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, February 25, 2011

Dynamic Signs

This morning, the Council adopted new regulations regarding "dynamic signs," signage that incorporates large LCD TV-style screens. For the most part, I support these new standards.

However, the Council also undid some good work from the Zoning and Planning committee. The committee, acting on a motion I made, voted to restrict these new signs from Pedestrian Oriented (or PO) Overlay Districts. This morning, the Council majority voted to strip out those protections on an 8-5 vote.

I believe that these dynamic signs are not in keeping with the intent of PO districts. They are clearly aimed at drivers. Tellingly, the only types of businesses that have approached the City looking to install these signs so far are gas stations.

This restriction was also in keeping with the existing signage regulations in PO districts. We already prohibit "pole signs, backlit awning and canopy signs and backlit insertable panel projecting signs" in PO districts, because these signs are aimed primarily at drivers, just like dynamic signs.

Ignoring all of this, the Council majority voted to eliminate these protections for PO districts. They even rejected a compromise that would have allowed new dynamic signs in PO districts at sites that currently have manually changeable electronic signs.

Here are the votes. In favor of restricting dynamic signs in PO districts: Reich, Hofstede, Schiff, Tuthill and me. Opposed: Johnson, Samuels, Lilligren, Goodman, Glidden, Quincy, Colvin Roy, Hodges.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spacing Restriction on Liquor Stores

This Friday the city council will vote on changing a spacing restriction on liquor stores.

Currently, city ordinance requires any new liquor store to be 2,000 feet away from any other liquor store and 300 feet away from a school or place of religious assembly (synagogue, church, mosque, temple etc.).

The Minneapolis Code of Ordinances restricts other activities in close proximity to places of religious assembly and schools such as adult entertainment businesses and pawn shops.

Liquor stores are currently restricted from locating within 300 feet as
measured from the front door to the front door. Council Member Tuthill
is proposing to change this measurement to be from property line to property line rather than door to door.

For more information there has been some coverage of this in the press:
The staff report and first proposed amendment can be found in agenda item 7. here:

Before I vote on Friday I would like to hear your opinion.

Let me know if you have any questions or need additional information.


Urban Ag Plan Passes Planning Commission

Last night, the City Planning Commission unanimously sent the Urban Agriculture Topical Plan forward. I look forward to strongly supporting it when it comes before both the Zoning and Planning committee and the full Council.

I see this plan as one of the most important steps the City can take in implementing the Homegrown Minneapolis recommendations. The plan recommends, for the first time in any policy document, that the City allow commercial food growing in Minneapolis, along with a great many other important recommendations. Altogether, the plan's recommendations will help make Minneapolis a leader in the local food movement, improving the health, sustainability and economy of our city.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Green and Healthy Housing

Today, the Council’s Regulatory, Energy and Environment committee received a report from staff on an ordinance change that would dramatically improve our ordinances in terms of making rental property safer, healthier, more economical and more environmentally sustainable.

If adopted, these changes would require that landlords protect their tenants in the following ways:

  • All landlords would be required to do a furnace/boiler safety test by a licensed mechanical or gas contractor every two years, unless the furnace or boiler is under 10 years old.

  • All owners of single family rentals would be required to get an energy audit with a blower test and thermal scan by a certified auditor. If property fails the initial blower door standard, air sealing must occur resulting in at least a 20% improvement on the initial blower door test or attic bypasses and major air leaks discovered by the thermal scan must be sealed. It should be noted that energy audits are heavily subsidized by Centerpoint and Xcel.

  • All owners of 1-3 unit rental properties built before 1978 where the City has found chipping or peeling paint would be required to get a lead safe clearance test by a third party lead certified technician. All of these changes are within the City’s appropriate role of protecting tenants, and all will increase the livability, safety and health of our housing stock. As an added benefit, they will also reduce utility costs for renters – which renters often pay but can seldom control – and represent one of the City’s only ways to get serious about the problem of climate change.

I strongly support these amendments. In fact, I think they should have gone significantly further: staff made multiple changes to appease rental property owners, including dropping a proposed radon test, scaling back the lead testing and limiting the energy audits to single family homes only. By making these changes, they successfully kept the Minnesota Multi-Housing Association neutral, rather than having its members oppose the amendments.

Unfortunately, some of my colleagues have signaled that they will not support even these weakened amendments. I look forward to trying to change their minds. After all, we talk a lot about climate change, and making Minneapolis a leader on sustainability. It's time to translate all of that talk into action.

One last thing: these amendments represent a somewhat rare opportunity to support Council President Johnson on a controversial issue. I thank her for her leadership in bringing this issue forward.

The committee will hear this item again on February 28th, and I look forward to supporting it in the strongest form possible.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Honoring Ginny Gelms

I was proud to present a resolution honoring Interim Elections Director Ginny Gelms at the last Council meeting. The text is below. I want to just add that it has been a pleasure working with Ginny, and I wish her all the best.

Resolution of the City of Minneapolis

By Gordon, Reich, Hofstede, Johnson, Samuels, Lilligren, Goodman, Glidden, Schiff, Tuthill, Quincy, Colvin Roy and Hodges

Honoring Ginny Gelms, Interim Assistant Clerk and Director of Elections, for her service to the people of Minneapolis

Whereas, Ginny Gelms started with the City of Minneapolis in March of 2008 as an Elections Technician and became Interim Elections Director in March of 2010; and,

Whereas, as Interim Elections Director, Ginny managed a 1.2 million dollar budget, the City Hall Elections Office and the elections warehouse and training facility, a permanent staff of four, a seasonal administrative staff of twenty, and over two thousand election judges serving 233,079 Minneapolis registered voters; and,

Whereas, Ginny has embraced ever expanding responsibilities, moving from a position as Elections Technician serving 92,000 registered voters with 56 precincts in Johnson County, Iowa, to serving more than twice as many registered voters with 131 precincts in Minneapolis, to serving more than 700,000 in Hennepin County in the space of three years; and,

Whereas, Ginny helped the Elections Department respond to many challenges foreseen and unforeseen, including implementation of Ranked Choice Voting, recounts for the 2008 Appellate Court primary, 2008 United States Senate, and 2010 Minnesota Governors races, and the Great Elections Warehouse Flood of August 10, 2010; and,

Whereas, Ginny Gelms made Ranked Choice Voting implementation successful by engineering the processes used in the 2009 election, including writing algorithms, technical design, running the test election, writing the Ranked Choice ordinance and fine tuning the hand count procedures; and,

Whereas, during Ginny’s tenure the Minneapolis Elections Department received the 2010 Guardian Award, a national award from the Election Center, for its highly successful implementation of Ranked Choice Voting; and,

Whereas, due to her extensive experience with Ranked Choice Voting, Ginny is now considered a national expert on Ranked Choice elections; and,

Whereas, Ginny is a proud resident of South Minneapolis with her husband Chris and cat Quist, where she volunteers for the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization as a board member and the editor of the Corcoran News; and,

Whereas, Ginny is an active reader who is seldom without her Nook e-reader, and volunteers for the Hennepin County library system; and,

Whereas, Ginny is leaving the City of Minneapolis to serve as Deputy Elections Manager at Hennepin County, where the City of Minneapolis is confident that she will continue to lead the effort to find Ranked Choice-capable voting machines; and,

Whereas, Ginny served the Elections Department and people of Minneapolis during an intensely demanding period, with professionalism, grace, and a lot of heart;

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

That the City of Minneapolis thanks and honors Ginny for her many contributions to the people of Minneapolis, and wishes her well in her new job as Deputy Elections Manager for Hennepin County.

Solar Energy Systems

This morning, the Council adopted new definitions and protections for solar energy systems. The new ordinance provides much greater clarity for dealing with solar energy systems. It defines and sets standards for building mounted and freestanding solar systems and makes clear that solar access easements may be purchased by property owners. For the first time, it provides specific guidance to the Planning Commission that existing solar energy systems should be given special consideration if and when a proposed development would shadow them.

When this proposal came before committee, I moved to postpone it for two weeks so that we could get more input on the specifics and potentially make some tweaks to make it better. And sure enough, I believe we did. At committee this cycle, Council Member Lisa Goodman moved to raise the percentage of a residential lot that could be covered by a freestanding system from 3% to 5%. This means that for a standard 5,000 square foot city lot, the maximum allowable freestanding system went from 150 s.f. to 250 s.f. The committee also chose to completely do away with lot coverage maximums for commercial and industrial parcels. I believe that both of these amendments were major steps in the right direction.

Between committee and the full Council, my staff worked with solar advocates and City staff on an amendment that would clarify that "passive" solar systems would be included in the protections we're giving to other types of solar systems. These include systems that are specifically intended to capture and store direct solar heat, but are not broad enough to allow any window to be considered a "passive solar" system.

I think this ordinance marks significant progress towards a greener, more sustainable city. I want to thank those who worked on it: Jason Wittenberg in Planning, Gayle Prest in Sustainability, and Brian Ross, a member of the Environmental Advisory Committee and expert on solar energy policy. I also should note that this step forward was funded in part by a grant from the US Department of Energy's Solar America Cities.

Bicycle Advisory Committee

For the first time ever this morning, the Council has directly appointed a group of residents to the Bicycle Advisory Committee (or BAC). They also appointed me to be the Council staff member of the group. I appreciate this opportunity; I've been a regular participant on the BAC since 2006, and look forward to being part of its work as a formal member. The City's work on bicycling has long been an interest and focus of mine, and I take this new responsibility very seriously.

The new BAC met in early February as an informal body, and I'm excited about the incredible people who make up the new committee. We've got much better age, race, gender, geographical, and rider-type diversity than the old group had. The group includes folks who ride in all weather and folks who just ride when it's warm, a bike-related business, long-term BAC participants and new perspectives. I'm impressed with how well-balanced the new group is, and by the caliber of all of the folks around the table.

I think everyone was surprised by the outpouring of interest in this committee. More than 90 people applied for the 16 resident seats on the committee, a larger number of applications than any we've seen recently, if not ever. It's clear that people are excited about biking, and about the City's work to make Minneapolis as bike-friendly as it can be. Council Members and the Park Board deserve a lot of credit for considering all of these applicants - each of whom would have been great additions to the BAC - and picking such a good group:

Ward 1: Hope Johnson
Ward 2: Bob Hain
Ward 3: Georgianna Yantos
Ward 4: Jim Skoog
Ward 5: Billy Binder
Ward 6: Ethan Fawley
Ward 7: Richard Anderson
Ward 8: Timothy Larson
Ward 9: Hokan
Ward 10: Lisa Peterson Bender
Ward 11: Paul Frenz
Ward 12: Nick Mason
Ward 13: Bill Dooley
At Large: Janice Gepner, Matthew Hendricks and Joshua Houdek

The new BAC has decided that we'll meet as a formal committee for the first time on the last Wednesday of this month, when we'll adopt our first bylaws, choose a chair, vice chair and secretary, and likely adopt a work plan for 2011. I look forward to getting started.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

St. Paul and Ranked Choice Voting

St. Paul has joined Minneapolis in adopting a Ranked Choice Voting ordinance. I've had the chance to check it out, and it looks good; similar to the Minneapolis ordinance, though not exactly the same. I want to specifically congratulate St. Paul Council Member Russ Stark for the culmination of his great work on this issue.

Guns on the Legislative Agenda

At my urging, the Council's Intergovernmental Relations committee has unanimously approved an amendment to our state legislative agenda opposing the pro-gun, pro-violence agenda of the Republicans in the state legislature. Here's the language:

"Minneapolis opposes efforts to weaken Minnesota's gun laws and regulations such as legislation undermining local background checks, shoot-first legislation, legislation prohibiting State Colleges and Universities from banning guns on campus, and a constitutional amendment on the right to keep, bear and use arms."

I thank my colleagues for joining me in getting the City on record formally opposing these terrible ideas.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Chief Dolan on Guns

I applaud Police Chief Tim Dolan for today's op-ed in the Star Tribune entitled "More Guns? That's preposterous." It's great to see him taking a principled, passionate stand for the safety of Minneapolis communities and common-sense limitations on guns. He backs up his arguments with an impressive array of facts that prove that people with guns are less safe, and that societies with fewer guns are significantly safer.

Thank you, Chief.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Economic Development in Ward 2

I've received some very interesting information detailing the great work that the Community Planning and Economic Development department is doing to strengthen the economy in Minneapolis, and more specifically in the Second Ward.

The Great Streets program has led to significant investments in Second Ward small businesses. Since 2007, Great Streets funding of business district support all over the Ward (Seward, the West Bank, Southeast and Stadium Village), façade improvement grants and real estate development loans totaling $1.4 million has leveraged more than $11.7 million in private investment. That's a leverage rate of more than 8 to 1. And those investments mean jobs: an estimated 79 jobs were created and 92 were retained due to this program, the large majority of them at the highly successful Seward Coop expansion.

Since 2006, CPED has made 60 small business finance loans available to Second Ward businesses, totaling over $3 million. But partly due to that City financing, businesses have invested over $1 billion over the same peiod. That's a staggering leverage rate of over 300 to 1. And again, these investments mean jobs: an estimated 271 new and 333 retained.

The City also works to develop polluted brownfields into usable space, both housing and business. Since 2009, 13 brownfield projects have received over $100 million in City financing, leveraging almost $350 million in private funds, a leverage rate of over 3 to 1. These investments have created or will create 740 new housing units and will create or retain over 1,600 jobs.

And the City has created jobs more directly, through the Minneapolis Employment and Training Program's summer youth employment programs. The number of kids served continues to grow: 114 youth got jobs in 2008, 129 in 2009, and 131 in 2010.

All of this work has real-world consequences. New businesses are moving into the Second Ward: 125 in 2009 and 128 in 2010. The unemployment rate in Minneapolis is 6.1%, a third lower than the US rate (9.1%), lower than it was a year ago (6.6%), lower then both the Twin Cities metro region and the state (6.3% and 6.8%, respectively).

But the difference between the unemployment rate in Minneapolis and the metro region and state is actually even greater than it appears, because the labor force in Minneapolis has held steady over the past year, while the labor force in the metro region and state has declined.

I want to specifically call out Cathy Polasky and her staff for their great work in growing the Minneapolis economy, even during this difficult economic period, and for the jobs and investment they've helped bring to the Second Ward. Keep it up!

2012 Convention

The City received what I consider to be very good news today: Democratic officials have decided to hold the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, rather than Minneapolis.

In a time when we are cutting vital services like neighborhood organizations, I'm glad to see that we won't be on the hook for the sorts of costs and risks that come with a major party convention in 2012. I'm also relieved that we won't be the epicenter for the sort of police-state actions that seem to occur at every convention for both major parties, with little or no local control over those actions.

I consider this "loss" a great win for Minneapolis.