Envision Utah Survey Shows Many Utahans Do Not Support Current Growth
By metric, Utah is generally one of the fastest, if not the the most dynamic state in the country. But new research suggests that 2 in 5 Utahns believe future growth will lead to a lower quality of life.
Since the 2010 census, the population of Beehive State has swelled by 18.4%, the largest increase in the United States. Utah and Montana are tied for second at 1.7%, followed by Arizona at 1.4%.
A survey by Envision Utah found that many Utahans aren’t excited about the population boom. About 42% of respondents believe that future growth will make the condition worse – 13% said “much worse” and 30% said “a little worse”.
Meanwhile, 36% said it would improve the state, with just 7% saying it would “a lot” improve the quality of life in Utah.
About 22% answered “neither”.
“Utahans are more concerned about growth than anything else we’ve seen,” said Jason Brown of Envision Utah, a nonprofit that seeks “a holistic and balanced approach to growth. future,” according to its website.
The group conducted the survey among 800 Utahns over the age of 18. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Demographics suggest white and conservative voters between the ages of 56 and 76 are most concerned about the state’s growth. Of those who said it would make Utah worse (and with some crossover between characteristics), 53% are conservative, 49% have lived in Utah for over 30 years, 48% are baby boomers, 46% are white and 45% live in the suburbs.
Among respondents who said growth will improve the quality of life in Utah, 44% are Democrats, 42% live in urban areas, and 41% are male, college graduates, and/or live in a household high income.
Some of the perceived negative consequences of growth are rising housing costs and housing shortages, traffic problems, environmental damage such as reduced air quality or habitat loss, and increased criminality.
Things like changing habits and practices, a growing religious divide and racial tensions were relatively low on the list of concerns.
Meanwhile, Utahans who view the population boom as an advantage cited increased economic opportunity and growing numbers of jobs, greater cultural diversity and better funding for education as advantages. Improving public transportation and increasing tax revenue and property values came last.
“We can’t let our state become California”
In a meeting with the Deseret News/KSL editorial boards on Monday, representatives from Envision Utah echoed a message similar to what Utah Governor Spencer Cox said in his second speech on the state of the state last week – “we cannot let our state become California.
Cox specifically urged lawmakers to support legislation to remove government regulations that drive up house prices, telling the public “we can increase supply without decreasing quality of life.”
But the survey indicates that a growing number of Utahns say not only is the growth bad, but that it should be stopped. This sentiment can sometimes lead to opposition to zoning measures and the relaxation of regulations which, as the governor puts it, “would increase supply”.
About 23% of respondents say the growth is jeopardizing the quality of life and that the state and its people should try to stop or slow the influx of people.
“It concerned us. It’s not something we’ve seen before,” Brown said with Envision Utah.
Brown cited communities in California as an example where “negative feelings about growth lead to ideas around stopping growth,” which in some cases led state legislatures to withdraw the zoning power to local governments.
In September, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed several bills that overrode local zoning regulations to allow higher density housing, according to the LA Times. In some neighborhoods previously zoned for free-standing homes, the new laws will allow up to four units on a single property.
Resistance to growth, Brown said, can also lead to higher house prices, which is ironically one reason many communities resist in the first place.
“There have been longstanding efforts to try to stop or limit the growth and it hasn’t worked very well for them. It drove up the cost of housing really, really high,” Brown said of some communities in California.
Still, 12% of respondents who said the growth poses a threat to Utah’s quality of life admit stopping it wouldn’t be in the state’s best interest.
And 28% say growth is bringing benefits to Utah and shouldn’t be hindered.