SLC’s newest City Council member has a message for the Utah Jazz

The full-court press to keep the NBA team in Utah’s capital is poised to become a political focal point, including for Mayor Erin Mendenhall as she embarks on her second term.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Eva Lopez Chavez is joined by her sister Galilea Lopez as she is sworn in as the City Council's District 4 representative by Salt Lake City Justice Court Judge Clemens Landau at the Salt Lake City Library on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.

Salt Lake City’s newest council member was in office for no more than five minutes Tuesday before sending a clear message to one of the most influential tenants of her district.

Freshly sworn-in Eva Lopez Chavez said the neighborhoods that make up her District 4, which is home to the Delta Center, are the heart and soul of the city — and she apparently wants the Utah Jazz to take note.

“Diversity and density are our strengths,” she said. “But someone tell that to (Jazz owner) Ryan Smith because you sure won’t find that at the Point of the Mountain.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Eva Lopez Chavez delivers remarks after being sworn in as the City Council's District 4 representative at the Salt Lake City Library on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.

Efforts to keep the NBA franchise in Utah’s capital are poised to become a focal point of the political landscape as the team weighs the possibility of a move to Draper.

Lopez Chavez defeated incumbent Ana Valdemoros in November to become one of the key players on the city’s roster striving to keep the Jazz planted here. She joined Mayor Erin Mendenhall, District 2 council member Alejandro Puy, District 6 council member Dan Dugan and District 7 council member Sarah Young in taking the oath of office Tuesday in the downtown library’s Nancy Tessman Auditorium.

Mendenhall, who secured reelection in a blowout win over former two-term Mayor Rocky Anderson, declared after being sworn in that the team belongs downtown.

“More importantly,” she said, “the Utah Jazz belong at the center of a neighborhood filled with restaurants, bars, shops and activities; one that’s even easier to access by public transit, more convenient to reach by car, safer to navigate by bike or walking, and one that’s alive with activity year-round.

Mendenhall said she is “deeply committed” to building that neighborhood, but that commitment isn’t rooted in serving the NBA.

“It’s for every resident and small-business owner who will benefit from it,” she said, “and for the exponential impacts that investing in our capital city has on every person in this state.”

For his part, Smith, the Jazz owner, has said it’s too early to decide where the NBA team, a downtown staple since it relocated to Utah more than four decades ago, and a National Hockey League franchise, which he is also courting, would call home.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall embraces newly sworn-in council member Eva Lopez Chavez at the Salt Lake City Library on Tuesday, Jan. 2 2024.

Mendenhall said the city is on the doorstep of unrivaled opportunities with preparation for the return of the Winter Olympics in 2034, determining the long-term location of the Jazz, coaxing Major League Baseball to the west side and attracting the NHL to the Beehive State.

She said those possibilities — paired with the downtown green loop her administration has begun exploring how to finance, the construction of the expansive Glendale Regional Park, and continued investment in housing construction — could culminate in more investments and improvements than Utah’s capital has seen since its founding.

“This is it. This is our moment,” she said. “There is no room for timidity. We should have no patience for parochial squabbles. We must think big because it’s not just about our economy, it’s about our identity.”

Mendenhall said she will work in a second term to expand the city’s public transit system, transform 500 South and 600 South into “grand boulevards,” create a permanent city park for an Olympic Medals Plaza, and plant plenty of trees along the way.

The mayor — whose first term was marked by a pandemic, a major earthquake, a devastating windstorm and months of protests for social justice — is striking an optimistic tone.

“If the last four years were forged by historic crisis,” she said. “The next four will be forged by historic opportunity.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dan Dugan speaks after being sworn in for a second term as the District 6 council member at the Salt Lake City Library on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.

Dugan, who defeated two challengers in his bid for a second term to represent a swath of the east side, said he wants to make the city more affordable, more walkable and more bikeable, with more public transit options. He also called for taking on the costly measure of removing a barrier between the east and west sides.

“Let’s bury the train tracks,” he said, “that slice the city in two.”

Young, who won her Sugar House race after being appointed in July, said while the city faces big opportunities and challenges, the daily acts of service from city employees make Utah’s capital what it is.

Puy, who coasted to reelection after running unopposed on the west side, wants to push ahead with a culture of collaboration and civility.

“I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for Salt Lake City,” he said. “As we navigate the challenges, let us do so with a spirit of cooperation and understanding and a shared commitment to the well-being of every resident in District 2 and beyond.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alejandro Puy, accompanied by his partner, Caden Barlow, and their dog. Petunia, is sworn in as the District 2 council member by City Recorder Cindy Lou Trishman at the Salt Lake City Library on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.