Herbert won’t use emergency powers to shut down Rio Grande Street

Gov. Gary Herbert will not use his broad emergency powers to close about a third of Rio Grande Street in front of homeless providers to create a “safe space,” his top aide told UtahPolicy.com on Wednesday.

Paul Edwards, Herbert’s deputy chief of staff for communications, said: “The specific issues related to the creation of a safe zone between the social services offered on Rio Grande Street do not rise to the level of declaring a state emergency as defined by our current statute.”

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, went on KLS Radio’s Doug Wright show again Wednesday morning asking Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski to use her administrative powers to close the street temporarily.

So far, she has declined to do so, citing the need to take a “public process” avenue.

It appears a timeline listed by Biskupski at a City Council meeting Tuesday evening will stand – after some public hearings the City Council can vote Sept. 19 to close the street.

It would then be possible for Herbert to call a Sept. 20 special legislative session where lawmakers can approve a state lease of the closed road.

The state would set up and maintain the “safe space” for the homeless, who could access in the day time via a special photo I.D. and thus stay away from drug dealers and others who may wish to prey upon them.

Hughes and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox – Herbert’s “point man” on the homeless issue and “Operation Rio Grande” – say they don’t want to wait until mid-September to start closing down the street, providing restrooms outside of the homeless service providers’ buildings, and such.

“We can’t wait until October to get the safe space” up and running, Hughes told UtahPolicy on Tuesday night.

But that appears, for now, to be the timeline.

Herbert is in Asia on an economic development trip, but Cox or another subordinate could act in his place should a state of emergency be declared, UtahPolicy.com is told.

Edwards said the safe space is “an integral” part of ORG’s law enforcement and social services actions.

“We urge all who have the capacity to hasten its creation to do so,” Edwards said in a text message to UtahPolicy.

Short of action by Herbert, however, that seems to be Biskupski – for City Councilmembers said while they want to act quickly, they also have time constraints on their processes.

Hughes and Cox say since April – when the closure of the street was suggested by Salt Lake County officials – the quick closure was part of the plan, a plan Biskupski knew about.

In any case, Hughes and Cox say drug traffickers are moving back into the area, with some selling “spice” cigarettes inside of some of the homeless service providers’ operations.

The more than 100 law enforcement officers who have made 700-plus arrests over the last two weeks are now moving back to their normal fields of operation.

And Hughes and Cox say plans to create the “safe space” are being unduly hindered by the mayor, who says she has done what she can to help “Operation Rio Grande.”

The actual closure of the street now falls to the City Council.