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October 2023


This year I've knocked on more than 2,400 doors around the City and attended more than 55 neighborhood meetings. That's a lot of listening! And it's been rewarding. Here's a snapshot of topics since my August newsletter. Sometimes, little improvements make a big difference!

1: A hand-up for Des Moines schools

Schools get a portion of the proceeds from the sale of recycled materials. Tina Epp, the McKinley Elementary community schools coordinator, asked me if the City could streamline how it approves getting recycling bins on school property. Thank you, Tina! Plans are now in place for the City Council to approve a new process at our November 23 meeting. Erik Lundy, deputy director of Neighborhood Services, has shared a draft with Tina.

2: Wacky timing of Grand and 56th traffic signal

Jeff Freude suggested that something must be wrong with the timing of the traffic signal at 56th Street and Grand Avenue on the West Side; northbound and southbound traffic wait a painfully long period—even with no Grand Avenue traffic—for the light to turn. One of the City's technicians went out and discovered a broken westbound detection loop, adding unused “green time” to Grand Avenue traffic. Staff made a quick fix—just in time for the start of the school year. Thank you, Jeff!

3. Another recycling issue

Frances Landers in Ward 3, who also is keen on recycling, asked if one curbside blue bin containing contaminated or banned items (yard waste, food scraps, diapers) could cause the Metro Recycling Facility (MRF) to reject an entire truckload of products. Meaning the truckload of potential recycled products would get trucked to the landfill—wasting many households’ recycling efforts. Jonathan Gano, director of Public Works, told me that if a truck were to show up at the MRF with an exceptional quantity of contamination—likely only if a garbage-loaded truck went to the recycling center by mistake—the entire truckload could be rejected, set aside, and hauled off to the landfill. But this has only happened once during his tenure. “Rest assured that a normal amount of contamination in our recycling does not doom the entire truck to be sent to the landfill,” Jonathan says. “Almost every load from every community has at least some contamination products.” Under normal circumstances, Jonathan says, the MRF takes all the single-stream recycling delivered to it. “The machinery can sort out the valuable commodities,” he explains, “and the contamination goes through the process and will be taken to the landfill.” Incidentally, Des Moines residents have the highest percentage of contaminated goods in recycling bins: about 20 percent. There's no honor in being number 1 in this category! This high percentage impacts Des Moines' revenue from selling recycled products, including cardboard, glass, aluminum, and other products.


The revival of old-fashioned shoe leather—a time-tested policing method—has dramatically impacted downtown Des Moines in recent weeks. After an absence since the mid-1990s, foot patrols were reintroduced in late August to deal with transients and others gathering at several locations, including the Central Library, Cowles Commons, 13th and Walnut, Sixth and Walnut, and Central Iowa Shelter and Services. Officers park their squad cars—another deterrent—nearby, in their patrolling zones. Since the program began, two off-duty police officers have worked over 50 shifts in the zone, including going into identified hot spots and working with the mobile crisis unit to provide needed services. Officers patrol weekdays from 7 to 11 a.m. and again from 2 to 6 p.m. Brandon Brown, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, reports high praise from members. “The DNA has been extremely pleased with the DMPD dedicating a police force to downtown,” he told me. An immediate effect Brandon has noticed is police response time. Since the implementation, he says, he’s seen observed law enforcement apprehend a suspect within seconds of a report. “That shows a downtown force can quickly respond to the needs of downtown,” he says. Special Police Officer Matt Dahlen, above, has signed up for 12 off-duty shifts. Because he has worked downtown for 15 years, Matt is familiar with many of the individuals. One little trick? Matt, a non-smoker, carries a pack of cigarettes and offers smokes to folks he encounters. “It’s amazing how one cigarette to a street person gets a lot of traction for me,” he told me. Key to the program is to be visible downtown, so Matt stops in to talk with staff at downtown businesses, including the Central Library, Surety Hotel, US Bank, the Marriott, and others. “I get a lot of information,” he says, “like new issues in an alley that pop up. And the downtown businesses feel they’ve been heard.” Downtown types are echoing Brandon Brown’s observations. Library director Sue Woody reports that incidents have dropped. “What a difference this has made!” she added. “Just having police presence is wonderful. The foot patrols have been good for staff and patrons.” Allison Streu, general manager of the Surety Hotel at Sixth and Mulberry, reported that having the foot patrol presence has drastically reduced loitering on the sidewalks. “And,” she adds, “it’s ensured a feeling of safety in the neighborhood.” Andy Kouri, manager of the Fleming Building, reported a night-and-day transformation for the Sixth and Walnut area. “Around 20 tenants at the Fleming have commented so far about how much safer they feel walking the streets,” he told me. And area office workers have noticed increased sidewalk foot traffic. “I am excited for the opportunities this could bring to the sidewalk retail and downtown offices that have been suffering as of late if we stay on this trajectory,” Andy says. The six-month trial program is funded with an infusion of $150,000; it’s estimated that a fully funded downtown foot patrol would cost $300,000 annually. One possible program extension would be to add foot patrols in the skywalks once cold weather comes.


A packed lineup of authors, librarians, school board members, and engaged community members will lead discussions at the Banned Books Festival, Saturday, October 7, at Franklin Junior High, Franklin Avenue just west of 48th Street. I’ll be sitting in on two panels during the 10 a.m.–5 p.m. event, sponsored by Beaverdale Books, RAYGUN, Annie’s Foundation (“We read banned books”), and others. One panel discusses banned and censored books in general and features Iowa Freedom of Information Council executive director Randy Evans. The other, discussing Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, is moderated by retired Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu.

KEEP UP WITH CITY NEWS What’s the easiest way to know more about street closures and construction notifications? And City Council agendas, board meetings, and committee work? It’s easy-peasy to subscribe to email notifications through this link. Pick from the list, for example, to receive the agendas and minutes of all 15 City boards, commissions, and committees. Other city information is equally available:

  • The quarterly City Source newsletter is chock-full of informative articles about City programs and services. You can receive it via USPS. Here's a digital link to the most recent version.

  • Our City has 49 recognized neighborhood associations. Most have a printed newsletter, digital version, or Facebook sites. Here's a link to find your neighborhood.

  • Want to know about nuts-and-bolts dope about zoning, permits, and tax abatement, and more? Sign up here to receive the Department of Economic Development’s newsletter.

  • The Civil and Human Rights Department also has a newsletter. Subscribe here

Mary Klein, Des Moines resident, DART user.

RIVER BEND RECEIVES DART ON DEMAND In mid-June, DART on Demand started serving the River Bend neighborhood with a service similar to an Uber or Lyft call. The 14-to-18-passenger buses serve about a 2-square-mile area, including the Oakridge Neighborhood, Harding Hills, and Broadlawns Medical Center. Dart on Demand has been serving Ankeny and West Des Moines. The River Bend service, which connects with seven regular DART routes, operates weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Residents can schedule pickups, at their current locations, with a phone call or an app. On-demand drivers generally handle one to three passengers per hour; a fixed route logs 17 riders per hour. DART’s busiest routes handle 27 passengers at peak ridership. Funders for the River Bend pilot project include Principal Financial, Mid-Iowa Health Foundation, The Community Foundation, Iowa DOT, and Prairie Meadows. Erin Hockman, DART’s external affairs officer, acknowledges that the service costs more than a fixed route. “But it fills a need for gaps in our system,” she told me. One early adopter is Mary Klein, above, who uses DART on Demand regularly for doctor’s appointments at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. “I schedule a ride that arrives right in front of my house,” says Mary, who moved to Des Moines from New York City three years ago. “Generally, DART schedules a 30-minute window, but most times, the bus arrives in the first five minutes.” Mary’s fare: 75 cents. A paratransit ride is seven dollars. Mary, a retired nurse and health practitioner, told me she wants to volunteer to read with a student at Moulton Elementary School. “If I get accepted,” she added, “I would take DART On Demand there and back once a week. “Let’s get more people on the bus!”

Sonni Greenfield, left, a fourth-year apprentice at Waldinger Corporation, oversaw Triniti Snopek’s pipe cutting and gluing of this water regular “tree” for the Facebook data center in Altoona.


Ava is keen on becoming an electrician. Diego thinks he’d make a great bricklayer. Amow has narrowed her career choices to cement finishing and welding. The three are among 14 local high school students and one recent graduate who completed a 10-week Pathway to Building Trades pre-apprentice program offered through Forest Avenue Outreach and the Central Iowa Building & Construction Trades Council. The earn-while-you-learn program—the first of its kind in the Des Moines area—paid students $14 an hour to attend 20 hours of classes weekly for hands-on skills training, working at Habitat for Humanity, and interacting with the 16 building trade apprenticeship programs in the metro. In addition, each received their first aid/CPR and 10-hour OSHA certifications, required on all job sites. The program prepares each graduate to apply for and ultimately be successful in a registered apprenticeship program. Samantha Groark, executive director of Central Iowa Building Trades, told me the program directly invests in future Des Moines construction workforce “by creating pathways into these middle-class careers for underserved youth right here in our city. It’s one of the best ways we can address the skilled workforce shortage.” Triniti Snopek, a 2023 Hoover graduate, is working on her dream to join Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 33. The following week after completing the Forest Avenue program, Triniti started work as a helper at Waldinger Corporation. She hopes to enroll in the union’s apprenticeship program. “She has the stuff,” a beaming Sonni Greenfield, a fourth-year apprentice told me. “Dang,” Triniti said, “this tree I built is going out of here.” Applications for next year’s program will begin in the Spring. Check out Forest Avenue Outreach to learn more.


At upcoming City Council meetings, we will be asked to advertise for bids on major trail work for next year. Here are City projects I’m aware of:

  • Bill Riley Trail: Reconstruct, resulting in complete closure for most of the season to improve drainage and address cracks and root ridging. Center Trails crossing will be updated with concrete.

  • Levee Trail (North Valley Drive to 63rd Street): Closure for widening and reconstruction

  • Carl Voss Trail: Closure from Mullet’s to East 14th Street to levee work on the south bank of the Des Moines River. An easy detour is planned along the John “Pat” Dorrian Trail, being rebuilt this season on the north bank of the Des Moines River (from the new Single Speed Brewery to Pete Crivaro Park), then reconnecting to the Carl Voss Trail via the sidewalk across the East 14th Street Bridge.

  • 16th and Seneca neighborhood connector trail. The new trail will connect the Neal Smith Trail with the Oak Park/Highland Park Neighborhood.

  • Walnut Creek Trail crossing at North Valley Drive. A raised crossing at North Valley Drive could begin this fall with a Spring completion.

  • 63rd Street Trail. Following the IowaDOT’s improvements to the 63rd Street bridge, a trail section will be constructed from the bridge to Veterans Parkway. The trail will cross 63rd street at Creston Avenue and follow 63rd Street on the east side.

Other planned trail work in the metro includes:

  • Great Western Trail: The Polk County Conservation Board plans to replace significant portions from Park Avenue south through the Willow Creek golf course. County sources report no identified funding to pave the trail across several gravel roads.

  • Neal Smith Trail: The Army Corps of Engineers, which received control of the trail from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, plans maintenance of three or four long-neglected miles from Saylor Creek to the Cottonwood Recreation Area. Funding for overdue widening and rebuilding will require an act of Congress—literally!—says Dayne Magneson, lake manager of the Corps office at the Saylorville Reservoir.



Nate Sparks is sparking a huge interest in jazz with his Des Moines Youth Jazz Orchestra just its second year at the Temple Music and Performing Arts in downtown Des Moines. Band members Jack Deahl, a Southeast Polk senior who plays drums, and Carson Parker, a pianist from Waukee Northwest, were named to the prestigious 18-piece Jazz Band of America Honor Assembly, a select group of talented high school musicians from around the U.S. Also, eight of Nate's students were selected for the 18-piece Iowa All-State Jazz Band. High praise for a young program. “All the local high school band directors now know about this program,” related Nate, a Runnels native and graduate of The Juilliard School. “They've been so gracious about getting this started." After graduating from Juilliard, Nate stayed in New York City for three years and found work as an arranger. But when COVID hit in 2020, he lost a lot of work and returned to Iowa. Today, he exchanges hats as liturgy and music ministry director at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, directing Nate Sparks' Big Band, and accompanying Max Wellman and others at Noce with the NOLA Jazz Band. Tryouts for this year's high school jazz orchestra begin October 4, with its first concert of the season on December 6, at a location to be announced. Hudson Lybarger, shown above at right with Nate, a tenor saxophone player from Urbandale and a youth jazz orchestra member, credits jazz with bridging the gap between contemporary and classical music, and Nate with inspiring him as a musician. “This band is challenging work, and I’m always motivated,” he told me. “I really like straight-ahead jazz, and Nate's arrangements based on Afro-Cuban music.” Hudson will join the Nate Sparks Big Band for December 1 and 9 performances at Noce Jazz and Cabaret. Good seats are still available!

Massey took a night off from his job as an essential member of the DMPD bomb squad, welcoming belly scratches and petting at the South Central Neighborhood’s gathering at the South Union School. SPO Scott Neely, Massey’s handler, shown above, reported that Massey, a 6-year-old Black Labrador, welcomed off-duty attention.

PRINCIPAL PARK RENOVATIONS RAMP UP The Iowa Cubs may have ended their 2023 Triple-A baseball season, but contractors are already working on 2024. A day after the final out, on September 18, crews began scurrying to complete Major League Baseball-mandated significant upgrades to the 30-year-old, City-owned Principal Park; all must be in place by April 1. Ball Team Construction is the general contractor for the improvements, estimated to cost $8.7 million. Spectators won't see most of the work, which expands the I-Cubs’ and the visiting team’s clubhouses, as well as offices and training areas. But work has already commenced on several improvements:

  • renovating home and visitor clubhouse areas and associated spaces;

  • finishing the north entry, north entry stairs, weight room, and multipurpose room in the clubhouse;

  • a new roof and terrace for the outfield restaurant space; and

  • a new outfield wall.

  • renovating home and visitor clubhouse areas and associated spaces;

  • finishing the north entry, north entry stairs, weight room, and multipurpose room in the clubhouse;

  • a new roof and terrace for the outfield restaurant space; and

  • a new outfield wall.

Also, the club’s owners, Diamond Baseball Holdings, a subsidiary of private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, of Menlo Park, California, is pursuing premium seating and hospitality areas within the stadium. The team owners would pay for these upgrades. Before the first pitch of the 2023 season, contractors added a “batter's eye” backdrop in the outfield, which made it easier for batters to see pitches. Also, a new umpire suite opened, including facilities for women who work games. Sam Bernabe, the I-Cubs’ president and general manager, said more room was needed regardless of what Major League Baseball ordered. “In 1983, when I started with the Iowa Cubs,” Sam told me, “I had a manager, pitching coach and trainer. This past season, I had a manager, bench coach, pitching coach, two hitting coaches, two trainers, two weight trainers, a nutritionist, and a video coordinator.” Principal Park is one of the oldest — if not the oldest—of the 30 AAA stadiums. Built for about $11 million, its estimated replacement cost is more than $100 million.

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