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:

Thursday, September 27, 2007

EPA adds local arsenic site to superfund list

This is big news and something we have been working for for a while. I wanted to share it with you all. One of the very important decisions we have to try to influence at this point is the level of arsenic in soil that the EPA will deem "background" for this site, which I have heard could be anywhere from 10-17 parts per million.


CONTACT: Mick Hans, 312-353-5050, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE No. 07-OPA161

EPA adds South Minneapolis arsenic site to Superfund National Priorities List
CHICAGO (Sept. 19, 2007) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today named the South Minneapolis Residential Soil Contamination site in Minneapolis, Minn., for addition to the Superfund National Priorities List. The site was proposed for addition to the NPL in September 2006, followed by a 60-day comment period.

The South Minneapolis site encompasses a number of neighborhoods near the intersection of 28th Street and Hiawatha Avenue, where the CMC Heartland Lite Yard was located from about 1938 to 1968. A pesticide containing arsenic was produced there and material from an open-air railcar-unloading and product-mixing operation is believed to have been wind-blown into nearby neighborhoods.

Since 2004, EPA has collected soil samples from more than 3,000 properties in the area. To date, 197 properties have shown arsenic contamination levels requiring prompt action. Of these, about 160 will be cleaned up by late October 2007. The remaining properties will be addressed in 2008. Community update meetings have been scheduled on a regular basis at the YWCA, 2121 E. Lake St.

Adding the site to the NPL enables EPA to access additional Superfund resources to evaluate, select and perform long-term cleanup work. Community input will be sought and considered throughout the process.

Nationally, seven new hazardous waste sites were added to the NPL, with 12 others proposed for addition to the list. (Under the NPL process, sites are first proposed and public comments considered, before a determination is made to formally add a site to the list.) To date, there have been 1,569 sites listed on the NPL. Of these, 320 sites have been deleted from the list, resulting in 1,249 sites currently on the NPL. Cleanup construction has been completed at 1,017 sites. There are now 66 proposed sites awaiting final agency action. Information on EPA's activities at the site over the past few years is at

The "Copenhagen Model"

There is an idea for increasing bicycle mode share that seems to be catching on in this country. Of course, we're just catching up - it's been used in European cities for years. I've been calling it the "Copenhagen Model."

The idea is to change the location of bike lanes on streets. On many Minneapolis streets, the layout is: sidewalk, parking lane, bike lane, driving lane, driving lane, bike lane, parking lane, sidewalk. In the Copenhagen Model, the bike lane moves between the parking lane and sidewalk, for a layout like this: sidewalk, bike lane, parking, driving lane, driving lane, parking, bike lane, sidewalk.

New York City, again trying to catch up with Minneapolis, has recently proposed to install a very similar system as you can read about in this New York Times article.

I believe that this layout offers some important benefits. It removes bicyclists from direct contact with moving cars, prevents conflicts with cars parking or pulling from parking spaces, and prevents bicyclists from being hit by opening driver's side car doors (my Aide, Robin, a daily bicycle commuter, has been "doored" an astounding five times in Minneapolis since 2001, most recently last month). Some of Copenhagen's other innovations include specific pavement colorings for the portion of bike lanes that go through intersections and special bike-only signalization that gives bicyclists a head start to get through intersections and complete turns before the cars get the green.

This June, after a bicyclist constituent brought the idea to my attention, I pushed for the following staff direction to be included in the Council's action accepting the 10 Year Transportation Action Plan (look for it here):

"That staff be directed to explore new designs for bicycle facilities / treatments, including, but not limited to, bicycle lanes between the parking lane and sidewalk, curbed bicycle lanes and bicycle signalization, and identify appropriate locations, in downtown if possible, for testing these designs."

Reviewing some of the literature on bike lanes (which is a significantly more contentious subject than I had realized!), there seem to be some downsides to these "cycle tracks" as well, which I will be pushing for Minneapolis to avoid through a careful design. For instance, some studies point to an increase in accidents between bikes and turning cars at intersections when cycle tracks are in place. Copenhagen seems to have come up with a good solution with the pavement coloring that gives drivers a visual cue that they are intersecting with a bike facility.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Grocery Stores

Some months back, Regulatory Services staff noticed an interesting, odd lack in the ordinances regulating grocery stores in Minneapolis: they don't require the store to sell any food. This came about as part of the Grocery Store Task Force that my Northside colleague Don Samuels has been working on, mostly as a response to some problematic corner "grocery stores" in his Ward.

When staff first came to the Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee, however, their recommendation left something to be desired. They recommended that the Council add the following requirement to the ordinance regulating grocery stores: "All grocery stores shall stock, and have available for sale, a variety of non-expired staple food items." This did not include a definition of "staple" food items. In committee, I asked what this would entail. Specifically, due to my work on "food deserts" through the Local Produce Market initiative, I was interested in whether fresh fruits and vegetables would be considered staple foods. The answer from staff was no.

With broad consensus that this was not good enough, the committee postponed the item and asked staff to do more work. Today, they came back with their new recommendation: "All grocery stores licensed under this chapter must offer for sale food for home preparation and consumption, on a continuous basis, at least three varieties of qualifying food in each of the following four staple food groups, with perishable food in at least two of the categories: 1. Meat, poultry, or fish; 2. Bread or cereal; 3. Vegetables or fruits; 4. Dairy products. (They also wrote a new definition for perishable foods: "Those items that are fresh, un-refrigerated or refrigerated staple food items that will spoil or suffer significant deterioration in quality within two to three weeks.")

What we quickly noticed was that this new recommended ordinance language does not require fresh fruits and vegetables, despite the committee's clear direction. A store offering bread, milk and only fruits and vegetables in cans would meet these requirements.

My office also heard that staff with the Department of Health and Family Support have not had a chance to weigh in on this important regulatory change, which offers an opportunity to address one of their current public health concerns: lack of access in parts of the City to healthy foods.

In response, I moved to postpone this item yet again, and direct Regulatory Services staff to work with Health and Family Support and at least one expert in food policy and nutrition from outside of City government, to come up with better ordinance language. I hope that next time the committee sees this recommended ordinance change, it will be in a state that will really help provide access to the full spectrum of foods that people need to stay healthy in all parts of our City.

Local Produce Markets II

On Monday, the Health, Energy and Environment Committee voted to "receive and file" the report from staff on their policy changes creating the new Local Produce Market process.

At my urging, committee members rejected Council Member Diane Hofstede's attempt to introduce a substitute motion sending the report back to staff for more work. Diane objected to the fact that the process will not fully recover the estimated staff costs - the new process will cost the City $165 per market the first year and $91 per market every subsequent year. As I pointed out, this is a significant improvement over the cost recovery in the standard Farmer's Market process, which loses the City $386 the first year and $114 every subsequent year.

My office will be working with staff from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and City staff in the Regulatory Services, Zoning and Health and Family Support departments to set up meetings with interested Council Members to discuss where and how we can set up more Local Produce Markets starting next year, to serve populations with limited access at this point to healthy local produce.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Community Engagement report and meetings

The Community Engagement Task Force I worked so hard to form has drafted a report detailing its recommendations for improvements to the City's Community Engagement processes.

I have decided to hold my October roundtable discussion on the topic of Community Engagement, using the report as a starting point for a larger conversation about the broad topic of how the City can better activate, support and empower its increasingly diverse populations.

This meeting, specifically focused on Second Ward residents, but open to everyone, will be held:

Monday, October 15, 7-9pm
Augsburg College Christensen Center
Minneapolis Room, 2nd Floor
22nd Ave S & 7 ½ Street

There will also be a series of more general City-hosted public meetings to discuss the report:

Tuesday, October 9, 6:30-8:30 pm
Windom Park Recreation Center gym, 2251 Hayes St NE

Wednesday, October 10, 6-8 pm
North Commons Park gym, 801 James Ave N

Tuesday, October 16, 11am-1 pm (open house format)
Central Library board room, 300 Nicollet Mall

Wednesday, October 17, 6-8 pm
Nokomis Park Recreation Center gym, 2401 E Minnehaha Pkwy

Thursday, October 18, 5:30-7:30 pm
MLK Park Recreation Center multipurpose room, 4055 Nicollet Ave S

Please take some time to review the report and let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Critical Mass meeting

The meeting between Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) administration officials and Critical Mass participants that I organized and I facilitated was, in my opinion, extremely successful. It seemed to be very fruitful for the MPD and CM riders to sit down at the same table and simply talk.

Among the outcomes of the meeting, everyone was in general agreement that if the MPD committed to the following it would be helpful:

  1. To gather information about the route of Critical Mass and incidents within it by means other than helicopters.
  2. To task bicycle police to Critical Mass, to understand where it is going and be on hand to deal with issues that come up (confrontations between drivers and riders, for instance).
  3. To keep squad cars following the mass at a safe and respectful distance from bicyclists, 10-15 feet rather than the one-and-a-half feet many riders report from the last Mass.
  4. To refrain from the regular use of sirens by the squads following the Mass.
  5. To share the contact information for the Incident Commander with participants.
  6. To focus enforcement on acts of violence towards people or property.
  7. To possibly be available in Loring Park before the ride to answer questions, share MPD plans, if any, and begin constructive communication between officers and participants.
  8. To work towards ensuring that future events like Critical Mass are more peaceful and avoid, to the extent they can, a repeat of the confrontation of August 31.

The police were very receptive to these ideas and I will continue to clarify what we can expect in the days ahead.

Additionally, many of the Critical Mass participants present committed to help the group 'self-police' behaviors that the majority of riders find antithetical to the purpose of the event, such as riding into oncoming traffic, running red lights at the front of the Mass, intimidating drivers and/or damaging property. A number of riders agreed to share their cell phone numbers with the MPD's incident commander, to be a liaison between the group and the officers tasked to respond to it.

I hope to ride at least in the beginning of the next Critical Mass, to see firsthand how the MPD and CM participants deliver on their commitments and to help keep the peace. I encourage others who want to help make this a positive and peaceful event to also consider attending.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Local Produce Markets

We've had what I consider to be a significant victory for locally grown, healthy food.

The Department of Environmental Health and Zoning Administration have together created a new permitting processes for small farm stands selling locally-grown food. These new "Local Produce Markets" will only require a Temporary Use Permit (from Zoning) and a Plan Review (from Environmental Health). They can have no more than 5 vendors, all of whom must be selling local food that they grew themselves.

Under this new process, each market will only cost $154 to permit the first year, and will be free every year thereafter if their plans don't change substantially. This is a significant reduction from the current process, which costs more than $400 for the first year and over $100 per subsequent year.

The purpose of this change is to provide better access in all parts of our city to nutritious, whole foods. This issue originally came to my attention when one of the Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support's "Steps to a Healthier Minneapolis" grantees, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, objected to spending a large chunk of City grant money on City permits for small farm stands in underserved communities. Specifically, the business license required by these small farm stands seemed to be overly burdensome and of questionable necessity. They suggested a process change very similar to what staff has now presented.

This new process will have other advantages, as well. Rather than a large packet of information to fill out, applicants for Local Produce Markets will be given a simple two-sided application. The process is slated to take about ten business days.

Now the work before us is to make sure that small farmers, nonprofits and community groups take advantage of this easier, less expensive permitting regime and establish more Local Produce Markets throughout the City, especially targeted to underserved populations with little access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Here are the details of the proposed new process:
  1. Market applicant completes Joint Zoning/Environmental Health Application for Local Produce Market, provides Site Plan for the location of the market and submits two separate checks or money orders for the following fees: $100.00 for the Zoning Temporary Use Permit $54.00 for the Environmental Health Plan Review.

  2. Development Coordinator (DC) at Minneapolis Development Review counter reviews the completeness of the paperwork submitted and checks them against the checklist for Conditions of Approval for Local Produce Market, which includes:
    Products limited to ONLY locally grown fruits and vegetables
    Vendors limited to ONLY local farmers; no food distributors, food manufactures, meat processors, or other types of vendors
    Maximum of 5 vendors per market
    Conveniently accessible handwashing and toilet facilities

  3. DC forwards completed paperwork and check/money order to Zoning

  4. Zoning reviews the site plan and Temporary Use Permit (TUP) side of the application and approves them if all conditions of approval are met, them it forwards them to EHFS

  5. EHFS reviews application and approves the market if all health & safety requirements are satisfied

  6. EHFS then sends applicant a Local Produce Market Permit

  7. The Local Produce Market Permits and Zoning Temporary USE Permits are renewable every year and there is NO COST as long as nothing has changed from the previously submitted plans.
NOTE: The Joint Zoning/Environmental Health Application for Local Produce Market will be a double-sided document with one page containing Zoning TUP required info and checklist, and the other containing EHFS required info and questions.

Healthy City, Thriving Families

Check out the summer '07 "Healthy City, Thriving Families," the quarterly newsletter of the Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Critical Mass meeting September 19

Council Member Robert Lilligren and I have scheduled a meeting for senior MPD Administration officials to get together with Critical Mass participants to try to craft an MPD policy that will avoid unnecessary and counterproductive confrontations like what occurred on 8/31/07.

The meeting will take place on Wednesday, September 19, 4:30-5:30pm, in City Hall room 319.

This meeting is specifically not to discuss the specifics of what happened at the 8/31 Critical Mass, but to plan for a more constructive police policy regarding future Critical Masses and other similar nonviolent instances of civil disobedience.

If you regularly participate in Critical Mass and are free next Wednesday, please consider attending. If you know others who regularly participate, please pass this invitation on to them.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mpls scores well on biking/walking report

The Thunderhead Alliance is a national bicycling and walking advocacy organization. They have recently completed a benchmarking report that compares bicycling and walking conditions throughout the country in all major cities.

Minneapolis scores in the upper third of most bicycling surveys and there is a section dedicated to bicycle parking in Minneapolis. Per capita the city has more bicycle parking spaces than any other major city in the nation and there are numerous references to the high bicycle usage in the city.

Wild Animals in Circues debated in the Strib

There has been an interesting series of opinions printed in the Star Tirbune regarding the proposed ordinance amendments that would prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses in Minneapolis leading up to the Public Hearing on this issue that will be held on Wednesday afternoon.

It started with a letter of the day written by Christine Coughlin on September 5th.

Then, on the 6th, Council Members Hodges and Paul Ostrow crafted a peice advocating for their approach that would allow for circuses but require for more inspections.

Finally, Ralph Remington and I got a counterpoint published on the 8th

This is going to be an interesting discussion.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Response to August 31 Incident at Critical Mass

There was a significant incident at last Friday’s Critical Mass monthly group bicycle ride. Nineteen people were arrested, many more were pepper sprayed. The arrestees included an intern working for my office.

I have serious concerns about the police’s response on Friday, and am pushing for a formal review of both the specifics of the event and the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) plans for dealing with future nonviolent protests, especially during next year’s RNC convention.

My office will be organizing two separate meetings over the next few weeks. First, in conjunction with Council Member Lilligren’s office, we will convene a meeting between Critical Mass participants and Police Administration officials, to discuss what police policies could ease tensions and reduce confrontations at future Critical Mass events and nonviolent protests. Second, I will be inviting eyewitnesses of the incident to come and share firsthand experiences and concerns, and connect to City resources such as the Civilian Review Authority and the Civil Rights Department.

If you witnessed the event, I would like to hear from you. If you have video, audio or photographs of the event, please send them to the Civil Rights Department (673-3012), and if possible to my office as well (673-2202, If you have complaints against specific officers, even if you do not have badge numbers, contact either the Civilian Review Authority (673-5500) or the MPD’s Internal Affairs Unit (673-3074).

Here is some information I have received from the MPD about this incident:

- MPD officers requested that a State Patrol helicopter monitor the ride, even before the confrontation occurred.

- Unmarked squad cars from the MPD intelligence unit and Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department also monitored the event from the beginning.

- The MPD response to the event was not planned, and there was no incident supervisor. Officers reportedly responded to confrontational behavior by three Mass participants, and found themselves in a situation they could not control. They put out an “officer needs help,” call, which the Chief of Police has indicated is not the ideal response to this sort of event. Responding officers arrived without coordination, and, apparently afraid for the welfare of their fellow officers on site, reacted to the situation they found.

- There have been indications of police policy violations by some participating officers, even in the reports officers have filed on the incident. The Chief is analyzing these potential violations.

- Information from the incident, including squad car and helicopter video, will be made public after the investigations – both into the criminal complaints against participants and the policy violation complaints against officers – are complete. The Chief believes this will be available within several weeks.

- Officers were unaware that Critical Mass participants often hold their bicycles above their heads, and that this is not a threatening gesture but one of celebration and empowerment.

I have a number of unanswered questions and concerns about this incident that I expect to have answered over the next month or so:

- My office has heard from multiple eyewitnesses that there were two separate incidents, the first at La Salle and Grant, and the second at Nicollet and 24th. I am working to ascertain what the reason was for the second incident, and why there are no arrest addresses listed for any of Friday’s arrestees.

- Why did the police feel threatened at last month’s Critical Mass? Was it credible? What, if any, information did the police have that necessitated increased monitoring, why wasn’t there better planning and coordination done, and why was no incident supervisor assigned? My concern is that officers were potentially led to expect a more violent event than usual and were accordingly more on-edge and more likely to intervene, but lacked specific oversight that might have prevented a counterproductive intervention.

- What were the specific “threatening” or “confrontational” actions undertaken by the first arrestees? Did they make any credible threat of violence to people or property?

- I have heard from multiple eyewitnesses that some persons (including non-Critical Mass participants) were targeted for arrest, use of force and threats of arrest because they were recording the event with cameras, cell phones, and audio recording devices. How can we prevent this in the future?

- What can we learn from the other significant past confrontations between the MPD and Critical Mass, including an event last year on Hennepin Avenue, at which 3 participants were arrested, later to have their charges dismissed?

Lastly, my office is developing a list of ideas for policy improvements, from suggestions we have received from constituents and from the MPD itself. The goal of these policy improvements is to prevent unnecessary, counterproductive confrontations between MPD (and other) officers and nonviolent protestors, including Critical Mass. This is important not just from the standpoint of protecting civil liberties, but also for using our limited resources wisely and preventing unnecessary disruptions to non-participants.

- Place a supervisor in charge of the MPD presence at monthly Critical Mass rides. This officer’s role would be to help coordinate with other jurisdictions and order any MPD police interventions – and, more importantly, to prevent unnecessary and counterproductive interventions. This will provide a clear chain of command, which will help keep incidents from spiraling out of control. It will also provide those with concerns after incidents with a clear chain of accountability. The Chief has suggested this change, and I support it.

- Develop a clear set of guidelines for when police intervention is necessary, and prevent intervention when it is unnecessary, as it is so often counterproductive and escalatory. I believe that police intervention is necessary when individuals engage in violence against people or property, or disrupt traffic indefinitely.

- Clarify within the MPD’s Policies and Procedures Manual that officers are not to target those using recording equipment for arrest or use of force, confiscate or destroy recording equipment or recorded data, and establish disciplinary consequences for these behaviors. When officers attempt to prevent witnesses to police action from recording it, they not only violate those persons’ rights, but send the message that the MPD is unwilling to be held accountable for its actions. These actions of a few officers reflect badly on the MPD, and on the City as a whole.

- Specifically to Critical Mass, assign bicycle officers to monitor the situation. They have the capacity to navigate the crowd as a squad car cannot, participants tend to respond better to them, and they have been effective monitors in the past.

As concerned and disappointed as I am that these sort of incidents continue to occur, I am hopeful that the end result of last Friday’s confrontation at Critical Mass can help inform better MPD policies for dealing with nonviolent civil disobedience in the future, and will work towards this goal.