Zachary Wefel – MN House 60A

Tell us about a time — before you were a candidate for public office — where
you felt strongly about a local/state political issue. Give an example of the action
you took in response.

My pro bono work representing renters facing eviction convinced me of the urgency of the housing affordability crisis and led me to develop a small area plan for the Windom Park neighborhood. Additionally, as a biker, transit user, and pedestrian, I was concerned about the safety and accessibility of our streets. As chair of the neighborhood organization I led public engagement and ultimate support for a plan for, among other things, improved pedestrian and bike infrastructure on Lowry Avenue, a 4-3 conversion on Central Avenue, traffic calming measures on Johnson Street, and adding bike lanes on Stinson Boulevard. The Windom Park neighborhood is currently working on implementing the plan, and has already created changes in the neighborhood. As an example, during the planning process the neighborhood identified the cross walk at 22nd and Johnson as particularly dangerous and pressured the City to provide a traffic calming treatment for that intersection, which has been complete and has made it safer to cross at 22nd and Johnson. As representative, I’ll continue the work necessary for the City to build safe infrastructure in our neighborhoods.

If elected, what committee assignment would you like to receive and why?

Education Finance, because fully funding our education system is the best way to invest in the Eastside and eliminate the disparities that exist in our City.

Health and Human Services Finance, because I know that affordable, accessible, high-quality medical care is a top priority for the residents of 60A, and I can be most effective fighting for the necessary funding and for a public option on this committee.

Government Operations/Subcommittee on Local Government, because safe,
accessible, inclusive transportation requires us to empower cities to prioritize safe design and enforcement over the speed preferences of commuters.

Do you agree that we’re facing a climate emergency? If yes, what’s the appropriate emergency-level policy response?

Yes, we are facing a climate emergency. We need immediate policy changes that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including:

  • Passing a state-wide zoning preemption bill that legalizes multifamily housing throughout the state
  • Prohibit cities from instituting parking minimums
  • Pricing greenhouse gas emissions, optimally through a cap-and-trade program with a price collar
  • Investing in transit and reducing vehicle miles traveled in the state, including by allowing municipalities and counties to double what they can raise for transit through the sales tax
  • Amending the Minnesota Constitution so that gas tax revenues go to the general fund and are not dedicated to car infrastructure, and pass a fix-it first highway law
  • Developing a congestion zone for the metro, similar to the successful London congestion zone
  • Mandating continually improving efficiency standards for buildings
  • Follow through on Representative Loeffler’s proposed green roof advisory task force
  • Making biking and walking safer and more accessible, including through legalizing the Idaho stop, legalizing camera enforcement of speed limits and red light running, and giving cities design authority over the streets in their borders regardless what the funding source is, so we can reduce lane widths, institute road diets, and give signal priority to non-auto transportation options
  • Provide state loans for energy conservation and renewable energy production, and expand the authority of school boards to own and operate
    renewable energy systems
  • Establish a feed-in tariff to incentive individual renewable energy production
  • Provide loans and financial assistance to farmers who implement energy and efficiency measures in livestock management, including anaerobic digesters
  • Generally, Hal Harvey’s book Designing Climate Solutions provides a good roadmap for the steps I’d approve as a response to climate change

Name some specific housing policies you would push as a legislator to make Minneapolis a more affordable place to find housing.

In addition to legalizing housing statewide and prohibiting parking mandates that raise the cost of housing, I would make Minneapolis more affordable by:

  • Requiring sellers of multi-family housing provide notice and right of first refusal to current tenants, allowing them time to purchase their own building instead of facing eviction, and I would support state financing and technical assistance to make such purchases more likely
  • Increase funding for Minneapolis public housing renovation, maintenance, and expansion
  • Provide a right to an attorney for tenants facing eviction
  • Hold landlords to higher standards, including requiring them to specify units in leases and increasing enforcement of anti-discrimination laws
  • Increase the number of people eligible for eviction expungement to provide more second chances for people
  • Provide funding and technical assistance to develop tenant-owned housing co-ops
  • Establish a state security deposit fund, so unscrupulous landlords can’t take advantage of tenants by illegals denying the return of security deposits
  • Develop financing mechanisms to support the development of missing middle housing options

Can you identify anything the legislature currently gets wrong on transportation and how you’d fix this?

We spend too much on car infrastructure and not enough on transit and pedestrian and bike infrastructure. I would address this by pushing for a constitutional amendment to allow us to spend gas tax revenues without restricting them to roads and bridges, empowering cities to design the roads within their boundaries, and passing a fix-it first highway law to prevent the expansion of our road system.

Identify the top challenges facing schools in your area and how you’d address them.

The top challenges facing schools in our area are funding shortfalls and disparities in our education system, the lack of wrap around support services, and housing insecurity for Minneapolis students.

To address the education funding issues I support raising the taxes necessary to provide an additional $4.3 billion for education and ensure we fully fund K-12 education. When we fight for a fairer, more progressive tax system and invest those tax dollars equitably in our schools we can ensure that all Minnesotans get a world class education.

We need to ensure we’re prioritizing funding for primary education, including support services like counselors, speech language pathologists, medical care, and debt-free lunches for all schools and all students, because a student who does not have their basic needs met will not be able to effectively learn and will not thrive in our schools.

The issue of housing insecurity is one I’ve focused on for a long time in my practice as a tenant’s attorney, and I support increasing funding for public housing, increasing enforcement of our anti-discrimination laws, providing renters more rights like a guaranteed right to a housing attorney, and legalizing housing throughout the state.

Name an issue area about which your own knowledge and experience are lacking. How are you learning more? Who do you turn to for advice?

I lack knowledge about cyber security, IT development, and delivery of IT services. While most of these services are invisible to most people, they are responsible for many critical government programs, from ensuring our elections are free and fair to helping power things like the MNSure marketplace. Moreover, it’s time to bring our government into the 21st century. It’s 2020, and while you can pay your bills, file your taxes, or get anything you want delivered to your doorstep, too many government programs and resources still aren’t available online, or are presented in a confusing or inaccessible manner. The state should work to make sure that people can access and enroll in more critical government services in one central place online as a means of reducing critical barriers. Simply offering subsidized child care isn’t helpful if it’s blocked behind a 15 page application that have to be completed in person or delivered by mail.

I’m learning more by reading case studies of IT project management (e.g., Cost and Time Project Management Success Factors for Information Systems Development Projects in the International Journal of Project Management). I look forward to working with IT professionals in state agencies to develop a further understanding of how the legislature can be an effective partner for IT development.

Do you see specific opportunities for the state legislature to support the work of or remove obstacles for — the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor?

Yes, I see many opportunities to work with the City of Minneapolis and generally support the City’s legislative agenda. My first three priorities are: first, supporting the work of the Council and the Mayor in the areas of housing affordability and inclusive transportation by providing funding for public housing repair, maintenance, and expansion and additional funds to the City and the County for BRT, increasing the number of routes and route frequency, and providing for safer transit infrastructure. Second, the state can empower cities to design roads within their boundaries, so cities can prioritize safety and pedestrian and biker accessibility over the speed preferences of commuters. Third, I will work with the City to ensure that the state isn’t handing off funding obligations without providing the funding, and will fight to ensure fair distribution of Local Government Aid.

Lightning Round – Short answers if possible.

What neighborhood do you live in?

Waite Park; previously Windom Park

Do you have a favorite Metro Transit bus route? Where does it take you?

Yes, the 10. It takes me to work downtown, Tattersall Distillery, my gym, Momo Sushi, the Mill, and the Minnesota Tool Library.

What leadership experience do you have?

I co-founded the Minnesota Tool Library and have served continuously as either the chair or a board member, and led the organization as it grew to over 1,000 members, four employees, and two locations. In addition I’ve served as chair of the Windom Park neighborhood organization, where I built support for safe streets and affordable housing.

Have you run for elected office before? Which one/s?

I ran for the DFL nomination for Ward 1 City Council in Minneapolis in 2017.

Do you support the Minneapolis 2040 plan?

Yes, although the 2040 plan does not, in my view, go far enough in legalizing housing and prioritizing walking, biking, rolling, and transit use. I was a vocal supporter of the first draft of the plan that would’ve allowed for higher density along transit routes and fourplexes citywide.

[Click here to read answers from all district 60A candidates. The special primary election is on January 21st, 2020.]