Compiled by JANE MCCLURE
Rough start for recycling
St. Paul’s recycling cart roll-out has had some glitches since it began in mid-January. Confusion over cart placement and missed pickups generated numerous complaints to city officials and contractor Eureka Recycling. The problems followed last-minute delivery of carts in parts of Hamline-Midway.
Some area residents received tags explaining why their recycling hadn’t been picked up, due to open or improperly placed carts. Carts need at least an arm’s-length clearance on either side to be mechanically picked up by the new trucks and need to be right on the alley line. But in some alleys, space is tight.
The recycling problems have dominated social media sites including Nextdoor and Facebook, with some people saying they’ll stop recycling because it is a hassle. Consternation has also been voiced about tracking chips placed in the carts and cameras on the trucks, with residents raising questions about rights to privacy.
Ellen Biales, administrative programs manager for the St. Paul Department of Public Works, said that, in general, tracking chips are used to keep track of cart locations and monitor what is a $4 million city investment. Carts have bar codes and were scanned when they were dropped off. She said the chips won’t be used to check and see whether or not people recycle, as is done in some cities. Doing so would require ordinance changes in St. Paul.
The cameras are used to see if non-recyclable materials are put in the carts so that drivers don’t dump those items in with recycling.
The St. Paul Department of Public Works and Eureka officials are urging patience, as are City Council members. Eureka has proactively been issuing reminders and posting cart placement information online, as well as leaving tags on carts that are left open or that are improperly placed.
Eureka also posts regular updates at www.eurekarecycling.org. The website includes frequently asked questions about the recycling change.
“It’s a big change, and we’re asking people to be patient,” Biales said. “It’s going to take the time to get used to. This is the biggest change we’ve made since residential recycling began.”
“Starting any new program has its challenges, and this is a brand new system,” said Council President Russ Stark. He said many people wanted alley recycling and lidded carts rather than bins, and that everyone needs to work together to make the change. “While you can make plans for a change, until the truck actually got out there, we didn’t know how it would work.”
If recycling isn’t picked up, look for a tag on the cart. At homes with no alley, carts need to be placed right along the curb. The carts need to be closed, with the lid opening facing the street or alley. Carts must be out by 7am on collection day. Eureka won’t pick up items left outside of the carts, meaning that items such as large pieces of cardboard need to be cut into smaller pieces and put in the cart.
Area projects are funded
The Transportation Advisory Board (TAB), which advises the Metropolitan Council on transportation issues, has recommended projects to receive $208 million in federal funds. The federal funds will leverage an additional $205 million in local matching funds for a total investment of $413 million.
The TAB selected transportation projects from throughout the region as part of the Regional Solicitation released last May. The 58 projects selected for funding include local highway, bridge, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects in all seven counties of the region; in 45 different cities and townships. A few projects are in Monitor neighborhoods, including a $5 million allocation toward the Como trail that is part of the Grand Round citywide bike and trail system.
Other area projects include $2 million to modernize traffic signals at Snelling Ave. and Lexington Pkwy. and $165,000 toward a travel demand management pilot project for St. Paul campuses. The latter project will be overseen by St. Paul Smart Trips.
“The process of allocating these federal dollars to metro area transportation projects is rigorous and requires the dedication of so many partners,” said Council Chair Adam Duininck. “This collective commitment to reviewing and approving projects that benefit the region is remarkable. I commend all the various participants for their dedication.”
Outdoor markets easier to hold
Businesses wanting to hold sidewalk sales and groups organizing outdoor events will have an easier time, with St. Paul City Council adoption Jan. 25 of an ordinance governing outdoor sales and events. The ordinance takes effect in 30 days.
Only Union Depot, which supports the changes, was represented at a Jan. 18 public hearing on the topic. The zoning code amendments will simplify regulations for Christmas tree lots, farmers’ markets, open-air garden centers, sidewalk sales, fireworks tents, festival vendors, food trucks and similar events. It will simplify events such as the Little Mekong Night Market held every summer on University Ave., which features food, vendors, and entertainment.
The Planning Commission in November 2016 recommended the changes. Outdoor markets and market-style events are becoming more popular. The regulatory changes will make it easier for sponsors to hold the events. In 2014 the Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for the Little Mekong Night Market. The city used the same regulations for the Night Market as it uses for farmers’ markets, but that raised questions among city staff and planning commissioners and the Planning Commission initiated a study in 2015.
The changes to the code better define what an outdoor commercial use is, require a conditional use permit for larger outdoor commercial uses, and provide some regulatory exemptions for smaller neighborhood festivals and smaller commercial uses.
Tree removal program
St. Paul enters its seventh year of fighting emerald ash borer with the removal of trees from city golf courses and several area streets. More than 800 trees were removed around the city. Tree removal began in January. About 175 trees were slated for removal at Como Golf Course after youth ski lessons wrap up there this winter. Work on all golf courses has been planned in a way to minimize damage to turf.
St. Paul has used a structured removal program to remove ash trees, looking for areas with trees in decline. The insects are expected to eventually kill all ash trees. In some areas the city removes trees. In others, some trees are treated while others are removed.
City officials are also placing green bands on trees to raise awareness about emerald ash borer.
St. Paul leaders had hoped to step up tree removal and treatment this year and had allocated extra funds in the city budget. Those steps are on hold as are any other 2017 initiatives. How litigation over right-of-way maintenance will be settled will likely affect what added spending, including tree removal, can be done this year.
Walmart police calls eyed
The number of police calls to Midway Walmart, 1450 University Ave., is an issue Union Park District Council (UPDC) is looking at during the 2017 legislative session. Representatives of the group Making Change at Walmart met with the district council in January to describe the problems on Walmart and other retailers needing a disproportionate amount of police services. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) is one of the groups involved.
The district council heard a report on the police issues but sent the matter to a committee for further review. Advocates want to see more done to ensure that Walmart and other retailers pay for their share of police services. UFCW leader Bernie Hesse said the time spent on police calls to Walmart could be instead spent on protecting area neighborhoods.
The police issues are also the focus of State Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), a former city prosecutor who has described Walmart as the “problem child of Minnesota retailers.” St. Paul and Brooklyn Center Walmart’s average three police calls per day. The Making Change at Walmart campaign contends that Walmart is simply using police instead of beefing up its private security, and that not having adequate security puts workers at risk.
Lesch and other state lawmakers are planning to hold a hearing this session to put a spotlight on the issue.
2018-2019 Capital budget deadline draws near
St. Paul’s 2018-2019 Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) process won’t be the parade of projects seen in the past. For the first time in decades district councils, booster clubs and other groups aren’t hurrying to meet a January project submission date. Instead, the pared-back process’s first deadline is March 3, when requests for federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) projects are due.
Area district councils, some of which had started planning project submission before the competitive process was dropped last year, are now looking at how their neighborhoods can be engaged in upcoming funding discussions.
In light of millions of dollars in capital maintenance needs and large-scale projects including the replacement of Fire Station 21 in West Midway and Scheffer Recreation Center in Frogtown, the City Council and Mayor Chris Coleman changed the 2018-2019 CIB process. The city will only take project applications this year for CDBG funding. Those requests, which hover around 20 per CIB cycle, come from city departments and neighborhood-based community development corporations. The funds are used for programs including housing rehabilitation, vacant building removal, and commercial building improvements.
The city allocates about $4 million per year in CDBG funds through the CIB process.
The big focus for 2018-2019 is likely to be capital maintenance, with the completion of a citywide Department of Parks and Recreation conditions assessment expected in April. The study is expected to highlight several million dollars in needs for recreation centers, parks, trails, courts, and playgrounds.
Capital maintenance requests will be discussed and reviewed by the CIB Committee in the fall.
Coleman’s 2017 budget included a one-time add of $1.5 million for parks and libraries’ needs. The City Council added more funding. Along with the regular CIB maintenance allocation, the total is at about $3.6 million for 2017. Much of that is on hold pending decisions on how future right-of-way maintenance fees will be paid.
Coleman, who is not seeking re-election, will present his final capital budget in August. Specific capital maintenance projects can be picked before year’s end.
Some district councils and booster clubs hope to advocate for capital maintenance work in their areas, after the parks and recreation needs are outlined. But most are looking ahead with the hopes for a competitive process again in 2019, for 2020-2021 projects. St. Paul has had a state-mandated capital budget process since the 1980s, to fund streets, recreation centers, playgrounds, public safety facilities and other brick and mortar needs. It has been a competitive process, with district councils and city departments ranking every project.