Mayor Mendenhall says Salt Lake City is “ready” for the future | News | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Mayor Mendenhall says Salt Lake City is “ready” for the future

City State

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Salt Lake City Erin Mendenhall delivers her 2023 State of the City address at the Woodbine food hall on Tuesday, Jan. 24. - ASHLEY DETRICK | COURTESY PHOTO
  • Ashley Detrick | Courtesy Photo
  • Salt Lake City Erin Mendenhall delivers her 2023 State of the City address at the Woodbine food hall on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

GRANARY—During her annual State of the City address on Tuesday, Salt Lake Mayor Erin Mendenhall described her vision of a future where clean energy is abundant; where transit is free, frequent and accessible; where the west side is lush with trees and no longer isolated by rail lines; where residents can build equity through home ownership; and where most daily errands are a 15-minute walk or bike ride away along safe, vibrant streets.

And while the city faces daunting challenges—particularly a declining Great Salt Lake that could be gone in as little as five years and the crushing weight of homelessness—she said the city can and will rise to the occasion and chart a course for the next century.

“If the work and outcomes of the last year—and before that even—have taught us anything, it’s that Salt Lake City is in a constant forward motion, and there’s just no looking back,” Mendenhall said. “There’s no stopping us. We’re bold, we’re courageous, we’re Salt Lakers and we are ready.”

The mayor delivered her remarks before a capacity crowd at the Woodbine food hall, which she noted didn’t exist—along with much of the Granary District—just three years ago. What was recently a “quieter and lower-profile” part of Salt Lake is now a burgeoning neighborhood, she said, where longstanding industrial spaces have been rejuvenated as housing, businesses, restaurants and a nightlife scene that contributes to the “pulse” of an 18-hour city.

“Woodbine—The Granary District as a whole—these spaces are emblematic of our city, a place that is really no stranger to reinvention and evolution,” Mendenhall said, “a place that grows with and for the residents and the needs of this community; a place that continues to change, while underneath it all, staying true to itself as the city we’ve always known and loved.”

Mendenhall noted a number of administration priorities that have—or are poised to soon—come online: construction of an 80-megawatt solar farm in Tooele county is underway and a partnership with Rocky Mountain Power and sister cities is forecasted to deliver net-zero renewable energy to Salt Lake energy customers by 2030; electric vehicle charging stations are being installed at public and private locations, and may become required infrastructure at new housing developments, pending City Council approval; entities like Delta Airlines, Outdoor Retailers and (quite likely) the Winter Olympic Games are reinvesting in the city; and thousands of trees have been planted in west-side neighborhoods, areas long starved of critical ecological management.

“Those trees are about so much more than beautification and heat-island reduction. These trees are growing up to serve on the front line of our war on pollution,” Mendenhall said. “Each tree will grow to generate half a million pounds of new oxygen every year and remove 20,000 pounds of pollution, right in the neighborhoods that need it the most.”

And while the Larry H. Miller Company recently opted to abandon the city by moving its Salt Lake Bees baseball team to South Jordan’s Daybreak suburb, Mendenhall announced that the Miller Family’s philanthropic arm will lead a $100 million fundraising campaign to rehabilitate the Ballpark Neighborhood through public-private partnerships.

“There has never been an investment like this in our city before,” she said.

But Mendenhall also acknowledged that the city’s growth has corresponded with negative outcomes, like crime rates that spiked during the Coronavirus pandemic and a worsening affordability crisis that has pushed residents out of the city and, in some cases, onto the streets. She complimented the city’s police and emergency personnel for being open to new training around de-escalation and community engagement, and for approaches to policing around criminal hot spots that have contributed to a 12% drop in crime citywide.

“But all the data in the world really doesn’t make a difference if you, yourself, become a victim of crime,” she said. “We will never forget that even one crime in this city is too many. Our work here will never be done.”

Mendenhall also noted the city’s surging rates of traffic-related injury and fatalities, which claimed roughly two dozen lives last year. She pointed to a recent weekend that saw six pedestrians struck by drivers—including the injury of two schoolchildren in a crosswalk and the death of one man in a hit-and-run collision near Trolley Square—and said her administration is working toward a budget that includes traffic calming interventions and new restrictions around left- and right-hand turning, which together account for 30% of auto-pedestrian collisions.

“People should feel safe as they travel our city’s streets, or sidewalks, or bike lanes, or byways. But, sadly, that’s not the case for many Salt Lakers today,” Mendenhall said. “One act of vehicular violence in a week is unacceptable, but six is unconscionable. Wherever you are in Salt Lake City, you deserve to be on our safest street.”

On homelessness and housing, Mendenhall said the city is prepared to spend $30 million this year, after an investment of more than $15 million in 2022. Salt Lake City “will never surrender to gentrification,” she said, pointing to a series of recommendations developed through the Thriving in Place project that will be presented to the City Council for its consideration, and a new partnership with the Perpetual Housing Fund of Utah that will accelerate the development of affordable owner-occupied housing units, describing that effort as the most innovative and equity-building model that Utah has ever seen.

“I’m not telling you that homelessness will ever be—nor has it ever been—completely erased,” Mendenhall said. “But I am telling you that we have turned a page from the finger-pointing and isolation of the past to a catalytic, productive and, finally, focused partnership with the state, county, sister cities, service providers and community members.”

On water, Mendenhall complimented residents and community institutions for collectively reducing consumption by 15% last year, or roughly 3 billion gallons. But that conservation is far short of the levels needed to reverse the city and state’s severe drought conditions, she said, necessitating a “top-to-bottom” review of Salt Lake’s water usage—including parks, cemeteries, irrigation systems and water fountains—and a request from the administration that the City Council approve a new pricing structure for water use and a “drought surcharge” that would be applied toward the city's largest water users, increasing or decreasing as conditions change.

“I’m not going to sit back and watch the Great Salt Lake, our namesake, turn to toxic dust,” she said.

Mendenhall also offered something of an endorsement for the Rio Grande Plan, a citizen-led proposal to move freight and passenger rail lines underground through the construction of a so-called “train box” on 500 West, the city’s historic rail corridor. Mendenhall called the proposal “incredibly compelling” and noted that Salt Lake has applied for federal grant funding to formally study its implementation and the potential to reconnect the city’s east and west sides through the redevelopment of roughly 75 acres of rail-dominated land adjacent to Downtown.

“Our connection to each other as a city—as a community—is worth fighting for. But the solution isn’t ham-handedly trying to go back to when our city was smaller, scaring people into being afraid of change,” Mendenhall said. “Instead, our thinking needs to grow bigger, too: our creativity; our ingenuity; our resourcefulness; and most importantly, our commitment to staying connected needs to grow."

Among the dignitaries present for Mendenhall's remarks were representatives of Delta Airlines, the leadership of the Utah Transit Authority and members of the Salt Lake City Council. Prior to her remarks, Mendenhall was introduced by freshman councilmember Victoria Petro, who said she came into office "amid a storm of idealism and passion," ultimately finding a productive partner in the Mayor's Office.

"We share a vision for our home city that sings its praises, that amplifies the natural beauty by valuing green space and that stands in awe of our brilliant residents," Petro said. "I'm proud of the work we've accomplished our first year and I've got a docket even longer for next year."

Posting on Twitter, Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he appreciated the work of Mendenhall to lead effectively and with a progressive vision. "The city has a very bright future with the leadership of our Mayor and our [City] Council," King wrote.

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