2023 SLC mayoral voter guide: What to know about Anderson, Mendenhall and Valentine
Salt Lake City voters will rank their choices for mayor when they cast their ballot on Nov. 21. The three candidates include incumbent Mayor Erin Mendenhall, who as the full endorsement of the current city council, ex-Mayor Rocky Anderson, who served the city for two terms between 2000-2008, and Michael Valentine, an independent/activist challenger.
Methodology: An identical survey was sent to all three campaigns. Provided answers were fact-checked prior to the publication of this guide and we included links and/or editor’s notes on our findings. Candidates appear in alphabetical order by surname.
What’s your elevator pitch for why voters should choose you as Salt Lake City's mayor?
ANDERSON – I have proven experience, a solid record of achievement, and a driving passion to improve health, safety, and quality of life in our city. I build great teams, set goals, and achieve them. We'll be accessible and transparent.
The city will build mixed-income non-market housing, providing thousands of affordable housing units. We'll expand open spaces.
We'll never leave unsheltered people in the winter without available shelter. We will create far more supportive permanent housing for homeless people, as many of us did together when I was mayor.
We will eliminate encampments in public places. We will enforce drug and other laws, diverting people from jail to treatment. We will again institute broad restorative justice programs.
The SLCPD will once again respond quickly to emergency calls and police will de-escalate encounters.
We'll implement a 24/7 childcare system. As when I was mayor before, we’ll vastly improve our streets, coordinate road construction, and improve our parks.
We will once again make SLC a major climate protection leader, aggressively take effective air quality measures, and push relentlessly to end alfalfa farming, necessary to save the Great Salt Lake.
- MENDENHALL (incumbent) — I'm a mom, an air quality advocate, and I'm running for reelection as Salt Lake City’s mayor because our work isn't finished, and we need proven leadership to see it through. Affordable housing investments are up — WAY up - and crime is down citywide. We've taken historic steps to improve our air quality and are making unprecedented investments in helping our unsheltered neighbors. We are making this progress together and I refuse to let anyone take our city backward. We're going to keep moving this city forward together.
- VALENTINE — I'm a new voice, with new ideas, for a new generation. If elected, I would be the third youngest Mayor in Salt Lake City history at 35. I'm an independent that is not part of any political party. This allows me to think beyond tribal party politics to unite the entire community beyond traditional barriers. As a formerly homeless person, I understand the most important issue in our city at a foundational, non-verbal level. I am running to make Salt Lake City one of the first major American cities to eradicate homelessness completely, to house everyone, and to show housing as a human right through compassionate action. I'm also a small business owner, a licensed real estate agent, a filmmaker, and a student at the University of Utah. I'm the real choice for those wanting to move beyond the failed politics of the past and actually solve the issues our people face at the root level. I'm the Mayor of the People.
Affordable housing continues to be a struggle for Salt Lake City residents. What should Salt Lake City do to address housing affordability for both renters and potential home buyers?
ANDERSON – Renters should not be constantly insecure about unaffordable rent increases. Many people are now homeless in SLC because of rental increases. Also, our city's housing--rentals and owner-occupied--has become unaffordable for most people.
Millions in public funds have been provided to profit-driven private developers, most of whom build primarily unaffordable housing. I would end the subsidies.
The city, without a profit motive and committed to providing truly affordable housing, should build thousands of units of beautiful, environmentally sustainable mixed-income non-market housing, surrounded by parks, as in many nations, including Vienna and Singapore. The housing costs in Vienna average 25% of income, while SLC rent costs, on average, 50% or more of renters’ income. Over 80% of Singaporeans own their homes, which are sold on 99-year leases.
Mixed-income non-market housing could be many stories high, where housing does not currently exist. Imagine housing for many hundreds of people between the Rio Grande depot and the intermodal hub, with surrounding open spaces. Such housing could relieve the current pressure to significantly alter the character of many existing neighborhoods.
- MENDENHALL (incumbent) — I've invested more than $55 million in affordable housing, creating more than 4,000 new units of affordable housing so far — more than every other mayor combined. I've increased the volume of affordable housing units backed by the city by 413%. I've also invested $10 million in an innovative Perpetual Housing Fund model to create at least 1,000 new units of very affordable housing and 500 resident-owned homes that will create millions in equity-like nest eggs for residents; and I've proposed a 22-step anti-displacement strategy to keep more residents in their homes — including the creation of a full-time tenant advocate at city hall.
- VALENTINE — We need a city government that works for the people, not for real estate developers and corporations. Right now, the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency is corrupt and using public property and resources to subsidize luxury apartments, instead of doing the opposite and building truly affordable housing at the bottom end of the market. By building public housing, implementing rent control, inclusionary zoning, we can drive housing prices down across the board. We also need to utilize rent/mortgage assistance programs as well as first time homebuyer grants to help with down payments and housing ownership.
What kind of housing do you believe should be expanded in Salt Lake City? How would you approach zoning regulations to address growth and housing density?
ANDERSON – Mixed-income non-market housing (housing owned or controlled by the city or a non-profit and rented or sold below market rates, with protections against rising markets) should be built in areas that will not require the elimination of current housing. Much of the area within Salt Lake City, not currently zoned for residential use, would be suitable for large mixed-income rental and co-op or owner-occupied (perhaps on a long-term lease, as in Singapore) housing.
That is where our focus on affordable housing should be, particularly with the use of any public funds. The present approach of subsidizing market housing--which is subject to ever-increasing market increases in rent and sale prices--has been a disaster, leading to a largely unaffordable city for most people. To the extent we can eliminate the profit margin in housing, we can make housing much more affordable and available for people at all income levels. We can also substantially help to protect against homelessness.
Several places in the U.S. are catching on to the tremendous advantages of non-market housing. Seattle voters recently approved an initiative requiring social housing.
MENDENHALL (incumbent) — We need more housing of ALL types, because "affordable" is different for everybody. A recent report from the Kem C. Gardner Institute reported that for every 100 Utah families that need deeply affordable housing right now, there are just three units available. I proposed a series of citywide zoning changes known commonly as the “affordable housing overlay” to make it possible to build multi-family housing types in more areas of the city. I was determined to ensure the community played a major role in this work and did something mayors don’t usually do — I pulled the proposal back to accommodate more community input and proposed a better version, backed by a stronger community consensus. My team did something very similar this summer in the Ballpark neighborhood. We’re proving that we can preserve “neighborhood character” without resorting to NIMBY attitudes by working together in good faith.
[Editor’s note: The report cited above is the Affordable Housing Database update from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute from Aug. 1, 2023. The presentation is not posted publicly online.]
- VALENTINE — Public housing and truly affordable housing. Housing at 0-30% AMI and less. 60-80% AMI the city has been building is not affordable and is an insult to the public. We also need rent control and inclusionary zoning that enforces affordable housing and I would push against the state if needed. Zoning is important and needs to be utilized strategically so we are building the best city of our dreams. Density is vital, especially downtown where I live and work, radiating out into other neighborhoods. I support higher density along the TRAX lines and where it makes sense. But we need a balance and building doesn't take precedent over the rest of our city's culture and character. Our city's historic buildings and neighborhoods must be protected so we don't lose our soul. Salt Lake's Community Preservation Plan adopted in 2012 must remain a central guiding document for all city departments. We can keep our character and build strategically too. Win-Win.
What investments should Salt Lake City make to help people get out of, and stay out of homelessness?
ANDERSON – We should join with other governmental entities, the business community, and philanthropists in committing to significant joint investments in supportive permanent housing, with the goal of eliminating chronic homelessness within four years. The timid 2-year goal, signed by the current mayor, is a reduction of only 5% of the unsheltered population.
[Editor’s note: The statewide strategic plan to address homelessness set this goal. “By 2025, the state of Utah will decrease the population of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness by 5% as demonstrated by aggregated state-level Point-in-Time Count data,” the plan reads.]
During my prior term as mayor, many of us, together, were on track to eliminate chronic homelessness, becoming what national analysts said was an example for what other cities and states should consider. Tragically, there was an end to creation of permanent housing from approximately 2010 until 2019. Then, an incredibly expensive new construction housing facility, the Magnolia, was built, badly undermining quality of life in the neighborhood.
[Editor’s note: Utah set the goal to eliminate chronic homelessness in 2005. The state earned accolades in 2015 for drastically reducing chronic homelessness, but the picture was far more complicated than the headlines.]
We should commit to more purchases and renovations of old hotels, following the cost-effective model of The Point, which now houses about 200 people in two former hotels on North Temple, around 2300 West.
We should implement rental assistance programs to help keep people in their current housing and coordinate with jails, prisons, and hospitals to make certain no one is released to homelessness.
MENDENHALL (incumbent) — Everyone deserves a safe place to sleep at night. Homelessness is incredibly complex and so is the city’s strategy. It operates on six tracks: 1. building a lot more housing of all types; 2. bringing support services to the unsheltered; 3. persuading the state and other cities to do their fair share; 4. supporting the housed residents and businesses affected by homelessness; 5. protecting tenants and helping more people stay in their homes; and 6. reforming how we deal with criminal activities of the unsheltered.
We've opened hundreds of new supportive housing units. Plus the tiny home community, which could reach 400 units if fully built. The sanctioned camp will add climate-controlled pods for 50 more this winter.
[Editor’s note: One of the city and state projects focused on deeply affordable and permanent supportive housing, Ville 1659, has collapsed, per The Salt Lake Tribune.]
Is that enough? Of course not. But for the first time in decades the city, state and county are working together and making more housing and shelter beds than ever before.
We are building those solutions sustainably, which means doing it with partners, leveraging our money and our passion for these solutions farther than we ever could on our own. This is what every Salt Laker deserves.
- VALENTINE — We need to learn from other cities around the world that have been successful moving beyond a failed shelter model of homelessness and put folks directly into housing. We invest in housing directly by cutting out the middleman of real estate developers and building housing as a community. Studies have repeatedly shown this is cheaper to do, is a long-term solution, and is more compassionate for both the homeless and the community. As a formerly homeless person myself, the unsheltered community must be respected, listened to, and given the dignity to lead themselves out of homelessness. People can't move beyond pain and trauma without first having the safety, security, and the foundational care of housing first. From there, they can begin to get help with other issues such as mental health treatment, PTSD, drug use, and trauma. I released a homeless/housing plan in February that is a roadmap of how we can end homelessness in Salt Lake City and house everyone.
Do you support the creation of legal homeless camps? Does Salt Lake City’s current plan go far enough to help the city’s unhoused population?
ANDERSON – Homeless encampments in our parks, neighborhoods, and elsewhere throughout our city have horribly undermined the quality of life for residents and businesses, and continue the cruel treatment of unsheltered people. Everyone is suffering under the status quo. The encampments are a sign of the failure of leadership regarding our homelessness and affordability crises during the past four years.
We must provide an alternative place for unsheltered people to exist. The current mayor has no plan to eliminate encampments. The costly, traumatizing police raids and confiscations of property belonging to homeless people, that simply move encampments from one place to another, continue in lieu of an effective, coherent plan by our current mayor.
I vigorously favor a sanctioned camp, remote from neighborhoods and businesses (at the closed Wingpointe Golf Course, for instance), where unsheltered people will have showers, decent bathrooms, property lockers, meals, and case management workers to help them transition to treatment, jobs, and/or housing. This is an evidence-based approach, the opposite of the chaos of the past four years under the current administration.
- MENDENHALL (incumbent) — I support the creation of outdoor homeless resource centers that are state-led and operated like the region's other homeless resource centers. Sanctioned camps should be transitional, not permanent housing. Our current plan does not go far enough to help the city's unhoused population - of course not - but we're doing the best to leverage the limited resources we have to make a bigger impact. That's why it's so important to work with our partners and not pretend like we can solve the statewide crisis on our own. We've already opened 434 units of supportive housing for the unsheltered in my term and have 300 more units in the pipeline, plus as many as 400 units in the tiny home community.
VALENTINE — Yes, absolutely, but more importantly, I support the immediate ban of barbaric homeless abatements being conducted almost daily by Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. These homeless abatements happen when the cops forcefully remove people from public spaces they have a constitutional right to be in. Cops have been seen cutting homeless tents, throwing belongings away, harassing individuals, and inflicting violence and trauma on our most vulnerable people just trying to survive. These abatements are inhuman, violate international human rights standards, and unconscionable. They need to end immediately and it's a dark day on our city that they have been happening for the last four years being funded by public tax dollars.
No, the city's current plan doesn't go far enough. It is a political stunt by a desperate Mayor doing everything she can to get reelected after she has spent her entire administration attacking the homeless and the community trying to support them. Instead of putting $1.5 million for six months of homeless pods for 50 people, we'd be better off just giving these people rent assistance which would cover 18 months of rent for them in permanent housing.
What are your plans as mayor to ensure lower crime rates and help Salt Lakers feel safe?
ANDERSON – Police often do not show up at all following a 911 call, or they arrive far too late. When they do finally show up, they often explain to local business owners or residents that they've been told by the mayor not to do anything other than tell the offenders to just move on. Incredibly, drug laws are not being enforced. That's why crime figures are so much lower.
I will make certain that police respond to Priority 1 calls within 6 minutes or less, as they did when I was mayor. We will end the present sense of impunity so many have -- thinking they can do whatever they want, including the conspicuous use and sale of dangerous drugs, without enforcement of the laws. We will re-institute and expand the problem-solving restorative justice programs I implemented when I was mayor, and, after arrests for such things as drug offenses, divert people from jail to treatment.
Police will no longer be assigned to the almost constant police raids on homeless encampments, since encampments will be eliminated. (See above.) Our police leadership will be changed so that police can do their jobs and everyone in our community will be confident they are there to truly serve and protect everyone.
- MENDENHALL (incumbent) — Total crime citywide is at its lowest point in years — on the Westside it’s down 30 percent — and police response is down significantly, but public safety is about more than numbers. I understand that not everyone feels safe in our city and I won’t stop working until they do. We’ve partnered with federal law enforcement to take more than 310 violent repeat criminals off our streets and seized more than 350 guns, 63 kilos of meth, 11 kilos of heroin, and 7 kilos of cocaine. We opened a police substation at Smith’s Ballpark and are building police substations on North Temple and on Main Street to further lower police response times. I worked aggressively to reverse the loss of sworn officers to retirement and lateral transfer by boosting officers’ pay to the top of the local market and we’ve begun hiring and training civilians to respond to non-emergency calls — like traffic incidents and administrative matters — that don’t require a sworn officer, freeing up officers to respond to and prevent criminal activity. Salt Lake City’s police officers and firefighters have endorsed me for re-election because they know I’m the candidate best able to make our city safer.
- VALENTINE — Crime is a socio-economic issue. Police don't lower crime rates, they don't prevent crime, and they very rarely solve crimes. This question is also rooted in systemic racism as it ignores white collar crime that is even more dangerous and insidious than petty crimes as these crimes erode our democratic institutions. If we really want to make substantial positive changes to crime, we must invest substantially into our people, our community, our neighborhoods to support them and increase their quality of life across the board so the desperations of crime never meet them. I am running to defund the police, which means reallocating the over bloated police budgets back to community resources in the form of public investments. Rental/mortgage assistance, building housing as a community, increased minimum wage, universal basic income pilot programs, education, healthcare, childcare, etc. People commit crime out of desperation. By providing for people’s basic needs, we eliminate desperation. We eliminate crime. Investing in our people is always the best solution to protect our community.
If it were only up to you, how would you reimagine Smith’s Ballpark and the surrounding neighborhood after the Salt Lake Bees leave?
ANDERSON – If I could be assured it could happen (and I believe that, with the right leadership, it could), I would aggressively recruit another AAA baseball team to continue the approximately 150 year legacy of professional baseball in SLC. Regardless of whether a professional men's baseball team could be brought to SLC, I would favor utilizing the Ballpark for women's sports as well, which has long been neglected. We could be a model for the rest of the nation in providing a world-class ballpark and stadium for women's sports. I'd also like to utilize the Ballpark for arts events, music concerts, and other community-building events, affordable to everyone.
I favor transforming the parking lot to the north of the Smith's Ballpark for an architecturally outstanding mixed-use development that would include mixed-income non-market affordable housing for people of all income levels, as well as public gathering spaces, including a sort of town square, where people of all sorts, including families and singles, could mingle, have a drink, and enjoy music and other entertainment--as in town squares throughout much of the rest of the world, including almost every major town in Latin America.
- MENDENHALL (incumbent) — I love that stadium and while the Bees only open it 70 days a year, it should be an exciting hub of economic and community activity 365 days a year. That’s what I want to see most there. We launched the Ballpark NEXT project because I want to be sure the community is involved in the re-imagination of that property and the immediate neighborhood at every step. The process has yielded some inspiring, creative ideas and I’m excited to see how it comes together.
VALENTINE — This entire deal needs to be investigated as the Bee's owner Gail Miller made donations to Erin Mendenhall's campaign while this deal was being negotiated behind closed doors. Gail donated $3,640 to Erin on Nov. 23, 2021, and has donated over $7,140 to Erin's campaign since 2019. It is very concerning to me when billionaires are bribing elected officials to get what they want in backroom deals away from the public. All of Utah was blindsided by this deal when it was randomly announced after the fact. I support baseball staying there as baseball has been played in that area for over 100 years. The neighborhood is literally called "Ballpark." From there, I fully support whatever the community wants to see done and liked a lot of the ideas presented that could be built elsewhere. I do support a MLB team coming to Salt Lake, just not at the expense of the public.
[Editor’s note: Salt Lake City’s campaign finance records indicate that Gail Miller also made donations to Mendenhall’s opponent, Luz Escamilla, in the 2019 mayoral race.]
What role should Salt Lake City play as an epicenter of arts and culture? As mayor, how would you support that?
ANDERSON – Salt Lake City IS the epicenter of arts and culture, which should be supported and expanded in every way possible. Our cultural offerings are extraordinary, with one of six full-time Opera Companies and one of sixteen year-round Symphony Orchestras in the nation. Our modern dance, ballet, and theatre companies are world-class and the variety of music frequently offered is exceptional.
I will bring back the Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival, which will again be free of charge to everyone, as we did for 7 years when I was mayor before. Arts and culture are vital for their own sake, and they also provide many opportunities for all of us to mingle and build a stronger sense of community, particularly when attendance is free or low-cost. I'd like to see a program that supports greater audience diversity at performances at the best outdoor venue I've ever seen, Red Butte, and at all other arts and cultural venues.
- MENDENHALL (incumbent) — My long-term plan for economic development includes a renewed commitment and significant investment in Utah’s cultural core — Salt Lake City’s downtown sports and entertainment district. We’re building a district around the Delta Center where fans are surrounded by opportunities to have fun before and after a Jazz game, a ballet at Capitol Theater, a Broadway show at the Eccles, or checking out the latest exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I am determined to make Downtown Salt Lake a culture and recreation destination 365 days a year. Attracting MLB and NHL teams is a part of that vision, as is adding more public transit to make it easier for visitors to access the area. Our downtown has recovered from the pandemic faster than any city’s downtown in the country because we worked creatively and shifted to prioritizing our entertainment and dining scene. Open Streets — where we close Main Street to vehicle traffic on Friday and Saturday evenings to allow restaurants and bars to fully use the sidewalk — has been such a great success that I want to make it permanent. Salt Lake City has never been as cool and energetic as it is right now. It’s a really exciting time.
VALENTINE — I am a filmmaker and the only artist running in this race. I am world famous for my work fighting to Save the Historic Utah Pantages Theater, Utah's greatest movie palace that once hosted Babe Ruth, Will Rogers, Abbott & Costello and others. I am currently the director of "Friends of the Pantages" a 501c3 who is still fighting for justice over what happened with the illegal destruction of the Pantages and we are working towards rebuilding the theater brick for brick. I wasn't just saving the theater, but I was rebuilding it into a cinematic paradise and historic downtown theater district that will be an international destination. Arts and culture are essential to our cohesion as a community and as mayor a central priority will be making art accessible to everyone.
[Editor’s note: In ruling against a last-minute restraining order to save the Pantages Theatre, a judge noted that the allegation that the city improperly transferred the property appeared unlikely to prevail in court.]
To what extent should economic development in Salt Lake City be pursued to moderate the tax burden on residents? In what other ways can the city keep taxes low?
ANDERSON – I opposed the mayor and City Council's 4.9% property tax increase, especially when voters were urged by the administration to--and did--vote for a multi-million dollar Parks, Trails, and Open Space bond. Our parks have been poorly maintained by the administration. The foothills debacle--starting and stopping trail development because of a poor, truncated, non-collaborative planning process--has wasted millions of tax dollars and caused consternation among people on all sides of the trails-development issue.
Good, careful management and supervision, with hands-on oversight by an engaged mayor, would make all the difference, without wasting millions of dollars and getting far less for the investments.
Fiscal responsibility should be a major part of a mayor's job, with a view to not increasing the tax burden on residents. When I was mayor before, we never raised property taxes, we built up the reserve fund substantially, and we made sure our streets, parks, and trails were well maintained. I will not raise, and may decrease, property taxes and will insist on an end to reckless spending, including the 64% increase in two years for the Mayor's Office budget requested by the mayor.
[Editor’s note: Anderson has sought a property tax increase in the past, in his 2006 budget request. The final budget approved by the city council, however, did not include the property tax increase.]
- MENDENHALL (incumbent) — “Salt Lake City has one of the lowest effective property tax rates in the nation,” Axios reported in August, and I’d like to keep it that way. As I promised when I first ran for mayor, I have worked aggressively to bring in outside revenue to help defray the costs passed along to our residents. Instead of returning impact fees to developers like we used to, we’re putting them to good use by paying for parks, roads, and even contributing to our new water treatment facility. We’re applying for (and winning) federal grants for transportation and the arts. We’ve also finally gotten the state government to pay for improved public safety presence around our homeless resource centers.
- VALENTINE — This question is often framed in a way that presents a false dichotomy between economic development and public funding. The answer every major city in the world has already developed is it must be both. Corporations already have incentives for economic development. We don’t need to subsidize this development as the current administration has done giving away millions in public tax subsidies to real estate developers and religious organizations of economic development in return for campaign funding. This maintains corruption instead of utilizing a top-down approach that takes care of our people. We fund social housing plans that turn the city into a thriving urban center and economic development will follow along with arts, culture, entertainment, and tourism. We don’t sell the city out to corporations and make the city unlivable, affordable, and ridden with crime and homelessness that pushes more and more people away from our city.
As mayor, how would you work to ensure UDOT’s plans to expand I-15 do not unduly affect west-side residents?
ANDERSON – I would aggressively challenge the expansion of I-15, much as we did successfully in ending the first illegal plan for the Legacy Highway, resulting in the improved Legacy Parkway. The expansion or addition of highways is not an answer to--but is, rather, a cause of--greater vehicle congestion, more sprawl development, destruction of housing, and more dangerous pollution.
[Editor’s note: Anderson was part of a lawsuit against the Legacy Highway, which resulted in a federal court order stopping the project. He later agreed not to be involved in future litigation. A settlement was reached in 2005 for the now-Legacy Parkway to move forward.]
We need leadership that is not always looking to just "be at the table" while Salt Lake City's short- and long-term interests are harmed by the Utah Legislature. We need strong leadership that can work from a position of strength with legislators, and particularly legislative leadership, to work out the best possible solutions, taking into account the impacts on the future of our city and its residents.
Any expansion of I-15 will adversely impact the air quality, particularly for residents on Salt Lake City's west side. That cannot be tolerated and requires courageous, solid leadership to bring about better results. Expansion of I-15 now will just mean more expansions in the future, which will bring with it the destruction of west side housing and more dangerous air pollution.
- MENDENHALL (incumbent) — There are at least three problems with UDOT’s plans to expand I-15. First, the underlying premise is wrong, and study after study has shown that adding lanes will inevitably result in adding vehicular demand, not merely meeting it. Second, more cars and trucks means more air pollution being created in Salt Lake City. And third, the unacceptable further displacement of our city’s residents to make room for it. We spoke with a woman who is losing her home of 70 years to accommodate this expansion. It makes me sick. Unfortunately, the city government has no leverage to prevent UDOT from doing what it wants to do, so my strategy from the beginning has instead been to elevate the voices of Westsiders who will be affected by this expansion. Their voices are more powerful in this situation. What I’m trying to do is what I did with the state’s inland port: operate in our political reality while working in good faith to win concessions that protect our residents and serve our community. We’ve made some progress, but I’d like to see the state accompany this project with a significant investment in public transit that benefits all Salt Lakers, as well.
- VALENTINE — Any plan to expand I-15 not only affects an already marginalized, disenfranchised, neglected westside but adds to one of the greatest problems impacting our population, that of urban sprawl, one of the worst air pollution centers in the country and the subsequent dependence on single passenger vehicles. Instead of expending public funds to further this systemic problem, we should invest in public transportation that ties our city together. Massive investments are needed to expand the TRAX system, and historic trolley lines to make it a viable, enticing option for the population and bring traffic back to the city that is increasingly spread out amongst the suburbs.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with the many city priorities you will face as mayor, where do you rank the Great Salt Lake and why?
ANDERSON – The threatened GSL ranks as a top priority. That would be a 1 if that’s “top priority” or 10 if that’s “top priority.”
The complete desiccation of the Great Salt Lake would be devastating to SLC residents and businesses because metals, including antimony, copper, zirconium, and arsenic, from the dry lake bed will blow into the city, resulting in heightened risks of severe respiratory illnesses, heart disease, lung disease, and cancers. The cascading effects would undermine, and perhaps entirely destroy, our neighborhoods, economic vitality, and overall quality of life.
The dust could lead to degradation of soil and speed snow melt, shortening winter sports seasons and reducing water supply later in the year. It would severely damage valuable wetlands, eliminate brine flies (vital in the ecosystem), devastate the conditions upon which brine shrimp (which add $10-60 million to the economy) can exist, and threaten millions of migratory birds. Candice Hasenyager, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, stated, “Protecting and preserving the Great Salt Lake is a top priority for the state. The lake is vital to the environment, ecology and economy, not just in Utah but also to the western United States.”
- MENDENHALL (incumbent) — Six (with ten being the highest). The Great Salt Lake sits just after homelessness, affordable housing, and air quality. Which is not to say the lake isn’t important, but rather, as mayor, it’s my responsibility to weigh priorities on a scale of importance and ability to impact. Saving the Great Salt Lake is an existential environmental issue for Salt Lake City — no doubt about it — but the scope of the challenge involves so much beyond the city’s control that even with the landmark steps the city has taken the last two years, it being my top priority could not move the needle any further.
- VALENTINE — At an 11. I have said I think the two most important issues facing us right now that need immediate attention is ending homelessness and housing everyone and saving the Great Salt Lake. I am extremely concerned with the health of the lake and all of Utah and we have such little time to drastically act. It’s alarming when scientists say that Utah may be unlivable if the lake fails with toxic dust clouds that lay at the bottom of the lake. We have no choice but to save the lake and act now.
What’s your plan for assisting in saving the Great Salt Lake—what actions will you take to ensure more water makes it to the lake in the future?
ANDERSON – I would change policy and practices dramatically, making it clear to the public this is an urgent matter of life and death for many of us, as well as our beloved city.
Although individual conservation efforts are important for dealing with droughts, the Great Salt Lake will survive only if far less water is diverted for agricultural purposes. Under my leadership, SLC will create a coalition with surrounding communities to pursue legal remedies, legislation, and public policy changes to protect the public interest in water conservation.
Additionally, as I have done at my own home, turf should be eliminated or minimized. We should do everything possible to create a public and personal ethic of water conservation, including advertising campaigns and public challenges, raising awareness of the disastrous impacts of continued poor stewardship of the Great Salt Lake.
I would also restore SLC’s position as an international climate protection leader, as when I was mayor. We have been on notice for many years that continued reliance on burning fossil fuels will lead to a significant decrease in the water volume of the Great Salt Lake and dangerously high salinity, threatening brine shrimp and flies. Effective, urgent action is critical.
[Editor’s note: Learn more about Rocky Anderson’s views on saving the Great Salt Lake in the Great Salt Lake Collaborative voter guide.]
MENDENHALL (incumbent) — Salt Lake City is focused on three impactful tools: conservation, contribution, and communication.
Conservation: How we grow matters, and helping our residents and other cities see the benefits of water-conscious policies will continue to be part of my approach. Earlier this year, I ordered a top-to-bottom review of water usage in every city-owned facility and park to identify new opportunities to conserve water. The results will inform significant city policy in my second term, though preliminary results are already helping us prioritize high-impact projects, like insulating our fleet vehicle wash station to save millions of gallons annually.
Contribution: Salt Lake City is formalizing its annual contribution of 13 billion gallons of treated reclaimed water to ensure it goes to the Great Salt Lake in perpetuity. I’m also really excited about the Great Salt Lake Shoreline Heritage Preserve. The city has partnered to apply for a $10 million grant to help acquire and permanently conserve shoreline property, and I hope this is just the beginning.
Communication: I will continue to take every opportunity to talk about the health of the lake and how protecting this fragile ecosystem is the key to maintaining our health, economy, and quality of life.
[Editor’s note: Learn more about Erin Mendenhall’s views on saving the Great Salt Lake in the Great Salt Lake Collaborative voter guide.]
VALENTINE — 68% of Utah water goes to alfalfa farms in the desert that contributes almost nothing to our local economy and people as most of the alfalfa gets shipped overseas. This is unsustainable and we need to assist the farmers in transitioning to different crops. A lot of the water doesn’t even make it to the farmers as it gets lost through inefficient piping and infrastructure. The Lake is a Utah concern and as Mayor, I would do everything to bring coalitions together, leading from the city, to work with all parties to protect the lake. I support the recent lawsuits from Sierra Utah and other environmental groups against the inaction of the state. I would ask the EPA to step in on a federal level and declare the lake an ecological disaster as we need all hands on deck immediately.
[Editor’s note: Learn more about Michael Valentine’s views on saving the Great Salt Lake in the Great Salt Lake Collaborative voter guide.]
Just for fun: What do you think of the 9th & 9th whale? What is your favorite “unique” feature of Salt Lake City?
ANDERSON – Of course, everyone has had their first impressions of the whale. And all are valid, as with subjective impressions of art of any sort. My first impression was, "Wow! What a quirky, colorful addition to our city's arts installations! That's no doubt going to make a lot of people irritated, if not downright mad." It's often the nature of art to inspire, irritate, and/or stimulate those who are exposed to it. I enjoy seeing the whale, if for no reason other than to celebrate unique art in a city that has too few public art installations--which I intend to change as mayor again.
My favorite "unique" features of SLC are, collectively, the preserved vintage signs, such as the costume shop sign on 1100 East incorporated in the apartments that have replaced my all-time favorite costume shop, the Snelgrove's ice cream cone on 2100 South, and the Diamond Lil's sign. I lament the loss of so much of the charm in our city, such as the recent destruction of the Broadway Blvd. shops to make way for another big unaffordable apartment building. The preservation of the old signs signal an appreciation of some of what has made Salt Lake City such a unique, charming place.
- MENDENHALL (incumbent) — Oh I love that beautiful, strange, special whale. I know not everyone is sold on it, but it’s fun, and a little bit weird, and I think, perfectly unique for Salt Lake City. As public art should be.
VALENTINE — I wasn't a fan at first, but have now embraced the Cult of the Whale. And of course, my favorite “unique” feature and place in the city would be the Historic Utah Pantages Theater. The theater was illegally destroyed in April of 2022, but it is still my favorite place as we work towards getting justice for it and rebuilding it there brick for brick. All of Utah will understand how special it is when it is reopened to be the crown jewel of an international, historic theater district for the entire world to come and enjoy with us.
[Editor’s note: In ruling against a last-minute restraining order to save the Pantages Theatre, a judge noted that the allegation that the city improperly transferred the property appeared unlikely to prevail in court.]
Cheryl Niederhauser and Jonathan Meier of PBS Utah, as well as KUER’s Sean Higgins, Vanessa Hudson and Jim Hill, contributed research and fact checking to this guide.
This voter guide was produced in collaboration with PBS Utah.