Salt Lake City’s west-side residents soon will elect City Council members, tasked with making progress on a long list of issues from reducing homelessness to bolstering the police force, from improving air quality to attracting more businesses.
When City Council candidates knock on doors in Districts 1 and 2, they consistently hear that residents want more from their city government and feel their community hasn’t always been treated equitably.
At this time, these districts are not represented by elected council members. James Rogers in District 1 decided not to run again and recently resigned. The seat is now vacant. In District 2, Andrew Johnston became Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s point person on homelessness, so the council temporarily filled his spot.
Here’s a look at the candidates vying to represent the west side:
This includes the Rose Park, Westpoint, Fairpark and Jordan Meadows neighborhoods.
The two most active candidates in this race — Blake Perez and Victoria Petro-Eschler — moved to the district in 2013 and have been involved in community groups and nonprofits. Richard D.M. Barnes, a geologist, is also in the race.
Petro-Eschler is the executive director of the Salty Cricket Composers Collective, a nonprofit that introduces new audiences to modern classical music. She served on the city’s Historic Landmark Commission.
Perez is the deputy director of the Central Wasatch Commission, which focuses on the future of Little and Big Cottonwood canyons. He led the Rose Park Community Council for four years, ending in 2017.
They both identified homelessness as a key issue, with their neighbors expressing frustration at the rise in encampments after the demolition of The Road Home’s large downtown shelter, which has been replaced with three smaller resource centers.
“There is a tremendous amount of chaos in our neighborhoods,” Petro-Eschler said.
She wants the city to create a three-year crisis management plan, which would include specific requests for help from the county and the state. And, in the short term, she wants the city to designate a place where people can set up a tent or park their recreational vehicle.
“I do think we need to contain this,” she added, “and say, ‘This is where you are allowed to be.’”
Perez does not agree with a designated camping site. He worries there wouldn’t be adequate places for these people to get a shower, use restrooms or dump their trash.
“I don’t know if that is necessarily a solution,” he said, instead favoring the creation of a tiny home village. That is in the works but is still wending its way through city approval processes.
Perez said he would focus on a series of steps, already underway, to reduce homelessness, including the tiny home village and converting old motels into places for the unsheltered to stay. And he likes the mayor’s park ranger program, which would put dedicated staff at key city parks. One of the jobs would be for rangers to enforce park rules, which include no camping.
He also wants the city to continue its efforts on affordable housing, including reducing the regulatory and financial barriers to building more accessory dwelling units, often called mother-in-law apartments, which would allow more people to fit into established residential neighborhoods.
Perez backs Mendenhall’s plan for a community land trust in which the city would buy properties and keep them cheap for people in perpetuity. He wants to find ways to bolster that program, which would center on the west side.
For Petro-Eschler, beyond providing more affordable places to live, the city should help spur the creation of a business district, particularly in the Fairpark area, where, she said, residents could “get a beer and a burger with their family.”
Both candidates say the city needs to hire more police officers and, in particular, those with experience. Right now, the department has more than 50 openings. Petro-Eschler said part of the labor shortage is due to “deep morale issues” that stem from the protests in 2020 against police violence.
“We need to work to create a unified force,” she said, “that has a clear directive, has clear resources and support.”
Public safety is more than just police, Perez said. He would also take aim at speeding on residential roads, noting a past campaign he helped lead for 600 North. He said, if elected, he would fight for funding for traffic-calming measures.
Both candidates remain worried about the creation of the inland port west of the city’s new international airport, urging more transparency around the massive hub intended to route goods throughout the nation by truck and train. They see this as a potential source of good-paying jobs but worry about environmental concerns, particularly air quality.
Perez wants the port to use electric vehicles wherever possible. Petro-Eschler called for a community group to monitor environmental data and propose ways to mitigate pollution.
Whoever wins in District 1 may well get a head start on the job. On Nov. 4, two days after Election Day, the City Council is expected to name a temporary council member who will serve until the winner of the election is sworn in next January.
This includes the Glendale and Poplar Grove neighborhoods and part of Fairpark.
For the past five months, Dennis Faris has served as this district’s council member. The sitting council members voted him in as the replacement for Johnston, who took a job in the mayor’s office.
But, for Faris, whose day job is with Volunteers of America, to keep the post, he needs to defeat four other candidates in what is expected to be a competitive contest.
“I do think we are lucky to have a lot of great candidates,” he said, “five men of color with deep ties to the west side.”
Like all of the Salt Lake City contests, this one will use ranked-choice voting, so voters can list their top choice and their second and third and so forth. The lowest vote-getter would be eliminated and those votes would then go to the candidate listed second on those ballots. This will go on until one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote.
Of the five candidates, two — Faris and Billy Palmer — would not say whom they plan to list as their second choice on their ballots. The other three all named Palmer, who previously worked at KRCL, a community radio station, and resigned to run for this seat.
The other candidates are political consultant Alejandro Puy, real estate agent Nigel Swaby and nonprofit liaison Daniel Tuutau.
The top issues in this race are the same as those in District 1. They include concerns about homelessness and public safety, the inland port and air quality.
On homelessness, Puy and Swaby support a legalized campground, potentially having it rotate among churches.
“Right now, what the city is doing is kicking them from one corner to another,” Puy said. “It is no solution.”
Swaby argued moving more unsheltered people to a secure campground would help separate those who need help from criminals who prey on people with addiction.
Palmer said the focus should be on making sure that when people are ready to go to treatment or to take a bed in a shelter, that a spot is available for them.
“If we can’t get them into services right in that moment,” he said, “we lose that opportunity.”
Faris works with unsheltered people at the VOA. He also talks to homeowners and renters who are impacted by those camping in their neighborhoods.
“The only ultimate solution to homelessness is a home,” said Faris, who believes the City Council should take more actions to encourage affordable housing throughout the city, not just in one neighborhood or district.
Swaby wants the city to waive fees for residents seeking to add an accessory dwelling unit to their home, which would provide more housing quickly. Both Faris and Swaby suggested that zoning changes should be considered to add more duplexes, triplexes and the like into residential neighborhoods.
With the resignation of Rogers in District 1, the council named Faris to the Utah Inland Port Authority Board. He said the authority’s plan to build a central location for cargo to be routed would increase train traffic and that would mean more times when miles-long cargo trains block intersections on the west side.
Those trains mean more pollution, he said, with backed up cars idling. It reduces mass transit options. And it is a potential safety hazard.
He argues the port board should use some of the money it gathers from property taxes to “mitigate the impacts on our neighborhood.”
Swaby wants the port board to help cover the cost of additional police officers, firefighters and other city services needed as the northwest quadrant adds massive warehouses and port facilities. He called for the construction to be as “environmentally friendly” as possible, with roofs covered in solar panels.
Palmer wants an environmental impact study before more construction goes forward. He wants to know how the project would impact air pollution and how the port board would mitigate that.
“I’m a show-me person,” he said. “If you’ve got a great plan, show me. Let’s see it.”
Asked about the port, Puy said, “what a mess.” He doesn’t see anything stopping its continued development, so he maintains the focus should be on potential health impacts in west-side neighborhoods.
Tuutau is not opposed to the idea of an inland port, but he believes the city should have a bigger sway over the project.
All of the candidates are waiting to see the result of the city’s lawsuit over its land-use power on the port property. That suit, which stems from the Legislature creating the port, is now before the Utah Supreme Court.
Tuutau has not sent any mailers or created any signs. He said his campaign aims to encourage more community participation. And in a race with five candidates, that may already be happening. He believes the district will be in good hands, no matter who wins.
“Any of the candidates running right now,” he said, “will be good at the job.”