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:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

First Water Fountain Installed

You may recall that last year, there was some controversy about artistic water fountains being built by the City in various locations around town.

The first of these fountains has been installed at Ancient Traders Market on East Franklin Ave and 11th Street. As you can see, it's a beautiful piece of functional public art.

I have always supported this initiative, which Mayor Rybak took a significant political risk to push forward - and for which he continues to be attacked. It's become a standard right-wing talking point that Minneapolis "wastes money" on crazy, unnecessary things like artistic water fountains.

I couldn't disagree more with this perspective. Public art makes our City livable for our residents, attractive to people thinking about moving here, and enjoyable for our visitors. Functional public art - like this lovely sculpture that also happens to distribute, free of charge, one of every human being's daily necessities - is even better.

More importantly, these fountains are making a statement: that water is a commons, not a commodity. That everyone in our communities (and everyone in the world, for that matter) has a right to clean drinking water. That drinking water should be freely available to the public, rather than being a private good, bottled in plastic by a corporation and sold for profit. I believe that's actually why conservative commentators have been so critical of this initiative; by making the case for water as a commons, the City of Minneapolis is directly rebutting the conservative notion that nothing is a commons, that everything should be privatized.

These fountains are also an advertisement, of sorts. Minneapolis is coming right out and saying that we're proud of our water. We've got some of the cleanest, purest drinking water anywhere, and people should feel good about drinking it - rather than buying into the corporate myth that bottled water is somehow better than municipal water. In fact, while Minneapolis water is rigorously tested and the results of those tests are made public, privatized water is seldom if ever tested and the results are typically treated as proprietary information.

One last thing. One of the nonsensical criticisms of these fountains is that we should be spending money on More Important Things, like police officers, firefighters, etc. That might make sense, if these fountains had been paid for out of the City's general fund. They weren't. They are paid for out of the water fund, which comes from the water fees our residents pay and funds other water-related expenses such as the filtration plant, clean water lines, etc. The fountains were never in competition with other functions of the City.

I'm proud that the City has funded this great piece of public art. I'm proud that we're taking a stand for water as a public good this boldly, unabashedly, and beautifully.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Profile Scales Back

The Profile Music Center, which was the site of this year's only homicide in Ward 2 to date, has applied for a lower license class. They have had a "Place of Entertainment" license for about ten years. This allowed them to host private events like wedding receptions, but also events open to the public - sort of like a nightclub without alcohol. These "teen nights" became notorious for the behavioral issues and conflicts that ensued, including several fights and the fatal shooting earlier this year.

The Profile's owner Patrick Kellis, recognizing that he had a problem, has applied for a "Rental Hall" license. This will still allow wedding receptions, fundraisers and other private events, but will no longer allow nightclub-like shows. This should help reduce the spillover effects that this business has had on the surrounding community, especially the violence. There have also been parking concerns in the nearby Glendale public housing complex, and this change will positively impact that as well: people coming to a private event like a wedding shower will be provided with maps to a large nearby parking lot that Profile rents, and will be more to use it than members of the public coming to an open event.

The public hearing for this application was last night, and I hear that no residents attended to share concerns. The application will move forward on December 9th at the Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee.

I thank Mr. Kellis for scaling back his business plan to include less disruptive and potentially dangerous events, and I'm hopeful that this will increase the safety and livability of the surrounding area.

Monday, November 16, 2009

New Poverty Target

Today in the Health Energy and Environment committee, we discussed an amendment to the Sustainability Indicator on "Employment and Poverty," which responds to a staff direction I moved last month. It establishes a new target indicator for reducing the gap in poverty rate between Minneapolis minority and white residents. According to the latest statistics (2008) 12.9% of white Minneapolis residents live at or below the federal poverty line, while 36% of non-whites in Minneapolis live at or below the poverty line.

The 2009 Poverty Guidelines level depends on the number of people in your family. For a single adult it's $10,830; for a couple it's $14,570; for 3, $18,310 and for 4 it's $22,050. While our goal should be, and mine is to

Here is the new goal that hope will pass the full Council on December 4.

"Reduce the percentage of Minneapolis minority residents living in poverty from the 2008 Census Bureau reported average of 36% to that of the 2008 metropolitan minority average of 21% by 2014."

I think that this, along with the target we already passed - "Reduce the percentage of employed Minneapolis residents living in poverty from the 2008 baseline of 10.1% to 7% by 2014" - do a good job of articulating goals that I think is widely shared. Minneapolis residents should not have to live in poverty. Minneapolis workers should make a decent living, enough to keep them out of poverty, and it is time close the racial gap in pverty and employment in our City.

We are also overdue, in my opinion, taking a serious and close look and the racial economic disparities in our City --- disparities that are worse in Minneapolis than in St, Paul, the Metro area, the state, the nation and almost every other City in the country.

Here is a partial list:

The percent of whites living in poverty in the nation in 2008 was 9.3 %. The percent of nonwhites living in poverty is 20.7%. The difference in the state is 7.4% (whites) vs 22.8% for nonwhites. In the 7 county metropolitan area it is 5.5 vs 21% St. Paul is 10 vs 31% and in Minneapolis it 12.9 % of whites live in poverty compared to 36% of non-whites.

Just having a measure that we will monitor and a target on how much we want to reduce the disparity is a step forward. I hope we will be able to use it to drive policy in the future.

These are aggressive targets, and I don't have any illusions that it will be easy for us to meet them. However, I believe that it's important to agree on our shared goals, and that the knowledge that we will be measuring our performance as a City against them will help motivate us to do the work necessary to make progress.

MPR/Humphrey Ranked Choice Poll

Minnesota Public Radio has worked with Larry Jacobs from the Humphrey Institue on a post-election poll asking voters (and non-voters) what they thought of ranked choice voting. I've had the opportunity to review the report that was written based on this survey.

(There are two things I should state for the record: first, I am a strong ranked choice voting advocate and serve on the board of FairVote Minnesota; second, Professor Jacobs applied for the contract to conduct the City's post-election poll, which was awarded instead to Saint Cloud State University.)

Here are some of the key take-aways:

- 56% of voters prefer ranked choice voting.
- More than 90% of voters understood how to effectively cast their ballots.
- 68% of voters think we should use ranked choice voting for Gubernatorial races.
- Ranked choice voting saw a significant bump in popularity (13%) among people who voted on November 3.
- More voters ranked a second choice than didn't (52% to 47% for Mayor)
- 10-18% of people state that ranked choice voting will make them more likely to vote, while only 5% state it will make them less likely.

But for some reason, the Humphrey report that lays out the details of the survey has chosen to focus on a different statistic: whether or not people who declined to vote this year - people who haven't used the system - prefer it or not. It found that 54% of these non-voters didn't like ranked choice voting, and would prefer to not participate using the old method. This was a main point that Professor Jacobs chose to make in the MPR story. I find this particular piece of information about as interesting as someone's bad review of a movie they haven't seen.

Fascinatingly, the report takes the overwhelmingly positive data collected by the survey and manages to spin it as "ranked choice voting falling short of expectations." This is clearly a case, in my opinion, of attempting to make the facts fit a preconceived narrative.

For instance, the survey cites that only 52% of voters in the Mayoral race ranked a second choice, while 47% selected only one candidate. He spins this as a rebuttal to the idea that a second ranking is helpful to voters.

This narrative might make sense if clear frontrunner Mayor Rybak hadn't cruised to reelection with 74% of the vote. To put that in context, it means that a large chunk of people who ranked RT first used a second ranking that they were fairly sure they didn't need.

I have a good personal example of this dynamic. In the Ward 2 Council race, unsurprisingly, I ranked Cam Gordon first. There were only two candidates on the ballot, and I was fairly sure that my first choice would win (as he did, with 84% of the vote). I chose not to use my second ranking on that particular race, not because I reject the idea of ranking second choices in general, but because I was confident that I did not need it. To prove this point, I used all three rankings for Board of Estimate and Park Board at-large.

Would more voters have ranked second and third-place choices in the hotly-contested Mayoral race between Rybak, McLaughlin and Hakeem in 2005? I suspect so. It will be very interesting to compare Council races this year where there was a clear frontrunner who received over 60% of the vote (2, 7, 11, etc) to more competitive races where the winner received 55% or less (1, 4, 5, 6, etc). My hypothesis is that voters in those more competitive races will have significantly higher rates of using second- and third-place rankings.

Here's another example: the survey concluded that 47% of voters thought that ranked choice voting would make their vote count for more, while 41% thought it wouldn't make a difference and only 12% thought it would make their vote count for less. The report's spin? That "many do not believe RCV makes their vote count for more."

That's one way of interpreting those data. Another way would be to say that more people believe that the method helps them than believe it doesn't make a difference. Another way would be to say that 88% of Minneapolis voters believe the system either helps or at least doesn't hurt them.

The most interesting information from the survey were the partisan crosstabs. There's a glaring difference between support for ranked choice voting among Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Republicans reject the method 67%-31%, while Democrats embrace it 61%-33%. Most interesting of all, Independents are the group most in favor of ranked choice voting by 63% to 30%. This is one of the best proofs of the idea that Independents aren't necessarily in "the middle" of the political spectrum that I've seen. It's also interesting to put these figures in context: perhaps Democrats would be less excited about the idea and Republicans would oppose it less if it was a Democratic Governor who had won twice with less than a majority of the vote.

One major caveat to all of this analysis, both the report's and mine: this survey had a large sampling error of 5.7% for voters and 6.9% for non-voters, based on a low sample size of only 504 people. I can't remember the last time I saw a poll with a margin of error that high, and it undermines the credibility of the whole undertaking.

On the whole, this survey provides some good information. It's mostly consistent with the informal exit polling that was done on Election Day that shows Minneapolis voters made a fairly easy transition to RCV, and preferred it to the previous method. I look forward to the City-funded survey and evaluation report by Saint Cloud State - and commend interim Elections Director Pat O'Connor for choosing to contract with them - which will go into more depth, have a smaller sampling error, and hopefully present the facts in a more even-handed, neutral, and informative way.

Riverside Bike Lane Update

A co-owner of the Hard Times Cafe brought an issue with the new Riverside bike lanes to our office's attention, and I'm happy to report it's been (mostly) resolved. 19th Ave S used to have two southbound left turn lanes onto Riverside - but after the 4-to-3 conversion, there's only one eastbound travel lane on Riverside. This forced drivers who turned from the righthand left turn lane to either merge during a turn (never a good idea) or drive in a bike lane until they could merge (also inadvisable).

We alerted Public Works staff, who went out and changed both the street markings and the sign at 19th and Riverside, turning that right lane into a right-turn-only lane. Thanks to alert small business owners and Public Works for getting this taken care of.

There's one other issue that needs to be addressed: a bus stop very close to the corner, on the right side of 19th. I suspect that buses will have some difficulty merging into the left lane to follow their route down Riverside, so we'll have to come up with a better long-term solution, working with Metro Transit.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Riverside Ave Bike Lanes

Public Works staff has striped bike lanes on Riverside Avenue and 4th St S, all the way from 15th Ave S to Franklin. This was made possible - with no loss of off-street parking - by converting the road from a 4-lane to a 3-lane for much of its length.

Public Health Advisory Appointee Needed

One of the few appointments I get to make directly is to the Public Health Advisory Commission (PHAC). For the last few years, that position has been filled by former Council Member Paul Zerby. Paul has decided to step down, and I thank him for his great service, bringing forward issues such as binge drinking and responding to Council areas of interest including phthalates.

I have been letting residents know that I'm looking for a new appointee, and applications have started coming in. I've committed to make a decision in December, so if you're interested in serving on PHAC, please fill out an application as soon as possible and send it into the City Clerk's office.

Hennepin and First Bike Lanes

There's been a lot of complaining both in the cycling community and from drivers in the local media about the changes to Hennepin and First Avenues. Those changes include allowing two-way traffic on both streets (which had been one-ways since the '80s), removing the middle-of-the-street bike lanes on Hennepin, installing new bus/bike/right turn lanes on Hennepin, and implementing an exciting, innovative new form of bikeway on First. This bikeway consists of a bike-only lane that hugs the curb. During peak hours, it's next to two lanes of moving traffic. During non-peak hours, parking is to the left of the bike lane.

I am basically supportive of this project, especially the lanes on First. I think some of the concerns we've heard have to do with the incomplete roll-out of the project (for instance, it was opened to traffic before the bike stencils were painted), and some of them are just folks reacting negatively to change. However, some of the concerns are more specific, and I'll go through them and respond.

The bike lanes on Hennepin don't work for most riders. I absolutely agree. Hennepin is now a good facility for experienced bicyclists who are comfortable traffic, and no one else. However, First is now much better than the old Hennepin lanes ever were. This is why my office pushed so hard, when this project was being designed, for good routes connecting Hennepin to First at the north and south ends. I'm proud to say those connections have been built, and they include some innovative best management practices (bike boxes at left turns, for instance).

The lanes on First are confusing. This is a fair point. Anything new and innovative is going to be somewhat confusing to all road users at first. This is the first time in history that drivers have had to park five feet away from the curb anywhere in Minneapolis. This is the first time that cyclists have had parked cars to the left of a bike lane. I believe that this confusion will subside as all road users get used to the new lanes, and we shouldn't be afraid to try new and innovative things.

Drivers are parking in the bike lane on First. This was especially true at first. However, as I noted above, as people get used to the new layout, drivers are getting better about parking in the proper place. Once the majority of people who regularly park on First figure out how it works, they will help establish a sort of 'peer pressure' on newcomers, by showing where cars should be parked. This is also an issue that the Police Department will need to watch carefully, especially over the next year or so; people who park in the bike lanes on First should be ticketed.

The bikeway on First is risky at intersections. This is a longstanding criticism of 'cycle track' type bikeways. The reasoning is that the most dangerous places for bikes are intersections, where they have to contend with left- and right-turning cars (creating accidents such as 'left hooks' and 'right hooks'). If parked cars are between them and moving traffic, they are less visible. And if they are less visible, the argument goes, drivers are more likely to turn into them. This is a valid argument. Cyclists using the First Ave bikeway during off-peak hours need to know that drivers may be less aware of them. However, there are some compelling reasons to believe this facility will be safer than most bike lanes in town. First, parking is prohibited within 30 feet of intersections, giving drivers a chance to see that cyclists are there before making a turn. Second, Public Works staff have followed national best practices by dashing the bike lane as it approaches intersections, indicating to drivers that they need to merge into the bike lane in order to turn right (rather than simply turning across it). Third, there are accidents that occur along streets, not at intersections. The most important of these is 'dooring,' an accident type that I believe will be much less common on the First bike lanes than most other bike lanes in the city, because most cars are still single-occupant vehicles and therefore the passenger doors are not as risky. Lastly, it's important to know that our staff tracks accidents - if it becomes clear that this facility is more dangerous than others, we will reevaluate it.

I commend Public Works staff for their courage in bringing forward this innovative project. Like any major change, it was always destined to be controversial, and to be criticised by basically everyone. I strongly believe that, as all road users get accustomed to it, it will become easier to use and more popular. I suspect that in a few years' time, the bikeway on First will be one of the most successful on-street facilities in town, and will be a model for how to safely and conveniently accomodate bicyclists on busy city streets.

Congratulations, Rep Kahn

State Representative Phyllis Kahn, who represents a major part of Ward 2 (Prospect Park, Southeast Como, the West Bank and parts of Seward), has been named one of Governing Magazine's 2009 Legislators of the Year. Congrats, Phyllis!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

First Ranked Choice Election Goes Well

From all reports I've heard and read, it sounds like the first ranked choice election in Minneapolis history has gone very, very well. You can read more here, here, and here. It sounds like the ballot error rate is quite low, most voters had enough knowledge about how ranked choice voting works, and our Election Judges were more than capable of handling the new system.

It seems the advocates for ranked choice voting were right, and the naysayers were wrong: voters can figure out how to use this system without significant difficulty and our elections staff are fully capable of implementing it.

I give tremendous credit to interim Elections Director Pat O'Connor and his able staff. They took on a major, historic task, and met and exceeded all expectations.

I also want to recognize our staff's partners from Tipping Point Strategies and FairVote Minnesota, who worked on the campaign to educate voters. The familiarity of Minneapolis voters with this new system is a testament to their great work.

Turnout is low citywide, which is unsurprising due to the fairly quiet race at the top of the ballot, and the relatively few open Council seats.

It will be interesting to watch how the two Council races in which no candidate reached 50% play out, as well as the at-large races (though it's clear that at least one at-large candidate, Carol Becker, has reached the threshold).

I'm proud to have been a supporter of ranked choice voting both before I was first elected and since I took office. My office played a critical role in getting RCV on the ballot in '06 and moving the system towards implementation this year. It seems surprising in retrospect, given how well this election has gone, that there was ever a question as to whether the City would be able to implement this year.

Lastly, I want to welcome our sister city to the east to ranked choice voting. Congratulations to the St. Paul Better Ballot Campaign for winning approval for using ranked choice voting in their municipal elections. It was clearly a harder fight in St. Paul, with an organized opposition and support from only a few City Council Members (unlike our experience in Minneapolis in '06, when we had at least nine strong supporters on the Council). St. Paul's decision opens possibilities that our two cities can work together to find voting equipment that can handle ranked choice elections.

Board of Estimate Survives

By a margin of about 65% to 35%, the Minneapolis voters have rejected the ill-advised attempt to abolish the Board of Estimate and Taxation. I advocated for folks to vote no, for a number of reasons:

- The Board plays a vital role in balancing the financial relationship between the City and the independent Park Board.

- It strengthens our democracy by including two members elected city-wide to our City government who can assist the City Council, Mayor, and Park Board in crafting and guiding financial policy.

- It creates a formalized space in which the City and the Park Board can negotiate about budgets, bonding and tax levies and is an excellent place to initiate and review audits of the City’s finances.

Most importantly, as we begin the constructive discussion next year about how to improve the ways that the City Council works with the Park Board, we should do so with the BET in place and ready to be reformed and more fully utilized to help make our City government more responsive, accountable, transparent and fiscally prudent. I look forward to working to make that happen.


I have been elected to a second term as Second Ward Council Member, receiving 84% of first-choice votes. While this blog isn't a place for any sort of campaigning, I feel that I'd be remiss not to thank the voters of Ward 2 for again giving me this honor, and this opportunity to serve. I look forward to working with you over the next four years to make Minneapolis the just, democratic, nonviolent, and sustainable city we all want to live in.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Solar on Convention Center

After literally years of wrangling with a company called EyeOn Energy that was increasingly obviously incapable of finishing a major solar project, the City has gone out for open bids on the solar project on the Convention Center. I'm extremely supportive of this move. The most important thing is that we get this project - which will be the largest solar installation in Minnesota - back on track, and start powering our Convention Center with clean, renewable solar energy.