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The City Journals

SLCO at ‘Tipping Point’: Growth, Canyons spotlighted at Mayor’s Millcreek Town Hall


May 02, 2019 12:17PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

The Millcreek Library proved to be a bustling, engaging site for the third stop on County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s cross-county public-engagement tour. (Photo courtesy Salt Lake County)


By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

Salt Lake County (SLCO) is at a “tipping point” with growth. And what SLCO leadership needs to do better, according to SLCO Mayor Jenny Wilson, is fully embrace its role in managing this growth and the regional destiny of the area, preserving Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons, but not “costing families out of the Canyons.”

While on stop three of her five-site cross-county town hall, Tuesday, April 30, Wilson discussed growth, quality of life—especially access to Little and Big Cottonwood Canyon—and a variety of other resident concerns, amidst a backdrop of promoting SLCO’s varied community services to a group of 40-some residents in attendance at the Millcreek Library.

The Millcreek town hall, stop three of a town-hall tour that so far has covered Southwest Quadrant (Salt Lake County Equestrian Park and Event Center) and South Valley (Draper Senior Center), was a buzzing, lively evening.

SLCO at ‘tipping point’…

“I really feel we are at a tipping point,” Wilson said, describing Salt Lake County’s growth.

With growth, comes pressure, she observed, with much of it translating to concerns of accessibility and the concept of change itself.

“What used to be 15 minutes—is [now] 10 minutes longer or a half-an-hour or even longer,” Wilson said, speaking to transportation mobility within the Valley. 

At a previous town hall in South Jordan, the mayor, whose family resides in Salt Lake’s Federal Heights neighborhood, shared her own struggles with mobility, as a mother of young children, being able to get them to skiing lessons in the Canyons. Her solution? Arriving, bleary-eyed, an hour early for the already-early morning weekend skiing lessons.

These struggles are a generational matter for the Wilson family itself, with the mayor’s father and former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, telling the Millcreek audience about feeling the pain of trying to enjoy Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons choked by rudimentary access incapable of servicing the area’s local and tourism needs.

Wilson, in her role with the Central Wasatch Commission (CWC), is vowing to tackle near-term solutions for Canyons accessibility in time for next year’s ski season. 

“A few things will be implemented next ski season,” she said. 

Among her short-term solutions is BRT—Bus Rapid Transit—and, for the longer-term, “a lot of the big-ticket items needing to hear back from UDOT (Utah Department of Transportation) on.”

Wilson discussed tolling roadway access, but swiftly added, “We don’t want to cost families out of the canyon.” Wilson said she wants to “make buses more user-friendly with ski equipment.”

The Utah Legislature has appropriated funds for a transit center at the mouth of the canyons, she said. “I’m committed to keep working on this.”

She also indicated the necessity of a multi-pronged approach: “A number of pieces have to happen at once.”

“If I can’t make it happen, I will come and tell you why,” she promised. 

…and the SLCO Mayor needing to ‘embrace the regional role’

Another role she is seeking to heighten is her responsibility—and opportunity—for regional planning.

“What the County needs to do better,” suggested Wilson, “is [to] really embrace the regional role.”

Wilson is taking this seriously. She is on the board of metropolitan planning organization (MPO) Envision Utah and, to buoy SLCO’s strength in contributing to not just Canyons transportation but regional growth, has reorganized SLCO’s executive cabinet. In March, Wilson appointed Catherine Kanter to the role of deputy mayor of regional operations. Kanter’s deep, Canyons-specific experience with SLCO’s Mountainous Planning Commission is meant to aid the Mayor’s focused efforts.

‘Partnerships make it possible’

In attendance at the Millcreek town hall was Millcreek resident and Executive Director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) Andrew Gruber.

“I’m feeling very well-represented as a Millcreek citizen,” stated Gruber. Then, perhaps as a “planted question,” Gruber stated/asked: “Utah’s population is growing really fast. Can you talk a little bit about what you are doing and what the county is doing, to maintain our quality of life, with population growth?”

In response, Wilson referenced the challenges of the Southwest Quadrant’s “explosive growth, without long-term infrastructure” and regional struggles with density—“A lot of communities are really struggling with that.”

A big part of the solution? Partnerships. “Partnerships really make it possible,” said the mayor.

Gruber complimented the mayor on her role in working with WFRC and Envision Utah and, as a transplant to Utah from Chicago, also spoke of his family’s enjoying Salt Lake County.

WFRC, in partnership with SLCO, is “taking things to a new level,” noted the mayor. “What he [Gruber] has really done is look at how to create community through economic development. The answer is really a partnership.”

“This community is worth fighting for,” summed Wilson.

Residents, ‘electeds’, and SLCO’s own in the house

Attendance had SLCO residents from Cottonwood Heights, South Salt Lake City, the Millcreek area itself, and even residents journeying from Brighton and South Jordan.

Elected officials – whom Wilson refers to as “electeds” – included State, County, and local officials. Rep. Patrice Arent of the Utah House of Representatives was in Wilson’s house. (At the start of the evening, the mayor mentioned a certain fondness for the Millcreek facility, having aided in the planning and appropriations for the building, whilst serving on the Salt Lake County Council.)

Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini and Millcreek City Councilwoman Bev Uipi attended. Midvale Mayor Robert Hale was in attendance, as were council members from South Salt Lake—Mark Kindred and Sharla Bynum, respectively.

Multiple guests in attendance indicated having ties to the Millcreek area, including SLCO Recorder Rashelle Hobbs and Unified Chief of Police Jason Mazuran, both of whom grew up in the area. Hobbs indicated having gone to high school with Millcreek attendants in the audience.

Real-time public opinion

“This is really quite amazing,” shared Wendy Garner from Cottonwood Heights. “In my time, I don’t recall a mayor and county being so eager to connect. A great outreach.” Garner is in Democratic Party leadership, serving as a legislative chair.

Councilwoman Sharla Bynum came to hear about services that would impact her South Salt Lake constituency and even brought her high-school age son to the proceedings. “County Government 101,” she dubbed the proceedings, complimenting the county for “explaining everyone’s roles.”

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Ann Granato praised the mayor’s proactive outreach to the community, having just been in office a few months before setting County staff to pull off the five-site cross-county town hall.

“The mayor’s name may as well be Jenny ‘Outreach’ Wilson,” Granato quipped. “She has made more effort than anyone could imagine, to loop people in, to help them feel a part of the community.”

To that end, Wilson also announced hosting monthly time to meet with SLCO residents. Meetings with the Mayor will take place from 5-6:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month. Residents book their time with the mayor by calling 385-468-7000 or simply e-mailing [email protected]
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