Election 2015: St. Paul City Council, Ward Four

So, it’s literally the day before the election and I’m feeling like I may have waited a little too long to start my term paper and trying to remind myself that once upon a time I felt no particularly obligation to blog about every damn race in the two cities and just stuck to my own ballot. And my own ballot is done! All the rest of this is gravy.

I could totally get this done if the two remaining races (City Council Ward 4 and City Council Ward 5) were like one serious candidate and a couple of flakes, but they’re both real races.

In Ward Four, the candidates are:
Tom Goldstein
Russ Stark (incumbent, DFL endorsed)

Russ Stark

Russ Stark’s very first accomplishment listed on his accomplishments page is, “championed the creation of a citywide streetcar plan.” I am not a fan of streetcars, which combine most of the major downsides of both buses and trains and cost a truly staggering amount of money. (I went to France this summer and rode buses a whole lot, and you know what, it is possible to build an amazing bus system, where all the bus stops actually tell you what stops there and have maps so you can see where they’re going and electronic signboards to tell you when the next bus is arriving, and the buses can be set up with electronic signboards that tell you what the next stop is, and all the stops can have names like on a train system to make it easier for users who aren’t familiar with the area, and you can have an app that adjusts automatically if you miss a connection — actually, that feature was sort of annoying and it would’ve been nice to be able to lock in a route, but having an app that would navigate you to your destination was pretty cool. Anyway: you can do all that for your whole metro area for like the cost of half a streetcar line. I really think we under-rate buses in part because we’ve done such a crappy job with buses for years and years and instead of saying “let’s have something cooler and more expensive!” we could do buses WELL, instead.)

He also “championed the creation of the City’s first sustainable transportation coordinator,” who led the citywide bike plan. I’m more of a fan of the citywide bike plan.

I have to say, I’m struck by how non-accomplishment-y some of his accomplishments are. He “championed” a bunch of things, he “encouraged” Public Works to apply for bike-friendly city status, he “was a leading voice” on some committee. He “championed the creation of a new City position to work solely on development along the Green Line,” which despite being solidly liberal made me think “oh good, because an additional city bureaucrat is definitely the best possible use of tax dollars” (I think the “concierge” system for making it easier to get all the necessary permits and stuff that Rebecca Noecker is suggesting might be better than someone whose job is to be “out on University Avenue every day connecting developers, property owners, and business owners, to ensure we achieve the University Avenue we envision.” (That … honestly makes me think about the Wandering Librarian system, where they’re supposed to bug you while you’re browsing for books like a retail salesperson to see if you need help finding anything, instead of being at a desk where you can find them if you need them. But maybe this works better than it kind of sounds to me?)

He “helped secure the 3 missing stations on the light rail project at Hamline, Victoria, and Western Avenues” — yeah, so, here’s the thing. Adding endless additional stations is why it takes a truly absurd amount of time for that train to get from one downtown to the other. And if we want to get to the Green Line from my house, which is just east of Hamline, we have to walk to Snelling to get to the north-south bus line that’ll take us up to University. But God forbid anyone right up by that line have to walk that half mile to get to their light rail stop. (People who ride the line seem generally happy with it, though, so… maybe those stops were a terrific idea.)

He “championed” improvements to the recycling program, and that’s a plus (I like single-sort, even though I actually still put all my paper in one box and everything else in another). He “led an effort to ensure that every vacant or foreclosed house that the City is investing in be made more energy efficient, ensuring long term-affordability for those moving into the housing and a smaller carbon footprint for our community.” This is the sort of thing that I wonder what the actual ramifications have been. I support energy efficiency; I wonder whether this means that there are vacant/foreclosed houses that have sat rather than being fixed up or sold, because there wasn’t the money to do the energy improvements and, like, putting the pipes back in after they got stolen for the copper, and whether there’s anything in this regulation that says that if a house already meets some benchmark you don’t have to try to push it even higher (there are some very energy-efficient houses! And sometimes the low-hanging fruit has been grabbed already.)

Under Neighborhood Livability he mentions leading the effort to create a new Affordable Housing Trust fund but also this hilarious bullet point: “Developed a sidewalk snow-shoveling doorhanger so that people who walk in their neighborhoods could give a gentle reminder to others to shovel their sidewalks.” Do I need to get into the hilarity of developing new ways for Minnesotans to be passive-aggressive?

His goals for a third term include changing the city’s “process for dealing with icy/snowy sidewalks so that clear sidewalks are expedited in order to improve mobility for families, the elderly, transit users, everyone!” — I’d be in favor of that, though the city is already in charge of plowing the actual streets and reviews are mixed, to put it mildly. He also wants to work on municipal trash collection. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT. I swear this was tried a few years ago and went down in flames.

Tom Goldstein

So here’s a nice quote that sums up a lot of what I’m seeing from Tom’s materials: “People in St. Paul don’t want more tax-subsidized development [like the soccer stadium], [Tom Goldstein] said. They want potholes filled and their alleys plowed.”

Tom’s website hits those two themes pretty hard. (a) You’re spending our money on stupid stuff (like stadiums) and (b) what people actually want is everday stuff like alley plowing. His goals are heavily pragmatic, which admittedly is easier to push for from the outside. He’s one of the people pushing for a citywide broadband initiative. (I’m all for it! In Minneapolis we used the municipal Wi-Fi and it was terrific. Here in St. Paul my options are Comcast and CenturyLink, i.e., the faster and more expensive evil vs. the slower and cheaper evil.) He wants alley plowing — so, in addition to not picking up our trash, St. Paul doesn’t plow our alleys. Instead, you’re supposed to get together with your neighbors and all chip in to pay for the plowing, which is problematic in all sorts of ways, like someone has to organize it, and if you don’t pay up they get stuck covering the gap, and sometimes people just freeload on their more community-spirited neighbors since it’s not like you can plow just part of an alley. (I feel like in some cities, you could probably find an alley plower who would work with you on the goal of demonstrating to the freeloaders the many disadvantages of not participating in the cost-sharing. I mean, the snow has to go somewhere, right? That doesn’t seem to happen here.) Also, I am pretty sure that the city could add alley plowing to the to-do list for a less than what we pay per year for our alley, but even if they couldn’t it would eliminate a lot of hassles.

He wants to ban free plastic bags from stores, which I would find annoying. (I re-use my high-quality paper bags with handles every week, but I like plastic bags for stuff like raw meat, and also the small plastic bags from the produce department for things like green beans.)

He wants to create “an ‘Office of Enterprise Development’ that will encourage businesses to locate in St. Paul, identify barriers to making that happen, and provide technical assistance to start-up ventures so that they can find funding sources and successfully navigate the St. Paul municipal code,” which makes me wonder if he likes Russ Stark’s guy who is “out on University Avenue every day connecting developers, property owners, and business owners” so much he wants an entire office of these people.

My biggest concerns about Tom come from reading through this somewhat contentious Facebook thread about bike lanes on Cleveland Ave. He said that he’d run into a lot of opposition to the bike lanes (but apparently was unaware that there’s been a concerted effort on the part of a few of the businesses to quash the bike lane striping). Someone posted to say, “I’m a Midway resident, I work at St. Kate’s, I bike, and I strongly support bike lanes on Cleveland. You shouldn’t be too surprised to hear that I’m supporting Russ because of his leadership on these issues.” Tom replied, “if you’re going to vote for a candidate based primarily on whether or not he supports putting bike lanes on a street that even avid bicyclists have told me they won’t ride, there’s nothing I can say to change your mind. I don’t think the St. Paul Bike Plan falls apart simply because people might need to take another look at whether Finn or Prior works better than Cleveland. That a few bike zealots are willing to take such umbrage over the fact that I’m willing to consider the opinion of Ward 4 residents that might differ from yours is a pretty sad commentary on the state of democracy in this country–and this city.”

Which….wow. I mean, if you get that bent out of shape when someone disagrees with you, I don’t think you have the temperament to be on the City Countil. (If you read the whole thread, there’s a fair amount more: “If the bike plan is a superior document and the process for selecting Cleveland Avenue without any significant flaws, then winning over detractors shouldn’t be difficult” — ugh, that’s a recipe for Madisonian-style paralysis, actually. You have to strike a balance between listening to residents and saying “yeah, you’ll adjust” and pushing something through. I mean, everyone wants bike lanes somewhere that they will never inconvenience cars in any way, and that may not be possible, and that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have bike lanes.

“Mike, this became a campaign issue because it was clearly a concern that neighbors expressed when I knocked on their doors this summer. That’s called representative government. I realize your preference would be that I should have ignored all the people who expressed concerns because they are not well informed or under the influence of ‘parking enthusiasts,’ but I give people more credit than that” — I am basically unable to read this in a non-patronizing tone.

Endorsement: Russ Stark. Not because I’m entirely satisfied with him, but because I think his opponent isn’t really ready for prime time. Also, St. Paul desperately desperately needs better bike routes, and someone who will push for them.


1 thought on “Election 2015: St. Paul City Council, Ward Four

  1. We have had a free plastic bag ban here for a few years and it isn’t that bad. The little produce plastic bags are still free (and I put my meat in them too), but you can still *get* and use the bags (and many do), they just cost 5 cents a pop.

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