Although an approved zoning plan for Spanish Valley is already in place, the moratorium on development and restrictive alternative plans are being driven by a small group of opponents known as the North San Juan County Coalition. The company hired by San Juan County to study the matter, Landmark Design, has effectively partnered with NSJCC, and appears to have overlooked the businesses located along the Hwy. 191 corridor and residents who support the Love’s truck stop. Unelected and one-sided, the NSJCC has managed to co-opt what should be an open and democratic process. Fortunately, on Aug. 6, Landmark Design got an earful from San Juan County stakeholders who, to that point, had been left out in the cold.
During the course of the meeting, my eyes were opened to what I believe is an uncomfortable reality about the “New West” liberal opposition to a Love’s truck stop and “big box stores” (think Walmart); the opponents are more concerned with aesthetics than they are about what is economically viable and beneficial to the families in Spanish Valley and surrounding communities. Like the disgraced FBI agent who inferred that Trump supporters are smelly Walmart shoppers, opponents of the truck stop are displaying a clear case of classism, or plainly put, snobbery.
Allow me to make my case:
During the meeting held at the Grand Center, the NSJCC supported a major revamping of the existing Spanish Valley development plan. Oh, they want business development for sure, but not what is most needed in the area at this time. Their favored plan includes things like dance and art studios, medical and dental facilities, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, small grocery stores, locally owned outdoor recreation stores, etc., all of which currently exist in Moab!
NJSCC opposes the current approved plan which includes businesses that would fill existing needs, such as drive-in restaurants, hotels and motels, new and used automobile sales, farm machinery and equipment sales, nurseries and greenhouses, mobile home sales, mobile home parks, and other businesses in harmony with the current zoning plan, i.e. Love’s truck stop and Walmart.
Foes of the existing plan used words such as “obnoxious” and “incompatible” as a rationale for their opposition. When I pressed one gentleman to explain who is defining those words and how they would be applied, he had no concrete answer.
The term “dark skies” was thrown around as if it were a widely understood and accepted concept, but when I asked for a definition of what it means in relation to the current approved plan, I got crickets. Yes, Moab has adopted a “dark skies” ordinance. Yes, it infringes on private property rights and creates public safety issues in poorly lit neighborhoods, and yes, it makes liberals feel good about “saving the planet,” but what does it really mean?
I suppose if you take it literally, you’ll find the best example of “dark skies” on a nighttime map of North Korea.
Despite the fact that a Love’s truck stop in the location now designated would bring jobs and much-needed revenue into San Juan County, disperse Moab’s teeming truck traffic and highway noise, and mitigate a lot of headaches for folks trying to drive through Moab at peak hours, it apparently falls short because opponents find it to be gauche. This is the sort of NIMBY mentality that screams, “I got mine, but you can’t have yours because I don’t like the way it looks!”
In 2007, Moab politicians rebuffed Walmart and other “big box” retailers despite the dire and ongoing need for a good clothing and dry goods store and competitive grocers. One member of the NSJCC suggested that instead of a Walmart, perhaps an Aldi’s should be built in Spanish Valley. A woman at the meeting rightly pointed out that rural San Juan County is probably not in Aldi’s target market. A sister company of Trader Joe’s, the nearest Aldi’s is in Palm Springs, California.
But Aldi’s would be so…tasteful.
Lynda Smirz expressed concerns about the impact of “air pollution” on babies. The problem with her argument is twofold. First of all, a new truck stop in Spanish Valley is not going to magically attract more trucks than are already traveling through Moab, or create more air pollution than already exists. And secondly, the new location would serve to disperse truck traffic, thereby lowering emissions levels in Moab, where most babies in the valley live.
Finally—and this irks me to no end—the NSJCC continues to parrot the narrative that truck stops attract prostitutes, drug dealers and human traffickers. The truth is, Moab already has its share of drugs and exploitation crime, and travelers know that Love’s is a corporation that keeps its facilities clean, safe and inviting.
Although I now live in San Juan County, I grew up in Moab, and for the most part the rural sensibilities that made our region special have been supplanted by an urban ethos imported by non-Utah natives, who unfortunately dominate the local political scene. The opposition to Love’s is not about over-development or diesel fumes or crime or anything else. It is about a deep, festering classism that informs much of the policy we see coming out of progressive local governments in Moab and elsewhere. Urbanites have moved in, and are now on a crusade to save the West from the native hicks, hayseeds and deplorables who fall short of their high levels of education and good taste. The urban transplants are only trying to save Utah from the Utahns.