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, October 30, 2007

Streetlight on 17th Ave SE

Normally we don't put "constituent service" issues on this blog. It's tended to be more for policy-level ideas and events. But what I'm finding is that the majority of my day-to-day work (and a large chunk of Cam's work as well) is on these "little" issues that don't feel so little if they're on your block.

In the spirit of showing more of this in-the-trenches side of the office, therefore, here's the story of the streetlights on 17th Ave SE.

Back in early 2006, a house was moved into a lot on 17th Ave SE (it was constructed elsewhere, I've heard). This necessitated that the overhead line connecting the streetlight directly in front of that lot to its power service in the alley be cut. Unfortunately, the new house interfered with that line, making a simple replacement impossible. The streetlight - one of just two on that block - went dark.

An active and concerned neighbor brought this to our office's attention. I contacted City staff and Xcel, and heard that Xcel would have to bury any replacement power service, which is expensive. For some time, the discussion was monetary: who should pay for this costly replacement? Xcel? The City? The developer who moved in the new house and cut off access? Who compels whom to pony up? During these discussions, the streetlight stayed dark.

Our office kept pushing this issue until we heard something positive from Xcel in late 2006: they would replace the single light with two new lights, substantially improving the lighting situation on the block. Both new lights would require overhead service. This, we heard, should take no more than a few weeks.

However, by March the lights still had not been installed. The holdup seemed to be Xcel's need for signed easements from affected property owners (Xcel strings streetlight powerlines over property lines when they can, so they require four signed easements to install two lights). We worked with the involved neighbor to contact the affected property owners, all of whom gave verbal permission, which we passed on to City staff and Xcel.

Still, 17th stayed dark. The formal, signed easements trickled in, the third of four only coming back to Xcel in July, after I called the absentee owners to remind them to sign the second copy Xcel had sent them and return it.

Sadly, however, one of the homeowners from whom we needed an easement died before he got a chance to sign the paperwork. His sister, acting as executor of his estate, decided to wait until the house could be sold and allow the new owners to decide whether or not to grant the easement.

All through 2007, our office continued to get calls from residents, homeowners and student renters alike, all complaining that the lack of light on 17th was a public safety hazard and demanding that we get the problem solved. I agreed, and tried to communicate the reasons for the delay and what our office was doing about it.

Finally, the house sold. The last easement was signed by its new owners. Yesterday, Cam and I quietly celebrated a small victory - but an important one if you live on 17th Ave SE - when he signed the necessary paperwork to ok the installation of these two new lights, a year and a half after the street went dark.

Employee Non-Discrimination Act

Today, the Intergovernmental Relations committee took up the issue of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which is working its way through Congress right now.

A simple summary of this complicated issue is that certain forces within the national Democratic Party have moved to substitute the original ENDA bill (H.R. 2015) with another version (H.R. 3685) that is stripped of any protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity. A coalition of GLBT organizations has come together to demand that protections for transgender people be put back in the bill, either by going back to H.R. 2015 or by an amendment to H.R. 3685 put forward by Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin.

One of the arguments used by the opponents of extending employment discrimination protections to transgender people is that this is somehow a new issue. However, the City of Minneapolis disproves this notion: we've had protections against discrimination based on gender identity in our Civil Rights ordinance for decades. In fact, Minneapolis was the first City in the United States to pass employment discrimination protections for transgender people.

Partly to make this point and partly just to show our support for transgender people, I was asked by activists in the Lavender Greens to sponsor a resolution calling on Congress to put the protections for transgender people back in the bill. This morning, my colleague and ally on this issue (among many others) Elizabeth Glidden, who serves on the IGR committee, moved to include support for an inclusive ENDA on the City's Federal Legislative Agenda.

The resolution will be before the Council on Friday, and I expect it to pass. It's always difficult to tell what sort of impact this sort of action will have, but I believe it's important to add our voice to those advocating inclusiveness and fighting discrimination against any members of our community.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

MPD Investigations

At least partly in response to the City Pages article on staffing in the Sex Crimes Unit, the Minneapolis Police Department today gave a presentation to the Public Safety & Regulatory Services committee on their staffing and case clearance rates.

This article and conversation have strengthened my resolve to resist the pressure to commit a larger and larger portion of our police resources to patrol. Officers on the street are extremely important, but investigations are no less important. Right now, 75% of our officers are assigned to patrol. I am interested in having an open, public discussion about whether that's the right balance.

Chief Dolan is fond of saying that "a crime prevented is worth 10 times as much as a crime solved," (and he's quoted to this effect in the City Pages article). I agree with him wholeheartedly, but where I start to disagree with both the Chief and some of my colleagues is when we try to put this idea into practice. I'm not convinced that the number of officers on the street has as clear a correlation with reductions in crime as common wisdom holds. I'm also completely convinced that in some cases, solving crimes can be the best way to prevent future crimes.

For example, the Seward neighborhood, which I represent, shows all the signs of being in the midst of a major burglary epidemic. From conversations I've had with the Crime Prevention Specialist for the neighborhood, among others in the Police Department, there is evidence that many of the burglaries are being perpetrated by the same small group of people. If and when these folks can be caught and convicted, this will clearly prevent some burglaries in Seward from taking place.

One of the more disappointing responses to the City Pages article that I have seen is that the staffing level is actually significantly worse in other units than it is in the Sex Crime Unit. The Robbery Unit, for instance, has seven times as many cases and less staff.

For this reason, among others, I am interested in seeing the addition of case clearance rates to the Police Department's formal business plan goals and performance measures, as the Council moved to require last year by adopting the Safe City Initiative I co-authored with Council members Hodges and Glidden. I am also interested in pursuing having conviction rates added to the Police Department's goals and performance measures as well.

Responding to crime of all kinds is about more than putting officers on the street, measuring crime rates, 911 response time and arrest rates. It's also about what we do when a crime is committed and reported, and how successful we are in our efforts to hold people who have violated the law accountable. I worry that too much of our focus has been on crime rates and arrest rates, without enough focus on outcomes.

I'd like to change that.

Domestic Violence

The Public Safety & Regulatory Services committee has signed on to a pledge to reduce domestic violence in Minneapolis. I was fully supportive of this action. Domestic violence is a huge issue and is inseparable from the work currently underway to prevent youth violence.

In the committee discussion today, I asked for more clarity on our goals. What do we mean, when we call for a reduction in domestic violence? How will we measure our success, or lack thereof? I will continue to push for concrete goals, as well as the resources to meet them, on this absolutely critical issue.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Baby steps to NRP

Yesterday the City Council, in our Committee of the Whole, took two small but significant steps forward in our effort to make decisions about the present and future of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program and public support for neighborhood organizations.

Thanks primarily to the excellent report on the history and present condition of NRP that came back as a result of the staff direction we passed in May, we took the next step towards discussing and defining our City Government's position on NRP.

The first step we took was to help assure a level of funding for the remainder of Phase II. I would have liked us to at least explore funding at 100% of the projections we had in 2004, but was happy to second and support Council Member Ostrow's motion to direct staff to develop options for assuring funding at the 70% level.

Here is the staff direction we passed on that matter:

"Development Finance Staff is directed to work with CPED and other appropriate City staff to review and identify funding sources for the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) and provide this Council with a recommendation to prudently assure funding for Phase II Neighborhood Action Plans in an amount of not less than 70% of the approved April 19, 2004 NRP Policy Board allocations. Any recommendation should consider the City’s interests if unanticipated changes occur to the scheduled Brookfield repayment. Recommendations should be brought back to Ways and Means and Community Development Committees for Consideration by the City Council by December 21, 2007."

The discussion then got even more interesting when we tried to discuss the report and how to make the implied - and explicit - policy decisions we will need to make to determine the future of neighborhood revitalization efforts after 2009. While the Council is far from united on this issue, the discussion was good and several of us, including the Mayor, stressed the importance of neighborhood organizations to the city and the need for funding for basic capacity (administration) as well as discretionary funds that the neighborhoods could use to implement their own plans and targeted funds, in the form of specific grants, that further city goals.

Ultimately we were able to pass, unanimously (to my surprise) the following direction to ourselves and the City Coordinator:

"In order to facilitate decision-making relative to tracks 2 and 3 of the work plan for Community Engagement System Improvements and Related Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) Decisions, the City Council hereby requests that the Council President and Vice President work with the chairs of the Ways and Means/Budget Committee and the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, as well as a Mayoral representative and the NRP Director, to frame options and proposed actions for consideration by the Committee of the Whole at its meeting of December 6, 2007, establishing a City position on:

1. A proposed administrative structure to support community engagement activities;
2. Expectations of services community or neighborhood organizations would provide through citizen participation contracts; and
3. Extending or not a formal program of using discretionary funds for community-initiated projects.

The City Council further directs that the City Coordinator continue to support this work as needed."

I am very hopeful that these efforts, although small steps in and of themselves, will help us grapple with the challenging issues involved in the future of NRP and supporting our neighborhood organizations.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fall Street Sweeping

The City's Street Maintenance Division is about to start fall street sweeping. Posting of streets will begin on Monday, October 22, with sweeping beginning on Tuesday, October 23.

The City's website will feature the “Street Lookup,” where you can see the sweeping schedule online to learn exactly when your street is scheduled for cleaning. It will be available by Monday, October 22 at the latest.

The schedule dates shown on the web based mapping application can sometimes change due to weather or other unforeseen factors. Public Works does its best to keep these schedule changes to an absolute minimum. Residents are always responsible to be aware of any parking restrictions, and move their vehicles when needed.

Vehicles parked on city streets in violation of temporary no parking signs will be towed to the Minneapolis Municipal Impound Lot. Call 311 to find out whether or not a vehicle has been towed. The Impound Lot is located at 51 Colfax Avenue North; this is west of Lyndale Avenue, two blocks south of Glenwood Avenue. Watch for directional signs. Fees are $138.00 for towing and $18.00 a day for storage. The Impound Lot accepts cash, personal checks, Visa and MasterCard. In addition to towing and storage charges, there is a $34.00 ticket for the parking violation.

Please note the new Impound Lot hours of operation effective October 14, 2007. They are:
· Monday - Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.,
· Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Questions and/or concerns may also be referred to the Street Maintenance Department at 673-5720.

Friday, October 12, 2007

10th Avenue Bridge Update

The powers that be have decided to imrpvoe the situation on the 10th Avenue bridge. Thanks to folks who contacted me about this. I supported these changes in discussions with staff and also would have accepted getting it all back to how it was before before the bridge collapse (with the added fence remaining).

Here are the specifics:

" A second northbound lane is now carrying traffic on the 10th Avenue Bridge, helping ease traffic congestion. The bridge, which was closed right after the I-35W Bridge collapse, reopened on Aug. 31 with one northbound lane, one southbound lane and a pedestrian viewing area added to the upstream side of the bridge. Since there are now fewer people wanting to see the I-35W site, the pedestrian area was narrowed to allow the southbound bicycle lane to be moved to that side of the bridge. This created room to reopen the second northbound lane, which will significantly ease the traffic backups that have been occurring headed northbound. Southbound traffic has flowed relatively smoothly in one lane."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Critical Mass 9-28-07

As you may have heard (here, for instance), the September 28th Critical Mass was peaceful and almost completely without confrontations between riders and police. I consider this a significant accomplishment of the meeting Robert Lilligren and I organized on September 19. But most of the credit is due to the MPD, who handled last Friday's Mass with great constructiveness and professionalism, and individual Critical Mass riders, who helped 'self-police' their own behavior.

I have heard quite a few great stories from last Friday's ride. On Hennepin, the group went out of its way to let a northbound bus proceed, amid cries of "let the bus through!" and "busses are great!" On East Franklin, a just-married couple had the fantastic idea of making their way into the middle of the Mass to have pictures taken - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I've heard multiple stories about MPD officers helping defuse situations with frustrated drivers, and of at least one successful de-escalation of a potential conflict between a rider and a cop. On Nicollet Mall, the Mass kept itself in one northbound land, allowing southbound bus traffic to continue. And I'm proud to say that when the Mass seemed to have gotten stuck going around in a several-block circle at Lagoon, Lake and Hennepin my Aide played an important role in redirecting the group north, to free the intersection.

I believe that everyone - Critical Mass riders, the MPD, the City as a whole, and even Friday afternoon auto commuters - benefits when civil disobedience remains peaceful and does not escalate into confrontations between participants and police. At last Friday's Mass, no streets were shut down indefinitely by melees, officers were not forced to leave neighborhood patrols to assist, disruptions (though certainly part of the event) were minimized, no one was injured, no one was arrested.

I consider this an important collective accomplishment. I've passed my thanks on to the MPD Administration officials and officers who were present, and to the riders who helped keep the tone of this month's ride positive and nonconfrontational.

Katherine Kersten needs a fact checker

I was surprised to read in today's Katherine Kersten article that I was one of the 19 people arrested in the August 31 Critical Mass ride. To quote the Strib's conservative, fact-challenged columnist: "In August, after some of the ride's rougher elements provoked a confrontation with police, and 19 people were arrested, Gordon, whose aide was one of those arrested, called foul." [Emphasis mine.]

Needless to say, I was pretty shocked. I don't remember being arrested on August 31 - heck, I wasn't even on the ride that day.

Maybe Kersten meant that Cam's intern was arrested August 31, as you can read here or here.

It's just not that hard to get these little details right. All Kersten had to do was contact one of her fellow Strib employees, Randy Furst, who managed to get his facts straight by the time-honored process of talking to those he was talking about. But one of the more amusing aspects of Kersten's laughable sloppiness was that, hours before this story was published, I had the singular pleasure to talk to her over the telephone. She was asking for "press releases," and I directed her to this blog, which it seems she failed to read. If she'd had a question, she could've asked me then. I'd have been glad to tell her that:

a) Cam has only one aide, and that person is me,
b) I was not on the August 31 ride,
c) I was not arrested August 31 and have never been, and
d) the arrestee with a connection to our office was a summer intern - I even could've given her his name.

The interesting question to me is whether Kersten's inability to get her facts straight is simple incompetence, or if the misstatement of fact was purposeful. Either way, though, if she can't manage to accurately state the simplest information, how can she expect readers to take her dubious conclusions seriously?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

U of M Student Welcome Packet

This summer, my office put together a Welcome Packet for new student renters in Southeast Como. See a copy here. These were distributed door to door by the Second Ward Interns.

I've heard since, at the Como Cookout, that some renter households awarded the Packet that most coveted of indoor real estate: the refrigerator door. It was such a resounding success that my office has since prepared a version for the "Motley" section of Prospect Park, which will be distributed soon.

We got a great deal of help putting these together from our 4 summer interns (3 of whom are U of M student renters themselves), University of Minnesota neighborhood outreach staff Kendre Turonie, 2nd Precinct Crime Prevention Specialist Carol Oosterhuis and Student Legal Services attorney and Southeast Como resident Bill Dane.

It's my hope that the packet will help student renters feel welcome and be able to fit safely and harmoniously into the wonderful neighborhoods they're joining.