Salt Lake City

Mayor's Office

Erin Mendenhall | (801) 535-7704

2020 State of the City Address

Good evening!

Thank you all so much for being here.

I want to give a special thanks to all of the city staff who are here tonight.

I see Economic Development, Community and Neighborhoods, our Salt Lake City Police Department, 911 dispatch, The Salt Lake City Fire Department, Public Services, finance, the Airport, Sustainability, The City Council and my team from the Mayor’s Office all here tonight.

I want all of you to know how proud I am of you and the work you do each day. Your love for this city is incredible and I’m excited to spend the next four years working shoulder to shoulder with you.

I also want to recognize this evening that Salt Lake City sits on the land of the indigenous people of Utah, and we acknowledge that this is the ancestral territory of many Native American tribes.

Can we have a round of applause for Meadowlark Elementary for being so generous and hosting us at their beautiful new school tonight?

Meadowlark students are an impressive bunch. 69 percent are English language learners. 70% are kids of color. In total, Meadowlark students speak 23 languages.

They are the future of our city, a city that’s growing and changing. A city that looks different today than when we were children, and which will surely look different when Meadowlark’s students are looking back on their childhood years from now.

It is our mandate as a city to build today a foundation to help them thrive as they evolve into the leaders of tomorrow.

The great people working for our city do their jobs because they love this place. And in 2019 we accomplished great things. We saw companies invest more than $50 million into our City and support the growth of nearly 1,500 new jobs. Four housing developments broke ground utilizing Salt Lake City RDA funding and programs. The City also deployed its first loan for an affordable housing development in a HUD-designated area of High Opportunity. We doubled the number of road lanes we repaired. We opened two Homeless Resource Centers to assist 160 men and 240 women. We enhanced our transportation capabilities with our new circulator busses, part of the Frequent Transit Network. We did a lot.

But I’m not here to look back. I’m here to tell you that we’re ready to kick things into high gear.

From the moment I won the election as Mayor of this city, and every day since, I have woken up excited to get to work.

It’s an excitement that comes from knowing our collective potential and feeling the willingness of our community to get innovative and do the work of taking Salt Lake City forward, together.

Together we’ve finalized our short- and long-term plans and tonight I’m excited to share with you some of what the future of Salt Lake City looks like.

It’s green. It has to be. We have a global responsibility to address the factors that contribute to climate change from every possible angle, now.

We have only ten years to make massive changes to our carbon emissions, in order to sustain only moderate impacts of global climate change. We have to do everything we can while we still have the ability to make an impact.

Our path forward lies in reducing and improving emission sources that already exist, ensuring the growth that we know is coming is green, and partnering with communities and our residents to enhance our environmental actions, together.

By my 100th day in office, April 16th, Salt Lake City will re-establish and enforce a City policy that every operational decision we make is viewed through the lens of sustainability. Every fleet vehicle we purchase, every HVAC system we update, every memo we print will adhere to new standards and a new way of thinking for this city. And by this time next year, our city will have completed a substantive review of our regulations and policies for sustainable practices. We’ll be examining and updating our ordinances to ensure they meet our sustainability goals and developing a sustainability plan that includes goals for each department, mechanisms for accountability and oversight to ensure those goals are met.

We are going after our carbon output in a big way, and we’ll also be investing in carbon drawdown efforts through preserving natural spaces, planting more trees, and exploring carbon sequestration practices on vacant city land or through sustainable infrastructure projects.

Our city’s continued growth and economic development hinges on our willingness to make the environment our priority, to show that our residents’ ability to breathe clean air is a right we will defend with our actions and our investments. To protect the people who live in our city, and to ensure our city’s ability to progress and thrive, I am prepared to take bold action.

To start, any development that the city has a hand in should match our environmental priorities. To ensure that, this year we will draft an ordinance to send to the City Council requiring any new building funded with City money to be all-electric and emission-free by 2023.

We will also bring to the Council a policy requiring all new construction to be solar- and electric-vehicle-ready. If you want to build in Salt Lake City and you want our help in doing so, you must be an active participant in our work to address climate change.

I’m also pushing hard to transition our city’s electricity to 100%-net renewable as soon as possible. Our Sustainability Department has been hard at work to meet an aggressive timeline and is leading out on behalf of our residents and cities across the state that have enlisted in the Community Renewable Energy Act, passed during last year’s legislative session. We are leading a multi-year effort to create the program for cities that want 100%-net renewable energy like we do, so that we can help to reduce carbon emissions across the state.

We know Salt Lake City’s air doesn’t exist in a bubble. That’s why it’s so important we work with every city in the state that wants clean air and renewable energy for all.

When we talk about Salt Lake City’s future as a place that’s making tangible environmental progress in the face of a global climate crisis, we cannot shy away from frank and honest dialogue around the Inland Port and its potential to negate our good work.

The port is coming, and it is a reality that future generations of Salt Lake City residents will live with… long after you and I are gone. That’s why it is imperative that we are ambitious, direct and diligent in working to ensure we get the best possible outcome for Salt Lake City, and that those outcomes are assured to us in perpetuity.

We negotiated vast improvements to the Inland Port statute through HB 347 that is now working its way through this legislative session. Should this bill pass, the removal of the Inland Port Authority’s potential to override our city’s land-use decisions will close a massive loophole that has been a major environmental threat. The return of 25% of future tax increment is another big win that gives me confidence that you and I as current taxpayers will not have to shoulder the costs of city services in the Inland Port Authority’s 16,000 acres in our city. These are big improvements, not only for Salt Lake City, but also the other 248 cities and towns throughout Utah that could be impacted by this statute.

But there are still environmental assurances we must have in order for the development of this port to be acceptable. There will likely be legislative changes to the Inland Port state statute every year, for decades to come. Though the statute before the legislature today is far better than what they began with in 2018, we can’t have great confidence in a statute that can be amended every legislative session. That’s why I have and will continue to pursue assurances through a contract that could guarantee Inland Port development is perpetually leading edge with social and environmental goals.

We have some of the worst air quality in the nation and our Westside neighborhoods already shoulder a bigger burden of pollution than any other part of our city. An Inland Port in this city must be carbon neutral, it must not be a burden on the community it resides in and it must be the cleanest inland port ever built in the world. How the Inland Port happens is the work we must be engaged in. I am optimistically committed to this work and ask you, Salt Lake City, to help us define the way to achieve the cleanest port in the world. We can’t afford anything less.

Our work toward a clean environment is not done in a vacuum and as we ask our residents to come together to make a meaningful impact on this issue, we have to create support networks for their environmental stewardship. It should be easier for the people of our city to buy fresh produce, and then compost what remains. To recycle, knowing that waste makes it into the right place after it goes in the blue bin. To get on a bus or TRAX and reach their destination in a timely manner. To enjoy all the benefits that come with the shade of a tree or close proximity to a green, open space.

To guarantee these things, we have to think outside the box, try new ways of being commuters, consumers, even citizens. It’s in the moments when we start with a small step and allow that vulnerability, that we are able to impact the tides we are trying to turn.

There are opportunities ahead of us to do the right thing environmentally, strengthen our economy and have the outcomes raise the quality of life for everyone in Salt Lake City.

I like to joke that we get 1,000 good ideas a day in city hall, but it’s nearly true! There are so many good ideas coming our way. One of those came during my campaign when the Biggest University of Utah fan and my friend from the Utah League of Cities and Towns, Cameron Diehl, said he had an idea.

You see, as downtown residents, Cameron, his wife and his young daughter take Trax to every U of U football game they attend. And they love it. They don’t have to worry about parking, the train system is speedy, but the best thing is that transit to the game is free.

And so, we thought, why not make that opportunity available for all our major events in our city… make every ticket a transit pass?

I made a promise when I campaigned that I would convene a group of stakeholders during my first 100 days in office to try to get this idea off the ground. But sometimes an idea is so right that it happens faster and easier than anyone could have guessed.

Tonight, I am excited to tell you that Tickets for Transit is coming.

Beginning April 4th, every ticket for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 190th annual General Conference will also be a ticket for public transportation.

We’re in final negotiations and both sides are committed to ensuring that over 100,000 people will have the opportunity to ditch a car, save the rideshare fare, and make their way to Temple Square on UTA.

It’s just the beginning. Last Thursday our team met with an incredible group with representation from UTA, The Church, Salt Lake County, the Larry H Miller Group, The Utah State Fairpark and the University of Utah to talk about what comes next and we are happy to report that every person in that room is excited about and interested in learning more about the logistics of this program, that will help us make the dramatic shift we need to move people out of cars and onto public transit.

This is about our air quality, but it’s also about quality of life and our economy. We are growing in every way, and great cities around the world grow public transportation with a growing population.

We can’t stop there with public transit. With a population expected to double in the next 30 years, and a system of roads that will be unable to accommodate those numbers, now is the time to prepare our city with a robust transit system that can carry the population of the future where they need to go.

Tonight, I am pleased to tell you that this April, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Salt Lake City will kick off our 1,000 Trees initiative.

Each year Salt Lake City’s Urban Forestry department plants about 1,000 trees throughout our city. But it works out to be merely a maintenance effort that only stems the loss of nearly 1,000 trees each year across our city. Until this year, we’ve only been breaking even –at best–on our urban forest.

With 1,000 additional trees each year, we’ll be growing our urban forest for the first time in too many years. And by planting these additional trees in our city’s Westside communities, we’re not only taking aim at improving the environment – although that will be a great outcome of this work – we’re addressing a geographic inequity that’s been allowed to exist in one portion of our city for far too long.

For our residents who live here, in this beautiful, friendly and diverse area of our city, these trees might mean beautification, or a lower cooling bill during our hot summer months. They may mean a shady place to have a family outing, or perhaps a higher property value. But they will also surely mean a narrowing of an existing — and now acknowledged and addressed gap — between the places we live and how our neighborhoods look.

I want this to be a community building project – come help us plant a tree this year and connect with our community. We’ve had a huge spectrum of people and partners who are inspired by this initiative — from corporate partners like the Ivory Foundation to individuals like the formerly incarcerated man who now owns his own business in the city, or the University of Utah college professor and lifelong Rose Park resident, or the new mom I met during my library office hours, who all want to give back.

Please stay tuned. We’ll have more information on how you can help in the weeks to come.

About those thousand trees we lose each year, which account for 2.5 million pounds of wood that ends up in our landfill, well, we’re going to do something new and exciting with that too. Very soon I’ll be proposing an urban wood re-utilization program with the City Forestry Division that will not only divert waste from our landfill, but put that walnut, oak, burls and other beautiful wood into the hands of people who can use it, like artists and carpenters in our city. This wood re-utilization program, bookended by our new program to grow our urban forest, will make our city’s forestry program a 360-degree enterprise, growing trees from seed, planting, caring for and, ultimately, re-utilizing the wood at the end of a tree’s life cycle. This holistic approach is illustrative of how our city aims to approach all the work we do.

Today our city is growing, and not just trees. We are on the precipice of incredible change and progress. But this growth isn’t just going to happen “to us.” This is growth that we are going to shape, that we are going to drive, and that we are going to use to create a thriving quality of life and economy in our city for generations to come.

We have the unique opportunity right now to harness growth for our good, and we’re going to start by dedicating government resources to ensuring that our growth benefits everyone in Salt Lake City.

This work starts with our city’s ability to efficiently handle development, so in the coming months, we will create a strategy for restructuring our internal departments and processes so we can eliminate barriers, streamline decision-making, and break down silos.

One shift we’re ready to make now is putting our Economic Development Department in control of the Economic Development Loan Fund (instead of Housing and Neighborhood Development) so that we can increase our efficiency in investing city dollars into smart business development. Pending Council approval, the economic development department will also expand to include a new Tech Officer position, tasked with coordinating and driving development and redevelopment strategy with tech nodes.

Through our work to build Tech Lake City, we are working to define a biotech corridor that runs along 300 W from about the Warm Springs to The Gateway. There is already incredible biotech work happening in the area, largely unrecognized, but by designating an intentional space within our city we can achieve our vision of supporting a local industry that helps grow our economy, creates excellent opportunities for our workforce, and cultivates the creative energy and advancements necessary to produce modern medical solutions for an evolving landscape of needs. We find ourselves today grappling as a country with the realities of new diseases that we don’t yet have answers for.

By carving out a space for bio tech and creating lab space within our city where life science startups and businesses can grow, Salt Lake City and our partners will be prepared so that as our worldwide medical needs continue to transform, we are growing solutions right alongside.

Our focus on growing Tech Lake City will not stop at corridors. This industry, as its impact and workforce grow every year, will become a foundational component of Salt Lake City’s broad economy and culture.
Our growth as a city will continue as we creatively invest in and enhance some of Salt Lake City’s most storied focal points.

Utah’s Capital City has forged a historic bond with our national pastime, and we are fortunate to have a beautiful ballpark embedded within one of our historic neighborhoods.

Smith’s Ballpark is both a busy regional sports facility, and the keystone for our Ballpark Community. Did you know Salt Lakers have been playing ball on the Ballpark grounds for over 100 years?

Through a thoughtful approach that will involve partnerships and community collaboration, our City will invest in a Ballpark District that, once complete, will feature vibrant and positively engaging additions to the neighborhood while implementing perpetual care for the Ballpark itself.

Not far from the Ballpark sits the Fleet Block, between 8th and 9th South and 3rd and 4th West. For too many years and too many mayoral administrations our city’s Fleet Block has sat vacant and blighted. We are done waiting to develop and invest in this nearly 9-acre asset.

We have a unique opportunity in our hands – the entire Granary neighborhood so close to downtown, ready to be reimagined. Thanks to an Opportunity Zone, overlay Investors around the world have noticed this… and there are hundreds of millions of dollars in capital flowing into the Granary District as a whole.

This area is about to blast off and Salt Lake City has the opportunity to preserve and define its character and set an intention of creativity and innovation for the entire district. We will put a stake in the ground at the Fleet Block for the Granary District, and in doing so we’re creating a bridge between downtown’s core, and its soon-to-be companion as an epicenter for culture, art, food and innovation in our city.

We’re already in the process of collaborating with our design team on this exciting project, so stay tuned because the reimagined Fleet Block is coming.

As we look at and invest in our growth opportunities, so must we invest in protecting our ability to grow. As strong as our economy has been over the years, we know, even today, how fragile things can become due to unforeseen circumstances. Salt Lake City’s financial house is in order, and we will be prepared for an economic downturn. We want our employees and our residents to feel confident that our city will remain resilient through hard times. We have already begun an internal risk assessment to plan for the inevitable and ensure that Salt Lake City continues to thrive, come rain or shine.

Times of incredible growth and bustling economy as we have today can make it easy to overlook areas of inequity. But our city cannot thrive when many of us struggle.

In no place are these struggles more visible in Salt Lake City than in our shortage of affordable housing and in our population of people experiencing homelessness.

We have made considerable progress on affordable housing projects over the course of the last year with the addition of 751 affordable units, but it isn’t enough. The demand for housing that is affordable for individuals and families at all income levels is greater than our current pace and it’s time to approach this problem with even more focus and creativity.

Paying for a roof over your head should not mean that you cannot put food on your table or afford to see a doctor. Having a home should not come at the sacrifice of life’s other essential needs. Over the course of this next year, Salt Lake City will add more than 2100 housing units that are affordable to people at less than 100% of the area median income.

Before the summer begins, Salt Lake City will consider changes to our zoning that will further support the construction of affordable housing, including modifications to the shared housing (or Single Room Occupancy) ordinance, and an affordable housing overlay zone. We will also begin modifying density requirements and adding density bonuses for preserving our existing housing supply. Our city is invested in moving forward in the creation of diverse housing types. We will identify new ways of partnering to incorporate housing into development that also includes other elements essential to living affordably and efficiently, like childcare, grocery stores, and transit stops.

Access to housing that works for every budget is crucial as we foster growth in a way that maintains diversity and the character of our established neighborhoods. To that end, we’re committing to undertake a city-wide equity plan to address systemic inequities and support opportunities for all our residents to thrive.

The availability of affordable places to live gives us more runway to continue a housing focused approach to homelessness. But while we know a Housing Focused model works and provides necessary stability to a segment of the people who experience homelessness, it doesn’t work for everyone as we still see people living unsheltered.

And that is because homelessness is not a singular issue and it can be complex. People become and stay homeless for a wide variety of reasons. The uniqueness of each person’s journey and needs has led us as a city, county, and state to create an entirely new approach to serving individuals experiencing homelessness.

This is a period of significant transition with three Homeless Resource Centers newly online and the closure and demolition of our downtown Shelter in our city’s Rio Grande neighborhood.

In my first month in office we implemented some short-term strategies to address some gaps in the system… and as a community we welcomed the Sugar House Temporary Shelter. But now is the time to focus on the long term by getting strategic about prevention, increasing our capabilities to help divert people quickly out of shelter into safe housing, and supporting those who find themselves chronically homeless with the solutions they need.

To start, we should be learning directly from people experiencing homelessness, and engaging them on the solutions they need. Their first-hand experience is key to understanding and providing adequate services to impact this dynamic issue, and we are going to create a channel for that insight. We are exploring ways to create ongoing feedback and engagement forums with these community members.

In the next year we will work on short-, medium-, and long-term plans for addressing the funding, governance, and accessibility of homeless services. We will explore the opportunity of managed, tiny-home communities–a model that is finding success in other parts of the country at creating permanent supportive housing for people who were previously experiencing chronic homelessness.

We’re also working with service providers and stakeholders on how we can better communicate to individuals experiencing homelessness about the services available to them. This need is particularly acute for the unsheltered homeless, who may not be taking advantage of services for many complex reasons.

But this work must also come with the acknowledgement that there will always be a population of people who, for various reasons, will become or remain homeless. For those that seek it, we must have a shelter available, and for those who may not engage with the current systems in place, we must work together – cities, counties, our state and our valued partners – to develop a plan that addresses the unique needs of shelter resistant individuals. Cities around the country are facing this challenge, as well. We are not alone and can learn from the creative failures and successes of other cities. And we — Salt Lake City — will leave no stone unturned as we seek our own creative solutions — from shared housing to tiny homes — that give everyone a place to call their own in a healthy and supportive community.

A growing and changing city can also mean uncertainty for people who have made Salt Lake City their lifelong homes, and who have played an important role in weaving the unique tapestry of our city’s diverse and historic neighborhoods. Being concerned about the displacement of people and businesses from neighborhoods is understandable, given what we see happening to growing cities throughout our country.

Community-engaged development is the only way forward if we want to be certain that our collective growth is inclusive and equitable. Over this next year, we will begin work on a comprehensive plan to protect our neighborhoods and local businesses from growth that threatens to displace them.

Our residents and neighborhoods will help define those efforts to strengthen historically underserved areas and will move forward in lockstep with communities to support people and cultures in the area.

Part of the character and culture of any neighborhood includes the arts. Investing in the arts pays huge dividends. It helps create a sense of place, belonging, pride, and connection to where we live. Unfortunately, art is too often seen as something that’s easy to cut — it’s seen as an extra, not as a key player. Salt Lake City will strengthen our commitment to public art and access to arts by exploring new ways to get art into our public spaces, from alleyways, overpasses and underpasses, to park strips. We’re refreshing our business and cultural districts with the goal of celebrating the cohesive and iconic places in our City. And we’ll also be launching a city rebranding effort this year, and the arts will play a starring role.

I want to close tonight by emphasizing a critical issue I’ve touched on that we need to face together as a community, which is equity, inclusion and belonging in our City.

As I was preparing in November and December to take office, I was fortunate to have some of the most highly skilled community leaders advise me on the issues of Geographic Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.

In their report they said that we, “have an opportunity to change the practice of engagement with underserved communities from the beginning and set a tone for being honest and accessible, even when there are painful but needed areas for improvement and growth.”

Salt Lake City, we are ready to do the daily work of facing what is unjust and inequitable.

As mayor, I am committed to making City departments and divisions that are more equitable and inclusive. This will not be a single, stroke-of-the-pen effort or we would have done it already. My administration, on the advice of the transition committee, has already begun work to strengthen the City’s Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission and the City’s Disability Advisory Council must be able to help us ensure that every operational decision is underpinned by equity and inclusiveness.

As the capital city of a state that ranks last in equity for women, we will conduct a comprehensive assessment and refresh of HR practices to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in hiring, retention, and compensation. And, we’ll be investing in the development of a citywide Equity Plan so that as we are making policy, programmatic, and financial decisions, we are taking into account how those decisions impact all people in our city.

Making a place for diverse perspectives in positions of influence is essential to ensuring new policies are inclusive of the needs of all populations and help to shape an equitable and inclusive city where all individuals can feel welcome, respected, supported, and safe.

Being able to wholly support the diverse needs of Salt Lake City’s residents is at the forefront of my mind, and we’re taking steps now to improve the ways in which historically marginalized communities interact with City Hall.

I have already requested that my administration ensure that we have comprehensive Spanish-speaking and translation resources in place to support residents needs and business development during every stage of the process. And as we look to the future, we’re working on shifting our city’s budgeting process to a participatory system, which would allow all residents to give feedback on where you want us to spend and balance your taxpayer dollars. This will help establish a more inclusive and accessible budget process to gather feedback from all city residents by engaging them where and how they feel most comfortable.

We will get where we want by being transparent, open to change, and doing the work each day, together.

There is so much to be proud of in Salt Lake City. Our city is an incredible place full of diversity, creativity, innovation and a true passion for the place we call home.

The best thing about being the mayor of Salt Lake City is how closely I get to work with the people I serve. I get to be on the ground, working in our communities, side by side with the people I do this work for.

And when I’m out there, there’s an energy that I feel from our neighbors.

It’s pride for the progress we’ve made and the great things we’ve done together.

But it’s also an enthusiasm for everything that lies ahead of us.

We’re going to keep growing, keep welcoming new people into our neighborhoods and lives. New buildings will color our skyline. New services will help people progress. Businesses will open their doors in our city and people will thrive in new employment. Together we will make progress on the air we breathe and the environment we all want to protect. Together, we’ll take steps today that guarantee our city is ready for the next generation to succeed.

I’m ready for us to do this work together.

Thank you.

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