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Rocky says S.L. can be better

He offers ways to improve city for everyone

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Salt Lake City needs to fix itself, Mayor Rocky Anderson says, and in a 22-minute speech he gave a breakneck rundown on how that could be done.

His Rotary Club address Tuesday differed from others given in recent months, though it mentioned how often the Beehive capital is hailed as one of the most livable locales in the country. But while Places Rated Almanac, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Money magazine sing Salt Lake City's praises, Anderson said "we still have plenty to do to improve our city for everyone" who lives or considers living here.

"Two weeks ago we heard a wake-up call about understanding diversity," the mayor began. A group of Salt Lakers protested the Gay Pride Month display of books at the Day-Riverside Library June 21.

"I don't want my kids to grow up thinking it's OK to be gay," Anderson quoted one protester as saying. He also recalled a Rose Park resident who complained last summer that he couldn't read the signs in his neighborhood and that there was too much Spanish around him.

"This message," the mayor said, "is clearly unhealthy for our community." Such protesting tells Salt Lakers that "if you're different from the majority . . . you're in the wrong place."

That mind-set can change, Anderson said, if Salt Lakers are tossed together — on transit buses and TRAX, at parks, concerts and playgrounds. "Our range of opinions, our differences are what make us interesting."

The mayor just came from what he called a wildly successful public party. Salt Lake's first International Jazz Festival drew thousands over the weekend, after Anderson and local music promoters spent just two months raising money and booking acts from the Yellowjackets to Nancy Wilson.

Anderson has had a harder time with other alliances, such as with the Salt Lake City School District and the City Council. He's not letting go of the school-closure fight, nor is he giving up the hunt for funding for the after-school programs his administration launched this year. District officials recently announced two schools will shut down, amid ongoing outcry from residents.

"People ask, 'Why is the mayor getting involved in this issue?' " Anderson said. His answer: Schools and programs for children indicate the quality of a whole community. "When a family moves in, the first thing they ask is, 'How are the schools?' "

The mayor added that he'd like to "explore things like a developer impact fee" to help fund neighborhood schools. As for his after-school activities, Anderson vowed that money will be found to expand them, despite what he called the "budget shootout" that reduced activities funding from $300,000 to $150,000. Grant-proposal writers at the City-County Building have their work orders.

Toward the end of his speech, Anderson turned back to a recent success. He lauded his Rotary Club audience for donating $300,000 to another youth program: the all-abilities playground to be built this fall at Liberty Park. The Rotary Play Park will be "a model of how we can provide for our children, with and without disabilities, a playground without borders," the mayor said. "This is so unique, not only for Salt Lake City but for the entire country."

E-mail: durbani@desnews.com