Quality Growth Report
Michael O. Leavitt holds the distinction of longest economic expansion in modern Utah state history. His governorship consists of eight consecutive years of three percent or higher job growth. This had never happened in Utah since about 1950. Net migration in a year during Leavitt’s term was never lower than 9,700 and during many years was as high as 30,000 which meant during his entire term more people were entering the state than leaving. This created many new problems and challenges for the state of Utah.
The major issues revolving around this increased growth were transportation, air quality, land conservation, water quality and water conservation. These were part of the authority of state government and also outside of state government. People were starting to talk about the need for something besides state government which brought on discussions for the creation of Envision Utah. The Coalition for Utah’s Future with Robert Grow and Stephen Holbrook had some of these discussions. Leavitt entered the scene in 1992 and ideas started to percolate. By the middle of 1993 the question had spread and it was a live discussion.
II. Growth Summit
In 1995 the Growth Summit was created. The Summit brought all of the discussions and all of the players together and created a really complete discussion. Growth Summit was the leader in Utah’s efforts in Quality Growth and became the defining moment. Transportation, water, and open space were the three major things the summit addressed. The set up of the Growth Summit was to have several different meetings all over the state occurring simultaneously but in different locations. At these meetings everyone got a chance to discuss the issues and present their ideas and opinions. Then a number of these leaders met directly with the governor in Salt Lake City where they vent all the different ideas they gained from the previous meetings of how to work on the issues and how to resolve them. Eventually all of the ideas and resolutions would be brought together into a planner.
The Growth Summit received an hour and a half of prime time television on every station with preempted programming. Educational data was aired beforehand and then they showed the discussions. Vicki Varela is the one who handled all of the negotiations with the television stations. Other major players to get the Growth Summit going were Mel Brown, Frank Pignanelli, and Lane Beattie who was President of the Senate at the time.
The Growth Summit was a place to discuss the major issues, but also a place to lay some groundwork for future issues and things which the governor might want to work on in the future. For example air quality was an idea in the background but was not a main focus. Today the issue of air quality would be much closer to the top. Also in the back of everyone’s mind was I-15. Norm Bangerter’s administration tried to face that problem of transportation but never really got to that point. The summit was an opportunity for the governor to plant the seeds and take the first steps to be able to get I-15 done. These discussions morphed into the idea of the Centennial Highway Fund. Ideas about water conservation, even though it was not very important then, were born in the environment of the Growth Summit. Regarding open space, Utah had never done anything in that arena before and the summit was the first time it had really been discussed in a major way.
Growth Summit developed great documents and reports on solutions in water and land and transportation that poured in from local government and business associations. A hallmark of the summit is that the process was all-inclusive and brought everyone in. It was not just something for the executive branch to take care of. The planning office assembled the documents and reports into a planner and these led directly to other efforts by the governor, specifically in the form of executive orders.
The first executive order issued in relation to the discussions that took place at the Growth Summit created the critical lands conservation committee. This was interesting because of the fact that it is not called “open space” even though essentially that is the issue they were dealing with. Critical land was more specific. Open space was a concept that was questioned and criticized from the beginning. “What’s open space? We’ve got lots of open space, why do we need more? 60% of the state is open space.” Calling the issue “critical lands” created a real fundamental shift in a lot of non-urban people’s thinking to get them to come to the table. The issue was not to create open space for the sake of open space, but to preserve critical lands like water life habitat, water sheds, agricultural lands, etc. Critical lands put the focus on what was really important.
In creating the critical lands conservation committee, Utah went back to central, basic environmental philosophy and created their plan. The philosophy of environmentalism is often so broad and open ended that it is impossible to really get your arms around it. The planning office was trying to get their arms around it and make it a practical and pragmatic process. They did not just adopt the language and a plan from somewhere else, the ideas had to be homegrown and meet the needs and philosophies of the public of Utah. They found a plan that worked for Leavitt and Brad Barber, but there were other expectations from people like Mel Brown. These two philosophies combined and created something better. The result was the original concept of critical lands. Staff members did not use the word open space, only critical land was discussed. In the same vein, Utah did not use smart growth with Envision Utah; it was Quality Growth because it was their homegrown vision.
The second executive order requested all state agencies to look for property for land they owned that would be important to try and conserve. This was issued to agencies like the Department of Transportation and was something that had never been done before. The background discussion that led to this also led to further discussion about the partnership between business and local government in dealing with these issues. This discussion led to the official creation of Envision Utah from 1997 to 1998.
III. Envision Utah
The launch of Envision Utah was a significant move for Leavitt because a similar initiative was the issue that cost his father the election to governor. Leavitt’s father, Dixie Leavitt, was running for governor in 1974 when a big land use planning act went to ballot. Dixie was supportive of that bill and in the planning office mean letters were coming in making accusations of Dixie being a Marxist or Stalinist. There were a lot of misconceptions as Dixie was far from a Marxist. He just thought the initiative was a great idea and this contributed to his loss of the campaign. Because of this, Mike Leavitt was ideally prepared to handle this type of initiative because he had seen his father fail at it. Leavitt had no experience of his own to deal with the issue but he did have the experience of his father. For Leavitt to take on the same issues that cost his father an election also required a great deal of courage because he also learned from his father’s experience how these things can hurt you. He still pushed forward because it was the right thing.
Leavitt called on the experience of other giants of Utah as well when preparing the minds of Utahns in dealing with land issues. A powerful idea was hatched in a meeting to have Brigham Young himself come to the launch of Envision Utah and speak to Utahns. So in 1997 Brigham Young came to the launch at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City to give Utah a pep talk and share some more of his vision. Historian Leonard Arrington was hired to play the part of Brigham. Brigham, played by Leonard, essentially said at the launch, “You guys have done some pretty good stuff since I was here last but I’m not happy with everything. There’s been a lot of great things done but my vision for this valley, this city… you guys have got some work to do.” Leonard was short and portly and dressed up for the part. Leonard came up with the speech himself as well. He was given some concepts to work with and then given freedom as far as how to say it. Leonard had done things like this before but never in the context of growth. His knowledge of the history of Brigham and city building made the speech extremely effective and truly powerful.
The approach to launching Envision Utah was to create a cooperative partnership. Envision Utah consisted of over a hundred big partners. These partners sometimes had a vision that was a little bigger or a little more powerful but it was Leavitt who insisted that things be done in a cooperative fashion rather than pushing these ideas on people with a lot of mandates. Many like Robert Grow and others in the beginning would have opted for more forced action with mandates and a lot of heavy planning. Thus when Leavitt came along and wanted to work together with people they were anxious to speak up as well as listen. Envision Utah was created to get as much done without coercion and to offer more rewards rather than punishment; use carrots when appropriate and keep the stick small.
At the launch, Leavitt also delivered a very powerful speech that followed up to Brigham Young. It was written by Vicki and Brad and described the direction which Envision Utah hoped to take the state of Utah and how he wanted to do it.
Because of the things Envision Utah was out to do, many people would get upset. One example is when Ellis Ivory went the governor asking for Brad Barber’s head on a plate. A scenarios analysis process was run which gave an idea to the people at Envision Utah where they should start making their major efforts. The scenarios analysis used modeling and looked at density issues and how that plays out in respect to infrastructure cost and water use and air quality and determining the costs of different development patterns. This process with the scenarios analysis process was what created the foundation to come up with the strategy for Quality Growth. At times this could be thought of as the largest public private partnership on Quality Growth and has incredible name recognition. The numbers that came out of this analysis made Ellis Ivory very unhappy. Ellis liked to go and buy a bunch of raw agricultural land and put up Ivory Homes one after another. Ellis did not feel like Envision Utah and its talk of clustering and town centers and more density was supportive of his usual way of doing business. After receiving the numbers, Ellis went directly to the governor to raise his complaint. Ellis called the meeting and Brad was asked to go to the meeting but Brad was not aware what the meeting was regarding except Envision Utah. So the meeting with Brad, the governor, and Ellis convened and straightaway Ellis starts quoting numbers. He tells the governor how awful these numbers are and that someone’s head ought to be on the platter. Leavitt turns to Brad and says, “Defend these numbers.” Brad did not even know that they would be discussing the numbers from this analysis so he had not spent any time recently looking over them. So Brad did not know what to do. He said, “Well, this is a complex model, uh, give me a couple of hours” but that did not sit well with the governor. The situation was very testy and Brad and the governor agreed to spend more time with Ellis to work out the problems. The situation was eventually resolved but there were many situations similar to this. Brad recalls three different times when someone, instead of sitting down with Brad and going over the issue, they would go directly to the governor. These situations show how people were ready to just do away with the process.
Natalie Gochnour also had a run-in with Ellis Ivory. Today she has Ellis’ daughter working with her and she is certainly a fan of the Ivory’s but during this time there were many collisions. Natalie was speaking on a panel regarding Quality Growth with Ellis and another person and Ellis was really attacking them and specifically attacking Natalie. There was a Deseret News story by Lucinda Dillon that starts out, “Natalie Gochnour is reminding herself lately of a deer in a Far Side cartoon. It’s a classic by Gary Larson: two deer talking, one with a target on his chest. Caption: ‘Bummer of a birthmark, Hal’” [“Predicting Utah’s growth creates pains and strains, Builder disputes figures, methods used for research” by Lucinda Dillon, Deseret News 09 December 1998]. On these panels and in these discussions they were dealing with some really tough politics and philosophies so it got very personal very quickly.
There were a lot of tough things along the way with Envision Utah but today it is very well accepted throughout the state. At that time, the governor being pro-transit was extremely scary publicly but today the environment has totally changed. Envision Utah is the foundation for the downtown rides available today and the most other ideas it represents are really a standard for quality growth. It is not nearly the controversy it was coming out of the gate. Envision Utah prevailed partly because of the smart political savvy of Mike Leavitt helping to steer though the obstacle course of tough politics. People were so skeptical and upset at the time that the legislature ordered an audit of the agency to make sure no public moneys were going to it inappropriately. Today Envision Utah is stronger than ever.
IV. Quality Growth Act
In 1998 the discussion on the Quality Growth Commission was started and then the Quality Growth Act was passed in 1999. The creation of Envision Utah was extremely helpful in getting the Quality Growth Act passed. Of course, Leavitt himself was also very helpful in pushing the legislation. This was definitely his deal and his legislative leadership was very important in passing the act. Earlier it was discussed that Envision Utah was the cooperative approach to the issue- using carrots. The Quality Growth Act was the stick but also the money to support it and create more of those incentives.
The Quality Growth Act was sponsored by Kevin Garn in the House of Representatives and Lane Beattie in the Senate. There were two major parts of the bill. First was to incentivize, direct and lead state agencies and local government towards meeting these Quality Growth goals. Second was to create the money funding mechanism for critical lands. The bill went through a million iterations and got watered down so it was not as powerful as when it was first introduced. Even with all of the watering down it was difficult clear until the end to try and get that bill passed. The bill had the support of the governor, the support of the senate president, and the support of the house majority leader yet even with all of that political punch it still met a lot of opposition.
One of the more interesting events in the state legislature was on the last day of the debate on the issue. Marty Stevens is the Speaker and Mel Brown is ex-speaker on the floor with Kevin Garn as the sponsor. Mel Brown stands up to oppose and amend the bill. Brown started to do some very inappropriate things and executing all sorts of strategies to kill this bill. Marty gets very furious and turns the podium over to someone else and marches down to the floor to debate Mel. That was unprecedented. Marty was not doing this just out of love and support for Leavitt, but because of his distaste in ex-speakers taking him on. Behind the scenes Kevin, Marty, the governor, Layne, and everyone worked and came up with a plan that they can all live with and then Mel came along to try and muck it all up and destroy it. So Marty in all of his fury takes the floor with Brown and enters into a very heated debate. Then there was a vote and it passed. It passed with a little bit of room even. [To listen to the last day of the debate on the Quality Growth Act click here]
In the Senate it was also a tough vote. Lane Beattie did well in the Senate to get it done and really carried the way. It was not easy here either but it passed and this bill provided some great steps to move forward and create some real money for land conservation.
B. Funding- Lee Ray McAllister
The issue with coming up with the money for land conservation was a brilliant strategy. Many people hated this and did not understand why the state needed money for open space. Again, “We have enough open space; we don’t want to put money into this. Let’s put it towards roads.” It was also very much an issue of urban versus rural as Salt Lake City really wanted to try and preserve some open space in the city but in the rural areas there was already plenty of it. There was a meeting in the governor’s office where they discussed this issue and realized that this has a long way to go to try and get some financial support. They just needed to get it done and put some real enthusiasm into it. The idea was hatched to put Lee Ray McAllister behind it. Lee Ray McAllister was senator at the time and was beloved by all and chair of the Appropriations Committee; he had the money and he had a great love for parks and trails. Basically, no one would dare to vote this funding down if it had Lee Ray’s name on it. Governor says, “Let’s get Lee Ray in here,” so they did. Brad got Lee Ray who was also a professor of accounting and McAllister was very humble about it but he agreed to do it.
Putting Lee Ray McAllister’s name on that fund carried that part of the bill and even though it has not been that long, Lee Ray has passed away and a lot of great things are being done in this. That fund created sixty thousand acres of land, leverage, and all kinds of money and really made a huge difference. A simple example of those great things being done is the once-vulnerable Grafton land which is now preserved along the Virgin River. Every county, both rural and urban, has been affected by this. Some years it has had more money than others but it has endured. Legislators have tried to kill it. Kevin Garn tried to rob it to use on some other things he wanted to do but the governor would not allow it. Garn fought tooth and nail to try and get that money but every year the governor was there he went back and made sure that it stayed intact. Huntsman has done the same thing even though he has changed a lot of other things that the Leavitt administration did. Huntsman was loyal to the cause that Envision Utah and the Quality Growth Act were working towards because he shared in that vision with Leavitt. The work done here in Envision Utah and the Quality Growth Act left a legacy that people involved in the arena of Quality Growth will stand up and applaud day in and day out.
V. Twenty-First Century’s Communities Program
A rural component of growth planning was also created which was entitled the Twenty-First Century’s Community Program. Leavitt, probably more than any other governor at this time, really had compassion and understanding and a vision about rural Utah. He knew where things were and could see where things were going. Rural is often kind of backward looking in the arena of Quality Growth so in many ways Leavitt was ahead of the people in rural Utah. He had a great vision for rural communities and was able to lift everyone’s sights by the time all was said and done. Leavitt got people in rural Utah thinking in terms of planning. Although things in the Wasatch front were booming, the rural economy was still pretty weak. Rural counties and communities had very limited capacity to deal with anything in terms of staff and they really liked to complain about public lands. In rural Utah there were two extremes of growth, either zero pressure or extreme pressure. For example, St. George was booming, but Loa was not booming at all. The governor was able to see what was coming and take necessary measures to encourage these rural communities to do some planning to preserve some of those critical lands and facilitate the right kind of growth for when it did come through the Twenty-First Century’s Communities Program.
Brad Barber and Natalie Gochnour drafted the outline for the Twenty-First Century’s Communities Program. Wes Curtis spearheaded the program. They ended up with a white paper that laid out a plan for Twenty-First Century’s Community Program. The visions itself was very grandiose. There were big signs, billboards at entrances of cities, cash rewards, and big celebrations. They did not have the money for all of that stuff. Twenty-First Century’s Community Program recognized the communities who achieved certain levels of planning success. A community that achieved these standards could receive bronze, silver, or gold levels in the Twenty-First Century’s Communities Program. Achievement was determined by completion of a series of community assessments. Then the assessment tool was put online which was a very new concept for the time. Some communities did not even have access to the internet so modems were set up. Different assessments were set up for different categories of growth. They included: economic development, public safety, healthcare, transportation, infrastructure, natural resources, and portable housing. To become a gold level they had to do a certain number of these categories and bronze and silver awards were stepping stones along the way toward gold. In the beginning some communities were hesitant to engage but a few stepped up and went for it. As soon as they got success the program recognized and encouraged their efforts and then others began to catch on as well. By the end there were 135 communities who were participating in the Twenty-First Century’s Communities Program. Somewhere around fifty to sixty of those achieved a gold level. That is progress. The level of planning sophistication in the beginning was low but by the end of this process the bar had been raised dramatically. There were regional planners, planning and zoning commissions, community and county leaders who were conversant and understood the issues. Those planners are still in place today and working in rural Utah. The theme of the program was “Skating to where the puck will be.” The communities that hit these levels were given bronze, silver, and gold pucks placed in plaques.
Leavitt’s vision proved true. Since 1998 there has been a dramatic change in rural Utah in terms of growth and economic diversity.
VI. Lessons Learned
There were a lot of lessons learned during Leavitt’s years working on Quality Growth. One mistake or regret includes the BLM West Desert Wilderness issue. That West Desert Wilderness bill was very controversial and no one was happy with it. For one side it was too much and for the other it was not enough. At a meeting in Washington DC as the bill was going into Congress and being debated, Bruce Babbit and the rest of the wilderness committee surrounded the governor and said, “You’ve got to give us more. We have to have more wilderness in this bill. We just have to have more to get this done.” Bruce Babbit said to Leavitt if he worked really hard he could do it and get more. The governor just looked at these people and said, “You have got to be nuts. What I’ve done is lay my political career on the line to get this done. The Republican Party in Utah thinks I’m nuts. They’re ready to string me up. The rural county commissioners want my head on a platter and you’ve got the nerve to come in here and say you’ve got to have more. I cannot. Meeting over.” Leavitt really did lay his career on the line to try and pass the bill. He pushed the conservatives and pushed the county commissioners to the edge trying to compromise and find that place. The bill never did pass.
When Leavitt was resigning as governor there’s always the one big question that people ask. “Do you have any regrets? What do you wish you could have accomplished that you didn’t?” Leavitt did not hesitate. The deep regret was never getting the BLM wilderness thing taken care of. He was open about this regret. He invested a lot but those harsh divisions and extremes made it impossible to find middle ground. The situation was a lesson in extremes. The opportunities that Leavitt once had have now been squandered and all the things he invested have just evaporated in the past several years. The opportunity was lost and the tide has turned.
Legacy Highway was another issue that garners some regret, not because of what was done, but because of how it was done. The end result of the Legacy Highway was great and in the end very successful. However getting there was a very nasty battle. In making the Legacy Highway happen some painful and expensive situations were created that might have been handled differently to save cost of sanity as well as money.
B. Positive Lessons
Overall, Quality Growth had few regrets and was successful. There were a variety of things that made the governor successful as a leader of Quality Growth and more simply as a governor. People were truly motivated to work with him and be a part of what he was working towards. Natalie Gochnour remembers when Leavitt was first running for governor on the republican side of the ticket. It was down to Stuart Eyre and Michael Leavitt. Eyre had a great TV presence and was an excellent speaker and Gochnour thought Eyre would take it. Natalie was at a conference with Bud Scruggs, a political insider and former chief of staff, and when Scruggs was asked who he thought would be the next governor he said Leavitt. Natalie thought to herself, “I don’t even know who he is. An insurance salesman being the governor?” Then Leavitt won. He gave an inaugural address that really took on the federal government. Gochnour was slightly horrified in a way because Leavitt’s speech was extremely bold and gave an impression to others that he was a “sagebrush rebellion” kind of person. However, even with all of her doubts, within six to eight weeks Natalie was completely won over by this man. He sat down and talked with the staff and Natalie saw that he was actually quite moderate. She went from skepticism to full support in six to eight weeks.
An important move for Leavitt was his decision to keep people from the previous administration on board for his own. For Brad Barber in the state planning coordinators position, it was a highly political time. A new governor easily would have moved Barber out of that position and 75% of the time that is what happens when someone is left over from another governor. Leavitt called Charlie Johnson as budget director and he also became Leavitt’s first chief of staff. Johnson was a big fan of what was happening in the planning office and recommended to Leavitt that he keep all of them, so Leavitt did. In the state planning office, Leavitt embraced the environment that was already in place. He enjoyed having a diverse opinion and opposing ideas around him; he liked diversity. In the arena of Quality Growth, land preservation and public lands he wanted people with an environmentally progressive perspective. He did not always agree with them and was not always willing to go all the way with them but was willing to discuss it and be creative. Brad Barber was one of these diverse opinions that Leavitt inherited on his staff from the previous administration and having Barber by Leavitt’s side kept many people in support of Leavitt. In a lot of issues people from either side might not like where Leavitt was going but they loved Brad. Brad set Quality Growth up for success with his academic and professional background which created his philosophical orientation. Brad was able to open up the governor’s mind in a way that a tried and true republican would not have. For Leavitt to recognize the talent in Brad and empower him is a huge lesson to future governors. Leavitt recognized and kept the right person for the job and as a result he saw success.
An impressive thing that Leavitt did right away was he would just walk into Brad’s office and say, “I need this and I need this and I need your help.” Bangerter never did that. The impression Leavitt gave to people was that he wanted to involve you and he had the influence that made you want to do your best to help him. He did his best in his work to get his hands dirty and was not afraid to use a little elbow grease. This work ethic inspired those around him to give as much as he gave to accomplish their common goals.
The selection of Wes Curtis is another circumstance where Leavitt recognized the right man for the job. The rural summit was held at Southern Utah University that year and it was a big event. Everyone knew that he would be announcing a rural czar because he made that a big priority. He wanted to lift a person from rural Utah and put him in the governor’s office and that is essentially what he did with Curtis. At the Summit the governor announced Wes and said, “I’ve picked one of your own.” The crowd gave a standing ovation. Wes understood rural Utah because he was rural Utah. He had been involved in a lot of things but strictly on a volunteer basis so this was a new environment for him but he was evidence that Leavitt really cared about the interests of rural Utah.
Leavitt showed concern for rural Utah in dealing with growth issues in other ways as well. The governor attended every one of the Rural Summits from the time he started to when he left office. That has not happened since. Rural Utah was not an afterthought like it so often is with other governors. Rural Utah was very important to Leavitt and he truly cared. He made these summits a big deal and his attendance really bolstered the enthusiasm and the attention that they got from the rest of Utah.
The major effect that Leavitt created in Quality Growth was just breaking the ice and getting people to be at least willing to talk about these issues. Although not a lot was necessarily accomplished at the time, today we see a lot of results of these initial discussions. Collaboration and the partnership cooperative approach is so embraced and very well accepted today. That environment opened a lot of doors. For example “open-space” is not the dirty word it used to be. Also, air quality is something that was not discussed at the time but today that is something that would certainly percolate up to the top. That is the next frontier for Quality Growth discussions. Water issues have gone a long way as well. Water conservation was not even part of the picture back then but today it is a way of life. How to get these things done is also something that Leavitt introduced. Rather than trying to make these major changes state wide it is better to break it up and pull it apart and do it piece by piece, focusing on the needs and wants of a more specific area rather than the whole state. This was exemplified in the Washington County piece and it got done and that is the only way things are going to get done.
In terms of Quality Growth, Leavitt was an agent of change. It was just one more thing to pollute his life and add complexity to his administration. There were a lot of battles at the legislature and he had people in his own party opposing him. He was even booed at his own convention. Part of Leavitt’s legacy was that as a republican he embraced things like Trax and open lands. His openness in dealing with the issues of growth got Envision Utah and Quality Growth thinking. This attitude got people talking about these issues in a way that you could not when Leavitt first started. The important thing in all of this is that the state gained. Had these moves not been taken the state would certainly be in trouble today. He sent it in a new direction and he left the state better than he found it.