Q&A with Chris Lautenschlager, Minneapolis Ward 12 city council candidate


With the election races already heating up, we wanted to find out more about the people running for City Council in our local wards. All candidates seeking endorsement were invited to participate in our Q&A. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for the candidates!

Today, we’re hearing from Chris Lautenschlager from Ward 12. He’s running against incumbent Sandra Colvin Roy and Andrew Johnson.



1. For people who aren’t familiar with you, will you please introduce yourself in two-to-three sentences?

I’ve lived in Minneapolis for nearly twenty years, since 2006 I’ve lived in the Ericsson neighborhood with my wife, and now with our two children. Despite the controlled chaos of having two children under two, I have remained consistently active and dedicated to our community, and currently serve on the board of directors at the Standish-­‐Ericsson Neighborhood Association, the Minneapolis Television Network, and Altered Esthetics, an arts advocacy organization where I also serve as their Press & Communications Director. Particular things about me: I own a car but will more likely be found on the Blue Line (formerly the Hiawatha Line), I’ve been biking with my father’s early 1970’s Sekine 10 speed since I was a teenager, and I am an avid collector of old Minneapolis photographs, maps, postcards, out-­‐of-­‐print books, and other random ephemera.

2. In one-to-two sentences, why do you believe you are the best candidate for the job?

As an effective community representative, active neighbor, and as a new father who lives in the geographic center of the twelfth ward, I am more fully immersed and well versed in the issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of our residents every day. I am not a career politician nor am I aspiring to be one; I am the one candidate who is willing to actively embrace new ideas yet remain fiscally responsible, who speaks boldly but is well-­‐tempered, and is respectful of the public’s trust and is eager to honor our City Charter.

3. What are the top two issues you see in your ward, and how do you plan to address them?

Small business and business node development

From every single business owner I’ve talked to on this campaign, there is one common refrain: rules have to make sense, and they have to make sense from one year to the next.

I’m pleased that our regulatory services department has recently been combined with our department of economic development; this is an important first step. Yet if we are serious about making our small businesses stronger, we need to continue reexamining the regulations that seem to frustrate businesses and entrepreneurs.

It has been stated time and again that there are too many difficulties in opening a small business. The permit process is troublesome and drawn out, the inspections process is contradictory from one year to next. These procedures need to be streamlined, but not at the expense of food safety or fire prevention.

They should be simplified, especially considering that we live in an increasingly diverse city: not every business owner was born in Minnesota or even the United States. As inspectors are dealing with many different cultures within a specific community, we need them to remain cognizant of cultural shifts, and not be intentionally or unintentionally biased when conducting their inspections.

We have to allow businesses to be creative, yet responsible, with how they attract and conduct business: we need to find ways to be on the street. Food trucks have been an obvious success in other parts of the city, and they’ve led to corresponding brick and mortar versions. Outdoor flea markets are an important next step.

I would like to improve our public spaces, and make regulations more flexible and accommodating to outdoor seating and sidewalk markets. These things add to the vitality of businesses and the businesses nodes they may be in.

Hiawatha Avenue

As it seems right now, Hiawatha Avenue appears to divide the ward rather than tie it together. Many drivers treat it as I-­‐35W Lite, while most pedestrians view it as something to be avoided. We need to fix this.

I’m pleased improvements to the flow of traffic were recently made; crossing Hiawatha is easier now (for vehicles), but challenges definitely remain. There are still instances where a traffic light turns green at the same time that train warning lights come on and the flashing bars start to come down.

I’m also pleased that we will finally see improvements to pedestrian crossings this summer. Crosswalk timings need to be recalculated, crosswalks should be widened, and distances between two points needs to be decreased to provide greater safety to our pedestrians. Turning lanes need to be reconfigured to allow for greater visibility of nearby pedestrians as well.

If we are actively building transit-­‐oriented developments along the Hiawatha Corridor, we need to be able to provide for the safety of our new residents who are using the light rail. The crossing at East 38th Street (where the new Longfellow Station apartments are currently under construction) needs to be vastly improved to protect the numbers of people who will soon be living there.

4. What are the top two issues facing Minneapolis, and what do you think the solution is?

Climate Change

Minneapolis must pass a comprehensive Climate Action Plan this year, the earlier the better. The plan is still in a draft phase and awaits review by the City Council and a public hearing by our city’s Regulatory, Energy, and Environment Committee. I look forward to attending this public hearing, but am awaiting the official hearing date to be announced.

While creating and implementing a Climate Action Plan should not be a hasty process lacking forethought and attention to detail, it still should not be pursued lethargically. The stakes are too high and we are moving too slowly. The city has already established greenhouse gas emission reductions targets, but it needs a concretized guide that will allow us to reach these goals. We need a systematic approach to minimizing the awful effects of global climate change.

I strongly believe that improving and diversifying our transportation network—lessening the privileged position that automobiles have occupied for generations—is not only a smart idea, but also considering our problem with greenhouse gas emissions, it is a moral imperative.

Our city and our region need to take bold steps that will allow us to move beyond the unsustainable dominance of automobile use. Assuredly, we need more efficient vehicles, but undeniably, we need more people to drive less. We need to decrease pollutants, but we still need to get places. Therefore, we need options.

As a City Council member, I would actively pursue the construction of the Southwest and Bottineau light rail lines, I would fight to ensure modern streetcars, arterial BRTs and enhanced buses could not simply be dismissed as “trolleys” and “glorified city buses” by opponents of mass transit, and I would aggressively champion the rights of bicyclists and pedestrians by seeking investment in bike infrastructure and pedestrian friendly streets, crosswalks, and developments.

In the meantime, we must continue to look for ways to monitor the energy efficiency of our buildings (both large and small, public and private), we need to create incentives for the use of green roofs and shared solar, and quite simply, we need to plant more trees. Emerald ash borer has, and will continue to decimate our tree population over the next decade.

Affordable Housing

Affordable housing remains a significant challenge for both our city and our state. On average, Minneapolis has an unhealthy vacancy rate of 2.2 – 2.9%, far less than the 5% considered to be healthy for any city. Once again, Minnesota ranked as the most unaffordable state for renters. Our recent housing crash only exacerbated the problem, low supply of rentals have driven prices up, which in turn has made living a lot less affordable for people already struggling.

Let’s pause for a moment for the sake of clarity, because I believe there is a certain stigma attached to what we call “affordable housing.” I believe a misguided notion exists that hints that affordable housing is little more than shelters that threaten the safety, security, and property values of neighborhoods. I think it is the opposite. In reality, it broadens and expands our tax base, reduces crime, and rehabilitates underused and neglected properties. Look at Creekside Commons on 54th and 35W, or Clare Midtown near Lake Street as examples.

In reality, affordable housing helps families who work, single parents with children, and it helps seniors who want to remain in the neighborhoods that they’ve lived in for decades. We must remain mindful of our seniors, their numbers will double in the next 20 years. We should be dedicated to keeping honest, hard working and growing families in this city as well.

I would redouble our commitments to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Since 2008 the AHTF has created over 500 affordable units for people living people 50% AMI. This program has revitalized many areas throughout this city and has enhanced our tax base.

I would support the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, who provide relief to nearly 21,000 people within Minneapolis, by restoring the housing levy cut from them, approximately $850,000 that was cut from their budget, in order to provide tax relief.

I would strongly support the Corridors of Opportunity program, and continue to find avenues for affordable and mixed income units along our transit corridors. People need access to transit for jobs. In the twelfth ward, I would encourage more development on the east side of the Hiawatha Corridor.

While we’re at it, let’s raise the renter’s credit back to 19%, it has currently been reduced to 17%.

5. Should the Hennepin County incinerator (HERC) be allowed to burn additional garbage? What do you think is the solution for the HERC’s request to expand and how does that weigh against pollution and air quality issues in Minneapolis?

No, the HERC should not be allowed to burn additional garbage.

From a bureaucratic perspective, any conditional use permit (CUP) request by Hennepin County to expand incineration capabilities at the HERC needs to be accompanied by an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW), a fairly simple document generated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). After nearly four years, this worksheet still hasn’t been produced. According to MPCA officials, they have been unable to get the necessary data from Covanta, the actual operator of the facility, to complete the worksheet.

If and when this document is ever produced, Minneapolis can then pursue a more complete, independently generated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will fully detail the effects that garbage incineration have on the environment. These years of delays and lack of overall transparency undoubtedly make me suspicious about not only the need to expand capacity at the HERC, but make me more concerned than ever about its entire operation and its effects since the late 1980s.

Despite the formal perspective I’ve outlined above, my personal belief is that the HERC facility negatively affects our air, soil, water, and most importantly, the lives of our residents. I believe that the facility emits harmful dioxins and other fine particulate matter into our atmosphere, all of which harm our communities. These pollutants have damaged the respiratory systems of those who live in parts of north and south Minneapolis (including the northwest section of the twelfth ward). These particular areas match the predictions for emissions fallout from plume studies taken in the first (and only) EIS created in the mid 1980s.

HERC defenders maintain that this facility generates “clean energy” and prevents the spread of landfills. I have issues with both of these ideas. First, I don’t believe we should damage our environment (and lives within it) for the sake of “clean energy.” Here, I think that the negative outweighs the positive.

Secondly, landfills are still part of any incineration program because the ash collected after incineration needs to be put somewhere: a landfill. This particular form of ash— primarily made up of concentrated toxins—isn’t exactly an environmentally friendly substance.

I do believe that the HERC should discontinue operations in the very near future, but to demand instantly shutting it down is premature and reckless, as it gives no indication of how to move ahead without landfilling. Minneapolis, as well as the other municipalities that feed the HERC, need to rapidly accelerate their recycling programs in order to keep waste out of the facility. Despite our city’s traditionally low recycling rates, improvements are being made thanks to the implementation of one sort recycling. Our city needs to build off of this recent success, and integrate organics recycling sooner rather than later. One of my main priorities is making Minneapolis the first Zero Waste city in the Midwest; we can only do this if we keep our recycling momentum going.

As Minneapolis recycles more, we should expect that less waste would be burned at the HERC. We know this to not be the case. Despite a lessened waste “contribution” by the city of Minneapolis (because of its recycling initiatives), the HERC continues to burn at the same levels as before, thanks to garbage delivered from other municipalities. I am opposed transporting waste into our city, not only because it pardons the bad recycling habits found in other communities, because it makes burning garbage a business enterprise. I don’t think that garbage should be treated as a renewable resource.

6. Do you believe that bicycle and pedestrian facilities should be expanded in the city? If so, how do you plan to support continued development?

Yes, I would absolutely support investments in our bicycling infrastructure and pedestrian facilities.

While I fully support building and maintaining a network of cycletracks, or protected bike lanes, I don’t believe we should create mile after mile of cycletracks just for the sake of boosting numbers. I could easily bump the number up beyond the thirty miles of cycletracks called for in the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan, and boldly suggest that we should strive for 40, 50, or even 100 miles of cycletracks, but then I would sound like a bombastic candidate trying to outdo everyone else.

Instead, we should focus on carefully planned and executed cycletracks that privilege quality over quantity. I’d be more proud of 25 miles of quality-­‐protected bikeways than 30 or 35 miles, if 25% of the latter would be poorly executed or underutilized over the long term. As an example, there is not one cyclist I have spoken with that is interested in replicating the quasi-­‐cycletrack found on First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis: past users describe it as dangerous, often misunderstood (vehicles continue to park in it), and poorly maintained (unplowed snow typically prevents individuals from even using it).

When investing in bicycle infrastructure, we need to remember that not all bicyclists have the same interests, habits, or skills. I support cycletracks, but I also believe in diversifying our investments over a broad range of infrastructure that can accommodate a wide variety of riders.

This city has some very advanced bicyclists who ride fearlessly, for them bicycling is not simply a form of exercise or a recreational activity: it is a mode of transportation. These riders have little need for cycletracks, bollards, or bike boulevards, but they would appreciate being able to take a shower and changing into their work clothes before stepping into their workplace. We need to invest in these sorts of facilities, or create incentives for businesses to provide them.

There are riders on the opposite end of the spectrum, from seniors to children and everyone in between who aren’t racing between Points A and B; people who want to bike but don’t want to feel pressured by vehicular traffic. These riders are drawn to bicycle boulevards (like the RiverLake), the Midtown Greenway, or the Grand Rounds.

And finally, there are the individuals in between, those who need to get downtown, Uptown, or across town and want a sense of security while they ride. The recent improvements to Park and Portland Avenues—where traffic lanes have been reduced from 3 to 2, and a buffered bike lane has been added—have been highly regarded. These latter individuals would like traffic calming measures put in place: lane reductions, curb bump outs, bollards, sharrows, striped bike lanes, painted bike boxes, and more bike friendly intersection crossings. And yes, they deserve cycletracks. There are great opportunities for some of this infrastructure along some of our major corridors: downtown’s Washington Avenue, Minnehaha and Blaisdell Avenues in south Minneapolis, and Irving Avenue in north Minneapolis.

The city also needs better bike parking. The addition of bike corrals throughout the city would demonstrate support for bike and pedestrian friendly businesses, help protect our young boulevard trees and signposts, and prevent bikes from interfering with sidewalk access for pedestrians.

Speaking of pedestrians, there are improvements needed for their safety as well. Beyond simply maintaining our sidewalks, the city must ensure that pedestrians can safely cross our intersections. At minimum, pedestrians need longer crossing signals, but they could also use a head start. I believe that a WALK sign should illuminate at least 3 or even 5 seconds before vehicles receive their corresponding green light. This allows pedestrian to have both a head start on the traffic that flows parallel to their path, but also allows them to be more visible to vehicles that are trying to turn left or right. Two other improvements that should be made for pedestrian safety at intersections would be to increase the width of our crosswalks, and make the overall crossing between two points shorter by adding curb bump outs.

7. Do you support expanding transit service by adding rapid bus routes?

I strongly support the legislation proposed by the Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition (HF 1044 and SF 927). I have high hopes that a regional transportation sales tax bill will be signed into law in the next few weeks.

With this new revenue (brought about by a half-­‐cent to a full-­‐cent tax increase), the five metro area counties could raise between $150-­‐300 million annually. This money should be split in 3 ways:

  1. Rapid acceleration of our light rail network, extending the Green and Blue Lines (Southwest LRT and Bottineau LRT)
  2. Enhance the bus service that hasn’t seen significant upgrades/new lines in decades
  3. Improving our bike infrastructure, crosswalks, sidewalks, pedestrian access, and provide for overall winter maintenance

Across the board, I eagerly champion improving our multi-­‐modal transportation network. I believe in light rail, I use it nearly every day, but I am also open to significant investments in enhanced bus services and arterial BRT lines. I am open to modern streetcars as well, a transit option that seems to have caught on in this election cycle.

Although candidates seem to favor modern streetcars over enhanced buses, as if it is an either/or choice, I am willing to point out that despite their differences, there are significant commonalties between enhanced buses and streetcars.

Like modern streetcars, these hybrid-­‐electric buses are quiet and have low floors/no-­‐ steps advantages for strollers, wheelchairs, and the elderly. Both streetcars and enhanced buses allow for fast boarding (like LRT, passengers pay before boarding, and therefore have multiple points of entry), and they each transport roughly the same capacity. There are, of course, two major differences between these two modes.

The first is cost: preliminary estimates of the per mile cost for enhanced bus service fall anywhere between $2 and $6 million, while the per mile cost for a modern streetcar line could range between $30 to $60 million.

The other noteworthy difference is construction time. The most well known streetcar line under consideration is the Nicollet/Central Corridor. At a length of just over nine miles, this line would take a considerable about of time to construct. It might be worth looking into initially decreasing the length of the line: having the northern terminus near Nicollet Mall and Washington Avenue, with a southern terminus at Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue, providing that the City can successfully negotiate the relocation of Kmart.

This would perhaps be a more reasonable introductory foray into using streetcars, and it would avoid many obstacles 1. It would reduce initial cost, 2. It could be faster to construct, 3. It would avoid forcing a hasty decision over which bridge to enter the downtown from northeast (Hennepin/First or Third/Central), and 4. it would avoid some potential zoning battles south of Lake Street.

Without doubt streetcars are great, I’ve ridden them extensively in other cities, and am very interested in pursuing them here. They are attractive to residents, businesses, and tourists, but I also want to make sure that we make great gains in extending LRT as soon as possible, comprehensively address our bus services (not only adding enhanced or BRT lines, but improving bus shelters and outfitting them with real time arrival/departure information), and adding bike and pedestrian friendly infrastructure throughout the city.

8. Should Minneapolis Animal Care & Control be reformed to follow a no-kill shelter model?

Yes, I believe in reforming MACC and taking meaningful steps to follow a no‐kill shelter model.

Let’s first be clear about no-­kill: there is no such thing as 100% no-­kill. There are animals that unfortunately have demonstrated aggressive behavior and are unable to be reformed, or are sick beyond cure, or are injured beyond repair. Shelters have been traditionally classified as a no-­kill shelter if their Live Release Rate (LRR) percentages are at least in the low 90s. LRR percentages are calculated by dividing “all live outcomes” by the “total intake of animals,” all within a certain period of time.

At first glance, MACC’s most recently published numbers from the first three quarters of 2012 make it seem like they have achieved success: their LRR appears to be 91%. The problem, however, is that they are not gauging LRR like other shelters do, as they have not included their somewhat dubious classification of “Unadoptable” animals into their calculation. This not only significantly skews their numbers, but more importantly, it cleverly mystifies the deaths of thousands of animals. When we recalculate LRR based on nationally recognized standards—those that refuse to make distinctions between adoptable and unadoptable animals—MACC’s 91% success rate decreases to 58%. Clearly, reform is in order.

Ideas for reform, not just for animal control but for pet ownership as well, could be modeled on what has been done in Calgary, Alberta. Their model emphasizes strict licensing of all animals 3 months or older. If and when an animal is picked up by animal control, the pet is not taken to a shelter, but instead their owner gets immediately called and the animal is taken home because of the licensing database that has been generated by mandatory licensing. This program makes it possible for animals to avoid ever entering the shelter system. Because of this idea, and other initiatives that emphasize education, the city of Calgary has the lowest euthanasia rates in North America.