Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender said she supports the city getting tough on residents who don’t shovel their sidewalks. Even when it hits close to home.
City inspectors received seven complaints last winter about snowy or icy sidewalks around the home in the Wedge neighborhood Bender owns with her husband. Each time, they found the property in violation. At some point, city workers shoveled the sidewalks and issued a fine of $149, which was paid.
In an interview Tuesday, Bender said she didn’t know what condition her sidewalk was in when the complaints were made, or why her family wasn’t able to clear the snow on time.
“We’ve owned our house for ten years. We’re a family of two working parents with two small children, and we do our very best to shovel our sidewalk at all times,” said Bender, a champion of a walkable, bikeable city.
“If there are times when we haven’t gotten to it, then that’s why the city’s enforcement mechanism is there,” she said. “I should be treated like every other property owner in the city.”
Earlier this month, the city sent out letters reminding all residents of the requirement to shovel their sidewalks and announcing a more aggressive approach to keeping sidewalks clear this upcoming season. The city has acknowledged that relying on neighbors to report unshoveled sidewalks has largely failed to keep them passable.
“[We] hear stories about how people are trapped in their homes during the winter when the sidewalks are not clear, particularly in parts of town where we have walkable neighborhoods,” Bender said during a City Council committee meeting in October. “We have a lot of constituents who depend on our sidewalks to be able to get around, and I think that’s why there’s so much interest in this and so much passion about this issue.”
Owners of single-family homes or duplexes in Minneapolis have up to 24 hours after a snowfall to shovel their sidewalks. When the city receives a complaint, it sends inspectors who can then issue a notice of violation to the property owner. If the snow isn’t removed after a few days, a contractor is hired to do it and a bill is sent to the owner.
Complaints about Bender’s property were made on Dec. 12 and 13, Jan. 5 and 16 and Feb. 6, 9 and 20. The properties on either side of her home also received complaints last winter. No other council member identified by the Star Tribune as a homeowner had snow removal violations last winter, according to 311 data.
This winter, city inspectors will take a more proactive approach, searching for unshoveled sidewalks and issuing notices of violation.
Bender said she supported this new enforcement strategy, but doesn’t think the city should take over everyone’s shoveling duties, which has been floated as a long-term solution.
“Putting the onus on the property owner actually gets a better result for sidewalks, as long as people comply,” she said.