"Citizens for a Modern Minneapolis" is a group urging city voters to "Vote Yes on 2," a proposed charter amendment on Nov. 4 ballots liberalizing liquor licensure rules in neighborhood restaurants. Conveniently, those slogans can also convey a broader message we endorse. City voters should vote yes on two — that is, on both of the charter questions on the ballot — because they would better comport the City Charter with modern Minneapolis.
The charter's provisions for both city election filing fees and neighborhood restaurants were written for a different city than Minneapolis has become. Because of the peculiarities of charter-based governance, updating those provisions requires a supermajority vote by city voters — 51 percent on Question 1, 55 percent on Question 2.
Question 1 would raise the filing fee required of candidates for city elections from the $20 it has been since 1967. That low fee lured 35 candidates into the 2013 mayoral race and dozens more into contests for lesser offices. The bloated ballot that resulted turned the election into a test of civic fortitude and distracted attention from more substantive issues. Without higher fees, that could become the norm.
The proposed new fees match those that have worked well in St. Paul: $500 for mayoral candidates; $250 for City Council, and $100 for candidates for the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Parks and Recreation Board. That ought to be high enough — for now — to deter candidacies driven by ego or entertainment value. But we hope voters will soon see another proposed charter change, allowing the City Council to periodically adjust filing fees for inflation.
The liquor license change in Question 2 has an even longer history. It would scrap a vestige of the 1884 "patrol limit," confining establishments that sell liquor by the drink to a specified downtown zone where police regularly patrolled. The remnant is today's "70/30 rule" for restaurants outside downtown or major commercial nodes. Under the terms of their city-issued liquor license, no more than 30 percent of their revenue can come from wine and beer sales. No hard liquor sale is allowed. Further, those establishments can only serve alcohol with food.
When adopted in 1996, the 70/30 rule sparked a neighborhood restaurant boom. But that was before customers' tastes moved to fine wines and craft beers. Dozens of neighborhood restaurants now struggle to comply with the rule. Enforcement has been lenient, acknowledges Terzo and Broder's Pasta Bar owner Molly Broder, a "Vote Yes on 2" sparkplug. But she's heard of restaurants reprimanded, subjected to monthly audits, and counseled to change their menus and service patterns.
That's more city meddling in small-business practices than should be tolerated, even in regulation-heavy Minneapolis. Removing the 70/30 rule from liquor licenses would also signal city awareness that quality restaurants contribute much to neighborhood revitalization and stability.
And it would allow neighborhood establishments to keep up with their competition elsewhere in the city. Restaurants within the old "patrol limit" — downtown and in large commercial zones like Lake Street — had a 60/40 rule in their liquor licenses until last month, when the City Council removed it. The council lacked the authority to do the same for neighborhood dining spots. Voters can make that change, and should.