Hwa Jeong Kim* did not respond. to the survey.
Nate Nins* did not respond. to the survey.
Pam Tollefson [PT]: responses appear below.
David Greenwood-Sanchez [DGS]: responses appear below.
Do you support the current renter stabilization ordinance, and if not, what changes would you apply?
PT: After the review process prompted the Mayor and City Council to put some specifics in the rent stabilization ordinance, it now appears that we need to give it some time to be in place and observe what actually happens. My priorities as a council member are simple. Saint Paul needs more housing, and not just in downtown and surrounding areas. Clearly, Saint Paul also needs the hardest housing to find – truly affordable for our most needy. If rent stabilization serves mostly to limit increases on mid-range and upper range rental while failing to aid those on the edge, it will fail.
One of the exemptions is any new construction doesn’t have to adhere to the rent increase rules for 20 years. That seems too long to me and I would like to understand how the city came up with that timeframe.
Another exemption is a landlord can raise the rent if the renter moves out.
This needs to be monitored to make sure that renters aren’t displaced just to allow for a large rent increase. The balance between landlord and renter is challenging. Both need each other. If there are more renters needing housing than there is housing, landlords hold the advantage. This seems to be where the push for rent stabilization came from. It is worth remembering.
Another exemption is for inflation-under the "right to a reasonable return". Who decides “reasonable”? I hope we don’t move to a system where the city council tries to decide this every other year. But, as long as there is an imbalance between units available and renters seeking homes, the advantage is with the landlords.
DGS: I do not support the rent stabilization ordinance in its current form. On one hand, I firmly believe that the city has an obligation to respect the will of the people. At the same time, many of the details within the ballot measure were not fully outlined at the moment of the vote. This led them to be interpreted by the city in unclear ways. Ultimately, no one is happy about this. Renters don’t feel like they are getting the full protections that they had voted for, and landlords and developers are concerned about the uncertainty about what may happen moving forward.
If I could change anything in the ordinance, I would make a distinction between the type of rental price increases that the ordinance addresses. The largest problem is to hedge against predatory rental hikes – the horror stories where a particularly bad landlord inexplicably increases the rent by hundreds of dollars a month. I believe we have a responsibility to create policies that limit this type of activity. However, not all landlords do this: there are excellent landlords that invest in improvements to their properties and treat renters with dignity. We need to develop a policy that achieves both goals: protecting renters against predatory hikes, while providing a mechanism to incentivize property maintenance and improvement.
Do you support the construction of the Summit Ave. bike lane?
PT: No, I don't. I do believe that the bike lanes should be updated for safety reasons by painting the lines and adding bollards. My biggest disappointment with the Summit bike lane was the reality that it appeared that all city efforts for input were for show, not for improvement. Besides being disrespectful, it’s also disingenuous.
I am curious whether the effort to promote E-bikes might increase bike ridership for people who are not currently using bikes to commute.
DGS: I do not support the construction of the Summit Ave. bike lane – this is a project that has minimal community support, that our city cannot currently afford, and that has very minimal benefits. Further, it needlessly uproots hundreds of our oldest trees. I stand firmly with my neighbors on Summit (and beyond) who are standing up against such a senseless project.
I will add that I am an avid biker. In fact, I used to bike every day from the Seward neighborhood (MPLS) to the St. Paul Capitol building every day for work, and I would use Summit Avenue. Why Summit? Because it is a beautiful street, and because the bike lane was fantastic – it would allow me to bike safely to work with minimal stops. In fact, if not for that bike lane, I probably would have driven to work.
The idea that we need an elevated bike lane for safety reasons is hard to find credible. For one, almost every other bike path in St. Paul is the same style as what we have now -- a bike path alongside our cars. And most do not have any kind of buffer. Why are we suddenly holding Summit to a standard that we know we cannot keep? And further, given that Summit has served as an excellent bike lane for commuters, why would we damage this? For bikers, there is a very limited number of good bike lanes for commuting across the cities – let’s keep the good thing we have rather than try to micromanage it. As they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
A deeper question – how do we pay for this? The city has repeatedly shown that it does not have the funding to even pay for our most basic city services, including road maintenance and snow plowing. This is precisely why the city is telling voters to pass a 1 percent sales tax in November – this is the idea that if not for the tax, we won’t have the money to repair our streets. Given this fiscal context, it simply does not make sense to spend an estimated $14 million – money that we do not have – to build an elevated bike lane that our community does not want.
Finally, why are we pursuing projects under the banner of “climate-smart transportation” when they are killing our trees? I’d ask voters to go to Summit, especially the area west of Lexington, and to look at all of our beautiful, old trees. Note that the proposed bike lane project not only asks us to expand into the boulevard, but also into the median. Look carefully at these trees and try to imagine what their root systems might look like – how deep they go, and how far out they might sprawl to provide support for the rest of the tree. And ask yourself: is this what we want to do? We know that we will be killing many of these trees, and damaging many more – all of this for the goal of more pavement?
I write this as a professor of environmental politics – this is bad policy, and furthermore, it is creating a deep schism across our communities (bikers, Summit Ave neighbors, and environmentalists) that really ought to be allies in our politics. I oppose this project, and I absolutely stand in support of my neighbors on Summit.
Do you support the elimination of zoning for single family housing?
PT: There are several factors to consider when deciding to eliminate single family zoning: Single-family housing has historically been associated with stability and a strong sense of community. However, it's important to recognize that neighborhood stability can also be achieved through other means, including diverse housing options. The key lies in thoughtful planning, community engagement, and maintaining a balance between different types of housing. Increasing rental density can be a way to address the shortage of affordable housing, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods. It allows for a greater variety of housing options, including more affordable rental units, which can contribute to housing stability for individuals and families in need.
It is important to be cautious about the potential negative impact of investors swooping in and converting properties into 1-4 unit complexes without consideration for the neighborhood's character and affordability.
To avoid exacerbating existing inequalities, it is crucial to implement policies and strategies that prioritize equitable development. This means ensuring that affordable housing options are distributed fairly across different neighborhoods, rather than concentrating them solely in lower-income areas. It also involves providing supportive services and amenities alongside increased rental density to maintain a high quality of life for all residents.
Because of the housing shortage and the desire for all people to have adequate and affordable housing and if the above factors have been thoroughly evaluated. I agree with the elimination of single-family zoning.
DGS: I support the effort to increase the supply of housing – in particular, affordable housing – through the removal of restrictive zoning codes. At the same time, a strong policy requires some level of nuance. If rental demand is especially high, we may see our limited housing stock captured by investors rather than residents – this is the Airbnb problem. We need to develop nuanced policy that addresses this so that we do not crowd out pathways to home ownership for our lower-income residents.
What is one action you would take to reduce or neutralize criminal violence to improve residents’ sense of safety?
PT: I would promote neighborhood watch programs. I want to encourage the establishment of these programs where residents actively participate in observing and reporting suspicious activities. There would need to be training and resources to support residents in organizing and sustaining these programs. This would help create a stronger sense of community ownership and deter criminal activity. Also, I want to be clear that I disagree with recent conversations for defunding the police. I am for re-funding the police.
DGS: I think the single most important action is to place public safety as a central issue. I’ll begin here: St. Paul has tied or set the city’s homicide record in each of the past three years. We don’t talk about this, and our city leaders have taken the approach of attributing this to national trends. However, we need to address this head-on, and to prioritize real responses rather than hoping this trend fades away.
I think, however, that it is misguided to think there is any single action that will be effective on its own – a functional solution will only come through a comprehensive approach. I support a fully staffed police force that is accountable to the public, the expanded use mental health professionals for crisis situations, and public safety partnerships with communities. Real comprehensive solutions will also focus on creating healthy communities for our youths, including proactive youth programming and free and reduced cost meals. All of these require deep investments in our communities.
Do you support renegotiation of the franchise agreement with Xcel Energy?
PT: There is no information on the Saint Paul website, social media or other news sources. I can't give an answer because I don't know the details.
DGS: I would support renegotiation of the franchise agreement with Xcel Energy, both for the purpose of pursuing stronger clean energy commitments as well as to explore other sources for balancing our budget. Here, I think it is important to begin by noting that Xcel Energy has been a quality partner within our community, and we want to work with them as much as possible to craft the best possible franchise agreements possible.
Franchise fees are important sources of revenue for the city – we need to be open to modifying these to ensure we are getting a good deal (and one that allows the city to better fund its basic services like road repair and snow plowing). The other element worth noting is that our technologies and norms around clean energy are changing rapidly, and these need to be reflected within our utilities contracts.
What is your favorite thing and the least desirable thing from the Carter Administration?
PT: My favorite is his choice for Police Chief, Axel Henry. Least favorite is: I believe the mayor spends too much money and creates numerous positions within his administration that might not be necessary. While the administration seems to recognize the infrastructure issues facing the city; it took way too long to come to that acceptance.
DGS: My favorite thing from the Carter administration is the “20 is plenty” campaign to reduce the speeds of motor vehicle on residential streets. I fully support this campaign, and I’m really glad to see it being implemented.
What I like least about the Carter administration is what I perceive as a lack of dismissive attitude toward our neighborhoods. I saw this firsthand in my community with our neighborhood effort to save the historic St. Andrews church building. I had personally reached out to the mayor for a meeting early on, which he declined. Toward the end of the struggle, our neighborhood group learned it would not be able to pay a $2 million legal bond needed to continue the case in court, despite having received the judge’s recognition that the building was a historic resource protected under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA). This, of course, was tough news to swallow for a group of regular (but amazing) citizens – to do everything the right way, but then to be stopped within our legal system because we didn’t have $2 million. Noting this, I again reached out to the mayor for a statement or acknowledgement. Mayor Carter’s response was “the mayor thanks the many residents who have engaged in this robust discussion, and agrees with the assessments of the Planning Commission, City Council, and District Court that our best viable option is to proceed with the proposed project.”
To me, this experience made visible the worst qualities of the Carter Administration. I saw someone who actively avoided leadership in the moment when the community needed it most. I also saw someone who didn’t get it -- when communities are hurt and when people are feeling loss, this is a moment for compassion. This is a moment for leadership that acknowledges loss and carves a pathway forward. Instead, what I saw from the Carter Administration was a willful ignorance, a lack of understanding. I’ll add that I went to the same high school (Central High School) and the same grad program (UMN Humphrey School) as the mayor, and I had been rooting for him. I never expected someone with his background to take such a callous approach to my community.
Has the newly organized trash system in Saint Paul been successful and if not, how would you change it?
PT: No I don't think it's been successful but I know the Citywide Garbage service is looking at opting out and 1-4 unit sharing.
I think there should be one number of bulky items per year, regardless of cart size; I would like to see a change in the “overflow” rule, allowing for a top to be within 12 inches from closing vs. “can’t close the top”. I don’t believe a person should be charged extra for this.
DGS: I support coordinated trash collection. In a general level, this is the correct approach because the alternative is to have half a dozen (or more) trash companies moving across the city with no clear coordination.
However, coordinated trash collection needs to be done in a way that has accountability measures built in. The city did not do this – they created an exclusive contract with Waste Management, and, ignoring the voice of so many citizens who warned against this, managed to write a terrible contract that had extremely weak accountability mechanisms. The result is that people have received really poor services while often being asked to pay more. Beyond this, they haven’t had any way to complain or change providers given that the city forced out the other companies. It would be difficult to argue that this has been successful by any measure.
Moving forward, I support the effort to explore a municipal trash collection service – I think this makes sense as a way to guarantee a minimal standard of service. I also support efforts to create real options for Cart Sharing and Opt Outs – these are provisions that mean a lot for our city’s most vulnerable residents. Getting them into a revised contract would represent a strong signal from the city that they are listening.
Do you support historic preservation in Saint Paul?
PT: Yes. I also believe that the debates over Saint Andrew’s Church and the Hamline-Midway library are examples of seeking public input only to validate a pre-approved decision.
DGS: I am a proud supporter of historic preservation in St. Paul, and I am endorsed by the SP Historic Preservation Political Committee.
In general, I take the approach that our city leaders need to place more trust in our historic preservation experts, particularly the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). These are groups that work to ensure that we understand the value of our historic structures, and they protect these historic resources by affording them special status and consideration. Within our 2040 Comprehensive Plan, we also have a Heritage and Cultural Preservation Chapter that establish core principles that include both public and private historic resources. These policies are crafted to help guide the City on its decisions related to structures like the Justice Ramsey House or the Midway Hamline Library. Let’s pay attention to this, and give our history a fair chance.
This is an area where I believe quite strongly that the city has neglected its responsibilities and has lost substantial business opportunities. We are very blessed to have an incredible history. This is more than “charm” – it is actually the foundation for what makes St. Paul a really cool city. Let’s recognize this and work with it to help craft our identity.