I have always had the strange sensation that I was the pilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress during World War II and that my plane was shot down over Germany on a daylight bombing raid. Beyond that, I'm convinced that on the night before my fatal mission, I met the woman of my dreams in a pub in London and that she wore a red dress and that our eyes met and instantly connected while Glenn Miller's "Serenade in Blue" played on the juke box. I never hear that melancholy song without thinking of the woman I met briefly in a previous life. I can almost see her face.

     I couldn't make something like this up.

     But it has felt oddly familiar putting this issue together and I can't really explain it. Recently, I did an internet search for old news broadcasts from the early days of radio. I found a site that offered just what I was looking for, and thanks to A.C. Griffin, "Griff" to his friends and customers, I now own 34 hours of audio tape from the original CBS coverage of June 6, 1944--D-Day. It is a remarkable historical document, anchored in the early hours of the invasion by Robert Trout, the veteran Columbia newsman who died just recently at the age of 91. The tapes reflect, in a very real way, how much the world has changed in 55 years.

     In many ways, America insisted on wearing blinders in those crisis years. Social injustice and bigotry were not just common--they were almost fashionable. We waged a world war against the racist philosophy of Nazi Germany; yet some of our own soldiers could not come home and buy a cup of coffee in any establishment that posted the sign: WHITES ONLY.

     It was a conflicted time. But it was also a simpler time, especially in those days just before the war. A few years ago, I was hiking in the badland country south of Hanksville and came across an inscription, left by a cowboy probably.

     What caught my eye was the date: December 6, 1941. What this cowboy was doing in the high desert country on that cold and blustery Saturday is long forgotten by now. But whoever he was, the date he left behind had more significance than he could have known.

     The next day, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and thrust America into the war. Everything that has happened to us since then goes back to that Sunday morning in the Pacific. It was one of those watershed moments in history where one era closes and another begins. Even here in what was the most isolated section in the United States, the race to build the atomic bomb before Hitler's scientists could annihilate us, eventually led to the uranium boom, a rush of people to southern Utah, and the eventual construction of thousands of miles of roads and jeep trails. Where would recreationists be today without Tojo, Hitler and J. Robert Oppenheimer?

     Whoever the cowboy was that sat in that alcove and scratched his initials on a rock looked out over the same land that I saw almost 60 years later. But to see it and feel it the way he did, I really had to squint.


     Since the Cloudrock development was first introduced to the citizens of Grand County, its promoters have been trying to convince us that the ultra-high end luxury lodge/condo/home project will add needed revenues to our tax base. Some of its proponents have even suggested, and some of us have even believed, that Cloudrock will ease our tax burden--that the mostly absentee residents will gladly assume the lion's share of property taxes and make our lives easier and more affordable in Grand County and Moab.

     But it is simply not true and history proves it. Never, in any development of this scale, has the project actually reduced the tax burden of the community's full-time citizens. Just the opposite is true. Taxes have increased dramatically. And that is exactly what will happen here if Cloudrock is approved.

     The manner in which those taxes increase, however, will not result from a vote by the governing bodies of our county or some sudden reassessment of our land. The increase will come from actions taken by its own residents. Here's what I think could happen...

     The Cloudrock developer is saying that building lots for homesites will start at $600,000. These homesites are just up the hill from existing homes and privately owned acreage in Spanish Valley. Inevitably, it will take just one property owner out there to start comparing relative market values.

     He'll say to himself, "Ok...if Cloudrock land sells for $600,000, mine has to be worth at least $400,000." So this one solitary Spanish Valley resident lists his ranchette, puts up a sign, and sits back to wait. After all, he's in no hurry. He's under no pressure to sell the property immediately--he can last as long as he needs to for the right customer to come along.     

     Realtors will shake their heads and privately question the sanity of the seller, because they're convinced that the property is seriously over-priced. The property may sit for a year. Maybe two years. But inevitably, a visitor from New York or Los Angeles or Aspen--wherever--someone will discover the 'for sale' sign, think it's a good deal or a good investment or a fun way to spend their pocket money on a Monday morning and will sign on the dotted line.

     From that moment, every nearby landowner will assume that his property has a comparable value. And then we'll begin to see real estate prices escalate all across and up and down the valley. When that happens, that is when we'll see the County Assessor out there with a calculator, reevaluating land values and taxes will start to climb accordingly.

     What I'm saying here isn't idle speculation; this is exactly what happened on my own street over the last 15 years, albeit on a smaller scale. More than once I've mentioned my good fortune when I bought a small home here that I could actually afford in 1985. But when out-of-staters began to speculate in the Moab housing market, prices began to climb and by the beginning of the last decade, my fellow property owners and I figured our homes were worth maybe $35,000.

     But one day, a 'FOR SALE' sign went up, just a few doors from me, and I learned that the absentee-seller wanted close to $70,000. We all thought that was pretty funny and the house sat vacant for months and months. But finally, the 'SOLD' sign went up, the seller got his asking price, or close to it, and the price of real estate on Locust Lane almost doubled.

     This is what can happen again, on a scale far greater than anything we've seen so far...and we've seen a lot in the last ten years.

     As for the generosity and benevolence of potential Cloudrock taxpayers, human nature tells us that people want a return on their investment. Their tax liability will never go into some massive tax surplus fund, to be used exclusively for worthy projects like affordable housing and improved education. If Cloudrock residents pay millions of dollars into the Grand County tax base, they will expect and demand improved county services--services that will directly benefit them.

     Just think about it.

     They'll demand that Spanish Valley Drive be improved and widened and re-paved and curbed and guttered.

     They'll demand improved fire protection.

     While the developer claims that crime will not be a problem up there (apparently rich people are more honest), you can be sure that ultimately there will be a demand for more law enforcement protection.

     And as time passes, who knows what demands might be made?  Cloudrock residents may come to the conclusion that driving 25 miles to the county airport is an imposition that they will not tolerate, considering the huge investment they have in the county, and will demand a new airport, closer to their homes. They may even start negotiating with SITLA again for more state lands.  

     And Cloudrock's residents will demand more than just improved services, they will want to change the way we live. And the first thing to go will be Moab's 'Beloved Junk,' so prominently featured in the last Zephyr. There will be a demand for tighter zoning, restrictions on property maintenance, limitations or bans on animals. The list will be unending.

     Where will that leave us? The upside is that, if we want to move, we'll probably get a damn good price for our homes. But if we've lived here for years, or decades, or for all our lives--and if we want to stay--it will become increasingly difficult to afford it. And ultimately prohibitive.

     So...this community has some serious choices ahead. But the decisions we make must be based upon the Truth. And on Reality. And NOT on a sales pitch from a developer who wants to fulfill his lifetime dream at our expense.

'PROMOTING' MOAB...A never-ending saga

     I've been following the most recent efforts by some local citizens to "promote" Moab. It's a story that has repeated itself for the last 65 years. This Second Annual Retro Issue is dedicated to the 1940s, and as you follow the events of that decade, it's apparent that Moab tourist boosters have been around for a long, long time.

     Right now, there is a sense of desperation in the voices of some of these boosters. They are concerned that we are not promoting the area enough, and that business is suffering as a result. In the last several months, I've read a few letters to the Times-Independent with that near hysterical plea to pump more and more money into the Travel Council budget and to take tourist promotion to new levels.


     Now read this:

     "It's Reality Time. With the commercial infrastructure of this town growing at a rate much faster than the visitation increases, what could we possibly expect? How thin can you slice the pie before everyone starves?

     "So what is the response? "WE NEED MORE PROMOTION!" Of course. The never-ending spiral. We promote the area. Visitation increases. New businesses come in until we have more businesses than can really be supported by the current level of tourist visitation, and profits start to fall. The demand goes out for more promotion and visitation shoots up again. More new businesses come to town. The slices of pie shrink yet again, and the call goes out for more promotion. Et cetera...Et cetera...Et cetera."

     I wrote that almost seven years ago.

     In the same issue, I printed a letter that was sent anonymously to many Moab businesses, urging them to demand more tourist promotion. In part, the letter said, "Grand County must not give the impression that we do not want tourists. We need to be able to pay our bills and put food on our and our employees' tables."

     Then the Unknown Letter Writer said this, "We have experienced enormous growth and the solutions to the problems associated with the influx of people will take care of themselves (emphasis added)."

     It really said that.

     All of this rhetoric, mine and theirs, came in the summer of 1994. Calculate how many more thousands of people come here annually. Then take note of how many new motels, restaurants, and curio shops have come to Moab in seven years. More motels are on the way, even as I write this. I recently heard that the Spanish Valley Water Conservancy District wants to extend its service area all the way north to Seven Mile Canyon and the Dead Horse Point Road, so that some entrepreneur can build even more motels out there. And then add Cloudrock into the mix.

     Are we completely mental?

     Once again, I'm sure I'll get tagged with the old "Anti-Growth" label, but is it anti-growth simply to want the existing local businesses to survive and flourish? Communities like ours can experience two types of growth: Internal and External.

     External Growth requires the never-ending influx of new businesses to an economic area and generally these businesses merely compete with businesses of the same kind that are already there. Motels? Fast food chains? Souvenir ball caps? How many more of these tourist-driven businesses will be needed to satisfy the voracious, bottomless appetites of pro-growth boosters?

     So why doesn't this town focus more on internal growth? Why doesn't the Chamber of Commerce or Pro-Moab support the growth and expansion of already established businesses? If the Chamber really wanted to be effective, it should advertise the idea that if out-of-town businesses want to come here, they should at least offer us something we don't already have.

     Consider the coffee shops in Moab. Right now they're all independently owned and operated and struggling to survive as it is. So do we want to boost our tourism to such levels that we finally meet the demographic requirements for a Starbuck's?  What will that do to Red Rock Bakery and the Knave of Hearts and Mondo and Eklectica and the others? Is the purpose of tourist promotion to drive out the small businesses and replace them with national chains?

      I seriously hope not. But that seems to be where we're headed.


     It has always been my opinion that this town can move mountains when it wants to, but that we rarely feel inspired enough to try. Recently, I even narrowed the focus of my wrath to the "under 30" population in this community and asked sarcastically, if any of you cared about anything beyond cappucinos and rock climbing.

     I am happy to announce that in the last month, I have been shamed by that very demographic group beyond my wildest dreams. As opposition to Cloudrock grows, it is important to note that many of the most vocal leaders of the opposition are young Moabites who have moved here in the last few years and who are devoted to preserving the character and diverse quality of life in Grand County.

     However Moab's latest, and perhaps most crucial, controversy plays out, it is heartening to see such passion and conviction from a growing number of citizens who are not willing to just sit back and let their fate be determined without their participation. The December 6 meeting of the Grand County Planning and Zoning Commission should have at least sent that message to our elected officials. I haven't seen a turnout like that at a public meeting in a decade.

     On a personal note, I'd like to thank all of you who have decided to get involved in this issue. And to Molly, Matt, Mark, Howard, Kilie and the other "young" locals who have already devoted so much of their time to fighting for their town, thanks for making a liar out of me. Keep up the good work.


     As many of you know, this issue of The Zephyr is printed before Christmas, but does not reach newsstands until late January. This allows the publisher and writers to screw off even more than they usually do. So...if local, state, national, or world events occur between press day and distribution day that render all or parts of this issue irrelevant, tasteless, or just plain wrong, we apologize.


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