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: http://secondward.blogspot.com/2006/05/disclaimer.html#links

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.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Council Passes Long-Term Carbon Reduction Goal

This morning, the Council adopted a new long-term carbon emission reduction goal for the City of Minneapolis: we will strive to reduce carbon emissions by 80% or more by 2050, from a 2006 baseline. 

This is in line with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations and the 2050 goals already adopted by the State of Minnesota and Hennepin County, and was recommended by the City’s Sustainability staff and the Community Environmental Advisory Committee.  I want to thank both our staff and CEAC for their quick work and thorough analysis.

The work to draft this recommendation was in response to a staff direction I made back in February of this year.  I enthusiastically supported setting this goal, and hope that we can push well past reaching it. 

However, we need to be clear that this is a very aggressive goal.  Reducing our carbon emissions by 80% will require a fundamental transformation of the way we use energy in buildings, in our transportation system, and how we deal with waste.  This new goal underscores the importance of the action we're already taking on climate, through our work to create new partnerships with our energy utilities and the highest priority strategies from the Climate Action Plan that we've already started to implement.

Indigenous People's Day Resolution

I was honored to coauthor Council Member Alondra Cano's resolution Recognizing the Second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day.

I see this resolution as another step in the healing process that we began with the "Year of the Dakota" resolution in 2012.  It was incredibly moving to see the outpouring of excitement and support from our community - especially, but not only, the indigenous community.

As I said during teh council discussion, we can't move forward as a whole, healthy city until we face and address the unjust and brutal parts of our history.  The genocide of American Indian cultures has effects - on indigenous and non-indigenous people alike - that ripple down to this day.  Only by owning and acknowledging this history can we move forward, in peace and cooperation, together.

2320 Colfax Ave S

This morning, I voted with a large Council majority (11 to 2) to allow the demolition of the rooming house at 2320 Colfax in Ward 10.  This was a difficult decision, so I wanted to take the time to explain my vote.  See more below the fold.

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Thursday, March 06, 2014

More on the City Attorney Reappointment

My decision not to support the reappointment of Susan Segal as City Attorney has gotten a bit of interest and generated some discussion.  I’m going to take the opportunity to share some additional thoughts below the fold.  To see my original statement on this reappointment, go here.
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Sunday, March 02, 2014

More Information Emerges about TCE Contamination

Last week I had an interesting and disturbing meeting with Dr. Lorne Everett and the legal team pursuing a class action lawsuit against General Mills related to the trichloroethylene (or TCE) problem in Southeast Como.  Ricardo McCurley, Southeast Como Improvement Association staff person, was also present.  The meeting raised two major concerns for me: that the MPCA’s handling of the TCE soil contamination has been less aggressive and protective than it should have been, and that the current mitigation is seriously inadequate.  There's more information on these concerns below the fold.
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