May 15, 2020

10 Questions for Mayor Mendenhall

10 Questions for Mayor Mendenhall
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April 15 marked Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s 100th day in office. The West View was given the opportunity to submit 10 questions to her. We solicited questions from our readers throughout the West Side and Salt Lake City. Below are the questions you submitted and Mayor Mendenhall’s responses from April 27.

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Before we start the formal questions, let's start with something more personal. Kathryn  would like to know: What have you learned during your first 100 days as Mayor? Have there been any adjustments or changes that were more difficult than you expected?

If I were answering this question on March 1, the answer to your second question wouldn’t have been what it is today in terms of what we’re dealing with around the earthquakes and the pandemic, but my answer to your first question would be the same: Every day I am so impressed by how creative, resilient and caring this city is. When I ran for mayor, I signed up to take whatever comes and do everything I can to make the best of it, for our people. The circumstances we’re in are definitely difficult, but the character of our city is strong.

Question 1: Many residents of the West Side expressed confusion about the status of the Utah Inland Port development. Jaime asks: Can you share a status update on the port and explain the actions your administration has taken related to the port during your first 100 days?

One of the biggest issues with the inland port is the threat to our public and environmental health. We already know our west-side neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by poor air quality. Until this year’s legislative session, there was a gaping loophole that would have allowed almost any type of land use to be approved by a Utah Inland Port (UIP) appeals board. Fortunately, we were able to negotiate the closure of this threatening loophole with the passage of Rep. Francis Gibson’s HB 347. HB 347 also gave the City a portion of the tax increment so that current residents aren’t shouldering the entire burden of providing essential services to the IP area. And, of course, we are grateful for Sen. Luz Escamilla’s work on SB 112, which authorizes the UIP to establish a community enhancement program to address the impacts of development and inland port uses on adjacent communities and to use authority funds to support that program.

The City still plans to appeal the Utah Third District Court’s decision over the constitutionality of the Utah Inland Port Authority’s powers. We submitted an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court not only because Salt Lake City will be directly impacted by the decision, but because it sets a precedent that could impact every city and town in Utah, and it is our responsibility to get clarity from a higher court.

These are big strides forward, but there are still environmental assurances we need to address as development begins. The potential for future legislative sessions to undo assurances we have today is a driving force behind our work for something more certain that state statute. Our work to protect our city’s residents today, and for generations to come, will continue through legal and legislative approaches.

Question 2: The Jordan River is a defining feature of the West Side. Paul asks: Can you share how your administration plans to support this vital resource and how you are engaging with organizations like the Jordan River Commission?

I’m a new member of the Jordan River Commission and looking forward to those opportunities to collaborate. I love the Get in the River event and am looking forward to the completion of the Three Creeks Confluence project, with all of its amenities. The more we can connect residents from across the City with this incredible natural asset, the better. It’s such a gem, and West-East trail connections are a vital way to link the river with residents citywide. I am also interested in The Fisher Mansion, with its proximity to the river, as another great asset that has yet to be activated.

Question 3: The rail lines that bisect Salt Lake City result in significant delays for West Side residents. Devin asks: As your administration looks to future development patterns, is consideration being given to this issue?

There are a lot of challenges we face from the rail lines that bisect our city. Not only are pedestrians and commuters stalled at the crossings, our transit buses are as well. Solutions generally have to be funded entirely by the City. We’re definitely looking at federal grants and other funding for bridges to better connect our neighborhoods.  All of these efforts will be informed by the new citywide Transportation Master Plan that we will begin in the coming year.

There are also three remaining quiet zones that are a real quality of life issue for west-side residents. It’s important to me that we do all we can to prevent trains blaring their horns around the clock as they go by and through these residential neighborhoods. The improvements necessary to ‘quiet’ those crossings add up to more than $7 million. I will be looking for all funding opportunities, including bonding opportunities, to make these long-awaited improvements possible.

Question 4: The future of the West Side is likely denser than it is now. Erika asks: Many residents we asked expressed support for development that brings new amenities and neighbors. As our city grows, how do you envision maintaining the “Small Lake City” charm of our community and neighborhoods? 

Community-engaged development is the only way forward if we want to be certain that our collective growth is inclusive and equitable. We need a plan to protect our neighborhoods and businesses from problematic growth and change that doesn’t serve them. This plan and effort is now underway, with the Council recently approving funding for my gentrification mitigation plan.

Our residents and neighborhoods will be heavily involved in those efforts to identify, support and increase opportunities for historically underserved areas and communities, moving forward in lockstep with community members to strengthen existing investments of people in the area.

Question 5: Several residents asked about the future of the neighborhood cleanup program. Ryan asks: During your campaign, you pledged to restore the neighborhood cleanup program to its original state. Does your administration still intend to follow through with that?

Yes. I pledged to restore neighborhood cleanup in a way that does not contaminate our stormwater runoff, which was an unfortunate byproduct of our previous neighborhood cleanup approach. Moving forward, we plan to move to a format where people can leave bulky items curbside, but the City won’t accept any hazardous materials. We need residents to be very careful about not putting things like paint or chemicals at the curb, as those quickly wash down gutters and pollute wastewater.

I will be receiving some options from our departments on how to bring back a cleanup that responsibly guards against environmental harm. After working with our departments, we will bring a proposal to the City Council for their consideration and funding approval. Please stay tuned and participate when the public process happens!

Question 6: Residents expressed support and concern about the future of homeless services in the city. Heather asks: Can you share the actions your administration has taken during your first 100 days and where you expect to take action moving forward?

We’ve just gone through a big transition, opening three Homeless Resource Centers in the last year and shifting our model toward them with the state’s closure and demolition of the downtown shelter. The new HRCs are better helping to meet the acute needs of one of our city's vulnerable populations. We also work closely with the host neighborhoods to make sure they stay safe and that the neighbors have a chance to positively interact with the HRC operators and guests through the formation of neighborhood advisory councils.

In my first month in office we implemented some short-term strategies, including opening the Sugar House Temporary Shelter on January 23. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, our City staff who coordinate homeless services have been working even more closely with our County and service-provider partners. Providing temporary restrooms and sanitation locations, a two-year pilot program with Volunteers of America for enhanced street outreach and moving ahead with the City Council on expansion of Shared Housing zoning (formerly known as ‘SRO’ single room occupant) are some of our recent efforts. In the long term, we need to be strategic about homelessness prevention, increasing our capabilities to help people maintain their housing, divert people out of shelter into safe housing, and supporting the chronically homeless with the support and solutions they need — perhaps managed tiny-home communities.

In the next year we will work with stakeholders and partners on short-, medium-, and long-term plans for addressing the funding, governance, and accessibility of homelessness services throughout the region.

Question 7: Many families on the West Side of Salt Lake City have been harmed by the federal administration’s targeting of immigrant communities. Maria asks: Can you explain how your administration is supporting our immigrant neighbors?

Broadly, we're continuing one incredibly important policy in my administration, which is that the Salt Lake City Police Department will not enforce federal immigration policy or ask people about their immigration status.

But in the face of the pandemic we are going through, one of the key elements of my work is communicating with and working to support our vulnerable communities from the spread of this highly contagious disease. Data shows that not only is our city the hardest hit in the state, but that West Side areas within our city are being more heavily impacted than others. So for me, regular communication and a variety in communication mediums are key to ensuring that people have access to the information and resources they need to stay healthy and safe in this challenging time. I’m grateful to the many community partners who have been helping us know what’s working and what isn’t, then working with us to evolve better approaches to listen, share information, and support so many resilient communities.

Two very exciting recent developments are the funding of our gentrification mitigation plan and our citywide equity plan.

The gentrification mitigation plan will come from our work to study gentrification and use the findings to create policy that addresses the known risks of gentrification for different neighborhoods and identify best practices for addressing gentrification and displacement.

The equity plan will be our North Star for improving system inequities and ensuring that when we are making policy, programmatic, and financial decisions, we are taking into account how those decisions impact all people in our city.

Question 8: East-West transportation in the city has long been a concern for residents. Marty asks: Can you share your vision for the future of transportation in the city? Specifically, what plans does your administration have to implement the Complete Streets policy and make the city more pedestrian and bicycle friendly?

Great cities have great transportation networks with a focus on moving people, not just cars. As I mentioned, above, I’ve directed our Transportation Division to begin the work of a new Transportation Master Plan. It’s been over 20 years since our last master plan, and we’re due for a major update. There are new modes of transportation that were never contemplated a decade ago: e-bikes and scooters, ride-share like Lyft and Uber, even pedicabs that serve our downtown. The way we plan for and design our transportation network needs to be a multimodal network that gives us all safe options beyond single-occupant vehicles, from public transportation to walking to GreenBike. 

Complete Streets policy is in effect, and I intend for it to be reflected in the projects we build. We are working on better coordination between our departments to resolve competing policies, such as utility easements that impact placement of street trees. It is an ongoing process.

Question 9: West Side residents note the disparity in the maintenance of and quality of amenities at parks in our neighborhoods. Jessica asks: Can you share how your administration will promote the quality of parks and recreational facilities on the West Side?

The West Side is long overdue for a regional park amenity. There are more children per capita on Salt Lake City’s West Side than anywhere else in the City and it’s time for the open space offerings to reflect that. It’s important to me that we explore ways to not only build but maintain a high-caliber regional park. To this end, Salt Lake City is seeking opportunities to work with nonprofit organizations that would help us design, pass and implement legislation and ballot measures that reflect our community priorities and could create new public funds for parks and restoration. In the meantime, Salt Lake City has multiple projects in the works that will make significant improvements to the City’s Westside parks. Many of these capital projects will free up maintenance hours previously spent making repairs to aging infrastructures, allowing more focus to be spent on park beautification.

Additional information regarding many of these projects-in-process can be found on our web page at https://www.slc.gov/parks/public-lands-projects/.

Two new capital projects on the West Side — Jordan Park Event Grounds and Westside Trail Connections — will link contiguous park spaces along the Jordan River and add infrastructure for community events to create regional level amenities and attractions.

Jordan Park Event Grounds 1060 S 900 West This project includes design and construction for power pedestals to create an event space, improve pathways and enhance circulation in the park. This new infrastructure will create a large, self-contained event site for community events and programming, creating a more inviting and comfortable environment for all park visitors.  The new event grounds are at the center of five contiguous public spaces and will offer greater usability and highlight this unique area of SLC.  Design will begin in summer 2020 with construction in winter of 2020/21.

Westside Trail Connections and Amenities - SLC Public Lands, in coordination with the Glendale and Poplar Grove Community Councils, is designing trail improvements that will establish new connections between public parks and open spaces along the Jordan River between 1300 South and 800 South. This trail will connect seven parks and two trail corridors in the project area. The project area includes Jordan Park, 900 South River Park, International Peace Gardens, the Fife Wetland Preserve, Three Creeks Confluence Park, Modesto Park, Bend-in-the-River Park, Jordan River Parkway Trail and the 9Line Trail.

Question 10: Many long-term residents expressed guarded optimism about a future Olympic bid. Junior asks: With Salt Lake City bidding for a future Olympic Games, can you share whether your administration is taking steps to ensure that equity is at the core of future Olympic plans?

Last year I signed a Community Benefits Agreement in conjunction with Crossroads Urban Center, committing to doing whatever I can to ensure that housing produced for a future Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City will be repurposed for affordable housing post Games. A step like this would help us shape the changes that come to any Olympic host city, and to use those changes to benefit the housing needs of our population.

Another effort to help put equity front and center for the games were the two appointments I made to the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games Executive Committee. I asked Pastor France A. Davis and Westminster College President, Beth Dobkin, to represent our city's diverse needs and interests. I'm grateful they accepted and hope they are able to continue serving, should our efforts transition to an official bid and beyond!

Lastly, should our efforts be successful, and we get another Games in Salt Lake City, I have already begun advocating for the creation of an equity committee. I am dedicated to this early and consistent work to build equity as a shared priority of the committee.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration of these questions. Before we end, is there anything that you would like residents to know about your first 100 days?

Yes! We're still going to plant 1,000 trees throughout neighborhoods in our city's West Side this year. We’ve already put the first 500 in the ground, and our City's Urban Forestry Division is confident that we will hit our goal.

I'll also add that I want to hear from you. The Westside community is caring, innovative and invested in the future of our city. Those are the qualities we need to ensure Salt Lake City continues to thrive. We have a big challenge on our hands right now, and it is my goal as we get through this to find ways that our city cannot just go back to where it was, but be a better, more equitable space for all. I relish insights and ideas from the public. Please reach out if you have the time and interest.