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, July 31, 2007

Compact Fluorescents - how to dispose of them

From an environmental perspective, Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (or CFLs) are better than old, incandescent bulbs. They use less energy - switching five old bulbs to CFLs reduces carbon emissions by 530 lbs/year and saves $50/year. CFLs are an integral part of the energy challenge and the Climate Change grants the City has given to community organizations to reduce CO2 and save residents money.

They have one achilles heel: each bulb contains a small amount of mercury.

But the City and County are working with Xcel Energy and local hardware stores to make disposing of CFLs easy and safe.

The County has some Household Hazardous Waste collection dates and locations coming up:

August 9-11, 9am to 4pm

Pillsbury Elementary SchoolTeacher Parking Lot

2231 Garfield St. NE, Minneapolis

September 20-22, 9am to 4pm
Snelling Avenue Garage
3607 E. 44th Street, Minneapolis

Local hardware stores also accept CFLs back for a reasonable fee ($.75 - $1.25, depending on the size of the bulb). Residents can go here to print out coupons from Xcel Energy for 50 cents off on returning bulbs to participating hardware stores (including Welna II in Seward):

I believe that as CFLs catch on, the City will have to move towards collecting them through the Solid Waste and Recycling department - we currently collect used batteries, for instance. For now, I hope that one of the existing options will work for you.

Climate Change Innovation Funds

The City has awarded five grants of up to $10,000 each to help local neighborhoods and organizations fund creative ways to engage residents to fight global warming. This follows up on the twenty $1000 grants the City gave out in June. These dollars come out of the $120,000 that Mayor Rybak put in the 2007 budget, which I and my environmental allies on the Council had to defend against moves to reallocate for other purposes.

My office has been deeply involved in this process, from the initial conversations with CM Benson and Mayor Rybak in the Health Energy and Environment Policy Meetings early this year to my Aide Robin's participation on the grant application review committee.

The grants will not only energize Minneapolis groups, residents, and businesses to take action, but each of the efforts funded by the grants is a learning opportunity. The grant awardees and the City will all benefit by learning how different approaches work to engage the community to combat global climate change.

The grant awardees are:

Seward/Longfellow Neighborhoods. The grant will be used to fund an “Inconvenient Truth” kickoff event, compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) distribution, Minneapolis Energy Challenge (MEC) promotion, “Ask me what I am doing about Climate Change” lawn signs, an electric lawn mower sharing program, and a programmable thermostat swap. Partners include the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs, Welna II Hardware and Riverview Theater.

Linden Hills Power and Light. The grant will help support 80 volunteers going door to door engaging citizens about MEC and energy conservation, CFL distribution and an interactive website/blog.

Alliance for Sustainability. The grant will be used to target at least 50 block clubs to host different types of energy conservation block parties, providing kits, fact sheets, door hangers, DVDs, free CFLs, and guest speakers.

Lyndale Neighborhood. The grant will help the neighborhood target homeowners, renters, and businesses through newspaper articles, ads, and workshops, to educate them about the MEC and energy conservation. The funding will also help buy down the cost of energy audits and provide matching grants for energy improvements.

Bakken Museum. The grant will pay for a “Sustainable Electricity for the 21st Century” interactive exhibit and programming including MEC promotion, an energy conservation skit, ads, family activities and a Fall Energy Forum.

For more information on these grants, visit the City’s Sustainability Initiatives site here.

Congratulations to Seward and Longfellow for their successful grant. I look forward to seeing how much energy and money this sort of effort can help Minneapolis residents save, and, if we can prove that we are successful, I will be inclined to continue to support funding this great initiative in future years.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Unpaid Judgements and Rental Licenses

My proposed "unpaid judgments" ordinance amendments hit an unexpected snag in committee this Council cycle. After the public hearing last week in Public Safety and Regulatory Services (PS & RS) Committee, where two people, both representing landlords a (one being the staff from the Minnesota Multi Housing Association), expressed same concerns, the proposal was referred to the Rental Property Owners Advisory Committee for review.

Here's a little history on this issue. An article in the Minnesota Daily (“Landlords Ignore Suits,” 3-20-07, brought to my attention the fact that at least one landlord with multiple holdings in my ward is dealing with legal judgments against him by simply not paying them. As a result of that article I heard form many constituents that this has been a problem for them and others, especially younger and lower income renters.

Based on this, I asked staff if there was anything we could do as a City to address this. A staff work group formed and we quickly learned that one of the conditions of licensure for other types of businesses in Minneapolis is to not have outstanding unpaid judgments against you. Staff graciously helped me draft an amendment to the housing code to hold landlords to the same standard we hold other businesses.

I disagree that the proposal "duplicates" the judicial system's processes. We have established standards for doing business in Minneapolis, and this is one such standard. The process of getting a lien put on an unresponsive landlord's property could be extremely burdensome to a tenant, and we should be able to expect better from property owners. The fact that the existing judicial system process works for some landlords does not mean it works for tenants.

I have heard from staff that this ordinance will have no impact on rental housing receivers, as it is not targeted to the property in question but to the owner.

I moved a substitute at PS&RS that narrowed the focus of the proposed ordinance so that it deals only with judgments resulting from business operations involving rental property. It also clarifies that the ordinance should not be enforced against property owners who are making payments but have not yet paid the full amount, or who are appealing. Staff is working with my office to craft language to resolve both of these concerns.

Here is the exact language of the ordinance (the red text represents the new proposed part):

"Amending Title 12, Chapter 244 of the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances relating to Housing: Rental Dwelling Licenses.

244.1910. Licensing standards. The following minimum standards and conditions shall be met in order to hold a rental dwelling license under this article. Failure to comply with any of these standards and conditions shall be adequate grounds for the denial, refusal to renew, revocation, or suspension of a rental dwelling license or provisional license.

(11) There shall be no delinquent property taxes or assessments on the rental dwelling. The licensee or applicant shall have satisfied all judgments duly entered or docketed against the licensee or applicant by any court of competent jurisdiction arising out of the operation of a rental property business. This subsection shall not be found to have been violated if the licensee or applicant demonstrates that the underlying case or action leading to the entry of judgment is being properly and timely appealed or when the judgment is being paid in compliance with a payment plan accepted by either a court possessing jurisdiction over the judgment or the judgment creditor."

Some suggest that we don't want the City to become a "collections agency" for our citizens. I would counter that we do not want to reward property owners who disregard their legal responsibilities with a rental license. Holding the bad landlords out there accountable will help all of us: tenants, neighbors, and good landlords as well.

It is apparent that if this modest effort to better professional rental property owners is to be successful, my colleagues will need to hear from people outside City Hall. As the matter was referred to a property owners advisory committee I couldn't help but notice (once again) the glaring absence an official City tenant's advisory committee to help us make these kinds of decisions.

Looks like it is time to move the creation of that group higher up in my work plan.

In the meantime, it would help a great deal for me and other council members, to hear from tenants, community and neighborhood groups, landlords, others who support this idea.

Lead Safe Work Practices Ordinance

Today, the Council passed an ordinance and a resolution I authored on the subject of Lead Safe Work Practices. It requires that in situations where City inspectors have charged a property owner for having chipping and peeling interior paint in a pre-1978 home, the person doing the work must prove to the City that he/she has attended a lead safe work practices training. These are available at low or no cost to contractors and policy owners.

The point is that when the City tells someone they have to fix their paint, and it's likely to contain lead, they have to at least know how to do the work safely. Sanding lead paint, for instance, can create a large amount of very hazardous lead dust, which is easier to ingest than paint chips and therefore can pose a greater health risk.

This ordinance is a very small step in the right direction. I look forward to building on it, through the good work of the City/County Lead Task Force on which I serve, to develop requirements that will even better protect residents' health.