What’s the Plan? A Q&A With SLC Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Candidate Rocky Anderson

This salt lake city Mayoral Election strikes a contrast to the election four years ago, but the issues that are on the top of voters’ minds are a return to many of the persistent, pre-pandemic concerns. This is the first SLC mayoral race to be decided by Ranked Choice Voting, and there’s no mad scramble to fill the void left behind by an incumbent stepping down, as former Mayor Biskupski did in 2019. Among SLC voters’ choices for their next mayor are the incumbent, current mayor and a former one; Mayor Erin Mendenhall seeks reelection after taking office in 2020, along with former SLC Mayor Rocky Anderson who first took office 20 years before Mendenhall. Priorities for the candidates include addressing homelessness, affordable housing, crime, air quality and the water crisis impacting the Great Salt Lake…But the devil is in the details, and how each candidate plans to address those issues could be the deciding factor. So, we ask the candidates, “What’s the plan?”

Editor’s note: Publication deadline preceded final filing deadline. Attempts to contact SLC mayoral candidate Michael Valentine before deadline failed

What are your top Priorities After Getting Elected/Reelected?

Mendenhall: My top priority would remain to address homelessness by continuing our record investments in affordable housing, building more permanent supportive housing beyond the 500 additional units currently in the pipeline, developing additional new ways to get support to people who are unsheltered, and addressing the impacts of homelessness on the businesses and other residents affected by it. I will also continue our aggressive strategy to improve our air quality, build on our commitments to conserve water and help save the Great Salt Lake, continue our work reducing crime and improve our roads while making them safer, always while protecting and expanding the city’s rebuilt partnerships.

Anderson: My top priorities are (1) for SLC to, once again, significantly eliminate chronic homelessness; (2) eliminate homeless encampments by providing sanctioned camps and housing; (3) never leaving anyone without adequate shelter; (4) make SLC friendly and clean, ensuring residents and workers are safe and can thrive here; (5) making city government more responsive to the interests of residents and businesses; (6) providing world-class affordable, mixed-income, non-market housing; (7) reducing crime and providing responsive policing; (8) restoring our city’s reputation as a major climate protection leader; (9) working collaboratively to ensure the Great Salt Lake’s sustainability; and (10) significantly improving air quality.

What’s the plan to Support local businesses?

Mendenhall: Local businesses are the heart and soul of SLC. While traditionally the city’s economic development staff has prioritized attracting new businesses to the city, I shifted its focus to supporting the city’s 17,000 existing businesses. We’re going to build on the hard work of our first term to develop a sports and entertainment district downtown, and we’re setting up an “innovation district” for the city’s burgeoning biotech and fintech sector. I will grow our new small business financing program, more than half of whose beneficiaries so far have been women. I’m also excited to implement the North Temple Area Revitalization Plan and make more city-owned property available for retail and commercial use.

Anderson: I will (1) change the culture in permitting and licensing so the city works expeditiously and helpfully with local businesses and residents, instead of being an obstacle and cause of unnecessary, expensive delay; (2) eliminate homeless encampments; (3) allow police officers to “serve and protect” by enforcing laws and implement criminal justice programs focused on problem-solving; (4) ensure faster police response times; (5) restore free parking during the holidays; (6) provide fair, transparent processes for RDA loans or subsidies; (7) revive e2 Business program and promote participating businesses; and (8) provide grants or other financial assistance to businesses harmed by city malfeasance.

Whats the plan to address the need for more affordable housing?

Mendenhall: My administration has already increased the number of affordable housing units invested in by the city each year by 413 percent, investing $55 million so far to create 4,000 units—far more than every other mayor in the city’s history combined. We have also helped opened 240 units of permanent supportive housing for unsheltered residents with 500 more in the pipeline, and have partnered on a tiny home community. We need more housing of all types, but it’s just as important that we ensure more of our residents can stay in their existing homes. I’ve begun implementing a 22-point anti-gentrification plan to ensure the people who have made Salt Lake City such a special place can continue to live here and be a part of its incredible future. 

Anderson: I will, in collaboration with the City Council, (1) expand the areas where housing is permitted; (2) require that anyone displaced by any development will be provided equivalent affordable housing; (3) require that developers must increase the amount of affordable housing eliminated by any development; (4) provide non-financial incentives for housing developers to provide permanently affordable units; (5) expand housing funding significantly, utilizing it for the provision of thousands of units of affordable, mixed-income, non-market housing that incorporates world-class architecture and surrounding open spaces, thereby vastly improving SLC’s built environment and quality of life. 

What’s the plan to provide resources/housing to people experiencing homelessness?

Mendenhall: There is no issue on which I spend more time than homelessness, trying to meet the immediate needs of unsheltered individuals, support impacted housed residents and businesses, and reform the city and state’s long-term approach. Salt Lake City cannot and should not do this work alone and because of our new approach, the state and other cities are stepping up like never before. We’ve also deployed more Downtown Ambassadors, hired uniformed civilian Park Rangers, and sent teams to encampments to offer services. I support the state’s plan for a sanctioned encampment and am working to help make it happen.

Anderson: I will (1) ensure adequate winter shelter for unsheltered homeless people; (2) provide a temporary sanctioned camp remote from neighborhoods, with toilets, showers, security, laundry, food, and case management services for unsheltered people; (3) set and implement far more aggressive goals for the housing of homeless people and focus on employment training and placement; (4) work with philanthropic and corporate sectors, the VA, churches, other non-profit organizations, and governmental entities to once again fund the provision of abundant, cost-effective, supportive permanent housing; (5) provide professional, competent outreach and case management to facilitate the expeditious transition to treatment, permanent housing, and employment.

What’s the plan to improve community policing?

Mendenhall: While any crime is too much crime, by mid-2023, the overall crime rate in Salt Lake City was at its lowest point in seven years. In addition to reversing the attrition of sworn officers, constantly adapting policing strategies, and partnering with federal law enforcement, I enacted unprecedented reforms to reduce the use of force and make the city safer for civilians and officers. In 2020, we created a commission on racial equity in policing to make additional recommendations, which have helped modernize our use-of-force and body-camera policies, community-based training for officers, and utilize more trained civilians and social workers to free up officers to respond to emergency calls.

Anderson: I will (1) have many officers on foot, becoming acquainted with people and establishing constructive relationships; (2) provide job descriptions and a code of conduct, legally binding officers and the city to serve and protect, with full legal accountability; (3) restore the credibility of the SLCPD discipline process through reforms of the Civilian Review Board and insist on more efficient, fair discipline investigations (one claim of abuse has now been under investigation for over 3 years); (4) ensure that first-responders utilize their training and help those who are in need (instead of “supporting” officers who don’t provide aid to a person dying of injuries). 

What’s the plan to increase access to open spaces, city parks, trails, etc?

Mendenhall: As our city grows more dense with new residents, our access to open spaces and quality parks is becoming more important than ever. We bought the “Hobbitville” property and are turning it into Allen Park. Voters also overwhelmingly approved my plan for the largest single investment in our city’s parks and green spaces. We’ve already begun building the awesome new 17-acre Glendale Regional Park, are re-imagining seven neighborhood parks, making significant improvements along the Jordan River,  replacing the playground at Liberty Park, adding 11 pickleball courts, completing the Folsom Trail, and more. 

Anderson: I will (1) provide transparent, collaborative processes for the maintenance and development of hiking and mountain biking trails, then move forward expeditiously with the implementation of a final plan; (2) provide safe bathrooms, parking, and signage for what will be world-class accessible trails, open spaces, and parks; (3) expand open spaces, as I did when previously mayor (over 530 acres); (4) rid parks and other open spaces of homeless encampments and open-air drug markets by (a) providing for a sanctioned camp, adequate shelter, and more supportive, cost-effective, permanent housing and (b) enforcing the laws, with a restorative justice approach to help solve problems. 

What’s the plan to Expand sustainability programs?

Mendenhall: I was an air-quality advocate before being elected, so improving our air and protecting our environment are priorities I feel in my soul. That’s why city residents and businesses will finally receive net-100% renewable electricity by 2030 and why we’re building a solar farm to power city-owned buildings. We’ve added transit options, created Free Fare February, and partnered to provide free Hive Passes to all public school students in the city. New buildings that receive city investment must now be energy-efficient and emission-free, and we’re creating a one-stop program to help residents afford clean electric tech. We’ve also doubled the number of new trees planted each year and will continue expanding our canopy. 

Anderson: I will (1) restore the e2 (environmentally and economically sustainable) programs to reduce environmental impacts; (2) restore and expand the City’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction programs that, under my leadership, led to unprecedented reductions in GHG emissions and the EPA’s Climate Protection Award; (3) restore SLC’s system of quantifying GHG reductions and again make SLC one of the nation’s greenest cities; (4) revive Sundance Summit, bringing mayors from throughout the nation to learn best sustainability practices; (5) broaden free EV charging stations availability; (6) aggressively push for solutions to Great Salt Lake threats; (7) explore legal action against polluters putting SLC residents at risk.  

What are the best ways for Salt Lake City Residents to get more actively involved in their communities?

Mendenhall: Salt Lake City government has a host of boards and commissions that only work when residents participate. We need your perspective, your expertise, and your energy for moving our city forward. Please go to slc.gov to learn more. I host regular “office hours” for residents to share the issues on their minds, and my community engagement team regularly hosts “office hours” around the city to make it even easier for residents to be heard. Residents can also get involved in their community councils and participate in city council meetings. We want your input! 

Anderson: Community Council participation is an excellent way to become informed about what’s happening. Participation in city commissions and on city and non-profit boards is a powerful means for people to make a difference. As mayor, I sought as much input as possible from people of all points of view. Informed advocacy is a powerful tool for effecting change, especially if people are organized together to push elected and other governmental officials to bring about change. When elected officials want change, they need the support of people in the community.

Finally, whats is the most important thing for Salt Lake City voters to know about you?

Mendenhall: I am more committed to policy results than political fights. When I ran for mayor in 2019, I promised to change the tone of our city government and rebuild the burned bridges of our past. Anger is not a strategy and we don’t have to go it alone. We’ve been through a historic set of challenges—earthquakes, an inland hurricane, months of protests, the pandemic, the statewide homelessness crisis, and the nationwide surge in crime—and those crises 

Anderson: I am passionate about, and capable of, making SLC a far more livable place, as it was when I was mayor. I will pursue compassionate, evidence-based solutions, helping homeless people transition to better lives, end the heartache experienced by businesses as a result of the lawlessness caused by the Mayor’s leadership failures, and improve the quality of life for all. I’ll make certain everyone can safely use our parks. I’ll fix our roads and maintain our parks, as my administration did for 8 years. I can and will restore SLC’s reputation as one of the greenest cities, provide international leadership on climate protection, and clean up our city. 

Ranked Choice Voting

SLC’s Mayoral Election will be decided purely by Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). The SLC City Council voted to use RCV without a primary election back in March of this year, taking advantage of a thus-far successful RSV pilot program utilized for municipal elections scattered across the state.

How does it work? The RCV system allows voters to cast their vogtes on their ballot for their preferred candidates as well as backup choices, ranking them accordingly. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, they are declared the winer. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority.

See more stories like this and all of our culture and community coverage. And while you’re here, why not subscribe and get six annual issues of Salt Lake magazine’s curated guide to the best of life in Utah. 

Christie Porter
Christie Porterhttps://christieporter.com/
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

Similar Articles

Most Popular