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Posted: 5:48 PM- Petitioners seeking to overturn a public funding package for Real Salt Lake's planned soccer stadium in Sandy fell far short of the signatures needed for a referendum.
Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert announced Monday that Get Real Utah gathered 12,343 of the 92,000 signatures required statewide.
The news comes at a time when RSL's pledge to pay $7.5 million toward a Salt Lake City youth sports complex - a condition of the public funding deal - is under increasing scrutiny. The soccer team has asked for revenue from parking and concessions at the youth fields, management of naming rights and land for a soccer academy as returns on its "investment" in the project. City leaders say the team promised to donate the money without conditions.
In February, the Legislature passed HB38, steering $35 million in Salt Lake County hotel taxes toward land, parking and infrastructure for the $110 million stadium.
By law, referendum seekers needed the backing of at least 10 percent of registered voters who cast a ballot in the last governor's race in 15 of Utah's 29 counties to force a public vote.
Stadium foes only met the required count in tiny Daggett County, where 48 voters needed to sign.
Most signatures came from Salt Lake County, where 10,848 people signed the petition, but 36,000 signatures were needed.
Gary Forbush, Get Real Utah organizer and former candidate for Sandy mayor, said the results highlight the need for referendum reform in Utah, which has one of the shortest time periods nationally for signature gathering.
And he expects his group to send a letter to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. questioning whether requiring a statewide referendum on a local issue - Salt Lake County hotel taxes - is constitutional.
The group could pursue legal action if it can find an attorney willing to assist pro bono, Forbush said.
The school-voucher drive, he noted, is the first successful petition campaign in Utah in more than three decades. That effort was backed by major education groups, such as the PTA, and garnered 124,218 signatures.
In contrast, Get Real Utah was "true grass roots. We're unfunded and somewhat limited in our organization," Forbush said. "We shouldn't have to spend a million dollars and have thousands of ready-made volunteers ready to go to be able to challenge a bad decision in the Legislature."
The voucher effort probably spent closer to $30,000 or $40,000, but could have offered even more if it had needed to pay signature gatherers.
Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, whose city has pledged $10 million toward the RSL project, called the stadium petitioners "quixotic," adding that he didn't think there was enough interest statewide in the Salt Lake County issue.
"I never expected them to get enough signatures," Dolan said. "I thought it was a misrepresentation when they said they had 35,000 three weeks ago."
Sandy is moving forward with its negotiations with RSL and the state to complete the stadium deal, Dolan said. Demolition and grading are under way at the site, 9256 S. State St. The team hopes to open the new stadium in fall 2008.
The referendum drive "is just another hurdle that we have been able to clear despite all of the misinformation that has been provided to the public," RSL owner Dave Checketts said in news release. "We hope we can all put the past behind us and focus on the common goal of making this project a world-class venue that will reflect well on our entire state."
Sandy plans to produce mailers and a DVD to inform residents about the project, including economic-development benefits the city expects to reap. Those plans were shelved during the petition drive so the city wouldn't appear to be discouraging people from signing.
But Forbush is skeptical additional information could convince him that the stadium is a good investment of public funds. He points to RSL's push for revenue from its $7.5 million pledge toward the youth sports park as the latest weakness in the scheme.
"It will screw up the whole deal," Forbush said. "I'm hoping the governor will take leadership on addressing this issue because . . . the buck stops with him."