Agenda 2021: Public Safety, Expanded Mayoral Power, Rent Stabilization, and Parking

Here’s a brief guide to the issues you may see on your ballot this November, as well as a few ordinances the City Council is working on.

Keep in mind the distinction between the city’s code of ordinances (laws) and the city charter (constitution). The charter is a framework for how city government is structured and sets the boundaries for what can be put into ordinance. For example, a rent stabilization charter amendment allows a future rent stabilization ordinance.

Charter amendments on the topics listed below are currently on track (though not certain) to be included on the ballot for voter approval this November. Ordinances on renter protections and parking minimums would not go on the ballot, but would need to be approved by the City Council.

Public Safety Charter Amendment

By Cunningham, Fletcher, and Schroeder

This is a modified reintroduction of a proposal from last year, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by four Minneapolis police officers. It removes the Minneapolis Police Department as a required standalone charter department, and puts the city’s police force within a Department of Public Safety that would also include “additional divisions of the department to provide for a comprehensive approach to public safety beyond law enforcement.”

It would remove this language in the current charter:

  • “The Mayor has complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and command of the police department.”
  • “The City Council must fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident…”

The “complete power” language only exists in the charter with regard to MPD, setting it apart from other city departments. The mayor and others have criticized removing this language as creating a “14 bosses” problem and a lack of accountability.

The minimum number of officers per capita is unique to Minneapolis; even the mayor has said he thinks it doesn’t belong in the charter. If minimum staffing is removed from the charter, MPD staffing would be set in the annual budget process, just like every other department.

You may remember last year’s public safety charter amendment was defeated by a tactic known as a “pocket veto” — the Charter Commission simply delayed action until it was past the deadline to get the question on the ballot. In 2021, the City Council has anticipated the need to overcome similar tactics by introducing public safety and rent stabilization charter amendments early in the year.

Update: There’s also a community-led petition process for a separate public safety charter amendment. They effectively achieve the same result.

Strong Mayor Charter Amendment

By the Charter Commission’s Government Structure Work Group

After living through 2020 with the rest of us, the Charter Commission decided the police department should be left as it is — it’s the City Council’s authority over the rest of the city’s departments that needs to be scrapped.

A first draft of the proposal includes criminal penalties and removal from office if the City Council gives orders to department staff. This would be a big change to how city government currently operates. The legislative process currently relies on the City Council interacting with and giving direction to department staff who write the city’s laws.

Council members have said they would need to hire additional legislative staff if this change is approved by voters. Mayor Frey has said he would need more staff too. (It’s a case where removing staff from one branch and handing it to the other somehow ends up being a subtraction for both sides?)

If you’d like to tell the Charter Commission how you feel about their strong mayor charter amendment, sign up to phone in to their public hearing on Wednesday, February 3.

Rent Stabilization Charter Amendments

By Gordon, Ellison, and Bender

Because of state law, rent control or stabilization isn’t allowed unless Minneapolis voters first approve a charter amendment to allow it. It’s important to note that this does not actually put a specific rent stabilization policy into effect (for example, a 5% cap on rent increases year over year). These amendments would simply allow future action to be taken, either by the City Council or by voters in a ballot referendum, to enact specific rent stabilization rules in Minneapolis.

At a Council meeting last Friday, Council President Lisa Bender noted that they are including three pathways (two by council, one by voter petition) to enact a rent stabilization ordinance. This is in anticipation of a legal challenge by landlords. “There’s an open question about exactly the mechanism” that courts will allow the city to enact such an ordinance.

Renter Eviction Protection Ordinance

By Gordon, Ellison, and Bender

This ordinance would require advance notice of an eviction filing. It would also restrict landlords reasons for evicting a tenant. From Bender’s Ward 10 website:

“Just cause requires that landlords notify tenants in writing of the reason that they are being evicted or that their leases are not being renewed. It will also establish a limited number of valid reasons for eviction or nonrenewal: nonpayment of rent, breach of lease, or changes to the use of the property like an owner or family member choosing to occupy the unit.”

Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Ordinance

Policy options currently being evaluated.

Building on the city’s advance notice of sale requirement enacted in 2019, an “opportunity to purchase” ordinance would give tenants a chance to buy their home or allow tenants to assign those purchase rights to another entity.

One of the policy options being considered to ensure long term affordability: a requirement that any purchaser under this policy abide by rent stabilization rules. This means voter approval of a rent stabilization charter amendment may determine what form an “opportunity to purchase” ordinance takes.

Parking Minimums Ordinance

By Gordon and Fletcher

It’s the long-awaited implementation of policy 6(l) of the Minneapolis 2040 Plan. There is no draft ordinance yet, but the 2040 plan says the following (p. 119):

“Eliminate the requirement for off-street parking minimums throughout the city, acknowledging that demand for parking will still result in new supply being built, and re-evaluate established parking maximums to better align with City goals.”

Why do this? Parking is expensive to build. Parking minimums have historically led to overbuilding of car infrastructure. They currently make housing more expensive for everyone, even those who choose not to drive or can’t afford to. Cars are bad for the planet and human health (emissions, brake dust, tire particles, running over human bodies). Parking lots or structures are a blight and a safety hazard for those not inside a vehicle. We shouldn’t subsidize these things in the zoning code. Important to note that in many cases developers build more parking than is currently required, so eliminating a minimum isn’t the same thing as eliminating parking altogether.

Legalizing SROs/Rooming Houses

By Gordon and Schroeder

Work is also underway on “a regulatory framework to allow for new — and to better regulate existing — rooming houses, single room occupancy units, and congregate living facilities.”