This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
To say that the rollout of Salt Lake's new homeless shelters has suffered its share of setbacks would be a major understatement.
From the closed-door selection process, to blown deadlines, to the exorbitant price tag for the Simpson Avenue site, to the backtracking and infighting, and now the reboot, it's been one stumble after another.
Now, new questions are being raised about three homes Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams owns in Sugar House, all three within a half-mile of the now-abandoned Simpson Avenue site and why he didn't disclose them sooner.
McAdams says they are irrelevant to the discussion because he never opposed the Simpson Ave. site beyond questioning the $7 million cost and he disclosed the ownership of the three properties in his required conflict of interest form.
"It's not a secret. I don't have any secrets," he said. "It's disclosed and it's far enough away I don't even think it's material … and it's a pretty small investment. I'm not a developer or whatever."
The mayor said he also wanted to avoid inserting his wife and young children into the public discussion.
It is technically true that McAdams didn't publicly oppose Simpson. However, he was an early critic of the cloistered site-selection process and later suggested Simpson would be better suited for affordable housing than a family resource center.
And while he did, indeed, list his real estate holdings on his disclosure, to discover the listing, one would have had to contact the Salt Lake County Clerk's office and request a copy of the document. Even in the 21st century, the county doesn't post the disclosures anywhere on the county's website.
I am not suggesting that McAdams surreptitiously torpedoed the Simpson site out of his own self-interest. There are several reasons that seems to not be the case here.
First, all three of McAdams' properties are east of 700 East, a substantial buffer that would have likely shielded his property value if the Simpson Ave. shelter had come to fruition.
Second, Simpson had no shortage of problems on its own, not the least of which were the cost of the land and the additional expense of studying and potentially cleaning up uranium tailings once present at the location.
And third, faced with high costs, likely delays and questionable need for the Simpson site, it was ultimately state lawmakers who pulled the plug on Simpson.
Neighbors were already gearing up to sue to block the site, creating likely delays on the project.
In late February, lawmakers received a report from the Department of Workforce Services that showed homeless families could be accommodated in the existing Midvale housing provided that some hotel vouchers are made available to deal with surges in the homeless population.
So it was House Majority Whip Francis Gibson who in a private meeting with Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, McAdams and House Speaker Greg Hughes proposed spiking the Simpson site and the 600 West site, and replacing them with one shelter outside of Salt Lake City.
The deal also thrust McAdams into the center of the storm since it was his job to choose five potential replacement sites, and now residents of South Salt Lake and West Valley are facing the prospect of having a shelter in their neighborhoods.
"I know there are people who have tried to make hay about it, and it is what it is," McAdams said. "This is not the first time people have gone after me personally, but I'm trying to make good decisions and act responsibly."
His calculus was off, though. Because it was bound to become a target for opponents, McAdams should have done more than just abide by the letter of the law, and been outspoken and upfront about his property near Simpson.
[Full disclosure, I live in South Salt Lake, but about the same distance from the Simpson Avenue site as the nearest of the new options.]
The mayor missed an opportunity to send an important message, that he wasn't just some bureaucrat who didn't get the impact of these decisions he had flesh in the game.
It would have added credibility to the assurances that the resource centers won't turn into magnets for drugs and crime, because he's in those neighborhoods, too. And it would have been a powerful demonstration of leading by example, pushing back against the pervasive "Not in My Backyard" mentality.
Instead, it gives opponents one more reason to question motives in an already highly questionable process and another reason to distrust the outcome.