Saturday, May 24, 2014

WSU Tracy Hall Science Building Groundbreaking

For the past several years, Weber State University has been petitioning the State for funds to build a new science building.  I had an opportunity to tour the facility back and I felt the urgency that they did in the matter.  The current science building I feel was used as the inspiration for the popular video game Half Life.

Screenshot from Half Life

Old WSU Science Building Classroom

The current building is in a very sad state of repair.  Its windowless corridors are also depressing.  You can read more about that here

Fortunately, this past Legislative Session, the new Tracy Hall was funded and we had an opportunity to participate in the ground breaking. 

Rendering of New WSU Science Building Under Construction

Governor Herbert and Weber State University President Charles Wight celebrate Tracy Hall Groundbreaking

WSU President Charles Wight has to be one of the most interesting persons in his line of work.  Here he is demonstrating the high explosive reaction of hydrogen and oxygen to the audience of dignitaries:

WSU's science and engineering programs are growing.  We look forward to the benefits our community will receive from educating even more students in important sciences.

The Poverty Cycle: Facts from Utah's 84401 Zip Code

Recently, the Legislature received a report regarding intergenerational poverty in Utah.  The report had a statewide scope but also drilled down into specific neighborhoods.  The majority of my Legislative district resides on the 84401 Zip Code.  This code includes downtown Ogden and also the affluent rural/suburban community of West Haven.

Here are some interesting facts regarding poverty in our 84401 zip code:

  1. 3,309 individuals (all ages) are the second or more consecutive generation in their family to receive state welfare benefits (intergenerational poverty).
  2. 9% of the TOTAL population of 84401 are people in intergenerational poverty.  
  3. 15% of all children in 84401 are living in intergenerational poverty.  
  4. 26% of all households in 84401 are single mothers with children. 
  5. 10% of Middle School students are chronically absent
  6. 15% of Elementary School students are chronically absent
  7. 31% of High School Students drop out
  8. 68.5% of children living in intergenerational poverty receive food stamps.
  9. There were 38.6 teen births for every 1000 teen girls age 15-17
These are just a few of the disturbing facts in this year's report.  

The legislature is working to make existing programs more efficient by reducing duplication in services and expanding communication between departments servicing the disadvantage in our communities.  It is our hope that applying a laser focus to these children in intergenerational poverty will help break the poverty cycle and, in addition to blessing the lives of those who work their way up the economic ladder, end the requisite dependence on taxpayer funded state resources. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Citizen Policing: Ogden PD's Cyberwatch Program

Ogden Police Department's Real-Time Crime Center

A couple weeks ago, the Ogden Police Department contacted me to let me know about a new program they were moving forward.  Today I had an opportunity to speak at an OPD press conference detailing the specifics.  Dubbed the Cyberwatch Program, it is a means of conveying information to community minded individuals who want to be involved in reducing crime in their neighborhoods.

One of the challenges of policing is trying to provide enough resources in enough places to be effective.  Obviously, too much police presence can rub public sentiments the wrong way by conveying a sense of heavy handedness.  So, there has to be a balance between presence and patrols in the community and the community policing itself.

The Cyberwatch Program tries to strike that balance.  As a beta tester for the program, I have been receiving daily emails that show what kind of criminal activity has been occurring in my neighborhood over a two week period.  Here is a copy of the email I received today:

As you can see, within a 1 blog radius of my home, there is a bit of mischief going on.  My neighborhood is relatively quiet.  However, while I am sleeping, it appears some of the neighbors are making trouble for themselves and others.  This isn't really a surprise.  But it is sobering to read a report which puts all this activity in context.  Fortunately, our neighborhood has improved tremendously from years ago when it was a war zone.

With this information available to those who opt-in to the program, they can have timely information about trouble in their area.  This should offer neighbors an opportunity to communicate with landlords and other stakeholders in the community to work toward solving the problems.  These reports should help us as a neighborhood unite to observe and repel the disturbing forces in our community.  Ultimately, this should help promote behavior modification in those individuals who are inclined to attract the police to themselves.  I look forward to the collaboration this will foster.

The program has been very effective and successful in Memphis, TN and I thank John Harvey for bringing it forward for an inaugural run here in Ogden.  If you are interested in participating in the Cyberwatch program in Ogden City, you can sign up here to begin receiving reports for your neighborhood.  Let's all make Ogden an even better place to live, work, and play!

The American Bailout Culture

I have been busy toiling away with my work in the real estate business since the legislature ended in March.  Coming home and getting to work is always a healthy reminder why our state has a citizen legislature. It brings value and perspective to state government.  Rather than being cloistered away in a marble palace somewhere, the Utah Legislature comes home to  live with the laws it passes.

Unfortunately, Utah does not have much influence over the bailout culture that is seeping into the public psyche.  A recent example brings this trend to life.  In a real estate transaction where I represented the sellers, a buyer had submitted an offer that was acceptable to my clients.  We pressed forward with contract. However, two weeks before the transaction was to close, we received a letter indicating the buyer could no longer obtain a loan.

So what happened?  In this case, the buyer was a college graduate.  They had student loans they were paying on.  Some time during our contract (we were working on a 90 day time frame), the buyer received a letter from an entity claiming she did not need to pay her student loans.  She called the entity and they indeed confirmed that was the case.  She stopped making her student loan payments and her credit scores plummeted.  She instantly became disqualified to purchase the property, or any property for that matter, until her credit scores could improve over the next year or two.  Obviously, that was disappointing to everyone involved.

So, who was this entity that informed the buyer she could stop paying on her loan obligation?  It turns out that it was a third-party negotiator who specializes in resolving distressed student loans for borrowers who can't afford to make their payments.  Yet, this borrow could afford to make her payments and was doing so.  Somehow the buyer became convinced that she could simply stop making payments without consequence.

This brings us to the bailout culture problem.  Since 2008, our economy has been on a trajectory that is completely dependent on central bank and government intervention.  We saw the bank bailout in 2008 called TARP; we have seen homeowners bailed out with HARP and HAMP; borrowers everywhere have been bailed out with ZIRP.  There are many more.  The alphabet soup of programs aimed at deferring the consequences of our actions cannot go on without affecting the expectations and attitudes of consumers.

Hence, we observe our unsuspecting buyer lured into the belief that yet another program exists to defer the consequence of taking out student loans.  Can she be blamed?  Perhaps, but American culture is culpable as well.  As long as these programs continue to erode away at the firm connection between cause and effect that exists in the minds of our people, we can expect more of the same.  The implications of weakening prudence, propriety, and prosperity should not be overlooked.