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Utah governor signs bill increasing oversight at residential youth treatment centers

New regulations and oversight are coming to Utah’s residential youth treatment centers in Utah after Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill on Monday that, among other things, prohibits “cruel, severe, unusual, or unnecessary practice on a child” and requires facilities to develop suicide prevention policies.

S.B. 127, sponsored by Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, is one of 56 bills passed during the Utah State Legislature’s general session that Cox signed at the Governor’s Rural Office in Cedar City.

The bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate and 70-2 in the House, was inspired by the stories of former students who say they were physically, verbally and emotionally abused at various facilities throughout the state.

Most prominently, Paris Hilton testified before the Utah Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee in February about her experience at Provo Canyon School in the 1990s, where she alleges she was “forced to consume medication that made me feel numb and exhausted” and didn’t breathe fresh air for 11 months.

“I cried myself to sleep every single night praying I would wake up from this nightmare,” said Hilton, who organized a protest in Utah County to close the school in October 2020. “The staff there were evil and sadistic, and seemed to enjoy their power and being able to abuse children.”

The legislation prohibits or limits peer restraints, strip and body cavity searches, abuse, neglect, repeated physical exercises and requiring a child “to take an uncomfortable position,” as well as “discipline or punishment that is intended to frighten or humiliate.”

Additionally, the bill allocates $680,400 for the Utah Department of Human Services’ Office of Licensing to hire eight full-time licensors to conduct four inspections per year and “enforce new regulations on youth congregate care programs, as well as enforce new non-discrimination regulations for all human services programs,” according to the fiscal note of the bill.

After Cox signed the bill, McKell wrote on Facebook that he is “extremely proud of the work we did this legislative session to provide greater oversight of the trouble(d) teen industry Utah.”

Other bills signed by the governor on Monday include a bill sponsored by Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi that establishes a regulatory sandbox where businesses face little to no regulations from the state but are still subject to regulations for public and consumer safety, as well as a series of tax amendment bills sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

Additionally, Cox signed Republican Lehi Sen. Jacob Anderegg’s S.B. 215, which creates a process for low-risk sex offenders to apply to be removed from the Utah Sex and Kidnap Offender Registry after 20 years have passed since the offender was placed on probation or released from incarceration.

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Door-busting deal brings abandoned Shopko down as The Mix moves forward

It has been over five years since customers visited Shopko, watched a dollar movie and then had some popular Carousel Ice Cream concoction at the Plum Tree Shopping Center.

The Plum Tree development, now renamed The Mix at River’s Edge, offers a conglomeration of emotions ranging from past shops and theaters to the current chain link fences and shabby emptiness of non-development.

Issues with infrastructure, too much open Class A business space and construction costs kept The Mix at River’s Edge from coming to fruition — until now.

On Tuesday, Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi helped take a swing as construction crews demolished the old Shopko store.

It has only been days since the new owners of the property applied for demolition permits and took down the Movies 8 dollar theaters at the end of last week.

“Many past college students, myself included, have fond memories of date nights with a $1 movie and sundaes at Carousel Ice Cream Parlor. It was all we could afford,” Kaufusi said. “It’s always hard to see community favorites close when they’ve become such a beloved part of our community fabric.”

It is also the gateway to Brigham Young University as you enter Provo from Orem on the University Parkway. For some residents, it has been a blight on the community.

“This redevelopment project has been anticipated for many years with our citizens anxious for progress to replace the retail blight,” said Keith Morey, Provo Economic Development director. “Watching the property lay dormant has been difficult, but the reality of its reawakening and transformation is truly exciting.”

Just like the newness of spring and the feelings of renewal after a long year of COVID-19, this development is just what Provo needs, according to Kaufusi.

“Successful development is always about timing,” Kaufusi said. “We now have the right timing and the right team to finally bring this development back to its thriving glory days and create a gathering place where a whole new generation can make memories.”

The Mix at River’s Edge mixed-use development, on the northeast corner of University Parkway and 2230 North, has been through numerous plans over the last five years, but it now has new ownership. The project will be commencing construction this week.

The Mix will be a 28-acre mixed use project including a mixture of retail and office along the front with stacked flats and state-of-the-art condos lining the back. The goal is to use a great location to create a gathering node along University Parkway, drawing in businesses and tenants to create a vibrant mixed use community, according to Brighton Development, new owners of The Mix.

Even the new developers have sentimental feelings about this project.

“I’ve been eating or shopping at the Plum Tree Shopping Center for over 30 years, since I was a student at BYU in 1988,” said Nate Pugsley, CEO of Brighton Development. “The location is one of the best in Utah County for development opportunities and long-term value, given its proximity to two universities and University Parkway.

“As a company we couldn’t be more excited to invest a little bit of time, money and resources to improve this part of Provo.

“We’re grateful for our financial partners, Provo City and our internal team at Brighton Development for all their hard work,” Pugsley said. “As a company, we are grateful for the opportunity to be able to work and hire great talent in this vibrant part of the state.”

Morey sees interest in Provo increasing and momentum building on exciting development projects in process.

“The redevelopment at The Mix at River’s Edge is a reflection of the broader strength of the Provo market right now,” said Morey. “Milken’s recent study identifying Provo as the ‘Best Performing Large City’ in the country is a reflection of what we have all known for a long time.

“The Mix at River’s Edge is in addition to the many projects underway in Provo right now, like the new Provo City Hall, the redevelopment of the existing City Hall block, the new class A office space being built in downtown Provo by PEG, as well as commercial and residential development in almost every part of our community,” Morey said.

The Mix is uniquely positioned to capture the attention of shoppers from Provo and Orem as they travel along University Parkway.

With the new ownership, the designs have changed slightly, but the new development will have some retail, housing and hotel options.

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Future of North County Equestrian Park discussed at town hall

Users of the North County Equestrian Park voiced their concerns with the county-owned property and discussed ways to improve it during a town hall on Tuesday evening.

The town hall, which was hosted by Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee, took place two weeks after park users complained that the park has been “neglected” and lacks the resources needed to make the park usable during a commission work session.

While the county maintains the park on a regular basis, including watering the indoor arena and washing the pavilion tables, officials haven’t approved changes or improvements to the park since 2005, according to Bryce Armstrong, associate director of Utah County Community Development.

Marylee Tanner and Jemima Street, two equestrians who have led the charge in advocating for better management of the park, outlined changes they would like to see, including the arena footing being fixed, the ground being worked on a daily basis and enforcement of rules prohibiting motor vehicles on trails or off-leash dogs in the park.

Additionally, Tanner and Street said they wanted the county to form a committee of volunteers to “approve new rules and enforce current rules.” The county formed an equestrian operating committee around 2003 but it dissolved over the next few years.

The equestrians also recommended the county make safety improvements, including posting signs, fixing the doors at the riding arena, installing automatic or motion-activated lights, and either getting rid of or keeping the park gate open.

The town hall also touched on what users “want to see with the Equestrian Park’s future,” including whether it should remain county-owned and operated and whether it should be “annexed and purchased” by Highland, American Fork or Lehi.

Other ideas discussed included selling part of the property to private developers to develop a community center, soccer field, pickleball court, dog park or Frisbee golf course.

“We feel like there’s nothing in our end of the county that we can have or replace this (with) if it’s gone,” Tanner said. “So for us, it’s like a part-time job we’ve taken on because we don’t want to see this facility go away.”

Street noted that “there are a lot of people that don’t have the opportunity or the means to own horses and have access to them.”

“So having a facility that people can come and teach lessons to those kids that wouldn’t be able to go and see a horse or ever ride a horse, that is a huge asset to the community,” she said.

The Utah County Commission considered selling the North County Equestrian Park in 2019 as a way to balance the county budget.

At the town hall, Lee said he previously believed that the park was being “underutilized” by the community but changed his position when he began talking with equestrians who use the park.

“And here’s the things that I found: one, it is utilized; two, the reason why we’re not seeing the use by (a) money (metric) is because of management, which is county management, frankly,” the commissioner said.

Dozens of residents attended the town hall, which was held in the indoor riding arena at the park.

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New algorithm helps BYU team put best face forward in security

A group of students and professor Dr. D.J. Lee at BYU have come together to build an algorithm that could possibly bring two-factor authentication to facial recognition technologies in everything from cell phones to surveillance systems.

The project started almost two years ago as Lee and some students tried to think of an interesting research project. The group started looking into facial motion and how it could be analyzed.

That evolved into seeing if students are paying attention in class and it eventually morphed into improved security for facial recognition with the use of facial motion.

With the world of security constantly changing and hackers adapting to those changes, Lee acknowledged that nothing is perfect in terms of security.

“Fingerprinting is easy to do and people even make fake fingerprints,” Lee said. “The most common one is facial recognition and the biggest problem is, all of these can be used when the user is not aware. When you’re sleeping or unconscious, someone could use your biometrics to get into the system. It’s difficult, people come up with all kinds of ideas to hack into the system.”

He added that a company in Japan makes facial masks that look like people and some access social media pages to unlock devices needing facial recognition. Even algorithms can be fooled by photos and this technology can address the biggest concern, which is unintentional identity verification.

Two-factor authentication is not new technology, as companies like Apple and social media apps use it to verify someone’s identity, but integrating it into facial recognition is.

Lee said it is called Concurrent Two-Factor Identity Verification.

“Meaning you show your face and make the facial motion just once, you don’t have to do it twice,” Lee said. “With the facial motion, if people want to use your photo they cannot fool the system since the photo is not moving.”

The technology first uses facial recognition and then a secret phrase is mouthed, a movement with one’s lips is made, or a facial motion is made to satisfy the second step of authentication.

Even if a video is used, the chances of that video matching the secret facial motion are low, according to Lee.

Lee said that he could see this video being used on a computer, cell phones, or any piece of technology with a camera on it.

“There are many other applications,” Lee said. “People often ask me about their iPhones using this, and I say sure but we don’t necessarily have to compete with Apple. We don’t necessarily limit this to unlocking a phone or mobile device. This can be used for many different applications.”

Lee said other possible uses could occur in a car to start the engine, smiling at a camera to gain access to a hotel room, using it to gain access at an ATM, and even using facial motion in disabled people to control a computer.

When asked about using the technology in everyday life, Lee said it could be applied.

“I don’t know how many times a day we use identity verification,” Lee said. “If you pick up your phone you probably do it 20 times or more. Then you log into your BYU account and all of that can use this technology as long as there is a camera.”

The group working on the technology includes Lee, a Ph.D. student, and some undergraduate students as well. Lee said that they are all capable students that help to make the project an enjoyable experience.

The next step is a demonstration of the technology with the hopes of attracting some interest of people looking to help develop the algorithm further. Lee said he is confident that it can be developed further, allowing it to have an impact on daily life.