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, March 01, 2011

Liquor Store Spacing - More Accurate Data

There's an interesting side-note to the Council's conversation about liquor store spacing rules this morning. I share it because it confirms my broader point that the Council made a decision this morning without even an adequate understanding of the facts.

This morning, one of the Council Members reported confidently, on at least two separate occasions, that there were no more than three sites in the whole city of Minneapolis that were eligible for new liquor stores, due to the requirement that new liquor stores be at least 2,000 away from each other. This point was raised to say that this this issue was "much ado about nothing," because the number of potential sites for liquor stores is so extremely low even absent this change.

Well, it turns out this information wasn't correct. According to a document that Regulatory Services staff sent this afternoon, there are currently sixteen sites that could accommodate new liquor stores per the 2,000 foot spacing requirement. Before this morning, seven of them were within 300 feet of a school or a church. After this morning, at least one more site - the one proposed near Jefferson school that apparently inspired the ordinance amendment- is within 300 feet of a school.

No one knows the impact of this morning's action on the remaining eight sites. It could be that none are impacted. Or it could be that all eight are now off the table for new liquor stores, and new businesses of this type will be completely prohibited from the City. We simply don't know. Staff have not had time to prepare a map that would answer this question.

I point this out not to specifically criticize anyone. In fact I am sure that I've also said things in Council arguments that turned out not to be completely accurate. Rather, I point this out for two reasons. First, we should all strive to have more accurate information when entering into public policy debates; we can have our own opinions, but we can't have our own facts.

Second, and more importantly, this discrepancy between what was stated in Council chambers and what turns out to be true highlights the need for good process. It's entirely possible, on a vote as close as this morning's 7-6, that misinformation impacted the result of the vote, determining citywide policy. If we had taken the time to get an adequate, accurate understanding of the impact of this ordinance from staff, this misinformation could have been corrected. Instead, the Council made new policy - and I don't feel I had enough information to even say whether I believe it's good policy or bad policy - based on at least one proven falsehood. This is what happens when we do not take the time we need to get the best information we can to help make our decisions.


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