Growth, housing focuses of Provo Municipal Council candidate town hall
With over three months until the primary election and five months until Election Day, a majority of candidates seeking seats on the Provo Municipal Council participated in a town hall discussion, touching on a few prominent issues affecting the city.
The town hall meeting was held at the Provo City Library on Thursday. It was organized and moderated by state Rep. Tyler Clancy who represents a portion of Provo City in the Utah House of Representatives.
Clancy began the evening by thanking the 50-plus people who attended, some of whom were left standing in the back of the room because there were no more chairs, saying important issues are decided by “people like you, concerned citizens who care about our community, who believe in Provo and want to see it thrive.”
Of the now-12 candidates seeking four seats on the Municipal Council, only eight attended the town hall. Clancy said Citywide candidates McKay Jensen and Tanner Bennett along with District 3 candidate Becky Bogdin were not able to attend for various personal reasons. No reason was stated, though incumbent council member Travis Hoban, the only candidate for the District 4 seat, also did not attend.
The participating candidates were Craig Christensen (District 1), Stan Jensen (District 1), David Lewis (District 3), Joseph Penrose (Citywide), Ari Emmanuel Webb (Citywide), Gary Garrett (Citywide), Wendy Ahlman (Citywide) and Nathan Smith Jones (Citywide).
Residents across Provo are eligible to vote for the Citywide seat, District 1 extends from the northernmost reaches of the city to Brigham Young University and District 3 includes residents west of Interstate 15.
The meeting also included a presentation from Salt Lake County Council member Aimee Winder Newton, also the director of the Office of Families for Gov. Spencer Cox, and Derek Monson, vice president of policy for the Sutherland Institute on family-focused policy in Utah.
All of the questions were determined and asked by Clancy, aside from one by resident Larry Shumway, who questioned the candidates on housing — specifically the continued building of high-density housing. Each candidate was given an opportunity to answer every question asked of the group.
Both District 1 candidates and District 3’s Lewis advocated for “responsible growth” with Christensen suggesting high-density housing be built near transportation hubs and that officials “listen to neighbors” about what they want. Jensen was direct, saying he’s not “super excited” about more apartments being built.
“When you have great parks, great neighborhoods, great communities and values people want to live here, that doesn’t mean you have to subdivide everything into apartments,” Jensen said.
Ahlman encouraged building homes “that people can live in” along with restoring historic homes while Penrose agreed, calling himself pro-growth when done in healthy ways.
Smith Jones said he believes neighborhoods should work together to make a plan, but “in this economy, having the right to create a mother-in-law apartment out of your home, and to maybe assuage some of that financial burden in this dubious economy, is extremely important.”
Garrett, a former member of the council, spoke in favor of the city’s transit-oriented development zones, saying he’s “fine” with accessible dwelling units if neighborhoods can have a say in authorization. Emmanuel Webb, one of the youngest candidates, said he would support more affordable housing being built in Provo.
Growth is an ever-present topic in Utah County, and Provo in particular. As the population of the state and valley grows, so does Provo’s, along with its responsibility as a geographically central city and the county seat. As such, each candidate came prepared to discuss how they would help Provo handle current growth and prepare for the future.
Christensen, to start, advocated for careful growth while reiterating his support for “small government” and “small neighborhoods.”
Jensen told the crowd that, if elected, he would listen to the communities most affected by change and go forward from there.
“Of course, we the people are not uniform in our preferences and we have disagreements. The job of leadership is to listen respectfully and then honor the differences, preferences and values of Provo,” he said.
Ahlman referenced a family friend who moved to Ohio so they could afford a home, saying her oldest child wants to move back to the area “desperately” but can’t afford it because the city has not prepared for the growth it is now experiencing.
Smith Jones encouraged residents to “really think about 2050, not 2025,” referencing the new Provo Airport terminal already seeing triple the amount of service it originally expected.
Penrose and Emmanuel Webb talked about the benefits of transparency and communication when targeting growth. Lewis, as the only candidate at the town hall running to represent the city’s west side, focused on the area’s specific issues. Key to solving them, he said, is enhancing infrastructure while respecting people’s private property rights.
Garrett leaned his on his experience in the city, having lived in Provo over 40 years, while referencing the work done in the neighboring room.
“In the room next door, where we’ve been stealing some of these extra chairs, are 10 couples around the table who are learning how to qualify for the first (Federal Housing Administration) loan, and it does require balance to help these new families stay in the area and find ways that they can find step-up housing or their first homes, and yet be respectful of the environment,” he said.
Addressing the prospective council members, Clancy leaned on his experience as a police officer, interacting with unhoused people in Provo. As for their thoughts on homelessness and public safety, most of the candidates were in lockstep.
Ahlman praised the work of Circles Utah Valley, an area nonprofit, and for improved resources. “They’re part of our community, they’re part of us. It’s our job to help them,” she said.
Garrett, meanwhile, praised the work of Brent Crane and the Food & Care Coalition while seeking broader collaboration.
While joking that he wouldn’t “defund” the police, Lewis was honest with listeners that he isn’t sure what he would do about homelessness if elected. “I don’t know all the answers. I have seen cities who’ve done a good job, I’ve seen the cities (that) have done a terrible job,” he said.
Emmanuel Webb, a domestic violence shelter worker, spoke in favor of expanding opportunities for unhoused people in Provo and Utah County while acknowledging past failures.
“This past winter, we had four homeless people die in the streets of Provo. And it is very, very unfortunate that, oftentimes, a lot of the blame gets placed on police officers because police officers go to remove these people,” Emmanuel Webb said. “I think we need to really look at this with more compassion.”
Smith Jones and Penrose agreed that compassion would be vital moving forward, while Penrose suggested “maybe investing in a homeless shelter” or helping unhoused people get into low-income housing.
Jensen focused primarily on the public safety aspect of Clancy’s question, targeting changes made in the Utah County Attorney’s Office by David Leavitt, who lost a reelection bid for the office in 2022, saying they led to a “defunding” of the police department.
Christensen took a separate view, that the work of nonprofits in combatting homelessness is vital but that the issue is not for the council.
“This is something we all are responsible for, in our schools, in our churches, in our groups, in our associations. This is something that we should all take responsibility for,” he said.
With elections still months away, residents are encouraged to research candidates running for office, most of whom have either candidate websites or public social media pages, or to contact them directly with questions.