Saltzman is a Portland native who attended schools in the Portland area and on the east coast before entering a career in environmental engineering. He graduated from Beaverton High School, received a B.S. from Cornell University's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and an M.S. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His political career has included a staff position with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, five years as a Multnomah County Commissioner (1993–1998), and his current fifth term as a City of Portland Commissioner.
Saltzman was first elected to Portland’s City Council in November 1998, defeating former Multnomah County Commission colleague Tanya Collier. He won on a platform that included domestic violence and child abuse, issues that were generally in the purview of the Multnomah County Commission. According to The Oregonian, he did not offer many specifics about his approach to these issues during his campaign. Saltzman, previously an environmental engineering consultant, was initially assigned the following bureaus by then-Mayor Vera Katz: the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC), the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI), and the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES).
Saltzman has established two bureaus during his service with the City of Portland: the Office of Sustainable Development in 2000 and the Children’s Investment Fund in 2002. The Children's Investment Fund was renamed the Portland Children's Levy in 2009.
As assigned to him by Katz's successor as mayor, Sam Adams, Saltzman oversaw the following City of Portland bureaus, funds and systems: the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), the Portland Children's Levy, the Gateway Center for Domestic Violence, and the Fire & Police Disability & Retirement (FPDR) system.
From January 2009 until early 2010, Commissioner Saltzman oversaw the Portland Police Bureau as well, until a high-profile dispute with the mayor's office over proposed cuts to the police budget. On May 12, 2010, a week before Portland voters would decide whether or not to reelect Commissioner Saltzman for a fourth term, Adams reassigned the Police Bureau back to the mayor's office and simultaneously fired Chief Rosie Sizer, installing East Precinct Commander Mike Reese as the new Chief of Police. On May 18, 2010, Saltzman was reelected for a fourth term as City Commissioner.
In June 2013, a shuffling of bureaus among the commissioners by new Mayor Charlie Hales saw Saltzman assigned the Portland Fire Bureau and the Housing Bureau, and retaining oversight of the Portland Children's Levy.
In May 2014, Saltzman was reelected, to serve a fifth four-year term beginning in January 2015.
In September 2017, he announced that he will not run for reelection when his current term expires, in 2018.