Why Salt Lake City's mayor says she's willing to give herself an A for 2021

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall reviews her annual report card, a public accountability document reviewing the goals she outlined in 2021, outside of the mayor's office in the Salt Lake City-County Building on Thursday.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall reviews her annual report card, a public accountability document reviewing the goals she outlined in 2021, outside of the mayor's office in the Salt Lake City-County Building on Thursday. (Carter Williams, KSL.com)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Erin Mendenhall's second year as Salt Lake City's mayor may not have been as intense as her first year in office, 2020, but she found that there were many moments that felt as if 2021 was an extension of it.

That's especially true given that 2021 ended with a surge of COVID-19 cases city and statewide because of the omicron variant. The year also presented new challenges, like employee shortages and a stronger drought.

Despite all of that, Mendenhall believes the city was able to not just survive but thrive amid those hardships in 2021. So, as she revealed an update to the goals she outlined for 2021 last January, she's willing to give herself a good grade on her 2021 Salt Lake City Report Card.

"I think this is the first time I would give us an A," she said, standing outside of her office in the Salt Lake City-County Building on Thursday.

The report offers a progress assessment on the projects and goals outlined by Mendenhall in her 2021 State of the City address.

There were 141 goals outlined across all aspects of the city government, including housing, crime, infrastructure and environment. About two-thirds of those goals are marked complete, while most of the remaining goals are marked as "in progress." Only about 16 were marked as incomplete.

Mendenhall said, sure, there are items the city didn't get to like she would have wanted, but she contends dozens of the items on her list were things the city hadn't ever done before.

"It's remarkable how much we've gotten done," she said. "I'm incredibly proud of Salt Lake City Corporation employees for having the vision to put this plan with me in the first place but really for pulling it off as well as they have."

So what was she most proud of?

  • Citywide crime dropped 5.4% from 2020 and is down 1.3% from the five-year average. Robbery declined 18% from 2020 and 25% from the five-year average, according to Salt Lake City police data. However, it's worth noting those statistics show total violent crimes did rise 4.8% from 2020 and 13.8% from the five-year average, prompted by rises in aggravated assault and criminal homicide — something that the mayor had sought to decrease.
  • The city invested in 300 affordable housing units in 2021, the most in the city's history.
  • It made "big strides" to connect Salt Lake City's west residents by partnering with the Utah Transit Authority to launch a new microtransit program for residents in those areas. Mendenhall said she hopes to expand it to other parts of the city in the future.
  • The city supported small businesses by offering them access to a $4 million community grant pool. It also issued grants and loans to 38 businesses close to construction projects, such as the 300 West project.
  • The city's Tech Lake City and BioHive initiatives continued with partnerships toward the life sciences industry.
  • City officials completed a Foothills Trail Masterplan. However, the project to build more trails was put on hold in September amid growing erosion concerns. The mayor said Thursday that an independent review of the project is ongoing and provided no updates on that pause.
  • The city updated its Comprehensive Sustainability Policy and its Redevelopment Agency began a new policy to only fund projects that reach certain sustainability goals.
  • City officials planted another 1,000 trees on the city's west side.
  • The city raised its Human Rights Commission Municipal Index Score, becoming the first city in Utah to ever reach 100 on it. The score is based on "inclusive municipal laws, policies and services are of LGBTQ people who live and work there," according to the Human Rights Campaign. Salt Lake City was rated at 75 in 2020.

The report card shows the mayor struggled the most with some sustainability and homelessness goals.

For instance, four of her eight re-use goals were marked incomplete. The city didn't drive forward its wood re-use program in 2021 after 13 tons of wood were provided to artists and community organizations after the 2020 windstorm knocked over more than a thousand trees in the city.

The city also didn't complete plans to prioritize the use of compost from the city's landfill, strengthen its waste recycling ordinances or explore ways to "promote voluntary material re-use to assist low-income homeowners with home improvements and lower the cost of homeownership."

Mendenhall outlined a plan to support a winter homeless shelter supported by other cities, the county and the state. That didn't happen last year, and the city opened an emergency homeless shelter at an old motel last week. The city also didn't complete a goal of creating a homeless representative council, as the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness already has a similar group and the report card states the city "will support those efforts in lieu of duplicating them."

The mayor did mark complete her part in a tiny home project for homeless Utahns. Mendenhall said Thursday the project is now in the City Council's hands; she hopes the housing development will happen as soon as possible.

I couldn't think of being in office at any other time in my life that would be better. It's an incredible moment in our city.

–Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall

The full report card of all the 2021 goals and where they stand now can be found on the city's website. It essentially closes out the first half of Mendenhall's term as the mayor of Utah's largest city.

She describes the first half as "resilient," as the city has absorbed the punches thrown by natural disasters — a major earthquake, a destructive windstorm and a significant drought — and a seemingly never-ending pandemic during her tenure, and kept going.

"We keep getting back up and we're stronger than we were two years ago," Mendenhall said. "I mean that as a community, too. Our character has been exposed — it was already there. Crises don't create character, they get to expose it — and what I've seen out of our people is remarkable.

"They're so strong, creative, community-oriented and they're innovating and inventing all the time. ... It's incredibly inspiring," she continued. "I couldn't think of being in office at any other time in my life that would be better. It's an incredible moment in our city."

This year marks the beginning of the second half of her current mayoral term. She is slated to provide her 2022 goals next week, during her annual State of the City address scheduled for Tuesday.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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