Gerber settles into role on City Council
Four months into her new role as a Park City councilmember, Becca Gerber said she feels as though she is settling in. It’s a balance, she said, of her regular full-time job and her council responsibilities, which include a lot of meetings.
"That’s one of the things that has really changed," she said. "My ratio of meetings to free time. We have quite a few liaison roles. I’ve been attending planning commission meetings, for one. It’s a balance of work and council, and who needs me where and when."
Gerber, who is 36 years old, is younger than the other council members and was elected in part on a platform of bringing a fresh perspective to proceedings. She said she is grateful to have landed the planning commission assignment. If housing is the major issue in Park City, she said, then the more she can learn about the planning process the better.
"It’s important, especially for someone new like me," she said. "It’s one of those things that will really help familiarize me with the Land Management Code and the whole process of how things move through planning and city council. So it was a good one for me to just continue to add that knowledge that is going to help me make better decisions in the future."
Gerber said the months since she was elected have been a whirlwind, and getting acclimated has been at times overwhelming.
"I think that it really is like drinking from a fire hose, you know? We were given about 80 hours of orientation and I still have some to go," she said. "Friday I’m going in for parks and utilities orientation. But we really do meet with all the departments and get overviews of what is going on, in addition to our liaison roles, and so we’re getting so much information right now. I’m just trying to be open and soak it all in. It’s so fascinating."
One thing Gerber said she noticed right away is the difference at council meetings between sitting on the council and attending as a citizen.
"One of the things that has surprised me is just the gravity that you feel about every decision you make," she said. "It’s one thing to sit in the back of the crowd and say, ‘If I was up there, I would totally say this.’ But then to actually be up there and have to make a decision, you feel the weight of it a little bit more. And it’s a little bit scary.
"But I think that’s good, to take it seriously and to know that there are consequences for every decision you make."
The other councilmembers have encouraged Gerber to speak up, she said, which is good, since she believes she is representing a constituency that is not heard as often as it should be.
"It’s not even just younger people," she said. "It’s the workforce, and people who are still kind of coming up. I definitely represent a different socioeconomic group in council. And I’m just in a very different place in my life than the others. I’m still looking to start a family, and making those big steps. It’s just bringing different periods of life to the conversation.
"I do try to make sure that I bring the perspective of those who are looking to stay in town and trying to afford town. Some of those affordability issues I feel very keenly."
Gerber said she has tried to make it a point to bring up rentals in Park City whenever housing comes up on the council. A lot of their talks focus on deed-restricted and affordable housing, she said, but for much of the workforce, rental availability is the bigger concern.
"I don’t think people have thought a lot about how the nightly rentals have impacted seasonal rentals in town, and how many rentals we’ve lost as a result," she said. "I want to bring that into the discussion. It’s always easier to talk about families and middle income and teachers and firefighters, but our town is very much dependent on the people who work in the restaurants and hotels and the lifties."
Gerber said she remembers working at the resorts and how it was never the only job she had. People who work at resorts during the season also wait tables at night, she said, or work at the parks during the summer. When they can’t afford to live in town, Gerber said, Park City suffers.
"These are people who are involved in our community in a lot of ways, and it is important to keep them here," she said.
She gave a group of people she works with now as an example. They lived in Park City a few years ago, but rising rent forced them to Heber City, then again even further out. Even factoring in the cost of the commute, she said, it was still cheaper for them to live outside of town.
"It makes me sad," she said. "Because all of these people who commute in from Heber or Salt Lake, once the day is over they are in their cars and headed home. Back when I was coming up, we’d go out for dinner or drinks after work, and I just don’t think we have that as much now."
Gerber said her primary goal on the council is to advocate for multi-level housing in town and to make sure rentals are part of the discussion. She said a project currently underway at 1450 and 1460 Park Avenue, which will bring six small cottage-style homes, is nice, but Park City needs more than individual homes to solve its housing problem.
"More town homes and more dense housing in the Lower Park Avenue area, mixed use in that area, as opposed to just doing something like six individual homes," she said. "We need to use the land that we have really wisely and make sure to make things more dense where it makes sense to do it.
"There is a lot going on with housing and we just need to keep that energy behind it and make sure everyone remembers how desperate this community is for it."
Gerber said she makes it a point to check in with her peers, to make sure she is representing that socioeconomic group in her new role. And even if she forgot, she said with a laugh, they would bring up their concerns anyway.
"I go to book club now, you know, and I’ll get an earful," she said.
Gerber said she is grateful for the opportunity to join the council and she plans to make the most of the next three years and eight months.
"It’s really hard when you are just going to council meetings and you really want to talk and you can’t because you are not at the table," she said. "Well, I have a seat at the table now and it’s something that I don’t take lightly. I’m really excited that I am able to participate in this conversation right now."
To reach Councilmember Becca Gerber, email her at Becca.Gerber@ParkCity.org.
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