One Last Time: Duluth City Council Notes, 8/18/14

It was a tame last night for me in the Council Chamber, with a small crowd and a light agenda. Councilor Julsrud and President Krug were both absent, meaning Vice President Larson got to assume the center seat. There was no report from the administration, and introductory Councilor comments were limited to Councilor Gardner’s celebration of summer break.

The first public speaker was Ms. Karen Lewis, who returned to the Council Chamber to express her concerns about a smattering of public safety issues, including sinkholes and other walking hazards, Park Point zoning, and a good balance in safety lighting. There was also a second public speaker, though we’ll get to his words later.

After again tabling Councilor Hanson’s proposed DECC casino, a resolution on the sale of tax forfeited properties on Park Point came off the table for consideration. As Councilor Russ explained, there had initially been much concern over the plan to sell all of the land between 13th and 16th Streets as one parcel, so the county land department had chosen to divide it up. The land will be offered at auction sometime around November, and while neighbors will not get to bid before anyone else, they will get complete information sent to them on the opportunity. Councilor Gardner added that everything from here on out will be handled by the county, which is running the sale. The resolution passed unanimously.

Councilor Fosle pulled a resolution on stoplight funding from the consent agenda, but only so that he could give a concerned constituent a proper explanation. The $500,000 to be spent on stoplights had already been funded by the existing street light fee, and even though Councilor Folse “hated” that fee, he said it was “part of the plan all along” and would increase efficiency and save money in the long run. It too passed unanimously.

A resolution approving $2 million in funding for the Wade Stadium restoration brought out the most comments, though they were all in agreement. Councilor Hanson, a former Wade employee and baseball player whose district includes the stadium, was especially excited, noting numerous possible economic opportunities. Councilor Filipovich talked up the Wade’s historical value, while Councilor Hanson sang the praises of artificial turf; Councilor Russ was disappointed to hear a scoreboard upgrade wouldn’t happen until phase two (presumably next year). Councilor Fosle was “happy the state finally listened” to their pleas for Wade money, and was pleased to learn that the tourism tax for the St. Louis River corridor could be directed to the stadium. It passed unanimously.

Councilor Gardner gave a few more details on an ordinance detailing regulations for microdistilleries, but that was it for the meeting. Councilor Sipress talked up a resolution on a Lakewalk taskforce that would come forward in next week’s meeting, while Councilor Russ shared her excitement over the NorShor Theater’s restoration. Councilor Gardner gave an update on the Park Point beach accesses, saying there were “legitimate concerns” about the health of dunes at some of the Tier Two accesses. The plans for the Tier One accesses will move forward, while Tier Two will undergo review from a citizen group. Councilor Larson praised a pair of new bike trails, Councilor Hanson plugged a possible new sports dome, and with that, my work was done. They let me off easy at the end here.


The second citizen speaker was me. (Props to VP Larson for asking how to pronounce my last name before calling me up.) Here are my prepared remarks:

Good evening Councilors, I’m Karl Schuettler, and as you may know, I’ve been lurking in this hall for the past year and a half and writing about your meetings. This will be my last one for the time being, as I’m heading south for graduate school later this week. I’d just like to take a moment to thank you all for your service. I’ve had my moments of disagreement with all of you, but I’ve heard insights and profound observations out of everyone here. Duluth is fortunate to have a cohesive Council that manages to think broadly, even though nearly all of you belong to the same political party. There is always room for more opinions, but this Council has a good, healthy debate at nearly every meeting, and it listens to citizens who approach it in good faith. There’s a lot to be said for that.

I’m also encouraged by a lot of what I’ve seen in this city lately. As I’ve left Duluth and come back several times, the changes that happen gradually are more striking to me than they might be to those who never leave: Duluth now seems cleaner, safer, and more vibrant, with a rich and unique local culture taking off. We’ve come a long way from the post-industrial mire of the 1980s that still afflicts so many Midwestern manufacturing centers. Still, I’ve found myself drawn to urban planning not just by enthusiasm for the new developments. Sustained growth requires a detached weighing of priorities, and must also make sure that longtime residents’ mundane needs are not neglected in the rush toward the newer, more inspiring ideas. Whatever direction it takes, Duluth needs to maintain a holistic vision of city government that encompasses both idealistic planning and popular concern about the consequences of that planning. With that vision in place, the next cycle in Duluth’s history holds great promise.

Thank you, and with any luck, I’ll be back at it here in two years’ time.


We’ll have to wait and see about that. Thanks to the Council for its welcome and support over the past two years, and thanks to the many of you out there who I know read this. (Hey CAO Montgomery, approve that job action form for the library delivery driver position. Seriously, they need it.) I’ll do my best to keep up from Minneapolis as time allows, though I’m not nerdy enough to drop other Monday night plans to watch a webcast. For the most part it’s been good fun, and even when it wasn’t, it was enlightening. I wish the Councilors luck, hope a few citizens can pick up the slack, and beyond that, I’ll never be too far away. We’ll be in touch.

Holistic Government: Duluth City Council Notes, 7/21/14

It was a hot and sticky day in Duluth, but a decent crowd still made its way into the humid Council Chamber on Monday night. To kick off the proceedings, CAO Montgomery announced that all Council broadcasts are now closed-captioned, while Councilor Julsrud updated everyone on the Georgetown University Energy Prize, which will be awarded as part of a friendly competition between cities to reduce energy costs and change the culture around its consumption. (Hopefully having an illustrious alumnus in town will sway the committee.)

The Council began formal business with the host of resolutions that had been tabled the prior week, beginning with a move to again table the DECC casino plan. Next came the reappointment of several members of the Spirit Mountain board. Councilor Julsrud had held this one back because she’d originally had designs of splitting it up for votes on each individual, making good on her promise to “crack the whip” on Spirit Mountain’s financial management at a previous meeting. After further review, however, she declared herself confident in the “cultural shift” underway in Spirit’s leadership, and, after all four candidates got an endorsement from Spirit’s board chair, it passed unanimously.

Next up was the case of the Twins Bar, an East Hillside establishment whose liquor license was in danger due to excessive police calls and crime. Mr. Carl Green, who runs the bar, tried to plead his case, saying he’d already surrendered the license, disputing the number of police calls, charging racism, and threatening to sue. The Council, however, spoke with one voice, articulated by Councilors Gardner and Fosle: Mr. Green’s beef was not with the Council, which simply was there to authorize the “very clear” report from the Alcohol, Gambling, and Tobacco Comission. The Council meeting was “not a hearing,” Councilor Fosle explained, and Councilor Gardner spoke of the many complaints she’d received about the bar. The license was revoked unanimously.

Two Park Point residents spoke on the next resolution, which authorized St. Louis County to go forward with the sale of tax forfeit land on the Point. Both complained that past sales had been offered to the neighbors first; this one, which would sell the block-long properties in a single chunk, would like prove too expensive for residents and be snapped up by a developer. Councilor Gardner went to bat for them, drawing an explanation out of Mr. Mark Weber from the County as to the statutes surrounding the land. He was open to dividing the parcels, though this could be done at a later date; the Council, however, exercised caution, with Councilors Sipress and Fosle arguing in favor of tabling so as to allow further discussion and perhaps attach an amendment. It was tabled 8-1, with only Councilor Russ insisting on prompt action.

The longest debate of the night was about a plan to construct a city water main on 85th Avenue West, whose 13 houses are currently serviced by an often faulty private line. The whole process was a debacle: first there was grant money, then there wasn’t, then there was some for the 4 lowest-income households, and the city had to figure out how to assess the residents for the rest. CAO Montgomery recommended assessing everyone the same amount, since house tapped the water line once, while Councilor Fosle proposed an amendment that would instead charge by each property’s foot frontage on the street. There were six citizen speakers; four for the by-foot assessment, one for equal assessment, and one who appeared to oppose the plan entirely. Both sides agreed there was no good answer here, and people would feel jilted regardless; Councilor Fosle said that a majority got a somewhat better deal with his version. He’d done his due diligence and had figures ready for each household, which was enough to sway most of the Council; Councilor Julsrud was one of the few critics, and she came at it from a different direction, worrying that Councilor Fosle’s plan—which would require another return to the neighborhood for review—would only prolong an ugly process that had pitted neighbors against one another. It was a respectful and cautious debate in which established battle lines were irrelevant, and in the end the by-foot amendment passed 7-2, with Councilors Julsrud and Russ in opposition. The amended version then passed 8-1, with Councilor Julsrud as the lone ‘no.’

A discussion on the future of Hartley Nature Center also took a while. There were four citizen speakers, with three in favor and one railing against the disruption of habitat. Mr. Waylon Munch of the COGGS biking group talked about the compromise involved, and Hartley Nature Center Executive Director Tom O’Rourke spoke the importance of environmental education. While the group did not have an official representative at the meeting, he also noted the criticism of Hartley education programming sponsor Gender Matters, which objected to aspects of forest management and the possible restoration of Tischer Creek’s natural, un-dammed flowage.

When the Councilors took up the issue there was much bashing of the original redesign, which included paved trails and seemed to go way too far toward recreation. There was also much happy talk about experiences in Hartley, with Councilor Gardner reminiscing on going berry-picking in Hartley Field (when it was still called that) with her grandmother, Councilor Julsrud waxing about moonlight skis and getting in a Joni Mitchell reference, and President Krug saying that all of her experiences with Hartley involved getting lost. The Hartley Field reference showed how much the site has changed over the years, reminding everyone that humans are indeed a part of the natural habitat, too; Councilor Larson spoke of “stewardship” (an excellent word), and Councilor Sipress thanked people for speaking up and being passionate about parks so as to arrive at a plan most people liked. Councilor Fosle thanked the Hartley staff, and the resolution passed unanimously.

The final resolution on the agenda authorized a consultant to do a review on the main branch of the Duluth Public Library facility; as Councilor Larson explained, it has its issues, from a bad h-vac system to safety concerns to general architectural weirdness. She heartily endorsed the consultant, which pleased Councilors Gardner and Sipress after the criticism of the Hartley consultant; Councilor Julsrud went further than most in saying she wouldn’t mind seeing the thing torn down. Councilor Fosle alone thought the library had architectural merit, and while he supported the resolution, he did warn the Council that they were likely to get a “fancy book” asking them to spend lots of money they probably didn’t have on a redesign. It passed 9-0.

The Council pushed through its ordinances with some scattered debate but no serious disagreement. Matching funds for West Duluth tourism projects passed unanimously, while Councilor Fosle was happy to hear that a sewer-lining process was nearing its close. An ordinance eliminating the redundant posting of rental notices in owners’ homes also sailed through, and while Councilor Fosle wanted more answers and ultimately voted against the plan to annex a portion of Midway Township (mostly parkland), it passed without any other objections. At the end, Councilor Fosle thanked the Councilors and other city staffers for their support in recent weeks, as his granddaughter underwent surgery to remove a lobe in her lung. (After a minor complication, she appears to be fine.)

Despite it being a long night in a room without air conditioning, this was a model city council meeting. Sure, it probably helped that there weren’t any life-or-death issues up on Monday night, but there was an interesting array of topics, and each one got its due diligence. There was serious debate, but general agreement in the end, and on many of the measures the debate transcended the issue at hand and took up broader principles. And yet things remained very even-handed and respectful; it seemed like everyone there genuinely enjoyed their work, even when it was difficult. Both the populist impulse for citizen representation and an interest in intelligent planning from a distance were well-represented, and there was also refreshingly little politicking or grandstanding. This is how local government should work.

I would say it’s a very balanced council, but the word “balanced” has always struck me as a bit lame, aspiring for equity for equity’s sake instead of a higher aim. It is also far from being politically balanced, and the lack of obvious left-versus-right issues on Monday probably helped the good vibes. Instead, I might offer up the word “holistic”: there was a thoroughness to the Council’s work that is not often seen in government, with the varying perspectives and recognition of broader strains of thought, all coming together into something coherent. For one night, at least, the Council deserves a lot of credit, and they now have themselves a midsummer break to rest on their laurels and head out to the beach (where their trips will, hopefully, not be interrupted by a bunch of ugly, piss-yellow signs that have cropped up in some areas). They’ve earned it, but they’ll have to be back at it before too long, and they’ve set a high bar that they ought to aim for again and again.

Defending Gardner and Succeeding Ness

It’s been a lovely 4th of July weekend in Duluth. While any attempt to bike on the Lakewalk will bring about plenty of cursing under one’s breath about meandering tourists and those God-awful four-wheeled bike cars, it’s still a brilliant time of year for this city, teeming with life and filled with people in all their fascinating messiness. (One last bit of snark, though: did anyone else think the lit-up bridge bore an unfortunate resemblance to the French flag?) At any rate, I’ll wrap up this weekend with that most American of activities: arguing about politics!

With a three-week gap between public meetings, I figured I’d venture a few comments on the two juicier bits of political news to come up in the city over this past week. The first is the recall campaign directed at 3rd District City Councilor Sharla Gardner, a push led by Park Point residents upset over her willingness to defend a plan to re-route the S-curve on the Point.

I have a soft spot for the populist instinct in politics, whatever the flavor. The people at the top should never get too comfortable, and as someone who likes to think things through as thoroughly as possible, I’m rarely one to dismiss people as mere NIMBYs. As I wrote after the meeting on the Point plan, this is local politics in all its glory and messiness…and it worked. There was enough of an uproar that the plan fell flat. And yet, now, people call for Gardner’s head. The victory, apparently, must be complete and total.

The leaders of the revolt, who unconvincingly tried to plead reluctance in the initial News Tribune article, contend that Gardner has not represented Park Point’s interests. (Their words before the Council on May 27 were anything but reluctant, but instead indignant and obstreperous.) That may or may not be true—Gardner had a thorough rebuttal in today’s DNT that effectively shredded the sloppy and unconvincing case made by her accusers—but it’s no grounds for her ouster. Politicians are not elected to ape their constituents’ every whim. We elect people, not platforms. Sharla Gardner was elected to govern as she sees fit, and people will have to learn to deal with that until the next election. If there were a real ethical violation here, or something more sinister, okay—and in that case, a councilor’s removal would likely be taken up by her peers or perhaps the courts—but there just isn’t. In this case, yeah, Park Point, you’re being a bunch of NIMBYs. (I am writing this post from the home of a family member on the Point, so I have some knowledge of the situation.)

All of this confirms a growing sense that the recall is among the most obnoxious tools available in democratic politics. The push for a recall stems from a desperate notion that change, any change, will somehow be better. Instead, the political climate seems to deteriorate from there. Sometimes we’re just on the losing side of debates (or, in the case of the S-curve and even in the case of Art Johnston, the winning side that cannot handle dissent). Smart political players don’t lash out viciously in these situations; they build a base for the next election, so as to turn the tide and create a more positive campaign; a campaign not just predicated on rejecting the past and present, but with a substantive vision for the future. For democracy to work, we need to respect the wishes of voters, even if we think the voters were voting against their own self-interest.

Gardner’s views and politics were never any great secret. She’s been elected twice, including an unopposed re-election in 2011, which means that any opposition to her has either been thwarted, or suffered from a terrible failure to mobilize. She’s often rather long-winded—the comprehensiveness of her defense of the S-curve plan was likely what set a few people off—but she did honestly think she was doing what was best for the city, and she always has the courage of her conviction. The notion that she didn’t fight for the loss of the fire hall also seems wrongheaded; whatever else she may be, Gardner is not one to give up a fight, and she is just one person on a Council of nine that was unconvinced. The critics misread her motives, overestimate her power, and have an entitled conception of democratic politics. There just isn’t any logical reason for this campaign at this time. Save it for the 2015 election, people.

Of course, I have few illusions about logic ruling things in politics; theories often only make sense from a thousand feet up in the air. I know it’s wrong to expect subtlety and careful political calculation out of the average citizen. (That line sounds elitist, but this is reality, and in many ways, I have a certain envy for people who don’t spend much time peddling in the nuances of politics.) The aggrieved parties will get to launch their little campaign and enjoy their day in the Park Point sun. This risk is always present in democratic politics, with the angry partisans waging total war by claiming they somehow represent the repressed or ignored. The system works because most people, thankfully, don’t consider these things life-or-death matters. Can we please just enjoy these beautiful days on the beach instead of seeing this vendetta through to its painful conclusion?

The second newsworthy bit was the revelation that Mayor Don Ness is leaning against running for a third term. Given his popularity and the unity of Duluth’s center and left behind him, he’d likely be a shoo-in to win, and, of course, plenty of people around him want him to pursue higher offices. But, in typical Ness fashion, he’s deflected most of those projections, and seems more content to play the family man.

We’ll see if that holds up when decision time comes, but I, for one, applaud his stance. A smart politician knows he is never bigger than his project, and Ness would be wise to make sure his vision for Duluth—which will outlive his mayoralty no matter what—is well-positioned to outlast him. In most things, it is better to go out on top than to hang on until one has outlived one’s welcome. I wouldn’t be opposed to a third Ness run, but fresh blood—as long as it really is fresh, and not the same old stuff stashed away in a vial in a back corner of City Hall—would make sure his project doesn’t stagnate along the same old questions and battle lines.

I haven’t always agreed with Don Ness, and as with anything, I’m sure I could pick apart his record if I wanted to expend the time and effort. But from a long-term perspective, his six and a half years have probably been the most momentous mayoralty in recent Duluth history. For the first time in my life, the city has a bit of optimism about it, and that should probably be seen through, and taken as far as it can go. There is a window of energy here that ought to be milked for all it’s worth, and Ness is doing that, daring to reach west and plan for the future. It may not turn Duluth into some shining beacon of a modern city, but the gains need not be wholesale to be substantial.

The cynics and critics still have an important role to play. If the coalition gets too comfortable, it will stagnate, and I’d welcome alternative visions and substantive debate. But realistically, and barring a drastic change in the local political landscape, whoever gets elected in 2015 is going to agree with Ness on most things. The day when the Duluth DFL monolith breaks down may come—there are cracks in the walls—but I don’t think we’re there yet. The real question, then, becomes one of how this project will evolve, and what wrinkles a new candidate might bring to Ness’s Duluth. A race to succeed him in 2015 would likely be very competitive, even if not terribly diverse in its political views, and that could inject a healthy dose of life to the system. A city with a dominant party needs that sort of internal debate, lest the vision atrophy. Those outside that party, on the other hand, need to come up with a positive platform, instead of simply raging at the people in power who they believe have wronged them.

Edit: Aaron Brown, who has an excellent Range-based blog on northeastern Minnesota, hits many of the same notes on Ness here, along with some of the points about living in community that I’ve repeated over and over again. Yes, yes, a million times yes. There’s a reason “culture” comes before “politics” in the tagline at the top of this blog.

Planning Park Point: Duluth City Council Notes, 5/27/14

I’ve sat through a year’s worth of Duluth City Council meetings now, and in that time, there has been plenty of tedium and mundane small-town political talk that inspires little community interest. There are some nights, however, when the community turns out in force to weigh in on a certain issue, and when the gravity of the debate can overwhelm those involved. Monday night was one of those nights.

It was standing room only in the Council Chamber, and yours truly was wedged between a whole bunch of people wearing caution tape and an unsympathetic armrest at the end of the pew. At least 20 employees from the city’s Public Works and Utilities departments lined the edges of the room, dressed in their blue uniforms; their speaker, Phil Fournier, gave a very brief demand that the City honor its contract and discuss seniority issues. (This took the Council by surprise, and both Mr. Fournier and CAO Montgomery promised to share their sides of the story.) There was also a long Committee of the Whole meeting before the formal meeting, in which the Development Authority, supported by a host of developers, gave their initial pitch for a hotel and related redevelopment along the currently vacant Pier B by Bayfront Park.

The real drama on Monday, though, all had to do with the Park Point small area plan. This plan, tabled at the previous meeting, had been separated into four individual resolutions. The most contentious of their number moved the current S-curve—the point at which the main flow of traffic shifts off Lake Avenue and on to Minnesota Avenue—from 13th Street to 8th Street. The second was an alternative to the first, which left the S-curve as is but made changes to 8th Street and Minnesota Ave. between 8th and 13th Streets to accommodate more traffic. While there were a variety of reasons given for the proposed changes, the most prominent involved further development along Minnesota Ave., as a hotel is about to open there, and there is potential for further expansion. (Still, any official changes would not take place until “at least 2021,” according to Community Development Manager Keith Hamre.) The third was a relatively benign resolution on utilities infrastructure, and the fourth provided more detail on public waterfront accesses, designating three “tier one” beach accesses for heavy public use at Franklin Park, Lafayette Square, and the beachouse and eight negotiable “tier two” accesses along both sides of the Point designed with locals in mind. To further clarify the tier two accesses, Councilor Gardner added a pair of amendments, one which barred these accesses from being advertised, and one that called for more discussion on the location of the access points.

(Full disclosure before I go any further: I have a family member who lives between the Lift Bridge and the S-curve, though said family member is a renter and is unlikely to still be living in this location when any proposed plan would go into effect, and has not voiced a strong opinion on the plan.)

There were nineteen speakers on the various Park Point resolutions, and only one, Garner Moffat, the first speaker and a member of the Planning Commission, was in support of them. He said the proposals were a reasonable compromise, and also offered several alternatives for the Council to choose from. The other eighteen, while united in their opposition, made for a diverse cast; they ranged from the indignant (Mr. Mike Medlin) to the questioning (Mr. Burke Edgerton) to those concerned about safety (Ms. Melanie Goldish) to the humorous (Mr. Roy Marlow). The phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” made several appearances, and several people wondered why current Minnesota Avenue tenants such as the Army Corps of Engineers had not been consulted. A few worried that an S-curve closer to the Lift Bridge would cause more congestion, as people wouldn’t be able to see what was going on; others noted that the alternative plan to simply alter the streets had been last-minute and poorly vetted. Many cited deep roots on Park Point, sharing personal and family histories dating back to the day the first carriage crossed the Lift Bridge. While the tone was largely respectful—several speakers, including Mr. Bill Burns, thanked the Council for its responsiveness to questions and willingness to visit the affected area—it was obvious that any changes would have to be forced past an army of angry residents.

After the overwhelming display of opposition, someone had to take up the unenviable task of defending the plan, and Councilor Gardner seized the opportunity. She said the plan was the result of a year and a half of hard work, was “halfway decent,” and sought to preserve the neighborhood near the bridge in the event of future construction, not destroy it. She pointed out that keeping things the same may not be possible if traffic continues to increase on the Point—which it likely will—and that it was her goal to route traffic toward commercial activity. Her suggestion that opposition to the plan was not as uniform as it seemed because proponents were scared of speaking out inspired some derisive laughter and comments from the crowd. President Krug rose to her feet, banged her gavel, demanded respect after the Council had respected the citizens’ views, and said she would order any further rabble-rousers to leave; a handful of people promptly left.  (While I don’t doubt that the majority of people who care do not support the re-design, the reaction pretty much proved Councilor Gardner’s point. Who would want to endure that sort of reception?)

Most of the Councilors were respectful of the planning process, but slowly raised doubts. Even Councilor Sipress, who supported creating a small area plan for re-routing the S-curve, made it clear he would not vote for such a change if it came before the Council in the near future. Councilor Russ said her research suggested a change would not devalue affected houses if and when the city had to seize them to reroute traffic, but still was skeptical. The most pointed critic, unsurprisingly, was Councilor Fosle, who said the changes would put citizens in a “stranglehold” and that the city should not do anything until it is a “must.” He also made the suggestion (welcomed by Mr. Hamre) that the city convert the little-used tot lot at Franklin Park into a parking lot so as to accommodate more people at the 13th Street beach. President Krug suggested another such ad hoc fix, saying street parking on Lake Avenue north of the S-curve could be moved to the lake side of the avenue to make it easier to turn out of the side streets leading away from the development on Minnesota Avenue.

The debate also went to the core of several Councilors’ beliefs. “This is exactly why I ran for the Council,” said Councilor Fosle at the start of his comments. Councilor Julsrud asked deep questions, wondering “what does leadership look like?” in situations such as these. In this case, she declared, something that caused so much “consternation” ought to be sent back to the administration. Councilor Filipovich repeated his oft-used line on how “decisions are made by those who show up,” and both he and Councilor Russ pointed out that it could be brought back even if voted down. Councilor Sipress defended the very notion of long-term planning, making it clear he was no fan of extensive Park Point development, but that a re-routed S-curve would be a sensible contingency in the event of a future “traffic catastrophe” if the development continued. Councilor Larson, who is normally relentlessly positive, questioned the cost of the project. President Krug, who rarely goes against recommendations of city staff, came out in opposition, worrying about the narrow vote in the Planning Commission and the abruptness of the rerouted curve. Only Councilor Hanson kept his silence, though his votes—four ‘nos’—made his opinions abundantly clear.

In the end, the plan to re-route the S-curve failed 2-6-1, with Councilors Gardner and Sipress in support; Councilor Julsrud abstained, saying she didn’t want to vote against a good plan but wanted further discussion, and would rather it had been tabled. The alternative plan to widen streets drew even less support, with Council Russ as the lone ‘yes’ vote, and Councilor Julsrud again abstaining. The piecemeal approach to the plan did produce some results, though, as the utility infrastructure resolution and the shorefront access routes both passed 7-2, with Councilors Fosle and Hanson in opposition. Exhausted but mostly satisfied, the Park Pointers made their way to the exits.

The Council, however, soldiered on, and while it tabled everything related to a possible street repair fee to next meeting so that the resolutions would come up at the same time as several related ordinances, there were a few speakers who stuck it out to voice their displeasure. Ms. Bev Massey wondered what the citizens would be taxed for next time, while a Mr. Woods (presented without first name) lashed out about unanswered questions and financial mismanagement. Most everything else sailed through unanimously and with minimal debate, though Councilor Fosle did lodge his usual protest vote against the purchase of a new, expensive vehicle.

After the three-hour marathon, the Council pulled things together. Councilor Larson was happy to announce that Council meetings are now live streamed online (mwahaha, now they’ll never be rid of me), and Councilor Fosle invited everyone to an ATV training later in the week. Then, finally, the Councilors could exhale—at least until they take up street repairs in two weeks.

It was not a night that made it easy to maintain perspective. The Park Point plan was an issue that could seem like a life-or-death issue for some, and a silly waste of time for others. Perhaps it’s a display of civic engagement at its finest, and the power of people to make their voices heard; perhaps it’s NIMBYism at its worst, with a mob shouting down a fairly cautious and forward-thinking plan. It’s a reminder that democracy is never clean and efficient, for good or ill, and while I’m one of the bigger proponents of local-level politics you’ll find, it was also a reminder that these town meetings are often not idyllic exercises in harmonious community-building. It’s hard, it’s controversial, and someone is going to come away unhappy in the end.

Still, smart politicians know how to ride the waves of public sentiment, and the Council did so relatively well on Monday. It was never made entirely clear why the plan was necessary at this particular point in time—surely if current traffic patterns prove unsustainable, changes could be made in the future with or without a 2014 small area plan—and the hurry to push it through doomed things from the start. While a careful review suggested the plan wasn’t half as malicious as several of the speakers made it out to be, it had lost in the court of public opinion before it ever really came forward, and was effectively dead upon arrival. I’m not sure that more public engagement was necessarily the answer here—the public was obviously pretty engaged, and the people most affected were never going to be made happy. That said, the Council was wise to pull the issue apart into separate pieces and salvage some discussions for future planning, particularly on the beach access questions, which even the vocally opposed Councilor Fosle noted contained good “safeguards” for citizen input. Between those discussions and the eternal allure of further development along Park Point, these issues are never going to die. Future Councils will simply have to navigate these choppy waters as things develop, and ideally, Monday night’s concessions coupled with a handful of successful resolutions will be enough to sustain the necessary dialogue.