Dear community members,
Suddenly, our world has changed. Like communities across the globe, we're hunkered down to protect our loved ones, ourselves, and the broader community, particularly the most vulnerable among us, from the worst impacts of the novel coronavirus.
In many ways, we are more isolated than before; in other ways, we are more connected than we've ever been.
As we move through this new and unsettling time, I see our community rising to the challenge. I see neighbors shopping for other neighbors in need. I see community members stepping up to help valued local businesses survive. I see our religious and nonprofit leaders creating innovative ways for people to stay supported and uplifted. And I see our city staff adapting to this new reality with grace, determination, and competence.
We have many sources of information to draw from, and things are changing by the day. With this update, my goal is to provide some comfort, and reaffirm our sense of community pride, by sharing information you may not be seeing elsewhere in the media or online, although some of it is culled from those sources. I hope you find it useful.
Declaration of emergency: On March 16, with unanimous support from the city council, Mayor Spano issued a local emergency declaration that invokes the city's disaster plan and authorizes appropriate community containment and mitigation strategies in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our city manager and fire chief are leading the emergency effort in coordination with senior staff. Council members receive daily updates from the city manager and have been asked to serve as the eyes and ears of the community regarding needs and challenges of which staff may not otherwise be aware. Please share your questions, needs, and concerns with me and/or other council members and the Mayor. Here's my email; my phone is (952) 928-1477.
SLP school district response: Our local public schools closed March 17 and will remain closed at least through March 27. Teachers and staff are preparing plans to provide distance learning in the event schools are still closed after spring break, which ends April 5. All students with a home technology need have been provided Chromebooks to prepare them for distance learning. The district is providing free "grab & go" meals at all school sites, which includes lunch as well as breakfast for the following morning. More than 800 meals were provided on Wednesday and Thursday of last week alone. The district is also providing free child care for families of school staff, emergency workers, and health care workers. You can find more information on our school district's response here, including a useful parent resource for talking with children about coronavirus.
No uptick in public safety calls: There's currently no spike in calls for emergency service related to the coronavirus, and our community's public safety needs are not exceeding capacity at this time. However, to prepare for the possibility that some or all of our public safety staff are unable to work, cooperative arrangements have been made with the City of Edina and Hennepin County to provide mutual backup.
Eating local: Just as we're getting more great local hangouts, both new and established restaurant owners are facing an unprecedented challenge. Federal and state support for small businesses, including but not limited to restaurants, will hopefully be forthcoming soon. In the meantime, you can help by ordering takeout from local restaurants, as well as buying gift cards for future use. Shout out to Ward 1 business Nelson's Meats, whose owners are offering free breakfast and lunch to K-12 students, free gift certificates to restaurant or bar employees who have lost their jobs, and free delivery to those who cannot leave their home due to age or disability. They're open for takeout. Shout out also to Ward 1 resident-owned Muddy Paws Cheesecake, whose owner is offering free slices to families struggling right now (including delivery to someone needing their spirits lifted) as well as free use of their socially distanced office spaces for people needing a quiet space to work. They're open Mon.- Sat., 10-2. And remember Ward 1's Mexico City Cafe when thinking about lunch or dinner (order at 952-920-8717). Discover St. Louis Park has created a handy guide to all SLP and Golden Valley restaurants currently offering takeout; you can find it here.
Are you a small business in SLP in need of help? Contact city staff here. Here'sa link to helpful resources on our city website for small businesses.
Very select list of local restaurant layoffs: Council has been informed that Mill Valley Kitchen has laid off 20 workers and Punch Bowl Social has laid off 118 workers.
Getting out and about: Fresh air and exercise are more important now than ever. I don't know about you, but I've never seen so many people out walking and enjoying our parks, trails, and city streets. With fewer choices for what to do in our leisure time, and particularly as the weather gets warmer, this can be a great time to discover or rediscover some of our community's more than 50 neighborhood parks. Here's a list of parks with addresses and descriptions of amenities, and here's an interactive map to find parks near you. And because it matters outside too, here's a guide from the National Recreation and Parks Association on keeping a safe social distance in parks and on trails.
Helping those who need it most: Council and staff recognize the particularly heavy toll this situation is taking on individuals and communities who were already experiencing hardship. Here are some ways we are supporting residents facing new threats to their health and stability:
Emergency rental assistance: Council had previously directed $60,000 this year to STEP for emergency rental assistance, to help individuals and families in our community facing sudden unexpected financial hardship stay in their homes. Financial hardship caused by the pandemic is increasing the need for emergency rental assistance, and we are now prepared to reallocate funds from a different housing program to meet projected additional needs of about $100,000 for the remainder of the year. If you or someone you know needs emergency rental assistance, please contact STEP.
No water shutoffs: The City will not shut off water to anyone's home during this time, regardless of billing status. We are also relaxing penalties on late utility bill payments through May.
Can you help? If you’re looking for a way to help community members in need, and are able to make a financial contribution, please donate to STEP today.
What's the financial impact on our city? Of course it's too early for anyone to know the full financial impact of this crisis on local, state, and federal budgets, but we will eventually come out on the other side and may need to make adjustments. City staff are currently undertaking an analysis and projection of impacts on St. Louis Park's revenue budget for 2020 based on losses from park programming being canceled, a projected slowdown of building permit applications and related revenue, property tax payments not being made, utility bills not being paid, and so on. The city manager reports our city's fund balance is healthy, which should help us weather the impact.
I want to take this opportunity to recognize the tremendous work being done by our city staff, along with frontline healthcare workers, social service providers, educators, state and county government leaders, religious leaders, and others providing critical care for our community during this time. If you know someone doing this work, I hope you'll take time to brighten their day and lift their spirits. If you are someone doing this work, thank you.
I send out a monthly summary of city-related news to Ward 1 residents and interested others, posted here. If you’d like to receive it via email, let me know here.