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:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Riverside Reconstruction

This morning, the Transportation and Public Works (TPW) committee approved a layout for the Riverside Avenue reconstruction project. This layout has changed significantly for the better in the month or so since it last came before the committee (compare the old version to the new version). Among the positive changes:

- The bicycle lane going towards downtown now extends all the way to Cedar Avenue, rather than dropping a half-block early. This is possible because the through lane (which goes onto 4th St and has very low volumes) has been combined with the left turn lane onto southbound Cedar. I am confident that this change will work fine for automobiles, as the layout keeps a dedicated right-turn lane onto Cedar northbound - the heaviest movement in this intersection. It will work much better for bicyclists, giving them a safe, dedicated lane all the way through Cedar, connecting to 4th St (and, from there, to the Hiawatha LRT trail). And, as a side benefit, it will work better for pedestrians. The old through lane was eleven feet wide. The bike lane is only 5 feet wide. The remaining space has been dedicated to the sidewalk on the north side (near the Acadia cafe), which has grown from a proposed 13 feet to 20 feet. As this is one of the highest pedestrian traffic intersections in town, I think that this is a great side effect.

- The section of the road between 22nd and 25th Avenues has been improved. There will be parking on the south side of the street, with green boulevards and wider sidewalks possible on both sides. Fairview Hospital and Augsburg College pushed hard for this, and I'm glad they did.

In addition to these improvements, I worked with members of TPW to get two staff directions passed. The first makes clear that the bike lane going towards Seward will not simply end in the block between South 9th Street and Franklin Avenue. Instead, bicyclists and drivers will both be informed that the right lane is to be shared by both users, with appropriate striping and signage. This is necessary due to the complexity of the Riverside/Franklin/29th intersection. A bike lane to the right of travel lanes, where most people would expect it, could easily lead to conflicts between bicyclists taking a left from Riverside onto Franklin and cars going "straight" (actually an obtuse right) onto 29th.

The second staff direction is for staff to work with community stakeholders - most likely Fairview, Augsburg, and the Cedar Riverside Partnership - to identify appropriate locations for planted medians. It also makes absolutely clear that the City will not maintain planted medians; if the institutions and others want these, they have to find a way to take care of them. Still, I'm optimistic that we'll find three or four good locations along Riverside to get some greenery in the middle of the road, as a gateway onto the West Bank.

I will be hosting a meeting with the residents of 5th Street to discuss the corner of 5th, 20th Avenue, and Riverside. Staff moved away from their preferred alternative for that intersection - a cul-de-sac - based on the negative reaction from residents. Instead, they are proposing an out-only lane that would allow cars to exit 5th onto Riverside, but not allow cars to turn onto 5th at that location. Unfortunately, the meeting that staff hosted to discuss this proposal was held at a time and location that made it impossible for residents to attend, so I will be presenting the proposal to residents sometime later this month.

All in all, this is a great project. It's a once in a generation opportunity to improve one of the two main streets on the West Bank, and from the beginning it was clear that it will dramatically improve the pedestrian experience through curb extensions and more. The improvements we've been able to make in response to the engagement of the community over the last month have made it even better, and I'm excited to see the project get underway.

33rd and Minneapolis

The intersection of Minneapolis Avenue S and 33rd Ave S is the only uncontrolled intersection in Seward, the only one in Ward 2, and one of the last 10 or so uncontrolled intersections in the whole city. It's a skewed four-way (because Minneapolis is at an angle to the grid) with one one-way leg.

We've heard from at least one resident about this intersection over the years. It's confusing, and that confusion could contribute to accidents.

Public Works has been putting stop signs up at uncontrolled intersections in Minneapolis since 2004. 33rd and Minneapolis is one of the last. They will be making a recommendation to me about how to signalize this intersection within the next two months. I look forward to working with Seward to come up with a solution that works for everyone.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cara Moves On

This week, the Mayor's Office and City Hall is bidding farewell to a Second Ward resident: Cara Letofsky. Cara has been highly valued by me and my colleagues and she, and her good work here, will be greatly missed.

Cara has worked in the Mayor's Office as a Policy Aide whose portfolio included, according to the Mayor's website: "Sustainability and environment, planning and urban design, housing and homelessness, neighborhood community development and relations, jobs and workforce development, financial literacy, 2010 census."

I have to admit that it was a little bit strange when Cara and I both started our new jobs in January of 2006. We'd just come off of a close-fought campaign against each other for the Second Ward Council seat, a race I won by only a hundred and fifty-one votes. Mayor Rybak had noticed Cara's organizing skill, and he offered her a position in his second administration.

In those first few months, it was sometimes difficult to make the transition from campaign rivals to coworkers. But over the course of the last few years, I've found that my working relationship with Cara has been my closest with anyone in the Mayor's Office. We've worked together on a number of initiatives that have been major priorities for me: Homegrown Minneapolis, the creation of the new Neighborhood and Community Relations Commission and Department and the new generation of NRP, and a host of sustainability and green jobs issues. I've gotten to know that Cara is a hard worker who looks for pragmatic, concrete ways to make meaningful and beneficial change in an organization that can be all too hard to turn in a better direction.

I can't imagine where the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative would be without her work, or what would have become of NRP if she hadn't been at the table. I'm not sure what we're going to do without her.

What I do have confidence in is that Cara will find a place to continue her work to make the world a better place. Good luck, Cara, and thanks for all you've done for our city.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The 2011 Budget and Tax Levy

The 2011 budget and financial challenges facing our City are the most difficult I have experienced since taking office. By now, all property owners in Minneapolis should have received their notice for proposed property taxes for 2011. Many, if not all, have seen increases over 2010. These property taxes include taxes levied by Hennepin County, Minneapolis Public Schools, the City of Minneapolis and special taxing districts, such as Metro Transit and watershed districts. Understandably, I am most concerned with the City of Minneapolis’ portion.

The second of three public hearings on the tax levy and budget was held in November and we heard many concerns about the proposed levy and budget. The biggest concerns related to a cut in funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (from $10 million to 8) and the dramatic increase in property taxes. The typical increase, based on the comments, calls and emails I have received, is between 15 – 18%. Several factors play roles in this, including:
1. The poor economy and the decline in the overall tax base
2. A shift in the burden of property taxes from commercial and industrial properties onto residential properties
3. Increased obligations to closed pension funds,
4. Decreases in Local Government Aid, and
5. The recertification of Tax Increment Financing Districts.

Please allow me to share more thoughts on each.

1. The poor economy accounts for a major portion of many homeowners’ property tax increases. The drop in value of both commercial and industrial property and the decline in residential property values due to foreclosure, short sales and the economic recession, have significantly reduced the property tax base. With a smaller tax base, even if the cumulative amount of the taxes being collected (the tax levy) remained constant, taxes per individual property would rise. Unfortunately, the poor economy does not reduce costs to the City – if anything, it increases them. More vacant homes and businesses mean a greater risk of fire, and more work for our inspectors and regulatory staff. Recessions tend to see increased crime rates, putting more pressure on police resources. Homelessness and unemployment make our employment, housing and economic development efforts more critical. More information on the connection between the economy and your property taxes is available here.

2. State law changes over the last decade have shifted the burden of property taxes from commercial, apartment building and industrial properties onto smaller residential properties. In 1997, residential property owners covered 33% percent of the total Minneapolis property taxes. Today they pay a 56%. This shift has caused residential property taxes to climb at a greater rate than taxes for other property types in the City.

3. The entire amount of money raised by the 6.5% proposed increase in the tax levy is proposed to go to meet our legal obligations to three closed pension funds. These contributions were “locked in” in the 1980s, when the City government agreed to pay pension amounts event when the investments of those pension funds could not. These programs are now closed, since they stopped accepting new members in 1978. The City has challenged overcharges in court and when the judge sided with the City we were able to decrease taxes by $10 million last year. Still, costs of covering the agreed to benefits to retirees and their survivors have grown dramatically in the last few years, and are projected to continue to grow in the years to come. Beginning in 2010 and for the next five years alone, market downturns have increased our responsibility to the funds by an estimated $38 million. For more look here .

4. Minneapolis’ Local Government Aid (LGA) has been cut by $54 million over the last three years. LGA was established by the State in the 1970s as a revenue sharing program to ensure that all communities in Minnesota have quality basic services within a taxing system which allows the state government to impose income and sales taxes and limits local governments to collecting property taxes and only limited state-approved sales taxes. Under this scheme, local governments agreed to send the income- and sales-tax revenues generated within their boundaries to the state with the understanding that some of this revenue would be redistributed to local governments through a need-based formula. Many cities in states that have had no such agreement (such as Colorado, New York, Oregon, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania) have instituted city income taxes. Minneapolis does not currently have this option. Instead, we have worked to keep City spending at pace with inflation and essentially flat since the cuts began and had to raise the property tax levy to make up the difference. In 2003 State Aid accounted for 40 percent of General Fund revenue, while property taxes accounted for only 29 percent. In 2011, if recent projections prove accurate, State Aid will account for only 22 percent while property taxes will make up 44 percent of General Fund revenue.

5. Part of the pressure the budget this year is due to the recertification of about ½ of the old “NRP” Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts that for the 20 years from 1989 – 2009 were used to pay for the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. Starting in 2011 these funds will be used to: a) make payments to Hennepin County for their share of the property taxes lost to the TIF; b) pay for the City and County costs of administering the district. The remaining funds (or the “Net Tax Increment” of about $10 million a year) will be divided evenly to pay debt service on the Target Center and the new neighborhood and community relations programs. This has taken roughly 15 million dollars out of total tax levy that was available for other purposes in 2010. Originally the Council approved twice as much funding for neighborhoods and Target Center debt but after the economic downturn and loss of LGA in 2008, this was cut in half. Unfortunately, selling Target Center is not a realistic option without a buyer, and while I would consider not paying down the debt as quickly as we could, this was a hard-fought Council decision, and paying down the debt quickly reduces the long-term burden on taxpayers and brings more money into the general fund sooner. In light of the ending of the 20 year long Neighborhood Revitalization Program and the end of the County’s financial contribution to it, City funding for neighborhood organizations is absolutely critical.

It is important to note that we are cutting the City budget even as property taxes are increasing. Adjusting for inflation, the City’s proposed budget for 2011 is 7% smaller than the City’s budget in 2001. The City will have close to 80 fewer full time employees in 2011 than 2010 and 400 fewer than it did in 2001. As we expect other departments in the City to reduce costs, one thing that is important to me is that the City Council Ward budgets themselves must share in those reductions. There is currently a proposal that would require the Council offices to do that by cutting each office budget by $5,400, through a combination of cuts to spending on things like office supplies, interns, mailings and travel as well as instituting a voluntary unpaid time off program. That proposal should be adopted.

There are other ongoing efforts to look at additional budget cuts in hopes that the levy and property taxes could be lowered. Each percentage point that we reduce the levy means a $2.2 million dollar loss of revenue. With a general fund budget of $390 million there may yet be places worth cutting, but more layoffs and lost services often have undesirable consequences. However, each percentage point that we reduce the levy will only yield a $16 annual reduction in property taxes for the “typical” Minneapolis homeowner. Yes, that’s only $16 for the whole year for a home valued at about $195,000. If the tax rate is 7.5% the total overall property tax on that home is about $3,159 and at 6.5% the total overall property tax would be is $3,143.

One option I would be willing to reluctantly consider would be to borrow to cover some or all of our pension obligations. Borrowing, however, also adds costs over the long term and the less money we have to spend on interest, the more we have to cover ongoing operating costs or real improvements to our infrastructure in the future. Also, as pension obligations are set to increase in the next three years, this option may be better reserved for future years, if at all.

I am hopeful that the actual impact on taxpayers may be slightly smaller than stated in the notices we received by mail this month. The notices were based on a maximum 7.5 % levy increase passed by the Board of Estimate and taxation. The budget proposed by the mayor and what each departments have planned for, is based on a 6.5% increase. The Board set a higher maximum to avoid greater cuts if the State’s economic forecast departs from previous estimates of what Minneapolis can expect from Local Government Aid.

This site answers many questions about the process and explains the City’s different funding sources. To view the complete proposed 2011 budget, go here

One more public hearing on the City’s proposed 2011 budget to give the public a chance to share their thoughts on the proposed budget and tax levy will be held on Monday, Dec. 13, 6:05 p.m. in City Hall, 350 South 5th Street, room 317. Written commends are also welcomed.

Whatever we do this year, I am convinced that the annual tax increases levied in the last few years are not sustainable. I will continue to work to make sure we are managing this difficult financial situation in a way that balances the need to keep taxes down with the need to avoid drastic cuts in critical services that would lead to more expensive long term consequences. There is a dire need for state tax and pension reform, which I will continue to push for while keeping my primary focus on making sure that City departments are investing our money wisely for the short and long term benefit of all our residents.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

MPCA ‘s Metro Solid Waste Plan.

I submitted the following comments on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Metro area Solid Waste Plan.


I commend the Pollution Control Agency for undertaking the Metropolitan Solid Waste Management Policy Plan, and thank you for the opportunity to comment. There are many portions of the plan that will be significant steps in the right direction. However, there are also some ways in which the plan’s goals are not aggressive enough, and could lead to some unfortunate missed opportunities.

The positive aspects of the plan are almost too numerous to mention. The dual focus on reducing, recycling, and composting and limiting the total waste going to landfills is the right fundamental approach. I commend the MPCA for instituting a ‘floor’ for recycling, composting, and reduction.

Many of the strategies laid out in the plan are tremendous ideas. Worth special mention are Extended Producer Responsibility/Product Stewardship; Improving Volume-based Pricing; Mandatory Opportunity to Recycle for Commercial, Industrial, and Institutional (CII) Sectors; Increasing Landfill Disposal Fees; and Targeting Commercial Organics. I strongly believe that each of these strategies will meet the long term goals of improving the environment, public health, and regional economy, and I urge the MPCA to implement them.

However, the plan has room for improvement in several important ways.

To begin with, the Vision laid out in the plan is not sufficient. It is time for all stakeholders in the MSW realm to embrace the long-term goal of a zero-waste society. The MPCA’s leadership in engaging the state in a serious conversation about how and when to accomplish this in relation the different potions of our waste stream would be enormously helpful. This plan provides an opportunity to begin that discussion with clear goals and a clear timeline.

Second, it is important to draw a distinction between the top tier of the solid waste management hierarchy – waste reduction, recycling, and organics recovery – and Waste to Energy. While it is true that WTE is an effective method for capturing the embedded energy from MSW, it will never be a clean source of energy. WTE facilities simply decrease air quality and generate risks to public health. Too often, the plan includes WTE in the top tier, or makes unclear that it is not included. The plan should be amended to make two things very clear. First, that WTE is absolutely preferable to landfill. Second, that reduction, recycling and organics recovery are absolutely preferable to WTE. Put another way, WTE is not among the best solutions for waste; it is the best of the worst solutions.

Third, while the plan includes many positive statements about organics recovery, the details of the plan do not support the plan’s stated goals. As table A-1 makes clear, organics comprise 22% of MSW. But the MSW Management System Objectives aim for a long-term (2030) goal of only 7-9% organics recovery. This is simply unacceptable, and calls into question the MPCA’s actual commitment to the solid waste management hierarchy; it is apparent that the MPCA has placed greater emphasis on WTE than organics recovery.

The lack of prioritization on organics recovery shows through in other aspects of the plan as well. The implementation strategy regarding commercial organics is positive; however, the plan misses the opportunity to address residential organics programs. Municipalities in the metro area can and should start to offer curbside source separated organic materials (SSO) pickup. The MPCA should play a leadership and facilitating role in making this happen, by establishing a clear goal – for instance, a goal of SSO collection service for all residences in the metro area – providing technical assistance, and helping to ensure that there is adequate SSO processing capacity.

The Potential Additional Materials Recycling and Organics Processing Capacity goals are not sufficient to meet the needs of a comprehensive organics recovery system. City of Minneapolis Solid Waste and Recycling staff has made clear that the single greatest obstacle to citywide curbside SSO collection is the dearth of facilities that can process the waste. It is my understanding that there are currently no facilities that accept commingled yard and food waste, which would be the most cost effective collection method for the City of Minneapolis. The MPCA has a critical role to play in a) streamlining the process for permitting new composting and anaerobic digestion facilities to the extent possible, b) creating new rules and procedures as necessary to allow the permitting of composting facilities that can accept commingled food and yard waste, and c) clearly stating composting and digesting targets for the Metro area, and holding stakeholders accountable for meeting these targets, thereby making clear to potential new facilities that their service will be utilized.

In summary, the plan to a great extent misses the opportunity presented by organics recovery. I consider this oversight important enough that it calls into question many of the stated goals of the plan. It is also clear that the plan does not, in regards to organics recovery, come anywhere near meeting the 2008 Legislature’s request for options to achieve 15% diversion of source-separated compostable materials by 2020. Organics recovery could and should be, along with overall reductions and increased recycling, one of the major solutions for reducing the MSW going to both landfills and WTE.

Please consider adopting stronger and clearer organics recovery goals, clarifying that WTE is a second-tier solution, and adopting a bold long-term vision for a Metro area in which all waste is treated as a resource. If the MPCA does so, the plan will be much more likely to help create a sustainable community in which, in the words of the first goal of the plan, we “manage waste in a manner that will protect the environment and public health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve energy and natural resources.”

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment,

Cam Gordon
Council Member, Minneapolis Ward 2

Dero Bike Racks

Second Ward business Dero Bike Racks is having a big month.

In early November, they won a 2010 Commuter Choice Award. They received this honor for developing Dero ZAP, a solar powered, wireless, web-based application that allows organizations to reward employees who commute by bicycle. The program was launched within Dero itself, and they now provide a cash incentive of $3 per day to each employee who uses alternative commuting options.

Then they moved from their longtime home in the Seward neighborhood to the Southeast Minneapolis Industrial area. One of the reasons they cite for the move is the intercampus transitway trail, which will serve their many employees who bike to work.

Congratulations, Dero, and welcome to southeast!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Disparities Study

The long awaited “disparities” study to help us understand how women-owned and minority-owned businesses compete for contracts offered by the City and in the private sector is now complete. The Disparity Study looked at the City’s procurement process, the locations and ownership of companies that do business with the city and at the overall marketplace and experiences of women-owned and minority-owned businesses that seek contracts in both the public and private sector. It has confirmed that we continue to have a significant problem with racial and gender discrimination on all levels of the hiring contracting and procurement ladder in the region. Institutional racism and sexism appear to continue to pose serious obstacles in access to contracts in our marketplace. The study also made a number of recommendations to remedy the situation, including the enhancement of current City efforts to fight discrimination and the addition of new initiatives. These initiatives involve both race- and gender-conscious remedies as well as some race- and gender-neutral initiatives. You can view the study here: and the recommendations here.

The City Council is now seeking public comments on the Disparity Study. All comments must be made in writing to the Civil Rights Department in one of two ways: E-mail comments to no later than 4:30 p.m. (CST) on Friday, December 3. Mail to: Minneapolis Civil Rights Department, Attn: Cynthia Govan, 250 S. 4th Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415. The Council act on any recommendations based on the report following the comment period. This is the second Disparity Study completed by the City.

The original study was completed in 1995 and the new study is required if we are to operate a Small and Underutilized Business Program to address the effects of past discrimination in contracting and to promote equal opportunities for all to participate in contracts generated by the City.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Redistricting Change Passes

One bright point of an otherwise difficult election was the overwhelming support by the people of Minneapolis for a better way of changing ward boundaries after this year’s census.

By the substantial majority of 55%, the voters of Minneapolis rejected the old, overtly politicized process – in which our ward boundaries were drawn by a Redistricting Commission comprised of representatives of the Republican and Independence Parties, which hold no elected offices in Minneapolis at any level – in favor of allowing the Charter Commission to redraw the maps.

There is work to do to ensure that the Charter Commission will include diverse voices and viewpoints (geographic, ethnic, and political) when doing their work, and to ensure that the process they use is open, transparent, and inclusive. But I am convinced that this is a major step in the right direction, and I am proud to have started the process a year ago with Council Members Glidden and Benson.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Big Day for the West Bank Pt 2: Riverside Reconstruction

This morning, the Council also authorized Public Works staff to request a variance from the Municipal State Aid standards to go down to an 8 foot parking lane on Riverside Avenue. The typical MSA parking lane width is 10 feet. The width we save will be reallocated to bike lanes, sidewalks and boulevards.

The layout approval and the authorization to seek easements (also for wider sidewalks) from nearby property owners were delayed for two weeks in order to give Public Works staff and me a chance to meet with the major institutions along the avenue - Augsburg, Fairview and the U of M - about some concerns that they've communicated very recently. Many of these concerns are things like access during construction, the depth of sidewalks, and other issues not related to the layout, and I want to make clear that we can deal with these concerns later in the process. Some of them are layout related, and I want a chance to make sure that the layout works as well as possible for all users.

This delay also gives my office a chance to work with Public Works staff to ensure that the northwest bound bicycle lane continues all the way to Cedar Avenue.

Big Day for the West Bank Pt 1: Riverside Plaza

This morning, the Council voted to grant up to $80 million in tax exempt multifamily housing entitlement revenue bonds and $1.9 million in from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to the Riverside Plaza renovation project.

This project is a very, very big deal, and has been one of the most important issues on the West Bank for most of this year. It has generated more discussion, controversy, and interest than anything I've seen in a long time.

At its most basic, this is an affordable housing issue. There are more than four thousand people who rely on the affordable housing provided by Riverside Plaza. Unfortunately, the quality of that housing has been decreasing over time, and its long-term viability was threatened. This project stabilizes and improves the housing for all of these low-income residents. That's a very good thing.

The renovation will also employ a significant number of people (200) in an economy that has left many people desperate for work. It will significantly reduce the Plaza’s carbon footprint through energy efficiency enhancements.

But in addition to all of those benefits that are 'baked in,' the neighborhood group, with my help and the able support of Community Planning and Economic Development staff, has insisted on and received a very strong development agreement between the developer and the City. Some of the most important aspects of that agreement include:

- Ninety jobs for residents of Riverside Plaza, the West Bank, and surrounding neighborhoods. This includes $50,000 from the contractor and the City towards job training over the course of the project, and a temporary resident and neighborhood employment and training office on the Riverside Plaza property.

- A commitment by the City to fix some of the poorest-quality streets in Minneapolis: 4th St S and 15th Ave S. These streets primarily serve the very dense population of low-income residents of the Plaza and the Cedars, and I have long believed that the level of underinvestment in them is basically immoral. I'm thrilled to see this commitment to invest in this infrastructure, and I want to personally thank the Mayor for making it possible. This project is anticipated to cost $1 million.

- Pedestrian improvements on 6th Street. Since taking office, I have received numerous complaints about how hard it is to cross 6th. There is one long block, between Cedar and 16th Ave S, that has no adequate crossing. People cross illegally and unsafely where 17th Ave S used to be, before it was taken out as part of the Plaza's construction. The renovation project is dedicating $10,000 to a new signal and other enhancements to right this historical mistake.

- More money for safety. Together, the developer and the City have committed to contribute $12,500 per year to police buy-back. These resources are to be controlled by the West Bank Safety Committee, literally the only group in the neighborhood that coordinates between the West Bank Community Coalition, Cedar Riverside NRP, and West Bank Business Association. In addition to these annual funds, the developer will be creating a Safety Center in cooperation with the Safety Committee and RPTA, which will serve as a community gathering space.

- An on-street parking solution near the Plaza. People have been requesting this for a long time, and having a commitment spelled out in the development agreement will be very helpful.

- Improvements to the privately-owned public plaza at the northwest corner of 6th and Cedar, with public art that I hope will help augment the neighborhood-funded beacon right across the street. These improvements will be worth $60,000, and the Cedar Cultural Center will be contracted to oversee them, which gives me confidence that they will be of high artistic quality.

- A possible new community space on 4th St S, where there is currently a surface parking lot. The developer has agreed to offer the right of first refusal to the Cedar Riverside Partnership, creating an opportunity for a great collaboration between the institutions in the area and the residents of the Plaza.

- Continued funding for the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association, in the amount of $150,000 annually.

- $7 million worth of improvements to public areas inside the complex, including lighting, sidewalks, wayfinding and more.

- A NiceRide kiosk on Cedar.

- A comprehensive and well-funded relocation plan for tenants during construction, including temporary apartments within the complex.
- An agreement by the developer to be part of special service district, which I believe is vital to the long-term maintenance of the improved streetscapes likely to be installed on Cedar and Riverside Avenues, and possibly 4th and 15th.

- Allowance for a mural on wall of the African Mall facing the LRT Trail.

I realize that this is not everything that everyone in the neighborhood wanted, and that some will continue to believe that the project should have done much more to support safety, green space, youth programming and more. But I am convinced that this development agreement will ensure that this renovation project will make not only significant improvements to the affordable housing relied on by thousands of Second Ward residents, but the West Bank as a whole. I joined the West Bank Community Coalition, City staff, and all of my colleagues in supporting the project.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Radon - Test Kits Available

The City gave away more than 250 radon test kits to Minneapolis residents on October 29th. We're now offering the same kits for sale for $9 at Minneapolis Development Review, 250 S Fourth St., Room 300.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and the first cause among nonsmokers. More than 21,000 deaths are attributed to radon each year in the U.S. The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that one in three existing Minnesota homes has radon levels that pose a large health risk over many years of exposure.

Radon exposure is preventable, and radon problems in homes can be fixed. The first step is to test for radon at home. Radon is an invisible, odorless, radioactive gas that can only be found by testing.

I'm glad to see the City taking this major public health threat seriously. Minneapolis residents face an elevated risk of preventable disease and death, and the City needs to do more to publicize the threat, give homeowners the information and tools they need to combat it, and ensure that the large population of Minneapolis renters have some protection from it as well.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Conservatives Now Willing to Break Law to Campaign at Polling Places

Seems I was right. The Minnesota judicial system has, in its wisdom, refused to grant the restraining order sought by the Tea Party/Minnesota Majority/Minnesota Voter's Alliance that would have prevented elections officials from doing a vital part of their jobs: preventing campaigning in polling places.

However, that doesn't seem to be stopping these folks. As you can read here, they've sent out this advice to their followers:

“For now, we are recommending that you proceed with wearing your Election Integrity buttons or Tea Party apparel to the polls, knowing you are within your rights, but don’t allow yourself to be disenfranchised. If you are challenged by an election judge because of what you are wearing, you’ll have a decision to make. You can simply remove or cover the challenged item and you’ll be allowed to vote, or you can refuse and demand your right to vote and the election judge will allow you to vote, while also recording your name and you could be charged with a petty misdemeanor.”

So, just to recap: right-wing groups have started a political campaign (including petition drives to place questions on the ballot in Minneapolis and St. Paul), the purpose of which is ostensibly to combat people doing illegal things at polling places. And they are now their followers to... do something illegal at their polling places. Elections administrators, County Attorneys, the Secretary of State and now the courts have all weighed in and made clear that what they want to do is against the law. They're telling people to do it anyway.

And if their followers get caught doing what they were told to do, they'll have a "decision to make." (And then there's the delicious irony of these folks telling their supporters not to risk being disenfranchised, when the whole point of their program is to disenfranchise others.)

All of the above makes abundantly clear that the organizers of this political campaign have now violated election law. Specifically, Statute 211B.11, subdivision 1: "A person may not provide political badges, political buttons, or other political insignia to be worn at or about the polling place on the day of a primary or election." That's exactly what they've done, and it's illegal.

As the Photo ID issue moves forward, everyone on all sides of the argument should be clear that its leading proponents who are more than willing to violate the letter and spirit of election law to get what they want. They're lawbreakers, and should be treated as such.

I hope that whatever fines they face help defray the cost of their frivolous lawsuit.

And I'm fully confident that our able Minneapolis election judges, trained by our highly professional elections administrators, will fairly and evenly enforce the ban on political paraphernelia in polling places. Please don't plan to wear something to your polling place. No matter who you are, no matter your viewpoint, they'll just make you take it off.

And besides, nothing you might don will be as meaningful as that little red "I Voted" sticker.