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Let's Catch Up - September 2021

Jill and Brody McCarthy plan to use Block Challenge funds to replace a leaning retaining wall at the Kingman Avenue home. Ten-month-old Theodore will have a front-row seat to the construction.

BLOCK CHALLENGE GRANTS ROLL OUT CITYWIDE Block Challenge grants—a popular Invest DSM program in four targeted neighborhoods—gained a foothold in other Des Moines neighborhoods this summer.

The purpose of the Block Challenge is to bring neighbors together to make exterior improvements, including painting, replacing front steps or retaining walls, sprucing up the landscaping, and other curb-appeal improvements. For a group of 10 or more homeowners, the City provides up to $2,500 for each project costing $5,000 or more. Earlier this year, the Des Moines City Council approved $170,00 in matching funds.

Approved programs are sprinkled throughout Wards 1 and 3—121 homeowners in all—and something is percolating for two Ward 2 programs. A total of 147 homeowners are participating for projects proposed at $615,668; Invest DSM will reimburse $258,670 to homeowners upon completion.

The application process requires at least five neighbors to participate. But programs in the Waveland Park, North of Grand, Woodland Heights, and Drake neighborhoods have each attracted 16 or more homeowners.

Two of those are Jill and Brody McCarthy, part of a new Kingman Avenue Block Grant Challenge. When Kathy Schott went door to door to sign up neighbors, including the McCarthys, Brody realized that Tim Schott, Kathy’s husband, was his elementary school principal and lives just two blocks down the street. How cool is that?

Kathy organized a Kingman block walk on Sept. 12 to check out the “before” homes and yards of participants.

Invest DSM staff administers the Block Challenge program for the City of Des Moines. There’s still time to apply for funds for projects this year. The deadline is Sept. 30. Details here.


In addition to municipal and school board elections Nov. 2, your ballot will include checkboxes for a referendum to extend Polk County’s Water and Land Legacy Bond. I urge you to join me in voting “YES!” for the bond, which would cost the average homeowner less than a dollar a month.

If approved by at least 60% percent of voters, the $65 million referendum would green-light the Polk County Conservation Board to:

  • protect drinking water sources;

  • protect the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams, including the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers and their tributaries;

  • improve public access to and the safety of rivers and creeks for floating, boating, and fishing;

  • reduce flooding;

  • protect wildlife habitat and natural areas; and

  • expand Polk County outdoor recreational opportunities for walking, hiking, biking, and water trails.

In 2012, 72% percent of Polk County voters supported a similar referendum that enabled dredging of Easter Lake, improved tributaries to reduce siltation, expanded outdoor activities at Jester Park and the Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt, and reduced flooding of Fort Des Moines Park and Fourmile Creek. Learn more here.


If you missed the recent reopening of the Robert D. Ray Asian Garden, please carve out a few minutes to stop by the pavilion and expanded gardens just north of the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, at the northern edge of the Principal Riverwalk loop. You will not be disappointed.

And don’t overlook the compelling stories of the five Southeast Asian communities—Vietnamese, Cambodian, Tai Dam, Lao, and Hmong—who have enriched our community since the mid-1970s.

Three Hmong community leaders stand beside the story of their ethnic mountain group. From left: DMPD Sgt. Doua Lor, Ge Jay Lee, and Khoua Lee. Khoua and his wife, Mao Sayaxang, wrote a commentary about the Hmong community and their arrival from Southeast Asia in 1976.

The garden, which just became part of the Botanical Garden, was recently expanded north to I-235 with more than 28,000 new plantings. Water features have been replaced, along with finials knocked off by a hammer-wielding vandal in 2017. Oh, yes: new lighting and security cameras are part of the $750,000 upgrades. Read details here. TREES AND MORE TREES

Tree-planting in Des Moines continues at a rapid pace: 563 new trees have been planted on City parkways (the grassy area between sidewalks and streets). Trees Forever staff, Growing Futures teen employees, volunteers, and City staff plan to add another 619 trees this fall. City Forester Shane McQuillan reports that by comparison, 612 trees were planted in 2020.

In 2022, the City will plant another 971 new trees; in the Oak Park and Highland Park neighborhoods alone, volunteers plan to plant 288 trees by year’s end. With pledged funding from Invest DSM and potential additional funds, that number could climb to 1,300 to 1,500 trees throughout the City. Several City Council members are lobbying hard to increase the City’s tree budget for fiscal year 2022-23.

You’ve probably noticed a 5-gallon bucket beside each tree. Trees Forever Growing Futures teen employees, paid by City funds, water new trees for two years.

DON’T WANT A SPEEDING TICKET? DON’T SPEED Earlier this summer, the City added a speed camera to Grand Avenue at 14th Street, around the Western Gateway Park and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Motorists will be issued tickets if they’re caught traveling at 36 mph or faster (11 mph over the posted 25 mph speed limit).

Speed cameras are excellent tools for traffic enforcement. Best of all, they allow police officers to focus on other public safety tasks without putting themselves on the street.

To combat the old saw that “speed cameras are just revenue generators for cities,” some cities have success with other approaches:

And if you think Des Moines tickets are too onerous, Chicago, home to 100-plus speed cameras, issues tickets if you go 6 mph over the posted speed.

I like the way RAYGUN founder Mike Draper thinks:

“Slow down that traffic, speed up government.”


In earlier generations, an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) may have been labeled as a mother-in-law apartment, backyard cottage, or granny flat. Adding another dwelling unit on a residential property provides the benefit of three generations living together (but not on top of each other) and helps spread fixed costs such as property taxes and family members. Unlike traditional rental property, the primary dwelling and ADU generally share utilities (no separate meters).

They are becoming popular in many cities, Des Moines included.

In the Waveland Park Neighborhood, a couple is building a detached ADU for the husband’s mother. They plan to add a 716-sq.-ft. ADU for grandmother in back of an 816-sq.-ft garage.

In the Highland Park Neighborhood, Invest DSM, Home, Inc., Hubbell Properties, and AARP Iowa have partnered to build a new 1,500-sq.-ft. primary dwelling with 540-sq.-ft. ADU in a detached garage (alley access). Construction should begin this fall on the Euclid Avenue lot.

A Drake Neighborhood family has initiated conversations with Invest DSM for an ADU on their property.

To allow for an ADU construction, there must be a familial relationship between a property owner and the ADU occupant. The homeowner may need to sign an annual affidavit for continued use by a family member. Some cities streamline the permit process if the ADU square footage is 800 square feet or less.

Here’s a link for Des Moines ADUs:

And here’s how the permit process works in nearby St. Paul, Minnesota.


MORE THAN CUTE Seventeen goats are taking a big bite out of honeysuckle and other invasive plants along the Clive Greenbelt.

“Our Greenbelt Goats are doing a great job of managing the natural area along the Greenbelt—about 400 acres,” notes Richard Brown, Clive’s director of Leisure Services. “They eat a lot!”

While working as assistant director of Des Moines Parks and Recreation, Richard always wanted a goat herd. Unfortunately, Des Moines zoning codes regarding livestock prevent the City from embracing a similar program. But Clive found a sustainable solution — and lots of fans.

“We have volunteers who count the goats each night and send us a quick email,” Richard reports. “And the winter months, we have people stop by and feed the goats.”

The goats also have become a branding opportunity—“We’re now selling T-shirts and koozies displaying our goats,” Richard adds.

A third party owns the goats; Clive is responsible for the daily care. Chief goatherd Ryan Fogt, an operations specialist for the Clive Parks and Recreation Department, tends to the herd’s daily food and water needs and moves the herd’s fencing weekly.

Here are details about the baa-bies.

Antonio Mireles in the ring with manager and SPO John Saunders


TURNS PRO Antonio Mireles recently inked up for a professional boxing career. Senior Police Officer John Saunders, long-time manager for the Des Moines Police Activities League (PAL), couldn’t be prouder.

John, who stands all of 5 feet 4 inches, has looked up to Antonio for years, and not just because the Lincoln High School grad and PAL product towers over him at 6 feet 9. Antonio, who joined the PAL when he was 12 years old and competed for the first time when he was 15, was a five-time Iowa Golden Gloves champion and the 2019 National Golden Gloves champion. Saunders and Elly Nunez were Antonio’s coaches through his 12-year amateur career.

How far a boxer can go, John says, depends on how willing he is to work hard. “From that respect,” he adds, “Antonio was easy to train.”

Known in boxing circles as “The Lincoln Giant,” Antonio had a 28-4 amateur boxing career, including winning all five bouts in the super heavyweight division to earn gold at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Despite that, he was not selected to the U.S. team that competed in the 2021 Tokyo Games. Instead, Antonio signed in late July with Split-T management and now trains with the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Oxnard, California.

Generally, John has a dozen boxers training at the Pioneer Columbus gym, part of the nonprofit PAL program. All know Antonio and his story and now have someone to look up to—if they’re willing to work hard. Here’s more about “The Lincoln Giant.”

For more about PAL activities—including flag football and bike rodeos, contact SPO Deb VanVelzen. “Our mission to reach all youth in Des Moines through all types of activities from sports to the fine arts,” Deb added. “We are looking to partner with other nonprofits to provide some out-of-the-box opportunities to our City kids.” A LITTLE BIT ABOUT A LOT OF THINGS

(with a tip of the hat to the late Maury White, Des Moines Register sports columnist)

The first new E911 signs are sprouting up along Des Moines trails. The signs, in quarter-mile increments, provide valuable information to emergency responders and for alerting city staff of trail conditions. Friends of Des Moines Trails funded the initial signs. …

Speaking of trails, Des Moines Parks and Recreation director Ben Page reports that individuals or groups have adopted 11 Des Moines parks and seven trail segments in a new program rolled out earlier this year. Here’s how you can participate. … <

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