No Salt Lake City mayor has faced the degree of challenges Erin Mendenhall faced after taking office.
Earthquakes that shuttered dozens of buildings, weeks of protests for more just policing, a hurricane-strength windstorm that uprooted hundreds of trees around the city, and of course: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leaning on her expertise in city government and a message of grace and resolve, Erin has made real progress on a number of critical issues and demonstrated time and again why voters were correct to place their trust in her.
After keeping residents safe, improving our air quality is Mayor Mendenhall’s top priority. There is no quick fix, so she is working methodically to improve our air quality and protect our environment over the long-term.
Erin took two historic steps in her first term that will profoundly change the trajectory of Salt Lake City’s air quality.
First, she assembled a partnership with several large energy consumers to deliver net-100% renewable energy to Salt Lake City government facilities by the end of 2023. A new solar farm is being built right now in Tooele County to generate the power needed to do it.
And when Rocky Mountain Power acknowledged it would not be able to deliver 100% renewable energy to Salt Lake City customers by 2030 as pledged, Erin assembled a partnership with neighboring municipalities and RMP to create the first-in-the-nation Community Renewable Energy Agency to get that clean electricity on our own.
She has organized the Tickets for Transit program to allow certain event tickets to double as UTA passes and reduce emission-generating vehicle traffic.
Erin is delivering on her pledge to plant 1,000 new trees each year on the city’s West side — trees that will grow into an urban forest that cleans our air, produces oxygen, and improves property values. Using a blend of public and private financing, Erin’s trees initiative is closing a massive environmental equity gap in the city.
The Mayor has added new air-quality monitors and will make an app for the public to see air-quality data in real time. She has also begun the development of the city’s first-ever Renewable Energy and Climate Equity Plan to guide the city’s climate work while improving the lives of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Erin has also quadrupled the size of the trade-in program for polluting lawnmowers for city residents, fulfilling another campaign promise.
Utah’s decades-long homelessness crisis — which has always been centered in Salt Lake City — was severely exacerbated by the pandemic. Mayor Mendenhall has led with her values at every turn, determined to treat each person experiencing homelessness as an individual and compassionately help them get back on their feet.
Taking swift action after being sworn-in, Mayor Mendenhall stood-up an emergency 145-bed winter shelter in the city. The city hosted another emergency shelter the following winter.
With fears over COVID resulting in an increased hesitancy to go into the homeless resource centers to access services, Mayor Mendenhall launched the Community Commitment Program to bring those services out to those unsheltered individuals.
Erin also partnered with the Other Side Academy to begin building a “tiny home” community in the city to house unsheltered residents and surround them with services. The Mayor has also announced her intent to use American Rescue Plan funding to build more permanent supportive housing in the city, on top of the 240 units that have opened during her term so far.
With the pandemic increasing the number of unsheltered Utahns living in Salt Lake City, Mayor Mendenhall did what previous mayors had been unable to do: get the state and neighboring municipalities to shoulder more of the load.
Because of Erin’s strategy, FY2023 was the first year Salt Lake received state money to improve public-safety efforts around homeless resource centers — something other cities had been receiving for years.
Her strategy also led to the state stepping in to require other cities in Salt Lake County to host temporary overflow shelters.
Under Mayor Mendenhall’s leadership, Salt Lake City has invested in more affordable units of housing than ever before. It also now has more deed-restricted units in place than ever to ensure their affordability lasts.
To further expand the inventory of affordable housing units in the city, she created a pilot program to waive impact fees for accessory dwelling units to incentivize their construction.
To help prevent economic challenges during COVID from pricing people out of their homes, Erin created a $20 million fund for housing assistance and waived license fees for landlords who agreed not to evict tenants during the pandemic.
Believing data should drive the city’s decision-making, Mayor Mendenhall also commissioned the first-ever study of the gentrification happening now in Salt Lake City and is working with experts on the development of a cutting-edge plan to help keep more of our neighbors in their homes.
Just as she promised she would if elected, Mayor Mendenhall has stopped the squandering of “impact fees” paid by developers to Salt Lake City, utilizing them for projects benefitting city residents, including new parks.
Erin used those fees to purchase the historic seven-acre “Hobbitville” property and turn it into the public Allen Park in Sugarhouse. She has also announced her intention to build a new flagship park on the city’s West side, on the scale of Liberty Park.
The Mayor opened the new Three Creeks Confluence Park in Glendale, daylighting Red Butte Creek, Emigration Creek, and Parleys Creek where they join the Jordan River. Just weeks prior, three new ramps were opened along the Jordan River for canoes, kayaks and rafts.
And to ensure its green spaces remain a top priority for the city, Erin made Parks and Public Lands its own city department.
When the state stepped back from taking decisive action to slow the pandemic, Mayor Mendenhall stepped up with a massive whole-of-government response to keep residents safe. Her bold leadership earned the praise of healthcare workers, business leaders, editorial boards, and residents across the city.
Among other actions, she issued a stay-at-home order early to slow the initial spread of the virus and put more than $20 million into housing assistance for those whose income was affected by COVID.
Erin was the first mayor in the country to help small businesses by creating a million-dollar emergency loan program weeks before federal funds were approved, and she closed certain city streets to cars for residents’ recreational use and others to help restaurants stay in business by offering outdoor dining.
After the state’s controversial “COVID endgame” law took effect, Mayor Mendenhall found a loophole to require the continued wearing of life-saving face coverings throughout the city.
And when schools reopened, Mayor Mendenhall figured out a legal path forward to require masks for K-12 students and teachers.
Rising to a unique moment and being responsive to weeks of demonstrations on Salt Lake City’s streets, Mayor Mendenhall enacted an unprecedented array of police reforms designed to reduce the use of force and make Salt Lake City safer and more just for everyone. Those reforms led to a 14 percent reduction in officers’ use of force in their first six months on the books.
The police department also underwent specialized training for safely engaging those with sensory conditions, like autism, making it the first department in the nation to be Certified Sensory Inclusive™.
Erin also convened a commission on racial equality in policing tasked with making additional recommendations for improving the equity of policing in Salt Lake City. Among other steps, and at the commission’s urging, the city is hiring 12 additional social workers to supplement police officers on emergency calls.
Determined to make getting around the city more convenient, sustainable, and equitable, Mayor Mendenhall has systematically worked to improve public transit options, expand options for biking and walking, and make our streets safer.
Mayor Mendenhall reduced the speed limit on most residential streets to 20 mph, which experts say will significantly reduce pedestrian casualties.
Erin was the driving force behind Free Fare February, an experiment that made public transit free systemwide for a month to reduce vehicle-generated pollution. She is now working to make it permanent.
She partnered with UTA to create on-demand services to help underserved communities access TRAX and bus lines. The city has also helped add new TRAX stations in the city and added bus shelters to make the experience of riding more pleasant in inclement weather.
Erin is keeping her campaign promise to cultivate a tech ecosystem in Salt Lake City — attracting the kinds of jobs that will keep our best and brightest here. The Mayor partnered with some of the city’s most innovative healthcare innovation companies to launch BioHive, an association to represent and support biotech entrepreneurs here in the city.