Snowbird, American Fork Canyon, and Property Rights

It’s now common knowledge in northern Utah County: Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort wants to develop property it owns in American Fork Canyon, over the ridge from the existing resort. Setting aside the controversy over who wasn’t involved or informed as this plan was developed, it comes down to a question of property rights – as so many local issues do.


According to this recent Fox13 News story, Bob Bonar, President of Snowbird, asserts that Snowbird’s plan is within the rights of the property owner.

This is still the United States of America, after all, where we acknowledge and protect fundamental rights. Property rights are among these; we speak of them in the same breath with life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and freedoms of speech and religion.

On its face, it might seem simple. Snowbird owns the land, and property rights belong to the owner. That should settle the question, right? Can’t we just dismiss any opposition as grouchy politics, or as acronymic, nuisance sentimentality in a league with NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), NOTE (Not Over There Either), BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything), or NOPE (Not On Planet Earth)?

Actually, it’s not that simple. (You saw this coming, right?) Land ownership doesn’t settle the question legally or philosophically. Let’s talk about why.

Assuming Opinions Are Facts

There’s a new issue of City Weekly in the boxes this morning in Salt Lake City, but until yesterday the extant issue’s cover story had this headline: “Biting the Bullet.” It had this subhead: “How a peace-loving British journalist ended up shopping for a gun in Utah.” It’s an excellent story by Stephen Dark, well worth reading. But my point is the subhead, not the story.

City Weekly - Biting the Bullet

Often our words reflect or even promote unspoken biases. We may or may not be aware of this. We may or may not be attempting subtly to persuade people of our unspoken views. We may or may not notice a problem when it’s done to us — but it would be nice if we did.

Careful writers and careful readers do well to consider what’s between the lines.

The subhead plays on the presumed contradiction between being “peace-loving” and shopping for a gun. But this is only a contradiction if you believe than peace-loving people don’t shop for guns, or that gun-shopping people don’t love peace.

This belief might locate you in a certain part of our political spectrum. It’s not the part I inhabit. The gun-toting — let alone gun-shopping — people I know love peace. A lot of the peace-loving people I know carry guns. For me this is not a contradiction.

So, in the parlance of the courtroom — or the courtroom drama, where I’ve spent far more time — I object to this subhead. It assumes facts not in evidence. In fact, I don’t think they’re facts at all. They’re opinions I do not share, packaged with the suggestion that I unreflectively embrace them as facts and read on. (I did the “read on” part.)

And I wonder if the subhead doesn’t trivialize the complexities which the article addresses thoughtfully and at length. So the subhead is not just subliminal politics. It’s questionable writing too.

The Post I Never Finished Last Year (Updated)

For me 2015 was, among other things, a year in which I didn’t blog as much as I hoped to, and didn’t finish some of the writing I started.

I’m trying to avoid that this year, in part by scaling back my expectations, but also by doing a little better outside of election season. There are things other than politics and government about which I want to write — am writing — elsewhere, but these things matter too.

I have fragments of an unpublished post from last year in which I predicted some things for the coming year. I thought it might be interesting to look back, forward, and around on the same topics one year later.