CARAG — The candidates seeking to represent Ward 10 on the City Council are all eager to see Minneapolis launch a curbside organics recycling program. They want to make it easier to bike and walk around town. They support tough negotiations with Xcel Energy and Centerpoint Energy when the utilities’ franchise agreements with Minneapolis expire in 2014 and 2015.
Disagreements were few and far between Thursday night at Bryant Square Park Recreation Center, when Council Member Meg Tuthill and the three challengers seeking her Ward 10 seat this fall — Lisa Bender, Ken Bradley and Kendal Killian — met for a forum with a special focus on environmental issues. A standing-room-only crowd of about 80 people for listened 90 minutes as the candidates played four subtle variations on the same green-tinted theme.
There were differences of opinion. But it might have taken a voter with an obsessive interest in city bicycle policy, or a strong advocate for municipal divestment from fossil-fuel companies, to hear them.
The first question of the evening asked candidates to identify one strategy they would promote to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if elected.
Going first, Killian, the public affairs coordinator for the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees labor union, said strategies to reduce emissions should go hand-in-hand with the creation of green jobs. He would return again to economic issues later in the evening, and repeatedly argued the city should do more to reduce economic disparities.
Bender, the former Safe Routes to School coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Transportation and founder of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition advocacy group, said she would make it “easier and safer” to take short trips on foot or by bicycle. She said the city needed to take advantage of scheduled street reconstruction projects to add more on-street bicycle facilities.
Bradley, the former Environment Minnesota director with a long resume of energy and environment jobs, identified three strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions: improving the operation of buildings (an opportunity to grow green jobs, he added); working with utilities to promote cleaner fuel sources; and increasing transit options.
Tuthill, the longtime Wedge resident and former business owner who took office in 2009, touted a recent measure passed by the City Council: Next year, large commercial buildings must publicly report their energy and water use.
Later, when they were asked about what policies the city could enact to promote environmentally sustainable development, the candidates took different routes in their responses but again ended up at the same destination.
For Tuthill, that meant the city should “set standards” to promote green building, encouraging builders to add solar and geothermal energy and to use recycled materials in new construction. Killian suggested the City Council should, for instance, act to reduce the number of parking spaces required for new buildings in an effort to encourage non-motorized transportation, and to do so without getting “bogged down” by NIMBY attitudes.
Bradley said attracting new business to Minneapolis was one of his “top priorities,” and said he would reduce the barriers in city ordinance that have led some green energy companies to locate elsewhere. Bender, too, said the city sometimes needed to “get out of the way” by, for instance, taking out the legal hurdles to installing community solar panels.
All four candidates said they support Minneapolis Energy Options, a campaign to get the City Council to explore creating a municipal utility, as cities like Boulder, Colo., have done in recent years. Tuthill cautioned that some barriers to the proposal remained in state law, but assured those in the audience that when it came time to negotiate new contracts with the gas and electric utilities, those agreements would not last as long as the 20-year contracts currently in place.
When a question about urban agriculture came up, both Killian and Bender used the opportunity to express some frustration with Tuthill. When the City Council approved a set of zoning regulations for urban farms and market gardens last year, Tuthill supported limits on the height of temporary structures known as “hoop houses” and also on the number of days market gardens could hold sales in neighborhoods.
Killian said those restrictions made it “more difficult” for urban farmers, and Bender added this was another area where the City Council needed to “get out of the way.” She called a rule limiting market gardens to 15 days of on-site sales per year “ridiculous.”
Tuthill said those regulations would be revisited, but added she did not regret her cautious approach.
“This is the real world and my job is to represent as many interests at the City Council as I can,” she said.
Tuthill said she also would support new rules requiring soil testing for urban farms.
Bradley, who said his grandfather tended a victory garden during World War II, said two key issues for urban farmers were access to water and forging long-term agreements for their plots. Many of the city’s urban farms currently operate on year-to-year agreements with property owners.
A question about the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center [HERC] gave all four candidates an opportunity to express their opposition to increasing the capacity of the garbage burner. They agreed that more study was needed on the health and environmental effects of HERC emissions.
Killian was caught off-guard by a question about whether he would support divestment of municipal investments in fossil-fuel companies. He acknowledged he didn’t know exactly what that would mean for Minneapolis, although he seemed to understand and support the concept of moving city investment holdings out of industries that contribute to climate change.
Bender and Bradley were both clear in their support of the concept. Tuthill said the city needed to examine all its investments to ensure they reflected community values.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that both Bender and Bradley resigned their positions in order to run for City Council.