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, April 30, 2009

Homegrown Minneapolis Goes Public

For the past couple months I have been involved (and Robin has been very very involved) in working on one of the most interesting and exciting (and potentially controversial) initiatives happening in City Hall. It's called Homegrown Minneapolis and the group working on it will be going public with some its recommendations in May.

The basic concept is to find more ways to get fresh, locally grown food sold, distributed and eaten in Minneapolis.

For the past few months a group staff, residents and others have been working on ways we can do a better job getting good, fresh, locally produced food to the people who live and eat in Minneapolis. Food grown locally is good for your health and promotes a stronger local economy and protection of our environment.

Homegrown Minneapolis recommendations are expected to include:

  1. Using public and private land for community gardens and food production,

  2. Increasing access to farmers’ markets or mobile food delivery services,

  3. Encouraging restaurants, schools, and other organizations to use locally grown food on their menus, and

  4. Supporting entrepreneurs who want to create small businesses focused on local food production.

Here is the timeline for what is a critical month for people to focus on this issue if it is to be successful:

  • Recommendations will be posted May 1 and residents can offer feedback at the public meetings or in writing through May 31. Online public comment period opens May 1st.

  • May 12th, Stakeholder Group Meeting, 9am at Currie Conference Center

  • 6:30pm Public Meeting – North Minneapolis at the North Commons Park recreation center, 1801 James Ave. N

  • May 18th, 6:30pm Public Meeting – South Minneapolis at the Martin Luther King Park recreation center (4055 Nicollet Ave. S)

  • May 20th, 3pm Presentation of Draft Recommendations to Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee at City Hall

  • May 21st, 4:30pm Presentation of Draft Recommendations to Capital Long range Imrovement Committee at City Hall – tentative

  • May 26th, 6pm Presentation of Draft Recommendations to Public Health Advisory Committee , location TBD

  • May 28th, 9am Steering Committee Meeting at the Minneapolis Department of Health & Family Support

  • May 31st online public comment period closes

  • June 15th, 1:30pm Presentation of Final Recommendations to Health, Energy, and Environment Committee , at City Hall – tentative

Questions about the initiative or the community meetings can be directed to Kristen Klingler at (612) 673-2910 or These meeting sites are wheelchair accessible. Disability related accommodations, such as a sign language interpreter or materials in alternative format may be requested by calling Kristin Klingler by May 5.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Neighborhood Electric Vehicles

The Council took another great action this morning. This one allows more low and medium-speed “neighborhood electric vehicles” such as the ZENN to be sold in more locations in the City. Before today, we treated these vehicles the same way we treat used cars. After this morning, they will be able to be sold in more and less-dense commercial zones.

I made a slight change to today’s action, which may have an important impact in terms of preventing confusion down the road. The original ordinance defined neighborhood electric vehicles as having a top speed of 20-25mph. However, the State Legislature, led by Representative Jim Davnie, has recently pushed the top speed up to 35mph. My change makes our definition of neighborhood electric vehicle consistent with the State’s, so that they can grow and evolve together.

I hope that people will take advantage of this Council action to start offering these innovative, zero-emission vehicles in more locations around town.

Bee Keeping Now Legal in Minneapolis

Bees in the City

This morning, the Council ended a decades-long prohibition on keeping bees in our city. I strongly supported this ordinance change, for a few main reasons. We are in the middle of the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative, which is pushing the City to look at how we can be more supportive of growing food in the City. Local honey produced by local honeybees and consumed by Minneapolis residents is a great start. Bees are also prolific pollinators, and can help to dramatically increase the yields of vegetable gardens.

The one issue I’ve been hearing about from prospective beekeepers – who are mostly very excited about this new direction from the City – is that the staff recommendation included a requirement that all permitted beekeepers indemnify the City for any lawsuit that might occur. I agreed with them that this was unnecessary, an example of the City trying to minimize our risk in a way that undermines our stated policy goals – in this case, allowing and even encouraging people to keep bees. We do not require anyone else who applies for an animal permit to indemnify the City or carry extra insurance, with one glaring exception: we require insurance for dogs that have been declared dangerous. I didn’t think it was a good message to send that we believe that bees are as dangerous as dogs that have proven they will bite someone. I also didn’t believe this was a good precedent to set for future areas in ordinance where we might loosen regulations. For all of these reasons, I moved to strike this indemnification requirement this morning. After some discussion my motion passed and the new ordinance passed with this requirement.

All in all, this was a great step towards producing more food for ourselves right here in Minneapolis, and I’ll be watching to see how the urban beekeepers take advantage of it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

City Board Diversity Audit

My office, and specifically my extremely capable intern Annie Welch, is in the beginning stages of an important new initiative: a diversity audit of all official City Boards and Commissions. This includes advisory groups like the Citizen's Environmental Advisory Committee, various appeals boards, special service district boards and other groups.

The idea is to do a survey of all members of these boards and commissions to find out how well we're doing at appointing people who match Minneapolis. We're including lots of different demographic data: race, gender, age, geography, disability status, sexual orientation, etc.

The hope is that this information, once we've compiled it all, will give us a 'baseline' against which to measure future efforts to increase the diversity of our boards and commissions. This will fit into the broader, ongoing work of the Coordinator's Office to improve the appointments process to these important facets of the City's community engagement work. I'm hopeful that this will help us move in a better, more inclusive direction, and in the end will improve the decisions made at all levels of City government by including more voices in and viewpoints in our decision-making processes.

Trader Joe's

One of the issues the Council took up at the last Council meeting was a controversial legislative support item regarding a Trader Joe's store on Lyndale. Representative Karen Clark has sponsored a bill at the State Legislature exempting this specific proposed store from a rule that limits how close a new liquor store can be to another existing liquor store.

Current City ordinance states that a new liquor store must be at least 2,000 feet away from an existing store. At this location, Hum's Liquor is just down the block. It seems that Trader Joe's business formula requires that they have a beer/wine component to their stores. For them to open a store at this location, the Legislature will have to pass Rep Clark's bill exempting them from our rules.

I did not support signing onto this bill, for a variety of reasons. First, I do not believe this is a good way to make policy. There are at least sixteen places in Minneapolis that are at least 2,000 feet from an existing liquor store and zoned correctly for this intensity of retail. If Trader Joe's wants to open a new store in Minneapolis, more power to them. But they can look for a spot that fits the laws as they are, just as any other business would have to. Some of my colleagues have pushed for loosening the liquor rules to allow new stores within 1,000 feet of existing stores, but they haven't convinced the majority of the Council to enact this as the citywide rule. I simply can't abide bending the rules for one business based on its lobbying prowess and access to policymakers. This is not a level playing field for fair competition.

Second, I agree with my colleague Scott Benson that this will likely set a new precedent. When a new liquor store (or grocery store that wants to sell beer and wine) wants to open in a previously disallowed location, they now know what to do: find a friendly legislator and get a specific exemption from the rules made just for you.

Third, and most importantly, this action is at odds with everything we say about supporting small businesses. The direct competitors within a block include the Wedge Coop, a homegrown, cooperatively-owned grocery store, and Hum's Liquor's, a single-entrepreneur business that has been in operation for over 40 years. On this block of all places, why would the City do special favors for a multinational corporation (Trader Joe's parent company is based out of Germany), rather than strengthening and supporting our own small businesses? When Minneapolitans spend a dollar at an outfit like Trader Joe's, how much of it recirculates in the local economy? I'd venture that it's significantly less than when the same dollar is spent at a small business or coop. I would love to see our City moving further in the direction of supporting small businesses over multinational corporations - instead, when we do favors, it always seems to be for the largest operators.

This was a close vote. The support item only passed 7-6. I was joined in voting against it by Council Members Benson, Colvin Roy, Glidden, Goodman and Hofstede. Those who voted in favor were CMs Hodges, Johnson, Lilligren, Ostrow, Remington, Samuels, and Schiff.

This question will come back to the Council, if the Legislature passes Rep. Clark's bill. I will almost certainly oppose the license when it returns to us, for many of the same reasons above, and will work to find one more Council Member to join those of us who opposed this from the start.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Celebrating Public Art

The Minneapolis Arts Commission (MAC) is looking to honor the best of the 2008 Minneapolis public art experiences at the first annual MAC Awards this June.

To qualify, nominations must be of artwork installed or occurred in 2008 and located within Minneapolis. Works commissioned by Art in Public Places are not eligible. MAC awards will recognize contribution in the following categories:

Community Involvement in Public Art
Celebrating the City through Public Art, and
Integration of Public Art in Private Development

Nominations may be submitted by artists and art organizations for their own work, or may be submitted by a third party. For more information or to download nomination applications, visit the Minneapolis Arts Commission Web site, or call (612) 673-2597.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Graffiti Micro-Grants

Does your organization have a creative idea for preventing and cleaning up graffiti? If so, the City wants to help fund it.

Micro grants of up to $10,000 per project are being made available to communities and community-based organizations that target graffiti in innovative ways. Totaling $75,000, these micro grants are intended to act as seed money for manageable projects that will eventually lead to larger, more ambitious initiatives.

To get an application for micro grants, visit the City’s graffiti website. Questions can also be submitted in writing prior to the meeting by email or by faxing them to (612) 673-2250.

Completed applications are due no later than 4:00 pm on April 24, 2009.

Free City WiFi for Nonprofits

From a recent City press release:

The City is seeking applications for 100 “Wireless Community” accounts. These free wireless Internet accounts are intended for nonprofit organizations that provide free computer access to the public.

Agencies selected to receive the free accounts will also receive free monthly subscription vouchers that they can use to recruit volunteers who can assist with staffing and training in their community technology centers. In total, $15,000 in free service vouchers will be distributed, in addition to the 100 free accounts.

Accounts will be given to agencies that provide public computer access, technology literacy training, and/or technology support for underserved communities. Applications are due by Monday, May 18. Applications will be reviewed by the City of Minneapolis staff and the Digital Inclusion Advisory Board, which will make recommendations to the City Council on which organizations will receive free accounts in 2009. The accounts will be good through 2010.

The City of Minneapolis will distribute requests for applications for free wireless accounts to local nonprofit agencies. Applications will also be available online at

The free “Wireless Community” accounts are one of the tangible community benefits that resulted from the City of Minneapolis’ contract with USI Wireless, the company that is constructing a wireless network to blanket the entire city.

Minneapolis Twitters

The City is jumping on the Twitter bandwagon. You can now get info on all news and events happening in City government that can be summed up in 140 characters or less (which pretty much excludes any news from my office!) by following Minneapolis' Twitter account.

From the City's press release:

"Twitter is a popular, free, social networking and micro-blogging service that
allows users to send and read short (140 characters in length) updates that are
also known as “tweets.” When the City of Minneapolis sends out a “tweet,” those
who choose to follow the City will receive the headline of the story and also a
link back to the full story on the City’s Web site.

To follow the City of Minneapolis on Twitter, you must first have your own Twitter account. Once you have one, click the “Follow us on Twitter” link on the City’s home page, or visit and click the “follow” button underneath the City of Minneapolis logo. Users can then set their preferences to receive alerts via Twitter’s Web site, a cell phone, e-mail or even RSS feeds."

"Sofa Ban" Fails

Council Member Hofstede's proposed ban on upholstered furniture on porches was defeated at the Council today on a 9-4 vote. Interestingly, only those Council Members who voted for it when it came before the Public Safety committee (Hofstede herself, Samuels, Johnson and Ostrow) were supportive today.

CM Hofstede read a letter of support from the family of one of the students who died in the well-known 2003 house fire in Southeast Como. It was difficult to oppose such a heartfelt request for the City to act, but I still could not in good conscience support the ordinance as proposed. The data provided to the Council by our Fire Department makes abundantly clear that upholstered furniture on porches is not a major driver of fires in our city: less than one-third of one percent of the fires in Minneapolis over the last three years have had anything to do with upholstered furniture outside. As importantly, there has been at least one fire caused by upholstered furniture manufactured for outdoor use (which would have been expressly allowed under CM Hofstede's proposed ordinance). Together, these facts make clear to me that this proposal was never really about fire prevention.

I am actively exploring changes to our fire alarm / smoke detector ordinance that would, in my opinion, better address these fire safety concerns. I look forward to working with CM Hofstede on this more specifically-tailored push for better fire protection for residents.

That leaves aesthetics. I am, as I have said in previous posts, skeptical and cautious when it comes to aesthetic arguments. One analogy, which I used in my arguments this morning, is house paint. It's the City's job to tell homeowners that they need to repair chipping and peeling paint. Lead paint chips are a well-known public health issue, and one property owner's lack of maintenance can bring down a neighbor's property value. But it's definitely not the City's role to tell homeowners what colors they can choose for their house. We give people the freedom to make that aesthetic decision themselves. I see our current code, which allows us to address unhealthy, ill-maintained sofas, as the same as a "chipping paint" regulation. In my estimation, CM Hofstede's proposal crossed the line into "color of paint" territory.

The last point I'll make on this is to react to one other point CM Hofstede made this morning. She claimed that the City doesn't allow people to have "piles of wood" in their backyards. However, we do. Look here for the municipal code and search for ordinance 228.30. You'll find that we allow people to have up to two cords of firewood on their premises, as long as it is stacked neatly, kept from rotting, etc. This is a good example of a smart regulation, in that it allows people to do something that they enjoy (e.g. store firewood, sit on their porches), as long as they do it in a way that's reasonably healthy and conscientious to their neighbors (e.g. stack firewood neatly, keep sofas from rotting).

This is the way our laws should look, and that's the reason I joined the majority of my colleagues in voting down the "sofa ban" this morning.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Minneapolis 7th Least Wasteful City

According to a nationwide "Least Wasteful Cities" study by Nalgene that evaluated waste reduction – including adaptive reuse, recycling, using public transit, and energy conservation – in the nation’s 25 largest cities, Minneapolis came in seventh least wasteful in the nation.

Interestingly, especially when considered in the context of the “upholstered furniture” ban being considered by the Council, Minneapolis ranked third in buying second-hand items, including clothing, electronics, and... furniture.

Other areas in which we scored high:
We're second in the nation in borrowing books from the library.
We're fourth in using reusable containers in place of disposable food storage containers (plastic bags, tin foil, etc.), and in saving leftover food.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Bicycling Sustainability Indicator

This year, the Council will update the City's Sustainability Indicators. Looking through them, it struck me that there were two problems with the only indicator regarding bicycling, which commits the City to "add 44 miles of bicycle lanes and trails to 2004 levels by 2015, 14 miles of on-street lanes and 30 miles of off-street trails."

First, the City is poised to far exceed these targets much earlier than 2015, in part due to the Non-motorized Transportation Program. Second, while bikeways are important, what we care about more is our bicycling mode share. When we talk about being the second bike-friendliest city in the country, we're talking about our bike commuting mode share of 3.8% (second only to Portland's 3.9%).

I brought this opportunity to the City's Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) two months ago. They agreed that we should change these targets, and a group of interested people met and corresponded with me to create a proposal. We brought it to today's BAC, and the group voted unanimously in favor of the following targets:

1) Mode share. Reach a bicycling mode share of 6% by 2014, with a milestone of 5% by 2011.
2) Lanes and trails. Increase on-street lanes and off-street trails by a combined 55 miles from 2008 levels by 2015.
3) Bike counts. Increase the number of cyclists measured in bike counts (at the same locations at which bike counts have already been taken) by 60% over the 2008 baseline by 2014, with a milestone of 30% by 2011.

These goals are much more aggressive than what the City has aimed for in the past. I'm hopeful that the Council will ratify the good work of the BAC and formally adopt these goals in the new Sustainability Plan.

Banning Sofas and Easy Chairs

I want to clarify my position on an ordinance proposed by council member Hofstede regarding furniture in yards and on porches.

The specific proposed amendment adds the following language: Any upholstered furniture not manufactured for outdoor use, including upholstered chairs, upholstered couches, and mattresses placed in any front yard, side yard or rear yard abutting a street or on any opened porch exposed to the elements, shall constitute a nuisance condition.” According to discussions at the committee an exposed porch includes any porch that has a roof and railings but it not fully enclosed with windows or screens.

I have listened carefully to the concerns and reasoning behind this proposal and can appreciate the good intentions of those who are supporting and bringing this idea forward, but I can't support this proposal as presented.

I am willing to support the portion that restricts the use of upholstered furniture (not specifically manufactured for outdoor use) on lawns and in yards. Though I believe we have ordinances in place that allow us to address nuisance conditions, I can understand the desire for more specificity.

However, after quite a bit of consideration, talking to others and after looking at porches throughout Ward 2, Minneapolis and St. Paul, I have decided that I cannot support the proposed new prohibition on upholstered furniture on open porches.

My position on this became clear to me the other morning when the sun was making a much-appreciated appearance after several days of cold and rain. After I had dropped my son off at school, I was heading back to my car and looked across the street to see a small group gathered on their porch talking, enjoying the sun and relaxing. I was struck by the fact that this is exactly what we want to be happening in our neighborhoods, and that this is one of the things that is so great about our city – people out enjoying the springtime, using their front porches, building community.

I had seen this house and this porch many times, but now, because of this proposal coming before the Council, for the first time I paid attention to the type of furniture. Indeed, it was one of those overstuffed older couches. Undoubtedly, it has served its previous owners well in a living room in the past and now it has found another year or two of worthy service on this porch. It exhibited no tears, no mold, no mice, no fires.

Seeing this and thinking back to all the hours I have passed on soft sofas on porches in Minneapolis I once again searched for the justification for banning such a practice and I could not find it.

Instead I concluded the following:

- There is a clear public safety benefit when residents choose to spend time on their front porches. The concept of "eyes on the street" is an important cornerstone of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design principles. I believe that placing barriers to people sitting on front porches will do more harm to our communities than good. I have heard very similar sentiments from many residents, from Seward to Cooper to Marcy Holmes.

- I am unable to find, and no one has presented me with any evidence that shows that upholstered furniture on porches negatively impacts property value or homeownership rates, or constitutes a public health or fire risk. The Fire Department's review proves that the fire risk from upholstered furniture on porches is negligible. Given the fact that harm has not been proven, I believe that our default should be to allow residents to use their property in harmless ways that they enjoy.

- We should all be working for greater economic justice in our City. Laws that are unfairly targeted towards poor people need to be resisted. Under this proposal, those who can afford furniture that is specifically manufactured for outside use will be able to enjoy their porches, while those who have less money, but are still able to find affordable alternative, will be targeted.

- It is environmentally wise to reuse manufactured goods when possible. Adaptive reuse of old couches which may not be fit for interior use helps extend their life for a few more years, preventing them from entering the waste stream.

Finally it is important to note that the existing nuisance code allows our inspectors to cite residents for keeping "foul or unhealthy material" or "any other condition on said premises, in such a manner as to constitute a nuisance" on their property. That means that if a couch or chair is found to be broken, moldy, pest invested or otherwise “foul,” “unhealthy” or a “nuisance,” we already have the authority to have it removed. Clearly this gives us the requisite legal authority to address couches on porches that are actually a problem.

If there is problem with an unkempt porch we can already take action, and we do. We can also improve our enforcement efforts and I am committed to help do that, but I cannot in good conscience vote to support this ordinance amendment as long as it contains the provision to ban couches from porches.