against yet another “monumental” designation in our county.  Bears Ears NM as designated by Pres. Obama was just one more federal intrusion which sought to manage public lands, by jeopardizing the many cultural and rural uses of this prized public real estate.  Most of us saw, and continue to see, media-motivated tourism as the #1 enemy of this pristine property.

–I still believe that slow steady growth fostering year-round well-paying jobs is preferred to sensationalizing seasonal hit and run tourism.  With 150 years of well documented drought patterns, I don’t see how any community in the Four Corners area can justify a major jump in tourist related amenities or anything that requires more water.

–What may be a timely marketing ploy rubs many non-paid, non-subsidized, non-beholden grass root volunteers the wrong way. Yes, we believe that our efforts were worth it, and yes, we are glad a substantial size reduction was made to BENM, but the threat of naive, and ill-informed tourists is still real.  Why are we promoting anything “monumental”, when no safeguards, personnel, infrastructure, policies, or even secure destinations are in place? Transient Room Taxes could be better spent on educating locals and visitors alike on wise wanderings, water conservation, as well as appreciation for the Wonders of San Juan.

Eva Clarke Ewald:

It looks as though the county employee/marketer who designed that slogan will be profiting from it with her own business of tourism and outdoor recreation. Surprise, surprise. I’ve spoken to many residents since the unveiling of the controversial slogan and have yet to find one who is okay with this…. Hopefully our dedicated citizens will contact the commissioners with their opposition to the slogan, they need to hear it. Nothing like battling ‘friendly fire’ after a ‘Monumental Battle’ to save our home. I’m shocked to have such a slogan slither past the commissioners, who we backed in their political efforts to keep the Monument situation in check. The roll out of the slogan felt like a knife in the back.
Nicole Perkins:

When I first saw the recent “unveiling” of the new county brand I felt like I had been punched in the stomach, along with a reaction of confusion, anger, and a “Hell NO” running through my head. After the long and energetic, unified fight of the county residents against the proposed monstrous Bears Ears monument with our battle cry of “Monumental Mistake”, why in the world would the county think this was a good idea? Maybe Patagonia, but the county?

I soon began receiving texts, phone calls, and messages from residents throughout our community conveying similar reactions to the San Juan Records commentary and the press release.  This indicated to me that San Juan County residents, in spite of appearances, had not had a paradigm shift.

While there are businesses in the county that would benefit from such a campaign and do support it, they are not the majority. It strikes me as somewhat irresponsible to encourage or promote the unsettled Bears Ears which will likely be in court indefinitely.

In the meantime, we have no management plan or funding in place as the tourists come to find something very different than what they were expecting not only because of the expanse and the confusion of what and where the  monument actually is, but also the lack of facilities, paved roads, or signs that usually go with such attractions.

Yet, people are not disappointed with what they do discover.  A pristine area largely untouched by traffic.  A place to soak up the history and endless beauty.  And solitude…

I feel like we are in danger of losing the soul of this community and have sold our inheritance for a “mess of pottage”.

Also, former Grand County Councilman Lynn Jackson, who has watched the transformation of Moab over the past 30 years, offered these comments…

LYNN JACKSON:

It’s all rather confusing to me. San Juan doesn’t want to become another Moab, yet they are following the exact blueprint that got Moab on its path to progressive nirvana. Welcoming and supporting outdoor environmental education programs and investments, providing support for building mountain bike trails, hiring an economic development coordinator with deep ties to the megalithic outdoor recreation industry, and creating a tourism slogan that’s over the top, in this case ridiculously over the top. “Make it Monumental” is just hard to figure, sending the message you’re all good with monuments down there, in light of what’s gone in the last 18 months?  San Juan, looks like you’re well on your way, following the recipe exactly…..

I moved to a mining and ranching town in 1981 with a few hippies and river runners, Moab. From ground zero I’ve seen this type of transformation to these new West amenity economy towns. Full of progressives. And as a more or less outside impartial observer, I can see you good folks are right on the same path and progression. Hopefully it gives you something to think about.

I hope I’m wrong, but it all looks and sounds too familiar! And you know, some level of recreation economy is great, but it has a tendency to subsume communities, turning them into the great mega industrial level of tourism we now have in Moab, with these great outdoor equipment companies at the helm.

Posted in Uncategorized.

SAN JUAN COUNTY COMMISSION MEETING…SEPT 4

This is a verbatim transcription of citizen comments by Mr. Bill Haven and commissioners Bruce Adams, Rebecca Benally, and Phil Lyman during the September 4, 2018 San Juan County Commission meeting.

The audio can be heard here. Comments begin at 12 minutes 45 seconds

https://www.utah.gov/pmn/files/424507.MP3

Bill Haven: Bill Haven, President of the Blanding Travel Council (BATC) and owner of Abajo Haven Guest Cabins. I wanted to make a comment and give the commissioners a letter on this controversial monument advertising campaign. When that came up, we wrote a letter of support to the Utah Office of Tourism Board of Directors and I wanted to give you guys what unanimously the BATC passed in support of it. I also wanted to voice our opinion, we had put in for kind of the same marketing grant in 2016 and we did receive acceptance of that grant. But we never…. It was a regional marketing plan that we had put in for matching grant funds, and we went in with the county and the city of Monticello and Blanding and we all matched, we asked for your support on that and then it was matched and we did receive the grant, but we never used that grant because of the situation at that time with the Bears Ears National Monument. We re-met as a group and said maybe it’s not appropriate right now, with what the county’s doing and the citizens of the county, with regards to the monument – no decision had been made on it. But this recent marketing grant is basically what we wanted to do but even more because the budget’s so much bigger on it. I think our tourism businesses – and I’m only talking for the Blanding area, I’m not talking for the county – is really in need of a marketing strategy and plan. And when this plan was brought up to us, it was a very detailed, very well written, strategically focused marketing plan. As good as any one I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately with the name, there are some people that that still rubs a raw emotion.

But the fact of the matter is, we have national monuments in this county. The whole idea that we wanted to do in our marketing plan, and this marketing plan also sees the same thing, if we could get people to stay an extra day or two in the county, it’s dramatic how much more money they spend. And the marketing people we are going after are not partiers, you know, the spring break group, people jumping off cliffs. We’re targeting families that are upper to middle income, retired people and upper middle income who like outdoor recreation. And I think they’re good people to have in this area to recreate. And you have to give them something in their trip itinerary to say ‘why would I stay there more than one day.’

Well? The National Monuments! You’ve got, all of them we know, and unfortunately Bears Ears is one of them. But Natural Bridges and Hovenweep, and originally when we were thinking of a monumental ad campaign, those are the monuments we were thinking of, we were not thinking of Bears Ears. But Bears Ears is a fact and I think the commissioners and the citizens in this county did a fantastic job of redirecting how that monument ended up coming out.

But I think now as a business trying to promote the area and trying to just fill the rooms, I mean we’re still at the point in our tourism of just still trying to fill the rooms, and I think we need that as a marketing plan to kind of help us focus on who are we and what do we have to offer for you. So that was my only point. And I don’t know where this will end up and I really hope this marketing plan does go ahead and go through because I think it’s really well organized and written and all the businesses I have talked to were very excited about it and were very disappointed when we weren’t able to do ours.

Phil Lyman: We’ve got two monuments. We’ve got the monument that was designated by President Obama which was a front, it was a bully, it was non-consensual, the process was completely wrong and that’s still what I think sticks in a lot of people’s minds. Even though we could say we had a huge victory in getting that monument reduced and getting some input into what should have been done in the first place. So I don’t know if there’s a way locally, maybe we need more local PR as to what it is that we’re promoting vs that we’re not still upset about it.

Haven: That’s a good point.

Phil: The BATC does a great job, and Natalie’s fantastic. Maybe we need to get more of an open house on some of these marketing campaigns, get these comments out in advance and sell people on the idea so we don’t get an emotional reaction to it.

Haven: That’s a good point, and one thing I think has been a little concerning to me is after the settlement of what the monument ended up, there have been a lot of energy and negative energy put towards tourism, and businesses in tourism, and we’re all aware of the two articles that came out about Natalie that were totally unfounded, and didn’t even have the decency to go talk to her before they wrote the articles and said “how did this happen? And there’s just been a lot of people I talk to, and looking at different posts, there’s a lot of confusion on what the TRT tax is. A lot of people think it’s coming out of the general fund.

There’s a lot of confusion on how big our tourism business is, it isn’t that big. And when you have a 14% drop in the restaurant tax, that isn’t becoming Moab tomorrow. I think that has concerned me as business owner of this constant, every time we mention tourism, well we’re gonna become Moab tomorrow. That turns a lot of people against. I know most everyone in the tourism business in this county, I never heard one person say ‘my goal is to turn into Moab’. I’ve never heard that discussed, I never heard a plan for that, I’ve never heard local businesses, and these are local businesses owned by local people, some of them the foundation of this county from the start. And they’ve been run over the coals for the last year. One person said tourism jobs are like parasites. We’re not parasites, I mean good heavens!

There’s a lot of people that work in the tourism business and cleaning rooms was never meant to be a career, it’s a way to make some extra money, and most people that do it say ‘great! I made some extra money! Good job!’ So don’t want the discussion to go that way, us against them.

Phil: That’s hitting the nail on the head. We really don’t want the discussion to go that way, and when you throw the ‘monumental’ tagline…. It’s like, could we, and we’ve said this, could we delay that, at least until some of the wounds have healed and some of the lawsuits are done because it’s still such a symbolic point of division, and if you’re not for the monument, well you must be anti-government, you must be anti-tourism, and that’s not the case either. So you come in to what could be a good discussion, and good marketing campaign, and as soon as you say “Make it Monumental”, now you’ve divided a group that ought to be coordinated and pushing in the same direction. And I don’t know how you necessarily get around it…

Haven: It’s hard!

Phil:…or that you can get around it, but the ‘monumental’ tagline, sponsored by the county… Now if a business wants to go out and say come to Bears Ears, that’s one thing, but for the county to use ‘monumental’ as their tagline, just to me, introduces some politics… it would be better if we could come up with a tagline that didn’t do that.

Haven: Well could you rename it?

Phil: Yeah. Yeah, we’ve talked about that.

Haven: That’s fine… I mean, I’m not talking for everybody. It’s the marketing plan itself is what we don’t want to lose.

Phil: We watched the videos and they were outstanding. They weren’t promoting the monument, they were just promoting the county and that’s what we want to do.

Rebecca Benally: Well after reading the email that you sent and looking at it holistically, I think since the monument came, it’s awakened the giant so-to-speak. It’s been asleep for decades and decades and because people weren’t informed, no transparency, or it wasn’t put out into the light, it has been marketed all these years, but it’s just that, recently when we restructured the Economic Development Department, because there’s transparency, the citizens now know what’s in process. What are some of the long-term goals, what are some of the long-term planning as far as economic development? One of them is tourism. We were an extractive county, so I think it’s just a matter of symantics, and yes there are emotions tied to it. But I think the problem here is that there wasn’t transparency before. [She goes on and on about how it was marketed all along, and we’ve had monuments …..she eventually talks about all the truckers that come through town and how we need more 24/7 stores….and talking about having a balance in the county]

Haven: I agree with you, and I think with this marketing plan we can change the name, which isn’t that big an issue actually, to me. But the plan itself is exactly, having all of us in the tourism business for a number of years, we have seen where do we have a weakness, or we have a weakness defining ‘why would I come rather than driving through?’ Some of the businesses have done some marketing on their own and has success with it, but when you’re a tourist doing your itinerary, it’s like, why would I go to San Juan County and spend a couple of days. The BATC hooked up with Natural Bridges. That was our first, because in the county, it was not being marketed. You wouldn’t have even know Natural Bridges was in the county with the county marketing plan. So the central part of the county, we really started focusing on Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, and the Needles District. So we had something in the central part of the county that people would say “ah, I’ll take an extra day and do that”. We have had good success with that, but we have such a small budget and I think that’s fine. I would rather actually have the county take the lead in that, than us taking the lead in that. But the county finally has come up, in the 11 years that I’ve been involved with this, this is the first marketing plan the county has come up with – before then they didn’t even make a marketing plan – but it addresses that problem.

And we, in the BATC, really tried to work on the regional market, more than the international market. Because Utah does that. I mean, they have an endless budget. They go all over the world promoting Utah. They don’t do a lot of promotion, they do some but they don’t do a whole lot in this region and we have Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Las Vegas within a days’ drive of here. So that’s what we, our little marketing plan addressed six years ago, and we’ve had a steady increase in growth. We were going negative before we started that. We were minus in our TRT growth. But the county put together, Natalie and Allison put together a great marketing plan. I mean that’s exactly who we need to target. If we need to change the name, or we need to change the symantics of it, or whatever we need to do, let’s do it! I just don’t want to see the marketing plan thrown out and not done for another couple of years. Because we really have businesses that are tetering on making it or not and we’ve had a lot of restaurants close in the last two years.

Rebecca: Yeah and I think the other problem in this situation was the media reporting without found facts and information. That’s the other problem.

Haven: That’s awful!

Bruce Adams: Are you declaring fake news? *laugh*

Rebecca: It’s always fake news with the media.

Haven: Well I won’t take up any more of your time. I just wanna make sure, you know, to consider… don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If we need to change, there could be a real good discussion on that. If you wanna title it something else, I think we could have a real productive discussion on that.

Phil: I think also, I can’t speak for the other commissioners, but economic development is probably job 1 for us, but we depend on people who are in the tourism industry to figure out what should be done in the tourism industry. We’ve never wanted to micromanage the department itself, we just want to be in the loop, and as Commissioner Benally said, we feel like now we are in the loop and this one kind of snuck up on us with the tagline but the campaign we’re 100% behind. That grant application was a huge win for Natalie’s office and we’re proud of her for what she did on it. We want to see our tourism businesses thriving and flourishing.

Haven: Again, everyone I know in the tourism business doesn’t want the only economic development in this county to be tourism. They realize that’s not healthy. But I would like to see other groups with economic development put as much time and energy into it as we have, and go pursue your dreams! I mean go and organize this and promote and whatever it is, do it!

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AFTER 30 YEARS, THE ZEPHYR STILL RELIES ON YOU…

 

PUBLICATIONS LIKE THE ZEPHYR ARE A VANISHING BREED…

DO YOU READ THE ZEPHYR?
DO YOU BELIEVE IN A FREE & INDEPENDENT PRESS?
WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT…

Over the years, as far back as 1991, this publication has expressed its growing alarm over a monolithic Industrial Tourism economy. Consequently, we have understandably lost most of our former Moab advertisers. We are now almost completely supported by small contributions from our readers.

Sad to say, almost everything we predicted 25 years ago is happening–Moab has become a poster child for what NOT to become as a tourist town. To the south in San Juan County, the corporate outdoor industry is licking its chops as it moves forward to make that region “the next Moab.” In fact, there’s a lot of “chop-licking” currently happening there, and we’ll be reporting on all of it in the October/November issue.

WE ARE THE ONLY PUBLICATION IN UTAH expressing all these concerns.

If you believe in an independent media that is not NOT beholden to billionaires and big corporations, if you believe that NOT pandering to special interests is a worthwhile and commendable approach to journalism, then PLEASE consider a contribution to The Zephyr.

This is a critical time for our little publication as we move toward the end of our 30th year.

Thanks for your help,
Jim & Tonya Stiles

 

 

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Ed Abbey in the 21st Century…by Jim Stiles

In the second decade of the 21st Century, Abbey Lives.

He lives in his books. He lives on YouTube and on Facebook. His fans adore him, or who they think he is. But is this the world and the West that he cherished and loved?  Is the New West compatible with his vision of wilderness and wide open spaces?

In Desert Solitaire, Abbey offered a unique reason for establishing wilderness. “We may need wilderness someday,” he proposed, “not only as a refuge from excessive industrialism but also as a refuge from authoritarian government, from political oppression. He warned that “technology adds a new dimension to the process,” and believed (then) that the wilderness would provide escape from those kinds of Big Brother controls.  For Abbey, wilderness was meant to be the one vast “blank spot on the map,” as Aldo Leopold longed for.

He also wrote, “A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it.”

In 2018, he would not recognize the  wilderness he sought to protect (though in his journals, in 1987, he had already complained, “Too many tourists in the backcountry now.”)

Environmental groups, once dedicated to saving the wilderness that Abbey envisioned, now look at wilderness as a commodity to be marketed. What is the economic value of wilderness? Environmentalists promote the notion of a swarming tourist economy. They’ve taken a favorite Abbey line: “The idea of wilderness needs no defense; it needs more defenders,” and turned it into a Chamber of Commerce promo….the more money that can be made from the product, the greater the chance, in their estimation, of passing wilderness legislation. Nevermind what gets destroyed in the process.

Even grassroots groups, who once worked for the protection of the land and the satisfaction that they were honest participants in “the good fight,” now parse their battle cries and make a $100K a year. Their boards of directors are filled with wealthy fat cat industrialists that would have had Abbey deported if they could have found a way. Together, they support a massive recreation/amenities economy that brings millions of tourists to the once remote rural West and with it, untold quantities of money and environmental devastation.

Adrenaline junkies from the far corners of the planet descend on the canyon country to string slacklines, and rock climb and ride bikes off cliffs and BASE jump and ‘do’ the river..

Abbey used to talk about “a loveliness and quiet exultation.” Nowadays exultation makes a lot of noise.

When Abbey talked about seeking wilderness, he admonished us, “to walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.”  When he talked about riding bicycles, he imagined them as a replacement for cars, not feet. He did not envision luxury “adventure tours” and hand-held guided hikes to “remote locations,” barely a mile from their cars.

Abbey wrote, “We don’t go into the wilderness to exhibit our skills at gourmet cooking. We go into the wilderness to get away from the kind of people who think gourmet cooking is important.”

And he didn’t envision a wilderness experience that included cell phones, smart phones, GPS units, or daily uploads to Facebook (“Here’s what our sunset looked like tonight! Here in the WILDERNESS!” —–126 ‘LIKES’)

Yet, many of these recreationists convince themselves  they are the latter day disciples of a man they know practically nothing about, or bother to know.

About a year ago, an essay appeared in High Country News called, “What Would Edward Abbey Do?” The author and a group of friends had come across a huge boulder, perched on the rim of a mountain valley. Michael Branch felt an urge to knock the rock from its resting place and send it flying from its rim-side perch to the tranquil scene below. It was an absurd notion and the damage it would cause was incalculable. But one member of the group spoke up.

“Whenever I am uncertain,” replied Francois in a thick French accent so utterly authentic that it sounded hilariously fake, “I abide by this principle: WWEAD.” When he had finished pronouncing each letter with meticulous emphasis, the three of us looked at him quizzically. “What would Edward Abbey do?” he explained coolly.

(The link: http://www.hcn.org/blogs/range/rants-from-the-hill-what-would-edward-abbey-do)

What would Edward Abbey do? Based on that rhetorical question and, I guess,  the vague recollection that Abbey claimed he rolled something into the Grand Canyon—an old tire—more than 50 years ago, the guys decided it was a good idea. Branch exclaimed, “I was Sisyphus unbound, and I had a Frenchman’s love of Cactus Ed to thank for it.”

I doubt Abbey would have felt comfortable being an accomplice from the grave, but he shouldn’t have felt responsible either for their vandalism. Clearly, they’d learned nothing at all from Cactus Ed.

What Abbey always hoped we’d take away from his writing and from his life was a sense of ourselves as individuals, as men and women who could take control of our own lives and our own destinies. Abbey spoke of a “nation of bleeting sheep and braying jackasses.” He longed for a people with dignity and courage and he loathed the mindless “bleeting” that he found even in his own readers.

He once said, “ If America could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen, hunters, ranchers and artists, then the rich would have little power to dominate others. Neither to serve nor to rule. That was the American Dream.”  Most New Westerners love Ed Abbey and have no idea what that means. They’ve read all his books and they follow and “LIKE” his quotes on Facebook, but they understand far less than they realize.

Recently, I saw a string of comments about Abbey on the Facebook page devoted to his life.

A debate broke out of sorts—another one of those tedious comment threads— as to whether Abbey would have liked the internet. One man was sure he’d have nothing to do with it; another wrote, “He would have found much to admire in the expression of democracy it affords.”  That was a fair point.

What Ed would have loathed is the idea that his most loyal fans might spend their days in front of a laptop computer, week after week, clicking the “like” button each time one of his EA crowd-pleaser quotes got posted, when they could be outside, chopping down a billboard or taking a good long walk, or just watching a nice sunset.

Abbey may have hoped, when he left this world, that his time and effort here might make a small difference, might alter the future for the better in some way. But probably not. More than likely, he saw all this coming, just as he predicted so much that has already, sadly, come to pass.

But whether the world really does go to hell or not, or whether it’s already there, for godsake remember who Ed Abbey was. Who he REALLY was. And don’t just sit there, staring at your screen.

As Cactus Ed pleaded, “Throw a rock at something big and glassy..what have you got to lose?”

Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.

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