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:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Please Drive Carefully

The name of the bicyclist killed last week has been released: Audrey Hull, a 25-year-old University of Minnesota student.

In related news, the hit-and-run driver who killed pedestrian Ben Van Handel has been arrested, and another pedestrian has been hit, this time on the West Bank.

Since these disturbing and tragic incidents, the City and various news outlets have asked all road users to be more cautious and better share the road.  While I echo those sentiments, I believe that we shouldn't shy away from more directly addressing drivers.  If you drive on Minneapolis streets, please be aware of bicyclists and pedestrians.  When turning, look for bicyclists and pedestrians in crosswalks.  When turning in locations where there is a bike lane, do not simply turn across the bike lane.  Merge into it just before the intersection, and turn from there - that is the safe and legal way to turn where a bike lane is present.

Those of us who choose to drive have the responsibility to ensure that we don't hurt or kill other road users.  We're the ones using large, powerful machines that can end or significantly change someone's life, and we simply must be more careful.  Out of respect for the memory of Audrey, Ben, and the others who have died on Minneapolis roadways in recent weeks, please join me in driving with more care.

Dining Out for Life

Please join me at Campus Pizza this Thursday, April 28th at noon, for Dining Out for Life, an annual fundraiser for the Aliveness Project, a local nonprofit organization that provides on-site meals, food shelf & other supportive services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS and their families.

Thanks to other participating Second Ward restaurants: the Birchwood Café, ChinDian Café, the Cupcake, Himalayan Restaurant, Pizza Luce in Seward, the Craftsman Restaurant, and the Weinery. 

Bicyclist Killed in Dinkytown

A bicyclist was hit and killed in Dinkytown at the intersection of 15th Ave SE and 4th St SE this morning.  It appears that a semi truck was involved.  I have asked the Police Department for more information.

It's clear that there is an emerging pattern of fatalities involving bicyclists and large trucks.  Of the last six bicyclist fatalities in Minneapolis, four involved commercial trucks: at the intersections of 5th St S and Nicollet, 1st AveN and 5th St S, Park Ave S near 14th St S, and now this.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Unisys Contract

Last year, I was part of a minority of Council Members (joining me were CMs Johnson, Tuthill, Goodman and Hofstede) who voted against extending the City's information technology contract with Unisys corporation without going out for bids. This decision committed the City to spend $34 million over three years, and locked us in with Unisys until 2013.

Those who were in favor of the extension argued that by not extending the contract, we would lose $280,000 in savings in 2010 and $1.6 million over the course of the contract period. These savings had been negotiated by City staff, and were from things like reducing the frequency of 'refreshing' our computers. You can find more details here.

One of the counterarguments I and others used was that over the history of this contract, we have seen multiple changes come through as the City asks for increased services. As each of these changes has increased the cost of this contract, we fully expected the much-touted savings to be mostly or completely offset by later increases. I argued that this contract should go out for bids, and that we should look for ways that some of the necessary services could be performed by City staff, rather than Unisys. Those of us who raised these concerns were voted down.

Today, the Council took up one of the change orders that we warned would be coming. It would have increased the Unisys contract by $750,000. I want to be clear: some of the new services being requested by City departments may well be necessary and useful, and provide a substantial benefit to the people of Minneapolis. I am not ideologically opposed to spending on upgrading our IT services in wise and well-considered ways. What I am opposed to is the idea that we will continue to increase this very, very expensive contract with a private corporation, without going out for competitive bids, even as we cut neighborhood organizations to the bone and consider laying off vital City staff.

I applaud Council President Johnson for questioning this action both at Ways and Means earlier this week and at Council this morning. I was happy to speak in support of her. And, surprisingly, we ended up prevailing: the action to increase the Unisys contract failed on a 7-6 vote. Voting for it were Council Members Glidden, Hodges, Samuels, Schiff, Lilligren, and Colvin Roy. Joining Barb and me in voting against it were Council Members Quincy, Goodman, Reich, Hofstede, and Tuthill.

I hope that this vote helps us usher in a new era of thinking about how we achieve the City's IT goals and pay for these vital services. In this time when we simply don't have enough resources to go around, we must think creatively about which IT services are crucial, which we can do without, and how we could meet these needs differently. The pricey US Internet Wireless service that we don't seem to actually use very much should be part of this discussion. I would welcome a conversation about bringing more of our IT service in-house: in-sourcing rather than outsourcing. I believe that the City must be willing to explore things like open-source software.

When looking to cut neighborhoods or City services like Civil Rights, some of my colleagues are fond of reminding everyone that the world has changed. If that's true, our spending on IT should not be immune from cuts, even painful ones.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Second Ward to Shrink

As I predicted, demographic shifts over the last decade have left the Second Ward much more populous than the average ward. According to the 2010 Census, 33,457 call Ward Two home, more than 4,000 more than the average ward. The only ward with more people in it is Seven. As you can see here (on page 18), every single Second Ward neighborhood added people over the past 10 years.

This is due to two main factors. The first is the increase in housing units in the Second Ward over the last ten years. More than 800 new dwelling units were built in the '00s, mostly in the areas around the U of M's east bank campus. A short, non-comprehensive list includes Yudof Hall, what was Melrose and is now the District, Jefferson Commons, U Flats, M Flats, Sydney Hall (the Dinkydome redevelopment), Van Cleve Commons, the redevelopment of former warehouses on 8th St SE into housing units and more. Some of these buildings (the District is a good example of this trend) include many units with five bedrooms, built specifically for students.

The second factor is the Second Ward's very low housing vacancy rate of 4.7%. Of the more than 12,000 housing units in the ward, only five hundred some are vacant. Again, the Second Ward comes in second - only Ward Eleven has fewer vacant dwelling units. (Ward Eleven is fascinatingly stable: in the past ten years, its population declined by... three people.) There are many reasons for this. One is demographic: many of the people who live in the Second Ward are renters, and many of those renters are either students at the U, who strongly favor being close to campus, or new American and other residents of large affordable housing buildings such as Riverside Plaza, the Cedars, Glendale, the Seward Towers, etc. Student and affordable housing is clearly quite stable, even in this economic environment.

Another driver of this low vacancy rate is the resiliency of Second Ward neighborhoods in the foreclosure crisis. Put simply, there are many more vacant, foreclosed homes in other parts of the city.

One last fact bears noting: thanks in part to the good efforts of the City and community leaders, a much greater percentage of Second Ward residents filled out the Census in 2010 than in 2000.

So what happens to a ward that has 4,000 more people in it than the average? It gets geographically smaller. Like it or not, the Second Ward we've come to know and love is going to shrink. To put the difference in perspective, Southeast Como has 6,288 people in it, the West Bank has 8,094, and Seward has 7,308. We're talking about Ward Two losing something between a third and half of a neighborhood.

Racial Disparities in Employment

It has been good to see the recent attention paid to the racial disparities in employment that continue to plague the Twin Cities.

The problem is real, especially in Minneapolis. In 2009, according data from the U.S. census bureau, 8.2% percent of white Minnesotans lived in poverty. For nonwhites, the percentage was 26.2%. In the 7-county metro area, these rates were 5.6% vs. 23.1%. But in Minneapolis, 12.4 % of whites lived in poverty compared to a staggering 37.5% of nonwhites. In that same year the unemployment rate was about 7% for whites and over 16% for nonwhites in Minneapolis. These disparities are probably worse now.

There are racial disparities in most measurable outcomes of success, including education, health, and wealth. But disparities in employment must be a key focus, and the City of Minneapolis is already trying to do something about it.

In 2008, we established an Equity in Employment Task Force of government officials, social service providers and community stakeholders, to examine ways to reduce the economic disparities between minority and majority communities. In 2009, the Council set a goal that will help us measure or efforts: to reduce the percentage of Minneapolis minority residents living in poverty from the 2008 Census Bureau reported average of 36% to that of the 2008 metropolitan minority overage of 21% by 2014.

In 2010, the City continued to make progress:

  • We helped provide jobs for roughly 3000 people of color, through workforce goals set with developers, as well as job training and placement programs.

  • Of the 2,300 youth put to work through our STEP UP summer jobs program, 87% were youth of color.

  • Of the 190 participants enrolled in training programs funded through our federal Recovery Act program for low income adults, 60% were African American.

But the problem persists. In November 2010, a Disparity Study that examined the City’s contracting and procurement 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. While minority- and woman-owned businesses represented 20% of the companies we could potentially contract with or buy from, for example, they were utilized less than 6% of the time.

The City’s own workforce has a way to go as well if we want it to reflect the diversity of the city. Currently, Minneapolis’s racial makeup is roughly 61% white and 39% nonwhite. As of 2007, the City’s workforce was roughly 77% white, 23% nonwhite, and only 32% female.

Clearly our City government needs to do more, but government cannot solve this problem alone. To make progress, we will need a focused effort that includes consumers, businesses, government officials, educators, activists, job seekers, and concerned people from all walks of life.

We should all start now by asking what part we play in perpetuating racial and ethnic disparities and what we can do to end them.

As consumers and employers, we can look at how we make our spending decisions, where our resources go and who we choose to hire, buy from and contract with.

As community members and educators, we must ask what we are doing to help our young, our unemployed and the job seekers we know to get the education, training and support they need to find work and build successful careers.

As job seekers, we can ask what we can do to be better prepared for meaningful work and to break through the barriers of hopelessness and discrimination.


This spring and summer, a unique partnership between the City’s Equity in Employment Task Force and the Metro Talking Circle will begin drafting a 10 Point Plan to reduce racial disparities in employment and poverty in Minneapolis. We are already meeting with stakeholders to gather input in hopes that the plan will be ready to share this fall. When completed, it will lay out next steps we can to take as a City and as a community to solve the problem of racial economic disparities in Minneapolis.







Friday, April 08, 2011

MPR Coverage of Urban Ag Plan

Minnesota Public Radio has a write-up on the Urban Agriculture Policy Plan passing the Zoning and Planning committee yesterday.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Urban Agriculture Policy Plan

The Urban Ag plan passed the Zoning and Planning committee unanimously this morning. There were several amendments, but I believe that the plan has made it through this step of the process in great shape, with the core and most essential recommendations intact. If you’d like to watch this morning’s Zoning and Planning meeting, a recording of it will be posted here. A revised plan, reflecting the edits made, will be posted soon on the project website .

The most important piece we talked about this morning had to do with market gardens. These are small-scale, low-intensity commercial gardens that will be very similar to the community gardens we already allow. I was concerned that my colleagues might try to change the plan to prohibit these in certain zoning districts, or require that market gardeners get Conditional Use Permits (a process that costs at least $550 to even begin, erecting a formidable barrier to new market gardens).

So I worked with my colleagues to come up with an amendment that allows us to have this discussion as part of the process to amend the zoning code. It leaves our options open to allow market gardens in low-density residential districts (where the land is), but clarifies some of the restrictions I always expected we would include: no retail sales on-site, no overhead lighting, no parking of more than two vehicles, and only a small, non-illuminated sign of four square feet or less. These are the restrictions that currently exist for community gardens. In addition, several of my colleagues confirmed that our goal is to find a way for market gardens to work in low-density residential areas.

A few other relatively minor changes were made, two of which I disagreed with. The first I disagreed with was to strip the recommendation about conservation easements - which make a piece of land unbuildable - from the plan. I continue to believe that it's reasonable for us to base the price of land on its value with these easements, if we choose to place them on a property. The second deleted the recommendation about studying hooved animals. I don't think it's unreasonable for us to commit to studying that issue at some point in the future. If the mood on the Council changes, we can certainly take this up again, even if this plan doesn't mention it.

Even with these changes, I consider today a major, exciting win for the local food movement. The most important aspects of the plan came through today's committee meeting fundamentally strong. I see this as a giant step forward for building a vibrant local food economy, with all of the attendant benefits to health, the environment, and green jobs.

I don't think we could have done this without the tremendous outpouring of public support that this plan has received. My office has received tens of calls and emails in support of the plan, and I don't think I'm the only one. A group of local food activists collected over 200 petition signatures in support of the plan in just three days, including over 20 Second Ward residents. An online petition has garnered over 180 signatures in just a few days. All Council Members were sent a thoughtful and well-reasoned appeal for market gardens by the President of the Planning Commission, David Motzenbecker.

In addition to this outpouring of public support, we received a substantial amount of support from organizations that pay attention to food policy: our own Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee, the Land Stewardship Project, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Blue Cross / Blue Shield, Powderhorn Youth Garden, Uptown Farmers, Corcoran GROWS, Project Sweetie Pie, the Health and Wellness Manager at the Sabathani Community Center and others. It's thanks to the organizing of these individuals and groups that the plan is moving forward in such a strong form, and I thank you all for helping make it happen.

Still, we have long way to go before we realize the vision in the plan for more local urban commercial food growing, processing and comsuming. A week from Friday (on the 15th) the Policy Plan will need to be approved by the full Council and signed by the Mayor. Following that the work of implementing the recommendations with begin. Some, the creation of a Homegrown Minneapolis Businesses Center, has already begun. Others, however, will take longer and involve more complex ordinance amendments dealing with land use and zoning. Assuming the Policy Plan is passed on the 15th, I will working most intensely in the months ahead on these "zoning code text amendments" that will be needed to implement the policies outlined in the Plan. I hope to introduce these at the end of April, or in early May. Here is a rough time line of what to expect:

  1. Zoning code text amendment "subject matter" is introduced by a Council Member at a City Council Meeting. The subject matter will need to be noticed for two weeks and then approved by a majority to be referred to a committee.

  2. Council Committee then will likley refer the proposed amendment to staff for further research, work with technical experts and community outreach.

  3. Council Member "author(s)" work with staff and staff brings specific proposed ordinance changes to the Planning Commission.

  4. The Planning Commission holds a public hearing, possibly amends and recommends action to the Zoning and Planning Committee.

  5. Zoning and Planning Committee reviews the proposed changes, possibly amends them and recommend action by the full Council.

  6. The Council considers the amendments at its next meeting.
So, in the months ahead, I will be working hard to make sure this is a high priority for the Council and would expect that the urban agriculture zoning code text changes could potentially be in place before the beginning of 2012 growing season. As this work continues I encourage everyone who is interested to stay involved, help inform others, and never hesitiate to share your concerns, questions or ideas with me and others in our city government.