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:

Monday, March 31, 2008

Ralph Rapson

Our city has lost a great man: Prospect Park resident and world-famous architect Ralph Rapson has died.

Ralph designed the original Guthrie theater, as well as the iconic Riverside Plaza buildings in Cedar Riverside. He is a legend in Minnneapolis and, judging from the fantastic sons of his, Rip and Toby, I have gotten to know over the years, he must have been an amazing Dad.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Earth Hour

This Saturday, the City will be participating in Earth Hour, an international gesture to encourage businesses, communities and individuals to take the simple steps needed to cut our carbon emissions on an ongoing basis. Thanks to a resolution I cosponsored with CM Benson that passed unanimously last Friday, the City will be turning off all non-essential lights from 8-9pm, including the lights illuminating the underside of the Stone Arch Bridge. (See here for the Star Tribune story.)

We will be joined by a number of large buildings in downtown: Wells Fargo Center, IDS Center, Thrivent Financial, U.S. Bancorp and the State, Orpheum and Pantages theaters. (Many of these buildings are also participating in the Department of Natural Resources/Audubon Society Project Bird Safe by turning off their external lights after dark during peak bird migration periods, so they deserve even more positive attention than they're receiving.)

Interestingly, it was difficult for us to figure out how to participate in this event at first, because we heard back from staff that the City just doesn't have many "non-essential" lights that we leave on after dark.

Lighting is certainly an issue with many different viewpoints. One person's basic public safety need is another person's global warming source of light pollution. This goes for my youngest son and me as well. When I suggested that we participate by turning off the lights in our house he informed me that he didn't even want to talk about it because it was too scary to even think about.

Anyway, depending on how your household falls on the spectrum of how essential or non-essential your lights are, I invite you to participate in whatever way makes sense this Saturday from 8-9 pm.

I bet Robin's house will be totally dark.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Free Speech and RNC

At a meeting last week of the Free Speech work group set up to protect free speech and normal life for residents during the Republican National Convention (RNC) we reviewed three possible City policies. Unfortunately still on the table: the concept of a "protest permit."

I continue to strongly oppose this idea (for a past explication of my position on this issue, see here), and to push for a purely voluntary registration process, by which protest groups who want services from the City can let the City know when, where, and how many people will be gathering. The Mayor supports this sort of process, as does Council Member Remington.

At the committee, with the help of others on the work group, I was able to pass a motion that we would focus on “voluntary registration,” but Council Member Ostrow was clear that he is still interested in moving forward with a possible mandatory component based on what he has termed the "D.C. Model." There is no doubt in my mind that any kind of required pre-registration of a public assembly would increase restrictions on time, place and the manner of free speech in Minneapolis. I fear that as a result of concerns some policymakers have about protesters during the national convention, we may end up creating additional hurdles, blocks and barriers on rights to assemble and speak well into the future. The new law we looked at in our work group would have prohibited groups of more that 25 people from gathering in public if they had planned it in advance and had not registered.

I understand that there are a number of people in the protest community who have very real concerns about the voluntary registration process as well, centered around the City granting "exclusive rights" to public spaces to groups that register. I share these concerns, and will push for the voluntary registration not to include any expectation of exclusive use. My argument is bolstered by the City Attorney's Office, which has clearly indicated that it is improper to give a group exclusive use of a space without a permit that can be either approved or denied by City staff.

We have heard from our emergency preparedness and public safety staff and it appears they a have legitimate interest in knowing where large groups of people will be in order to coodinate efforts so that first repsonders can get to people who may need help. I contend that by asking people to share plans and information we will actually get more and better information than if we pass a law requiring them to tell us. It is also clear to me that to be passing a new law now would clearly demonstrate to the court and everyone that what we are really attempting to do is restrict a particular content of speech, namely speech that that is in opposition to the Republican party and the current administration. I think that this sort of action would not only be unwise for the future of our democracy, but also clearly unconstitutional.

In my opinion, we should have discussing our needs, plans and policies with protest groups several months ago, just as we have been discussing needs and plans with the Republicans for months already. It's time for us to put the voluntary process in place, to give our staff time to do this communication with protest groups - every day that we get closer to the convention without a policy in place is a missed opportunity.

I expect this matter to come up at the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee March 26th or April 9th. I will be pushing to make sure we also have a public hearing should any new policy (including the resolution for voluntary registration) come forward.

My next Roundtable Discussion will deal with this topic. If you're interested, please join me on April 14, 7-9pm at Augsburg College's Christensen Center for a conversation about free speech and the RNC this summer.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Minneapolis: 11th Greenest City in the US

Of the 50 largest cities in the US, Minneapolis has been ranked the eleventh greenest by Popular Science magazine. The City's Climate Change Grants, which I helped create last year, drew special notice.

This is welcome recognition of our sustainability efforts, but also clearly points out the areas in which we've got room for improvement.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Trees Available for Only $25

You can make your city and your yard a greener place this year by ordering, planting and caring for a tree this spring at a very affordable rate.

The City is making 1,000 trees available to residents for planting this spring, for only $25 apiece. We fund the City Trees program, which is in its third year, to provide a low-cost way for folks to help build the city's urban tree forest.

Research has proven that trees are a valuable investment and improve urban quality of life. Healthy trees increase property values, help improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gases by absorbing carbon dioxide, save energy, keep the city cooler, provide homes for wildlife and help manage storm water. They can also decrease residents' energy bills in the summer by shading our homes. But be sure to plant your tree a little south of east or west, not directly south, because a tree directly to the south can reduce sunlight in the winter, when it can help reduce heating costs.

We partner with Tree Trust, a local nonprofit that works to improve the community environment.

Ordering a tree:
The trees cost $25 each, and are approximately 6-to-10 feet tall with a
1 inch trunk. You can order one tree per household, and the 1,000 trees will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis. You can choose from five tree varieties, including Bicolor Oak, Fall Fiesta Sugar Maple, Pagoda Dogwood, Japanese Tree Lilac or Welchi Juniper. Place your order online between March 11 and April 11 here or by picking up an order form from your neighborhood group or local library.

Tree pick-up dates are May 10 and 11 from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and May 12 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the former Franklin Middle School East parking lot at 1501 Aldrich Avenue N. Volunteers will be available to help load your new tree and complimentary bag of mulch in to your vehicle. Information will be available online and at the tree pick-up site that will explain how to plant a tree the right way, how to care for it, and the benefits it will provide.

For more information on how to order a tree, go here or call (651) 644-5800. You can also contact Tree Trust to receive hard copies of the applications if you would like to be able to distribute them to your friends and neighbors. Last year, the 1,000 trees were quickly snapped up, so if you're interested you should order as soon as possible.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ranked Choice Voting - 2009 Implementation

Last Friday, the Council took an important step towards IRV/STV implementation in 2009 by directing staff to prepare a Request for Proposals (RFP) for voting equipment capable of running our Single Transferable Vote/Ranked Choice election.

As both a City Council Member and as a proponent of better voting methods, including the Single Transferable Vote method the voters of Minneapolis approved in 2006, I was disappointed that Saturday's Star Tribune article didn't focus on this concrete step, but instead focused on comments from the Minneapolis Director of Elections that she doesnt believe the City will be ready with ranked-choice voting election equipment for 2009.

While I admit we are behind schedule and that it may have been a mistake to rely so heavily on State or County assistance for our implementation, I am convinced that it is still quite possible to hold a Ranked ChoiceIRV/STV election 2009. This month we are taking two important steps that move us closer to making 2009 implementation possible, even without a hand count. First, we directed our head of the Elections Department, to draft a formal Request for Proposals and report back to Council in April. We have already identified voting equipment vendors who will likely be interested in responding to our request. We could use central scan machines to supplement the existing precinct scanners. We could rent precinct scanners, rather than buying them. We should also keep in mind that the philanthropic community has expressed willingness tohelp Minneapolis fund a viable option.

Additionally, at the City Council meeting on March 21st, we will formally begin the process of adopting our own rules governing Ranked Choice Voting. Using the Secretary of States Ranked Choice Work Group's rules recommendations, we are already well on our way. I expect that City rules will be adopted sometime this summer.

In terms of the voting equipment, the reality is that we still have several workable options to consider but that we cannot look at the real capabilities and costs until we have real proposals. Through the RFP, we will be taking the next step to find out what real possibilities exist and how much they will cost. We should not rely on worst-case scenarios, based on self-serving general estimates provided by the vendor community. We need concrete proposals evaluated based on clear criteria established though the RFP process.

It's frustrating to me that the Star Tribune chose to focus on one cautionary City staff person's predictions, rather than the important step the Council took last Friday. The real story is that the Council has voted to go forward with an RFP for 2009 implementation, that we will be drafting our own rules andvoting them into ordinance this spring or summer and that we are committed toholding our first ranked choice election in 2009 unless and until the Council determines that it is impossible. And that will be a City Council determination, based, at least in part, on both information we get from our professional staff and our constituents as well as what we learn through theRFP process.

The real question here is not about the possibilities, but the political will to pursue them.

Pedestrian Master Plan Open House

The City is hosting an open house to gather public input on the Pedestrian Master Plan and discuss some of the major challenges the city faces in meeting pedestrian needs. Mark up maps, record your observations and opinions, and discuss key issues with City staff, the consultant team, and other members of the public.

Where: Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55401

When: Wednesday, March 26, 2008
5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
6:00 p.m. Opening Presentation
Arrive at any time and stay as long as you like.

For Further Details: Please visit

Bike/Walk Week

This year’s Bike/Walk to Work Day will take place on Wednesday, May 14th. The event will be larger than last year, with more participation activities available. 2008 will include an expansion of Bike/Walk to Work Day into a week-long celebration, known as Bike/Walk Week. We are hoping to have many community-led events that week, May 12th to 18th.

At this point, we are seeking volunteers who can help with tasks including sponsorship seeking, website development, media outreach, and workplace-team-competition organizing. Anyone who would like to volunteer can contact Minneapolis Non-Motorized Transportation staff Shaun Murphy 612-673-2335 or

For those who are interested in helping out further down the road to serve as a leader for a Workplace Team or Commuter Convoy, please contact Shaun.

We're looking forward to a great event this year and hope to see you there!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Produce in Grocery Stores - Another Victory

Yet another accomplishment from last Friday's Council meeting: Minneapolis grocery stores now have to carry at least five varieties of fresh produce, as well as other fresh foods (bread or cereal, meat or vegetable protein, and dairy or vegetarian substitute).

I've been fighting for this for months, along with advocates from the City's Public Health Department and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. It's a pretty small thing - one would expect that grocery stores should have food - but it will help us increase access to healthy, nutritious foods in currently underserved parts of the city, and get a better handle on problem businesses that call themselves grocery stores but mostly sell candy, chips, pop, cigarettes and drug paraphernelia. It's one of many small changes (along with last year's Local Produce Market action) that I hope, in time, will help ensure that everyone, in all parts of Minneapolis, will have easy and comfortable access to good, wholesome foods.