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, February 29, 2008

Maximum Occupancy

Today, I gave notice of intent to my colleagues and constituents of an ordinance change I plan to make regarding Maximum Occupancy.

My goal is threefold:

1) to make maximum occupancy regulations fairer, by treating all legal adults the same, regardless of their “relatedness;”
2) to address discrepancies between the zoning and housing safety codes; and
3) to tie the number of occupants in a dwelling unit to the size of the unit.

My current plan (which is, of course, open to change) will establish a uniform citywide cap of five legal adults per dwelling unit. It will then establish lower occupancy limits based on the square footage of individual units (this will help take away the drive to carve up common space into bedrooms – such actions would not increase the occupancy of a unit), with each legal adult requiring a certain number of square feet. The lowest maximum occupancy of any unit will be 2.

In some cases, this change will lead to an increase in occupancy of a given unit. In many cases, the occupancy limit will remain the same, and in some cases it will even be reduced. Additionally, my ordinance change will require that landlords disclose to renters the maximum occupancy of each unit and keep a form signed by tenants on file stating that tenants have received this information. I also plan to prohibit property owners from increasing the occupancy of a unit by adding square footage.

I realize that this will likely be a contentious issue, and that some residents do not believe that the existing regulations should change. I disagree. I continue to believe, as I repeatedly and very publicly stated during the 2005 campaign, that for much of the community-building that Southeast residents want to see to happen, we need buy-in from the student community. In order to improve rental housing stock, we need the cooperation of the students living in it.

I believe that one way to get this sort of cooperation is to show students that they are being treated not as interlopers, second-class citizens, or problems to be solved. Instead, we should be trying whenever possible to extend to student renters the same rights and expectations we give homeowners. This is why I hired interns to put out the U Student Welcome Packet last fall, and why I plan to do it again.

I also believe that basing occupancy limits on relatedness is just not right. I do not believe that the City has the expertise or moral authority to determine what sorts of households are 'families' and what sorts are not.

I am deeply committed to improving the quality of life in University-area neighborhoods. It's why I've spent so much time and effort on initiatives designed to help U-area neighborhoods specifically. So far in my term, I have supported or instigated the following initiatives:

- making rental licenses revocable for non-payment of judgments to past tenants
- making rental licenses revocable for unpermitted work
- requiring an inspection before a dwelling unit converted from homeownership to rental can be rented, along with a hefty $1,000 fee to help disincentivize conversion
- the Welcome Packet mentioned above
- hiring interns to help organize neighborhood events
- the University District Partnership Alliance, whose Demonstration Project subcommittee I lead, which has potential to stop and even reverse the trend towards coversion to rental
- revoking many more rental licenses citywide than the previous Council
- finishing former CM Paul Zerby's work on the Noisy and Unruly Assembly ordinance


I see fixing the maximum occupancy ordinance as one of many necessary steps to improve quality of life for all residents of University-area neighborhoods.

Phthalates - Victory

The Council voted unanimously today in favor of my resolution supporting the good work of pro-children Legislators, calling for a phase out of Bisphenol-A and phthalates in children's products. This has also been included in our Legislative Agenda. I hope that our strong show of support will help this important bill pass this year.



Thanks to Minnesota Public Interest Research Group for their great work on this.

DeLaSalle AstroTurf - Victory

At the very last moment, and without any warning (to me, at least), DeLaSalle stadium their appeal of the Heritage Preservation Commission's denial of a certificate of appropriateness at this morning's Council meeting. In a timely way this was also the topic of a New York Times Article the same day the Council was voted on this.





I'm pleasantly surprised. A week ago, I thought the Park Board / DeLaSalle contingent had support lined up to grant the appeal: Council Members Johnson, Goodman, and Ostrow were vocally in favor, and Council Members Schiff and Samuels voted for it in Zoning and Planning committee. Only CMs Remington, Hofstede and I were vocally opposed.





In yesterday's Committee of the Whole, the pro- and anti-artificial turf contingents had a long, pointed debate. I prepared for a continuation of that debate this morning. One of the arguments we were prepared to make was that tire crumb, the base of artificial turf, contains phthalates - the very substance we were resolving to keep out of products intended for use by children (more on this later).





Instead, we prevailed without discussion. The Council voted unanimously to deny the appeal (standard procedure when an appeal is withdrawn).




I hope that this will serve as a precedent for denying other certificates of appropriateness for artificial turf. I also hope that the Park Board will rethink its support of this highly dubious, synthetic material in our parks. The same type of field, that includes tons of groud-up used auto tires (tire crumb) was installed at Parade Stadium without a full public discussion and study into the health of using this material. I am now convinced that we need more information about this materials before we use more of it and expose our children to it.

My father, an MD, used to say, "First, do no harm." I think this is sound advice that all of us, not just doctor's, should heed.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Adopt a Vacant House

From the City's Communications Department:


Empty homes and businesses can pose safety challenges for everyone in the surrounding community. And while the City of Minneapolis is taking comprehensive measures to make neighborhoods affected by vacant properties safer, there are many things residents can do to improve these blocks.

City leaders are encouraging neighbors and block clubs to work together and adopt vacant properties in their area. By keeping an eye on these empty places, residents can prevent them from attracting crime.

If you spot people trespassing or breaking the law on a vacant property, call 911. Do not confront them on your own.

If you see a vacant home or building that’s open to trespass, or if you observe anything on the property that could be a health or safety issue, call 311 to report it.

Check on a vacant property from time to time to make sure the doors and windows are closed so it’s not open to trespass.

It’s okay to maintain the public space, such as sidewalks and alleys, around vacant properties. You can shovel snow, rake leaves and pick up or remove flyers and litter without notifying the property’s owner. However, do NOT climb on a building, enter a building or make improvements without written consent from the property owner.

If your block has a property with an ongoing problem, contact your crime prevention specialist at your police precinct. They can work with you to resolve a variety of issues involving problem properties. For crime prevention specialist information and contact information, go to www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/police/outreach.

Congratulations Abia!

Congrats to Cedar Riverside resident and neighborhood activist Abia Ali has won the City's Theresa S Ruhland award, given every year to a volunteer who does an outstanding job of involving young people in community activities.

In addition to her work as a Human Service Representative in the Family Services Division of the Hennepin County Economic Assistance program and her volunteering with the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, Abia has been a board member of the West Bank Community Coalition for years.

Thanks for everything you do for the community, Abia. Mahadsanid!

Friday, February 22, 2008

DeLaSalle Astroturf

As incredible as it may be, the Council seems posed to vote to allow DeLaSalle High School and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to install artificial grass (or "AstroTurf") on their proposed stadium on Nicollet Island. On Thursday the Zoning and Planning Committee send forward without recommendation an appeal to our own Historic Preservation Commission who agreed with City staff and determined that artificial turf should not be allowed in the historic area.

I strongly oppose this idea. Putting plastic grass in the middle of the Mississippi in this historic National park is just a bad idea. AstroTurf is significantly worse than real grass on a number of fronts - it does not sequester carbon, does not aid water infiltration, does not cool the air, and in fact contributes to the heat island effect. The state-of-the-art type that is being proposed also includes its own artificial dirt --- 200 tons of ground up old (and toxic) tires. These are known to contain toxins and have yet to be proven safe for children to play on or for a river eco-system.

More importantly, considering the historically appropriate nexus we are to base our decisions on, AstroTurf violates the finding of historical similarity that the Council must make in order to allow its use. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation (important because this is a Federal Park district) guidelines state that the following is not recommended:
"Using a substitute material for the replacement part that does not convey the
visual appearance of the surviving parts of the building, streetscape, or
landscape feature or that is physically or chemically incompatible." [emphasis mine]

It is impossible to understand how any of my colleagues can find that replacing real grass with AstroTurf meets this requirement.

The arguments coming out of the Park Board at this point carry little weight with me. They are making the intriguing claim that fake, plastic grass is environmentally superior to real grass. Real grass must be mowed, they contend, and fertilized, and treated with herbicides, and watered, whereas AstroTurf is virtually maintenance free. This makes some sense, until you observe one of the Park Board's existing playing fields (such as Matthews Park, where I've coached baseball). Years of trampling feet and little shade have privileged plants that can comfortably fit into that niche: clover and other low, hardy plants that seldom need mowing. And the idea that grass must be infused with chemicals to prosper is, well, bunk. As to the watering, it's a wash (no pun intended): AstroTurf must be watered in the summer to keep it cool enough not to hurt the kids playing on it.

Beyond all of this, though, I have a deeper objection to this move. This is one of only a handful of conditions the Council placed on this private-school playing field on public park land that was a bad idea in the first place. The Council has already reneged on other conditions, having to do with the height and brightness of lights and size limitation on signage, and now policymakers are poised to do it again - take back a condition that we imposed. This undermines the argument made by the school and the City in the lawsuit brought by the stadium opponents, that the conditions the City has placed on the project show that we have not made our decisions in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner. Put another way, our willingness to remove every condition to which the school and MPRB object shows that on the details and the fundamental issue of whether or not to build a stadium on protected parkland, the Council is making decisions simply out of deference to the applicant. The message: we like DeLaSalle, and we'll let them do whatever they want, no matter the parkland guidelines, no matter the historical preservation guidelines, no matter the opposition from neighbors or environmental groups, no matter what we ourselves have said in the past, no matter what.

And that's not the way we're supposed to make these decisions.

Sergeant Preston's

Sergeant Preston's bar in Seven Corners has new ownership, and they've received a class B liquor license from the Council. This was an expansion from the property's existing class C license, but conforms with other class B licenses in the area.

A nearby resident was very concerned about this expansion, given the poor track record of another liquor establishment, the Corner Bar. This bar is often noisier than either the state or Minneapolis noise codes allow, and has seen few consequences for this misbehavior.

Responding to these concerns, I helped negotiate a tough set of conditions (see here for a draft and here for the final) for the Sergeant Preston's liquor license with the new owners, including the capacity of the Licensing Department to reduce the number of nights they may have live music if they receive 3 or more noise citations. This adds teeth to the nuisance noise ordinance (which, like the nuisance odor ordinance, leaves something to be desired in terms of adequate enforcement - just ask neighbors of Morningstar Coffee in Seward), which I hope will help us better regulate the spillover effects of this establishment.

My office is also currently working with Environmental Health and the MPD First Precinct to better address the problems Corner Bar is generating for their neighbors. Working with a business that is unable or unwilling to change or improve distrubing practices, like exessive, wall-shaking noise and fowl, unhealthy fumes, is challenging for residents, city staff and elected officials alike. We are slowly finding better ways to bring legal consequences into play, but it is always more effective to have cooperative businesses, like most of them in Ward 2, who respect the rights of nearby residents.

Fairview Children's Expansion

Earlier this month, the Council voted to vacate portions of 7th St S and 24th Ave S to accomodate Fairview Riverside's Children's Hospital expansion. Cam was unable to vote on this, due to a conflict of interest - his spouse works for Fairview.

In the weeks leading up to this vote, Cam focused on listening to concerns and then bringing others together to work towards a solution without him present. To find resolution, I worked with residents of the Riverside Park neighborhood, Fairview staff and CPED Director Mike Christenson on a Good Neighbor Agreement between the hospital and residents. The purpose of this agreement is to address the ongoing concerns that residents have about Fairview's impacts on their neighborhood, and to create a more collaborative relationship between the institution and residents. Here's the text of the agreement:


Riverside Park Neighborhood Task Force / Fairview Proposed Good Neighbor Agreement

Fairview commits to:

1) Develop a lasting partnership between the Riverside Park Neighborhood Task Force and Fairview fundraising and community relations staff to: a) raise funds, b) plan and c) implement plans to restore, improve, and maintain Riverside Park, and improve lighting and safety in the neighborhood. This would include staff attendance at regular monthly meetings. Fairview also commits to allocate an initial $10,000 to this partnership.

2) Work with residents, other nearby institutions and the City to deal with parking and traffic concerns in the neighborhood. Take the following specific actions:

a. Establish SnOasis program for Riverside Park residents to use Fairview parking facilities during city snow emergencies.
b. Communicate Snow Emergency rules to Fairview visitors and staff.
c. Place stop sign on exit from Fairview parking ramp onto 26th Ave S.
d. Continue to incentivize non-Single Occupancy Vehicle modes of transportation, including exploration of shuttle to LRT station(s).
e. Create and share with residents 5, 10, and 20-year parking plans.

3) Complete 10-year Fairview Riverside Master Plan by end of 2009, using public participation process approved by Council Member’s office. Fairview acknowledges the provisions on campus expansion contained in the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan.

4) Use Integrated and pesticides on the Fairview campus. Use the most environmentally and human friendly products and processes available, including non-synthetic pesticides and herbicides, to maintain the grounds on the Fairview campus.

5) Use best efforts to prevent idling of shuttles, delivery trucks and other diesel vehicles on Fairview property and on nearby residential streets.

6) Keep the mature trees on Riverside that are not required to be removed for temporary access at least until demolition of existing parking ramp. Make every reasonable effort to keep said trees during and after demolition.Pest Management to reduce or eliminate the use of herbicides

7) Commit to work with the West Bank Community Coalition, the Council Member’s office and Institutional neighbors on a broader Community Benefits Agreement.

Phthalate Resolution

I've proposed a resolution supporting a bill at the Legislature calling for a statewide phase-out of bisphenol-A and phthalates (see here for more information on these chemicals) in children's products. Yesterday, the resolution passed the Health, Energy and Environment committee, with CM Lisa Goodman vocally opposing it (though she had to leave before the vote) and CM Paul Ostrow abstaining. Committee Chair Scott Benson, who helped in drafting the resolution, has joined me as a coauthor.



This now moves to the Intergovernmental Relations committee next Tuesday, and to the full Council that Friday. I hope that my colleagues will join me in going on the record supporting the good work of our Legislative allies on protecting Minnesota kids from these known endocrine disruptors and suspected carcinogens.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Climate Change Grants

The City is again offering Climate Change Grants to motivate Minneapolis residents and businesses to take immediate actions to reduce their climate change impacts, building on a successful grant program last year.



Two different types of grants are being offered in 2008:


Grassroots Climate Change Micro Grants of up to $1,500 (no match required)

Application deadline: 4:00 p.m. Thursday March 20, 2008


Climate Change Innovations Grants of up to $10,000 (no match required)

Application deadline: 4:00 p.m. Monday, March 24, 2008



Last year, Climate Change Grants were awarded to 25 neighborhood groups, nonprofits and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to help combat harmful effects of carbon dioxide and slow the pace of climate change. Second Ward participants included the Seward, Longfellow and Southeast Como neighborhood groups, Bedlam Theater and Trinity Lutheran. To see how these and other organizations effectively used grant funds to help reduce Minneapolis’ carbon dioxide footprint, go here.

These grants also got some press recently in an article called America's 50 Greenest Cities. In it Minneapolis ranked 11th and we were noted for our grants: "If you’ve got a world-saving idea, the City of Lakes will give you, your church or your community group the money to get it done. Twenty $1,000 mini-grants and five $10,000 awards were distributed last year to programs ranging from household power-consumption monitors to “block club talks” about global warming. A similar initiative has sprung up in Seattle. "

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bridge 9 extension - victory!

Things have changed since I wrote this earlier this week. Inspired by the questions I've been asking, the City's highly professional Public Works staff found a way to move funding into the tunnel under the I-35W bridge, extending the Bridge 9 trail from the U of M to Downtown.



The funds they found come from unused Municipal State Aid dollars allocated to upgrading at-grade rail crossings. Due to changes at the Federal level, it's unclear whether we need these projects at all, anymore.



My colleagues strongly supported this shift of funds: Council Members Ostrow, Hofstede, Johnson, Lilligren, Schiff, Glidden and Hodges joined me in voting for staff's solution. CMs Lilligren and Hodges were especially helpful in building this consensus. The tunnel will be built. We will have a trail connecting Southeast to Downtown.

Winter Biking

I'm quoted in a recent article in the Southwest Journal on biking in the winter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bicyclist Protection Ordinance

Chicago has enacted a new ordinance protecting bicyclist safety from some things that car drivers do all too frequently:



- turn left or right into or in front of bicyclists continuing straight (known as the "left hood" and "right hook," respectively).

- open doors into passing bicyclists (known as "dooring").

- pass bicyclists without maintaining proper distance.



The Chicago ordinance makes the above actions punishable by a fine of $150 if they interfere with a bicyclist's progress, or a fine of $500 if they result in an accident.



This Friday, I plan to give intent to introduce a similar ordinance. It's not certain that we'll be able to enact all of the above restrictions, due to possible redundancy with or limitations imposed by State law, but I feel it's important for the City to do as much as it can to protect bicyclists.



Since publicly taking this position, I have heard from a few people that the City should focus (as well or instead) on bicyclist misbehavior. I agree that we need to focus on both, but also want to offer the following points to consider:



1) The dangerous actions bicyclists most often take are already against the law: running stop signs and stop lights, swerving without signaling into a traffic lane, riding without lights, etc.



2) The City is focusing on bicyclist behavior in a variety of different ways. Bicyclists can be and are cited for violating traffic laws, especially when they lead to accidents. The City website devotes a whole page to encouraging safe and legal riding. The City is hiring a set of "Bicycle & Pedestrian Ambassadors" to help inexperienced bicyclists gain confidence and learn how to ride safely and legally.



3) The majority of car/bike accidents are caused by drivers. In 2006, motorists were responsible for 60% of car/bike accidents for which fault was clearly determined. (Here's the data: out of 223 accidents, 120 were caused by drivers, 80 were caused by cyclists and fault for 23 was undetermined.)





It's clear to me that drivers are not excercising due care when interacting with cyclists on our streets. I hope that the debate on this ordinance proves a teachable moment for cyclists and drivers alike.

Bridge 9 Extension

Tragically, it looks like the City is on the verge of giving up on a significant bicycle infrastructure opportunity.



Bridge 9, a beautiful old rail bridge that has been converted to bicycle and pedestrian use, connects the University east bank campus to the west bank, near Riverview Tower and Bluff Street Park. Though it's a wonderful ride, it currently gets little use, because it lacks good connections at either end. The East Bank connection will be addressed by the U of M trail, a long-planned bike trail that will follow the railroad line into Dinkytown and link up to the planned Granary Road bike trail.



The West Bank connection has been harder to solve. Today, if one sought to get from the University to Downtown via Bridge 9, one would have to either go out of the way to get down to West River Parkway (a very significant grade change), or go through the far from ideal Seven Corners intersection. A more direct route into downtown and the existing bike lanes on 2nd Street has long been blocked by the I-35W bridge.



One of the only silver linings of the I-35W bridge collapse was that it offered a possibility for reweaving this particular tear in the urban fabric. A tunnel was proposed, which would carry people under the new bridge, creating a direct, flat, fast link between the University and Downtown. This proposal could help strengthen the effort to convince the Park Board to invest in Bluff Street Park, and make it an amenity for University folks, West Bank residents and Downtown residents and workers. It has the support of the bicycle community, having come in a very close third on a list of ten potential bike projects citywide in a Bicycle Advisory Committee vote.



But MnDOT's contractor has come back with a staggering quote of $1,200,000 for including this tunnel in their reconstruction of the bridge. So far the Federal and State governments have refused to pay for it. I am hopeful that the price will come down and that I can convince a mojority of my colleagues to support funding this. I plan to fight for this as hard as I can, as long as there's any chance that it can be built.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Foreclosures - Project Lifeline

I was thrilled to see the Federal Government unveil Project Lifeline, a program to help deal with the foreclosure crisis that delivers most of what the Minneapolis City Council asked for last month: a 30-day freeze on foreclosures and a commitment to find more affordable loans for folks in trouble.

It's good to see that Minneapolis-based lender Wells Fargo is one of the six major lenders to have signed on to this program. They deserve credit for taking this bold, constructive step. I said in a previous post on this topic that I hoped lenders would listen to the Council's plea, and it's incredibly heartening that they did.

I'm proud that the Council went on record supporting this action - the Council majority has been proven both prescient and reasonable in asking for lenders to take this action.

Lastly, it's not often that I agree with anything done by the Bush Administration, but they should be given credit for helping broker this agreement with these major lenders.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Fast and Furless

We're very excited to hear that Fast and Furless, a 'vegan boutique' from St. Paul, will be opening at 2615 E Franklin, in the old Smiley's Clinic building. It's a great fit for the Seward neighborhood, and as a destination business it could help increase customer traffic on the Franklin corridor. On a personal note, I'm thrilled - I haven't purchased a pair of shoes anywhere other than Fast and Furless since they opened in 2005.



Please join Cam and me at the grand opening bash on March 29th.



Welcome to the neighborhood, Jon!

Get a Compost Bin Dirt Cheap for Earth Day 2008

Hennepin County is announcing a great opportunity for county residents to purchase affordable compost bins for only $35. Bachman’s, Lakewinds Natural Foods and The Reuse Center are selling the bins.



Backyard composting is an easy way for residents to turn much of the waste our yards and kitchens into a rich material that can be used to improve the soil. Using finished compost on lawns and gardens will provide an organic fertilizer, suppress weeds, and hold moisture in the soil.


The compost bin features a 13-cubic-foot capacity, a sturdy, easy-to-open lid, two harvesting doors, and is made of black recycled plastic. If you want one, you need to pre-order by April 1 here. (There is a limit of one bin per household.) Payment will be made at the time of pick-up during regular store hours. Bins will be available for pick-up on April 19 through Earth Day, April 22. You can choose from the following locations:


§ Bachman’s, 6010 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis
§ Lakewinds Natural Foods 17501 Minnetonka Blvd, Minnetonka
§ The Reuse Center, 2801 21st Ave S, Minneapolis


If residents miss the pre-order deadline, a limited quantity of bins will also be available at Hennepin County’s Drop-off Facility in Brooklyn Park.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Central Corridor meeting 2-12

Realizing that the presentation they made to Prospect Park residents in January was not tailored specifically enough to residents' concerns and questions, the Metropolitan Council has scheduled another meeting in Prospect Park:


Tuesday, February 12, 7-9 PM
St Frances Cabrini Church
1500 Franklin Ave SE




The questions that will be addressed include:
What is the currently planned route through Prospect Park?
What is the current proposed location and design for the 29th Avenue station?
What changes will be made to University Avenue?
How will it affect traffic patterns and pedestrian crossings?
What are the prospects for Granary Road?

This will likley be the first in a series of meetings as we get a closer look at the Met Councils plans, offer feedback and then review new plans based on the community suggestions. It took several meetings and a number of proposals to come to decisions about the West Bank station and the Met Council made sure that engineers and other professional staff were avaiable for the community. I look forward to a similar process as we work to resolve the issues related to the Corridor in the East Bank and Prospect Park areas.

For some background information you can look here for a recent MPR report.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Second Chance Day

I will be attending the Council on Crime and Justice’s first-ever Second Chance Day on the Hill next Wednesday, February 13 at 11am. Over 1,000 ex-offenders, community members, and supporters of justice reform will come together in the Capitol Rotunda to highlight the importance of second chances for ex-offenders. This ties into my ongoing work on preventing and addressing youth violence, fighting the injustices in our criminal justice system, working to end homelessness and digging deeper to address the root causes of crime.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Foreclosures

I cosponsored a resolution with CM Don Samuels calling for the largest lenders and loan servicers to voluntarily freeze foreclosure activity in Minneapolis for three months, by allowing borrowers to refinance to lower interest rates, freeze adjustable rate mortgages, and other constructive actions. I've pasted the text below, or you can read it in context here (scroll down to page 47).



This resolution passed 9-4, with CMs Goodman, Ostrow, Johnson and Colvin Roy voting against it. Their rather tortuous reasoning was that a) we're already working on this in more substantive ways, b) the resolution is just a gesture, devoid of any real meaning and c) our "partners" in the lending community would see the resolution as a "stick" with which the City is beating them over the head. (How an "empty gesture" could be an effective "stick" is beyond me.)



Though I appreciate the great work of our staff and policymakers on foreclosure prevention, we're clearly not doing enough. And though the resolution was non-binding, calling for voluntary action, I believe it's important that the Council has gone on record attempting to lead lenders in a direction that will be better for our neighborhoods: away from foreclosure and towards sustainable lending practices.



I hope that the industry will listen, but I'm not willing to simply ask politely. There is considerable evidence that people of color continue to face discrimination, in the form of worse loans (higher interest rates, more Adjustable Rate Mortages, etc) at the exact same income levels than whites. At my urging and the request of Minnesota ACORN, the City’s Civil Rights Department is working with the Institute on Race and Poverty, looking into data on possible discriminatory loan and foreclosure practices by major lenders and loan servicers in Minneapolis. I will continue to press for a Civil Rights investigation into this.





RESOLUTION 2008R-023
By Samuels, Gordon, Hofstede, Lilligren, Remington, Schiff
Calling For a Voluntary Moratorium on Foreclosures by Subprime Mortgage Lenders.

Whereas, subprime lending has grown rapidly in the city of Minneapolis, especially North Minneapolis, during the last few years (“Can HMDA Data Herald Neighborhood Changes?”, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis – Community
Dividend 2006); and

Whereas, the Center for Responsible Lending estimated in a December 2006 report that one in five subprime loans will end up in foreclosure (“Losing Ground: Foreclosures in the Subprime Market and Their Cost to Homeowners” Center
for Responsible Lending (December 19, 2006); and

Whereas, many homeowners with subprime ARMs have not been able to refinance due to thestagnation or decrease in home values (“The Subprime Meltdown- A Primer” , National Economic Research Association, June 21, 2007); and

Whereas, more than two-thirds of subprime loans have prepayment penalties, compared to just 2% of prime loans (“Blame the Borrowers? Not So Fast”, Gretchen Morgenson, The New York Times, November 25, 2007); and

Whereas, prepayment penalties trap borrowers into subprime loans with high or adjustable rates (“The Subprime Meltdown- A Primer” , National Economic
Research Association, June 21, 2007); and

Whereas, some mortgage brokers and lenders made loans to families who could not afford the loan (“The Subprime Meltdown- A Primer”, National Economic Research Association, June 21, 2007); and

Whereas, 46% of subprime loans made in 2006 required little or no income documentation(“Subprime ‘Liar Loans’ Fuel Bust With $1 Billion Fraud”, Bloomberg News, April 25, 2007); and

Whereas, subprime loans have led to an increase in foreclosure rates which hurts Minneapolis neighborhoods as well as the families who are losing their homes (“The Subprime Meltdown- A Primer”, National Economic Research Association, June 21, 2007); and

Whereas, these vacant homes attract crime and cost the City of Minneapolis and other cities money in crime prevention and the deterioration of neighborhoods (“The Municipal Cost of Foreclosure: A Chicago Case Study”, Homeownership Preservation Foundation, February 27, 2005) ; and

Whereas, the City of Minneapolis has seen a tripling of foreclosures in 2007 as well as a tripling in vacant and boarded properties at a cost to the city of $1.9 million;

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by The City Council of The City of Minneapolis:

That the City of Minneapolis calls on the 25 largest subprime mortgage lenders and servicers in the country to voluntarily agree to a 3 month suspension on foreclosures of owner-occupied properties in the city of Minneapolis.

Be It Further Resolved that the City of Minneapolis calls on these lenders and servicers to make every effort during the suspension period to help their customers avoid foreclosure and remain in their homes, including modifying loans by reducing the interest rate and/or the principal to achieve an affordable monthly payment.

Be It Further Resolved that the City of Minneapolis encourages lenders holding rental propertiesto keep these properties occupied with tenants for as long as possible.

Be It Further Resolved that the City of Minneapolis encourages these companies to continue to work with the City of Minneapolis and community-based organizations during the suspension period to reach those homeowners who are not communicating with the servicer.

Adopted 1/18/2008. Yeas, 9; Nays, 4 as follows:
Yeas - Hofstede, Schiff, Lilligren, Glidden, Remington, Benson, Hodges, Samuels, Gordon.
Nays - Ostrow, Colvin Roy, Goodman, Johnson.

Circuses

As you've likely heard, the Ostrow/Hodges Circus "regulation" ordinance has passed the Council, and I've taken a bit of a beating in the press.




In committee, I moved an amendment to the ordinance that prohibited direct contact between wild animals and the public. Most of the injuries and deaths associated with wild animal circuses over the last 10 years have been due to direct contact (rides, etc). Such a prohibition would also have prevented most risk of human-animal transmission of diseases such as tuberculosis.





I was very upfront with my colleagues about the intent and effect of this amendment, and it passed in committee unanimously, with CMs Ostrow, Hofstede, Samuels and Johnson (who later "flip-flopped" and voted against this provision in the full Council) voting for it. Then the industry lobbyists made their rounds, and this public safety regulation was stripped out in Council.




I was unable to vote for the Ostrow/Hodges "regulation" ordinance, in the end. I do not believe that it will do anything substantive to protect animal welfare, or to protect members of the public from harm. Additionally, I believe it will be overly burdensome to our animal care and control staff, increasing their workload without any possibility of increasing their staffing. They will simply be less able to respond to "third-tier" animal complaints such as barking dogs when the circus is in town.


This issue has been a very strange experience for my office. We've spent considerably less time on this than we do on any single neighborhood-specific issue such as the recent Good Neighbor Agreement my staff helped broker between Fairview Children's Hospital and the Riverside Park neighborhood, or the time and energy we put into making the move of the Seward Co-op possible, or our participation in the Grand Rounds planning process, or our work on the University District Partnership Alliance, or even a proposed gas station re-build on University. But this in-the-trenches work gets little to no press from the larger media, while "zany" issues like the circus ordinance gets oodles.






Why is this? It's especially odd, given the main argument of every negative article, column, and letter to the editor: "this issue is a waste of time." If the issue is waste of time, unsubstantive, not the "real work" the Council should be doing, then the Star Tribune (and others) should devote less space to it, and more to the "real work" we are doing, which often appears to get short shrift on their pages, from my perspective.






Still, this is to be expected and is understandable. Reporters (and readers perhaps) are drawn to controversy and novelty, and this issue fit the bill. So a small issue, towards the bottom of my list of priorities, is suddenly elevated in the media to being my only work worth mentioning.




Lastly, I should note that the response from Second Ward constituents throughout this process has been overwhelmingly positive, which has helped motivate me to take the positions I have taken. Thank you all for your willingness to listen to both sides of this issue and understand why I took this position. Thanks especially to those who've taken the time to share your thoughts and support.