Clayton Scrivner: How a City Council flub inspired me to run for office 38 years later

We deserve a Salt Lake City that grows with its residents rather than leaving them behind.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People take in the offerings during the Living Traditions festival in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 21, 2022.

I think a lot about both Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. I grew up in the former. My family moved out west when I was 2, and my dad took a job as a crisis-intervention psychologist at the downtown public hospital. One of my first memories is of pulling up to our modest yellow house in a yellow station wagon on a yellow desert dirt road.

This was the wild ‘80s. Back then, Las Vegas was the fastest growing city in America, and I remember looking out our living room window with the looming sense of the city coming at us, moving ever closer to our edge of town.

We lived across from a vacant lot. It had rusted-out cars in it and old dirt-bike tracks. In second grade, my class got a flyer inviting us to a groundbreaking ceremony for turning that vacant lot into a park — an 8-year-old’s dream!

At the event, a smiling, suit-wearing adult (my local city councilperson) invited me to dig with a golden shovel. The cameras flashed! And as fast as it all started, everyone left. I was so excited to be having that empty lot become a grassy park with swings, slides and teeter-totters. But a year went by. Then two. When I was 14, I wrote a letter to the Las Vegas Review-Journal imploring the city council, “Where’s My Park?”

A few years later, I went to high school, got my driver’s license and started a band. By the time the fields and playgrounds showed up, the kid who yearned for that park was on his way out the door and off to college.

I tell the golden shovel story because the decisions cities make and the actions (or inactions) they take have a lasting generational effect, and I want better for my son.

When I moved to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah some 30 years ago, the Olympics had just been awarded, and this town was emerging from a decades-long dormancy. Since then, I bought a house, graduated from college (twice), landed on a career in public service (got that from my parents), started a family, built an impressive vinyl collection and became middle-aged. Salt Lake City changed, too: Downtown rose, and here we are living in a bona fide, twenty-first-century boomtown.

But success comes with challenges. Our cost of living is skyrocketing. Our schools are closing. In my downtown neighborhood in particular, growth that feels unchecked and uninteresting is pushing eastward into our historic fabric. Are we making the proper investments in affordability, livability and sustainability — and are we doing it quick enough? For me, that’s a “no.”

Fifty years ago, after a mass exodus to the suburbs left Salt Lake City in a money pinch, we tore down houses to build car dealerships. If you’re ever at City Hall and wonder why the whole adjoining block sells cars, remember that there was a time when we sacrificed whole neighborhoods for money.

Today that seems bananas. But 50 years from now, folks looking back on this time would be equally puzzled: Why aren’t we using our new-found attractiveness (and we’ll get even hotter with another Olympics incoming) to build the most livable, interesting, affordable city possible — one that’s sustainable, environmentally responsible and well-positioned to meet our future needs?

I decided to run for City Council because I want to help turn that tide. Our leaders ought to be leaning into these issues rather than skirting around them. We need representatives who put people first — who answer to our residents — not to the big businesses that fund these elections in exchange for out-sized lobbying voices. The focus on profits over people is why we feel a disconnect between the residents of Salt Lake City and the decisions of City Hall.

But we can fix this. And we do it by putting people first. We deserve a Salt Lake City that grows with its residents rather than leaving them behind. We deserve a city with transportation that’s frequent, focused and free. We deserve a city that executes livability initiatives at a speed that matches our growth — paid for by those amassing extreme wealth from that growth. We deserve a city that invests in diverse strategies for affordable housing instead of the monolithic methods we’re using today. And our children deserve to enjoy the benefits of a vibrant Salt Lake City before they grow up, give up and leave it all behind.

Clayton Scrivner

Clayton Scrivner is a candidate for Salt Lake City Council District 4. A long-time community engagement professional, he’s a 28-year resident of Salt Lake City’s East Central Neighborhood, where he lives with his 11-year-old son, Charlie, and rescue mutt, Rudie.