Archive | July, 2018


Three candidates vie for Ward 4 council seat in special election

Posted on 09 July 2018 by Calvin

A special election on Aug. 14 will fill Ward 4 seat vacated by Russ Stark; will serve till next Ward 4 election in 2019

Three candidates are vying for the Ward 4 city council seat vacated by Russ Stark when he took a job in Mayor Melvin Carter’s administration as the Chief Resilience Officer after a decade in office.

Since Stark’s resignation in February, the seat has been filled by Stark’s aide Samantha Henningson, who was appointed by the council with the understanding that she wouldn’t seek election herself.

The special election is set for Aug. 14, the same day as this year’s primary election. Polls are open from 7am to 8pm.

The special election will be decided by ranked-choice ballot, meaning voters will be allowed to rank candidates in order of preference. Absentee voting by mail or in person is currently ongoing; and early voting in person begins Tues., Aug. 7.

The candidate who wins will fill the time remaining on Stark’s seat, which is up for election in 2019.

Ward 4 includes Hamline-Midway, Merriam Park, St. Anthony Park, and parts of Mac-Groveland and Como. The city council position is officially classified as part-time and pays $60 per hour or $63,000 per year.

Shirley Erstad
Shirley Erstad is the Executive Director of the local non-profit, Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County, where she’s worked for four years. She has served as a Saint Paul STRONG steering committee member.

Erstad was elected to the Union Park District Council Board of Directors three times and has served on the Executive Committee and the Environment and Parks Committee.

She founded Women Who Get Stuff Done, a group of women who talk to each other about what they are working on and how they can support one another.

Erstad grew up on a cattle farm and was the first in her family to attend college. She studied political science and economics at South Dakota State University where she was involved in student government. Erstad worked two jobs to pay for tuition while attending the university, and landed a job with a United States Senator immediately after graduation. She credits this early work in politics with igniting her passion for public service, collaboration and strengthening communities. She and her husband have lived in St. Paul for 20 years.

When she learned that the city’s Planning Commission had nine vacancies and no representation from Ward 4 during decision-making related to the soccer stadium, she took action. Together with other community activists, she organized and worked for 18 months alongside then-Mayor Chris Coleman and two City Council Members to fill out St. Paul’s 30 commissions and committees with ethnically diverse and geographically representative appointments. When he left office, Mayor Coleman highlighted these appointments as one of his proudest accomplishments.

Erstad supports a $15 minimum wage, and “common sense development.”

David Martinez
A first-generation immigrant, David Martinez is working towards transparency and inclusive decision-making in the city.
Martinez has been a homeowner in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood since 2005 and grew up in a low-income household on the West Side of St. Paul. He earned his B.A. in global studies from the University of Minnesota, and his masters from Bethel University.

He has put his bilingual skills (English and Spanish) to work by serving as a translator for the school district. Martinez has also been recognized for “Excellence in Public Service” by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, where he currently works as a project consultant, for developing a Worker’s Rights Brochure in English and Spanish that is used on construction projects state-wide to inform workers of their employment rights.

Martinez has served on a variety of commissions including the Ramsey County Workforce Investment Board (2014-2015), and St. Paul Public Schools’ Citizen’s Budget & Finance Advisory Council (2011-2012). He is the chair of the Parent Engagement Group at Great River Montessori School, where his two children attend. Martinez has volunteered at Goodwill Easter Seals and as a youth wrestling coach.

Past employment has included working as a part-time Financial Empowerment Specialist at the local organization CLUES; 14 years in the local financial services sector where he approved first-time homebuyer loans; and part-time as a MetroTransit Bus Driver in 2017.

“I have a proven track record of effectively leading and coordinating large-scale systems projects and initiatives in the public, private and non-profit sectors,” stated Martinez.

Mitra Nelson
The daughter of immigrants, Mitra Jalali Nelson is a lifelong Minnesota resident who has “devoted my life to fighting for all families to have the same opportunities as mine.” She currently works in Rep. Keith Ellison’s district office as his public safety and immigration outreach director.

Nelson’s career began in Louisiana in 2008 as a high school social studies teacher at an alternative high school on the West Bank of New Orleans as part of Teach For America, just three years after Hurricane Katrina. The experience fostered an unshakable belief in the potential of all children, and in the importance of giving every child access to outstanding public education.

Back in Minnesota, she became an organizer with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers in the 2012 election cycle and worked with Ward 4 neighbors and teachers citywide to pass the St. Paul Public Schools funding levy.

“The lesson I learned from that experience is that good ideas don’t just happen on their own; you have to organize them into reality. I’m bringing this spirited ethic with me to City Hall, through a resident-driven campaign that bridges the gap between residents and government,” said Nelson.

She explained, “I’m now running for City Council because our city needs capable leaders who reflect our growth, our diversity, and our shared commitment to equity.”

Nelson seeks to address a few central challenges of Ward 4 that, if solved, she believes will help sustain the future of the city: “affordable housing, building community wealth, and true public safety through police accountability.”

She added, “In a city that is nearly 50% people of color and over 50% renters, and in a ward with one of the fastest-growing renter populations in St. Paul, I would bring a perspective that is missing on the council as both a woman of color and a renter myself.”

Nelson has two dozen housing goals outlined in a detailed “renter’s blueprint” available on her website. She believes that affordable, quality housing is a universal human right.

Nelson has been endorsed by the Minnesota DFL and Mayor Melvin Carter, among others.


Comments Off on Three candidates vie for Ward 4 council seat in special election

Monitor In A Minute

Posted on 09 July 2018 by Calvin


Changes to permit parking eyed
Proposed changes to St. Paul’s residential permit parking system are on hold until Wed., July 18. After public hearings on the changes on June 20, the St. Paul City Council laid the matter over for additional feedback. Most concerns about the changes were heard from neighbors of the University of St. Thomas in Merriam Park, and in the West End. About two dozen people attended the public hearing.

The city currently has 27 residential permit parking districts, in areas where institutional and commercial uses have caused spillover parking on residential streets. A study of changes, led by the Department of Public Works, took place over the past two years. While sweeping changes, including the elimination of some districts, was originally suggested by city staff, the resulting changes are more modest.

Changes are proposed to create standardization in residential permit parking rules among the districts, including consistency in the number of resident and guest permits a household can purchase. Under the proposed rules each household in a permit district would have the option of buying up to three resident permits and two visitor placards. Some districts have allowed up to six resident permits per household.

Other proposed changes would allow residents to buy permits online and would allow people who drive leased vehicles to get a permit.

Hamline-Midway resident Linda Jackson wants to see further restrictions on spillover parking. Jackson, who lives on Sherburne Ave., said her neighborhood currently has no parking except by permit 8am-6pm weekdays posted. She’d like to see permit parking enforced all of the time. Her block has seen an uptick in commuter parking since Green Line light rail began operates in 2014.

“We’re a park and ride … it has become an issue,” she said.

Tobacco licenses to be capped
Businesses wishing to sell tobacco products in St. Paul may be out of luck. The St. Paul City Council June 27 adopted an ordinance that caps the number of tobacco licenses in the city. The ordinance change, which would take effect in 30 days, wouldn’t allow new licenses to be issued. Instead, any business wanting a license to sell tobacco would have to wait until an existing license holder goes out of business, leaves the city, or gives up its license.

The city has between 240 to 260 tobacco license, held by grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, tobacco shops and other retailers.

A youth advocacy group from Aurora-St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation was the only group to speak for the license cap at a June 20 public hearing.

No one spoke against. City Council members did get correspondence from the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO), a group of tobacco retailers. NATO Executive Director and Legal Counsel. Thomas Briant said the cap is unnecessary as the city’s previous efforts to restrict tobacco have already taken a toll. Restrictions on mental, mint and wintergreen tobacco products take effect Nov. 1. Briant said the existing regulations will result in store closures.

The city has taken a number of steps in recent years to try to reduce youth access to tobacco, and to restrict various types of flavored tobacco products sales to tobacco shops. That restriction raised concerns about a potential proliferation of tobacco product shops. Council members said the license cap would prevent an influx of new tobacco shops in the city.

Midway Pro Bowl seeks compensation
The ownership of the longtime Midway Pro Bowl, which closed last year to make way for the Allianz Field Major League Soccer stadium, is asking the city of St. Paul for relocation expenses. The request was made in early June to the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings. No hearing date has been set.

A hearing officer will have to decide whether the city is required to compensate Midway Pro Bowl or if the relocation was a private matter between tenant and landlord. The wrinkle is that the stadium, being built by a private partnership, will eventually be conveyed to the city.

Midway Pro Bowl was at Midway Center for more than 50 years. It and several other businesses were demolished to make way for the stadium. City officials contend the relocation expenses are a private matter between the business and its landlord, RK Midway, and that the landlord exercised a lease buyout clause.

Bowling center co-owners Alan Loth and Scott Koecheler had owned the business for 34 years. While they’d hoped to relocate in the new development, they were instead issued an order to vacate the property. They now run an Apple Valley entertainment Center, Bogart’s.

They are seeking just compensation including relocation benefits under the state’s Uniform Relocation Act. No specific amount is stated.

Big Top move approved
It’s official: Big Top Wine and Spirits, 1574 University Ave., can move into the former Midway Perkins restaurant. The St. Paul City Council June 13 approved technical changes to the city’s longstanding distance requirements between off-sale liquor stores.

No one appeared at a June 6 public hearing to speak for or against the changes.

The council approved changes for off-sale liquor establishments outside of the downtown business district that were licensed before Jan. 15, 2003. The changes allow the council to waive the current one half-mile distance requirement between stores if certain findings are met.

The new store location must be within a one-half-mile radius of its current location. The relocation of the off-sale liquor establishment is related to hardship or circumstances outside of the licensee’s control. Also, the new location of the off-sale liquor establishment meets the intent of the ordinance in preventing the over-concentration of off-sale liquor establishments in a small area. The potential for negative impacts on surrounding neighborhoods must also be considered for a distance exception.

Big Top’s current building is slated to be torn down, to make way for an east extension of Shields Ave. into the Allianz Field soccer stadium site.

Perkins closed last year. The move is considered an interim step as long-term plans for the Midway Center property call for redevelopment of the site.

Comments Off on Monitor In A Minute


Controversial Long Ave. project can move ahead

Posted on 09 July 2018 by Calvin

A controversial rezoning proposal in the West Midway/South St. Anthony Park area won St. Paul City Council approval June 13. The council voted to rezone 2330 Long Ave. from traditional neighborhoods two to traditional neighbors three use, to allow for redevelopment.

The zoning change was sought by developers to allow more building height and density. But neighborhood reaction was mixed, with some neighbors saying that more density should be welcomed in an area close to Green Line light rail and other transit options. Others said more development is adding to parking congestion and could force out small businesses.

Developer LB 842 Ray LLC sought the rezoning, which won a recommendation of approval in the spring from the Planning Commission. At the Planning Commission Zoning Committee meeting this spring, developer Jamie Stolpestad said the intent is to provide needed housing, with a focus on appealing to all generations. Land Bank Twin Cities is also involved in the project, as EG Capital LLC.

Small business led the charge against the rezoning. Salon George owner Patty George, who circulated a petition against the proposal, said the businesses have already lost parking due to the Raymond bike lane and other development in the area. She said the area’s rapid redevelopment had put the squeeze on longtime businesses and homeowners.

Before voting to approve the zoning change June 13, City Council members said they understand the challenges redevelopment and change can bring. But the city’s comprehensive plan identifies the area as a place for future growth and higher density.

Two projects are eyed for the area. One is the Long Ave. project, which could have 20-50 micro-units of housing, with some of those designated as affordable housing. A second, Guild842, would have up to nine luxury condos above and adjacent to the Lakes and Plains Building at 842 Raymond Ave.

Area projects receive funding
The Metropolitan Council has awarded nearly $3.3 million in brownfield investigation and cleanup grants that promote redevelopment and economic opportunity, through its Livable Communities program. Grants awarded will be used to investigate and clean up pollution, and promote redevelopment of sites in areas where poverty is concentrated.

The grant awards this funding round will help clean up 12 acres, increase the net tax base by $3 million, and encourage millions more in private investment.

“For more than two decades, the Livable Communities Grant Program has turned polluted land across the Twin Cities into fertile ground for economic growth and opportunity,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in a press release. “These grants will help create 200 jobs and support the development of more than 1,200 new homes, including affordable housing for 96 Minnesota families.”

The Metropolitan Council received 28 applications this funding round totaling $7.9 million in requests.

Photo right: Architect’s rendering shows Ain Dah Yung, a redevelopment of cleaned up property in Saint Paul, that will include 42 affordable, supportive apartments for homeless youth with community and amenity space. (Photo provided)

Area projects funded include Ain Dah Yung supportive housing, which was given $47,200 toward a hazardous materials assessment, asbestos abatement and soil remediation at a half-acre site that was used for residential purposes, as well as by a variety of appliance, vehicle and equipment sales and service companies. The redevelopment includes 42 affordable, supportive apartments for homeless youth with community and amenity space. The project is on University Ave. east of Victoria St.

A second area project is a Minnesota Chemical Company building that is being redeveloped for commercial use, at 2285 Hampden Ave. The St. Paul Port Authority is working on this project in the West Midway, with Exeter Group. The council allocated $328,200 toward asbestos abatement, soil remediation, and soil vapor mitigation at a 1.5-acre site that has been used for a variety of manufacturing purposes. The redevelopment includes renovation of an existing building and site work.

Comments Off on Controversial Long Ave. project can move ahead

Benita Warns

At 65, one St. Paul woman is still winning roller skating gold

Posted on 09 July 2018 by Calvin

Benita Warns wasn’t involved in organized sports when she was young. She had already graduated high school when Title IX became law. Title IX was one of the Educational Amendments passed by Congress in 1972, prohibiting discrimination of girls and women in federally funded education. Title IX opened up opportunities girls never had, Warn’s school, like most public schools, had no sports for girls.

“The thinking is that a girl would hurt herself and then wouldn’t be able to have babies,” said Warns. “But, I rode bikes just the way the boys did. I didn’t get to a roller rink until I was 12-years old and in junior high. I loved the rink and skated often during my junior and senior years of high school. I gradually learned to skate reasonably well, but never considered racing.”

But, her early skating experience at the rink had made a lasting impression, and now, Warns is the winner of a number of gold, silver and bronze medals, winning regional and national events in speed skating. She has so many that, she says, she’s lost track of them. But she says, she’s won 15 national gold medals. Her latest was the Quad Skates US Roller Speed Skating Associations American Championship for women aged 60 and older, which she won at a meet in mid-June.

Photo right: In mid-June, Benita Warns won the Gold Medal in the Quad Skates US Roller Speed Skating Associations American Championship for women aged 60 and older. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

The road to the championship took years, but Warns thrives on the competition. “When I first started racing, I dreamed of placing at regionals and qualifying for the nationals. Once I reached that goal, I dreamed of making it to a final at nationals,” she said. She won a medal there and set her sights on winning gold. She won her first gold in 2009. Now age 65, she has no plans to slow down.

Warns grew up in Detroit, attended Wayne State and planned for a career in teaching. But, she left school before graduating. “The teaching field was glutted,” she said. Instead, she joined the Army, studying journalism and broadcasting at the US Department of Defense’s information school, graduating 2nd in her class in journalism and 1st in broadcasting. After leaving the army and settling in Indianapolis, she used her Vet’s benefits to attend Purdue to become an industrial engineer.

When her son Dylan was four years old, she started to take him to skating sessions for preschool and kindergarten kids. “And then, I heard about another nearby rink offered a free six-week series of speed skating classes for kids and adults, so we went together,” she said. “At the end of the classes, we drove to a rink to watch a speed meet.”

Soon, they were doing more than watching. Both Benita and Dylan found that they had a talent for speed. It took years of practice to qualify for the National Championships, she said. She had been competing in state-level races in the 30 and older division, and in 1994, now living in St. Paul and working at an engineering job at the US Post Office, she left competitive skating far behind her. “I was out of skating for nine years, until 2003,” she said, but she was still a roller racing fan.

“During the years I was out of skating, inline skates took over racing,” she said. But, there was still a place for quad skating, Warn’s favored method, using the traditional skating rink style skates, with four wheels set in two side-by-side pairs.
Inlines are flashier, faster and are harder on skaters’ knees, she said, but there were still quad races around, with a winter meet being held in nearby Wisconsin. She went to check it out. And then, she said, “An old skating friend called me and asked if I would skate quad nationals for his team.” She said yes and began training again.

Now, 15 years later, Warns competes with groups from around the country. There are no local teams, making training a challenge, but it allows her to skate in competition with teams all over the country, as a free agent.

She competes in the 300, 500 and 700-meter races, where skaters race against each other in packs, and in the 2000-meter relays. But to practice with others and to recreate the experience closer to a real race, Warns, a grandmother signed on with the local roller derby team, the Minnesota RollerGirls, as a referee, taking on the roller derby nickname “Batterin’ Gram.”

“I would skate 10-minute drills with them,” Warns said. “It gave me confidence. It got me used to being bumped, so it made me steadier in races.” She worked with the team for four years before retiring, although she still works charity and promotional events for the RollerGirls.

Roller skating, she says keeps her healthy. “I get bone strength and balance. It’s not joint pounding the way running is, but I get endurance and strength.”

Warn’s sport is changing, too. When she started, the oldest competition category was 30 and older. “Then, they change it to 35 and older, and then 45 and older and eventually they created divisions for folks in the 50s and 60s.” Her next big competition is the USA Roller Sports Nationals in Lincoln, Nebraska later this month.

“You can still tell the effect of Title IX,” she said. “There are a lot more women in racing who were in school after Title IX than before it was put into effect. There’s a really strong line.”

For Warns, the skating future is bright. “I’m not planning on hanging up my skates anytime soon. I figure I have a few good racing years left and then, maybe I will retire from racing. But, who knows. Maybe, someday, they will add a 70 and older division. I am not getting faster, but I have developed a much better form than in my younger days.”

Her focus is now on more than just racing and winning. “I have to train to live well. It’s not just about being a champion. It’s about being strong. Too many people have health problems for lack of taking care of themselves. I don’t want that for me. I want to go to the roller rink at age 100 and skate unassisted.”

Comments Off on At 65, one St. Paul woman is still winning roller skating gold

Neighbors upset; freeway berm ripped out for second time

Posted on 09 July 2018 by Calvin

Interstate 94 neighbors in part of Merriam Park are eager to have more than $10,000 worth of trees, shrubs and plants replaced as quickly as possible. But they also want assurances from Xcel Energy and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) that sound-muffling plantings won’t be ripped out and bulldozed for a third time.

MnDOT has announced a change in policies that is meant to protect sites where it and community members have invested resources and time. What especially frustrates neighbors is that the vegetation removed in May was paid for through a MnDOT program and that taxpayers will now have to pay again to replace the plantings.

More than three dozen neighbors met with Xcel, MnDOT, Union Park District Council and city representatives June 21 to discuss next steps to replace plantings bulldozed and cut down in May. They reviewed three different replanting plan options for the area between Fry St. and a point near Wheeler St., with the goal of having a selection by early July.

Plans vary by types of tree, shrub and ground cover species, with each plan having more than half a dozen species of trees and shrubs. All three choices would be planned in a way to avoid future interference with overhead power lines, with larger species planted in the area close to the freeway and various mixes of grasses and flowering plants all along the four-block stretch.

MnDOT will then work with neighbors on a timeline for replacing the plantings. Neighbors also want clear procedures, so they are not blindsided by future plans to make changes to the vegetation.

Marcell Walker, a MnDOT ombudsman, apologized on behalf of the state transportation department. “We should have done better communication,” he said.

Jim Pearson, who works in community relations for Xcel, also agreed that more needs to be done in the future to keep the community informed. But Xcel representatives at the meeting continued to defend the work, saying it was necessary to maintain clear zones between power lines and woody vegetation.

At Xcel Energy’s request, MnDOT earlier this year approved a permit for contractors to work in the area that was planted by volunteers a few years ago. Xcel officials said they were concerned that the recent plantings were growing too close to the power lines.

Neighbors argued that the plantings weren’t near the power lines and didn’t need to be chopped down and bulldozed.
“Why does this keep happening and how are you going to fix it?” said neighbor Kathy Flynn. “In four years we’ve been clear-cut twice.”

No notice was given to neighbors that the area would be cleared in May. Neighbors were told by tree service workers that the area would then be treated with herbicide. Xcel representatives said that’s not the case.

Neighbor Jerry Striegel was among neighbors who said the area’s shrubs and trees grew for years with little to no attention. The growth included some invasive species. Area residents would sometimes have to call to have branches trimmed so that traffic signs wouldn’t be obscured.

But the vegetation kept the sound as well as dust levels down. In 2015, neighbors were shocked to find that the berm’s trees and shrubs were cleared. They applied to MnDOT for one of its Community Roadside Landscape Partnership Program grants to restore the plantings in 2016. Under that program, MnDOT pays for the vegetation if volunteers agree to plant and maintain it.

Neighbors and volunteers recruited throughout the area put in hundreds of hours to replant the area using more than $10,000 in public funding. Neighbors used their own garden hoses and buckets of water to keep plantings alive, often in the scorching summer heat. They sought and got a fence and locked gate installed to protect the area. Then in three days, Wright Tree Service cleared almost everything out.

Some neighbors said they miss the flowering trees and lilac bushes, and the wildlife habitat nearby. Others said the vegetation provided an attractive buffer not just for neighbors but also for bicyclists on a recently installed two-way bike lane along St. Anthony. It has a been a noisy and dusty summer without the vegetation barrier. Losing the trees and shrubs has made a difference, said neighbor Lyn Rhodes. “The noise level in my backyard has been insane.”

She and other neighbors said they don’t see nearly as many backyard birds since the vegetation buffer is gone.

But while MnDOT prepared planting options for neighbors to choose from, a future option may be a noise buffering wall. However, Natalie Ries, noise/air quality program supervisor for MnDOT’s Metro Division, said recent sound level readings are below the standards for such a wall. Neighbors could seek to get on the waiting list for a sound wall. But there wasn’t much interest in that June 21.

“I’d like to know when we can start planting again,” said Striegel.

Comments Off on Neighbors upset; freeway berm ripped out for second time

2019 Midway Chamber Directory