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, October 29, 2010

Conservatives Sue to Campaign in Polling Places

As you can see here, a group of conservative political activists is suing the State and Hennepin and Ramsey Counties. Why? Because they believe that they have the right to engage in political campaigning and voter intimidation at polling places. They believe this despite the long, positive history of bans on overt political speech and campaigning in polling places in Minnesota.

They are making the laughable claim that "the Tea Party and Minnesota Majority are not political groups." Do they actually believe that? Do they really expect anyone else to believe that? Despite the fact that there are numerous Republican candidates for office overtly running as "Tea Party" endorsees, and that there is a Tea Party Caucus of the Republican Party at the national level, and that there are several groups with "Tea Party" in their names funnelling corporate dollars into ads on behalf of Republican candidates? Even a cursory look at the Minnesota Majority website shows that they are an ultra-conservative political organization, pushing a radical right-wing agenda and directly targeting Democratic candidates. Their legislative scorecard's "heroes" are 100% Republican. These are political groups.

Worse, their real agenda is to make it more difficult for every person who does not agree with them to participate in our democracy. Because people of color tend to vote for candidates they hate, they seek to enact laws that will make it harder for people of color to vote. Having failed that - because the people of Minneapolis and Minnesota are too moderate and intelligent to go along with their antidemocratic schemes - they now want to "take matters into their own hands" (in their own vigilante words!). They want to go into polling places wearing buttons featuring an ominous Big-Brother-style eye over the words "election integrity watch," in order to intimidate voters. All with the goal of making the sorts of people who vote for progressive candidates too fearful to participate in the political process.

That sort of mob rule despicable, it's wrong, and it's illegal. Kudos to our nonpartisan election staff at all levels - State, County and municipal - for following the law and standing up to these bullies by banning their intimidation tactics from polling places, thereby keeping the polling place a safe space for all. Kudos also to Representative Ellison for attending their press conference and standing up to them in person. I am confident that our elections staff will prevail over this frivolous lawsuit.

One of the facts that gives me confidence for the elections administrators' success in court is that these right-wingers are being represented by the same conservative Minnesota Voters Alliance that sued the City of Minneapolis over ranked choice voting and lost at all levels. The attorney quoted in MPR's story is the same attorney who led the unsuccessful suit against the City. These guys have a clear track record of failure.

I am also given confidence by the fact that these radical conservatives' own description of their voter intimidation program makes it clear that it's political campaigning. They call it a "campaign" on their website. They note that they are attempting to place a question on the ballot (unsuccessfully - see here) to require identification to vote. Here are their own words: "The program also promotes requiring photo ID to vote. The top of the buttons are emblazoned, 'Please ID Me.' Andy Cilek, president of the Minnesota Voters Alliance said his group has been working on a petition drive to bring a photo ID requirement to Minnesota’s charter cities."

Sorry, folks, but that's a political campaign. So feel free to attempt to gather signatures (here's hoping you have as little success as you've had to date), bloviate on your websites, knock on doors, et cetera. Go ahead and campaign for the changes you'd like to see and the candidates you'd like to win. But please, have the common decency and respect for the democratic process to keep your campaigning out of the polling place, the way everyone else does.

And please, cut it out with the frivolous lawsuits. Those are our tax dollars you're wasting.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hiawatha LRT Trail Closure

As anyone who has ridden the Hiawatha Trail lately has likely noticed, Met Transit is building a new maintenance facility to the east of the trail, between 24th and 26th streets.

As part of this project, they need to do some work on a water main that will necessitate closing the section of the trail from 24th to 26th. They will begin that closure next Monday, 10.25.10, and it will continue for up to three weeks.

Met Transit has worked with our office on the following detour:Southbound cyclists on Hiawatha take a left on 24th Street, then a right onto the new bike lanes on Minnehaha and continue south to the Greenway. Northbound cyclists who are coming across the Sabo bridge from the west continue to Minnehaha and take a left and cyclists coming from the east take a right on Minnehaha. From Minnehaha, take a left on 24th and then a right on the trail.

Please help spread the word.

Meet the New Bicycle Advisory Committee

This morning, the Council voted to formalize the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee (or BAC). This vote was the culmination of a process that I have led for over a year, with the participation of many current members of the BAC, and I'm thrilled to see all of our work finally come to fruition.

I've been actively involved with the BAC since Cam took office in 2006. I have a deep interest in bicycling, both personally and from a policy perspective, and the BAC has been one of the key players in making Minneapolis a more bike-friendly city. But early on, I started to notice differences between the BAC and other boards and commissions that advise the City, for instance the Environmental Advisory Committee or the Public Health Advisory Committee. Meetings were chaired and agendas set not by the membership, but by Public Works staff. There did not seem to be a formal membership, but a shifting cast of bicycle advocates and staff who tended to come to meetings. Anyone at a given meeting could vote. Reports from the BAC to the Council were given by Public Works staff, an odd situation when the BAC and staff disagreed. Unlike many advisory committees, the BAC met on a weekday morning (most others meet in the evening or late afternoon). No one was ever appointed to the BAC by the Council or Mayor, reducing the relationship between the body and the policymakers it hoped to advise. The group was not always very representative of the city, with more participants from the southside than northeast or north, and pretty white and male.

At the same time, the BAC was tackling major policy questions and doing fantastic work. We helped set Public Works' priorities for new bicycling infrastructure, weighed in on important policy questions like Functional Yield and a new policy giving high-volume nonmotorized trails priority over low-volume city streets where they intersect, and much more. We reviewed plans, both broad documents like the Bicycle Master Plan and narrow reconstruction plans for individual streets. I watched City policies and projects get better due to the great work of the BAC.

Questions about the BAC's existence came to a head for me with the Functional Yield discussion back in '08 (for more on that, see here and here). The BAC supported Cam's (and my) position in favor of the City supporting Phyllis Kahn's bill. However, the report to Council on that decision was given by Public Works staff, who had taken the opposite position. It placed our staff in an untenable situation, having to speak before the Council both for and against the same idea. The vote at BAC also drove home to me that the BAC was, in effect, whoever attended a given meeting. Though this hadn't yet reduced the group's credibility, I feared that at some point it would. I decided that the time had come for the BAC to become a real, formal advisory committee to the Council, with an established membership appointed by the Council and Mayor.

I brought this idea to the BAC, and we formed a subcommittee which met several times over the course of 2009 to come up with proposed changes to the BAC. We learned about the BAC's history. In its first incarnation, starting in the early '90s, it was almost completely comprised of City and other jurisdictional staff, and acted as a coordinating entity. In the early '00s, it was changed to include more voices from the cycling community, but remained led by Public Works staff.

Very early on, we agreed that there was a critical tension in our work: to make the changes necessary to put the BAC on solid footing for the future, while keeping the aspects that had worked so well. One of the first decisions we made was to keep the active participation - including voting - of City and other jurisdictional staff, while ensuring that a) there would be more residents than staff on the group and b) the meetings would be chaired and the agendas set by the group, through an elected chair. We also decided that it was important for each Council Member to appoint a representative from their Ward, both to improve the BAC's relationship with the Council and to ensure greater geographic equity.

We created a proposal that, after several months of discussion, the full BAC unanimously supported. It envisioned a very large group of 35 appointed members (though, as I pointed out several times, this was actually a decrease from the current BAC membership total). We brought this forward to the Council's Transportation and Public Works (or TPW) committee, seeking their approval. The committee balked, put off by the large size and questions about whether the BAC should continue to include staff as voting members, and sent the proposal back to the BAC for more work.

We invited the TPW Chair, Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, to attend a BAC meeting. She graciously accepted, and participated in an incredibly productive conversation in which she shared TPW's concerns, and the BAC shared its goals and some of the reasons behind the proposal. The subcommittee started meeting again, and changed the proposal to its current form, which includes 16 members from the community It was again supported unanimously by the full BAC.

The subcommittee met with Council Members on TPW who had voiced concerns about staff continuing to vote on the BAC. Our essential point was that we wanted the new BAC to continue to play the interagency role that the current BAC had played, and that we thought it would be more likely to do so if staff continued to vote. It seems we helped assuage the CM's concerns, because this morning's Council vote to formalize the BAC was unanimous.

As I said, I'm thrilled to have finished this project. I'm confident that the new BAC will build on the old BAC's great work while increasing the cycling community's voice within City government, and that we will continue to make Minneapolis a better and better place to ride a bicycle.

I want to specifically call out the members of the BAC 'formalization' subcommittee whose hard work made this possible:

Lisa Peterson Bender
Billy Binder
Bob Hain
Matthew Hendricks
Nick Mason
Andrew Rankin
Jennifer Ringold

Good job, all.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Judge Recommends Burying Hiawatha Powerline

The Administrative Law Judge, Beverly Jones Heydinger, has formally recommended to the Public Utilities Commission that the Xcel Hiawatha Powerline, proposed to be above ground along the Midtown Greenway, be buried under E. 28th Street. I am very supportive of this recommendation, although I continue to question the need for the powerline itself and would prefer to see an investment in conservation, alternative energy sources and upgrading the existing lines. The judge also recommended that the substations be at Xcel preferred locations. The one nearest Ward 2 would be east of Hiawatha Avenue adjacent to the greenway where there is current green space. The PUC will now accept comments disagreeing with Heydinger’s recommendations. They will wait to make a decision, however, until after the required Certificate of Need process has been completed. Because Xcel has not applied for the certificate of need it looks like the earliest the PUC could act is November, 2011.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Solar Panels are on the Convention Cetner

Yesterday I saw it with my own eyes. Finally, after years of work and having to revamp and restucture a 2 million dollar state grant, solar panels are now actually up on the Convention Center. A press conference held yesterday yeilded some media coverage here or here if you want to see a picture as well.

The installation will be the Upper Midwest’s largest solar photovoltaic system. The solar array, which has 403 of its 2,613 panels installed, will connect directly to the convention center’s internal electrical system and produce 750,000 kWh of renewable energy per year when completed. The system, being built by a local development team led by Best Power International and Westwood Professional Services, will produce the equivalent of powering 85 homes annually, while offsetting 539 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions (the amount given off by 60,587 gallons of gasoline). In a unique and somewhat complex agreement, the photovoltaic systems will be owned by Best Power, which will lease the roof for the system from the City of Minneapolis. The City will lock into a long-term contract with a fixed energy cost as a hedge against future energy price increases.