January 25, 2022
Dear Mayor Mendenhall,
I appreciate your invitation to provide you with a priorities list for my district and the city for the upcoming fiscal year, which I have gathered throughout the year by talking to my constituents. Below you will find the priorities along with a brief summary to review before our quick meeting next Tuesday. These priorities always have in mind the bottom line, which is the budget. Generating revenue to provide quality services, while also analyzing how to leave valuable assets for future generations. These will give us a chance to brainstorm easily implementable actions and discussion at our meeting.
1) Crime, safety and cleanliness.
Salt Lake City has had a reputation of being a low crime, safe and clean City for many decades. I attribute this perception to the many great administrations. This notion has also been among others, but one of the most important attractions for many people to want to move to Salt Lake City, to want to visit downtown and patronize the many restaurants, bars, malls, sports arenas and theaters. I recognize that with more people, additional services, housing and crime can be on the rise, but the latter, not so substantial that cannot be controlled. Having additional visitors and residents is what we should aim for, as their sales taxes provide us with a large portion of our budget, and in return provide a highly livable city.
Visitors to downtown have been on decline, workers have been on decline and the talk of the town is that not only COVID has been the #1 problem, #2 is the open criminal activity and filthiness of sidewalks and harassment or even physical attacks to pedestrians and workers. This is not news to us, or at least to me, that live in the district and experience those myself. We must keep in mind that as the valley grows, many new attractions and experiences are growing elsewhere, and people are choosing to patron those places instead of downtown.
Salt Lake City still has real and attractive assets that make our city desirable out of other places in the State, like a very urban city and downtown, airport, green space, but we should not just rest on this alone. Although for many frustrated constituents and visitors this situation is becoming out of control, I still believe we have time to revert it and provide a city and a downtown that is clean, safe and welcoming to all, especially families that we have lost for many different reasons. We need to show serious reinvestment in safety and cleanliness so that we may continue and regain those that are choosing elsewhere to spend their dollars. If anything, else, this is my fervent wish that we see serious clean up and dedicate resources, redirect resources, staff and budget to make this happen. It will pay off; I am 100% of it.
2) Mental health, reevaluate resource centers impact on neighborhoods, housing.
Salt Lake City has focused on a housing first theory for many years now, investing millions of dollars in affordable housing, homeless services and shelters. I believe it is good practice to review the status and efficiency of all these topics every few years, and tweak as often as possible for a better outcome. We have evidence, that after the millions invested in housing, in shelters and services, mental health/drug additions are really at the core of the issue in our battle to end homelessness. Disabled or people unable to make decisions on their own to accept or reach for the path of shelter, rehousing and treatment, have continuously refused outreach workers, police officers, ambassadors, and even civilians when offered help. Even in the most dire situations, the answer is mostly no.
We are aware that there are constitutional rights and constraints for our city to decide for them, and that is the inhumanity of an antiquated system that prevails today and started 40 years ago, without much review and that is at the Federal and state level, but cities are taking on with such limited resources. Helping the most vulnerable is what we should focus on, when we know that predators are all around them committing serious crimes against those that are outside because of their own choice, that includes leaving people to sleep on the streets in frigid cold winter nights, some to their death. I will continue to support affordable housing financing, but mental health is what we need to focus on heavily with all those that are aware, have connections with the state and even with our Utah delegation in Washington DC.
Lastly, I believe being able to help those that are shelter resistant and are lingering and staying outside of the shelters will also help the impact on our public safety involvement and budget but also in the neighborhoods. I think before we can add additional shelters, either permanent or temporary, we need to look into the business model and the detrimental impacts they have in neighborhoods. If we are able to shift and move the needle with the service providers on how they have been doing business and how they can truly become assets to the neighborhoods, they will be doing themselves a service, as many other cities will start softening up to such use in a neighborhood. But as they stand, it is unacceptable for Salt Lake City, and it is so hard to blame other cities and neighborhoods for not wanting such a burden in their cities.
3) Leverage real estate assets, retention, reuse and improvements.
As the inevitable happens and our city grows denser and vertically due to natural geographic constraints, and because of the real estate market temperature, we need to understand the true potential our real estate assets currently have. This to me translates to future generations and how we can best leverage what the city owns which is increasingly more desirable and scarce, and how to retain it for future generations. Not selling these assets can be of a great “capital/savings” account to leave to the future, for future needs. I would like you to consider heavily when you are asked to sell properties at market value and instead find a way that both interested parties can benefit, but ultimately, we should aim for the benefit of the taxpayers, and that sometimes may look like long term leases, but not disposition. Finally, I would like to focus on the current real estate assets that are becoming dilapidated, but we are still on time to reuse and improve, especially with the bonding powers that are available to us. Investing in our own properties so that they do add to the neighborhoods, instead of attracting vagrancy, broken windows, etc. can do much good to have a city that looks and feels safe.
Once again, I really appreciate your time and offer to share my priorities with you. I am fully aware of the heavy burden you have to manage our city, which you do very well. I appreciate your energy, values and direction, and look forward to our virtual meeting next week.
All my best,
Salt Lake City Councilmember, District 4