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Rocky hails differences year made in Salt Lake

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In a nearly hourlong speech hailing cultural and physical change in Utah's capital, Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson renamed the 2002 Olympics, reminded everyone to recycle and, while he was at it, touted his initiatives that are "bucking trends that have become a way of life for many Utahns."

Anderson's third annual "State of the City" speech held Salt Lake City — and the mayor's eclectic list of policy changes — as an example to the country. During and after the Olympics, Anderson proclaimed, the city will continue "learning from the past (and) exercising the courage to move in new directions."

During the Winter Games "we will show the world the compassion and caring of our community," by opening an overflow homeless shelter and by throwing a huge downtown party with live entertainment all day and most of each night. These will be "the People's Games," Anderson declared.

During the break following the speech, Councilman Carlton Christensen gave that idea a less than enthusiastic review. The People's Games moniker is "a stretch," Christensen said. "I'm not ready to call them that . . . They're really the athletes' Games."

But the mayor didn't linger long on the Olympics; he quickly moved on to tout two of his most dearly held causes: after-school programs for youths and a new park on Library Square.

That park "is his legacy," Christensen said, adding that if Salt Lake City has a showpiece of an urban commons around the Main Library by this time next year, Anderson will certainly parade it throughout his run for re-election.

As for the mayor's youth programs, "we support them, but we're not sure (the city) should be the provider of them," Christensen said. At last year's budget session, the City Council allocated $150,000 for youth programs, half what the mayor asked for. Programs director Janet Wolf has since brought in a $1.2 million federal grant, but says she needs much more to make after-school activities available to all young Salt Lakers who need them.

Other vintage Rocky Anderson proclamations came next: Salt Lake leaders must "change entrenched ways of doing things." Walkable neighborhoods, transit development before highway construction, locally owned shops instead of malls — there lies the path to a healthy city, the mayor said.

"That's refreshing," said Steven Rosenberg, co-founder of the Vest Pocket Coalition, a local business advocacy group. Yet he added that such ideology often can't survive reality. "Everyone has two cars, and they drive to Costco twice a month," and one neighborhood, even if it's full of people who walk, can't support many retail businesses. Rosenberg said his Liberty Heights Fresh grocery store has to draw customers from all over the valley.

This year's "State of the City" included some of last year's content about Places Rated Almanac's listing of the Salt Lake area as the best place to live in North America, and praised many of the city officials Anderson appointed soon after he took office, from prosecutor Sim Gill to planner Stephen Goldsmith. But the mayor's tone was almost somber this time; last year's venom and bluster are gone. In January 2001 Anderson castigated "some in the media" for focusing on staff turnover at his office, and vilified former County Commissioner Mary Callaghan for taking her $279,500 severance package. In his pre-budget-session speech a few months after that, Anderson chastised Utah League of Cities and Towns director Ken Bullock for his differing views on various topics. In 2002, the mayor's targets were 1) poor air quality and for that matter, poor quality of life, which he attributes to "our auto-centered approach to transportation and land-use planning" and 2) the Union Pacific Railroad, which is foisting freight trains on west-side neighborhoods.

Near the end, Anderson turned metaphysical. "The grandeur of our landscape is a source of pride and gratitude," he said, "and provides us with a feeling of closeness with the outdoors . . . the health of our environment directly impacts the health of our bodies — and of our souls." The mayor went on to promise that this year the city will step up it efforts to persuade residents and businesses to conserve water and energy and recycle more.

Responding to concerns voiced by many in the Salt Lake business community, Anderson also vowed that an economic development director would soon be hired to fill the key position that has lain vacant since last summer.

"He's a good guy," said Rosenberg. But "actions speak louder than words."

E-mail: durbani@desnews.com