Saura Jost did not respond to the survey.
Isaac Russell [IR]: responses below
Patty Hartmann [PH]: responses below
Troy Barksdale [TB]: responses below
Do you support the current renter stabilization ordinance, and if not, what changes would you apply?
IR: Rent control isn’t the solution to our housing crisis, and the data is showing that. We need to build more homes. Permits for multi-family housing (affordable housing) were down 48% in April compared to last year while Minneapolis’ permits are up. This lack of new construction and lower property values because of rent control puts increasing pressure on property taxpayers (which renters also pay), and this especially hurts families with low or fixed incomes. This threatens the fiscal health of our city.
Also, housing shortages lead to higher rents for rent-burdened families. Essentially, many of the neediest people aren’t helped, and that is not the housing policy we need. I think we need to maintain the rent control exemptions passed by the City Council and not weaken them. I also believe that we should adopt a 30-year exemption to help attract investment in new housing. This change would also help generate new affordable housing construction at the Highland Bridge site.
PH: I don’t support the current rent control ordinance.
Presumably, the purpose of this ordinance is to prevent homelessness and to provide basic housing needs. There are better ways of effecting those goals.
It should be noted that we already have laws to protect people from illegal discrimination in housing; we also have programs to support people who need assistance to obtain shelter.
Historically rent control has been shown to reduce the available stock of rental housing, largely because it artificially depresses its value. We saw this play out in St. Paul where a number of construction projects were immediately paused due to the rent control ordinance.
As landlords seek to avoid economic distress due to rent control, they are more likely to raise rents as often as possible and to the maximum amount allowed. As a result, many tenants have actually seen their rent increase in response to this ordinance.
In an effort to alleviate the financial consequences inflicted by the ordinance, St. Paul has greatly modified the ordinance; functionally, it barely resembles the original text. Still, there remain many obstacles for landlords involving burdensome exemption applications and the disclosure of their detailed financial data.
We have also now taken on the need for more government employees to review the bureaucratic paperwork and hear appeals filed by aggrieved renters and landlords. This increases the cost of our city services.
Although the purpose of this ordinance was to lower rents, it has resulted in a significant number of increased costs to tenants, landlords and our general city services with little to no benefit. The ordinance should be repealed.
TB: No, I do not support the rent stabilization ordinance. I believe that trying to change such a disastrous policy is a half measure. We need to work towards the complete elimination of the ordinance. Any and all housing policies that we work towards have to be written with rent stabilization in mind, hamstringing the possible policy proposals that the municipal legislature might otherwise take. What we need in place of rent stabilization are incentives tied to capital improvements. While there are exceptions written into the ordinance which allow for raising rents if improvements are made, this is hardly an encouraging factor for landlords.
Do you support the construction of the Summit Ave. bike lane?
IR: The city council has passed this plan, and I know people have very powerful feelings regarding this. Like many, I support cycling in our city and on Summit. There are cyclists that are concerned with their safety and that of their children, and I personally know several people who have been struck by motor vehicles in the past. I also know the city would like to update the utilities and sewer pipes under the streets, and I strongly support focusing on our city’s infrastructure.
The Summit planning process highlighted the passion residents have for their community and its future. Summit is a historic neighborhood, and this project has laid bare strong feelings of distrust in the city based on past experiences with major projects. Even with positive goals and intent, the city needs to engage stakeholders early in the process and be completely transparent about how their input will be reflected. This is an enormously expensive project that will last for generations, and community members deserve to have their concerns taken seriously. Showing people rather than telling them goes a long way, so I support low-cost mockups and test periods at the start of projects. I also believe the city should commit to a net increase of trees in the corridor while striving to preserve as many as possible.
PH: No, I do not support this proposal.
The safety and well-being of all people should be the paramount consideration. At best, the benefits claimed for this bike path would serve the interests of a very small number of people. In the process they would inflict immeasurable loss to a number of environmental, architectural and historical values held by our community as a whole.
The current proposal is destructive of our natural resources as it will result in a significant reduction of green space and mature tree canopy. The old growth trees along Summit provide shade to mitigate the urban heat island effect, and they act as carbon stores, absorbing huge amounts of carbon from the environment.
This bike lane proposal overlooks the increased safety hazards due to the creation of numerous conflict points between the proposed path and the intersecting driveways and streets.
It ignores the safety need for motorists to have parking in proximity to their destinations, and the vital importance of providing handicap accessibility to Summit’s homes and businesses.
Summit Avenue is more than a transportation corridor. It is St. Paul’s iconic streetscape with unique, irreplaceable attributes.
Summit is a national treasure of the longest stretch of Victorian-era homes in the United States. The Summit streetscape is visually stunning, providing all people the opportunity to experience the history of Saint Paul.
The proposed bike lane ignores the many decades our community has acted as Summit’s steward, preserving and restoring its historic vista.
Thousands of people have voiced opposition to this bike proposal. Points of opposition include the lack of evidence that any alternative bike routes have ever been considered for this project. The fact that the city continues to pursue this bike trail despite its overwhelming public opposition, underscores the need for new leadership.
TB: The Summit Ave bike lane is one of these projects that is good on paper, but does not fit well in the scope of our city wide goals. This project is going to be really expensive, yet we already have budget shortfalls for maintenance & rehabilitation of all our roads. Focusing on making sure all of our roads are well kept is more important than making sure that a single avenue is especially tailored to serving our cyclists’ needs. The safety of cyclists city wide is better ensured with well kept roads all around.
Do you support the elimination of zoning for single family housing?
IR: Our city faces crises in building multi-unit homes and single-family homes. We need to seriously evaluate all solutions on the table, and zoning is one of them. We are a city struggling to build homes because of rent control and the difficulty of our permitting processes. This places the increasing cost of government on property-tax payers, which includes renters. Furthermore, we need homes for new families to move to St. Paul, spend their dollars at our businesses, pay taxes, and send their children to our schools. I support allowing for the construction of multiple, right-sized housing units on lots provided they meet requirements for multiple units on lots.
I do believe the discussion about our residential zoning code should be robust, inclusive, and transparent. The ultimate decision regarding residential zoning must ensure the process is open to residents to voice their support or concerns. I know many are concerned that single-family lots will be purchased, torn down, and oversized multi-unit buildings will be built. There will still be land requirements that need to be met before additional units can be built, and many lots in our city won’t meet those. Furthermore, some are concerned non-owner-occupied units will not be maintained. The city council must be transparent when considering any unintended consequences of zoning changes and mitigate them.
People have different housing needs and desires at different stages of life. St. Paul is a city of neighborhoods which currently include a variety of housing types. Our neighborhoods have evolved to include single family homes, multi-family homes, and commercial nodes to support our needs.
Maintaining a variety of housing options keeps our community vibrant. If we eliminate zoning for single family housing, we will lose the ability to preserve one of the housing options important to many families.
Wise land use typically builds housing units that are compatible with their surroundings. We have made a number of zoning changes to support higher density in areas that are already zoned for multi-family units.
The elimination of single family zoning would create neighborhoods that mix housing units with incompatible features. When multi-family apartments are built alongside single family homes, it can destroy a home’s access to air, sunlight or the privacy sought by the homeowner.
The ostensible purpose for eliminating zoning for single family housing is to create more “affordable housing” by constructing high density rental units.
All forms of housing are expensive, but the most affordable is usually owner occupied. Homeownership is often the first step for families to create financial wealth and stability. It empowers people to develop long-term community relationships.
The city has already enacted many zoning changes designed to increase the density of our rental housing. Most of the housing we have added in recent years has been multi-family rental units. In the process, developers have constructed many rental units that are not affordable for working families, while destroying older homes that provided less costly home ownership options.
High density increases traffic congestion, as well as the need for water, sewer, power utilities, police and fire protection. Building high density apartments intensifies the use of the land that we have, while it erodes the livability of our city. It often correlates with higher crime and less community stability.
High density poses numerous environmental issues. In the Smartgrowth case, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the environmental impact of Minneapolis’ plan to eliminate single family housing could constitute a violation of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA).
It is important that our zoning protect privacy, livability, and the freedom to choose various housing types. Our land use planning also needs to consider that we have a declining birth rate nationally. On a local level, St. Paul is losing population.
There is no need for St. Paul to eliminate zoning for single family housing.
TB: No, I do not support the elimination of zoning for single family housing. Owner occupancy has to be the name of the game to solve our housing crisis, and eliminating single family zoning hampers that goal. The city is already nearly at a 50/50 split between rental and owner occupied housing units. While finding areas where we can implement more middle housing options is important, we cannot compromise our single family market to achieve this. I am aware that eliminating single family zones does not mean that overnight single family homes are going to disappear, rather construction of middle housing will appear over time. All the same, fewer single family homes on the market will ultimately put too much strain on our housing market for the city to handle. The demand for single family homes ebbs and flows, but is ultimately the desired outcome for most people at some point in their lives. Eliminating this type of zoning is surely to decrease supply over time.
What is one action you would take to reduce or neutralize criminal violence to improve residents’ sense of safety?
IR: I believe that we should recruit quality, highly trained officers and build their connections with the community. I have woken up to see blood on the walls of my affordable housing complex in St. Paul, so I have seen first-hand the need for law enforcement. I believe we must fund our law enforcement response.
However, there is no one magic fix to keeping our residents safe. We must invest in the strategic deployment of law enforcement resources. This includes deployment of law enforcement assets throughout the city, ensuring scrap metal purchasers are enforcing new laws regarding catalytic converter purchases, and investing in youth programming so we can break the cycle of criminal activity for youth. One great example of smart law enforcement coupled with youth investments is how our Sheriff's Office has been able to reduce car thefts using human and drone surveillance, and unmarked vehicles. They also arrest those responsible for the crimes, and this is where the opportunities for youth to get intervention services to change their course in life comes in. We need more programs such as this.
PH: I would bring back the neighborhood safety meetings that the police held at neighborhood community centers. In the past I attended safety meetings at our rec centers led by our police department.
These meetings provided open discussion among neighbors with in depth information regarding recent criminal activity. The police gave practical advice to the residents, explaining how to best avoid dangers that were trending.
Increasing the visibility of the police in our neighborhoods, gives residents a greater sense of safety.
TB: Reducing violent crime in Saint Paul is directly linked to providing harm reduction services for addicts. People resort to violent crimes when they are left in extreme circumstances. To this end we need to be working towards expanding preventative services. Where the city continues to invest in first responders, it also needs to be investing in a preventative task force that looks to identify and work with addicts.
Do you support renegotiation of the franchise agreement with Xcel Energy?
IR: I support renegotiating our franchise agreement with Xcel because I believe there are two ways, we can use new revenue. First, we can allocate money to a department that can establish a set of programs designed to help residents with potential energy-saving programs. We can couple these funds with resources from the State and Federal government that can help us make city buildings more energy efficient and electrify our energy consumption. I also think we can start an inclusive financing program that will help pay for insulation of homes for residents.
While I support renegotiating our franchise agreement, I want to make sure it doesn’t hit residents unfairly. I intend to ensure that our fees are not regressive, meaning fees should not be higher for residents than they are for the largest commercial and industrial energy users. I also will need to see different fee structures and the revenue it would generate. For example, franchise fee increases in Minneapolis may increase household costs $8-$12 annually, and I think this is manageable. If structured properly, I think we can make significant investments with a new fee structure.
PH: This question sheds light on something that most people are not aware of, and I learned something researching it.
Our city collects about $25 million per year from Xcel in franchise fees. The amount is tied to the gas and electric energy usage of our residents. The franchise fees Xcel pays the city are charged back to its customers, billed as part of the monthly utility bill.
Since these fees are ultimately paid by our residents, I would not be in favor of increasing them. An increase in utility fees would be regressive, adding to the basic cost of living, placing the highest burden on those who can least afford it. I could support allocating a portion of the fees to a program that enables residents to increase the energy efficiency of dwellings.
TB: There are a few items that I want to negotiate with Xcel energy, yes. One of these items would speak to what Xcel energy does with the extra energy that it produces. The company makes money at auction selling this excess. Seeing as the company stands to profit from producing well more than necessary to provide for its customers, the city council should be proactive in ensuring that Xcel Energy is following sustainable production practices.
What is your favorite thing and the least desirable thing from the Carter Administration?
IR: I believe that Mayor Carter has done a great job imagining what many people are asking the city government to evolve into. We have many inequities in our diverse population, and he has done very well in providing opportunities that could be transformational. As someone that has experienced homelessness and social programs at times in my life, seeing economic opportunities for people is important to me. The Rondo Inheritance fund to support purchasing homes can help people of color build generational wealth, and the Office of Neighborhood Safety has amazing and dedicated staff delivering services to victims of violence in our city. I believe these initiatives can lead to substantive differences.
While expanding the scope of what the city government can do leads to innovation, I believe the city has not been responsive to the concerns of many residents about the basic things that municipal government provides. Too often, residents feel decisions are made and their input is not seriously considered. This reduces transparency and loses many people who may have agreed with a particular decision. I have spent many hours listening to what residents are worried about, and their priorities are mine. We all won’t agree, and that helps us have diversity of thought. But local government and council members must be responsive, and that includes bringing all stakeholders to the table, from businesses to labor, developers to community organizations. Most of all, everyday residents.
PH: I appreciate that Melvin Carter wants to make St. Paul a better city. Despite the many challenges that face St. Paul, our mayor projects enthusiasm for the initiatives he believes in.
My concern is that our administration has a tendency to push through policies and programs without testing or analysis to see if the benefits justify the costs. Once a new program becomes operative, there is often resistance to changing course when needed, and a reluctance to refocus or reset our priorities.
Melvin Carter has a huge job, requiring the efforts of many people. We have great human and financial resources in this city. I think we can bring them together to create a more functional, supportive community. I would look forward to working with the Carter administration.
TB: The Carter administration has been recently rather dismissive of police brutality settlements that were decided on this year. Instead of trying to sooth the traumas of the black community, the Carter administration doubled down on backing the blue. There were good opportunities to make powerful statements about police accountability, and this administration failed to capitalize. On the other hand, the Carter administration’s Rondo Inheritance program is one of the best examples of reparative action in the country. It has a specific purpose and audience which means it will continue to be effective in the long term.
Has the newly organized trash system in Saint Paul been successful and if not, how would you change it?
IR: I believe that the new organized trash system has been good for many people, but it is not without its problems. For many residents, the ease of having one trash provider has simplified things for them. Many residents have their trash picked up when expected.
While many residents like these changes, I think there is room for improvement. Some communities across the city have experienced not having their trash picked up, and I think we can discuss allowing complexes with four units or less to share containers.
Furthermore, customer service has been lacking, which is why the city intends on taking this over. There also needs to be competition to have efficient trash pick-up at the lowest price, which I am concerned residents are not receiving. I think this could be a benefit gained if the city launches a pilot municipal trash program in some areas provided it is run efficiently.
PH: The organized trash system was successful in the sense that it reduced the number of trucks going down the alleys.
The new system could be improved by restoring peoples’ rights to opt-out self-haul, or share a service with another neighbor. There should be allowance for choice and customization of collection services.
The current system forces people to pay for services they don’t need or use. It does not incentivize recycling or lower trash generation. We suffer with alley congestion due to the great number of carts which could easily be reduced.
The city touted its organized trash system as a more efficient means to collect trash and lower the cost. Instead, our total cost for trash collection went from $20 million to $27 million per year in the first year alone; and it has increased every year thereafter. In reality, the efficiencies and economies of scale should have brought the price down to $14 million per year for the entire city.
In the process, we lost a large number of local haulers and neighborhoods had problems getting their trash picked up. We need to get away from the “consortium” monopoly the city created.
The city has currently posted our trash collection service as a Request for Proposal, seeking bids from various haulers. Hopefully this will result in a competitive process, leading to better service and lower fees.
The residents should have a voice in selecting their hauler. Community engagement could be handled by our 17 district councils with each district’s area subdivided into smaller numbers of contiguous addresses, manageable by individual haulers.
TB: Our trash system is only going to be as efficient as our municipal infrastructure allows. Well maintained roads & alleys, as well as clear streets for easy access will ensure that any trash system that we employ runs smoothly. The city should not invest its own money on dedicated trash services when it already suffers from budget deficiencies in street repair & maintenance. Additionally, if the city is going to look into having dedicated bus lanes and/or signal priority, the scope of such research should be expanded to having such accommodations for large vehicles in general. Aiding trash collection services get to where they are going is essential.
Do you support historic preservation in Saint Paul?
IR: I graduated from River Falls with a double-major in Political Science and History. I firmly believe that we cannot understand where we are unless we know where we have been. St. Paul is a proud city with a history that is the story of America. A port town on a great river. A city with many immigrants and descendants of immigrants that came here because of many circumstances. History is the story of us, and I believe its preservation helps keep that story alive for us to tell the next generation while so they can write the next chapter. I believe we can come together in honest conversation with transparency on all sides to discuss how historic preservation fits into our city’s future and can contribute to our economy.
PH: Yes. From an environmental standpoint it makes sense to preserve and repurpose buildings. Beyond the conservation of resources, historic preservation allows us to retain buildings that hold architectural value and esthetic beauty.
Historical buildings give a city its character. St. Paul’s Landmark Center, its depot, and Highland’s water tower, all give visitors an opportunity to experience history in a way that no book or photograph could ever duplicate.
Historic sites help to unravel the story of a community. They show what makes it unique, imparting lessons for future generations.
TB: I won’t call myself an opponent towards historic preservation. Retaining city history is certainly important. Equally important is equitable development. Historic preservation presents an obstacle for city planning. This obstacle entails serious socio-economic disparities that have to be worked around. We cannot compromise neighborhoods vulnerable to unsustainable development in the name of preserving historic Saint Paul. A balance must be struck out.