Page’s Streetscape plans under fire
Part One: The Petition
In the 2022 Page primary elections, over two-thirds of registered voters didn’t vote. A large percentage of the population doesn’t keep up with decisions made in City Council meetings. Many get their news from unverified social media posts or through local gossip. Occasionally, someone takes the initiative to rally support for an issue.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Page has seen all these rights exercised. June 2020, citizens – including students, teachers and clergy – protested with the nation after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In April 2021, citizens, students, teachers and PUSD staff protested after teachers resigned en masse, many blaming former PUSD superintendent Larry Wallen.
The most common form of protest is the petition. The Chronicle spoke to Debi Roundtree about her current petition to reevaluate the Page Streetscape, a project that city staff and council members have worked on for many years.
“I've done a lot of petitions over the years, and if it's not one or two lines, people will not read it,” Roundtree said.
“They think you’re trying to get them to sign a petition for something they don’t want. Like my best friend, she won’t sign a petition because she signed a petition years ago, and it caused somebody to lose their job in Page, and she did not know the full effects of it. So she says, ‘I just won’t sign those anymore.’ So people won't sign lengthy petitions because they don't know how it’s going to affect but I said one line, ‘Save my main street.’ They're going to sign that. So then they said, ‘OK, well, we’ll go with that one.’”
Roundtree said her petition gathered over 1,100 signatures, about the same number of registered voters who cast ballots in the Page 2022 primary election.
Roundtree provide the Chronicle with a copy of a single sentence petition:
“By signing this petition I am agreeing with the statement that I do not agree with Page City Council’s: City Scape Plan that will reconstruct main street from 4 lanes to a 2 lane street.”
The three-column form asked for signature, printed name and Y/N if signers lived within a 50-mile radius of Page.
There are two immediate takeaways from the petition. First, the Streetscape plans show three 12-foot-wide lanes on Lake Powell Boulevard, two travel lanes and a two-way turning lane in the center. Second, a 50-mile radius of Page reaches nearly to Kanab going north on Highway 89 and nearly to Tuba City going south on 89.
When the Chronicle spoke to Roundtree last Thursday, she was still gathering signatures. When asked if the wording had changed once she learned the plans were not for two lanes but for three, she said, “When we started the petition, we had no idea what it was actually going to look like. It was just rumors. So since it’s not official, basically we’re explaining it to everybody. They know that there’s going to be a turning lane. We’ve been showing them the picture of the turning lane. And we allowed people that live in LeChee and Big Water and Greenhaven to sign it because we felt like they were part of the community [and] they use main street regularly. When I go out to do my ballot measure, I know then that it has to have official writing, official language. I know that then only registered voters will be able to sign it. I understand all that. I've done a petition before, but this one is we kind of designed it the way we did.”
While the First Amendment gives citizens the right to petition, governments are not obligated to act on them. Roundtree said some people want to recall some council members.
“To me, until they take a stand and there’s a vote, I don’t feel like we should start removing people from office yet,” she said. “Otherwise, we’re just making assumptions as who will or who won’t vote for it. So I want them to put us on the agenda. So then we hold the council members accountable for their vote, and then if somebody wants to choose, they’re going to. I actually have had some council members who signed the petition, which I was quite shocked with, but I can't give out those names right now. It’ll be public document once I turn it over to the city council.”
Roundtree isn’t opposed to beautifying Page but said the money could go to areas she believes the community members need more.
“Give us our splash pad, give us our pool, fix our recreation department. And then if you want to beautify Lake Powell a little bit, we all support that,” she said. “But no, you're going to put supposedly $7 million. But now with the cost of building and how everything has gone up in interest rates, that’s going to be $10 or $15 million, at least. And we can’t afford that. But, yeah, there’s some wonderful things they could do for downtown, some statues and some potted grasses and clean up the stuff that’s already there.”
The City of Page is currently in good financial shape and has a large enough budget to handle multiple short and long-term projects.
A special City Council Work Session was held on Wednesday, Sept. 13. The meetings are typically to give presentations and brief council members on upcoming agenda items and not for public comments and questions, although the meetings are open to the public. Given the controversy over the Streetscape, the public was invited to comment and ask questions after City Manager Darren Coldwell’s presentation.
Tensions were high, including inflammatory accusations directed toward Mayor Bill Diak.
The Chronicle spoke with Diak the following Friday about Streetscape and Roundtree’s petition. Toward the end of the interview, Diak said, “But there was one thing – last night, I went to the football game. I had at least seven to 10 people walk up to me and say, ‘Hey, what's this petition about that I signed about the Streetscape?’ I says, ‘Didn't you read it?’ And they says, ‘No, They just says, hey, this was important. They needed my signature on the Streetscape petition.’”
The City of Page has made it easier for residents to learn more about the Streetscape. Visit the city’s website at https://cityofpage.org and click on “Downtown Streetscape Revitalization Project.”
This is part one of a three part series on Streetscape. Next week will feature more from Debi Roundtree and Mayor Bill Diak as well as additional insights from City Manager Darren Coldwell and former mayor Levi Tappan.