Before Kyle LaMalfa founded the west-side community’s People’s Market, or before he decided to run for Salt Lake City Council against three-term incumbent Van Turner, LaMalfa enrolled in the Western Leadership Institute with big ambitions.
“I was actually living in the attic of my buddy’s house, working at a ski resort in Park City, and I wanted to be a manager,” LaMalfa says. “I took [a class at the institute], thinking ‘Man, soon as I graduate, I’ll be a leader, I’ll be the manager.’ It turns out it actually changed my whole perspective on the world. I decided to quit my job and go back to school, and while I was going back to school, I started the People’s Market.”
From being a ski bum with middle-management ambitions, LaMalfa became a west-side cheerleader who is now campaigning to bring love back to the west side. Since April, the laid-back statistical analyst has walked his entire district and is now making a second lap of his neighborhood, talking to residents. When not walking, LaMalfa’s campaign vehicle is a delightfully dorky scooter, fitted on the front with his campaign sign.
“Now that I’ve been through once, I’m just going to the people that I missed—dude, I can cover way more ground on the scooter,” LaMalfa says, admiring his campaign wheels.
The message he’s scooting to west-siders is simple: schools, jobs and safety.
Soon, Salt Lake City will begin deciding how to allocate school-board members to represent the city’s population growth revealed in the 2010 census. “We’ve got half the kids here on the west side, but we’ve only got two of the seven school-board seats,” LaMalfa says, adding, “What fits for Indian Hills Elementary on Foothill Drive may not be same for all the refugees at Mountain View down here.”
Education, however, is also wrapped up in public safety, a major issue for west-siders. At one of the doors knocked, LaMalfa greets two rambunctious kids orbiting their mom and interrupting LaMalfa’s pitch.
“We got school tomorrow, so you should leave us alone!” the child says as his mother politely talks over him, explaining to LaMalfa that despite living across from Jackson Elementary, she doesn’t feel safe having her kids walk to school, so she takes them to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School on the east bench.
“I wish I could feel safer,” she says.
Down the street, an electrician fresh off work gives LaMalfa an earful about the street’s woes, from the faded school-crosswalk sign put in at the wrong spot on the street to the shady characters at the apartment block down the street.
“I bought this house when I was 21, and back then I didn’t know the freaks don’t come out in January,” the man says. “As soon as the snow melted and the sun came out and flowers bloomed, it was like, ‘Wow, where did all these people come from?’ I’m sorry, you caught me on a sore subject. I’ve been in this neighborhood for 15 years, and nothing ever changes. Like, who’s responsible for the lights?”
“Your elected representative is the one responsible for turning the lights on or letting them burn out,” LaMalfa says of a recent budget decision to not keep midblock lights on.
While LaMalfa is proud to have gained the endorsement of the police union, he’s most excited for a business idea he’s hatched while working with local farmers at the People’s Market—a business-kitchen incubator, a kind of commercial kitchen co-op where people could share kitchen and refrigerating costs and also have a place to develop a line of food products, supported by grants possibly leveraged through the city’s Redevelopment Association.
“Everyone that’s down at the Downtown Farmers Market that sells some kind of cookie or jam or bread—if they’re just getting started it’s because they’ve got a ‘bro deal’ going on,” LaMalfa says of people who have a friend with a kitchen or a catering business that’s helped them make their product. “But for new arrivals, especially refugees, there are no ‘bro deals,’ especially when navigating the whole department of agriculture and the health department—it’s tough.”
LaMalfa feels good about the campaign. While he sees his opponent as a nice guy, he believes he can do better, especially to help engage west-siders, as well as the rest of the city, in learning more about festivals, shopping and other events that put the west side on the right side of the tracks in LaMalfa’s book.
While the community advocate got his start as a numbers nerd—he holds degrees in economics, statistics and sociology—he says representing the west side is his true passion.
“I’m a nerd about the west side, man,” LaMalfa says.
Van Turner realizes he has a race on his hands. This is the first election in 12 years as District 2 city councilman where he’s had to make his own flier to mail out to voters.
“This is kind of a big deal here,” Turner says, admiring one of the fliers.
Turner has moved to sending out a mailer only since facing tough competition from LaMalfa, who took first place in the September primary. But for Turner, a flier is not the secret weapon. The secret weapon is not so secret—it’s the fact that the fourth-generation west-sider has got roots on the block going back decades. For that matter, he’s pretty much got his own block—or, at least, a nice stretch of California Avenue, where his burger joint, Hook & Ladder, sits next to the family flower shop his father and grandfather used to own back when it was the only grocery store for miles. That shop is also adjacent to the beauty salon Turner owns, which once stood as his childhood home.
Next to Hook & Ladder, Turner also can claim a corner of the neighborhood’s first community garden, which his business waters for free.
“Yeah, this is my little corner of the world right here,” Turner says. “Some of these politicians tell you they’re going to do all these things, and then they say, ‘Well, I’m going to be here regardless of whether I win or lose.’ I remember one candidate said that, and I think it was about two months later they moved away to Park City.”
“Business people focus on what their passion is,” Turner says. “Whether you’re Jon Huntsman, or the little guy with the bookstore around the corner.” In Turner’s case, that includes flowers, hair and some sumptuous burgers—the jalapeño burger with the upgraded deep-fried mushrooms instead of fries is truly a work of love. But after 12 years, Turner now has to convince voters he can keep the sizzle on the west side.
The west side’s struggle for infrastructure is one issue Turner says has been an ongoing battle. In the late ’90s, the water line along California Avenue broke regularly, he says, flooding homes and businesses, with three breaks happening in one day alone. Since his election, that line’s been replaced. He also touts the anti-graffiti program for preventing fences, Dumpsters, business fronts and church walls from being marred by graffiti.
Bringing a west-side police precinct to the district has helped reduce crime by allowing cars to patrol the neighborhood instead of responding to incidents after they’ve happened. Since 2008, crime in the district has dropped 15 percent.
“I was over on 700 South last night, and the only complaint I heard was there were too many police on the street and that occasionally they went too fast,” Turner says.
He’s also brought new lighting to Redwood Road and California and hails the North Temple viaduct in his district as the city’s largest current construction project.
But Turner has also faced setbacks, including the recent decision by the Utah Department of Corrections to place a 300-bed parole violators’ center in his district—the fourth such facility to be located in the district.
“I’ve been involved in these things way too much,” Turner says. He can count one success of thwarting the placement of a 500-bed-plus facility, but says otherwise, when the Legislature mandates the need for a facility, cities have the least say in the matter.
“I never heard Mayor Becker madder on any other issue than that,” Turner says. “But our hands were tied.”
Being a small-business owner, Turner believes, helps give one staying power in a community.
It’s hard to imagine how running three businesses leaves time for the council, but Turner shrugs off such concerns, saying that after the lunch rush, there’s always a lull for time to put out fires and talk to reporters. While talking with City Weekly, Turner is interrupted twice. He gives a status update about helping an acquaintance in drug counseling, and lets one resident know that he had called the city on a house that had been trashed and abandoned by the residents. Turner proudly notes the city’s new good-landlord program, which will require training and good practices to turn slumlords into responsible landlords.
Still, Turner knows he has a fight on his hands.
“We’ve had to ratchet this [campaign] up a bit,” Turner says. “But that’s fine, we like it. Gets me out from the apron.”
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