Four candidates running for City Council in the Third Ward promised to ease business regulations but clashed over density and streetcars in a Wednesday night campaign forum before the business set of Northeast Minneapolis.
Addressing the crowd in an upstairs room in the Jax Café were Diane Hofstede, a council member for the last eight years; Jacob Frey, who bested her for the DFL endorsement this spring; Green Party member Kristina Gronquist; and Michael Katch, a Libertarian.
Below is a look at how the candidates responded to key issues at the event sponsored by the Northeast Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce.
Answering a question on how they would improve the Department of Community Planning and Economic (CPED) as businesses struggle to navigate the regulatory process:
Frey said that bureaucracy makes it nearly impossible for a small business to open and obtain all the needed licenses – for, say, signs, tables on the street, music, dancing, and liquor – before their capital runs out. He said that the ward needs a council member to go directly to those entrepreneurs and give a roadmap to success, as opposed to roadblocks.
Gronquist said that as general manager of the Eastside Food Coop, she has experienced challenges in licensing laws and knows firsthand how to navigate them. She wants to work with the business community to find solutions.
Hofstede addressed the audience with much more forcefulness for this and other questions Wednesday night than she normally does in public settings. She described how City Hall reorganized departments, moving some functions of the regulatory department into CPED. “You are the customer -- you have not been treated as a customer. You have been treated in many cases as the enemy,” she said.
Katch said Minneapolis has regulations that are meant to generate revenue instead of actually make the city or businesses better. He said it’s not about streamlining the system, it’s about getting rid of the system. The city should strike ordinances straight out of the books, he said, adding that a lot of them are redundant.
On how candidates would advocate for better transit service in the Third Ward, whether through improving existing service or using bus rapid transit or streetcars:
Gronquist voiced support for those options. She said a streetcar line would add a lot of economic development and, along with buses, offer easy transportation for seniors. She said bicycling paths, enhanced buses, and safe access for pedestrian traffic were important.
Hofstede said Northeast is a “transit desert" and that they need to have the density to support transit. She said she voted to support the Central-Nicollet streetcar line because street cars are “fun and funky” and encourage economic development.
Katch said Northeast Minneapolis needs more suburban traffic, and that it should work with Meet Minneapolis to ensure that it is marketed in city hotel rooms. But he criticized the $200 million streetcar project, questioning why the city would want to get into debt and saddle itself with nineteenth-century technology.
Frey countered that streetcars “are a great idea” and that they trigger investment. He said the city needs density, and took a veiled dig at Hofstede, who recently voted against an apartment and retail project in Dinkytown that the City Council described as a referendum on density throughout the city. “We need someone who will stand up and say, ‘Well look, additional people will be a good thing.’ They can’t say it would be a good thing but vote against it every single time the question comes up,” he said.