Local election results: Congratulations to Sue Budd, who will represent Ward 3 on the St. Louis Park City Council beginning in January 2022, after being elected last week in a competitive race. Congratulations also to hardworking candidates Jim Leuthner and Saul Eugene, who ran strong campaigns that necessitated a third round of tabulation, using ranked choice voting, to identify a winner. Nearly 14% of registered voters, or 4,660 people, voted in this year’s municipal election even though most races were uncontested. Kudos to our excellent elections staff, whose efforts to develop a strong culture of voting in the city are paying off. I’m honored to have been elected for a second term with 91.4% of the vote and look forward to leveraging what I’ve learned during my second term to make SLP even better, for everyone.
2022 budget & taxes: Most council members (including me) will likely vote to approve a 5.58% general levy increase in 2022, higher than what I originally thought I would support, but necessary, in my view and after thoughtful consideration, both to fulfill our current obligations and maintain forward progress on community goals and priorities. New investments in infrastructure, public safety, racial equity and sustainability; debt service for previously approved and newly approved projects like the ROC, the Nature Center, and the Dakota Park bridge; and predictable increases in staff salaries and other costs combine to increase our community’s general fund expenditures by about $2 million in 2022, to a total of about $38 million. Two new staff positions are proposed: a public safety dispatch supervisor who will support improved mental health response by our police and fire departments, and a sustainability specialist to administer our growing list of programs to help residents and businesses save money and protect the environment. A new program to address racial inequity in homeownership (see below) and preliminary planning for the reconstruction of Minnetonka Boulevard in 2024 are examples of how community dollars will be invested in 2022 to achieve community-identified goals.
While levy impacts vary considerably depending on property valuations, for the owner of a median value home in SLP, the impact of a 5.58% increase, combined with proposed increases in our utility and franchise fees, is about $18/month, or $214/year. If you are challenged by your property tax bill, you may qualify for relief programs offered by the state. Find info here.
Determining my position on the annual levy is a complex assignment and one that I take very seriously – balancing the desire for lower taxes with the expectations and vision many residents have for our community, now and in the future. Going forward, in partnership with our new city manager, I anticipate even greater emphasis on data both to inform decision-making and help residents understand even more clearly what their tax dollars are paying for.
Fern Hill experimental traffic circles to be removed: When city staff gathered input from residents of the Fern Hill neighborhood in 2021 to inform street & sidewalk improvements, vehicle speed and failure to stop at stop signs were cited as top concerns. In response, the City installed experimental traffic circles at ten intersections in the area late last month to see if they slowed traffic and made the area safer. Based on strong resident feedback and approaching winter weather, the traffic circles will be removed on Tuesday, Nov. 9 and stop signs re-installed. Thank you to the many residents who reached out to me and staff with your concerns about the traffic circles; your input mattered and will continue to as we plan sidewalks and other safety improvements in the area. Staff will share their final recommendations for the project at a public meeting in January. Sign up for project updates here.
Surprising facts about vehicle idling: Many of us idle our vehicles when we don’t need to, and frankly, shouldn’t. Check on these myths about idling.Discretionary idling wastes fuel, increases the risk of theft, has negative health impacts especially on children, and contributes significantly to climate change. Eliminating just 16 minutes a year of discretionary idling per vehicle in SLP (assuming 40,000 vehicles) would prevent 13,000 tons of CO2 emissions, or the equivalent CO2 of 1,500 homes’ energy use in a year. And if that doesn’t grab you, of the 165 vehicles stolen in SLP in 2020, almost half were idling before they were stolen. Council recently considered the pros and cons of an anti-idling ordinance but agreed instead to direct staff and members of our Environment & Sustainability Commission to implement a public education campaign, focusing on key locations like schools. Here’s a link to the staff report with more facts about idling.
New program to address historic injustices: If you live in a single-family neighborhood in SLP, how many Black neighbors do you have? Chances are few or none. If you live in affordable rental housing in SLP, do you have Black neighbors? Chances are you do. There’s a reason for that – decades of legal discrimination that prevented non-white households across the U.S., particularly Black households, from owning their own home, including in SLP. Last week, the City launched a new program to promote homeownership in our city for first-generation homebuyers, with a focus on people from communities that have historically been denied access to ownership due to racist policies and practices like redlining and racial covenants. It will take a long time to address these racial injustices and fully integrate single-family neighborhoods, but it’s a start.
Update on Rock Island and surrounds: Wow, we got a lot of emails on this! Community input on the MnDOT-owned parcel at the 2800 block of Toledo Ave. is universally in favor of accepting conveyance of the parcel to the City, keeping the land as open space and preserving the Rock Island remains. Thanks to all who reached out with your memories and opinions. Staff will provide a written report to council prior to our Nov. 22 study session outlining potential next steps.
Catalytic converter thefts down, vehicle thefts up, speeding continues: Seven catalytic converter thefts were reported to police in SLP in September, down from 23 in August and 34 in July. Vehicle thefts, however, continue to trend higher in 2021 than last year, with 14 vehicles stolen in September 2021 compared with 8 in September 2020, and 49 vehicles stolen in the third quarter of 2021. Police chief Mike Harcey reports vehicle thefts and thefts from autos continue to be high primarily because people are leaving the vehicles unlocked with keys in them. Speeding continues to be the top reason for citations, with a total of 76 citations issued in July, August & September and hundreds of warnings issued. Slow down folks!
On the topic of speed: While campaigning my first time around, fast traffic on residential streets was a top concern for the majority of people I talked with going door-to-door; I know many of my council colleagues experienced the same. When state lawmakers made a change in 2019 that gives cities the authority to set their own limits, St. Louis Park joined several other communities in voting to reduce speed limits to 20 MPH on most residential streets. Here’s a map of the changes, coming this month when new signage will be installed. Many parents of young children I know are grateful for this change and others think 20 MPH is outrageously slow. My position is that while adapting to 20 is indeed a big change, and feels pretty slow at first, it will make our streets safer and more comfortable for all users, which aligns with community goals and priorities. You can help spread the word and show support for the change with a “20 is plenty” yard sign; here’s information on where to pick up a free sign.
Healthy Living Grants, open to all: Do you have an idea for a project of any size that contributes to the well-being of people in our community? Whether it’s yoga, gardening, mental health awareness, fitness, or some other activity that promotes healthy living, you may be eligible to get funding of up to $1,000 from the city to bring your idea to life. Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis. Info here.
Here’s a select list of upcoming events in SLP:
Movie - Jim Crow of the North: Tuesday, Nov. 16, 6:30-8:30 pm, Beth El Synagogue, 5225 Barry St. W. Jim Crow of the North charts the progression of racist policies and practices in the U.S. housing market, from the advent of restrictive racial covenants from the early 1900s until their elimination in the 1960s. A panel discussion will follow, where you can learn more about SLP’s participation in the Just Deeds Project and the other efforts to foster race equity. Face coverings and proof of vaccination or a negative test result required at the door. Info here.
Friends of the Arts Celebration & Fundraiser: Wednesday, Nov. 17, 5-7 pm, Westwood Hills Nature Center. Join the community in celebrating FOTA’s many accomplishments over the past year and looking to the future of FOTA and the arts in SLP. Info here.
Small business Saturday: Nov. 27. Small business Saturday is a nationwide effort to encourage holiday shoppers to buy local. You can explore all SLP businesses here on Discover St. Louis Parks’ recently revamped website (you’ll have to sleuth a bit to find local businesses, but there’s a lot of good info on this site). Here’s a list of locally owned, BIPOC-owned businesses I put together last year using information provided by city staff.
Thanks for reading 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.