The Moab City Council met for their regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 23, where councilmembers gave updates regarding the recent art vandalism on Center Street, the current Utah state legislative session and the 2021 City of Moab Grant Program.

City of Moab Grant Program 2021 recommendations approved

On Dec. 18, the Moab City Council designated $100,000 in funding for a one-time City of Moab Grant Program open to eligible nonprofit organizations and governmental organizations who could demonstrate that their work had been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After CARES Act funds were spent on law enforcement, staff reported that the city had $100,000 left in the general fund to use for the grant program.

A five-person committee of city staff selected by City Manager Joel Linares reviewed the 30 applications received — a total of $246,621.56 was requested — and agreed on recommended funding levels for the programs ranked highest by the committee. Two requests were not recommended to receive funding.

“The ones that were recommended to receive the highest funding by the committee here primarily involved health and safety,” said Communications and Engagement Manager Lisa Church, who was on the committee. “There were also programs serving high-risk youth and other community-wide opportunities that the committee determined were higher-ranked than others.”

Top awardees include the Moab Free Health Clinic, which received $10,000 they requested to go towards medical supplies, lab test costs, interpretation services and other programs to serve underinsured patients. Local nonprofit Rim to Rim Restoration requested $10,000 and was awarded $8,000 for fire fuels reduction projects along Mill and Pack Creeks. The committee awarded $7,000 each to Seekhaven, the Youth Garden Project and Canyonlands Field Institute for various other projects serving the community.

Mayor Niehaus founded Community Rebuilds — a nonprofit dedicated to providing affordable, energy-efficient, sustainable housing — which launched in Moab in 2010. Though she is no longer affiliated with the organization, she voiced her disappointment that the nonprofit, which had requested $8,950 for food stipends, bulk food and build-site snacks for interns, had only received $1,025 in funding.

“I was surprised at how low that was funded, quite honestly. I would advocate for a reconsideration of that allotment,” she said during discussion at the meeting. “Every one of us ran for office on the platform of affordable housing, and this is a really easy way to say that you support affordable housing.”

Guzman-Newton said that she’d hoped that Ride With Respect, a nonprofit that aims to protect natural resources by advocating for safe and mindful outdoor recreation, had received funding for their OHV Trail Host Program. The organization requested $5,000 and was allocated none.

“The OHV issue hits our residents more than anything that we’ve heard so far this year. That funding would go to having volunteers out there to educate visitors about riding quietly and with respect,” she said. “For me, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t any money that went towards that.”

Other councilmembers praised the hard work of the committee in reviewing applications and allocating funding for the City of Moab Grant Program 2021. Ultimately, the committee’s recommendations were approved unanimously.

Vandalism and other issues.

According to City Manager Joel Linares, the Moab Police Department is investigating a few different leads in the recent public art vandalism case, and local businesses have been cooperative in providing security footage and other information that could lead to the culprits.

During a short Citizens to be Heard period at Tuesday’s city council meeting, Moab ArtTrails Co-Founder Christy Williams Dunton spoke about the recent vandalism of the city’s public art structures. Between the late hours of Feb. 10 and the morning of Feb. 11, vandals damaged three art installations across Center Street downtown. [See “City offers reward after vandalism of public art sculptures,” Feb. 11 edition. -ed.]

The fruits of a collaboration between the Moab Arts and Recreation Center and Moab ArtTrails in 2019, the three sculptures are valued at $21,600.

“The good news is that upon examination of the damage and close discussion with the artists, we know that the art can and will be repaired and we can finish out this extraordinary exhibition during a pandemic in typical Moab style – with resilience and durability,” said Dunton at the city council meeting.

The City of Moab is offering $3,000 for information about the vandalism, and an anonymous donor has pledged to match that $3,000 reward to total $6,000, Dunton reported.

“People have been responding uniformly with outrage and sadness, and the community wants answers,” Dunton continued.

“The fact that the community has taken this vandalism to their art personally is noteworthy and speaks to the collective ownership of our shared spaces and the goodness public art can bring.”

City Manager Joel Linares reported that the police do have leads in their investigation, though no arrests have been made. He said that the community and downtown businesses have cooperated fully and provided helpful information.

“With those pieces not being on Center, it feels like a completely different street,” Linares said. “The city never thought twice about being a member of this agreement and making it so the program can continue. We won’t be dissuaded or dismayed from continuing to provide public art.”

Utah legislative session updates

Moab City’s potential land use ordinance on all-terrain vehicles was not discussed at Tuesday's meeting, as the matter was tabled indefinitely at the regular meeting on Feb. 9. Councilmembers decided then to focus their efforts on passing Senate Bill 168, which is expected to be voted on in the Utah State Senate shortly.

Mayor Emily Niehaus provided several updates on legislation relevant to Moab being discussed during the current Utah legislative session. Senate Bill 168, sponsored by Sen. Mike McKell (R-District 7) would allow Moab to impose an ordinance restricting ATV use between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., among other provisions. The bill is up for its third reading in the Senate.

The mayor also indicated two other bills, both introduced by Sen. Jacob Anderegg (R-District 13), that councilmembers have been keeping an eye on. Senate Bill 164 “has some really good and really bad stuff for Moab,” said Niehaus.

The bill could potentially allocate $500,000 in pre-development grants for rural communities (such as Moab), but it also includes language about eliminating programs like Moab’s Workforce Assured Housing Ordinance. That ordinance requires developers of new overnight accommodations to either directly provide workforce housing or pay into a city fund for that purpose. The Utah League of Cities and Towns opposes this bill.

The other bill also sponsored by Anderegg, Senate Bill 221, would prevent the city of Moab from issuing an ordinance to prohibit owner-occupied short-term rentals.

“You as the owner of a house can do a nightly rental out of your home and a municipality cannot tell you ‘no,’” said Niehaus. “We in Moab know how disastrous that bill would be. We would suffer from quality of life and ability to regulate — it’s a disastrous bill for us.”

The last bill that the mayor mentioned is Senate Bill 61, sponsored by Sen. Scott Sandall (R-District 17). This legislation would make billboard electrification easier, which would threaten Moab’s goals to be a dark skies community. A similar bill, Senate Bill 144 sponsored by Sen. David Hinkins (R-District 27 representing Moab), failed in the Senate on Feb. 22. SB144 would have made it more difficult for cities to incentivize landowners to end or refuse billboard leases.

The Moab City Council meets the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. Meetings are streamed online at the Moab City Youtube channel. Schedules, agendas and opportunities for public comment can be found at www.moabcity.org.