Erin Mendenhall: Salt Lake City’s exciting future is ahead of us, not behind

Rebuilding the burned bridges of our past has delivered results for our city.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks during a debate with Michael Valentine and former Mayor Rocky Anderson on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023.

If back in 2019 you had told me about the series of crises that would come to Salt Lake City over the following few years — the pandemic, the earthquakes, the historic windstorm, the nationwide surges in homelessness and crime, the flooding — I wouldn’t have believed you, but I would have run for mayor all the same.

That’s because this is a truly incredible moment for our city. It’s exciting, and you can feel the gravitational pull of the good trajectory our city is on.

Salt Lake City is cool in a way it’s never been before. You can’t explore this city today without encountering something about it that’s remarkable, new or creative.

It seems like every week brings more opportunities that enhance our truly special quality of life. Opportunities like another potential Olympic Games, or the interest of Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League in coming to Salt Lake City.

While our city isn’t perfect, it is pretty great.

Celebrating what makes our city great doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the challenges that prevent it from being great for everyone.

Celebrating that 71% of the people who accessed homeless services, supportive housing or shelter in the countywide homeless resource system last year did not return to homelessness doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the hundreds of unsheltered residents still living on our streets.

Celebrating a more than 25% reduction of crime on the west side doesn’t mean we’re pretending crime doesn’t exist or ignoring that there are residents who don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods.

That’s why I decided to run for reelection — because our work isn’t finished.

There are no magic wands for the statewide homelessness crisis. There are no single actions that will undo decades of systemic inequality for people of color and the fundamental inequity faced by west-side residents. There are no singular bold steps that will undo decades of damage to the Salt Lake Valley’s air quality.

The answers to complex challenges are rarely easy, no matter what anyone tries to convince you.

Instead there is hard work, creative ideas, grace and tenacity. And there is a commitment to partnership over partisanship.

At some point in our past, some of Salt Lake City’s leaders started to believe that we had to tackle every challenge on our own.

We don’t. Wanting to work with others is not a weakness — it makes us stronger.

When I ran for mayor, I promised to keep our seat at the table — to put aside my personal feelings if necessary in the name of rebuilding the burned bridges of our past and showing the state Legislature that we were more interested in progress than partisan politics.

We have fundamentally changed our relationship with the state government and, as a result, the state is more invested in Salt Lake City’s success than it has been in years, with new funding for public safety, affordable housing and homelessness.

In state government, Salt Lake City finally has a real partner on policy solutions to break the cycles that keep some unsheltered residents from getting the help they need to get back on their feet.

And so when I look back at what we’ve achieved in my first term, it’s not the 413% increase in affordable housing units that I’m most proud of, or even the hundreds of units of permanent supportive housing for the unsheltered.

It’s not negotiating to finally get net-100% renewable energy on track to be available citywide by 2030, or the solar farm we’re building to power city-owned buildings.

It’s not the 13 billion gallons of clean water we are committing to help save the Great Salt Lake each year.

It’s not the doubling of the number of trees we’re planting to clean our air, or Free Fare February, or bringing Outdoor Retailer back to Salt Lake City or lowering the speed limit on residential streets.

It’s not the incredible Glendale Regional Park we’re building, or the Folsom Trail, or building out the 9 Line, or making Open Streets a permanent part of our city’s future.

It’s not Tech Lake City and the development of an innovation district to accelerate the modernization of our cutting-edge economy, or even the independent studies that concluded Salt Lake City’s downtown has recovered from the pandemic stronger than any other city’s downtown in North America.

No, it’s not just what we’ve accomplished. It’s how we’ve accomplished it: together.

The crises we’ve faced together have made us stronger than ever. Our city is moving boldly forward into an incredible future, but that future is not guaranteed. We have to keep working hard for it. I’ll keep our city moving forward, and I won’t let anyone take us back.

Erin Mendenhall

Erin Mendenhall is the mayor of Salt Lake City.