This week’s podcast is a conversation with Debbie Goettel, the mayor of Richfield and a candidate for the Hennepin County Commissioner in the 5th District, which encompasses Richfield, Bloomington, and a big chuck of Eden Prairie. We sat down at the Southdale Library this week, right on the Edina border, to talk about the role of Hennepin County as a regional policymaker, affordable housing in the Southern suburbs, sidewalks and street design, and a bunch more interesting topics. The election is next Tuesday, so go out and vote all the way down the ballot.
I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Here’s the audio…
… and here are some highlights of the conversation.
[rough transcript follows]
On Richfield and the city across its northern border:
Most people don’t know borders of cities, but crosstown in the northern border. That’s a great sister city right now: Minneapolis and the city of Richfield share joint power agreements, back each other up on public safety and share all kinds of services across borders. Richfield’s only 7.5 square miles, but its got 36,000 people and I’ve been the Mayor there for 10 years.
On the Hennepin County government:
The budget for next year will be $1.9 billion dollars. A lot of people don‘t realize why the County budget is so big, but unlike a lot of other cities we deliver services that in other places is done by the state. People say, how come we have such a large budget and other states don’t. And it’s because we’re delivering more services at that level than is done in other parts of the country.
On the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC):
The hospital is a research hospital. It’s a phenomenal tool. There are people coming in there, specialists in certain areas, and doctors in certain areas, that come from around the world. It’s one the largest research hospitals in the Midwest, and the level of trauma you can do there is some of the highest in the state. I also hear that it’s some of the best expertise you can get. If you get in a tragic accident you want to land in HCMC.
On funding social services:
Health and human services is a big part of the County budget. That’s mental health services, services for the disabled, families in crisis, and the foster care system. A lot of that is there, and it’s a big chunk of the budget. You’ve been reading in the papers about problems with that, about how people have double the case load when it comes to families and services. It’s a sad state of affairs when your’e trying to place a young child, and leaving a teenager out in the streets homeless. And that’s happening in Hennepin County, a very wealthy place.
On suburban diversity:
Richfield has always been a diverse community. We’ve been where a lot of new immigrants want to go. Under my tenure it’s been Latinas mostly, and now we’re seeing people from East India and Somalia. I also see more diversity coming into Bloomington and Eden Prairie. We need to be thinking of that. What has Hennepin County done? They have put in some communities a bilingual liaison that works with our immigrant and first american communities, and they sit and meet monthly. It’s run through the police department, and it’s trying to get into the community and connect with the leadership and develop relationships. When we look at some issues that have happened with our police officers and our communities of color, we’re trying to have some conversations to figure out what we can do about that and how to move forward in a positive direction.
On affordable housing and the Crossroads / Concierge apartment complex:
They didn’t reduce the number of affordable units, believe it or not. The 698 units are still affordable, but affordable at a different level. What they did do is they stopped taking Section 8 and GRH vouchers. This is one of the things that wasn’t reported, several things that didn’t’ get into the paper. This is naturally occurring affordable housing. This is a private deal, and they didn’t ask for any assistance from the city at all. Being a private deal, people thought we could stop this. We couldn’t. People thought we could do something about the section 8 or the GRH vouchers, but we can’t. There’s an appellate court decision that already exists that says that landlords do not have to take those kinds of vouchers if they don’t want to. We don’t have a way around that. We were asked to pass an ordinance about discrimination, but it was the same language virtually that was in the state law, so it wouldn’t have done anything for them to move this forward.
One of the things people don’t’ realize is that was naturally occurring affordable housing, but it was in extremely bad shape. There were some possible disasters that could have happened. There were water mains in buildings that were all hooked together with only one shutoff, and the same thing for the gas lines. They went in there and fixed all those things, and went in there and put new kitchens in there. It’s still affordable, but not at the rate that it was before. The other thing that people don’t realize is that the management was so poor there, that they didn’t know who was living in their apartments. They had families of 4-6 people living in one-bedroom apartments and that was not sustainable either.
The whole thing is that everybody got upset at me, and said well Debbie, you’re in cahoots with him [the new owner]. And I’m not in cahoots with him. But if I demonize him and villainize , him I’ll never be able to go back and talk to him, and maybe someday – and we are talking – maybe some day talk about about accepting Section 8 or GRH. We are talking about piloting a program. We’re talking about the barriers that Section 8 and GRH have for landlords, and how we might be able to get around those and to try something. And he’s willing to have those conversations because I didn’t throw him under the bus when this happened. This is really a state issue not a city issue.
On County transportation policy and 66th Street:
Money. It’s always about money. The downturn of the economy put a lot of projects off, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s in dismal shape that are Hennepin County roads. There are still some archaic laws at the Federal level that can sometimes hinder what we can do with the money. On 66th street last year we weren’t able to bring that down to a 3-lane like we wanted to. And it had to do with traffic counts and reliever traffic for the congestion backups of the Crosstown [Highway 62].
It’s supposed to be a reliever for incidents. If there’s an accident than the traffic can go down and use it as a reliever. But what happens on Crosstown is that traffic backs up at two places. When they fixed the 35W interchange, now it bottles up in two places on either end of our city. So we still have that problem. We wanted to go down to 3 lanes between Penn avenue and the Highway entrance, and we can’t because the federal dollars don’t allow you to do that.
On Walkability and Portland Avenue:
Funny things is that back in the 50s when we saw the wide sidewalks and the boulevards. And, you know, it was a great idea then, and we need to bring it back. Portland Avenue has gone down to 3 lanes, and you have a median and boulevard trees and sidewalks and kids can now take their trike and bikes down the sidewalk where they couldn’t before. We really gave the people back their neighborhood.
On Southwest Light Rail and walkability in Eden Prairie:
I am supporting the Southwest Light Rail, and when you look at the businesses down there, that’s where you’re gong to see a lot of growth. We’re talking about jobs. In Eden prairie, around areas closer to the malls, they’ve built the walkability. Walkability is a great measure. People want to live close to an area where they can walk to stores and grocery stores, and they have done this around the malls and in some other nodes.
On serving on the Resilient Cities task force:
Resilient cities its about he future. Some of it is about measuring our carbon footprint, but also the roads and transit of the future, and what that looks like. We’re having conversations around not only the affordability of housing but what adds to or subtracts from that affordability. If you’re closer to transit and can get rid of a car, should we be factoring that in to affordability? Because it costs so much to own a car, right? Should we be factoring in when we rebuild houses, if we can build houses with zero net energy, should we be factoring that in? That would be something that would be really interesting to see.