05 August 2020

  • Judge grants temporary restraining order to pause Hideout ‘land grab’
    The town of Hideout wants to annex hundreds of acres from Summit County and Wasatch County, including the land pictured in Summit County on Monday, July 20, 2020. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — The town of Hideout’s controversial annexation proposal is officially on hold — for now.

    Fourth District Court Judge Jennifer Brown on Tuesday granted Summit County’s motion for a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit seeking to stop the annexation of about 655 acres of land outside Park City for commercial development, which the county alleges was made possible by “bait-and-switch” legislative maneuvering.

    The Deseret News last month uncovered how the legislation that allowed Hideout’s annexation without permission from any of the surrounding counties was misrepresented to the bill’s own sponsors.

    Now, the Utah Legislature may seek a repeal of the bill in a special session expected later this month. But Hideout could move to annex before that repeal, and that’s why Summit County officials went to court.

    Summit County officials, in their lawsuit, argued the county would suffer “irreparable harm” if the annexation process is allowed to continue, accusing Hideout and developers Nate Brockbank and Josh Romney, son of Sen. Mitt Romney, of seeking “nothing less than to overturn decades of careful land use planning and community development with noncontiguous land in Summit County they do not own.”

    Hideout scheduled a public hearing for Aug. 12 and decision on Aug. 18 in order to thwart any effort by the Legislature to repeal the law at its anticipated Aug. 20 special session, Summit County’s lawsuit states.

    “The court finds that Summit County’s reasoning merits a favorable exercise of the court’s discretion to preserve the status quo pending a final determination of rights of the parties, consistent with sound equitable principles, taking into account all facts and circumstances of the case,” the judge’s order states.

    The court scheduled a hearing for Aug. 17 to determine whether the temporary restraining order would be dissolved or continued in the form of a preliminary injunction.

    Now, Summit County officials will have a chance to “be in front of a judge to prove the case as it’s been laid out” in the lawsuit, said Summit County Manager Tom Fisher.

    “We’re very pleased with the results so far, given what we’ve put in front of the judicial system, but it’s one step in the process that we are going to stay vigilant with,” Fisher said. “On the other side of things, we really appreciate being able to work with the Legislature to deal with the special purpose legislation that probably shouldn’t have been enacted in the first place.”

    Opponents of the annexation say sneaky legislative tactics legally paved the way for a “land grab” for what would be another Kimball Junction-like expansion on the other side of the highway from Park City.

    Despite protests from Summit County, Park City and Wasatch County leaders, Hideout’s Town Council voted in July to move forward with a process to annex the land, in favor of a development partnership with Brockbank and Romney. Town officials argue they need more commercial development to employ residents of thousands of future homes already headed for construction and help alleviate Park City traffic.

    The county argues a lobbyist for the developers worked outside normal legislative processes to “bait and switch” a bill in March with “custom-made special purpose legislation” eliminating the county consent requirement and restricting the ability of a county to protest such an annexation.

    Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, and Rep. Calvin Mussleman, R-West Haven, told the Deseret News in July that they were told there was consensus over the bill and its changes, and both said they couldn’t recall who represented that to them in the chaos of the Legislature’s final days and hours.

    But in a separate interview, property rights lobbyist Mike Ostermiller said he was accountable for that misrepresentation to both Cullimore and Mussleman. He said at the time he believed there was consensus on the bill’s changes, but he may have forgotten to include key partners in the conversations.

    Tuesday’s order came ahead of a town hall scheduled for Tuesday night, organized by property owners associations in the area to discuss the annexation with residents and gauge their opinions about the proposal, according to Jeff Sterling, president of Parks Edge homeowner’s association.

    Sterling in an interview with the Deseret News, speaking personally and not on behalf of his association, welcomed the temporary restraining order.

    “Without the (restraining order), Hideout was legally able to annex the land, and nobody could have stopped them,” Sterling said. “It’s probably the right move at this point to allow the process to play out at the Legislature.”

  • ‘It’s pretty overwhelming’: Limited help available for Utahns behind on rent
    Vaitupu Collins and his girlfriend, Jasmine Stanley, pose for a photo at their apartment in Midvale on Thursday, July 23, 2020. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

    Tenant advocates beefing up services ahead of anticipated wave of evictions

    SALT LAKE CITY — Jasmine Stanley checks her bank account several times a day to see if an unexpected payment has shown up. Any extra cash will help.

    She and her boyfriend are short on August rent after they got the coronavirus last week and couldn’t work.

    If the Midvale couple had fallen sick earlier, moratoriums on pandemic-related evictions would have bought them more time to catch up. But a statewide freeze ended in May, and protection for Stanley and other renters in buildings with federally backed mortgages ran out last week.

    “It’s pretty overwhelming. It causes a lot of anxiety,” said Stanley, 22, who estimates she will fall hundreds of dollars short of her roughly $900 rent. “We had one of my friends take our coins to Coinstar to see how much money we could get. She got about $50, so that was cool, but still not enough.”

    After an initial dip in evictions in recent months, tenant advocates expect the number to swell. Many are ramping up services in English and Spanish to handle the anticipated surge, although a rental owner industry group says the fears are overblown.

    The evictions threaten to amplify a longtime trend. Most Utahns who face eviction lawsuits — 95% as of last year — have no legal representation, while the vast majority of property owners — 91% — are equipped with attorneys, show Utah courts system data on the 6,300 cases adjudicated last year.

    Unemployment benefits and an additional $600 a week in federal relief have helped other Utahns weather the pandemic, but the extra payments have now ceased. As of June, 85,700 in the state were out of work, according to the Department of Workforce Services.

    And while many have found jobs as the state has gradually reopened, rising numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases make for an uncertain economy.

    Stanley said her boyfriend, Vaitupu Collins, developed a fever and body aches after an infected co-worker at his manufacturing job came to work with symptoms. Soon Stanley struggled to breathe even while lying on the couch and could not muster the energy to work from home for her call center job. Within a few days, Stanley began to feel better, but Collins was too drained to speak with a reporter. Both tested positive for the virus.

    The state has set aside $20 million and the US. government $4 million in rent help for Utahns like Stanley, although restrictions apply.

    Stanley learned she may not qualify for a grant because Collins, staying with her to avoid infecting eight family members he usually lives with, is not on her lease. She got in touch with a property agent at her building, who said she would qualify for a break only if within $99 of the full payment.

    She doesn’t plan to seek help from her family. Her father, a construction worker who remodels hotels, was laid off in July.

    “I think it’s just important for people to see that just because the state isn’t shut down anymore doesn’t mean that people aren’t struggling,” Stanley said.

    Marty Blaustein, an attorney with Utah Legal Services, agreed.

    “This is not going to be pretty,” said Blaustein, whose firm is hiring three new advocates to work on eviction and debt collection cases.

    The main industry group for Utah rental property owners sees it differently.

    Paul Smith, the executive director of the Utah Apartment Association, noted June’s number of eviction court cases filed statewide — 332 — is down by about half. It did not rebound to normal levels after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s six-week hold on evictions lifted in May, a dip he attributes to landlords willing to work with tenants, government assistance, and financial contributions from churches, family members and charities.

    Smith estimates that 30,000 to 50,000 apartments — about 10-16% of the state stock — have federally backed loans.

    “The reality is it’s not a crisis,” he said. “So far, we’re doing just fine.”

    Many of the state’s roughly 100,000 rental owners are senior citizens who rely on the income for retirement or to help support their families, Smith said.

    As of late last week, no flood of calls had hit Park City’s Mountain Mediation Center. But a handful of mediators were already training in the nitty-gritty of state housing law, in part so they can inform renters of their rights, said executive director Gretchen Lee.

    “In my mind, education is such a key component for tenants since the laws are not stacked in their favor,” Lee said.

    Jeffrey Daybell, the executive director of the new nonprofit People’s Legal Aid, predicts several waves of evictions in coming months. His organization is Utah’s first to focus solely on representing tenants throughout the state, supplementing his job helping low-income clients at the Utah State Bar.

    Daybell said landlords have largely allowed Utahns to defer rent and stay in their homes, “but if tenants haven’t returned to work in a way that allows them to make those payments in the future, we have essentially postponed a very large debt.”

    Some landlords are seeking to oust those who can’t pay for other reasons.

    One of Daybell’s clients recently fought and won a nonpayment eviction case after pointing out the home had a federally backed loan. The next day, the landlord served the man an eviction notice for nuisance, which is not blocked by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The landlord alleged he was talking, laughing and playing music too loud, in addition to leaving on porch and kitchen lights.

    It’s not clear how many laid-off, furloughed or reduced-hour renters are facing similar nuisance claims but simply leave instead of trying to disprove them, Daybell said.

    “I’m nervous that it’s happening outside of court and we don’t have an ability to catch it,” he said.

  • New Pattern Utah aims to break down disparities in business funding for Black women
    Kimmy Paluch, co-founder of BetaBoom, poses for photos in Sandy on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — A just-launched funding and mentorship program is aiming to chip away at disparity issues in Utah’s startup community with assistance tailored for Black women business owners.

    The groups behind New Pattern Utah say that despite the fact that Black women are starting businesses faster than any other demographic, they are also encountering the greatest barriers to accessing funds and receive less than 1% of U.S. venture capital funding each year. To improve that number, Womenpreneurs, Utah Black Chamber, Beta Boom and Sorenson Impact have launched the collaborative grant and mentorship program for Utah businesses owned by Black women.

    Beta Boom co-founder Kimmy Paluch said her venture capital firm, which specializes in backing minority-run businesses, has long recognized the issues raised by a funding community in Utah, and across the country, that has functioned in a largely homogeneous manner.

    “We at Beta Boom have been working on this for about two years,” Paluch said. “There’s a massive gap in the startup ecosystem when it comes to female founders and founders of color. New Pattern takes a step toward action and bridging some of those gaps by providing assistance to the Black community specifically.”

    While Paluch’s firm has been primarily focused on tech efforts, she said New Pattern Utah will be agnostic when it comes to business types but expects that many applicants will come from the tech sector, particularly in light of how much pressure the COVID-19 pandemic has put on traditional retail and service-oriented businesses.

    A weak spot in Utah’s otherwise booming tech sector has been a notable lack of diversity.

    An expansive report released last year by the University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Policy Institutehighlighted that while the state’s tech sector is an economic powerhouse, it reflects the same diversity challenges as the overall U.S. tech realm, with the typical Utah tech worker likely to be male, white or Asian and mid-career. Viewed against countrywide performance data, diversity in the Utah tech sector is lagging behind national averages. According to the report, in 2017 83.2% of Utahns in tech occupations were white while 16.8% were racial or ethnic minorities. Nationally, about 36% of tech workers in 2017 were racial or ethnic minorities.

    Utah is trailing the national average for the number of women employed in tech, as well. While 2017 data reflects 22.5% of U.S. tech workers were female, in Utah women made up only 15.2% of the state’s tech workforce.

    And Utah continues to lag behind the rest of the nation when it comes to gender pay disparities.

    A report releases last year by YWCA Utah noted the state comes in dead last when it comes to wage disparity by gender. According to the report, women make 69.8% of their male counterparts, a rate that puts the state at No. 51 in the country.

    The state’s ongoing gender wage gap has only enhanced the marginalization of groups that have been historically ignored by those who control where startup capital goes, according to Womenpreneurs co-founder Rose Maizner.

    “Due to centuries of systemic oppression and discrimination, further exacerbated by Utah’s persistent wage gap, Black communities in Utah have not had the same opportunities to generate wealth as other racial groups, making it extremely challenging for many early-stage founders to secure the initial capital required to get their businesses off the ground,” Maizner said in a statement. “While the New Pattern Utah grant will not solve the systemic issues that still need to be addressed, the initiative is one small step in our commitment to continue supporting Black female founders.”

    Besides being able to provide capital infusions, with seed funding from the Community Foundation of Utah’s Social Investors Forum that will initially will be capped at around $10,000 per applicant, Paluch said New Pattern brings a suite of support services to help founders get the most of the cash infusions.

    That help includes an eight-week intensive fundraising course provided by Womenpreneurs as well as a six-month, peer-based leadership development program. Mentorship and coaching opportunities including focused assistance on fundraising, marketing and product development through Beta Boom as well as access to legal support, help with business certifications and other trainings through the Utah Black Chamber.

    Paluch said Sorenson Impact will be running an ongoing assessment of the program to measure outcomes and help ensure effective strategies.

    She said the longer-term hopes are that the program will seed more expansive changes in Utah and across the country.

    “The reason behind doing this is to create a movement, not just in Utah but in the nation and across the world,” Paluch said. “It’s about making things happen to help level the playing field.

    “A lot of us have been working in silos but now we’re forming coalitions and combining efforts to work toward a shared vision... and we’re excited to see it grow.”

    To be eligible for New Pattern Utah funding, companies must have been incorporated in Utah by Jan. 15 and have at least one Black female or non-binary founder over the age of 18. All applications, according to New Pattern Utah, will be evaluated and reviewed by a steering committee made up of business and civic leaders within the Utah community. The initial grant recipients will be announced within six to eight weeks. Women interested in applying should submit an application at

  • Colleges, students contend with finding housing solutions during pandemic
    Jordan Hamann studies in an empty bedroom at his apartment in Provo on Monday, July 20, 2020. | Yukai Peng, Deseret News

    PROVO — Utah colleges are facing myriad issues when it comes to finding ways for students to return to their housing safely this fall while mitigating the potential spread of coronavirus in highly concentrated conditions.

    College housing tends to be small. Several young adults are often packed into a space together — particularly in dorms or on-campus housing, which makes social distancing difficult.

    Utah universities say they are aware of the issues and are striving to develop plans that will reduce some of the risks associated with living in these conditions, however some students still have concerns.

    “The ideas are great, the plans that they have in place I do feel confident in them. I do think that BYU is taking it seriously,” said BYU senior Jordan Hamann. “But I am concerned how the enforcement will be dealt with because you can encourage all you want, but if people decide not to follow your encouragement, I could still get sick.”

    Changes like reducing the number of people living inside of a unit, requiring masks, restricting visitors and implementing phased move-in dates are examples of some of the policies universities are implementing or strongly encouraging in hopes of mitigating spread of the virus.

    Still, as Hamann pointed out, a lot comes down to personal accountability and can differ between on-campus and off-campus housing.

    On-campus housing

    Many Utah colleges like the University of Utah, BYU and Utah State University all offer on-campus housing that is overseen by the university. When COVID-19 first broke out in the state and students were encouraged to return home, these schools were able to release occupants from their contracts without penalty.

    For this upcoming fall semester, BYU and USU have announced a phased return to campus that will occur across multiple days starting in mid-August. BYU’s housing website says this process will “facilitate physical distancing and help ensure no signs or symptoms of illness are present before students return to classes.”

    The University of Utah has space for about 4,000 students to live on-campus this upcoming semester, according to Lexie Maschoff, assistant director for communications and assessment for the Department of Housing and Residential Education.

    She said the university is undergoing a variety of policy changes pertaining to fall housing in order to best support the health of the community.

    For example, the school has done away with units that house three to four occupants and is instead sticking solely with single and double occupancy. Guests will not be permitted inside any of the apartment areas during fall semester.

    “Those adjustments to the guest policy is just in an effort to minimize the number of people that we have within our resident hall community areas to help mitigate exposure in that way,” Maschoff explained.

    Face coverings will also be required in on-campus residential areas when the student is outside of their immediate room or apartment area.

    Maschoff said there will be isolation spaces blocked off within the buildings that students can use if they become ill. If self-isolating, a student can arrange to receive meal deliveries.

    BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said BYU students who test positive for COVID-19 will also be able to make arrangements with on-campus housing to isolate as needed.

    Off-campus housing

    Off-campus housing is more complicated as universities have less say — even at BYU, which requires all single undergraduate students to live in approved housing unless they complete a waiver and receive approval from the Off-Campus Housing Office.

    This lack of university control caused some issues in the spring for BYU students living in off-campus housing as they were left to the mercy of their landlords when it came to ending a lease early.While the university encouraged students to return home, many landlords were reluctant to release them from their leases early due to the financial impact it would have on them.

    Some BYU students were able to eventually break their leases due to legally binding decisions made in arbitration witha third-party judge facilitated by the BYU Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution. However, those were determined on a case by case basis.

    For this upcoming semester, some BYU students are opting to remain at home and avoid the issue altogether if they are able to take their classes online.

    “I’m at higher risk because I have asthma,” said Julie Brooks, a BYU law school student. “If I can take my classes online, no problem, I’m not going to pay to move across the country when at any given moment I could have to leave again and go through another fiasco.”

    But for the students who will live in student housing this fall, whether it be because of personal choice or necessity to advance their education, there are complexities they must contend with.

    Hamann, who lives in off-campus housing, said he also has asthma which puts him at a higher risk of having complications if he gets the virus. He’s had to take a number of precautions to feel safe such as staying in when possible and wearing a mask when around others.

    Yukai Peng, Deseret News
    BYU senior Jordan Hamann poses for a portrait in the living room of his apartment in Provo on Monday, July 20, 2020.

    Only three of his five roommates currently reside inside of the apartment and they’ve been careful about social distancing, but Hamann said this could change as people move back to Provo for school.

    “You can’t ask that of everyone, and while not everyone in the apartment is often around one each other due to life schedules, as more people come back and as more people move in can I expect them to not go out, or to stay away from me without thinking I’m some big jerk?” he asked.

    “These are things I never thought I’d have to think about but now I think about them all the time.”

    He said he plans to continue wearing a mask and avoiding being around others whenever possible for his own safety, but it’s been interesting to see some of his community and neighbors interact in a way that he doesn’t feel comfortable.

    “It’s very 2020 to see others going out, eating together, having activities,” Hamann said. “I wish I could join. I don’t hate them for doing that, I just wish I could feel safe joining them like I used to.”

    Brooks, whose been quite active in drawing attention to the issue of students being unable to break their leases when they were encouraged to go home in the spring, said students living in off-campus housing are also concerned about moving into apartments as there hasn’t been talk of a phased return.

    The BYU Off-Campus Housing Office is encouraging students to read their housingcontracts carefully as they determine plans for fall.

    The school website reminds students that “off-campus landlords are not BYU employees or companies, and the university does not have power to cancel the contract or release you from it. The contract can be canceled only under certain conditions set out in the contract itself.”

    The website also says, “These are uncertain and unprecedented times, full of risks and unknowns. Please carefully consider your options moving forward.”

    Student Housing Contracts CEO Kristy McClintick, a real estate service aimed at Utah Valley University and BYU students, said she’s noticed the uncertainty rippling across the community reflected in the types of contracts available on the popular Facebook page BYU/UVU Student Housing.

    “Before BYU announced that they were indeed going to be holding in-person classes, there was an influx of students trying to sell their housing contracts,” McClintick said. “Over the past week or two, I have seen a significant increase in property posts vs. students attempting to sell their contract.”

    She noted that more students with shared rooms have been trying to sell their contracts than those living in private ones.

    Additionally, she said, in previous years the majority of the Provo housing market would be preleased for the upcoming fall semester by the beginning of July. However, several communities are still trying to sell.

    “Communities are having to either offer high renewal concessions or move-in concessions to get the traffic they need to meet their preleasing goals,” McClintick said. “I am also seeing that properties are decreasing rents or are staying the same as the 2019-20 school year to remain competitive.”

    Students like Brooks and Hamann hope a balance can be struck between students and universities so the community can mitigate the spread of COVID-19 together.

    “It’s like a wildfire,” Hamann said. “One person can start it, but everyone has to breathe the smoke.”

  • Summit County sues to stop Hideout ‘land grab’ near Park City
    The town of Hideout wants to annex hundreds of acres from Summit County and Wasatch County, including land on both sides of state Route 248, near the Black Rock Ridge community, in Wasatch County on Monday, July 20, 2020. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — Summit County filed a lawsuit Friday to stop the tiny town of Hideout from relying on “bait-and-switch” legislation to annex hundreds of acres of land outside Park City for commercial development.

    The complaint in 4th District Court seeks to prevent Hideout, which is located in Wasatch County, from taking over 655 acres between U.S. 40 and state Route 248 in Summit County until the Utah Legislature acts on a controversial annexation law in August.

    Hideout has scheduled a public hearing for Aug. 12 and decision on Aug. 18 in order to thwart any effort by the Legislature to repeal the law at its anticipated Aug. 20 special session, the lawsuit says.

    Opponents of the annexation say sneaky legislative maneuvering legally paved the way for a “land grab” for what would be another Kimball Junction-like expansion on the other side of the highway from Park City.

    Despite protests from Summit County, Park City and Wasatch County leaders, Hideout’s Town Council voted in July to move forward with a process to annex the land, which developers Nate Brockbank and Josh Romney, son of Sen. Mitt Romney, want to develop but haven’t gained the support they’d need from Summit County.

    Romney and Brockbank turned to Hideout, a small town nestled east of Jordanelle Reservoir, where the idea was warmly received.

    Hideout’s move to possibly annex the land — which was included in an over decade-old Park City land deal to be set aside for open space and recreation — would clear the way for a commercial development that Hideout Mayor Philip Rubin said would help employ residents of thousands of future homes already headed for construction and help alleviate Park City traffic.

    Summit County’s lawsuit says Hideout has never had adequate municipal revenue and services since its incorporation in 2008 under another questionable law that has since been repealed.

    “Within this framework, a developer and defendant Town of Hideout began a course of conduct with the express intent of defeating long-standing annexation laws and the Snyderville Basin General Plan and Development Code through a joint enterprise which included secret meetings, failure of legal noticing requirements, hidden documents, obfuscation of public processes, and the same type of lobbyist misdirection at the Utah Legislature which gave rise to the Town of Hideout in the first place,” according to the suit.

    Summit County contends that Hideout amended its annexation policy to reach across the border in 2019 when state law would not allow for such without the county’s consent.

    The county argues a lobbyist for the developers worked outside normal legislative processes to “bait and switch” a bill in March with “custom-made special purpose legislation” eliminating the county consent requirement and restricting the ability of a county to protest such an annexation.

    After learning of the “deception” involved in getting the bill passed, the Legislature and governor intend to repeal it in the special session, according to the lawsuit.

    Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, and Rep. Calvin Mussleman, R-West Haven, told the Deseret News in July that they were told there was consensus over the bill and its changes, and both said they couldn’t recall who represented that to them in the chaos of the Legislature’s final days and hours.

    But in a separate interview, property rights lobbyist Mike Ostermiller said he was accountable for that misrepresentation to both Cullimore and Mussleman.

    “I accept full responsibility for that,” Ostermiller said last week. “I want to be 100% clear. I told Sen. Cullimore and Rep. Mussleman there was, as far as I knew, consensus between the parties involved in drafting the legislation.”

    Ostermiller said at the time he believed there was consensus, and it was his oversight if the Utah Association of Counties hadn’t been included. He said there wasn’t anything “sneaky” or “ill-intended” happening, but rather he may have forgotten to include key partners in the conversations in the final days of the session.

  • Sen. Mike Lee urges DOJ investigation into acquisition of lamb processing plant
    Ewes wait to give birth at the Skyline Sheep Co. in Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete County, on Friday April 10, 2020. The coronavirus is hurting sheep ranchers, not physically, but financially. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

    Letter says domestic food supply at risk

    SALT LAKE CITY — Alarmed over the impact to the domestic food supply, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee and 11 other members of Congress sent a letter to Justice Department Antitrust Division Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, asking him to immediately open an investigation into the acquisition of a Colorado lamb processing facility.

    “(Mountain States Rosen) is a cooperative owned by more than 145 American families. Reports tell us that its Greeley facility is the second largest lamb packaging plant in the United States, processing approximately 350,000 lambs annually, over 6,000 per week, with an annual capacity of nearly 800,000. MSR accounts for about one-fifth of the entire U.S. lamb market,” the letterreads.

    The letter says JBS, the new owner, is preparing to completely shut down all lamb processing at the site.

    “It is our understanding that JBS intends to permanently destroy all of the lamb processing equipment as soon as this week,” the letter continues.

    “We urge you to immediately open an investigation into this acquisition and demand that JBS cease from any irreversible actions that might harm the ability of American sheep ranchers to get their products to market until the department can determine how best to protect competition in this significant part of America’s food supply,” it concludes.

    JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett said the facility was acquired during a recent bankruptcy auction.

    “While we acquired the facility and certain assets, we did not acquire the business. During this process, we proactively worked with Mountain States Rosen to ensure there would be no disruption to U.S. lamb producers as operations were discontinued.”

    Bruett said another processing facility is set to open in Brush, Colorado but that facility harvests the lambs and does not prepare them into cuts, limiting market options for producers.

    Alarm over the acquisition was raised earlier this week by Sanpete County sheep rancher Carson Jorgensen, who sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and others detailingthe impacts to sheep ranchers in 15 states if the facility closes.

    Jorgensen said the decision by the new owner leaves tens of thousands of lambs that are ready for slaughter stranded in feedlots, as well as the hundreds of thousands of lambs that will be coming off summer ranges.

    “Ranchers do not have the feed or resources to hold onto their annual production and there is simply nowhere to send their lambs,” he wrote to Pence. “The limited number of lamb plants are running at capacity and small, local processing plants will never be able to process the volume.”

    The vast majority of the U.S. meat industry is controlled by only a handful of companies, a consolidation that ranchers have complained about for years. Lamb producers are particularly undercut by their foreign competitors, including JBS, which Jorgensen said is one of the largest foreign importers bringing lamb into the United States.

    Senators joining Lee on the letter include: Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana, John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, Mitt Romney, R-Utah, John Thune, R-South Dakota, and Michael Rounds, R-South Dakota.

    Representatives signing the letter include: Reps. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Chris Stewart, R-Utah, Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, Devin Nunes R-California, Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, and Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming.

  • Utah unemployment claims decline for 12th week
    The Utah Department of Workforce Services’ main administration building in Salt Lake City. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

    Officials say thousands of jobs open, urge people to look outside their field as federal benefit ends

    SALT LAKE CITY — Unemployment claims continue to fall in the Beehive State, the Utah Department of Workforce Services said Thursday, reporting a 17% drop in traditional new applications last week and 12% fewer pandemic specific claims.

    There were 83,716 claims filed during the week of July 19 to July 25, with the number of total new claims filed for jobless benefits at 6,057. But with the end of the $600 bonus from federal pandemic aid, state jobless officials are reminding people that there are thousands of unfilled positions in the state and it may be better to work outside your career field than try to struggle on a smaller unemployment check.

    “Right now, we know that there are certain industries that are not bouncing back anytime soon and with the $600 going away, you can’t sit back and rely on the unemployment benefit and have enough financial support,” said Nate McDonald, DWS assistant deputy director and communications director. “That’s where we’re saying you may be better off — even if it’s temporary — finding a job in a different industry that is hiring right now.”

    He noted the agency’s current employment board has more than 25,000 jobs posted.

    “In the retail world, we’re seeing a lot of jobs in customer service and retail, warehousing and fulfillment production-type jobs, delivery jobs, and because of all that, there’s a high demand for (qualified commercial driver’s license) truckers,” he said. “In the health industry, we have a great demand for registered nurses but also certified nursing assistants. Then from manufacturing, we’re seeing some production laborer needs with different types of production companies. In (information technology), we’ve got software developers, we have about five or 10 different companies that are all hiring software developer-type jobs.”

    He said the agency is not necessarily steering individuals toward a new career path, but encouraging them to help themselves financially by taking advantage of the opportunities that are currently available.

    “If you invest so much already in your education to where you are in a certain career path. it’s just a matter of time for your industry gets back up and going,” McDonald said. “What we’re trying to say is there are jobs that are open right now (where) you may be able to apply your same skill set in a different industry (and) a different type of job (in the near-term).”

    In just over three months, the state has processed and distributed well over $1 billion in jobless aid to Utahns, Thursday’s weekly jobless report stated.

    “Since March 15, the Department of Workforce Services has received over 263,000 unemployment claims — about the same number of claims at the unemployment insurance division in the last four years combined,” Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt said during a weekly news conference. “Also over that time period, the Department of Workforce Services has paid out over $1.2 billion in unemployment benefits to Utahns who saw their employment interrupted by this pandemic. To put it into context, we’ve paid out more this year than we did in the last seven years combined.”

    Meanwhile, the U.S. economy plunged by a record-shattering 32.9% annual rate last quarter, according to Associated Press reports, which noted that the coronavirus pandemic is still cutting a path of destruction, forcing millions out of work and shuttering businesses. The economy’s stunning contraction in the April-June quarter came as the viral outbreak pushed already struggling businesses to close for a second time in many parts of the country, sending unemployment surging to nearly 15%.

    The government’s estimate Thursday of the second-quarter fall in the gross domestic product was the sharpest such drop on records dating to 1947, the AP said. The previous worst quarterly contraction, a 10% drop, occurred in 1958 during the Eisenhower administration.

    In a sign of how weakened the job market remains, more than 1.4 million laid-off Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week. It was the 19th straight week that more than 1 million people have applied for jobless aid. Before the coronavirus erupted in March, the number of Americans seeking unemployment checks had never exceeded 700,000 in any one week, even during the Great Recession.

    And while Congress has yet to agree on another pandemic relief package, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney and two other GOP senators introduced legislation Thursday to backstop unemployment benefits.

    “Unemployed workers should not be left in limbo while Congress continues to negotiate the next relief package,” Romney said in a news release.“Our solution extends the supplemental benefits for three months and incentivizes states to update their (unemployment insurance) processing systems. We should act with urgency to help the millions of Americans who are on the verge of losing these additional benefits.”

    According to Romney, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2020 stops disruption of benefits by allowing states to choose one of two options:

    • Immediate 80% wage replacement, or
    • A declining amount of $500 per week in August, $400 per week in September, or $300 per week in October.

    At a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday night, Romney said there is deep concern for those struggling with unemployment because of the public health decisions to shut down businesses.

    “I think there’s a real belief, certainly on my side of the aisle, that we can’t hold off the unemployment supplemental benefit while we’re negotiating a very, very broad next phase of a release relief package,” Romney said.

  • Tech CEOs take a beating, but will it lead to change?
    Charles Krupa, Associated Press file photo

    The leaders of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google faced a barrage of tough questions, and first-person accounts of questionable corporate behavior, but what comes next, if anything, is an open question.

    SALT LAKE CITY — The chief executives of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google were at the business end of a battering by federal lawmakers throughout a historic, five hour-plus hearing Wednesday focused on antitrust issues.

    And Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ team is keeping an eye on the proceeding as his office continues to participate in a nationwide investigative effort focused on Google and whether the company has unfairly, and illegally, leveraged its power over the digital search and advertising realm to nudge out competition.

    But at least one local expert on antitrust matters cast doubt on whether the hearing, and the investigation that preceded it, is poised to foment any meaningful change in the current federal rules governing the anti-competitive conduct of megabusinesses.

    The tone of the federal proceeding was set early on by Rep. David Cicilline D-Rhode Island, who characterized all four companies as guilty of “killing the small business, manufacturing and the overall dynamism that are the engines of the American economy.”

    “Many of the practices used by these companies have harmful economic effects,” Cicilline said. “They discourage entrepreneurship, hike costs and degrade quality.

    “Simply put, they have too much power.”

    Lawmakers were armed with a trove of information gathered in an investigation that’s been in progress for over a year and, according to committee chairman Cicilline, included millions of pages of documents, hundreds of hours of interviews and a slew of earlier hearings and roundtable discussions.

    Witnesses included Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

    Mandel Ngan, Pool via AP
    Top row, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, right, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, second from right, and bottom row Google CEO Sundar Pichai, left, and Apple CEO Tim Cook, second from left are sworn in remotely during a House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington.

    Cicilline said the importance of the investigation went beyond just establishing whether the companies had been engaging in anti-competitive practices.

    “Because concentrated economic power also leads to concentrated political power, this investigation also goes to the heart of whether we as a people govern ourselves or whether we let ourselves be governed by private monopolies,” Cicilline said. “Concentrated markets and concentrated politics are incompatible with Democratic ideals.”

    The 15 members of the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law were each given five-minute windows in multiple rounds of questioning, mostly focused on competitive practices.

    All four executives tried to deliver interstitial messages about the highly competitive realms in which they operate, but the time-limited congressional members mostly stomped on those attempts as they worked to get responses to specific incidents.

    Bezos, making his first appearance before federal lawmakers, was pummeled repeatedly for how Amazon uses, and possibly misuses, data on third-party resellers, a segment of the company’s online retail business that accounts for some 60% of sales.

    Mandel Ngan, Pool via AP
    Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies remotely during a House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington.

    Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Georgia, countered Bezos’ description of its third-party sellers as “partners and customers,” citing evidence gathered by the committee that told a “completely different story” by resellers who used words like “bullying, fear and panic” to describe their relationships with the company.

    And, when the Amazon chief was braced with a question about an April Wall Street Journal report that purported to have uncovered direct evidence that Amazon used data on a particular third-party reseller to develop a competing product — a practice the company has repeatedly denied — Bezos stated that “I can’t guarantee you that this policy has never been violated” and the matter was “under investigation.”

    So too, Zuckerberg was called on to defend an oft repeated criticism that Facebook has unfairly wielded its power to simply acquire any emerging social media startups that have an inkling of usurping the market share of the world’s largest social media site.

    Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-New York, said documents gathered in the investigation reflected that Facebook saw the upstart photo sharing service Instagram as a powerful threat that could siphon business away, so the company bought it.

    “And that’s exactly what antitrust law was made to prevent,” Nadler said.

    Zuckerberg also fielded similar questions about another acquisition, instant messaging service WhatsApp, and, in a tale of the one that got away, similar internal communications about Snapchat, which successfully avoided becoming part of Facebook’s portfolio.

    Mandel Ngan, Pool via AP
    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies remotely during a House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington.

    The manner in which Google combines its search and online advertising dominance was parsed in a few different lines of questioning, including whether the company skews search query results to favor sites it controls or from which it derives profit. According to eMarketer, Google led all companies in digital advertising revenues in 2019, pulling in over $100 billion, with Facebook a distant second at just over $67 billion.

    Pichai said the company’s commercial concerns do not impact the ranking of search results.

    The Google executive also countered issues raised about how his company put user data to work, acknowledging the company did leverage users’ browsing information to match and place ads, but said it achieves a balance by providing tools for consumers to control that process.

    “We, today, make it very easy for users to be in control of their data,” Pichai said, noting that users can easily “turn ad personalization on or off.”

    Mandel Ngan, Pool via AP
    Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies remotely during a House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington.

    Cook, perhaps, had the easiest response path with lawmakers mostly focused on how Apple curates and controls its App Store, a marketplace that now includes some 1.7 million applications developed for the iPhone. Cook said Apple only makes money on about 16% of the apps and the rest are distributed for free with proceeds going entirely to developers.

    Rep. Henry C. Johnson, D-Georgia, noted Apple wields “immense power over small businesses to prosper and grow” and asked Cook about evidence that showed the rules governing acceptance into the App Store were “arbitrarily enforced” and “subject to change whenever Apple sees fit.”

    Cook said the managers of the App Store “treat every developer the same” and the process runs by a set of “open and transparent rules.”

    “We do look at every app before it goes on,” Cook said. “But, those rules apply evenly to everyone.”

    Mandel Ngan, Pool via AP
    Apple CEO Tim Cook testifies remotely during a House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Washington.

    Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, paired up in focusing many of their questions on perceived biases against conservative voices and commentary on big tech platforms.

    Jordan cited a list of instances he said represented the censoring of conservative commentary on social media sites and also squared off with Pichai, claiming Google was complicit in working against the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 and asking if Google was planning on tweaking its platform to help the 2020 presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

    “We engage with campaigns according to the law,” Pichai said. “We won’t do any work to politically tilt things one way or another.”

    What potential legislative moves the antitrust subcommittee may be considering remains to be seen, but Cicilline may have offered a clue in his powerful closing statement.

    “Today we had the opportunity to hear from the decision-makers of four of the most powerful companies in the world,” Cicilline said. “This hearing has made one fact clear to me — these companies, as they exist today, have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up, all need to be properly regulated and held accountable.

    “We need to ensure the antitrust laws first written more than a century ago work in the digital age. When these laws were written the monopolists were men named Rockefeller and Carnegie. Their control of the marketplace allowed them to do whatever it took to crush independent businesses and expand their own power. The names have changed but the story is the same.”

    University of Utah S.J. Quinney School of Law professor and antitrust specialist Jorge Contreras said he expects there will be some repercussions for at least some of the big tech companies, noting the numerous ongoing investigations, but voiced skepticism about whether meaningful legislative changes would be forthcoming.

    “Some of these investigations will lead to some liabilities against some of these companies,” Contreras said. “And the companies will pay whatever the fines are and probably reform whatever the behavior was that they got slapped on the wrist for.

    “But structural changes to statute? These are the last big industries that the U.S. has, the companies that have replaced steel and oil and the railroads. Is Congress going to kill this last, big American industry? I doubt it.”