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:

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.


Friday, June 06, 2014

Whose Yard is it?

I agree (in part) with a recent Star Tribune editorial that it is time “tackle the Yard.” David Brauer and former Mayor Rybak are right to be worried about the future of this new downtown east park. 


So far it looks like the Vikings are ahead 21 – 3 midway through the third quarter and if we don’t up our game now this park will fall far short of its potential to be a real public jewel that would serve all Minneapolitans – and not just as an extension of the large commercial enterprise venue now under construction.


Yes, the Yard must welcome game-day visitors, tourists, and people who work downtown.  But if these are the only people who feel welcome there and use the park, we will have missed an enormous opportunity to improve the lives of our residents.


Let’s not forget that tens of thousands of people live within a mile of the Yard, in the Downtown East, Cedar Riverside, Elliot Park and Stevens Square neighborhoods, including the largest family-focused homeless shelter in Minnesota (one block away) and some of the densest subsidized and affordable housing in the city at Riverside Plaza and the Cedars public housing campus.  We must ask ourselves: how can this downtown park complement and build on amenities now available at the river, Eliot Park, Currie Park, and the Brian Coyle Center?


And let’s be crystal clear, unlike what the Star Tribune indicated when they wrote, “The city is getting, essentially, a free park…” the City and the people of Minneapolis are paying for this park. The Yard is not some gift from Wells Fargo, Ryan Corporation or the Vikings. We are using revenue from parking, in a ramp we are paying to build, to buy the land as an extension of the Vikings Stadium deal that will cost Minneapolis millions and millions of dollars. Minneapolis taxpayers are taking on risk for the Yard, and will have most, if not all, of our sales tax revenue obligated, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, for decades to come because of the stadium deal that made it possible.


This is our opportunity to create a park that will serve all the people in our city, including children, young people, young families and seniors.  What park amenities do our people need and want now and what will they need in the future?  What if we could add a full-service park facility as part of the Yard?  If it is too late to build that into the plan, how could we assist with the renovation and repurposing of the historic Armory into not only an event center but also a downtown youth and fitness center with homework help, midnight basketball, career planning, congregate dining for seniors, early childhood and family education programs and more depending on the needs now and into the future?


From the start, many of us, including the former mayor, have been calling for active public uses like youth soccer and lacrosse, outdoor concerts, movies, and ice skating.


To reach that goal we need to do a few things immediately:

1.       Determine the ownership. Our Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is the obvious choice. Make this part of our nationally renowned, award-winning system, overseen by a democratically elected board who are accountable to the residents of Minneapolis.

2.       Halt and reverse the giveaway of park time to the commercial uses of the sports teams and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. Granting them exclusive use and access to a minimum number of events makes some sense, but additional days beyond the maximum of 62 already approved by the City Council is unacceptable. Letting them apply for additional days and events and compete with other alternatives within a fair and open process like everyone else makes more sense. Allowing one user to tie up the space for 3 days for one 2 hour event is unnecessary, inefficient and inequitable. Last December the Council approved a term sheet that (by my math at the time) would have granted use of the park area to the Vikings or the Sports Authority for 62 days out of the year.  In February Ryan and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority signed an agreement that appears to give a possible them exclusive rights to a whopping 118 days. This is unacceptable and is not what City policymakers approved. Let’s fix this now.

3.       Establish a funding source for both building out the park and facilities, as well as to manage operations and programing.  This should include fees from some of the major users, like the Vikings, use of revenues the city will receive from Ryan for the “air” rights to build on our parking ramp as well as park dedication fees and fundraising from a group like a downtown park conservancy.


We also need to resolve some other issues, not immediately, but soon:

1.       We need to resolve who will handle operations. The former mayor and others are suggesting that a new entity be formed, or that an existing nonprofit be used.  I favor letting the Park Board handle programing and operations.  This is what they do and they do it well throughout the city. There is built in accountability through an election process where elected representatives from all parts of the City would provide oversight of professional staff who have demonstrated competency in managing the programing of large and active public spaces.  Lake Harriet, Theodore Wirth, the River Front in St. Anthony Main, the Chain of Lakes, Minnehaha Park, Powderhorn Park and another downtown park, Loring Park, have all been managed, maintained and programed with great success for decades by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. All of us who have been in Minneapolis for even a few years can remember these spaces teeming with people from all walks of life exercising, recreating, picnicking, enjoying festivals, youth sports, music, movies and more. This is exactly what we should want to see happening at our new downtown park. 

2.       We need to settle on a design for the park. It should be done with community involvement and with the present and future needs of residents in mind.  Let’s not let the demands of one commercial enterprise for all sidewalks to lead to the stadium or for open flexible space for their tent cities, mean that we don’t get a single bench, swing set, basketball court, soccer field, barbecue, amphitheater, fountain, wading pool or volleyball net, if that is what a community-focused design process informs us is needed and wanted.


Once these things are determined, then the owners and operators of this great new public park can fully engage to make sure it is used by and programed for everyone in a way that is fair, equitable and supports the common good. 


Let’s make sure this is a safe, well used, well run and active park.  We need something more than what we find at Gold Medal Park: a suburban-landscaped-industrial-park-like pass-through greenspace.  We need a destination park with programing, active uses and busy with people from all walks of life and all sectors of our great City. Let’s do this right so in the end will truly be a Yard for everyone in Minneapolis.



Friday, May 23, 2014

Environmentally Acceptable Packaging Ordinance Passes

This morning, the Council also unanimously adopted Council Member Andrew Johnson's update to the City's Environmentally Acceptable Packaging ordinance.  You can read the staff report here, and view their powerpoint presentation here.

I enthusiastically supported this ordinance, and I'm glad that it passed with such a strong show of support from the Council.  I view this as one of many actions we will have to take to make good on our commitments to move towards a Zero Waste goal for Minneapolis.

Polystyrene foam, is simply not a good solution for food service.  It is difficult or impossible to successfully recycle.  It can't be recycled into food service products, but can only be "down-cycled" into other types of items like clothes hangers, flower pots, and picture frames.  It must be very clean and dry in order to be recycled.  It leaches styrene, a likely carcinogen, into hot, oily, or acidic foods. 

Even rigid polystyrene is not a good idea.  While it is recycled in some places in the Twin Cities metro (it is not recycled in St. Paul, for example), the market for the material is not robust.  We can collect it for recycling, but it's very difficult to "close the loop" and create new food service products out of it.

And more importantly, there are good alternatives for most products.  The ordinance allows businesses to offer truly recyclable containers or compostable alternatives, something that many food businesses have been doing for decades.  This will fit in well with the planned expansion of organics collection citywide.  Where there aren't good alternatives, the ordinance provides an exemption.

Businesses now have almost a year - until Earth Day, 2015 - to find new solutions for their packaging.  Health Department staff are available to help with the transition, and funding is available from Hennepin County grants and City loans in order to help out.

I want to congratulate Council Member Andrew Johnson on this success.  His work has made our city just a little bit greener today.

Mobile Grocery Ordinance Passes

This morning, the Council unanimously passed the ordinance I authored that will allow mobile grocery stores to operate in Minneapolis.  This is a small but significant step towards increasing healthy food access in our city, and building our local alternative food economy by allowing more small-scale, food businesses to operate in the city. Businesses that can help support local growers and connect our area farms and farmers with Minneapolis residents.

This amendment came about because potential mobile grocery store operators came forward more than a year ago to let us know that the existing “Groceterias and Portable Stores” ordinance was too restrictive for any of them to operate in Minneapolis.  There are now at least two operators looking to get up and running within the next year: UrbanVentures and the Wilder Foundation.  With their participation, and that of Honeybee Mobile Market and the Hmong American Farmers Association, we came up with changes to the ordinance to make it possible to run a mobile grocery store.

Some of the changes that we made to the ordinance: 
  • Allowing mobile food stores to operate in more locations.  The old ordinance only allowed these businesses to operate in “designated senior citizens' high rise apartments,” which the ordinance does not define.  The proposed amendments would allow mobile food stores to operate in parking lots for commercial, industrial and large-scale residential properties.
  • Creating a new spacing requirement to prevent mobile food stores from operating within 100 feet of a licensed brick-and-mortar grocery store or farmers market that is currently operating, except with the permission of that grocery store or farmers market.
  • More clearly allowing mobile food stores to carry non-packaged fresh produce.
  • Requiring mobile food stores to carry at least 7 varieties of fresh produce, with at least 30 pounds or 50 items total.  There is no produce requirement in the existing ordinance, so this is a significant change.
  • Allowing mobile food stores to sell either from within the vehicle or outside the vehicle, in a farmers market stall sized space within thirty feet of the vehicle.
  • Prohibiting the sale of alcohol and tobacco products at mobile food stores, and limiting the sale of non-food items to no more than 10% of the store’s total stock.
And, thanks to the work of Council Member Lisa Goodman, mobile grocery stores will not be able to sell "non-staple" foods like candy, soda, and chips.  This is completely in keeping with the intent of the operators, and with the purpose of the ordinance, which is to increase access to healthy food.
I want to thank everyone who has worked to make this possible: the Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council, Business Licensing staff, our Sustainability Director, the Homegrown Coordinator, my Policy Aide, Robin Garwoord, and the prospective operators who brought this to our attention in the first place.  Good work everyone!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

City Ballot Filing Fee Increase Proposed Again

The Charter Commission has again proposed that the City Council consider amending the city charter, by unanimous vote, to raise the fee charged to run for office in Minneapolis. The amendment would allow a candidate’s name to appear on the ballot if the candidate files an affidavit of candidacy and either pays the required filing fee or submits a petition in place of the filing fee with the number of signatures for which the Minnesota election law provides, 500 or 5% of the number of people who voted for that office in the last election, whichever is less.  That would translate to about 100-200 signatures for City Council or Park Districts seats and 500 for city wide races like at-large park commissioner, Board of Estimate and Taxation and mayor.

The filing fee is currently $20 for all races and they are proposing that it be increased as follows: for Mayor, $250; for Council member, $100; for Board of Estimate & Taxation member, $20 (no change); and for Park & Recreation commissioner, $50. While I opposed a proposed increase that was higher that they sent us in December of 2013, I am more inclined to support this when it comes to the Council. I am concerned that if this does not pass the Council the Commission will put the higher fee proposal on the ballot in November and then it will pass.

In general I favor an easy, fair and affordable access for candidates to get on the ballot and have found value in Minneapolis’ easy open system.  I think that some of the RCV advocates are concerned that a long ballot might be used as a reason not to support expanding RCV to state offices or to other localities.  I think that if this argument is being made, or will be made, it is not founded in facts.  It is obvious when you compare races in Minneapolis (past and present mayoral races as well as various Council races) that the number of candidates is not related to RCV. Still, I take this concern seriously because I am convinced that the greatest use of RCV would be for state partisan elections, where parties would put their candidates forward through a partisan primary and then the voters could choose among them without fear of “wasting votes” or “spoiling” an election by voting for their preferred candidates rather than a “lesser-than-two-evils” candidate.  This would also prevent people from being elected without a majority of the voters actually indicating a preference for them.

There are a variety of variables that I am trying to sort out and I would welcome your views on this topic. I expect the Intergovernmental Relations Committee to hold a public hearing on this June 5.

As you think about this it might be helpful to consider what an outsider, and clearly biased, leader of election reform efforts, Rob Ritchie, thought the recent use of RCV in the Twin Cities. Rob Ritchie is Executive Director of the FairVote.
As I understand his positions, Ritchie is a big advocate for STV/RCV, easy ballot access and proportional representation.  I tried to find the article online, but was unable to. So I am quoting from it here:

“…Easy ballot access led to 35 mayoral candidates and unusually wide breadth of election choices. Had voters been restricted to backing only one candidate in one election, Minneapolis’ mayor almost certainly would have won with a low plurality of the vote. In Boston’s mayoral race, for example, the first place finisher in its preliminary election received only 18% of the vote --- and while a November runoff elected a majority winner, the price was elimination of all six candidates of color before the higher turnout runoff. … [In Minneapolis] RCV led to the mayoral candidates competing seriously but also positively. Voters elected Betsy Hodges, who earned broad consensus support. Heavily outspent, Hodges didn’t buy a single television ad, instead focusing on direct voter contact and coalition building.

“…Among those elected to the city council’s 13 seats by RCV are the city council’s first Latino, Somali, Hmong Cambodian members….Minneapolis voters overwhelmingly understood and preferred RCV, according to an exit poll by Edison Research. Commentators noted that the political climate had changed from traditional “machine politics” to coalition politics, in which candidates talk to voters more about issues and policy. A local professor called the 2013 mayoral election a “game changer.”

“….In neighboring St. Paul, incumbent Chris Coleman easily defeated three challengers, with RCV allowing that election to take place in one round instead of two. A highly competitive special election led to the election of the city’s first Hmong American. Instructively, two Hmong Americans were able to run without concern of splitting the vote – and the campaign was civil enough that the winner ultimately hired the African American who finished second to work on his council staff.”

Monday, April 28, 2014

Funding for Trees

This afternoon, the Council's Health, Environment and Community Engagement committee received a very informative presentation from the Minneapolis Tree Advisory Commission.  Their recommendations for the City and Park Board are on the second to last page, and include replacing ash trees as quickly as possible, increasing funding for the CityTrees program, creating a new "Tree Preservation Coordinator" in the Park Board, and better caring for young trees.  I want to thank the Tree Commission for consistently giving one of the best reports of any of our many City boards and commissions - it's thoughtful and pragmatic, but still communicates the urgency of the needs of our urban forest.

The committee directed the Commission to come back to us in June with recommendations for how to best spend $443,140.34 that is currently in the City’s Capital Improvement Program for "City Property Reforestation."  These dollars are currently in the Property Services budget, but that's not really the right place for them.  There isn't enough demand for trees on the land around City buildings (which is what Property Services deals with), but there is incredible need for trees in other places: boulevards, parks, and private property.  We are about to face the loss of tens of thousands of ash trees in Minneapolis, so it is a critical time for us to plant as many new trees as possible.  I look forward to hearing the Commission's recommendations for these dollars and getting this funding out where it can make a difference.

I also want to thank Council Member Bender for her offer to connect the Tree Advisory Commission to the Minneapolis Planning Commission.  This is a great idea, and we should make it happen.