The Big Brother Seal of Approval

Big Brother Seal of ApprovalAnother sweet gem of ignorance has been dispensed from the Utah Legislature. HB407 asks for creation of a “Community Conscious Internet Provider” seal, which can then be used by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) for marketing their virtue. Where it gets fun is how it asks the ISP to voluntarily give up the 4th Amendment protection of its customers. Line 85 reads, “cooperate with any law enforcement agency by providing records sufficient to identify a customer if the law enforcement agency requests the information and supplies reasonable proof that a crime has been committed using the Internet service provider’s service”. It says nothing of reasonable proof being determined by a judge and thusly issuing a court order.

XMission has always taken the stand that if you want customer information you’re going to need a court order. This act asks us to discard that stance in order to use a “seal” in our marketing. If we at some point decide the seal isn’t worth our customers’ privacy or we somehow fail to uphold the requirements of this law, then XMission is subject to a fine of $10,000.

To its credit, the bill makes handing over my customers’ privacy to the state completely voluntary. No thanks.

HB139 Meeting

The informal meeting held Thursday on HB139 was the most level-headed meeting I’ve had the pleasure to attend at the Capitol. Thank you to all who attended. Representative Daw acknowledged a number of problems with the bill, but I do not know how that changes the status. I doubt proponents will let this drop so easily, regardless of the number of reasoned and thoughtful statements that were made in the meeting.

The End of Free XMission Wireless

Since 2002, I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in building a free community wireless network. This initiative started with the Olympic games and has expanded to many other locations – gathering places, Salt Lake City Main Street, libraries, Liberty Park, Pioneer Park and an ambitious project in Ogden that will eventually cover most of the city. Unlike other many other municipal wireless projects, the installation and support of these systems has been done without tax dollars. The benefit to business, tourism, students and the public is clear and often spoken of to me.

This week, Representative Brad Daw wrote House Bill 139 which will effectively put an end to public XMission Free Wireless. Sourcing from a legislator who describes himself as being in favor of “limited government”, this bill introduces civil penalties if a minor is able to access pornography over public wireless Internet. With XMission wireless never earning one red cent in profit, the potential of a civil suit hanging over its operation immediately makes it not viable. The moment this bill is signed into law, I will shut down all XMission free wireless and cease expansion of this service.

Some may accuse me of packing up my “toys” and refusing to cooperate. When this plan surfaced last year, I had a long conversation with Representative Daw expressing my concerns of such legislation. In reading the text of this bill, I see those concerns were flatly ignored. XMission has provided free Internet filters longer than any other provider in the state, but I can never guarantee that a minor can not access pornography over an Internet connection. Nor do I believe government or business is the best parent of my children or anyone else’s.

While the corporatives at the Utah Legislature sharpen their knives to deal a death blow to the public infrastructure fiber-network UTOPIA to protect private interests, their cohorts effectively scribe business-burdensome legislation against XMission rolling wireless networks without public dollars. As the owner of the largest free public wireless Internet network in Utah, I see this bill as anti-XMission and anti-business to the core.

Voucher Question

I received an email from the Utah Technology Council urging me to vote for vouchers today. They claimed that the issue has been clouded by “misinformation”. Yet one issue has not been answered for me since the start. Even when I posted this query on Steve Urquhart’s “Politicopia” before he proposed the bill, it was essentially laughed at by proponents.

Utah code defines a “private school” as having a minimum of 40 students and at least one teacher with a degree or “special training”. It is not specific as to what defines “special training”. If this is all that is required to setup a private school, what is preventing a minimum windfall of $20,000 going to Lafferty bin Koresh to indoctrinate their children with state funds?

When I asked this question of Senator Curtis S. Bramble at a recent Alta Club debate on the issue, he responded that the text of the vouchers law has an anti-discrimination clause written into it. However, I doubt many parents are desperate to get their kids into the next Jonestown Middle School. Given that the reverse is also true, that the government can not discriminate, it brings into doubt that there can be any destination screening of government funds. When Senator Bramble was confronted with this issue, he laughed that public schools are already indoctrinating children (is that what this issue is really about?) and that non-secular universities like BYU and Notre Dame get government funds already through Pell Grants. Yes, but adults go to BYU and Notre Dame not children. These funds are also based on individual need, not the fact that you’ve got 40 kids and someone with “special training”.

You can teach your children all sorts of wild ideology, just as long as you do it on your own dime. I don’t see how vouchers does that.

Iraq War Protest Speech

Here is the text of a speech I delivered at a war protest in Provo last Friday.

“…with liberty and justice for all.”

The first time I remember saying the pledge of allegiance, I was in kindergarten. Since that time, I have said these words and knew that America stood for these ideals more than any other country. I fear though that justice is a rarity these days.

Where is the justice in this war? It is true, Saddam Hussein was a rotten dictator who deserved trial in front of his victims. Yet the world is not empty of two-bit dictators who exploit and kill their own people. If our purpose as Americans is to rid the planet of greedy, self-centered, homicidal leaders, we’re going to be fighting until the end of time or the end of America, whichever comes first. Is there justice in spending half-a-trillion dollars on this effort? Will our children and grand-children thank us for the tax burden placed upon their shoulders as we borrowed to destroy, then rebuild, then protect another country as our own crumbles around us? Is there justice attempting to bring democracy to one middle-eastern nation while we support the tyrannical monarchies of others? Where is the justice for the troops making 1/10th what a private contractor makes to risk their lives? Where is the justice for our tax dollars wasted and outright lost? Where is the justice for the return soldier, given a college stipend, but changed forever by the atrocity of war? Where is the justice for those who had ambitions beyond dying in Iraq? Where is the justice for the families of those who do not return? America can never repay our debt to them, but we should at least try.

America should only fight wars that are just. Seeing the Iraq war so devoid of justice, I have no other conclusion than to say it is not.

What is the victory we seek in Iraq? Is it complete domination of the country? Peaceful outcome and lack of violence? If so, we are going about it in the wrong way. Comparisons are repeatedly made to the evil of Hitler in World War II and how it was necessary for us to fight that war. Yet nobody talks about the price. Sixty million deaths. Twenty million soldiers and twice as many civilians. Japan and Germany were bombed until there was nothing left to bomb. If the American people desire a Victory in Iraq day, then they had better get ready to commit. For a military victory to occur in Iraq, it will take millions of young American lives and will bankrupt this country. It will take actions that will inflame the entire Mid-East. I for one do not want this.

I hear the surge is working. I hear the surge isn’t working. I hear democracy is on the march. I hear the country is consumed by civil war. I hear terrorists will follow us home. I hear Communism will take over Asia if we leave Vietnam. I hear troops who are ready to go back again to finish the job. I hear troops speaking against the war and to finish it now. What is the truth? I confess that from Utah it is very difficult to see. If it is democracy we are trying to establish there, then we should ask the Iraqi people what they want done with the country. If they want us to stay, then they should pay for it. If they want us to go, then it is time to leave. Senator Hatch, President Bush, is Iraq a democracy or not?

The only hope I have from this war is that it steadies our hand the next time around. Never again will America hand the president the power to make war without lasting and significant debate in our Congress. Never again will we trust as executive power shreds our Constitution. Never again will we write a blank check without a plan for keeping the peace. Never again will the United States fight a war of aggression with flimsy intelligence.

America must leave war behind and embrace peace. A country in endless war will not survive to celebrate a victory that will never come. Instead, let us focus on our own shores again and seek justice for all.

Please Vote & List Split

If you are a Salt Lake City resident, then I urge you to exercise your right to vote tomorrow, Tuesday the 11th in the mayoral primary. My endorsement goes to Ralph Becker and I hope you will consider him too.

If you are not a Salt Lake City resident, I apologize for the recent emails on my mailing list in regards to the race here. I have been asked to setup a separate list by a group of people who want to stay in tune with technology issues and government. Declan McCullagh runs an excellent list for federal technology issues known as “Politech”, you can find archives and subscribe to it here:


However, due to the tingling in my nose, I know that Utah is preparing for a banner legislative year in the offense against technology. I have setup a similar list to Declan’s for Utah specific technology issues. You can subscribe here:


I will reserve future emails on the “Ashdown List” for information in regards to any events or campaigns of my own.

Ralph Becker Response to Weller Questionnaire

Ralph Becker sent me his response to Tony Weller for reposting here. Tony has not shared any other responses with me, nor have I asked him to. If any campaign wants to send me their response, I will also put it on this blog.

Remember, you can vote in the primary NOW. You do not need to be a registered member of any party to vote in the primary! The only requirement is that you are a registered voter residing in Salt Lake City.

Response to Letter from Tony Weller

Thank you, Tony, for your letter about downtown Salt Lake City issues. You and your family have been stalwarts in making downtown Salt Lake City the place it should be—a place with thriving, interesting, local stores built by owners who invest, both economically and emotionally, in our City.

I have appreciated and enjoyed our discussions over the years. Your letter reflects insightful, thoughtful consideration of the challenges and opportunities for our downtown.

Downtown as The Gathering Place
An opening thought about downtown: With the City Creek Center as an enormous, mixed-use development (retail, office, residential, creekside amenities, and grocery shopping) and likely regional draw, the project-specific Downtown Rising plan, strong residential growth, and the draft Downtown Transportation Plan, Salt Lake City has an agenda that can give our city center the means to re-emerge as a true gathering place for our community and the region. I will bring committed, focused leadership to the mayor’s office. The next few years will require follow through, working together. I’ve presented my agenda for our neighborhood and downtown Salt Lake City in detail in one of my blueprints, which can be accessed at

Local Businesses
Locally owned businesses contribute more to the economy through the multiplier effect, and to our quality of life because of their charm, character, and responsiveness to local needs. Salt Lake City should pursue various ways to prevent putting local businesses at a disadvantage and should support our local entrepreneurs; many of the approaches are in place, but are not used in a disciplined way.

As you know, Tony, I share your views about local businesses. Twenty-two years ago, I started my own local business, Bear West, which is an environmental planning, policy development and consulting firm, and have felt the challenges from large, out-of-state businesses coming into town and using their size to an advantage, sometimes unfairly. I’ve personally been affected by the city’s failure to provide a level playing field in procurement actions. I know the problem manifests itself in other ways as well.

I am with you 100% on the principle that Salt Lake City should not be using taxpayer funds to lure businesses to town, particularly out-of-state businesses. It is the primary reason I have stated, in response to questions about Gateway, that the city made a mistake there. That development has sucked business from our downtown core, and the City directly subsidized it.

You discuss corporate welfare. That is bad government, and it is a result of all kinds of unfortunate influences stemming from special-interest politics that dominate legislative decision-making. As you know, I have fought this battle consistently at the Legislature—opposing sales tax exemptions for every business that seems to have a strong lobbying force, proposing a gift ban from lobbyists to legislators, and working hard to introduce many campaign finance and government ethics reforms. Salt Lake City has lost some great potential employers (for example, Amer Sports, the world’s largest sports equipment company, has recently made Ogden the home of the new U.S. headquarters for its Salomon, Atomic, and Suunto brands), because they just kept sweetening the pie with perks. I don’t claim to know the answer here; if we just say no to any help in attracting business to Salt Lake City, we will be at a competitive disadvantage in instances where there are clear benefits overall to our community. Salt Lake City also needs help in defining local vs. out-of-state and big vs. small businesses so we can properly tailor our efforts.

I strongly believe that Salt Lake City should first of all focus its investments on improvements that make the whole city better, thereby making Salt Lake City the place businesses want to locate because of our high quality of life: top-tier education, great transportation choices (especially transit), world-class cultural and entertainment venues, and a clean and accessible natural environment.

There is also, however, a practical reality in the competition for businesses deciding where to locate—businesses pit community against community and neighbor against neighbor in direct competition. And, we see suburban locational decisions having adverse effects on sprawl, air quality, traffic congestion, and loss of open space. Those costs are not presently paid by individual businesses. Too often, the incentives play a role, and Salt Lake City needs to judiciously participate.

I’d like to see our RDA become much more proactive in helping local businesses and in making decisions based on our planning objectives as a city. The city has too often used incentives at cross-purposes with our planning goals. Again, the City’s heavy subsidization of Gateway has cost our core downtown and local business substantial opportunities for growth and development. (Gateway offers attractive amenities and will serve Salt Lake City well in the long term, but it has created short-term problems.)

Tax credits are largely dictated by state and federal policies, and the City’s role is limited unless we just say we won’t let projects using these tools benefit from local assistance. But that may also hurt local businesses.

A primary RDA tool, tax-increment financing, focuses on underutilized properties, and tends to be used for larger projects that will increase property taxes over time. It is not a tool that often helps small or existing businesses. RDA loans are available for rehabilitation of existing structures, and I believe they serve as a useful tool for smaller businesses. (I think this tool was used for some of your remodeling when you added the Coffee Garden inside your bookstore.) We should make sure this tool continues to help local, smaller businesses. RDA property write-downs are another tool that can help get a project started. The city successfully used this practice to help get the mixed-use Marmalade development just west of the Capitol Building off the ground. The RDA grants can be targeted for smaller, local businesses, and I believe they have often been well-used for affordable housing projects as well as for attracting businesses to locate on Main Street.

Downtown Parking
Downtown parking needs to be reworked as part of the Downtown Transportation Plan so that it becomes understandable and easy. We’ve discussed this issue together before, and I am in basic agreement with your views. Implementation of the draft Downtown Transportation Master Plan would achieve your idea of a Downtown Parking Authority. We need consistency in parking, and I agree that the pre-pay lots are a serious problem. A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a fundraiser for Plan B Theater. We had to delay the start of the performance because folks were lined up at the pre-pay parking lot across the street. A Downtown Parking Authority would establish standards and consistency, and it would help us develop lots that are on the perimeter of downtown that provide easy access to a well-developed, downtown-area transit circulator system, thereby reducing traffic congestion and helping to make downtown safer and more friendly, inviting, and accessible for employees, businesspeople, tourists, shoppers, and residents. We also need to look at our zoning ordinances to limit the ability to use prime downtown space as surface parking and land banking.

Private Property
We have to do something about vacant storefronts and buildings on hold in our core downtown area. I’m glad to see construction begin at 222 South Main.

Simply creating a “blight” tax or a “vacant buildings” tax may not get us what we want because it might force tearing down buildings we want to save (like the Utah Theater). I’m not sure at this time what the best approach would be, but I would like to consult with other experts and property owners to see what we can do that makes sense and is part of a thoughtful, reasoned approach.

I am optimistic that downtown Salt Lake City is on the brink of returning to the vital, thriving center I remember when I moved here in the 1970s. Within five to 10 years, I’m confident downtown can become The Gathering Place, a place drawing people from the entire region and beyond into a flourishing, prosperous center for commerce, entertainment, retail, housing, and personal enrichment on many levels. The pieces and plans are falling into place. As the next mayor, using my concrete background as a long-time professional planner, my connections to the Utah Legislature and a wide variety of other individuals in all levels of business and government and throughout the community, I will work to carry out necessary actions and bring people together to build coalitions.

Tony, I sincerely and deeply appreciate all that you and your family have done over the years, contributing hard work, sacrifice, and dedication toward helping make our City such a livable community. This is a rough time for existing downtown merchants, but we have so many possibilities for a strong, bright future if we work together and take the time to plan wisely and follow through on those plans. Again, thank you for taking the time to formulate and write down some of your thoughts about the downtown area and its development. I look forward to the opportunity to work with you in the near future to achieve our potential as a Great American City.

Ralph Becker

Mayoral Questions by Tony Weller

Tony Weller is the current owner of downtown bookstore Sam Weller’s, which has been a fixture in Salt Lake City since 1929. You can’t think of Main Street business without thinking about the incredible work Tony and his family have done there. They have survived construction and watched as national competition has received subsidies to locate and relocate here. Tony is also a former president of the Downtown Merchant’s Association, which I am a proud member of.

Last weekend I went to buy a gift certificate from Weller’s and found that all their parking has been removed at the behest of Hamilton Partners’ building construction. The city even bagged the meters that weren’t inexplicably removed by a walkway placed outside an existing sidewalk. All this while much of neighboring 3rd South’s parking is being torn up for a beautification project. So my wife circled the block while I went in to make a purchase. The situation is so maddening that I wonder if anyone at the city building shops on Main Street anymore.

Tony wrote me asking my opinion of the mayoral candidates. After reading my blog entries, he wrote up three questions of his own and sent them off. I was struck by what he said so much that I asked for permission to repost them here. They reflect a long standing frustration downtown merchants have had with city government’s inability to take concrete action on Main Street.

If Tony receives responses to this letter he wants to share, I will be happy to repost them. As stated previously, I have endorsed Ralph Becker for mayor. You can vote in the primary NOW.

Dear Candidate for SLC Mayor:

I am fortunate to have to choose between many candidates who share many of my beliefs and in whom I have considerable trust. I know several of you, some better than others, and have made careful statements to two of you about my support for your candidacy. But I haven’t yet decided for whom I will cast my vote. That is why I am writing today.

The office of Mayor will encompass many duties and responsibilities but I have a few main concerns that will determine for whom I will vote. Since this is not a professional survey, I have made no attempt to hide my biases and beliefs. I hope, in addition to learning what you think, that I might even have a small affect on the future direction of our city.

Local Businesses

It seems that municipalities all over try to lure businesses to their communities Each time a business or development is lured in, usually with tax credits, RDA subsidies, infrastructural contributions, or some other form of tax funded subsidy, it is lauded as a great achievement. Such use of the community’s resources is justified by the rationale that it increases the overall wealth of the community. I have observed in our city how subsidies to Gateway hurt the interests of Main Street; subsidies to American Stores hurt Hamilton Partners intended pre-Olympic development; subsidies to Hermes Corp, contributed to the construction of a new Barnes and Noble that hurt my business. I can find numerous examples of corporate subsidies that have harmed the interests of local citizens for each one I might consider useful.

In the last decade, numerous surveys have been performed, measuring the effects of money spent in local versus non-local businesses. Every one (duh!) finds that the retention and recalculation rates are greater when money is spent in locally owned entities. Not only are local businesses better economically, but nation wide, the individuality and character of communities has been diminished by the colonizing practices of large corporations.

Though we seldom received it, I used to think that local businesses deserved equal treatment to out of state businesses. I no longer believe that. I now believe that local businesses deserve preferential treatment. Much in the same way that our Universities acknowledge that they owe better tuition rates to local citizens and charge higher rates to non-residents, it would benefit our city to take the same approach to businesses. After all, like the resident student, local businesses have already paid into the system and are more likely to stick around and contribute to it.

If you agree, please tell me how, as Mayor, you would address this problem and put an end to corporate welfare, capital flight and the homogenization of our city. If you disagree with me, please tell me how I am wrong.

Parking Downtown

This is not New York City. Nor is this San Francisco or Chicago. I don’t expect free parking downtown but Salt Lake citizens are accustomed to free parking. Really, the downtown area is about the only place in the city where people have no choice but to pay.

Once upon a time we had a simple validation system utilizing one uniform sticker that was worth two hours in any downtown lot. Gradually the system died. The first entities to reject the Park & Shop validation were Crossroads and the ZCMI malls (read: not team players) Next, there was a consolidation of parking interests and various parking operators, many run by non-local companies, rejected Park & Shop. The Downtown Alliance has made a great effort to address this aspect of parking with the very versatile Downtown Tokens, but since the tokens are not uniformly accepted and of uncertain and/or variable value in the context of parking lots, their use has been minimal. As long as free parking can be had within a few miles, downtown will continue to suffer by comparison. The city should take the upper hand and solve this once and for all. The establishment of a Salt Lake parking authority to manage lots, not for free, not for profit, but at cost, would reduce parking rates and would have the potential to establish consistent parking policies and rates.

Pre-pay lots are also a bane on our city. They are the least convenient, the least favorite for users and levy the highest penalties for staying overtime. Just like there are ordinances that dictate how my signs or windows must look, it would be in the best interest of the community if pre-pay parking lots were prohibited.

We must also consider parking for downtown workers. If the city is to make a serious effort to fix our parking problems once and for all, it can’t afford to neglect the workers who make the city run. Properties around the perimeter of the city should be made into parking facilities for affordable all day or monthly parking, supported by some kind of a mass transit circulator to get them to their final destinations. RDA money could be used – I’ve certainly seen enough of it thrown at destructive projects.

Private Property vs. Community Interests

My bookstore is on a street that was once very active. Now it is dominated by vacant buildings, many of which have been vacant for years. Occupied buildings are generally occupant owned or owned by middle class citizens. The vacant properties are owned by some of our community’s wealthiest citizens or companies. It is time for a discussion about the proper balance between private property rights and community rights. If what has gone on downtown had happened in a residential neighborhood, it would never have been tolerated. I suffer the consequences while people or companies richer than I connive to increase their wealth further. Vacant buildings create blight. Blight leads to crime and further blight.

In the past, RDA money or other financial tools of the city have been used to repair blight. No physician or mechanic would recommend that one run down ones body or car and then try to fix it at a later date but this is exactly how we have wasted the tax payers’ money in our city. In many cases, the recipients of our largesse have been directly responsible for the blight the city seeks to fix. Why should I contribute so that Howa can make something of his neglected property? Why should anyone have helped Boyer, American Stores or Hermes build anything?

Flip this coin over! If we have decided that it is a prudent use of the taxpayers’ money to repair blight, we ought to take some measures to prevent blight from occurring. For the damage certain property owners have wrought on our city, they ought to be charged. After all, it would take less to prevent blight than it takes to repair it once it has set in. I hope our next Mayor will recognize this situation for what it is and find a way to make those who damage our communities and neighborhoods foot the bills. Assessing a blight tax might go a ways toward ending the paradigm that permits such privileged neglect of our city. Unless this can be figured out, Main Street will continue to embarrass us. What a shame that we have spent so much to run TRAX up a mostly vacant street.

In addition to the blight, such commodification of property has priced many businesses right out of the city and contributed to the creeping sprawl at our communities’ edges where property is more affordable. If all urban property were being utilized, this might be unavoidable, but that is not the case. Clearly our market system has become a vehicle of inefficiency.

I know my ideas are extreme. The principles of the American Revolution were seen as extreme as were those behind women’s suffrage and the emancipation of slaves. Sometimes extreme action is required to avert disaster. If you’re on the wrong side of the highway, making gradual adjustments may not be enough. Please tell me what, as Mayor, you would do to address the blight we have today, /without/ rewarding those responsible for it and how you would prevent it for occurring in the future.

I’m sorry to take so much of your time. If you’ve got this far, I thank you. If pertinent answers exist in anything you’ve previously written or said, I will be content to receive or be directed to those. At very least, I want this information so that I can use my vote wisely. If your vision resembles mine, I’ll share my endorsement enthusiastically.

Earnestly yours,

Tony Weller

Just Passing Through for the Check

Teddy Roosevelt Kickin' It Old StyleI saw Barack Obama this last weekend in Park City. He is the fourth Democratic presidential candidate that I have seen here in Utah. I’ve met Richardson, Dodd, and Edwards before him. For all, it was a repeated stump speech and only Dodd had the temerity to actually open it up to questions. I was disappointed that I baffled him with my question regarding Los Alamos Labs producing fresh weapons-grade plutonium. Aren’t senators supposed to know these things?

Seeing these candidates up close has been like peering behind the wizard’s curtain of our Presidency. Although I think Obama is nearest to the greatness that once was present in the oval office with Kennedy, Eisenhower, or either Roosevelt, I was disappointed with how his first stop in Utah was handled. The roadside rally came about through the request of local Obama campaigners. Originally, his staff had planned him to simply stop at the invite-only $500/head fundraiser and then leave with the check. In spite of being organized overnight, I estimated that nearly 1000 people showed up to see him speak.

Would Obama have raised more money at an event in a park or hall where anyone could come? Yes. Would he have still been able to to do an elite VIP reception for big donors? Yes. Would he have avoided the accusation of cynical conservatives that he’s yet another limousine-liberal cherry picking in Park City? Most definitely.

At the YearlyKos convention, the question was asked of the Democratic candidates if they would visit all 50 states in their campaign. The traditional response to this is that it wastes time and resources of the candidate, yet these two guys showed more resourcefulness than any presidential candidate ever has. I have a hard time imagining Lincoln or FDR thinking more of media buys than actually hitting the road. American’s cynicism for the presidential elections has peaked, and yes Barack, we do want “change”. We also want to “change” how our President is elected, and so far it has been the same old game.