Building Salt Lake Mayoral survey: See where candidates stand on smart growth policy issues

Editors’ note: Candidates are listed in the order which they returned our survey. Two candidates, Richard Goldberger and Rainer Huck, didn’t respond to the survey.

Most candidates running to become Salt Lake City’s next mayor aren’t likely to support policies that would require developers to set aside a portion of new apartments for low-income residents or contribute to the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

The policy, which is often used on a voluntary basis, seeks to prevent displacement as neighborhoods gentrify. But many candidates made clear they fear it would have the opposite effect and restrict housing supply, further driving up prices and displacing residents. 

Most candidates also aren’t likely to support broadening the city’s ordinance for cottage apartments, or ADUs. 

The City Council voted last year to expand the ordinance to make it easier for residents to add housing on their properties. But the ordinance requires homeowners to live on the property and to go through the conditional use process for approval before building an ADU.

The following are the candidates’ answers to questions about growth and development policies. We’ve included a “score” showing that tallies how likely they said they’d support the smart growth policy questions we asked them.

Building Salt Lake Survey questions and responses

1. Affordable housing and inclusionary zoning: How likely are you to support a requirement for developers to either establish 20% of their project’s units as affordable (e.g. 60% of AMI and below) or contribute the equivalent capital cost (e.g. a 100-unit project = $200,000 x 20 units = $4 million) to the city’s Housing Trust Fund?

  • Penfold: 1 out of 5
  • Ibarra: 3 out of 5
  • Dabakis: 1 out of 5
  • Mendenhall: 3 out of 5
  • Garbett: 1 out of 5 
  • Escamilla: 5 out of 5 

North Sixth apartments at 600 West and North Temple. Of its 115 units, 86 are income-targeted, averaging less than 50% AMI, which Salt Lake City calls “deeply affordable.” Photo by Luke Garrott.

2. Affordable housing and inclusionary zoning: How supportive are you of the city’s current policy of trying to place new affordable housing developments in all parts of the city, even when land costs and/or zoning are prohibitive in areas like Sugar House, the East Bench, and the Avenues?

  • Penfold: 3 out of 5
  • Ibarra: 3 out of 5 
  • Dabakis: 3 out of 5 
  • Mendenhall: 5 out of 5
  • Garbett: 5 out of 5
  • Escamilla: 5 out of 5

3. Quality of new multi-family buildings: How likely are you to support improvements in the quality (design aesthetics and construction materials) of new multi-family housing construction – either thru more stringent requirements in the zoning code or establishment of a design review board?

  • Penfold: 5 out of 5 
  • Ibarra: 5 out of 5 
  • Dabakis: 5 out of 5
  • Mendenhall: 5 out of 5
  • Garbett: 1 out of 5
  • Escamilla: 3 out of 5 

4. Transportation:How much of the >$30 million/year of new transportation money coming to the city thru Funding Our Future should be spent on protected bike/scooter lanes?

  • Penfold: 4 out of 5 
  • Ibarra: 4 out of 5 
  • Dabakis: 2 out of 5
  • Mendenhall: 2 out of 5
  • Garbett: 4 out of 5 
  • Escamilla: 2 out of 5
Scooter riders in the protected bike lanes on 200 West and Broadway, Salt Lake City. Photo by Luke Garrott.

5. Density/sustainability: Currently accessory-dwelling units (ADUs) are allowed city-wide but must go thru the conditional use process and are limited to one unit per parcel. How likely are you to support an expansion of the ADU ordinance? Would you support allowing up to 3 units on each single-family lot (akin to Minneapolis’s recent change)?

  • Penfold: 1 out of 5 
  • Ibarra: 3 out of 5
  • Dabakis: 1 out of 5 
  • Mendenhall: 1 out of 5
  • Garbett: 3 out of 5 
  • Escamilla: 3 out of 5

6. Transportation/sustainability: How committed are you to pursue expanded transit options in every neighborhood in the city?

  • Penfold: 5 out of 5
  • Ibarra: 5 out of 5 
  • Dabakis: 5 out of 5 
  • Mendenhall: 5 out of 5
  • Garbett: 5 out of 5 
  • Escamilla: 5 out of 5
UTA bus on Third Avenue, Salt Lake City. Photo by Luke Garrott.

7. How many times do you use “active transportation” (walking, biking, transit) in the average week?

  • Penfold: 5 out of 5
  • Ibarra: 5 out of 5 
  • Dabakis: 5 out of 5
  • Mendenhall: 5 out of 5
  • Garbett: 5 out of 5 
  • Escamilla: 4 out of 5 

Stan Penfold:

Overall rank: 3rd (tied)

Land use score: 10/20

Transportation score: 14/15

Overall score: 24/35

Stan Penfold showed strong commitment to improving transportation options and hesitance toward land use issues we presented. He also emphasizes historical preservation, noting that he lives in the Avenues historic district and has seen its benefits. 

Perhaps representing the Avenues on the City Council (D3) has contributed to his conservative view on increasing density in established neighborhoods. He is against ADU expansion and inclusionary zoning requirements for multi-family buildings, and tepid (three out of five) on siting affordable housing city-wide.

Design quality and aesthetics of new construction are quite important to him. “We need to build housing stock that is desirable today and in 100 years (boo beige stucco),” he says.

On transportation, Penfold is solidly progressive (14 out of 15). He ranked transit in every neighborhood at 5 out of 5. He calls accessible, free-fare transit “my top priority.” 

Spending on bike/scooter lanes reached 4 out of 5, with the comment “Bike/scooter infrastructure maximizes safety for all transit modes.” Penfold reports daily alternative transportation usage, and has been one of the most vocal in support of providing options that get people out of cars.

David Ibarra

Overall rank: 1st

Land use score: 14/20

Transportation score: 14/15

Overall score: 28/35

David Ibarra’s enthusiasm for progressive transportation policy is attenuated a bit by his more cautious views of density and affordable housing placement, though he still scored highest on the policy questions Building Salt Lake presented.

Ibarra ranks the importance of spending on bike/scooter lanes a 4 out of 5, and transit in every neighborhood a 5. 

He said he’s wary of some progressive land-use policies. While declaring that design quality of new construction is extremely important to him, he is not so enthusiastic about inclusionary zoning requirements or placing affordable housing city-wide. 

On transportation, Ibarra is emphatic about Salt Lake City’s Complete Streets Ordinance, which he somewhat awkwardly termed “The ‘Streets are street (sic) for all people,’ including people with disabilities, ordinance.” 

The ordinance “must be executed as written,” as “[it] accommodates cars, pedestrians, bicyclers, and scooters. The benefits are enormous to our environment and the overall health of our community.”

Bike advocates have said the city’s Complete Streets ordinance, which seeks to require the inclusion of bike and pedestrian infrastructure when streets and roads are reconstructed, is filled with loopholes that have allowed the city to not include active transportation during all projects.

For instance, the ordinance allows the city to not include bike infrastructure if there are “budget limitations.” (There are always budget limitations).

Ibarra reports that he does a lot of walking. He follows a rule of “if I can get there within 30 minutes or under by walking, I walk.” 

He has said he views autonomous vehicles as an answer for a wide range of social problems, including affordable housing, a view that appears to have attracted a significant amount of campaign funding from car dealerships throughout the Wasatch Front.

Jim Dabakis:

Overall rank: 6th

Land use score: 10/20

Transportation score: 12/15

Overall score: 22/35

Jim Dabakis answered our questions on transit in every neighborhood and how much he uses alternative transportation with strong positives – 5 out of 5. He is less sure about spending on bike/scooter lanes, ranking them only 2 out of 5. 

On land use, he says he tends to “believe in carrots rather than sticks,” thus his rejection of inclusionary zoning requirements. 

There are carrots currently in place in the city. For example, to incentivize inclusion of affordable units in multi-family developments, most downtown zoning grants height bonuses. In addition, the RDA enthusiastically showers affordable housing developers with discounts and freebies.

Dabakis even suggests that current requirements are driving developers away from the city: “If requirements are too heavy-handed in the city, developers will develop in other areas. This intensifying (sic) the affordable housing shortage.”

On design standards, Dabakis speaks with conviction: “I believe the city has a vested interest in the look of multi-family buildings that will help define neighborhoods for generations.” He rates its importance a 5 out of 5.

Dabakis said he’s not likely to support mandatory inclusionary zoning. 

“I believe in carrots rather than sticks. Some projects lend themselves to affordable housing more than others. If requirements are too heavy-handed in the city, developers will develop in other areas. This intensifying the affordable housing shortage.”

On low-income housing citywide, Dabakis said he was somewhat supportive of the city’s policy of trying to get affordable housing in every neighborhood.

“Fairness requires that affordable housing projects be spread across the city. However, the laws of economics have not been repealed. The community must weigh 20 affordable units in one area compared to 5 in another.”

Erin Mendenhall

Overall rank: 2nd (tied)

Land use score: 14/20

Transportation score: 12/15

Overall score: 26/35

Erin Mendenhall did well on our survey, ranking progressive land use and transportation policies with general enthusiasm. 

She was among three candidates who said the city should spend “a moderate amount,” 2 out of 5, on protected bike lanes. The city has all but stalled its creation of these low-stress lanes after the issue flared up during the 2015 mayoral race. (Ralph Becker created some of the city’s only actually protected bike lanes on 200 West and 300 South Downtown).

Because there are other commitments for the Funding Our Future tax hike, Mendenhall noted, she gave bike/scooter lanes a priority 2 out of 5. Yet she qualified in comments that they “are absolutely part of the equation.”

On land use, Mendenhall’s answers reflected her leadership on the City Council and RDA Board toward building affordable housing in all city neighborhoods. Design quality ranked 5 out of 5.

Inclusionary zoning requirements received only a 3 out of 5. She explained it would have been a 5 if the question only applied to Transit Station Area zones.

“If the question had included TSA zone in the inclusionary scenario, I would have selected ‘very likely’,” Mendenhall told us.

She favors moving slowly on ADUs now that they are city-wide (a policy she rightly claims ownership of at the City Council). 

“As chair of the Council, I ushered ADUs into being in 2018, including the citywide application,” Mendenhall said, referring to including ADUs citywide and not banning them in wealthier neighborhoods. 

Mendenhall said she wasn’t likely to support an expansion of the ordinance, for example allowing up to three units on a single-family lot.

“We committed to analyzing their application in the city and returning to the policy for needed updates in 2020.”

David Garbett

Overall rank: 3rd (tied) 

Land use score: 10/20

Transportation score: 14/15

Overall score: 24/35

David Garbett’s strong commitments to progressive transportation policies were attenuated by his land-use preferences.

Garbett is resistant of the idea of mandatory inclusionary zoning and design review, insisting that mandates are less effective than incentives. 

He said he’s “wary of review boards that make housing more difficult or push up costs excessively.”

Counter-acting his land-use conservatism, he supports ADU expansion but is uncertain about allowing a set number of dwellings on every lot (like three in Minneapolis). Affordable housing, he contends, should be shared in every city neighborhood (scoring a 5 out of 5).

Garbett is bullish on active transportation and transit. Transit in every neighborhood and alternative transit usage both received 5 out of 5. Garbett emphasized his bike commuting and walking to do daily chores. He has been clear throughout the campaign that the city’s days of designing for motorists are over. 

“Unknowingly, we designed our communities to be unhealthy. We designed our communities to be dirty. We designed our communities to be inequitable,” he said in June. “Fortunately, we’ve started to realize that. We’ve realized that simply designing around the car takes people off the sidewalks, off their blocks [and] hurts their communities.”

He also noted he’d strongly support creating a car-free zone (think Main Street downtown).

Luz Escamilla

Overall rank: 2nd (tied)

Land use score: 16/20

Transportation score: 10/15

Overall score: 26/35

Luz Escamilla’s responses won her a tie for second place. 

Escamilla has been clear throughout her campaign and in this survey that she’s enthusiastic about changes that reflect equity. She signaled strong support for inclusionary zoning requirements and city-wide placement of affordable housing (5 out of 5). She is slightly less behind ADU expansion (3 out of 5).

Her moderate transportation score comes from her low ranking of transportation funding for bike/scooter lanes and lower usage of alternative transportation than other candidates. On the other hand, she is strongly in favor of transit in every neighborhood.

She’s been clear in the campaign that she doesn’t think transit servicing of the city’s west side has been equitable with its east side.

“We need to close that gap right away,” she said at a debate in June. “Those levels of inequality need to be addressed now.”

She also indicated only tepid support for focusing on building a safe bike network, and during a question about road safety she focused exclusively on e-scooters rather than deaths by car or bad roadway design.

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