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, July 31, 2009

Tax Increment Districts - Compromise Passes Council

This morning the Council chose to neither renew the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts which fund our neighborhood groups, nor to leave the question of whether or not to renew them to the discussions about the 2010 budget this December. Instead, we chose a middle path proposed by Council Member Colvin Roy: to send the issue back to the Ways and Means committee for further review and information gathering.

After my motion to postpone this decision for two Council cycles failed by a 6 - 6 vote, I voted for this compromise, though I continue to feel that by refusing to renew the districts now - when we said, in the budget process last December, that we would take this up - the Council is signalling our willingness to step away from the commitments we made to ourselves, neighborhood groups, the State Legislature and the public at large that we will continue to fund the work of neighborhoods. During this morning's debate, several of my colleagues made clear that they are quite open to revisiting those commitments, because in their estimation the "world has changed" since we made them. Funding neighborhood groups and debt relief for the Target Center from the renewed TIF districts was a fine idea back when we acted on the Framework for the Future, creating a department of Neighborhoods and Community Relations and funding the next phase of neighborhood revitalization. But the Governor's unallotment of our Local Government Aid has changed the conversation entirely.


I disagree with this perspective for two fundamental reasons. First, if we're honest with ourselves we'll admit that we knew pretty well that our fiscal picture was not likely to be rosy. The writing was on the wall at the state level: it was never likely that our LGA would be held harmless in a state facing a budget shortfall in the billions with Tim Pawlenty acting as Governor. The only way in which the world changed between last December and today is that the cuts went from suspected to known.

Second, the very reason to keep revenues for neighborhood funding in a separate "pot" is that the fiscal "world" in which the City operates is always changing. For the past few years, every one of these changes has been for the worse. If City policymakers do not set aside a reliable, stable, dedicated funding source for neighborhoods, there will always be the temptation to loot neighborhood funding for whatever seems more important in a particular year. Setting aside some money for neighborhood associations to invest is smart during tough times, just as it is during more flush times. On the neighborhood level people can and do make wise choices about where money should go to make the most difference. This is why NRP was so successful in its first phase. It brought people together, allowed hem to identify needs and set funding priorities and then provided them with the funds to address those needs and meet those priorities. That is one of the reasons why the City is in such great shape today, because some funding choices have been decentralized and determined by a grassroots democratic process at the neighborhood level. Our parks, schools, homes and businesses are better off because of it.



For the record, here's where the votes came down today. In favor of sending this back to committee: CMs Colvin Roy, Schiff, Glidden, Hofstede, Lilligren, Benson, and me. In favor of debating whether or not to renew the districts as part of the larger, longer budget process: CMs Hodges, Ostrow, Johnson, Goodman and Remington. CM Samuels is recovering from surgery, and wasn't present this morning. Neither option was ideal, in my eyes. What would have been best it to have this matter resolved now, before the Mayor's budgetis presented.


Still, I will continue to advocate for the Council to live up to the promise we made to our partners in the neighborhood groups last December to renew these TIF districts, both because it is central to following through on our commitment for the third phase of nrp, but also because is is the smart thing to do to help us get through these hard economic times and make sure that we have a healthy city for the future.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Good morning. Now that filings have closed, with 95 candidates for 25 seats and one, possibly two ballot questions, it is a good time to let you know what’s happening in our office and provide you with some useful information as you plan for National Night Out.

First, regarding RCV information for your constituents, the excellent staff at 311 have undergone RCV training and this is a good number to call for general information. The operators will also collect feedback information from the callers as well. Also, for those wishing to contact us regarding RCV, they can reach us at: rcv@ci.minneapolis.mn.us. Finally, tomorrow, Friday, the Minneapolis RCV website will be up and running with information as well. The web address is: voteminneapolis.org.

For the National Night Out, we will have our initial brochure available. The PDF of the brochure is attached for your convenience. You, and all candidates, may pick up quantities of these printed brochures, as well as sample instructional ballots at our offices in City Hall Monday and Tuesday (8/3&4) during business hours, or at 2323 East Franklin Friday and Saturday, nine to six (7/31-8/1) as well as Monday, nine to nine, and Tuesday nine to five. We have contacted the block club leaders to offer these brochures, and while some have contacted us, we have not heard from all. So, if you plan to visit neighborhood parties in your ward, please feel free to bring along some brochures.

We have lined up speakers or representatives for quite a number of the parties, and below is the link to a map of the party locations for your information. The red flags indicate that we have someone lined up; blue and green, not yet. http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=114258483031909851406.00046eeca2b65f52e68fe&ll=45.003651,-93.247833&spn=0.040297,0.07021&z=13

We are working with a six sigma consultant on the hand count process redesign. In mid August, we will take a dozen experienced counters off site for a week long workshop to redesign the process. As you may know, our goal, at minimum is to have the counting completed by late December, so that the winning candidates can be seated on time, January 4th. Our wish, however, is to complete the count thirty days from the election. Wouldn’t that be great? By the way, our work on this hand count redesign is valuable because even if we have certified automated tally equipment by the next municipal election, this hand count process would be available to Minneapolis as well as any jurisdiction in the event of recounts.

If you have any questions, or would like any additional information, please don’t hesitate to call me at 673-2073. Thank you.

Patrick O'Connor
Interim Elections Director, City of Minneapolis
350 S. 5th St. #1B, Minneapolis, MN 55415
Phone: 612-673-2073
Fax: 612-673-2756
E-Mail: mailto:patrick.o’connor@ci.minneapolis.mn.us
www: www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/elections

Friday, July 24, 2009

NRP Funding Plan at Risk

To my surprise (and without my vote), earlier this week the Community Development committee forwarded without recommendation the proposal to renew the Tax Increment Financing districts that would enable us to pay for the new phase of NRP and retire the Target Center’s debt.

After hearing from three former elected officials, including former Congressman Martin Sabo, who opposed the plan, my colleagues seemed to be less supportive of this hard-fought compromise than they previously had been. Recall that we fought hard for legislative authority to extend these Tax Increment districts just last year and, when we approved the budget, we passed a resolution supporting this funding plan.


I think we should approve this plan now, so I (unsuccessfully) moved it forward with recommendation but some Council Members apparently weren't so sure. Robert Lilligren was the only committee member to vote with me with the other four preferring to refer it to Ways and Means for consideration and/or to wait to see what the Mayor proposes in his budget.


I am extremely supportive of using these districts, in order to create a defined and reliable revenue stream for neighborhoods. If, as the speakers opposed to this suggested, neighborhood revitalization funding were made part of the general fund and the annual budget process they would not be as stable or dependable as they have been in the past. I also think that it is unfair to the Mayor not to be clear about whether or not the Council will make this funding source available for the general fund or reserve it for Target debt relief and neighborhood revitalization.


I hope that people who support neighborhood based planning and neighborhood directed investments will make their wishes known, even though the public hearing is over.


The next time this will come up will be at the Ways and Means Committee on Monday, July 27th at 1:30. If you wish your communications to reach all committee members you can send to them individual or send comments to them via the Committee Coordination, Anne Roth,
Anne.Roth@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.


I understand concerns about using Tax Increment financing in this way and I do not think that it is good financial policy in general. However, in this case I do not believe we have a lot of options, and I think it is the best way we've found to fund this valuable and important work. It is also a decision and a commitment we already made (to each other and to the people of Minneapolis) as part of the NRP restructuring we have been working so hard on over the last 3 years.

eWorkPlace

There's a new state-sponsored program for Twin Cities area employers to foster teleworking. It's called eWorkPlace, and it's got some real potential to help businesses allow their employees to work from home. This can save businesses money, increase employee productivity and retention, and save workers from unnecessary transportation time. Teleworking also has great benefits for the community at large: by reducing unnecessary trips, we reduce congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions.



For a limited time, eWorkPlace will be providing free consultation services to local employers, including on-site training, e-learning, IT advice and troubleshooting. The program also offers customizable tools for policies, implementation advice and metrics for measuring success.



The initiative is holding a breakfast informational meeting on July 28th, 8:30-11am at the Humphrey Center, 301 19th Ave S.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The West Bank's New Website

The West Bank Business Association has just put up a great new website: http://www.thewestbank.org/. You can find entertainment for any night of the week, including music, theater and dance. You can find a restaurant for any palate (as long as you like Thai, Mediterranean, Ethiopian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Somali, Indian, bar food, hot dogs, vegetarian cuisine, Polish, Mexican, Italian, or good coffee) and any number of places to wet your whistle, if that's your thing. You can fix your bike, gear up for a backpacking trip, buy a futon, peruse radical leftist books, find international videos you won't find anywhere else and spices you've likely never tried.



All in one great neighborhood, and on one great website! Check it out.

Minneapolis Youth Violence Effort Becomes Model

As you can read here, the successful Minneapolis Blueprint for Action on preventing youth violence is becoming a model for similar initiatives elsewhere in the state. I commend the other jurisdictions for following our lead, and wish them as much success as the 37% reduction in violent crime committed by youth that we've seen in the last few years.


I'm proud to have gotten this initiative started by sponsoring the resolution several years ago redefining youth violence as a public health crisis and of all the work so many of us have done drafting and implementing the plan. That resolution dedicated the City to addressing youth violence the way we do other public health crises: identifying risk factors and intervening with kids who start to slip into risky behaviors. The City agreed, when passing the plan, that dealing with youth violence cannot be left just to law enforcement - once the police are forced to respond to an act of violence, it is in many senses already too late.

As we implement the plan I hope that we keep learning and use incidents of violence to better understand causes and factors that contributed to it so that we can prevent it in the future. When I learned of the 7 week old who was apparently and tragically murdered on July 4th it was clear that we still have a long long way to go. Maybe it will help us to focus more on the role domestic violence and child abuse plays in this.

Still, it is good to see our efforts showing results and I hope that others will continue to follow our good example, and put these same principles into effect at all levels of government.

Sandwich Board Signs

Last week, the Council passed a compromise that my staff and I came up with, between small businesses and pedestrians in the city.



Months ago, Planning staff presented their proposed changes to the City's zoning ordinance dealing with signs. One of their proposals regarded A-frame sandwich board advertising signs; the rule had been that these were allowed basically anywhere, but required an obstruction permit from Public Works. Planning staff had learned that this was never followed, because Public Works does not give out obstruction permits for impermanent objects placed on sidewalks. Their proposal would have allowed these signs anywhere in town, as long as the sign doesn't block the sidewalk.



Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents downtown, has heard quite a few complaints about these signs, especially on Nicollet Mall. I could understand her position: between sidewalk cafes, newspaper boxes, planters, light fixtures, signs and parking meters, downtown sidewalks can get pretty cluttered. She and I have also heard some very significant concerns from people in the disability community about the impact of these obstructions on blind or sight-impaired pedestrians and folks trying to navigate city sidewalks in wheelchairs.



These concerns prompted Lisa to move to ban these signs citywide. I let the small business associations in my ward know about this proposal, and they were uniformly opposed. The West Bank Business Association, Seward Civic and Commerce Association and Lake Street Council all formally opposed the idea. Their arguments are compelling: for many small businesses, sandwich board signs are the only affordable way to let passersby know that they exist, and what goods and services they offer. In addition, my office heard from some residents that they appreciate sandwich board signs, because they lend commercial corridors a vibrant, exciting vibe, which makes them more attractive to pedestrians.



When this came before the Zoning and Planning committee on July 8, my staff had done some research and prepared a compromise. It turns out there was a very helpful description of the four 'zones' of each sidewalk in the draft Pedestrian Master Plan. So first, we kept CM Goodman's proposed ban on sandwich board signs in downtown. Second, sandwich board signs outside of downtown would be allowed, but only in the "Planting/Furnishing" or "Frontage" zones, and not in the "Walk" zone.



It's my hope that this compromise, which passed the Council unanimously on July 17, will meet the needs of all users. It gives our zoning enforcement staff the flexibility to limit obstructions, while still allowing the small businesses in our neighborhoods to let people know where they are.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Minnesota Fringe Festival Resolution

Last Friday, the Council passed a resolution that I authored both recognizing the contributions of the Minnesota Fringe Festival to the local arts scene and declaring July 30th "Fringe Day." The Fringe has a large number of locations in the Second Ward, including Augsburg College, Bedlam Theater, Mixed Blood Theater, Nomad World Pub, the Playwrights' Center, Southern Theater, and the U of M's Rarig Center.



Here's the text of the resolution:



Resolution of the City of Minneapolis

By Gordon, Benson, Colvin Roy, Glidden, Goodman, Hodges, Hofstede, Johnson, Lilligren, Ostrow, Remington, Samuels, Schiff

Recognizing the Minnesota Fringe Festival and Declaring July 30th Fringe Day


Whereas, the Minnesota Fringe Festival is an annual eleven-day festival of unleashed performance; and,

Whereas, since it was founded in 1993, Minnesota Fringe has brought thousands of artists to metro-area stages in performances ranging from shows created by teens to radical politics, from classics to the avant-garde; and,

Whereas, this year, one hundred sixty-two productions will present eight hundred forty-seven performances at twenty-two venues; and,

Whereas, the Fringe Festival will span the Mississippi for the first time in 2009, with venues in both Minneapolis and St. Paul; and,

Whereas, the Fringe Festival brings artists from across the state, the country, and the world; and,

Whereas, the Fringe Festival is one more reason that Minneapolis-St. Paul is a nationally known hotbed for the performing arts,


Now, Therefore, Be it Resolved by the City Council of the City of Minneapolis,

That the City of Minneapolis recognizes the contribution of the Minnesota Fringe Festival to the cultural landscape of the Twin Cities.

Be it Further Resolved that the City Council declares July 30th, 2009, Minnesota Fringe Day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

1934 Trucker's Strike Resolution

This morning, the Council unanimously passed a resolution my office wrote, along with Council Member Glidden's office, commemorating the Minneapolis trucker's strikes of 1934 - which helped usher in the modern labor movement and the rise of the American middle class - and recognizing the events planned for this 75th Anniversary.



Before the vote, several Council Members talked about their personal connections to the strikers. It's amazing how much the events of 1934 still matter to people on a personal, family level.


I was honored to be a lead author on this and to have the privilege of reading it at the Council meeting this morning.

Here's the text of the resolution:



Whereas, seventy-five years ago this summer, in grim economic times, a strike by Teamsters Local 574 shut down all truck traffic in Minneapolis; and,

Whereas, the business community’s Citizens Alliance, backed by Minneapolis police and its own forces, used violence to try to break the strike; and,

Whereas, on Friday, July 20th, Minneapolis police opened fire on unarmed pickets, wounding sixty-seven and killing two, John Belor and Henry Ness; and,

Whereas, on August 21, 1934, the head of the Citizens Alliance acceded to the union’s major demands, signaling the defeat of employer resistance to unionization in Minneapolis; and,

Whereas, the 1934 strikes helped establish the industrial form of union organization through the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and set the stage for the organization of over-the-road drivers throughout an 11-state area, transforming the Teamsters into a million-plus member union; and,

Whereas, the 1934 Minneapolis strike, together with workers’ struggles in other cities that year, helped prod Congress to pass the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, increasing union organizing nationwide and helping millions of workers attain a better life; and,

Whereas, the strikes of 1934 played an important role in sparking the “Second New Deal,” which included lasting reforms such as Social Security; and,

Whereas, the City of Minneapolis has transcended its history of suppressing workers rights to become a strong and steadfast supporter of labor unions; and,

Whereas, the Hennepin County Library and Labor Review newspaper are sponsoring two special events to commemorate this anniversary, a panel discussion at the Minneapolis Central Library and a Walking Tour starting at the library and including sites in the former Market District, now known as the Warehouse District,

Now, Therefore, Be it Resolved by the City Council of the City of Minneapolis

That the City of Minneapolis honors the workers who fought for fair wages and the right to unionize in 1934, especially those who died on the 20th of July.

Be it Further Resolved that the City of Minneapolis recognizes the "One Day in July” events, including the July 23rd film and panel discussion, the July 25th “street festival for the working class,” the July 26th picnic and the August 6th walking tour.

NrP 3 Financing Public Hearing

The proposal to establish a new tax increment financing (TIF) district to help pay off Target Center debt and fund neighborhood revitalization activities will be coming up for a public hearing and possible amendments on Tuesday.


You can read the plan here. This is made possible by the legislation many of us worked to get passed in 2008. I’m a strong supporter of the TIF district and believe that it is essential to future funding of neighborhood controlled planning and revitalization efforts in Minneapolis. I support funding Target Center debt relief (which will help our general fund and lighten the load on property tax payers) and neighborhood revitalization equally and will fight hard to ensure the neighborhoods get their share. The official public hearing for this will be at the Community Development Committee at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, July 21, in Room 317 City Hall.


It is important the Council hears loudly and clearly that residents expect us to follow through with our commitment to fund neighborhoods and neighborhood based planning with neighborhood controlled funds. I would like to see this at a level of at least 10 millions dollars a year.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Comedy in the City

Last week, I had a rare treat: a committee meeting that can best be described as hilarious.

The action before the Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee was a staff proposal to allow more comedy in the City. We currently require that an establishment have a class A license – the most expensive and difficult to receive – in order to feature live comedy. The proposed changes that passed the committee unanimously will allow solo live comedians to perform in venues with class D, C, B and A licenses. Class D licenses already allows solo musicians, so this seems like a simple question of fairness. I think this is a great move for both comics and the cultural landscape of Minneapolis.

The fringe benefit for committee members was that a number of local comedians came in to testify in support of the change. As you might guess, they used all of the considerable comedic skills at their disposal to make their case. Council Member Samuels, no stranger to the world of entertainment, joined in the fun. During an exchange with Fancy Ray McCloney, "the best-looking man in comedy," Don noted that it was interesting to have McCloney presenting to the best-looking man in politics.

You can find the whole thing here.

Senator Franken's Office Hours

Over the next few weeks, Senator Al Franken's staff will be holding office hours in various locations throughout the state. There are several opportunities to talk to the Senator's office in Minneapolis on Thursday, July 30th:

8:00am-10:00am: Corcoran Neighborhood Association, 3451 Cedar Ave South
11:00am-1:00pm: Capri Theater, 2027 W Broadway
2:00pm-4:00pm: Linden Hills Library, 2900 W 43rd St
5:00pm-6:00pm: Northeast Library, 220 Central Ave NE
Nice idea, I hope people show up and that their comments and ideas are taken seriously.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Street Lighting Fee

Public Works staff has scheduled two public meetings to give input on a proposed street lighting fee. Currently, the $3 million a year needed to keep the street lights on in the city comes from the general fund, which gets around 20 percent of its money from LGA. As I've said previously, our LGA has been cut by $21.3 million.


One option being considered is a street lighting operations fee for all property owners of around $20 a year. The meetings are on Tuesday, July 14, 6:30-8:30pm at Farview Park, 621 29th Ave N; and Thursday, July 16, 6:30-8:30pm at Martin Luther King Park, 4055 Nicollet Ave S.


I have serious reservations about the idea of adding a new fee for what I consider to be a basic City service. I would strongly prefer raising the same revenue - if we must - from property taxes. I'm very wary of the current trend in government to call a tax a "fee." A commenter on the Minneapolis issues list has given a great practical reason to resist this trend: property taxes are tax deductable, on one's federal tax forms. New city fees are not.

Congrats, SECIA!

Congratulations to the Southeast Como Improvement Association (SECIA) on getting a Minneapolis Pollution Control Agency Environmental Assistance Grant of $25,769 for a Solid Waste Reduction and Reuse Project.


It's been clear for some time that there's a better way to handle the furniture and appliances that student renters discard than our current practice of putting them into the waste stream. My staff and SECIA have talked in the past about putting together a program like what SECIA has gotten funded, and it’s great to see the state supporting an effort to make progress on this. Programs like these have helped give SECIA a well-earned reputation as one of the most ecologically conscious neighborhood groups in Minneapolis, and there are lots of examples of their good work, including:



  • A Green Village program, launched this April.

  • A Good Neighbor Agreement with Greatbatch Globe Tool which aims to reduce Trichloroethylene air pollution more than 70%, and two other similar agreements that reduced emissions by 92% each, for a total of 1300 tons of pollutants removed.

  • A Bike Trailer Rental Program initiated with a "Beautiful U" grant, with a related "how-to workshop". Trailers are now available for rental for $2/day.

  • Distribution of solar motion lights to over 103 Como households.

  • Community gardens, including the OWLS Garden Shares and Accord Community Garden.

  • Development of a raingarden design consultation program for SE Como properties with Metro Blooms.

  • A Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) mini-grant award for residential rain gardens.

  • Hosting 20 interns in the 2008-09 academic year, all working on different Green Village activities.

  • Receiving a HECUA intern for environmental sustainability.

  • Offering green cleaners to community at the SECIA office and at community events with support of MWMO.

  • The Green Institute’s case study of SECIA's pilot "Sign Me up for Solar" bulk solar panel purchase and installation.

  • Business rain garden program launched with support to area businesses for rain garden designs developed for their buildings.

  • Remediation completed at Bridal Veil Open Space with community input from SECIA's Environment Committee.

  • Awarded the Governors Award in Excellence in Pollution Prevention for working on the Good Neighbor Agreements in partnership with local industries ceremony April 30, 2009.

  • Rock-Tenn Community Advisory Panel (RCAP) participation, arriving at a solution for their energy needs.

  • Offered a spring bike tune-up & safety workshop at Van Cleve Park in March 2009

  • Accord garden wins award 2009 from The Minnesota State Horticultural Society (MSHS) recognized Rose and the Accord Native Plant Community Garden by awarding the Community Garden Award -For excellence in community gardening.

  • Recognized by the City Council for environmental programs and achievements in January 2009.

  • Pursuing rainwater catchment system for watering Como Corner, MWMO funded design plans.

  • Finalist for the MEI Environmental Initiative awards (announced May 2009), for the Energy and Climate Protection category (Solar Thermal Pilot Project). Also a finalist in the Natural Resource Protection and Restoration category for Bridal Veil Open Space.

  • Other Previous projects: Organic Lawn Care with Community Power (2005-2006), Rainbarrel Workshop (spring 2007), Build your own Bicycle Trailer Workshop Spring 2008. Organics composting at Como Cookout 2005-2008. Windsource Promotion (2003-present). Clothesline Distribution to neighbors in 2007 (Minneapolis Climate Change microgrant).