January 2, 2022
Parting Message from Mayor Harris Sondak

Dear members of the Alta community,

As my term as mayor comes to an end, I am writing to express three thoughts – a reminder, a caution, and an acknowledgement.

Alta operates in the context of overlapping jurisdictions that affect the town. It has been my experience that the complexity of this context is not fully appreciated by some members of our community. For each of the four years I have been mayor, interactions with partner agencies have created significant issues and controversies. For example, in my first year, the United States Forest Service pressed our community to decrease the presence of our dogs on public land; in my second year, changes in state and county policy and law required a new, more expensive approach to fire and emergency medical services; in my third year, federal, state, and county responses to the pandemic required Alta to make a number of difficult choices; and in my fourth year, decisions by the Forest Service and the Utah Department of Transportation had profound effects on how the town responded to the ski area’s new parking plans. I know that community members really just want to enjoy their dogs, pay low property taxes, stay healthy, and have a place to park and can be impatient when these goals are not readily met. But I remind our community of the constraints faced by the town and its officials.

Our community has been built around skiing and our biggest business is a privately owned and operated ski area. The ski area is located primarily on land owned by the people of the United States, and community members are right to assume that that ownership provides some important checks on the decisions made by the company. But the United States Forest Service does not have the welfare of the residents of Alta at the center of its mission and it should not be unduly relied upon. This year the ski area, with the approval of the Forest Service, demanded that the town comply with its demands in regard to parking. What demands come next? Besides parking, issues including the construction of a gondola, an interconnect to Park City, license fees and taxes, zoning, and the provision of water are all areas where the interests of the town and of the ski area are not entirely congruent. I urge caution in depending too heavily on the ski area for public goods because what has been granted can be taken away.

It has been my honor to serve as a member of the town council and as mayor for the last decade. I thank the town’s staff, the members of our community, and leaders of our jurisdictional partners for the support I’ve received as an elected official of Alta. Together we have accomplished a lot.

I am sure there will be difficult challenges for the incoming town council and new mayor to face but also, I hope, there will be exciting opportunities for them to embrace. I wish them, and all of you, the best of luck.


Harris Sondak
Town of Alta