Rani Derasary 2019

Rani Derasary [Courtesy Photo]

Six candidates will vie for three seats on the Moab City Council in the next election on Nov. 5. Incumbent candidates Rani Derasary, Kalen Jones and Tawny Knuteson-Boyd will be joined by challengers Kenneth G. Minor, M. Bryon Walston and Kendall Jenson.

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 Councilwoman Rani Derasary 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?

My father is from India, my mother from the Netherlands. They met on a bus in Texas, married and settled in California where I was raised. I attended public schools, including the University of California, Davis. In 1999, I came to Moab for a season and never left! My husband Nate and I live downtown and my sister, Lara, lives in Moab, too.

Before joining the city council in 2016, I worked with community organizations in various capacities for more than 20 years. Fundraising and program work at International Rivers Network in California taught me how local, national and international parties can partner to help communities have a greater voice in how their water resources are allocated and managed.

Serving on the WabiSabi board from 2008 through 2013 widened my understanding of the impressive number of groups in Moab that provide vital, enriching services, and the generosity of Moab’s businesses and residents in making this possible. As program director of Canyonlands Community Recycling from 2010 through 2012, I started bi-annual electronic waste collections and partnered with Moab Solutions and the Postal Service to expand paper recycling. Revegetation work for Wildland Scapes, water sampling for the BLM, and administrative work for Serena Supplee have broadened my understanding of Moab’s land and water resources, and the variety of people whose livelihoods depend on them.

This mix of nonprofit, private and public sector work has yielded me attributes I find helpful in council work: attention to detail; strategic planning and project management experience; and strong administrative, communication, collaboration and networking skills.

What neighborhood do you live in? Why? Where are your favorite places to spend time in our town?

We live downtown in a house my husband initially rented and then bought 20 years ago. We’ve enjoyed adding to its “funkiness” over the years and we like the easy foot and bike access to downtown businesses.

I enjoy working in our yard, meandering the parkway and bike paths, sampling food at our cafes and restaurants, and perusing local shops for gift ideas, groceries, gear and hardware supplies. I also like exploring nearby BLM and Forest Service land, and running the “Daily” section of the Colorado River.

What's an example of a great ordinance or political move you've seen in the last few years here in Moab?

Knowing Moab has a gap between wages and housing costs, people ask me why the city doesn’t set a higher minimum wage community-wide. That is not a power held by cities in Utah, but rather by the Utah State Legislature.

One thing the city can do, however, is set an example for other employers by virtue of what we pay city staff. Along those lines, in 2016 the city hired Personnel Systems, Inc as a consultant to do a comprehensive salary survey – something that hadn’t been done in 19 years. Goals included generating a uniform and equitable pay plan consisting of minimum and maximum pay rates for positions. An employee salary survey committee was formed with representatives from each department; jobs were weighted based on job knowledge, responsibility, difficulty and work environment. Wages for comparable work in other parts of Utah were reviewed. Personnel Systems presented their findings and recommendations to council in detail, noting many of our entry level pay rates were below market. The council voted for recommended increases in late 2016, which placed our lowest starting wage at $15.61/hour. Wages, of course, need to be revisited over time, but this was a good start.

Other positive developments include establishing the Water Conservation & Drought Management Advisory Board; acquiring the Walnut Lane property for affordable housing; and passing renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, the sustainability action plan, and the dark sky ordinance.

If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why?

I would focus on improving the interplay between building height, buffering and related elements. Time and time again I’ve spoken to stressed residents struggling to understand why certain projects are permitted. For instance, the adjacent property might have a tall building that looms over them and feels like a privacy invasion. Sometimes this is because their zone allows uses or building heights they weren’t aware of. More community education about what zoning entails and what property rights are could help with this and create a better launch point for people to discuss what code changes they desire.

Given the conflicts I’ve observed, I would like zoning code that makes it clear how to transition heights and uses from one zone to the next; that uses a uniform definition for height; that takes into account neighboring Grand County zones when the city annexes a parcel and assigns the city zone; that protects viewsheds and solar access; and that provides more options to promote step-backs/building envelopes.

I’ve been told some of this may be addressed via form-based code, and think addressing these changes is vital to planning a more livable, inviting community, especially given our diverse mix of desired but sometimes competing uses

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town?

Listening to residents is key for me. As council members, we are here to represent voters, help you navigate how local government works, provide municipal services and a healthy community. To me, great communities are ones in which residents share a sense of ownership and pride, where the city is more an ally than an adversary. I encourage residents to call, email or come speak before the council. I’ve tried to do more education about how and when one can speak at public meetings.

I have also reached out in other ways. In 2018, I went door-to-door to 120 businesses after hearing that they needed more communication from the city and UDOT on downtown and parking plans, Highway 191 widening and hotspot funding. After those visits I began an email list I use to send interested residents summaries of our upcoming meeting packets and other meetings of interest. To be added to this list, simply email me at: raniderasary@gmail.com.

Information exchange at the city is a two-way street; residents need to put effort into engaging, but we also need to communicate effectively with you. The best way to do that is admittedly a learning process.

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?

City staff are to be commended for their work to prioritize infrastructure projects based on need and available funding. If a new project was proposed, my first questions would be: Why do we need this? How much of a priority is it? Who will pay for it? What are our financing options? If fees will be involved, how will that structure be set, and how will it be equitable? How does it fall into our overall capital improvements plan, and what do staff recommend?

If elected, what three steps would you take to put our city on a firmer footing for future growth?

First, I would update municipal code. Staff have improved our outdated code by removing conditional use permits, updating business licensing sections, etc. We still have a long way to go, from needing a future land use map to setting new standards determining under what conditions new overnight accommodations will be permitted in future.

Second, I would increase long-term deed-restricted housing. Our shortage of housing is central to so many of our community’s challenges – from physical and mental health, to the ability to hire and retain staff, to the ability raise a family. Expeditious work to redevelop housing on the Walnut Lane property can help. We can also work on finding more ways to support long-term, deed-restricted housing units, particularly at levels under 120% area median income for primary residents, as this seems to be where our greatest needs lie.

Third, I would develop a community-driven vision. The General Plan offers some long-term guidance for our community, but not in the detail we need moving forward. The Living Community Challenge has been suggested as a model. I support a community-driven process to ensure our vision reflects resident values.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

We receive compelling requests from staff each year when we’re budgeting that we have to turn down due to limited funds. I’d review that request list and allocate the $1 million based on that, with one exception. I’d put a small amount aside to throw residents a free fun event – perhaps a catered community dinner with seating on the Colorado River bridge and U.S. Route 191 bike path, with entertainment to include an inflatable pool toy race from Goose Island to the bridge!