Becker unveils sweeping livability initiative

State of the City • Mayor goes even greener — pushes sustainability, accessibility and sophistication.
This is an archived article that was published on in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Touting an already-hatched Salt Lake City "renaissance," Mayor Ralph Becker says his second-term focus will be a six-point livability initiative designed to make Utah's capital the nation's first net-zero city.

Highlights include a shift in resources toward walkable neighborhood districts, a solar farm atop the city's former dumping grounds to slash energy consumption, and a new hate-crimes ordinance to promote social justice.

"We are ascending to a new kind of urbanism that embraces accessibility, sustainability and sophistication," the mayor said Tuesday during his fifth State of the City address.

Becker's goal: Create more walkable neighborhoods — especially on the west side — anchored by 9th & 9th-style commercial hubs, retrofit city buildings to curb energy use, pen a comprehensive plan to protect the canyons, and connect the city's web of trails, light-rail trains and coming streetcars to boost air quality.

Re-elected in a breeze, Becker also vows to strengthen early-childhood education programs and after-school programs, including the possibility of a "youth conservation corps." And he pledges a more cosmopolitan city by expanding cultural offerings. That includes a much-hyped $110 million touring Broadway theater as well as plans to fund an "arts incubator" program for emerging artists and a commitment to open up vacant storefronts as temporary studios, performance spaces or galleries.

All this to come on the heels of March's grand opening of City Creek Center, the LDS Church's $2 billion retail and residential hub destined to reset downtown.

"Livability has emerged as a unifying theme for framing our priorities," Becker said. "We have focused on making our city one of the greenest, most inclusive and economically viable municipalities in the country."

Because Becker ran last year virtually unchallenged, he says he used the door-to-door time to quiz residents about their priorities. That helped form his new-look agenda. Some of those items — from a commitment to so-called complete streets to transparency at City Hall — are continuations.

But the mayor also hopes to "strenuously and fastidiously" protect the watershed, better promote the city's natural resources, and place more emphasis on neighborhood business districts, which he dubs "place-based economies."

One, nicknamed "River District Gardens" along the Jordan River at 900 South and 900 West, pleases new west-side Councilman Kyle LaMalfa.

"He mentioned a bunch of west-side projects in the speech, which was pretty exciting," LaMalfa, who founded the People's Market at Jordan Park, said. "Refreshing to see that that's on the mayor's radar."

In addition to the west-end's 9th & 9th, the mayor pointed to the 9Line multiuse trail aside the old 900 South rail corridor, and an ongoing restoration push along the Jordan River.

Becker said he hopes to leverage the city's business-assistance programs for the small-business hubs and pursue still more resources. Tweaking the zoning to invite more small-commercial clusters near neighborhoods also is a priority among several council members. Despite making it a priority at their early 2010 retreat, neighborhood bars, initially pushed by Becker, remains on the back-burner.

Yet few found much disagreeable about Becker's second-term goals.

"I loved it," Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said about the address. "I've consistently felt like Mayor Becker has a great vision for what our city can be and is."

Love said she is especially excited about the education partnerships.

Becker says the net-zero goal is inspired by the $125 million public-safety headquarters, which produces as much energy as it consumes through efficiencies and renewable technologies. The idea is to go beyond LEED — the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation, held as a green-building standard — to make the city's buildings truly self-sufficient.

"It's huge," said Becker's spokesman Art Raymond. But it's also certain to take lots of dollars and lots of time.

In the interim, the mayor wants to preserve the Wasatch canyons — the bursting Salt Lake Valley's "backyard" — by balancing uses and establishing "mountain transportation systems."

Becker, who adamantly opposes the proposed gondola from The Canyons to Solitude, did not elaborate.

"Our mountains, the lifeblood of our valley, face unprecedented demands," he said. "Our residents, businesses and governmental entities should forge a consensus that guides us for the next generation."

During the speech, roughly 10 people sat in the front two rows with fake $100 bills taped over their mouths, which were defaced by the word "shame." Police said the group, who were in their 20s, were part of the Occupy Salt Lake movement. A row of police watched intently as one man from the group stood directly in front of the mayor, moving slowly in a circle to show off his white T-shirt scribbled with black marker. In front it read, in part, "Is this a reflection of silenced citizens..." In the back: "Back off Becker!" —

Six points of livability

The Resilient Economy • Bolstering neighborhood business districts

Salt Lake City in Motion • Bikeways, connected trails and streetcars

A Wise Energy Future and Quality Environment • Net-zero buildings and watershed protection in the Wasatch

Innovation and Celebration of Education • Partnerships for after-school programs and early-childhood literacy

A Commitment to Equality and Opportunity • Hate-crimes legislation and gay-rights protections

Enhancing the Artistic and Cultural Life • Broadway playhouse to art space in vacant storefronts —

Council punts on billboards

After months of debate and hearing industry pushback over how to regulate electronic billboards, the City Council voted Tuesday to preserve the status quo while city officials continue to study options that strike a balanced approach. Mayor Ralph Becker wants strict regulations on both flashing roadway signs and animated on-premise business signs. Billboard executives and some merchants say the proposal is anti-business.

In other city action, the Redevelopment Agency Board voted unanimously to approve a loan for the Broadway Park Lofts, located north of Pioneer Park at 360 W. 300 South.