West Valley City • Will West Valley City retain some of its small-town character or will its rapid growth transform Utah’s second most populous city?
This question – and what it means for the development, traffic and quality of life of the 140,230 residents – is at the center of this year’s local elections, including the duel for the city’s next mayor.
With incumbent Ron Bigelow not seeking another four-year term, the next mayor will be one of two city council members who have shared at least a decade in public service on behalf of West Valley City.
The finalists are business owner Karen Lang, who has represented District 3 since 2011, and Attorney Steve Bühler, who has been doing the same for District 2 since 2009.
Two other candidates, councilor Tom Huynh and business owner Arnold Jones, were eliminated in an August primary in which Lang received more than 40% of the vote, followed by Buhler with nearly 28%.
Here is a look at their visions for the city:
Keeping that hometown feel
Two Weimaraner dogs roam Oakbridge Greenhouse, the commercial garden center that Lang and her husband Brian opened 38 years ago. No plants can be seen near the store at this time of year while Lang sits for an interview; There are just a few chairs, dog beds, and accessories that will come in handy in the spring.
It is clearly a family business. Lang recalls that over the years her children and grandchildren have played and jumped on trampolines in different corners of the greenhouse, and that frequent customers rely on the arithmetic of a 9-year-old working at the till.
Lang said her family has become a permanent fixture in the community and she believes these types of connections are worth fighting for.
With all of the growth, Lang said, she longs to keep the city’s hometown feel while also accommodating the positive projects of commercial development, including upgrading the downtown area and adding hotels and medical buildings, which she sees as one of the highlights of their time in the Council.
If she is elected mayor, so Lang, she wants to finish what has already started.
“We’re not going to develop a lot unless we do some redevelopment, which means taking neighborhoods, maybe taking out a few houses and packing things in,” she said, “but hopefully we won’t.”
Lang’s efforts would not focus so much on rental units as on opening up opportunities for single-family home buyers of all levels “to make it a community everyone wants to stay in forever.”
“We want to keep the small town feeling,” she said, “without getting so big that we don’t know who we are.”
The connection of districts to local transport is also very important to Lang. Her kids grew up taking public transportation to school, and now she sees the convenience of taking a bus onto a TRAX train to get to work.
The Utah Transit Authority “did a good job keeping us connected and making the bus system easy to use,” she said. “We only need a few more bike paths and then we are perfect.”
In the ever-changing environment that COVID-19 brought with it, Lang hopes the current staff shortage will correct itself over the next year.
If it’s up to her as mayor, she said on a Salt Lake Tribune questionnaire, federal pandemic aid could be spent on “funding emergency preparedness and recovery for pandemic-hit businesses.”
Hugging a changing landscape
For his part, Bühler left his downtown Salt Lake City office to open his family law firm in West Valley City some 20 years ago.
His motivation at that moment was the time he wanted to spend at home in the city with his wife and three children.
And family is exactly what kept him alive. His practice as a lawyer has brought him closer to the community’s residents who use his advice on estate planning, inheritance, adoption, and guardianship.
In his office, black and white pictures of his family adorn the walls with hats from his father and grandfather, both Utahners. Although he records pieces from the past, Bühler believes that some things have to change.
Growth has meant the disappearance of some farms and the almost rural feel of West Valley City. But that’s not the biggest topic on Bühler’s agenda. His plan is more aimed at enabling families to develop their country and promoting attractive projects that motivate residents to stay – even if their financial or family situation changes.
“One problem we face is that when a lot of people have been a little successful they leave town. They moved out where they could find nicer apartments, ”said Bühler in an interview. “And that’s why we tried to offer more housing options so that we have a place in the city for everyone.”
There are also fights during transport, said Bühler. Streets are far apart. When traffic jams clog roads, everyone is affected. He believes public transportation has reduced some of these pressures, but argues that TRAX lines should go further, all the way to places like Magna, Kearns, and West Jordan. There’s no way UTA can do this without taking some land, he said, but he hopes these routes will become a reality with less impactful neighborhood layout options.
Bühler also views the retention of police officers and firefighters as a priority by offering competitive salaries, benefits, training, and equipment. He fears that the pool of career-oriented officers will shrink as the demand for their services increases.
But like his opponent, Bühler does not claim to be a revolutionary. He wants to keep the work that the city council has already started. For him, that means being open to companies and friendly to developers, while at the same time drawing boundaries in projects that don’t improve the city.
“You have to bring something special to town,” he said. “As a city, we can wait. I don’t care if it was developed during my lifetime. “
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America Corps member and writes for The Salt Lake Tribune on the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. Your donation, which equals our RFA grant, will help her write stories like this one; Please consider giving any tax deductible gift today by clicking Here.