Here at the Moab Sun News, we heard from readers who wanted a deeper look at the candidates. We’ll be presenting a profile of one candidate each week leading up to the election.
This week, we spoke to current Moab City Councilman Kalen Jones via email.
What’s your personal background? How did you get to Moab, or when did your family get here? What sort of work have you done professionally?
I moved to Moab in 1990. I was drawn to the community and landscape of Moab and made a conscious decision that Moab would be a great place to build a good life.
In my early years in Moab, I worked as a dishwasher, line cook, bike mechanic, retail, and recycling center staffer. For the last two decades, I have worked in development, primarily in building and landscape design. I have worked on key projects which balance the for-profit creation of home lots with permanent stewardship of agricultural land. My current focus is on designing high-performance homes with minimized energy use that will meet the needs of Moab’s growing families.
What neighborhood do you live in? Why? Where are your favorite places to spend time in our town?
I live in the southwest corner of Moab with easy access to recreation on the Kane Creek Road. In addition to Moab’s various public meeting rooms and incredible public lands, I enjoy spending time at the City’s great Recreation and Aquatics Center, Moab’s diverse independent restaurants, and commuting on the Mill Creek Parkway.
What’s an example of a great ordinance or political move you’ve seen in the last few years here in Moab?
I am particularly proud of Moab’s Community Contribution Program. This program was created by the Moab City Council to provide funding to community organizations for initiatives that benefit the residents of Moab. Prior to the creation of this program, the city council provided funding to organizations that applied during our annual budget process.
Unlike typical grant programs, this opportunity was not advertised, there was no standard application form, eligibility requirements, or scoring procedure. It was purely a political decision. The city now advertises this opportunity and exercises reasonable due diligence when awarding contributions.
The practical effect of formalizing the program is that the city is now funding a broader range of organizations that provide important social and cultural services that the city does not, but that some larger or better funded cities might. More local organizations are aware of this funding source and the funding is distributed more objectively and fairly than in the past. Full details are available at www.moabcity.org/Community-Contributions
If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why?
I would make zoning more efficient by combining Moab City and Grand County offices to create an Office of Development Services. City and county resources that are spent duplicating functions and positions (administrative, rote plan checks) could then be utilized more effectively.
By combining resources, we could provide better customer service via more efficient application processing and staff specialists who could respond to the needs of landowners. Combining resources could provide online mapping at the level that other communities have, providing a wider range of property data at everyone’s fingertips.
Having a single office would facilitate city-county coordination on our inextricably linked long-term planning issues, leading to more effective and creative results, as well as public dialogue. Development in the city’s annexation boundary could be more easily managed for long-term compatibility. And, increased staff familiarity with both city and county codes would facilitate effective and orderly alignment between the two codes as they are revised over time.
How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town?
More and more residents are getting involved in city decision making. We are working hard to keep that information coming in, and at the same time, the city’s outward flow of information across multiple platforms has increased dramatically.
We made the planning process during the overnight accommodations moratorium more open, with multiple opportunities for the public to see the evolution of the work and to provide feedback. I think it was an improvement for both the citizens and the council.
I want to proactively engage residents more via well-facilitated town hall-style meetings, surveys, and neighborhood walks to invite input about specific issues, plans, and projects, as well as to learn of concerns the city and council may not be aware of.
I will also advocate for the creation of Local Government Academies. These would be ten-week programs providing the opportunity for our residents, including youth, to learn about how all the city departments operate and how city government works.
If you saw a proposal to build a new piece of public infrastructure in our city, how would you evaluate whether that project was worth implementing?
I would start by considering if this was a priority in the context of the various other needs and wants for the city. I would look at the true cost of ownership: the total of cash, financing, maintenance, operations, and whether that was affordable in both the current and long-term budgets. I would do this in consultation with the relevant city staff, and the rest of the council.
For example, the city recently acquired a piece of property on Walnut Lane intending to build affordable housing there. Housing is a well-defined need for our community. The purchase price, while significant, was in line with appraised value.
Although some cash was used in the acquisition, long-term the city can use affordable housing financing with favorable terms and the rental income to recoup the original investment and roll that money into more housing, or other community needs. This is an example of the city using its buying power to meet the pressing needs of our community.
If elected, what three steps would you take to put our city on a firmer footing for future growth?
My three priorities are infrastructure, water, and transportation. I would work with others to assess and develop a funding plan for long term maintenance of existing infrastructure.
I would also manage our water resources by participating in regional groundwater management planning and more energetic water conservation promotion.
I would also engage in valley-wide transportation planning to better move people around while minimizing congestion and noise.
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?
I would work on my three priorities of infrastructure, water, and transportation and I would add housing to that. I would include creating a program to facilitate the long-term occupancy of existing homes by residents.
With a grant like that, we could also consider the revitalization of our downtown area to create more walking opportunities. Visitors spend more money when they are out of their cars, so getting them outside on pedestrian-friendly downtown streets would really help our local businesses.