Midvale mayoral candidates seek the best formula for a vibrant, walkable city

Incumbent faces the political director of a clean-air nonprofit and a community organizer as challenges mount over how to steer development.

Midvale, with more than 36,000 residents and where the east and west sides of the Salt Lake Valley converge, faces a choice of three mayoral candidates.

Mayor Robert Hale is seeking a second term. He worked closely with former longtime Mayor JoAnn Seghini before her death last year and wants to keep Midvale a vibrant city that young people can afford.

His challengers are Marcus Stevenson, political director of O2 Utah, an environmental nonprofit, and Amanda Hollingsworth, a community organizer and founder of the Midvale Residents Facebook group.

Here is a look at the three contenders:

Continuing decades of work

Hale replaced Seghini after her two-decade-long tenure. He has lived in Midvale for 52 years and has served on a community council, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council.

During his time as mayor, Hale said, he made a significant effort to assist homeless families with children. With help from the Canyons School District, other organizations and individual donors, he explained, the city keeps the family shelter at Midvale stocked with supplies and patrolled, so no weapons or drugs are introduced to it.

His biggest challenges have been a combination of growth and fiscal direction.

“We never have all that we want. And so we have to choose which direction we’re going to go with how much of our tax revenue,” he said, “and that’s always a source of conversation, research, discussion and decisions that is never-ending.”

It’s a struggle to help longtime residents understand that there are no inexpensive pieces of land along the Wasatch Front. An economical solution for finding affordable housing for younger generations, Hale said, might be amassing enough property to build multiple houses or apartments.

“We want to make sure, if it’s possible, to construct housing that can be rented or purchased on the income of someone who just barely graduated from college,” he said. “That’s hard to do, but we’re trying our best.”

Hale’s priorities include access to public transit and bike lanes and enhancing the ability to walk to local businesses. These would help reduce air pollution.

“The challenges,” he said, “are going to be making sure that residents who live in Midvale find a vibrant community that supports their lifestyles and makes it convenient and safe to live here.”

Continuing to repurpose the land on the city’s west side, between the Jordan River and 700 West, is on his list, too. After decades of sitting vacant, these former Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites have been transformed into commercial and residential areas.

“There’s been remarkable growth in industry, in commerce, jobs and housing,” Hale said. “In that area, the land used to be absolutely worthless.”

No more. These are projects that Hale points to with pride. The building will continue with him as mayor or without, he acknowledges, but he is eager to keep up the momentum.

“My job at this important juncture of time is to make sure that growth is encouraged, that the supply chain is maintained,” the mayor said. “And that we have places for people to live, where they can walk to work, where they can play, and live and work nearby.”

A walkable city

Stevenson’s job at O2 Utah has helped him focus on families like his — young, recent homebuyers who face difficult decisions when deciding where to settle.

O2 Utah lobbies for clean energy initiatives at the municipal and state level and supports candidates who push for better air and renewable energy.

Ever since Stevenson moved to Midvale in 2019, he got involved in the community, doing electoral engagement activities.

The transition from helping candidates to being a candidate has been difficult, he said. As a volunteer or staffer on a campaign, he could punt harder questions to candidates. Now, he has to do the answering.

But Stevenson said he doesn’t hesitate to seek expert voices when he doesn’t know the answer. “I still don’t have any problems saying, ‘That’s a great question. I don’t know.’”

Something Stevenson wants to change is how Midvale residents see their role in development plans that the city might approve. He wants them to know they have a voice that should be heard, and he believes it is the city’s responsibility to inform residents about big projects.

“The city can do more with making sure that proposals are on social media or are posted around the city,” he said. “In my campaign, I text people, and for some people, that is a great mode of communication.”

Growth is inevitable, he said, and “we need development to go with that.” But Stevenson wants to ensure any projects have less impact on residents.

Developers must be able to explain how they are going to provide access to public transit or open spaces, he said, and how they are going to safeguard the air and offer the highest energy standards possible.

Stevenson aims to create a more walkable city, with more access to public transit.

“Any new development in Midvale should be centered around people,” he said, “making it walkable, bikeable, public transit-accessible and having small grocery stores and open spaces directly linked to it.”

Empowering minority populations to bring their voices to the table is also important, Stevenson said, as the majority of the city government is white and male. Although he is also white and male, he promises to listen and act to benefit underrepresented constituencies.

Stevenson also desires to tighten relationships with cities that border Midvale to work on issues such as homelessness, transit and revitalizing old downtown’s Main Street.

“This is something that Midvale has really struggled with,” he said. “If we can work with our partners, the cities directly around us, and create strong partnerships, then that’s something that’s totally doable.”

Starting with a Facebook group

Hollingsworth, a retail worker, has been in various jobs since she was 12 years old.

At a young age, she worked as a nanny and sold welcome packages to new arrivals in town. She later became a commercial insurance agent but found out that was not for her; she didn’t want to compete with agents in her own brokerage. Mostly, she missed being in touch with people, so she got a job at a big clothing retailer.

“There’s just a special kind of synergy,” she said, “when everyone is working together.”

Her real passion rests in serving the community.

Hollingsworth has served on a community council since 2018. She created a Facebook group for residents in 2015 when she bought her home in Midvale. Since then, the online community has grown to 3,600 members.

“So many people have so many trials and jobs and sick relatives, and they just can’t always show up in their community the way they’d like to,” she said. “But most of us have smartphones now. And it’s nice to feel sort of digitally connected to our community.”

Through that group, Hollingsworth hears concerns about crime and tries to solve specific issues such as feral cats in a neighbor’s backyard. The group’s members also share their home camera recordings with the police when crimes occur.

“I really care about our local issues, because I’ve been involved in them directly, managing 3,600 opinions in that Midvale resident group for quite some time,” she said. “I’m running because I think that if I’ve created this online community, imagine what I can do with city resources and city employees and planning events that really connect us as a society”

It takes a village and Hollingsworth, alongside her neighbors, believes she can find solutions to issues such as infrastructure. Newly paved roads with cracks that have to be constantly refilled and a lack of effective planning for new electrical or fiber lines are some of the problems she lists.

A project Hollingsworth would like to see work is to bring back mixed-use zones, so residential buildings can have small businesses on their ground floor.

She said she has brought about significant changes in the past, pointing to when the city stated it was illegal to have pedestrian-activated signs in a crosswalk near a school zone, arguing the flashing lights could confuse drivers. After speaking with police officers and conducting some research with consultants, she found not only was it legal, but it also was safer. After making noise with other residents, the additional signs were built.

“I fought for safety in our community,” she said, “because at the very least people deserve to cross the street without worrying that we’re going to be hit.”

Now she wants to do her fighting from within City Hall.

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.