Mayor Larson’s ‘State Of The City’ Core Principles: Equity, Sustainability, Community
DULUTH, Minn. – Duluth Mayor Emily Larson held a virtual State of the City address Monday night acknowledging last year’s painful struggles through the pandemic and social justice issues surrounding George Floyd’s death — while praising the city’s determination to come together peacefully with a focus on being a stronger, more equitable community.
“None of this will be easy. Last year tested us, and I hope we’ll never go through anything like it again. But I’m also confident as we emerge from this dark year. There is a brighter path forward,” Larson said.
Larson laid out three core principles for the year ahead: equity, sustainability and community.
“I laid out a vision for Duluth in my first year in office. I promised to build a more inclusive, collaborative, fair and sustainable city for all neighbors, across all neighborhoods. This core vision still guides me. It will be our North Star pointing our path to recovery,” Larson said.
In the equity category, Larson is directing the newly hired city attorney, Rebecca St. George, to start collecting race data for the first time on all criminal cases referred to her office to analyze the city’s response to implicit or systemic racism.
The effort includes re-imagining the Duluth Police Department. Larson acknowledged the department as a leader in community policing and policing standards for years, but she said more needs to be done in the department’s approach to policing to be more effective with the community, especially communities of color.
“As a starting point, I’ve directed our police department to engage with our community in a top to bottom Racial Bias Audit to identify problems and areas we need to address in our approach to policing,” Larson said.
Larson also pointed to the recent appointment of a third deputy chief to the department with a sole focus on advancing the department, as well as a multi-year focus on becoming CALEA accredited as a department – the standard in modern-day policing.
As for sustainability, Larson wants to have a large-scale solar array in the city in the next three years, and to help her in that process, she is calling on the newly hired sustainability officer, Mindy Granley, to start a Sustainable Duluth Task Force.
“Their task will be to take a comprehensive look at the sustainability challenges facing our community, and map out actions that we can work on together to make a sustainable and economically vibrant Duluth,” Larson said.
And when it comes to community, Larson wants to continue to invest in more affordable housing by committing $2 million to create the Duluth Housing Trust Fund.
“It will help rehab or renovate dilapidated units to make them livable, develop infill sites, and support accessory dwellings on existing properties – what’s sometimes called the parents-in-law apartment,” Larson explained.
Larson also wants to make sure everyone has access to high-speed internet at an affordable rate — while calling out Spectrum: “Right now, Spectrum is the only broadband provider in Duluth. They know it and your bills show it. Spectrum even raised prices in a pandemic – and this community, held hostage, had no choice but to pay or go without access. This is unacceptable. Personally, I feel it’s immoral. Tonight I’m calling on Spectrum to work with us to provide equitable access, to lower costs and to improve reliability. But we also need more competition in the market,” Larson explained.
Larson continued by proposing $1 million of Duluth’s stimulus package to incentivize new service providers to enter the market.
And finally, Larson is asking Chief Administrative Officer Noah Schuchman to lead a city effort to create a 311 division to better connect residents with city resources.
“Have a complaint to make. Call 311. See a streetlight out in the neighborhood, call 311. Don’t know whether you need a building permit for that shed. Call 311. Want to pass on a thank you for a considerate snowplow driver. You got it. Call 311,” Larson said. “We intend to roll this out in two phases. Phase 1 we’ve already started – developing a phone app where you submit complaints that will go automatically to the appropriate staff person. We want to launch Phase 2 next year with an actual live 3-1-1 call line.”