- Enrique Limón
- District 4 Councilwoman Ana Valdemoros, pictured, and District 6 Councilman Dan Dugan officially started their terms on the city council earlier this month.
Last week, the city not only welcomed newly elected Mayor Erin Mendenhall into office, but two new councilmembers—District 4's Ana Valdemoros and District 6's Dan Dugan. Valdemoros was first selected to fill the vacancy left by Sen. Derek Kitchen when he jetted off to the Legislature. She's been serving on the council since last summer, but still had to run in the November election. Dugan, meanwhile, is new to the council and narrowly defeated incumbent Charlie Luke in the District 6 race. As for District 5—the seat vacated by Mendenhall—the city has taken applications and will soon interview candidates.
City Weekly had a chance to speak with the council's newcomers recently and ask them about their hopes with Salt Lake City's new regime.
AV: I feel slightly more ready and it's starting to come together. Having this year under my belt has taught me more about politics and a little about negotiation and the incredible amount of work that goes behind every policy, every role and every budget. I probably wasn't aware of it before. It's a difficult thing.
What are some issues you've been trying to help solve that you might not have been paying attention to before joining the council?
I was interested in what was going to happen around the new [homeless] resource centers, especially in my district. I had been to community councils and there were legitimate concerns because we didn't know what was happening. I'm an optimist and thought things will be fine. But I wanted to help the host neighborhoods that have the resource centers in them, especially the neighbors around them. They didn't know what was going to happen, if there were going to be activities going on that were undesirable. So the council and I worked on additional grant funding for programs to help the houses surrounding the resource centers. Some of them are older homes. They could do improvements, install energy efficient windows ... As a sign that we care and we're trying to improve a neighborhood, I thought the addition of an HRC [homeless resource center] would be great, so why not help the neighborhood that is worried about it?
You're from Argentina, did you ever envision yourself sitting on a metro city council while moving here?
No, not at all. I was interested in politics in general. My family in Argentina breathes politics all day long every day. The news is all about politics, in the morning on the radio, lunchtime and at night on TV. That's how I grew up. I would always read the newspapers and listen to the radio to see what's going on nationally and internationally. But I never really aspired to be a politician. When the opportunity presented itself, I thought if I could help another person in tweaking some policies at the city level, why not?
What was the significance to you of giving your post-swearing-in speech in Spanish first?
I want to stress to those minority communities that haven't been engaged before, that somebody now that looks like them and speaks their language is up in a leadership position and they can do it, too. And they can get involved, even if they don't want to be in politics, they can be more civically engaged than before. Here we are talking the same language and we can talk about the concerns in the neighborhood ... Now here I am to say, 'We can be involved, productive and collaborative and add to our community.' I think it was important for people to know, 'Oh, someone speaks Spanish at city hall?'
How do you think working with the new mayor and her staff will go?
Just the fact that we had her informally promise that she will show up to work sessions [laughs]. We said your attendance doesn't have to be 100% but make it at least 50%. We want to understand her stuff for certain proposals on budget issues, right? So stuff will come up and we want to hear her perspective and want to hear why that is a good idea or if we have different ideas, we want to share that with her, instead of putting staff in a tough position. I think we're turning a new leaf and I think there's momentum and I think staff in general is feeling optimistic.
What's your hope for what happens with the groups that don't agree with steps the council takes regarding housing and homelessness?
We literally care as much for our city as anybody else out there. We're very passionate, and I think both sides, we're kind of fighting for the same thing but looking at it from a different perspective. I would love to continue the conversation and gear all that passion the opposition has in an effective way on how to change policy. We can have some roundtables where we can bounce ideas off of each other instead of imposing ideas on each other. We all ought to understand that none of us will get everything that we want exactly how we envision things. But it's important to recognize the efforts and the passion and work that go behind these decisions from both sides.
DD: I've been in SLC now for over 15 years. I came here for the mountains and outdoors—it's a big deal. I've also played lacrosse and spent a lot of time outside and it's depressing in the wintertime when you go up to Alta and see the smog. This isn't good and we need to do something about it. [Clean air is] a necessity for a good quality of life and has always been a passion of mine ... As I said when I was knocking on doors, I never would have dreamed I would be doing that last April or early May. The inland port and how that evolves kind of made me decide to step in and say we need to fight a little bit harder for our quality of air and quality of life.
What else do you want to help solve with the city during your term?
As far as District 6 is concerned, Foothill Boulevard traffic. I think between 80 and 100,000 cars use that road a day. It's a state road so that makes it a little more of a challenge. That really is important to me and my district because it goes right to the district and we have to fight that every day. Of course, there's always safety, maintenance of the water system and roads is always high on everybody's list.
What are some challenges you think you and the council will have this year?
My first challenge is just understanding the whole system and how things progress. Getting in the system, compromising, negotiating, realizing that governments and entities do move slower because we have so many constituents and people to work with. I'm very excited about working with the council because they're a great group of people. I think that's going to be a great relationship. I think both sides are wonderful and I think we have a good opportunity to create a good future.
How has it been working with the new mayor and her staff?
It's got off to a great start. Having the mayor as a former councilmember, I think the council understands her very well. Before the inauguration, we sat down one-on-one just getting to know each other.
There have been disruptions at council meetings regarding housing and homelessness, how ready do you think the city council is now to handle those?
I applaud the mayor working with the state and the county on trying to rectify the issues. They're not easy issues to solve and I will do my part as much as I can to help out there. I'm looking at the mayor and she's got her eye on this target and focused on solving these problems. She wants to have a good approach working alongside the county and the state. It's not only a citywide problem, but a nationwide problem.
What kind of reception and topics have you heard from residents so far?
It's been a positive response. I went to my first community council meeting as an elected official the other night, and I think we spent a whole hour talking about traffic. It was a passion of mine. I have some future meetings with staff to see how we can rectify the problem and see how we can come up with some solutions.
Editor's note: Interviews were edited for clarity and length.