Five of the seven candidates running for two at-large Golden Valley City Council seats sounded off on questions generated by the public Sept. 30 at a forum hosted by the Golden Valley League of Women Voters. In attendance were incumbent Gillian Rosenquist, Denise La Mere-Anderson, Orville Christian Satter, Andy Johnson, and Joanie Clausen.
Not in attendance were Loretta Arradondo, who has suspended her campaign, and Drew Peterson, who was unable to attend due to a COVID-19 exposure, according to a note read by Moderator Deb Brinkman, a member of the St. Louis Park League of Women Voters.
Brinkman asked several questions submitted by residents in advance of the forum. Candidates attended the forum in-person, but the public was only able to view the forum via livestream. The forum can be replayed in full at bit.ly/3oIBYfM.
Candidates were asked to introduce themselves and review their qualifications to begin the forum.
Clausen talked about her previous experience on the Golden Valley City Council, with two years off due to a loss in the most recent election. She decided to run again after concern “with the direction the city is going,” both in terms of fiscal responsibility and support for the police department.
Johnson introduced himself as a seven-year planning commissioner, 10-year Navy veteran, and 20-plus year software manager. He said he had a “desire to serve,” and laid out his priorities which includes public safety, affordable housing and resident engagement.
La Mere-Anderson mentioned her eight years on the city’s human services commission, and her 20-plus years as a human resources executive. She saw her skills as a mediator benefiting the council at a time when there is “a lot going on all around us,” including issues on equity, infrastructure, housing and responsible spending.
Rosenquist identified herself as an active councilmember, longtime resident and volunteer with law experience. She said worked to be a “bridge builder” on the council, and touted the city’s reduction in debt and creation of more communication channels since she was first elected.
Satter said he was a lifelong resident of the metro area and current resident of the Calvary Cooperative, with an interest in keeping the city fiscally responsible and making policing policy that “landed on the side of safety for our residents and police.”
Candidates were asked what actions needed to be taken to address affordable housing. Satter said he would study proposals and would side with the desires of residents.
La Mere-Anderson saw an opportunity in incentivizing developers to build affordable housing, and working with the large corporations housed in the city because they were “interested in a viable workforce in our zip codes.” She mentioned the Optum campus near highways 55 and 100, a vacant site that could potentially be redeveloped with housing, and said she would advocate for bus rapid transit to support higher density.
Clausen said with the high cost of building right now, she would encourage incentives to maintain existing affordable housing versus invite more redevelopment. She suggested low-interest loans by the city so apartment owners could renovate without raising rents.
Johnson said when it came to housing, the city “can’t do it alone.” He suggested public-private partnerships, and looking at things like property taxes and the welcoming of market-rate housing, which affected the affordability of living in Golden Valley.
Rosenquist said the council had recently approved its first Housing Redevelopment Authority levy to hire a staff person to work on affordable housing issues, and mentioned the local housing coalition, which were coming up with solutions to the ongoing housing issue.
Candidates were next asked what their view was on “race-neutral policies,” and how personal views might inform their vote on city issues.
Rosenquist said diversity, equity and inclusion work was a high priority for her and one she supported “wholeheartedly.”
Satter agreed that policies should be “equal to everybody,” and shouldn’t have bias toward any one individual.
Johnson said the role of government was to create a “stable foundation.”
“We should constantly be evaluating ourselves and checking ourselves, and that’s as a person and as a people,” Johnson said. “But as a government, I do believe that we really need to have a neutrality, creating that basic foundation so people can go about our lives.”
Clausen said the city prided itself on being a “welcoming community,” and that it had an interest in moving forward with equitable policies. She added that a fix would not happen “overnight.”
La Mere-Anderson said the idea of “race-neutral” policy was an “idea whose day has come and gone.” because so much of bias was unconscious.
“If we were consciously aware of it, we could probably address it and fix it through policy or procedure, but because it’s unconscious it becomes systemic,” La Mere-Anderson said.
Candidates were also polled on their strategy to reduce crime and increase community wellbeing.
Johnson said with rising crime, crime prevention had to be a top priority. He said the recently established Police Employment, Accountability, & Community Engagement Commission arose out of a deserved revamp of the old Civil Service Commission, but added that policing services shouldn’t be evolving away from crime prevention to exclusively help victims of law enforcement trauma.
Rosenquist said as chair of the task force that created the PEACE Commission she was excited how it would serve as “a basis to work on all of the issues at the top of everybody’s mind.” She said the task force had many “tough conversations” over seven months, but that the conversations were necessary to “build bridges.”
Satter reaffirmed that any changes to the police model would need to “land on the side of safety” and in a way that supported first responders, something he didn’t believe was happening now.
La Mere-Anderson said public safety was at the top of the minds of residents she talked to when she went door-knocking for her campaign, and that she had recently taken part in a ride along with a patrol sergeant to get his point of view. She said she looked forward to reforms that would give officers “more tools to respond to crisis situations.”
Clausen agreed that policing was a top issue, and said the department had recently been “decimated” with resignations. She anticipated crime spillover from north Minneapolis if staffing didn’t return, but agreed that the department faced major changes in which “everyone should be involved.”
Candidates were asked what their vision was for redevelopment in the city’s downtown, and if it included condos or rental properties like apartments.
La Mere-Anderson said downtown didn’t feel connected or like a “destination,” but added that redevelopment wasn’t something the city should take on without private investment.
Clausen said she had concerns that current studies on downtown would create more debt in a city that just completed building a new community center in the last few years. She said previous councils had been liberal with tax increment financing agreements, and as a result wasn’t able to collect taxes on redevelopment for 20 years.
“We need to make sure we get our investment back,” said Clausen of future redevelopment.
Rosenquist said a higher density of people would be needed to support long-term goals like bus rapid transit, a grocery store, so some housing would need to be incorporated into downtown. She agreed that private developers would be vital, and it was the city’s job to communicate what their vision and needs were for the area.
Satter pointed out that he lived in the downtown area and agreed it seemed incomplete. He said he had some concerns amid conversations to relocate city facilities, and would advocate for what residents wanted with an eye on the budget.
Johnson mentioned the downtown facilities study, and how the city needed resident input. He foresaw all of its recommendations costing “well north of $50 million.”