Happy New Year!
2014 was a busy year and it looks like 2015 will only be busier. This month we have the Shepard-Davern small area plan and rezoning coming before the Council, this year we will implement a long-term plan to update and improve our streets and we'll get the first look at (and weigh in on) the rezoning of the Ford Site. I could not be more excited to continue moving things forward for Ward 3 and Saint Paul. Read on to check out what else is happening in our great City.
With a great group of Right Track participants celebrating the completion of their summer internships.
Wednesday, December 10, the City Council passed the 2015 Budget. I am proud to say that we adopted great things in the budget while maintaining cost containment in all City Departments and only raising the property tax levy slightly. It was my hope that we could keep the levy flat this year, however, it came down to cutting services or raising the levy, and I could not justify cutting essential city services that our residents rely on.
After last year’s harsh winter and a historically wet spring our office received countless emails and calls about the dangerous conditions of Saint Paul roads. In addition to the emergency mill and overlays completed this fall (Hamline and Cretin are unbelievably better!) the Council invested in a long-term plan to ensure that our streets never again get to this point. For the first time the City of Saint Paul now has a plan to reconstruct its 340 miles of arterial streets. The Saint Paul Street Vitality Program (SPSVP) has replaced the Residential Street Vitality Program (RSVP) and starting in 2015 every year $10 million will be invested in arterial reconstruction and $4.5 million will be put towards residential reconstruction. I know there is some frustration that this pushes back the RSVP schedule a couple of years, and I sincerely apologize to those who have been waiting patiently for their street to be upgraded. However, I am proud to say that we now have a long-term plan for all of Saint Paul’s streets, something that should have been in place years ago.
In addition to the SPSVP funding, we also dedicated money to reconstruct Jackson Street, build a downtown bike loop, continue building the long-imagined Grand Rounds, and put funding towards county reconstruction projects. With all the projects we put over $54 million towards road investment projects in 2015.
Randolph and Lexington Intersection
As anyone who has driven through the Randolph and Lexington intersection at rush hour knows, the intersection is not working for drivers or pedestrians. Wait times at the light are well above average and pedestrians risk their lives standing at the narrow northeast corner when crossing to Trader Joe’s. In this budget I secured $1.5 million to improve this intersection to coincide with Ramsey County’s reconstruction of that portion of Randolph in 2016. The County will be taking the lead on designing and reconstructing that intersection and will hold a public meeting in February to get community input on different reconstruction scenarios. They will also be meeting with both the MacGroveland and Highland District Councils. I hope you can join us at one of the following meetings to share your vision for the intersection.
Randolph Public Meeting- February 4, 6PM, Highland Community Center.
Macalester Groveland Transportation Meeting- February 23, 6:30 PM, Edgcumbe Rec Center
Highland Transportation Meeting- February 10, 7PM, Highland Community Center
I am very pleased that we were able to continue the tradition of investing in our libraries this budget cycle. We added $300,000 to buy new and updated library materials. That is coming off last year when we invested $750,000 in new materials ($500,000 for the collections at the now renovated and reopened Sunray and Highland Park libraries and $250,000 for new library materials citywide).
Additionally, after overriding Mayor Coleman’s line-item veto the City Council approved $300,000 towards restoring evening and weekend hours for libraries citywide. This one-time investment will transition into a long-term, sustainable budget item that makes our libraries more accessible to all Saint Paul residents.
Resources for All St. Paul Residents
A big theme of this budget cycle was providing resources for all of Saint Paul residents. Working with Councilmember Thao, we found that many St. Paul kids were being turned away from swimming lessons at our local rec centers because their families could not afford the registration fee. The small sum that was set aside to provide scholarships to these families was time and time again being fully allocated within the first 2-3 months of the year, leaving many families without the resources to participate. To correct this, Councilmember Thao and I added $25,000 to the Swim Fee Assistance fund. While that does not solve the problem, it does takes a big step towards ensuring all of our kids can learn to swim and be safe in the water.
We have also added a new coordinator to the city’s Right Track program. This program, which I am proud to have helped start, matches high-achieving, low-income high school students with their first professional summer internships. This helps them build their skills and their network. In one year the program has quadrupled the number of students involved, and we hope to do that again in 2015. An additional program coordinator will make that effort successful.
Paid Parental Leave
One of the things I’ve learned over my last three years on the Council is that the City is only as good as its staff. City staff are the main communication between the city and its residents- they help with everything from street plowing to getting a permit. To be effective, the City needs to hire and retain excellent employees, and that is one of the reasons that I, along with Councilmember Thao, introduced paid parental leave for city staff. Paid parental leave, six weeks paid leave for the birthing parent and three for the non-birthing parent, helps retain great employees and echoes the City’s commitment to families. I am proud to say that Saint Paul is now one of the first cities in Minnesota to have paid parental leave.
Cute babies stealing the spotlight at the paid parental leave press conference.
The night of the first major snow of the season, November 10th, the City held a public meeting to gather community input on the future of the Ford Site. Despite slick roads and low temperatures the auditorium at Saint Catherine’s was packed with neighbors, stakeholders and curious observers.
The Mayor, several members of the planning staff and I spoke about the work that has already been done and the City’s process, and then we allowed time for attendees to walk around to different tables and share their thoughts and ideas about transportation, housing, parks and amenities, land use and density, jobs and tax base and energy and sustainability. You can check out the presentation and the feedback we received from the community here.
Using what was heard at that meeting, the work that has been done since 2007, and the various communications the City has received over the years, our planning staff has begun exploring different zoning options for the site. These will be unveiled for public comment next spring. Public comment will shape the final draft which should be available, depending on the status of the environmental testing on the site, by the end of 2015.
As you all know, the 122-acre Ford site is an amazing and staggering opportunity for the City of Saint Paul. To get the best possible development at the site I secured funding in the 2015 budget to hire an additional planning staffer to aid the rezoning process and to hire a real estate consultant to guide the City through the sale process. It is our hope that rezoning, identifying a great developer and getting shovels in the ground can happen as smoothly and transparently as possible. It will be a long process; however we believe we can make it as efficient as possible with the resources we have allocated.
Neighbors packed the grand reopening of the Highland Community Center on November 16th.
Earlier this year I asked the Planning and Economic Development (PED) Department to study the rash of new homes being built in Ward 3. Multiple neighbors have contacted my office concerned that the new houses were too big, too bulky, and simply out of character with the neighborhood. I asked PED to identify a zoning change that might ease these problems. That study started in September and has been led by Mike Richardson. Mike has visited both district councils, met with architects, builders, neighbors, and folks in Minneapolis who have dealt with similar issues. He is currently drafting his recommendation, which he will share with the district councils in January. Please join us to weigh in on the recommendations before they are introduced to the Planning Commission.
Highland Community Development Committee- January 20, 7PM, Highland Community Center
Macalester Groveland Housing and Land Use Committee- January 28, 6:30 PM, Edgcumbe Rec Center
Stay warm this winter and, as always, feel free to call or email me any time with questions, concerns or ideas on how to make our great City better.
Councilmember Chris Tolbert