At 29 years old, Nate Salazar can already say he's been prepping for a run for Salt Lake City Council for much of his life.
In 2012, he ran a campaign field office in southern Colorado for President Barack Obama. And at present, he is the vice chair of the East Central Community Council, chair of the Salt Lake County Democratic Hispanic Caucus and was appointed to the Salt Lake City Public Library's board of directors.
"I really think it's important that people recognize my community connection and the experience that I do have," says Salazar, who is vying for the District 4 council seat being vacated by Councilman Luke Garrott, who is running for mayor. "I feel like these things have given me a very good level of knowledge and expertise as well."
Salazar, who grew up in District 4—a zone that includes the bulk of downtown—believes the city could be doing more to facilitate economic development. He says the process to open a business in Salt Lake City has become burdensome.
"We need to make it a pleasure to open a business in Salt Lake," Salazar says, noting that he would be in favor of tweaking development impact fees and zoning ordinances to create a more development-friendly environment. "There's just a logjam in the city right now. That's something that we need to look at. We don't want opening a business to be a burden."
In Utah, Salt Lake City has led the way on measures that prohibit discrimination in the housing market and workplace. Salazar says he'd like to see the city take another leap in this direction by making public areas like parks more accessible to those who identify as transgender. He says these folks should be able to use the restroom that they feel most comfortable using.
Salazar says that an explicit assurance from the city that this is OK is "crucial" to letting residents and visitors alike know that they are welcome.
Though Salazar remains active in community organizing and politics, his day job is in education, where he is a community school director for United Way of Salt Lake. In this position, Salazar says he maintains an office in a school in Kearns, where he connects services provided by United Way to children and their families.
In this capacity, Salazar says he's developed a passion for education that he'd like to bring to the City Council. Salazar says he's well aware that as a councilman, he would have no influence over school policies. However, he says he'd like to see the city form stronger partnerships with school districts. In particular, Salazar says the city could assist school districts in applying for federal cash to be spent on after-school programs.
Salazar says the city could also play a key role in expanding the Salt Lake Education Foundation's Community Learning Centers (CLC), which provide increased services to students and families. There are CLCs in Glendale and Rose Park, but Salazar says they are needed in other corners of the city.
"We really need to think about what a partnership looks like with our city and schools," Salazar says.
One theme that is not currently on the city council's radar, but which is on the mind of Salazar and other District 4 candidates, is affordable housing.
Salazar says he's not convinced that implementing a mandate forcing developers to provide a certain number of below-market-rate units is the best way forward. But he does believe the city must provide incentives for developers to provide affordable housing in the apartment complexes expected to be built as the city's population climbs.
Without robust affordable housing, the city, Salazar says, could become uninhabitable by its lower-wage workers, including municipal employees like firefighters, police officers and teachers. If low-wage workers are pushed out, Salazar says the city will become less diverse.
"If we don't have that diversity in the city, we're not representative of who we are as a society," he says.
Salazar says he's well-suited for city council, a role he's had his eye on for decades.
"It's not about popularity, it's not about just having something else to do," Salazar says. "This is something I've been dreaming about since I was a kid."
In the lead-up to the Aug. 11 primary election, City Weekly will be publishing candidate profiles on the council candidates.