Erin Mendenhall: Investments could transform communities and increase quality of life

City Council and public should approve $80 million bond issue to improve public spaces in the city.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) One of the many mosiac's in Allen Park.

We all know Salt Lake City is famous for its natural beauty and proximity to world-renowned mountains. But with a few strategic investments, I believe we can make our natural public spaces within city limits as big of a draw.

Investing in our public lands in a big way is a top priority for our residents, who’ve expressed to me time and again how much they value natural spaces, parks, trails and our precious water resources.

Residents have made this clear in public meetings and most recently, in a significant poll where the vast majority - 70% - said they support a potential ballot measure to conserve open space, protect water quality and natural areas, and improve parks and trails.

In Salt Lake City, 84% of residents visit public parks, trails, and natural areas at least “occasionally” and 62% of residents visit “frequently.” In one city study, 43% of respondents said that they used parks more in 2020 than in previous years, and the state saw a 32.5% increase in state park visitation from 2019 to 2020.

What’s more, a plan to grow and protect public lands is vital as Salt Lake City welcomes a projected 30,000 more residents over the next 18 years, and as climate change threatens natural areas. A needs assessment completed by the city in 2019 found that 94 acres of new park land will be required to meet future park needs at the same level of service as we provide today.

The Salt Lake City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to refer an $80 million general obligation bond to the November ballot. It’s a proposal that has been years in the making, and that has the potential to transform neighborhoods citywide.

And it’s a proposal I ask Salt Lake City residents to support.

Here’s a look at some of what we have in mind:

1. The Glendale Regional Park investment will improve access to green space directly to west side communities and as a regional draw, increase water quality of the Jordan River, improve air quality through vegetation additions and construct community-prioritized amenities like water access, biking trails and an all-ages playground.

2. The Jordan River Corridor Improvements and Activation project will improve air and water quality by improving the tree canopy and plant biodiversity. It adds a climate-sensitive irrigation system and amenities like a nature playground and paddle share program for kayaking the river.

3. The Allen Park investment will preserve and rehabilitate this unique historic and cultural site through stream restoration and waterwise native plantings.

4. Reimagine Neighborhood Parks is an investment in parks throughout each of the seven city council districts and will be targeted to best serve community needs.

5. The Fleet Block Park will be a new green space in the Granary District, the part of the city with the least access to public natural lands. This will be a community gathering space that offers a slice of nature to this urban area and will be part of the overall development of the Fleet Bock.

6. The Liberty Park Playground project will improve the safety and accessibility of Salt Lake City’s most popular playground and ensure it is one of the best in the state.

7. The Folsom Trail Completion and Landscaping project will connect the Jordan River Parkway to downtown through pedestrian and bicycle paths to help us reach our goals of reducing air pollution and offering safe, comfortable active transportation options.

All this is possible with a proposed property tax increase of about $35 a year for homeowners with a median-value home worth $576,000.

Having a good plan and funding stream for maintaining these beautiful public spaces is as important as the initial investment, since pristine natural spaces can quickly lose their luster due to overuse or neglect. We’ve already thought of that. The City Council has approved my recommended $2 million in ongoing, existing sales tax revenue to be set aside for public lands maintenance.

We know our public lands and open spaces are key factors in our city’s high quality of life, which is more true now than ever before.

This bond is a direct response to what residents have asked for. And I hope you’ll join me in supporting it by voting yes in November.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, Dec. 13, 2021.

Erin Mendenhall is the mayor of Salt Lake City.