July greetings! Here’s city-related news for residents of Ward 1 and beyond.
Mask up, SLP: On Friday, SLP Mayor Spano issued a proclamation urging the use of face coverings in indoor public spaces in St. Louis Park; on Monday, city council will consider a similarly worded resolution. While the resolution demonstrates robust and unanimous support by council for face coverings, it stops short of making not wearing one a criminal offense. Quite a few people have shared their disappointment that council is not, at this point, planning to pass an ordinance, and I fully understand that response. However, after hearing from city staff, as well as some of my council colleagues, I'm comfortable that a resolution is an appropriate next step for our city. Here's why:
The politicizing of mask wearing is a crazy and unfortunate development in the disastrous unfolding saga of the pandemic in the U.S. Everyone needs to wear a mask, and I'm hopeful that the Governor will soon announce a statewide mandate. For now, I believe our city has been and will continue to be effective in promoting the use of face coverings through robust and targeted outreach as well as, importantly, making masks easily available to people who need them.
Enough fireworks already! Fireworks were a bigger deal here this July than in years past (true for many cities), prompting many SLP residents to call for changes to our noise ordinance and/or otherwise limit the use of fireworks in our city. The fact is most fireworks are already illegal in Minnesota, including firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, and pretty much anything else that flies and explodes. At the same time, it's often difficult for police to locate and cite people using fireworks, particularly when they're operating in parks and other public areas. What to do, if anything? Council will likely be taking up the issue at a future study session. Stay tuned.
Policing and community safety in SLP: Did you know that nearly 45 percent of our city's general fund budget is directed toward public safety (primarily police and fire) each year? The PD alone comprised about 25 percent of all budgeted expenses in 2020, or about $10.85 million of a total $41.7 million, compared with Community Development at $1.5 million (3.5%) and Sustainability Initiatives at $500,000 (less than 2%). (For a detailed, user-friendly breakdown of the city's annual revenues and expenditures, including per capita costs associated with various budgeted items, check out ClearGov SLP). To be clear, this is a common scenario in cities across the country - and one some cities are beginning to examine in the wake of George Floyd's killing and the dialogue it has provoked. Might there be a more cost effective way we can create community safety in SLP, and perhaps even increase safety through new approaches? Is the PD being asked to do too much, including responding to mental health calls (currently about half of all calls) that are outside their professional purview? Council will begin exploring these questions at our July 27 study session. I trust the culture and training of our city's police, but I am eager to have this conversation. We'll also hear from Police Chief Mike Harcey about the department's use of force policy and implementation and discuss whether changes might be in order.
Status check on Connect the Park: Connect the Park is our city's multi-year plan to create a network of sidewalks, bikeways, and trails across the city. Five years and millions of dollars in, council has requested a status check to see if and how we are achieving our goals, and refine/reaffirm goals for the reminder of the project based on what we've learned. To get more people of all ages and abilities out of their cars and on to sidewalks, bikeways, and trails, we want to ensure these facilities are the type they'll feel safe and comfortable using. We also want some data to tell us how we're doing and where we can improve. Staff will return to council with recommended steps forward in the near future. For my part, I'd like to see lower speed limits and, potentially, permanent street closures as part of this plan too. Non-car travel in SLP is one of my favorite topics. Have thoughts about it? Email me!
Bus stop pilot project: Waiting for and boarding an MTC bus in the winter can be uncomfortable, dangerous, and downright impossible for some people, which works against our Climate Action Plan goal to reduce vehicle miles traveled as well as our Comprehensive Plan commitment to prioritize mass transit over personal vehicle use. With nearly 400 bus stops in the City and multiple entities charged with clearing them, a comprehensive solution to ease of use and safety is a far-off goal. But staff are getting started: this winter, we'll launch a pilot project to clear certain stops that previously were not cleared (those with concrete pads). Staff have also elicited commitments from the other entities to improve how and when they clear stops with shelters and/or benches.
As a year-round bike commuter, I'm excited about another pilot project staff will introduce this winter: a method for tracking snow clearing operations on regional trails via the city's website. Before heading out, trail users will be able to check the status of the trail they plan to use (within SLP city limits) to make sure it's been cleared. The hope is that Minneapolis and other cities will participate in the future to provide even more data to trail users.
Beltline LRT station ped/bike improvements: Here's info on proposed options for walking or rolling to the future Beltline Boulevard light rail station, including a multi-use trail along Ottowa Avenue that I enthusiastically support. Please take a few minutes to review the proposed options and share your preferences via this survey, open through Friday, July 31. Thanks!
Be there for seniors: Senior isolation is a sad reality in our society. During the pandemic, senior isolation has obviously been exacerbated. As one form of response, city staff are making it easier for residents to reach out to their elder neighbors by providing ideas and templates to support making a meaningful connection. Do you know seniors in our community who might be lonely? Find ideas and resources for reaching out here. If you're a senior yourself and looking for connection, you can contact the CIty's Volunteer Coordinator Laura Smith via email or (952) 928-2847.
Be there for the election too: In case you haven't fully grasped it yet, ELECTIONS MATTER. We have a primary election coming up and it's easy to vote by mail but you need to request a ballot here first. You can also vote in-person at City Hall (bring a mask) between now and August 11; find out when you can do that and get other valuable election-related information here. The League of Women Voters is hosting a virtual forum for all 5th Congressional District candidates (Omar, Melton-Meaux, etc.) tomorrow, July 20, at 6:30 pm (Republican candidates) and 8 pm (Democratic candidates). Info here.
CARES Act funding: Earlier this month, St. Louis Park received $3,684,892 in federal funding through the CARES Act. Funds must be used for costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic and spent by Dec. 30. Council will soon hear from staff on where these funds might be directed.
Get the squad into your house: More time at home means more energy used at home. That costs money, and makes our planet hotter. Want to do something about it? Sign up for a no-cost, virtual visit from the Home Energy Squad to get an understanding of your energy use and easy ways to save. It's easy, interesting, and worth it! SLP is in competition with 13 other cities to have the most visits; let's show those other cities what we can do. Sign up here.
Anti-racism resources: Anti-racism learning continues to be front and center for me and I hope for you too. I've shared suggested resources in previous updates; some of these are now available as unlimited access e-books from the Hennepin County library for at least the next few weeks and you can check them out here. You can also join an online discussion with Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be an Anti-Racist, tomorrow night, 7/20, from 6 to 7 pm. Get free tickets here.
Thanks for reading, be well, and please stay in touch.
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.