Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Getting More Data on Arrests and Stops

This morning, the Council approved a staff direction I worked on with Council Member Blong Yang that will give the Council better access to data on low-level arrests and police stops in our city. Here's the direction:

Motion by Gordon and Yang

Directing the Police Department and City Attorney’s Office to provide data on misdemeanor arrests, charging, prosecution and diversion by race, gender, age, geography, and offence for the years 2010-2014, and report back to the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management committee in the second quarter of 2015.

Further directing the Attorney’s Office and Police Department to make recommendations concerning the development of a policy and potential protocol for the recording and reporting of demographic information, especially race and location, of police stops that do not necessarily lead to an arrest, and to report back with recommendations regarding this in the second quarter of 2015.

This appears to be a very careful, small step that will do nothing more than compile and share information. It is.  But, it also presents an opportunity to better identify, understand and address the institutional racism, racial profiling and discrimination that may be operating, even unwittingly, in Minneapolis’ criminal justice system.  It could be a critically important step towards understanding the impacts of our criminal justice system in Minneapolis.  

The first part of the direction will give us the information that can allow the Council to have a well-grounded discussion about our policing, prosecution and diversion practices.  The second will start a conversation about how we can collect information about the impacts of "stop and frisk" or "stop and talk" activities of the police department.

My goal is to address the real concerns expressed by Minneapolis communities about the disparate impacts of policing on communities of color, while continuing to provide public safety for all.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Climate Action Champion

This week, the White House made public that the City of Minneapolis has won designation as a “Climate Action Champion.”  We are one of sixteen cities and counties to be given this designation, along with San Francisco, Seattle, and others.

This is somewhat ironic, given that we’re in the middle of a rather public debate about whether we want to fully fund the commitments we’ve made to climate action.  I’m hoping that this will help remind my colleagues of the importance of the Clean Energy Partnership – which was one of the key arguments we made in our successful application for this honor.  In order to retain our reputation for being a leader on climate policy, we have to continue to actually lead.

It’s also important to note that the work of the Partnership is not the limit of our work on climate change.  The Council has also adopted a set of short-term, two-year priorities for implementing the Climate Action Plan.  This is the existing work of our two-person Sustainability office.

This Climate Action Champion recognition does not come with direct funding attached.  It does come with an opportunity to seek federal grants from multiple agencies.  While there are not funds for City functions like staffing our end of the Clean Energy Partnership, there may be potential future funds that could help the City and utilities implement the programs the Partnership creates.  This makes it even more important that we fully support the work of the Partnership, because we can only seek funding for projects that we can develop.

From the City’s press release:

As part of President Obama’s strategy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the White House launched the Climate Action Champions competition in October to identify and recognize local climate leaders and to provide targeted federal support to help those communities reach their climate and energy goals.

This designation comes with some clear we will benefit from facilitated peer-to-peer learning and mentorship and targeted support from a range of federal programs. Furthermore, a coordinator will be provided to each Climate Action Champion to foster coordination and communication across the federal agencies, national organizations, and foundations in support of the champions. The coordinator will also assist efforts to raise awareness of funding and technical assistance opportunities that are available specifically for Climate Action Champions. Resources come from federal agencies including the Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Minneapolis won the designation because of its commitment to clean energy. The City and its electricity and natural gas utilities, Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy, have committed to a first-of-its-kind in the nation City-utility Clean Energy Partnership. The partnership will result in the City and utility companies collaborating in new ways to help Minneapolis achieve its climate and energy goals. These goals include making energy affordable and reliable for everyone while increasing energy efficiency, increasing renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gases. The City of Minneapolis has also developed the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan, which includes greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of 15 percent by 2015, 30 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050.

From deep droughts to fierce wildfires, severe storms to rising seas, communities across the United States are already grappling with the impacts of extreme weather and climate change. Faced with these new challenges, many cities, towns, counties, and tribes in every region of the country are stepping up to cut carbon pollution, deploy more clean energy, boost energy efficiency, and build resilience in their communities to climate impacts.

From creating climate-smart building codes to installing green infrastructure to setting targets for reducing energy consumption, the 16 local and tribal communities selected as Climate Action Champions have considered their climate vulnerabilities and taken decisive action to cut carbon pollution and build resilience.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

2015 Budget Cuts - Clean Energy

Yesterday, the Council’s budget committee made what I think was a terrible decision to make cuts in three critically important priority areas in order to make a very minor reduction in the tax levy. These three areas represent longtime priorities for me and, more recently, adopted priorities for the Council: fighting climate change, ending racial inequities and improving community engagement.

This was accomplished on a narrow 7-6 vote for a change to the budget proposed by Council Member Linea Palmisano.  To save the median homeowner about $2.50 in 2015, we gutted our commitments to equity, clean energy and support for neighborhood engagement.

Here are the details.  Council Member Palmisano brought a change to the budget that limited the amount of the levy increase.  This levy reduction on its own is a bad idea.  Why?  Because the City’s budget prospects – given the fact that the Republicans have retaken the Minnesota House, which threatens future Local Government Aid – are likely to be worse in future years.  By reducing the levy increase this year, we are very likely increasing it by even more for future years.  This is just bad budgeting in the first place.

But it’s worse than that, because to achieve these cuts, we did considerable damage to the progressive policy commitments we’ve made over the past year.

In this post I will take a closer look at the cuts to fighting climate change. In subsequent entries I will address the issues of equity and community engagement.

On Clean Energy and Climate:

Two months ago, we made a commitment to form a Clean Energy Partnership with Xcel and CenterPoint, our electric and gas utilities.  The Council passed the Memorandum of Understanding to form that Partnership unanimously.  We made this commitment knowing that the Energy Pathways study recommended, staff had recommended, and the Mayor had proposed as part of her budget, $150,000 for a new staff person to manage all of the new work of the Partnership.

To make these ill-considered budget cuts, the Council majority cut this investment in the Clean Energy Partnership in half, from $150,000 to $75,000.  But we don’t get half as much work for half as much money.  Rather than being able to hire someone to staff the Partnership, we won’t be able to do so.  This sends a clear and terrible signal to the utilities and the community that we do not really mean the commitments we made about making energy a priority.

We made these commitments in response to more than a year of tremendous community pressure for City action on our energy system.  During that year, many of my colleagues – as candidates, at the time – told the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign that they were very supportive of the City taking a leadership role on clean energy.  Tens of people spoke in favor of forming this Partnership at the public hearing on October 6thZero people attended our public hearing on the budget to complain about their property tax burden.

Yesterday’s action was out of line with at least three policy actions taken by this City Council:

  1. The Energy Pathways Study, adopted unanimously on March 7th, recommended that the City “dedicate funding through one percent of franchise fee revenues.”   The expected franchise fee revenues for 2015 are $29 million.  1% of that amount is $290,000.  The mayor’s proposed funding for the partnership was already about half of the amount recommended by the Pathways study – which, again, passed the Council unanimously. 
  2. The City’s Goals and Strategic Directions include this goal: “we sustain resources for future generations by reducing consumption, minimizing waste and using less energy.”  This goal was also adopted in March.
  3. The Memoranda of Understanding between the City and Xcel and CenterPoint both contain the following commitment: “The Parties each commit to provide staff and resources appropriate to complete the Work.”  These MOUs passed the Council unanimously on October 17th.  

As one of my colleagues put it in committee, there’s a difference between “talking progressive versus acting progressive.”  Talking progressive is saying things like “encouraging use of clean energy and ensuring excellent service are not mutually exclusive concepts… I am hopeful the Clean Energy Partnership will achieve both goals,” when the Clean Energy Partnership passes the Council.   Acting progressive would be voting to fully fund the Partnership.

Those of my colleagues who voted to ignore the commitments we’ve made and gut the Partnership:
Linea Palmisano (who made the motion)
Kevin Reich
Jacob Frey
Barb Johnson
Blong Yang
Abdi Warsame
Lisa Goodman

Those of my colleagues who voted with me to preserve the commitments we’ve made to clean energy:
Elizabeth Glidden
Alondra Cano
Lisa Bender
John Quincy
Andrew Johnson

This is not the end of this story.  I will be moving to replace these funds on December 10th, taking funding from another source.  The $400,000 in additional new funding for the Convention Center to market itself is one potential target.

In the meantime, I’m hoping that supporters of clean energy make their voices heard, as they have over the course of the last year.  Because it’s clear that the Council will not do the right thing on energy without a strong show of force from energy activists.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

New U of M Power Plant on the River

The University of Minnesota has applied for an air emissions permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in order to construct a new “Combined Heat and Power Plant” using the building adjacent to the Education Sciences Building and the Dinkytown Greenway Bridge on the East Bank. In order to do so they have completed an Environmental Assessment Worksheet. The MPCA took public comment on the Environmental Assessment Worksheet through November 26; and will be taking comment on the air emissions permit through December 1, 2014. According to the University the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Plant will provide the Minneapolis campus with power and steam, and reduce overall utility costs by up to $2 million per year and will reduce the University's net carbon footprint by an estimated 65,000 metric tons of CO2 by efficiently using "waste" heat from generating electricity.  The steam will be used to heat campus buildings and for sterilizing equipment in the labs and University of Minnesota Medical Center hospitals and clinics. I was glad to learn that the Power Plant is to be fueled by natural gas. It will become the primary utility for the Minneapolis campus and the University's Southeast Steam Plant, at 600 Main Street SE, will become the secondary source of steam, as a back-up to the new facility. Two aging coal-fired boilers at the Southeast Steam Plant will be eliminated.

While the MPCA alone, and not the city, has the authority to require a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), anyone can comment. I submitted the following comments to the MPCA 

First I want to recognize many potential benefits of this project. If it indeed replaces inefficient and unreliable 1940s-era coal burners, moves the University away from the burning of coal and towards its long-term climate action plan goals of reducing the campus carbon footprint by half by 2020, and reaching climate neutrality by 2050, this is significant and positive. I am also encouraged to learn that it will help reduce the University’s net carbon footprint by an estimated 65,000 metric tons of CO2 and that it will restore an old 100 year old building that has sat largely vacant for more than a decade.

I also have three general concerns that I would like to note and make sure get considered as the process moves forward. 

The proximity to the Mississippi is unfortunate and regrettable. While historically the riverbank has been industrial the trend in recent decades has been to move away from industrial and to improving public access to the river.  This portion of the river represents an area where there is very limited public access. Accommodations for trails and access would be appreciated. Additionally, we have worked hard in recent years to improve water quality of the river. This project could present an opportunity to improve water quality with better management practices. More added rain gardens and thought full landscaping could accommodate this.

Secondly, I am concerned about air quality. I want to ensure that we are taking into consideration the cumulative effects of adding this facility in this area that has historically been home to many polluting businesses as well as the specific impacts it may have on neighboring residential housing, including a densely populated area across the river. Additionally, as the federal clean air standards change, and become more stringent, I want to be sure we work hard to prevent new projects like this from making it more difficult for Minneapolis to reach that standard. The average for the Metro region from 2011-2013 is 67 ppb.  Depending on the final standard, we will already either be in non-attainment or very close.  Let’s work to make sure new projects help us move towards cleaner air.

Finally, I am concerned that the time allotted for comments was insufficient. I would ask that it be extended to allow community stakeholders, including city staff, additional time to review this project. I realize that if an EIS is required there will be more time for comments on that and that the air permit also needs review, but more time for comments on the EAW might also be beneficial, especially if an full EIS is not drafted. 

I know that some neighborhoods have already weighed in and it will be interesting to see what comments have been generated so far.   

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

2015 Budget

In light of the recent article in the Star Tribune, which makes it sound like the Council opposes many of the most important things in the mayor’s budget, I want to lay out the parts of the budget I support, and those I’m open to changing.

I strongly support the new positions to focus on equity.  I strongly support spending capital dollars on protected bikeways.  I strongly support creating a citywide curbside organic composting program.  I think the people of Minneapolis and the majority of my colleagues on the Council support these initiatives as well.  Here’s a little run down, one by one.

On equity:

Minneapolis has among the largest gaps between whites and people of color among all large cities in the US, in many different measures of success: income, wealth, employment, education, health and more.  This is not only unjust, but this fundamental problem drives many of the other challenges the City is forced to address, including crime.  We cannot and will never get a handle on crime and violence without addressing this root cause.

The inequities in our society are not accidental.  They were crafted over hundreds of years of injustice and disinvestment – very clear decisions by government to leave certain communities out of the prosperity of our city, our state and our nation.  But this is cause for hope, because it means that these toxic disparities are not natural, they are not inevitable.  If people – especially people in power – could build an unjust society in which people of color do worse on every measure of success, then people – especially those of us with some power – can remake our society to be more just.  I believe that we can build a city in which the color of a child’s skin is no longer a strong predictor of her later success in school, likelihood to suffer from Type II Diabetes, chance of being victim or perpetrator of a violent crime, the amount of money she will make, or her chances of ending up in prison.

But this will take work.  The existing systems of institutional racism were created, on purpose, over centuries.  They will not go away on their own.  We have to actually do something about them.

I’m proud that the City is stepping up to do this critical work.  It’s going to take time.  It’s going to take rigorous study.  Sometimes many of us – myself included – will feel frustrated that we aren't making more progress more quickly.  And this work will take resources.  I am proud to have helped move the conversation about equity forward in Minneapolis through the first equity in employment resolution back in August of 2012.  I am proud of Mayor Hodges for making it a priority in her campaign last year and in her first budget this fall.  I will be proud to vote for equity this December.

I believe that the people of Minneapolis agree.  That’s why they supported a mayor and majority of Council Members who made equity a key theme in their races last year.  In my conversations with my constituents, they understand that ending racial injustice is critical to the health of our city, that true public safety is impossible without social justice, and that the City has to be part of the solution to the racial inequities in our society.  I believe that a majority of my colleagues agree.

On protected bikeways:

Protected bikeways are one part of a much broader movement that recognizes that our current transportation system is unhealthy.  It’s unhealthy for the environment, because single-occupancy automobiles are a key contributor to climate change and poor air quality.  It’s unhealthy for our bodies, because a sedentary lifestyle is a key driver of obesity and many related diseases.  It’s unhealthy for our communities, because we can’t build thriving, vibrant commercial corridors and public spaces that are thruways dominated by autos.

So last year, the City Council unanimously passed a Climate Action Plan that called for the City to build 30 miles of new protected bikeways by 2020.  This strategy is in the plan because we have very good reason to believe that building more comfortable protected bikeways will help more types of people – from age 8 to age 80 – riding a bike in our city for transportation.  This is how the best bicycling cities in the world have achieved their current successes, like having a third of all trips on bike.

Protected bikeways, and supporting bicycling in general, is a piece of a broad shift we’re trying to make away from using cars for every trip, and towards walking, biking, transit, car sharing and more.  Public Works staff are currently working on a plan for exactly where we should build these 30 miles of new protected bikeways.  Now it’s time to put our money where our plans are, because we don’t build anything without resources.  That’s why both our Bicycle Advisory Committee and our Capital Long-Range Improvement Committee supported dedicating these dollars to building protected bikeways.  I find it odd that any of my colleagues who voted for the Climate Action Plan would oppose this funding; it seems like an admission that people should ignore the plans that we adopt, because we don’t necessarily mean them.

I’m proud to have helped start the conversation about protected bikeways in Minneapolis years ago by bringing up the “Copenhagenmodel” way back in 2007, and that my office helped shape the Climate Action Plan.  I’m proud of Mayor Hodges for including this funding for protected bikeways in her budget.  And I will be proud to vote for protected bikeways this December.

I believe that the people of Minneapolis agree.  I have heard loud and clear from my constituents that they want a more bikeable city.  When the Mayor gave her budget address, the funding for protected bikeways got more positive attention than any other single proposal.  And I believe that a majority of my colleagues agree.

On curbside composting:

We currently burn a lot of compostable material in the downtown garbage burner.  This doesn’t make any sense.  We could be diverting this resource back into the soil, to build the soil fertility that will grow new crops. 

This is another strategy that was called out in the Climate Action Plan.  We have had a series of very successful pilot programs in different parts of our city, and they indicate that a certain number of people will participate in the composting program even without much community engagement by the City.  We have received a very informative report from a company called Foth that indicates that we can divert a large amount of organic waste from the garbage burner for a reasonable monthly fee to our utility ratepayers.  Other cities – San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, to name just a few – have created very successful organic composting collection systems that divert huge amounts of waste into reuse.  And by creating this system, it becomes more possible to address some of the single-use packaging and bags that account for so much of our waste stream.

I’m proud that my office, working with the City’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission, helped raise this issue.  I’m proud of the Mayor for including it in her budget.  I will be proud to vote for composting in December.

I believe that the people of Minneapolis agree.  I can’t count how many times I've heard from my constituents that they want the composting pilots expanded, that they want this service at their house.  At the Zero Waste forum earlier this year, many of my colleagues and I heard from more than a hundred residents about their desire for our city to move towards zero waste, with composting as the next clear step.  The people of Minneapolis understand that there are better things to do with our coffee grounds and potato peelings than burning them.  And I believe that a majority of my colleagues agree.


Now, there are some things I’m open to changing.  I think we could continue to put capital dollars into public art funding, even though they have a large amount of unspent bonding capacity.  I think that we could start a conversation about how best to get the Public Housing Authority the resources they need, possibly through giving them their own bonding authority again.  I think that we could be clearer with our neighborhood organizations about what we’re doing with the funds from the consolidated TIF district when they exceed projections – and I have scheduled that conversation to occur in the Health, Environment and Community Engagement committee on November 17.  I think that we could put more into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.  I would support ways to achieve these goals if they didn't damage the above priorities.

There are also changes that others have suggested that I don’t personally support.  For example, I think that the funding increase for public safety is sufficient.  I really just don’t understand how any of my colleagues can argue that the budget “does nothing” meaningful to expand either the Police Department or the Fire Department.  Let’s just look at the numbers quoted by the Star Tribune.  The proposed budget raises the levy by $6.7 million.  The same proposal raises funding for the Police and Fire Departments by $6.6 million.  That’s not “nothing.”  That’s nearly everything.  That comes within $100,000 of spending the entire levy increase on public safety.
I believe that the levy increase is very reasonable.  Most households will see a reduction in the property tax bill, even with this increase, due to the growth of the overall tax base.
Though I would tweak some things, and though I wish we could have had a full and open conversation with our neighborhood groups about our plans for the consolidated TIF districts prior to this budget cycle, for the most part I am very, very supportive of the biggest items in the mayor's budget.  I may support some changes, but  I intend to work very hard to make certain that the relatively modest investments to support equity, protected bikeways and curbside composting are preserved.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Using Ferguson to Help Fix Minneapolis

As I reflect on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri,  I am reminded of the many times I have seen the kinds of police behaviors evidenced in Ferguson before. Abuses of police power, the shooting of unarmed black teenagers by police officers, threats against reporters and displays of force that turn peaceful protests into violent confrontations are familiar to many of us.

Ferguson forces us to look at these through a racial framework and reminds me about how this is a continuation of historic racism that has existed in this country since its inception. It can be traced to periods of government sanctioned, legal and protected genocide and slavery, to an elaborate system of legalized oppression and segregation and so called “Jim Crow” laws after the civil war up to the more covert and insidious “New Jim Crow” of today.

As a Minneapolis City Council Member serving in 2014 I am deeply concerned that the City of Minneapolis is, perhaps unwittingly, an active participant in this New Jim Crow and practices that undermine our highest hopes and aspirations for ourselves and our future.  In the interest of turning the anger and frustration so many of us are feeling into determination and real reforms I offer the following.

On the state and federal levels I, and the City should, support efforts to:

1.     Dismantle and gain control of the prison industrial complex that promotes mass incarceration and allows economic interests and racist tendencies to drive criminal justice policies and practices.

2.     End the militarization of police, including training in military tactics and possession of military ammunition.

3.     End the failed drug policies that treat drug abuse as a criminal instead of medical, public health or social problem.

4.     End the criminalization and harassment of new immigrants and transformation of border areas into military zones -- most recently evident in proposals that would deny asylum to young children fleeing violence and extreme poverty in Central America.

5.     Restore privacy and constitutional protections from government power: end mass surveillance programs and outlaw harassment, infiltration, and provocation directed against organizations and individuals who express dissent.

Locally, at the city level, there is no good reason why we cannot take direct and immediate steps to ensure that we break free of the historic practices and biases that are unwise, unjust and detrimental to the future of our city.

Towards that end we must forge ahead with the work already underway to develop a Racial Equity Toolkit to guide city decisions, spending and policies and a larger Equity Action Plan to help set community-wide goals and implement strategies to reach them.

I hope we can also use this opportunity to fast track efforts in the our own local criminal justice arena to understand how we are participants in criminalizing poverty, homelessness and race and how we can end discrimination, improve police-community relations and reverse the self-destructive path structural racism has us on.

First I believe we need to measure and track much more carefully our practices and shine the light on the racial disparities that exist. The Mayor and Council should direct the Police Department and City Attorney’s Office to do a comprehensive report based on a racial audit of stops, detainments, arrests, charges, prosecutions, convictions and sentencing for the past 5 years. Participation at the County level would also be helpful in this effort. We need to understand how we are using low level offenses, and proactive policing practices in different areas of the city and with different populations within the city. Additionally we should direct the Police and Civil Rights departments to report on a racial audit of complaints, findings, discipline and results of court proceedings (including settlements) related to police and other city staff.
By seeking first to clearly understand the problem we can better renew our commitment to root out and end the racial profiling that many believe exists in our police department and courts today.  This must include ongoing data collection with public reporting as well as explicit policy, and anti-racism training for city employees.

As policy makers we must also be willing to overturn ordinances that are clearly used for selective enforcement, like lurking, that are unnecessary and used to (even if not created to) target poor or minority people.  As a city, county and state we must end racial disparities in stops, arrests, prosecution and sentencing. We can instead create model policies and regulations prohibiting racial profiling, "stop and frisk" policing and harassment, intimidation and police intervention without reasonable, clear suspicion of criminal activity. Whatever your race, income, background or location in the city, you should be treated with dignity and respect by all city employees, especially the police.

There are two key efforts that are already underway in the Police Department that deserve strong support. It is time to more ahead more quickly developing the policies and rolling out the police body camera pilot so that starting next year this becomes standard police practice in Minneapolis.  We have already seen benefits to squad cameras and how body cameras in other cities have helped improve police and civilian behavior and avoided costly investigations and trials.  The second initiative that deserves support is the targeted efforts to diversify the police force at all levels. This should also be done in the civil rights and attorney’s office and should include changes in hiring practices, promotional practices, and department culture. It is time to fix the  state law "rule of three" and root out any union contract provisions that hinder the hiring or retention of some qualified officers that may be the most desirable to help diversify our staff.

I also continue to believe that we need to look at the Minneapolis Charter and reconsider the wisdom of putting the supervision of the police department solely in the mayor’s hands, distancing it from the City Council and thus the electorate. According to the Charter, the mayor is “vested with all the powers of said city connected with and incident to the establishment, maintenance, appointment, removal, discipline, control and supervision of its police force…” It is this arrangement that has made it particularly difficult for council members to fully engage and influence how we manage and assist our police officers. We have little hope of directing staff, setting policy about police behavior or instituting promising management practices, when the Charter gives us no authority over the department, except to approve the appointment of the police chief and the department’s budget. It is time to put the police chief on equal footing with other department heads. There is no good reason why the Council should be able to directly influence Public Works, the Health Department, the Fire Department, Business Licensing and Housing Inspections, and all of the other essential functions of city government but not the police department.

It is also time for us to carefully review and reform or replace the hastily reformed Police Oversight Commission that was reformed without appropriate levels of community engagement and over the objections of our own city appointed civilian police review advisory panel.  We need to rebuild an adequately funded, strengthened and more effective civilian police review commission comprised of Minneapolis residents, that has subpoena power, can make its determinations public information, and has the meaningful and credible input regarding the discipline of police officers. 

This body, then, along with the Civil Rights Commission could be fully engaged in monitoring and advising the police and attorney’s office on eliminating racial disparities and discriminatory practices that unwittingly and unwisely make the city a participant in the historic structural racism we must dismantle.

As a Minneapolis council member police accountability and institutional racism have proven to be among the most challenging problems I have faced. These are persistent and without easily found or simple solutions. To fully address these will take vigilance, honesty, focused determination and a cultural transformation in city government. Still, I am hopeful. We have a growing number of residents eager to see real changes. We have city leaders so clearly united in their intentions. Let's get to work. 


Friday, August 29, 2014

On My Decision to Vote Against Granting Municipal Consent to Southwest LRT

I voted against granting municipal consent to the Southwest LRT project when it came before committee, and I plan to vote against it again at the full Council this Friday.

This was a tough decision to come to, because I strongly support transit.  I strongly support light rail.  In fact, I strongly support the Southwest LRT project in concept, and many of the details of the project as proposed.  Our region needs to build out a network of high-quality transit options that will help us address climate change, increase commuter choice, fuel economic development, and more.  This line will benefit my constituents, Minneapolis and the region. We are decades behind our peer cities in this work.

But there are three problems with the project that have led me to withhold my support: the process, the lack of commitment to equity, and the lack of commitment to making real connections to the dense urban neighborhoods that this line can and should serve.

On the process: I think it’s clear by now that the process that the Met Council has followed on this project has been abysmal.  Promise after promise was made to Minneapolis, and broken.  Our consent to this alignment was explicitly contingent on the freight rail being relocated.  Time after time, Minneapolis has been forced to compromise on a firmly held principle in order to prevent the project from failing completely.  And this process has been bad to the end: the Council is being asked to give municipal consent before the final Environmental Impact Statement has been released.  This is why it was so important that the Council adopted the staff direction Council Members Bender, Palmisano, Yang and myself worked on, authorizing the City Attorney’s office to begin litigation if the as-yet-unreleased SDEIS reveal unforeseen impacts to the water quality in the lakes, even if that means halting the LRT project.


On equity: Mayor Hodges is correct that the existing agreements with the Met Council do not achieve an outcome on equity that is any different than the Met Council’s standard operating procedure.  The response to concerns about resolving Met Transit connection and service problems to North Minneapolis have not been fully addressed.  Advocates for more community benefits related to equity have been less than satisfied with the Met council response so far.  We are being asked to trust that this outcome will be developed, but the process on this project thus far has not inspired much faith.  This is why it was so important that the Council (led by CMs Reich and Glidden) directed our staff to work with community leaders on these equity concerns and report back to the Council in September.


On transit access: the Met Council has not formally committed to taking the actions that will ensure that this new transit investment serves the real population density of south and southwest Minneapolis.  There are good things about the Kenilworth alignment: it will be fast, not require expensive tunnels, and interline well with the Green Line.  But the one major problem with this alignment is that it does not go where most of the people who could be served by it live.  This is not a self-correcting problem.  It will require the Met Council to take concrete actions, make additional transit investments, and support transit investments by others, like streetcars along the Midtown Greenway.  The Met Council has not committed to these improvements, and they should.


I will note that I supported several of the other actions taken by the Council, not only on the two above staff directions, but to preserve the public ownership of the freight rail corridor, and on the Memorandum of Understanding that has improved this project greatly from the version that was presented to the Council in July.


By joining a few of my colleagues in voting no, rather than having a unanimous vote of support from the Council, I hope that I am helping to send a signal to the Met Council.  I know that my concerns are shared by many of my colleagues, many of whom will be voting yes.  This process was deeply flawed.  The SDEIS should be finished.  The equity and transit access questions should be answered.  These things should be completed before municipal consent is asked for or granted.


In conclusion, I think it is important that we as a community learn from these experiences.  I hope that the lessons from this will help as we grapple with the Bottineau LRT line and more rail transit projects in the future.  My hope is that by expressing these valid, broadly-shared concerns about this project’s process and outcomes and voting no, I will help ensure that these sorts of concerns are taken more seriously in future projects.  There is more work to do and I intend to use my position to continue to address concerns, push for equity and better transit access, and work to preserve and even improve our parks, lakes, and trails.