Of Pets, Bike Trails, and Rentals: Duluth City Council Notes, 6/24/13

Two weeks after wrestling with synthetic marijuana and various urban blights, the Duluth City Council settled in for a more mundane session on Monday night. Spring overstayed its welcome in Duluth this year, and with summer finally on hand and no terribly weighty issues in front of them, the Councilors were in a sunny mood. They joked freely with one another, and sported their summery wardrobes; Councilor Hartman looked dapper in a light-colored suit, while Councilor Gardner broke out a turquoise top. Councilor Larson was the sharpest of the bunch in a bold vermilion sun dress, while Councilor Krause, loathe to be outshone by anyone, went with a pink polo shirt. Councilor Fosle wore black.

There was a decent crowd on hand in the council chamber, though I appeared to be the only attendee not speaking on any issue, or there in solidarity with a speaker. The opening remarks were fairly straightforward; Councilor Gardner gave an update on the Park Point Small Area Plan, which no longer includes a 9-story hotel along the spit of land sticking out into Lake Superior. Councilor Krug reminded the Council of an upcoming social with the School Board, and Councilor Julsrud asked the mayor’s office to look into possible city input in Minnesota Power’s 15-year plan. A resident of Central Hillside, “at the risk of sounding like the neighborhood grumpy curmudgeon,” urged the Council to enforce existing ordinances on firecrackers on the Hillside, as he would like to get some sleep during the month of July.

After again tabling the Pastoret Terrace plan they’d tabled two weeks ago, the Council moved on to its first issue of any contention, which was a proposal by Councilor Stauber to license pets owned in the city of Duluth, and fine owners who failed to spay or neuter their animals. Councilor Gardner applauded Councilor Stauber’s efforts, and was pleased to report that money from the fines would go straight to a local animal shelter. Councilors Julsrud, Krause, and Fosle all spoke in opposition to the measure. Councilor Julsrud wanted an exception for impounded animals, while Councilor Krause listed several cases in which the mandatory spaying or neutering of pets would be “imposing a value” on the citizens of Duluth. He also doubted that money from fines would be enough to improve the animal shelter. Councilor Fosle concurred, and said he would prefer a simple licensing system without the spaying or neutering stipulations.

The eternally peppy Councilor Hartman disagreed, saying that more licensing was necessary, and that any legislation that moved in that direction was a good thing. Councilor Krug, after lauding the value of community and the responsibilities and expectations that come with it, explained that the measure was not an imposition of values. Council President Boyle wrapped up the discussion by praising the licensing system, and the resolution passed, 6-3.

After unanimously approving a street repair project and a resolution supporting an effort to curb the spread of Asian water carp into the Great Lakes, the Council took up a contract for the construction of two mountain bike trails in Duluth. Mr. Eric Viken of Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS) plugged the measure, claiming it would help create the “largest urban mountain bike trail system in the country,” and pointed to the economic and public health benefits enjoyed by other communities that had made similar investments. Councilors Larson and Julsrud celebrated the measure, pointing to other sources of funding that would help with the project; Councilor Juslrud told a story of a friend who had broken an arm biking on an existing  trail recently, and said, laughing, that it was “a great way to break your arm!”

Councilors Fosle and Krause led the opposition to the resolutions, and claimed it was a poor use of Parks and Rec money that would be better directed to community centers and youth programs. Councilor Fosle, who represents the western end of the city, said there are six community centers in his district that remain closed despite the passage of a Parks and Rec referendum in 2011, and Councilor Krause also spoke of the “promise of the referendum” going unfulfilled. One community center in his district was “leaking like a sieve,” while another “looks like it’s from 1922.” Of the public meetings that produced the trail plan, he said that “those who show up, win,” suggesting they are not truly reflective of public opinion. He went on to make a more philosophical plea, pointing to a mindset of “new things good, old things bad,” and said the “mundane and boring” things get neglected as the Council “keep[s] adding stuff and [doesn’t] take care of it.” Hence, he argued, the need to take a stand on the bike trails and vote ‘no’, lest the community centers lapse into further disrepair, doomed to be self-funded by parents or closed.

David Montgomery, the Chief Administrative Officer of the city, defended the trail plan with a vision of parks as spaces, with trails as connections between them; he explained it as an evolution from past models that focused on the community centers. Councilor Hartman peppily added survey numbers backing up this claim. Councilor Gardner said that, while the Councilors Fosle and Krause were right to some degree, lots of people showed up at the meetings on parks, and Councilor Julsrud said she was working on a plan for youth program funding. The resolution passed, 7-2.

A group of plumbers from a local union waited out these discussions to support their president, who spoke against a newly-introduced resolution that would, it seemed, make it easier for non-plumbers to do plumbing work. The union boss claimed such work by non-plumbers was potentially dangerous given the lack of credentials required, especially on projects involving businesses that might have hazardous gases on hand. The resolution will be taken up in future meetings.

The last measure to generate debate was a proposal by Councilor Fosle to amend the city’s rental licensing process. Three citizens, at least two of whom were landlords, spoke against the ordinance, claiming it only further complicated an already messy system. The measure aimed to make it easier for family members or otherwise romantically involved people to rent to one another, but the landlords found it unenforceable, and also thought it would be difficult to effectively deal with complaints about such properties with no landlord on hand. One landlord said it opened the door for distant parents to buy houses for their college-aged students to rent, which in the past had created many problem houses in neighborhoods. Another landlord took an unexplained shot at the “party initiating the amendment,” which left Councilor Fosle indignant. Council President Boyle said the new licensing measures adopted several years prior had led to a drastic reduction in complaints, and did not find it wise to mess with them at the present. The measure failed, 7-2, with Councilors Fosle and Krause again joining forces in a losing cause. The Council then concluded its meeting with further excitement by Councilor Krug for their upcoming social with the School Board.


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