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:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Still Number Two

The 2008 Census data on commuting has been released, and Minneapolis has retained our second-place slot in terms of bicycle mode share. We increased our ridership by about 12%, going from a 3.8% mode share in 2007 to a 4.3% mode share in 2008. However, our chief rival for the title of "bike friendliest major US city," Portland, increased even more rapidly, from 3.9% to a full 6%. That's a pretty staggering one-year increase of more than 50%.

To put Portland's achievement in perspective, it helps to look at our proposed new sustainability indicator for bike mode share, which calls for us to reach a mode share of 6% by 2014, with a milestone of 5% in 2011. If we keep that goal, we'll catch up with Portland's 2008 achievement five years later.

Perhaps this means that our goal isn't high enough. My staff has looked at the trend line over the last few years, and it's pretty clear that the increase we've seen is actually faster than our goal - if we keep adding mode share at the same rate, we'll reach a mode share of over 7% by 2014. I'll be keeping this in mind as we adopt the sustainability indicator and targets later this year.

Hennepin and First

A date has been set for the conversion of Hennepin and First avenues into two-way streets: the weekend of October 10-11, weather permitting.

This change will take some getting used to for all road users - drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Drivers going through downtown from north to south will be able to stay on Hennepin for their whole trip. Cyclists will have options. The old bike lanes in the middle of the road on Hennepin will go away, having been replaced by two, significantly more attractive, bike facilities.

For certain riders, a shared bus/bike lane both northbound and southbound on Hennepin, right on the curb, will work just fine.

For less experienced riders, the City is installing a truly innovative set of bike lanes on First, that I'm pretty excited to see in action. They will run along the curb, which in my opinion is the ideal place for bike lanes. During peak hours, they'll have a traffic lane to their left. But during off-peak hours, that next lane will be for parking, creating a physical barrier between bikers and cars. The lanes will use a different pavement color, to make them stand out to drivers (and discourage people from parking in them). If this facility is as successful as I think it could be, it could be a model that we replicate elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

University Sues Central Corridor

Despite reports that the University and Central Corridor project (with help from the City and the County) have been nearing an agreement on vibration, noise and electromagnetic disruptions to U research on Washington Avenue, the U has decided to sue the Metropolitan Council over the project. They claim that this is due to the timing – if they don’t sue now, they’ll lose the chance, along with whatever leverage it brings.

The University appears to be the most significant potential obstacle to this important piece of environmentally sustainable transportation infrastructure. While I find it especially problematic that the University chose not to communicate with any of its partners on the Alliance – the City, the neighborhoods, or the business community – before taking this extraordinary step, I have asked for a meeting with a University Vice President to better understand the U’s perspective. I will continue to work to be a cooperative partner with all the neighborhood, community, business, governmental and institutional partners concerned with the Central Corridor.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Drazkowski's Fishing Expedition

Conservative Republican state legislator Steve Drazkowski, who represents Steve Sviggum's old seat in rural southeast Minnesota, has filed a Freedom of Information Request for some that's got me wondering why. I wonder what he is after anyway. Here's some text from his request:

"Dear Mayor Rybak,

"This is a formal request under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, Minnesota Statutes Chapter 13, for access to inspect all memos, documents, files and emails in your or the City of Minneapolis' possession related to any expense reimbursements over the past five years, since January 1st 2005, to you as mayor and also to your chief of staff and any or all city council members.

"In addition, I wish to inspect any and all public data related to Community Planning and Economic Development grants to any nonprofit entities during those years.

"Finally, I am requestiong access to inspect any and all data related to the 'climate change grants' referenced in the city's 2009 budget."

My staff worked an hour this morning on this broad request, and we're not done yet. I shudder to think of the hundreds if not thousands of Minneapolis tax dollars that could be taken up by the time the City's response is complete.

I am concerned that this request, written on House of Representatives stationary, is political opposition research to use against Mayor Rybak, who has been accurately and effectively criticizing Governor Pawlenty's mismanagement of the State and misrepresentations about Minneapolis. (Speaking of misrepresentations, Rep. Drazkowski's campaign site states that "the last session of the legislature began with a $2.2 billion surplus.")

And then there's the content of the request. Is he trying to lay the groundwork to attack the City for partnering with nonprofits, which I'm proud to say we do all the time? Our nonprofit partners - including neighborhood groups, community development corporations, and service and advocacy organizations too numerous to mention - help us deliver vital services and work on some of the most intractable problems facing our communities. For instance, as part of our ongoing youth violence prevention program, we're partnering with nonprofit organizations throughout the city to prevent young people from killing one another. Is this the sort of partnership that Rep. Drazkowski will attack us for in the coming weeks and months?

Is he gather information to attack the city's extremely successful climate change grants? For very little money - one to ten thousand dollars each - these grants have mobilized Minneapolis residents to decrease both their expenses and their carbon emissions through simple actions like installing compact fluorescent light bulbs. This shouldn't be controversial.

But Rep. Drazkowski, according to his campaign website, believes that nuclear power should be considered renewable energy, so I can understand why it would be difficult for him to understand.

I fully support the Minnesota Data Practices Act and try to push the City to make sure that allour information is easily and readily accessible and am happy to comply with these kinds of requests, but I am also willing to share my reactions when such a requests gets me wondering and this one certainly did.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

September 15th Comes and Goes Without Primary

On Tuesday the 15th, voters across Minnesota went down to their polling places to vote in municipal primaries. In many of these primaries, turnout was at its usual abysmal level (an appallingly low 5% in St. Paul), allowing a tiny minority of voters to winnow the choices for the general election.

But not in Minneapolis.

Instead, the people of Minneapolis have decided to use (and the City has worked very hard to implement) ranked choice voting, which combines the primary and general election into one event on November 3. Every candidate who filed gets to run all the way to the general, and voters get to choose among the whole field.

In order to prevent minority (or plurality) winners, voters may rank up to three candidates for single and multiple seat municipal offices. When polls close, the first choice votes for all candidates are sorted and counted. If no candidate receives the required number of votes to win in a particular race, a process of eliminating candidates and considering subsequent choices begins. If you want to know more about how the system works and see a sample ballot, go here.

I've been a supporter of ranked choice voting for more than a decade, and worked to get it on the ballot, win approval from the voters, and get it implemented, and I'm thrilled to let Minneapolis voters go to the polls on November 3rd without bothering with the expensive, low turnout primary.

Target Center Green Roof is Complete

Earlier this week, the green roof on the Target Center was officially unveiled. Every year, these 2.5 acres of native plants will capture a million gallons of storm water and prevent it from entering the storm sewers and Mississippi river.

This green roof is the fifth largest extensive green roof in the US, at the time of design, and the largest in Minnesota. It's also the first green roof on a sports arena in North America. In addition to storm water drainage prevention, the roof will also help in mitigating the heat island effect in downtown Minneapolis.

The roof is planted with a variety of Sedums and Minnesota prairie plants, including Columbine, Prairie Coreopsis, Wild Strawberry, Dotted Blazing-Star, and Lupine. It includes lupines to target the Karner Blue Butterfly, a federally listed endangered butterfly that needs lupines to survive.

I'm proud to have made the motion in Community Development committee to pursue only green roof options for the Target Center, and I'm glad to see this come to such successful fruition.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Police Policy Manual

For about a year now, my office has been working on issues relating to the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) policy manual. It came to my attention last year that the MPD had made at least two changes to the manual that, in my opinion, reduce the safety of Mpls residents and make it harder for us to hold officers accountable.

The taser policy that the Council, MPD and Civilian Review Authority (CRA) crafted together in 2006 was basically unilaterally scrapped by the MPD in 2007, and replaced by a reference to the training manual (which does not seem to include the language that was deleted from the policy manual). Later, in September of 2008, a new policy was added that essentially prohibits MPD supervisors from using evidence on squad car videos (like the beating of Derryl Jenkins in February of 2009) to proactively start disciplinary investigations. It is unclear to what extent the City Attorney's office had a role in assessing either of these changes before they were made, and the Council and CRA were not even notified that either of these changes had taken place.

Working with Council Member Schiff, in April I got the Public Safety and Regulatory Services (PS&RS) committee to pass a staff direction to MPD, requiring them to come back to committee by July 22nd and "propose a process for seeking input" from the Council, Mayor and CRA. This report back was delayed until yesterday, and even then the MPD had not prepared any sort of printed report until the day before the meeting.

I favored, and nearly had the support of the Police Cheif and Mayor's office, a process that would have the MPD send drafts of proposed policies (at lead those dealing with sensitive topics like use of force and use of video cameras) to the Council, Mayor and CRA at the same time that they distribute them to the Attorney's Office and Police Federation. I was also very interested in ensuring that the Attorney's Office must sign off on a policy before it is adopted.

Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful. Instead, the committee chair moved a more cautious direction, which requests that the MPD inform the members of PS&RS and the CRA Manager when a given policy has been adopted. It also does not require that the Attorney's Office sign off on any proposed change.

Council Member Schiff attempted a substitute motion that would have required the Mayor to make an affirmative decision in support of a given policy change before it could go into effect. I supported this motion, but it failed (rather unsurprisingly) on a 3-2 vote. Don's motion then passed unanimously.

I'm disappointed that we couldn't get more opportunities for input and feedback inserted into the process for changing the policy manual. On the other hand, I'm hopeful that this is not the end of this discussion, but the beginning. It seemed that Chief Dolan left the door open to future conversations about how to get more buy-in from the Council and CRA, especially on the most controversial policies that the MPD adopts (such as use-of-force, vehicular chases, and squad car video). I look forward to continuing to work on this.

Policing Shake-Up in Ward 2

The retirement of Deputy Chief for Investigations Valerie Wurster (who ably commanded the Second Precinct during my first year in office) has set off a cascade of promotions within the police department with some significant effects on the Second Ward.

Deputy Chief Rob Allen will take the Investigations position Wurster is leaving. First Precinct Commander Janee Harteau, whose work on crime issues on the West Bank I have appreciated very much, has been promoted to Allen's old job as Deputy Chief of the Patrol unit.

She will be replaced as Inspector of the First Precinct by Kristine Arneson, who has headed the Fifth Precinct in Southwest Mpls. Janee will be a tough act to follow, but I'm hopeful that Kris is up to the challenge and look forward to working with her.

In other MPD staffing news, longtime Crime Prevention Specialist (CPS) for the First Precinct Luther Krueger is moving to the MPD's Strategic Information / Crime Management unit. It's a good fit for him; he's done great work through the Virtual Block Club and other organizational tools to share crime statistics with residents and businesses. Renee Allen, who has already been working as CPS in the West Bank, will serve the whole precinct.