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Six takeaways from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s State of the City address

Frey’s second State of the City address focused on police training, housing problems and economic growth.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey delivering his 2019 State of the City address at Bio-Techne in northeast Minneapolis Wednesday.
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee

In his second State of the City address, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey put spotlight on new changes to police training, housing problems, and future economic growth in the city.

Here are takeaways from the speech, given before a crowd of local elected officials and activists at Bio-Techne, Minnesota’s largest biotech company, in northeast Minneapolis Thursday:

Affordable housing, homelessness remain priorities

In the first few minutes of his remarks, Frey underscored the 2019 city budget’s dedication of $21 million towards the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Program, which is a pool of federal and city money to help developers build or maintain affordable rental units. He also touted the success of a program that allows landlords to receive property tax breaks in exchange for keeping rent prices affordable for those who make less than 60 percent of the area’s median income, which is roughly $39,660 for a single person.

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So far, property owners across the city have committed a total of more than 750 rental units to the program for 10 years, the mayor said. “We’re becoming a more serious player in the affordable housing crisis, and the reality is that we have to,” Frey said after the speech. “In the face of government inaction at the federal level, it’s been incumbent on cities to step up … and do affordable housing right.”

Even so, a growing number of Minneapolis renter households are spending more than half of their incomes on housing, city and federal data show and more and more residents can’t afford homes at all.

The shortage is hitting the city’s poorest residents the hardest. In Minneapolis, that became especially clear last summer, when upwards of 300 people established a homeless encampment alongside Hiawatha Avenue. In his speech, Frey described the encampment as “the most complex” issue of 2018.

The city is currently partnering with Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness to create a response plan if or when similar homeless encampments form in the future. A draft of the plan outlines steps for connecting people to emergency shelter before crews clear future sites, among other goals. Frey said he expects city and county leaders to finalize the plan soon.

Minneapolis and the county are also working on a plan to wind down the city’s first government-sponsored navigation center by May 31. A temporary shelter for former residents of the Hiawatha encampment, the center consists of three heated tents with beds and trailers with hygiene services and food, neighboring the Franklin Avenue light-rail station. As of last week, 84 people were still living there down from a peak of 175 when the center opened in mid-December, and half of the people who have left the center have moved into permanent housing or treatment facilities.

“I’m not naive enough to think that unsheltered homelessness will suddenly ceased to exist,” Frey said after his speech. “It will, and we’re in the process right now of working through a plan … to have a set of procedures and practices as to how we’re going to handle unsheltered homelessness with compassion, and how we’re going to do this better.”

The mayor wants more dedicated bus lanes

To shorten bus rides, the mayor wants to test three or four new dedicated bus lanes in the future.

He did not say where or when, but that they are an option because of the city’s participation in the American Cities Climate Challenge, a program sponsored by Michael Bloomberg that aims to help U.S. cities nationwide reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (A pool of grant money the Minneapolis Climate Action and Racial Equity Fund has the same goals at the local level.)

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Lanes reserved exclusively for Metro Transit buses is not a novel idea for Minneapolis. The transit agency and the city tested them on a stretch of Hennepin Avenue between Franklin Avenue and the Uptown Transit Station for three days last spring. They decided not to move forward with the idea for now. The corridor is part of a massive reconstruction project that will last four years and change all sorts of traffic patterns, and Metro Transit planners are leaving the possibility of bus-only lanes in the redesign.

… and for weed to be legalized

Also on the mayor’s wishlist: Legal cannabis. He mentioned it twice in the roughly 45-minute speech, saying Minneapolis is “leading the fight to end the prohibition” and he supports efforts at the state level to decriminalize the drug. (Last month, the mayor celebrated the opening of North Loop’s first store with hemp and CBD, which are made from the cannabis plant but don’t have the psychoactive cannabinoid THC that gives marijuana its intoxicating effects.)

MPD officers are no longer allowed to attend ‘fear-based’ training

For off-duty officers, Frey announced a ban on all so-called “warrior” or “fear-based” trainings that teach officers they are under a constant threat of being harmed. Those lessons can escalate police interactions with residents and run counter to MPD’s goals of curbing physical force incidents, the mayor said. He said the ban is the first of its kind in the U.S.

Critics of the trainings often cite use-of-force cases in which the officers involved had received some type of fear-based training in the past. Locally, the St. Anthony police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile in 2016, Jeronimo Yanez, had taken a class called “The Bulletproof Warrior,” two years before Castile’s death.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo speaking to reporters following Frey's address on Thursday.
In Minneapolis, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said the department currently does not allow fear-based lessons in its internal trainings. But some MPD officers have undergone specialized programs while off-duty. The department has not kept records on which officers have attended those external courses, he said.

“You can’t just flip that switch on,” Arradondo said after the mayor’s speech. “A lot of that training becomes muscle memory, and to say that officers are engaging in fear-based training on the weekends, but they can just simply switch it off when they come to work on Monday and put on the uniform, that is false.”

The chief and mayor want to create a new policy that would require all officers to report off-duty trainings to administration. The department could take disciplinary action against any officer not following the rule, Arradondo said.

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“We weren’t really tracking or monitoring,” he said. “We can’t allow that, particularly around all of the things that we do in terms of use-of-force. The force that we have to use against someone, or at worst, the taking of a life we have to make sure that all of our training is grounded in the principles of procedural justice and community-oriented policing. This will be a major first step in changing the paradigm shift.”

Much of the speech focused on ‘economic inclusivity’

Throughout the speech, Frey highlighted businesses and projects that he views as benefitting the city’s economy.

He pointed to the event’s host, Bio-Techne   a company that has added 100 jobs over 5 years   as an example of the city’s job growth. He cited plans for a $330 million building with a hotel and condos on the Nicollet Hotel block downtown as a “new generation of commerce”; and he described the Upper Harbor Terminal project as a “catalyst for inclusive economic growth” in North Minneapolis.

But he also said the city can do a better job finding “specific solutions that undo the legacy of institutionalized exclusion of black, indigenous, people of color, and immigrants and furthers the economic, social independence of these communities.”

“In principle and in practice,” he added, “this means that these communities are prioritized as the primary beneficiaries of, and key partners in, our decision-making process.”

To that end, the city is working on a new initiative to create cultural districts in which local businesses receive special help from the city, Frey said, which could possibly include better lighting, more frequent trash collection, new storefronts or loans for renovations.

Nothing happens without the City Council

Minneapolis has a weak-mayor system, meaning the city’s mayor almost always needs approval from the City Council to implement their ideas.

Frey acknowledged that dynamic in his speech Wednesday, though said he’s confident the majority of his new proposals will make it through the legislative process considering the City Council’s politics that often align with his. (The council includes 12 DFL members and one Green Party member, Ward 2’s Cam Gordon.)

“We will not succumb to petty politics,” he said in closing his speech. “We’re on the same team, guided by the same principles, and guided by the same community. In Minneapolis, we move forward.”