"I’m running for Apple Valley City Council because I believe our community deserves more transparent, responsive, and accessible local leaders that put the needs and priorities of the families that call Apple Valley home at the top of their agendas. Our city has a responsibility to do more locally to protect and preserve our environment and natural resources, to stand up for workers and working families, to provide parks and green spaces that are accessible to all our residents, and to make sure that we are modernizing and strategically aligning our existing resources and infrastructure to better deliver for the people of our city. As the remaining undeveloped land left in our community continues to dwindle, it is well past time for the City Council to step up and make sure that the residents of our city have a say when it comes to the types of land development projects happening in our community - and to stop pandering to the wealthy land developers that the council has been groveling to for decades. Now is the time for new ideas, fresh perspectives, and real leadership for our city, and if elected, I promise to work hard on behalf of our community to deliver on this new vision. I hope I can earn your support!"
PRIORITY ISSUE AREAS
Land Use & Development
Back in 2020, a current member of the Apple Valley City Council publicly stated that “the primary job of the city council is to approve permits”. This view of the role of local government minimizes the authority and ability that the city council has to empower the residents they are elected to represent. The City Council needs to better utilize the tools at its disposal - including the city’s oversight over planning/zoning and the city’s Planning Commission - to ensure that future land development in our city is done in a way that reflects the needs and priorities of the residents of our community. For far too long the city has allowed wealthy land developers to make every significant land development decision in our city. This has created significant issues related to housing and affordability (particularly for first-time home buyers), an over-reliance on HOAs, a complete disregard for and lack of supporting multi-purpose zoning (despite other cities actively working to attract residents through multi-purpose zoning that allows construction projects like apartment buildings with retail/shopping to be on the same property - walk-ability matters!), and Apple Valley’s ongoing reputation as a difficult city for other government entities to partner or collaborate with. Rather than being a rubber stamp for wealthy land developers, big corporations, and mega church chains - as it has been - it is well past time for the Apple Valley City Council, and the Planning Commission that they have a role to oversee, to step up and start sticking up for the residents of our city that rightfully have thoughts, feelings, and ideas about land development in our community and deserve to be heard. Broadly, Ben supports more “green spaces” and embedding sustainability measures into more planning & zoning practices (see “Sustainability” section). As is the practice in every other suburban city in the southern metro area, Ben supports changes to city policies that would allow for residents to responsibly own and care for a limited number of chickens on their property, as well as reviewing other existing policies in place that actively infringes on private land use decisions that do not negatively impact neighbors or the community.
Sustainability: Local Action to Protect Our Environment & Natural Resources
Research and analysis from the international scientific community is clear when it comes to the environment and sustainability: climate change is real, the impacts are already happening, and unless all levels of government respond with urgency, our waters, lands, wildlife, and other natural resources will continue to be eroded, diminished, and, ultimately, destroyed. Without a habitable, livable world, little else that we care or dream about will be achievable in the long run - whether now or for future generations. While much must be done in this area at the global, national, and state levels to make the changes we ultimately need, all sustainable efforts, practices, and environmental initiatives require action and implementation at the local level. We do not need to wait around for Congress or the State Legislature to act before we do more locally to protect our lands, water, and wildlife - and, in talking with members of our community, it is clear that local residents don’t want us to wait around to act. Currently, the only city-supported sustainability program in Apple Valley is a rain-garden grant program that is under-funded, under-supported, and under-utilized. The city needs to do more to incentivize and support landowners who wish to implement water or land conservation efforts on their property, including exploring possible property tax incentives. Ben supports revising the city charter to establish a Sustainability Commission, which would act under the similar authorities of existing citizen advisory committees, to develop a Climate Action Plan that identifies tangible action steps to be taken by the city to protect the environment and natural resources of our community, and to take other steps to ensure that future strategic planning - including planning around land use and development - is done through a scope of promoting environmental sustainability. Additionally, Ben will support partnerships with the county, school districts, community-based organizations, and public postsecondary system to support community education and relevant workforce development training programs to support careers in forestry, solar energy, weatherization, and other sustainability-related careers that will continue to increase in demand nationally. Ben supports cultivating more native grasses and vegetation in public spaces, supporting pollinators, and incentivizing land owners to be able to do the same.
Modernizing City Government
The current city council often uses the existing city charter to justify their inaction - “It’s in the city charter, so we can’t do anything about it”. What this narrow, antiquated view of local government fails to address is that the city council not only oversees the charter, but has a responsibility to update the charter to “meet the moment” and respond to the needs of a changing community. This lack of action - an unwillingness to address old policies and practices - is why residents continue to be frustrated by many of the construction/development projects the council continues to approve (and without regard to mixed-use land use), why decisions continue to be made without adequate community input, why families with children of differing (dis)abilities continue to fight the council to get them to ensure accessibility is a key component of any redesign of any public parks, and why the current city council continues to reinforce policies or practices that has firmly established Apple Valley as one of the most (if not the most) difficult city in the south metro for counties, school districts, or other units of government to collaborate with. Not a single member of the current city council regularly holds engagement sessions, public discussions, or other outreach events with the public directly outside of their regular council meetings - and no one of them leverages technology (including social media) to engage with and be more accessible to their constituents. We’re over two decades into the 21st century, so these are basic tools for local elected officials to use to do their jobs well, but the current council refuses to be innovative or do anything that increased accountability or transparency. If elected, Ben will bring new energy and perspectives to the council, and will leverage both in-person events throughout the community as well as social media and digital tools, to get more residents engaged and involved in our city government. If elected, Ben commits to pushing the council and city to move on from the antiquated processes and procedures of the past and into the present - where technology, transparency, and proactive community engagement are more valued, leveraged, and effectively deployed. Additionally, Ben supports engaging with residents to explore possible structural updates to the Council itself, such as establishing electoral wards (to replace at-large representation) or moving beyond the current “city manager model” that has potentially perpetuated many of the issues related to transparency of city decision-making, lack of community engagement, and the absence of much accountability of current council members - whose approach, to put it quite kindly, has been far too "hands-off" We need more leadership and vision from our elected leaders on the Council, and if elected, Ben will work hard to fill this current void.
Broadband: Support & Protect Consumers
Whether using it for working-from-home, student learning, performing day-to-day business functions, or providing entertainment, reliable high-speed internet is a necessary utility for families, workers, and businesses in the 21st century. And yet, local government does not do nearly as much to protect consumers of this vital utility as it does other utilities - whether that’s ensuring there is competition of providers, preventing price hikes, or making logical, relevant infrastructure investments. The Twin Cities Metro Area is the 16th largest metropolitan area in the nation, and yet, here in Apple Valley, there are only two internet providers that can be accessed city-wide - and only one city-wide provider if a family also wants cable television. It is clear that the existing city council either does not understand technology and/or the internet enough to adequately respond to the needs of our community on this issue, or they just do not care about stepping up to provide the local leadership necessary to protect more local internet consumers. If elected, Ben promises to fight for internet consumers by working to attract more competition to the local market, and by working with the city’s Telecommunications Advisory Committee to develop an action plan to increase internet provider options and service performance - including exploring possible regulatory or incentives-based strategies to lower costs and/or improve reliability of service.
Other Commonsense Reforms:
Allowing for the licensing of food trucks to operate (prepare and sell food/drinks) in public spaces in the city. The City Council currently refuses to do this, which is why Apple Valley remains one of the only cities in the Metro Area where you will never see food trucks operating in popular public spaces, like parks or near apartment complexes. Not only do most residents want this public amenity, but it would also generate revenue for the city.
Most suburbs, including every city that surrounds Apple Valley, allows for residents on certain lot sizes to have chickens on their property. With reasonable provisions in place to ensure safety & compliance, Apple Valley should move to do the same.