The transition team of the new Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has provided a suggested roadmap for the city to address issues like air quality, affordable housing and homeless. Those are important issues that deserve high priority and attention in the new year.
The air quality in the Wasatch Basin, especially Salt Lake County, is often below healthy limits. Although Utah can focus on idling cars, diesel trucks can pollute over a hundred times more than new cars. One of the major concerns about the inland port is the potential for significantly increasing truck traffic. Salt Lake City should pass an ordinance that limits idling trucks to no more than two minutes. Such a law would limit the environmental impact of the inland port and other warehouse and truck services.
The present idling ordinance has been mainly educational, due to the Utah Legislature requiring anti-idling laws to be mainly educational until the 2019 legislative session. Now is a good time to change the ordinance, but it should focus on the main problem, diesel engines. The city’s contracts for street repair often result in many idling trucks working on street repair, and the only way to stop the resultant pollution is to pass such a law.
Encouraging mass transit use should be a priority. Salt Lake City has almost $1 million from the prison tax increase that has not been spent on transit. The city should negotiate with the Utah Transit Authority (as several universities have) to lower fares in the city to a dollar to increase ridership. A dollar fare for a bus ride should be the priority for Salt Lake City citizens (and for the county’s citizens).
The city recently paid for expanded routes, but weekday ridership increases have been minimal. A dollar fare would be a better encouragement to ride mass transit. A more robust bus system would also increase ridership, but UTA is discussing waiting to expand bus service until 2021. Despite claims that UTA does not have a garage for the buses, UTA is in need of around a hundred drivers. Salt Lake City should push UTA to expand bus services now, as UTA promised if they got the new sales taxes.
The city has expanded its redevelopment areas to include State Street. One of the main reasons for that expansion was it had the best potential to increase housing. RDA staff expected that at least 1,800 new units could be built in the area, but the number could be much higher. The city should implement inclusionary zoning — requiring a portion of apartment buildings to have affordable housing — and form-based zoning for the area to encourage mixed income/mixed use by developers that are often discouraged by the time it takes to get building permits. State Street redevelopment should encourage and help developers to redevelop the area like the Coachman’s owner on 1300 South and State proposal for a five-story mixed use building.
A year ago, the City Council discussed decreasing impact fees for inclusionary zoning. The city should decrease fees for inclusionary zoning now. In addition, the plan to legalize SRO (single room occupancy – like dorms) citywide should be shelved until the city is able to decrease the negative impact of crime-magnet low-cost motels on State Street and North Temple.
Finally, we have been asking the city to provide a safe area to allow the homeless to camp with toilet and washing facilities for years. The transition team’s recommendations includes that and it should be implemented immediately. The city owns seven of 15 acres in the Depot District next to the homeless services providers on Rio Grande, including many vacant buildings, (which encourage criminal behavior). That should provide plenty of potential sites to decrease the constant Salt Lake City Police Department homeless enforcement that is frustrating to both the homeless and the police.
The Salt Lake City mayor’s oath of office ceremony is Monday at noon at The City-County Building.
George Chapman is a former candidate for mayor of Salt Lake City and writes a blog at georgechapman.net.