With less than one month until election day, the six candidates for three seats on the Moab City Council have faced extensive interviews, they have faced a forum by the Grand County League of Women Voters, and in the coming week they will face a debate hosted by local public radio station KZMU.
The candidates have looked to differentiate themselves via their records, policy positions and personal histories. Last week, The Times-Independent published the candidates’ positions on the issues in their own words. This week, a closer look at their differences offers some contrast to the race to give voters signals on which candidates will be their top choices.
The incumbents are Tawny Knuteson-Boyd, Rani Derasary and Kalen Jones. The challengers are M. Bryon Walston, Kenneth Minor and Kendall Jenson. Here are the issues where the candidates differ.
How urgently is a bypass needed, if at all?
Although each candidate wants Moab to have a bypass that routes through traffic on Highway 191 around Moab’s downtown area, most of them do not think it should be a priority for the city’s budget or attention. Walston and Jenson are the exceptions.
Jenson, in particular, expressed a great interest in pushing the project to its finish, mentioning twice in a recent interview that “eminent domain” should be used to make it happen. In response to this idea, Jones said he wanted to approach the idea of using eminent domain for the bypass—or any project—”carefully.”
Jenson, however, sees a bypass as a necessity, saying Moab “has got to have it,” to get semi-truck traffic off of Main Street. Walston agreed, saying Moab “has to get traffic off Main Street.” Jenson added that the traffic, and trucks in particular, pose a safety threat to people around Main Street.
However, their opponents dispute these claims about safety. Minor said that he thinks of the traffic on Main Street more as an inconvenience than a health and safety hazard, and Jones said that crash data suggests that commercial vehicles (which include tractor trailers) are less likely to cause accidents than are individual drivers.
“It’s not a silver bullet,” Jones said of the bypass idea, making the point that it would not solve all of Moab’s traffic problems. In addition, Jones said he was skeptical, based on studies by the Utah Department of Transportation, that a bypass in Moab would meaningfully reduce the amount of traffic on Main Street at all.
Jones said that, because the amount of local traffic has gone up in recent years because of tourism, he believed creating a bypass around Moab would not, in the long term, reduce traffic. Derasary echoed this claim, saying that “congestion is something we’re living with,” and that on the list of priorities for the city, “So many things go in front of that [the bypass].”
Minor said it was “not [his] main focus” and that the limited traffic impact that the bypass could have was not worth its multi-million-dollar price tag, which far outweighs the city’s total budget.
Knuteson-Boyd made a similar point, adding that at that price, the state (which she hoped would provide the primary funding for the project) might as well “go big,” by creating a route that bypasses not just Moab but Spanish Valley, as well.
Faith and skepticism in a free housing market
Another major point that divides the candidates is trust in an unregulated housing market to take care of Moab’s housing shortage. Walston and Jenson point to overregulation as Moab’s primary problem on the issue.
“I believe in market economics,” Walston said, adding that he wanted to see the city loosen up restrictions on housing developers. Jenson agreed, saying, “There’s something to be said for letting things work out.”
Their opponents, however, argue that a lack of regulation in Moab is a major part of what has brought about the city’s housing problems.
“For decades,” Derasary said, Moab allowed “the hand of the market” to work, and she said the expected result has prevailed. For developers in Moab, creating more housing does not offer the highest profit margins; lodging does.
She and others, however, said that there were places where making life easier for developers would be a step toward addressing the issue. Jones said that he aims to regulate “with a soft hand,” minimizing restrictions while still meeting the city’s goals. But low-income housing in Moab in particular, he said, was not economically viable for many private developers.
Knuteson-Boyd said that, when she was first elected to the city council four years ago, she would have said that the city government should not be involved in affordable housing. Now, however, she has developed a different perspective.
“Private sector [housing] has not worked in Moab,” Knuteson-Boyd said.
Knuteson-Boyd said that she has even come around on the city’s efforts to provide public housing on Walnut Lane following its purchase of the property last year. She hopes the project will succeed.
On the other hand, Jenson, who said he was in favor of the city doing zoning and offering incentives for affordable housing development, said that he believed the city had “made a mistake,” in purchasing the Walnut Lane property.
Minor said that he sees the role of the city as that of exercising oversight and control, but not directly creating housing; a tune similar to that sounded by Walston.
Walston also said that there were numerous housing projects on the horizon, including near the location of Moab’s planned Utah State University satellite campus. He and Jenson both expressed a view that new housing would be coming down the pipeline in short order to address the housing issue.
What each personality brings to the table
As for how they describe their own campaigns and ideas, each candidate has found a self-narrative that ultimately is the biggest differentiator for each of them. Minor called himself a “red neck hippie geek;” Derasary focused on her detail-oriented approach to policy; Knuteson-Boyd said her “mind can be changed” on the issues; Jones pointed to his design-thinking approach to the city’s issues; Jenson and Walston both said they would bring “balance” to the council.
Minor said that one key characteristic that makes him different from the field is his perspective. He said he has worked with numerous businesses and individuals in Moab through various enterprises, most recently an H&R Block franchise that he owns. He is also one of the few candidates who grew up in Moab, having graduated from Grand County High School.
Derasary said that her attention to detail was one of her defining traits. She regularly summarizes city council meeting packets for constituents and sends them out via a listserv. She said this close attention to policy allows her to better grasp the issues facing the city and to make informed decisions.
Knuteson-Boyd said that one of her strongest virtues with respect to the city council is that she goes into discussions without her mind made up. She also said that her opinions can be changed on matters as it has with housing policy, and she closely analyzes each issue before making a decision.
Jones, a resident of Moab for 30 years, said that his tenure of living in the city for most of his adult life has given him a perspective on Moab that helps him appreciate its history without becoming too attached to the old. He said that his ability to do design thinking, particularly by focusing on properly defining problems before trying to solve them, has helped him come up with solutions for Moab during his four years on the council.
Jenson said that he hoped to turn voters out for him in November by getting them out of their discouragement. He said that what he offered residents was a balancing force on the council by bringing a new perspective. He also said that he aimed not to be perfectly predictable by sometimes surprising people with his votes on the issues.
Walston also expressed a belief that the council needed balance, saying it was “lopsided” and consisted of people who were “newbies” in Moab. He said he hopes to create policies that are fair to incumbent businesses and residents in Moab and that he wants to see more compromise—not consensus—on the council.