SLC Mayor Mendenhall gives State of the City address: ‘miraculous end to this pandemic is not coming’

Jan 25, 2022, 8:21 PM | Updated: Jan 26, 2022, 7:39 am
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall delivers her 2022 State of the City address on Tuesday, Jan. 2...
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall delivers her 2022 State of the City address on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall warned that there wasn’t an end to the pandemic in sight in her State of the City address Tuesday night.

Entering the third year of her term and the third year of an ongoing pandemic, Mendenhall addressed other issues the city faces despite the COVID-19 pandemic, including air quality, living costs, homelessness and public safety.

“Through all the crises, through all the emergencies, through the dark days and uncertain times, our focus has not waned. We have not been distracted, not for one minute.”

Mendenhall discussed the importance and urgency of improving Salt Lake City’s air quality. Mendenhall’s administration has planted 2,000 trees throughout the city over the past two years.

“It’s easy to underestimate the impact these trees can have. It may look like simple beautification to some, but the 2,000 trees we have planted will grow to generate half a million pounds of new oxygen and take 20,000 pounds of pollution out of the air each year. And they’ll do it in the neighborhoods that need it the most. These trees are not only a tool for environmental progress, but for environmental justice. While we do the work of addressing equity across the board, we are also planting the roots of a more equitable Salt Lake City with each tree that goes in the ground.”

Mendenhall told the public that there was an element of personal responsibility here that “we can’t simply ignore.” She urged the public that if they wanted better air quality, the best thing they could do is take public transit or switch to an electric vehicle.

“For years, our electricity provider told us that Salt Lake City would be able to start receiving all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. We attempted to negotiate an earlier delivery of that clean power, but what became clear during those negotiations was made official in October: Rocky Mountain Power was not able to deliver that critical, renewable energy ahead of schedule, but instead, they would have to delay another 20 years. I’m proud to report: we had a backup plan.”

Mendenhall then addressed the cost of living since the cost of living in Salt Lake City has increased substantially in a relatively short amount of time.

“I know some residents wish the city could impose a ceiling on rental rates, but state law forbids cities from enacting any kind of rent control. I agree that the $7.25 minimum wage in Utah is embarrassingly, abysmally — inhumanely — low, but state law forbids cities from setting a living wage. In the 13 years since the minimum wage was last increased, the median home value in Salt Lake City has more than doubled from $235,000 in 2008 to just under $500,000 last year.”

She said it was up to leaders to be creative and look for ways to lower the costs of living without “running afoul of current state law, and, ideally, without inviting new state laws that punish every city because we dared to try.”

Mendenhall emphasized the need for an affordable cost of living, not just affordable housing.

“The city government invested in more affordable units of housing in the last year than ever before, and we have more deed-restricted units in place than ever, ensuring that affordability lasts. Six affordable housing projects backed by the city’s Redevelopment Agency were completed in the last year, totaling 345 new affordable units. We also invested more than $6.5 million in another five projects that will bring another 735 affordable units in the coming years.”

Mendenhall also acknowledged those in the city without places to call home. She said not a day goes by in her job that she doesn’t think about the unsheltered members of our community and their needs.

“Salt Lake City’s values will not change. Our compassion will not be diminished. We will continue to bring our grit, our grace, and our resilience to the state’s homelessness crisis. These are our neighbors and they need our help. It is not unreasonable to expect the state legislature to do the same, so today I am calling on the leaders of cities and towns around the state, and indeed all Utahns, to reach out to their representatives on Capitol Hill and urge them to increase the state’s investment in its homelessness and housing crisis.”

Mendenhall applauded the reduction in overall crime and announced the goal for Salt Lake City to lead the state in public safety.

“Salt Lake City may no longer be the small town we once were, but every city resident, everyone who works in our city, and everyone who visits our city deserves to feel safe here. Everyone. The good news is: even though our officers are responding to more calls than ever, crime is down in Salt Lake City. By the end of 2021, we had seen a reduction in overall crime of 6% — that’s a 32-point improvement from where we were in March. As comforting as that may be, let me be clear: there is no amount of criminal activity that is acceptable for Salt Lake City. None.”

Mendenhall ended with the ongoing fight in the COVID-19 pandemic. She thanked medical professionals but acknowledged that the pandemic was no longer an event, it was an ongoing process.

“Our government is shifting from looking at COVID as an acute crisis to treating it as a chronic condition, not because the virus is any less deadly to the unvaccinated and immunocompromised, and not because our ICUs are any less crowded, but the bitter reality is that a sudden, miraculous end to this pandemic is not coming, and frankly, the city government is running out of ways to slow the spread of the virus. We will continue to do what we can and what our health experts advise — within the parameters state law allows — but we also have to acknowledge that personal responsibility is the most powerful tool remaining in our arsenal. The government can’t end this on its own. We need you.”

Mendenhall joined KSL Today to break down her plans to address COVID-19, homelessness and cost of living in Utah’s capital city.


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SLC Mayor Mendenhall gives State of the City address: ‘miraculous end to this pandemic is not coming’