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: http://secondward.blogspot.com/2006/05/disclaimer.html#links

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Narrow Council Majority Supports Stadium Funding Bill

I thank everyone who attended the hearing before the City Council Intergovernmental Relations Committee yesterday, including several people from the Second Ward. I think the results were predictable, but still, for me, disappointing. The fact that those at the hearing were so divided and the fact that support for this passed the Council by the slimmest possible majority demonstrates how weak and flawed the plan is in my opinion.


Our best hope now is that the legislature will stop it and take some time to develop a plan that will work better for more stakeholders especially the people of Minneapolis. Short of that, there may be some amendments that would be helpful, including leaving off the section about our Charter limitations not applying. I would also like to see the unusual sunset provision taken out.

For those interested in learning more details from last night I wanted share the written information I presented at the hearing.

Here is a spreadsheet showing the properties that now pay property taxes that would become tax exempt under the proposal. Notice that over $450,000 a year will be taken out of the tax base. In my opinion this is a public subsidy that has largely been ignored.

Below are the main provision of the Resolution that adds Council support to the City's Legislative Agenda of the Mayor/Council President/Governor's financial proposal that would cost the City an estimated $675 million in sales taxes. It was moved by Council President Johnson right after the hearing.

"That the City’s legislative agenda for 2012 and subsequent years be amended to include support for a People’s stadium bill that would provide the following:

1. Repurpose and direct the use of the current state-authorized Convention Center taxes as follows:

a. To the City to be used to fund debt service, capital, operating and marketing expenses of the Convention Center and Target Center, and any other capital projects or economic development purposes; and


b.To a new stadium authority to be used to fund a portion of the capital and operating expenses of a new People’s stadium

2. Maintain the current state-authorized Convention Center taxes for at least as long as needed for the above purposes; and

3. The construction of a new stadium and improvements to Target Center must put Minneapolis residents to work, such that:

a. A percentage of construction contracts equal to or greater than other Minneapolis development projects must be awarded to women and minority owned businesses;


b. The construction workforce must include skilled minority, unskilled minorities and females and that workforce utilization goals must exceed current city goals;


c. The construction workforce must include workers from Minneapolis zip codes that have high rates of poverty and unemployment; and


d. Concessionaires at the new stadium must reflect the ethnic diversity of Minnesota.

4. That the Minnesota Vikings work with neighborhoods surrounding the People’s stadium to mitigate any negative game day impacts so that the stadium is viewed as a neighborhood asset.

Be it Further Resolved that the City’s support for a People’s stadium is dependent upon the concurrent authorizations to permit the use of the state-authorized Convention Center taxes for the Convention Center and Target Center as set forth above, to ensure the economic vitality of all these assets."

Here is the first amendment I made to Council Member Johnson's Resolution
To amend the 2012 Legislative Agenda as follows:


In the Municipal Governance : Minneapolis opposes :(page 9) add the following statement.

Legislation that includes any section or provision that stipulates that City of Minneapolis Charter limitations or provisions related to the financing of professional sports facilities or stadiums do not apply.


It failed on a 7-6 vote and CM Johnson's resolution passed by the same margin.

Here is the Motion I then made requesting that the Charter Commission look into the matter:

Request that the Charter Commission review the stadium financing bill to determine if the proposal for funding a Vikings stadium complies with the Minneapolis City Charter and if it requires a referendum as stipulated in the Charter in the following sections:

Section 9. - To Incur Indebtedness for Municipal Purposes on Request of Council.
Section 13. - Putting Professional Sports Facility Financing Before the Voters.


This motion passed 7 to 6 and so more discusson by the Charter Commission may be forthcoming, especially if a bill passes.

The main action we took yesterday was to amend our legislative agenda to support elements of a stadium bill based on the Mayor/Council President/Govenors proposal. This action will again come before the full Council for a final vote on May 11. The more essential vote, however, will be needed in the future. If a stadium a bill passes that includes the use of City sales tax money, it will need a council majority approving it in order for it to actually become state law. According to state law, these kinds of special, local laws must be approved within 30 days by the local governing body before they can take effect. If Council Members are concerned about taking a vote that would violate the charter, it seems to me that this will be the most relevant vote.

Lastly, the full hearing and committee discussion should be available for viewing at http://www.minneapolismn.gov/tv/79 in a day or two.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

City Council Stadium Hearing

The issue of the Viking Stadium will come before the City Council for a Public Hearing on April 24th from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. in room 317 of City Hall, 350 South 5th Street. Please consider attending if this is an issue you care about.  You can also send in your comments in writing.  You are welcome to send them to me, but the best place to send them to insure that teh Council sees them and that they are netered into the public record is here cityclerk@minneapolismn.gov

In preparation for that hearing and having to vote on this matter, I attended both of the Mayor's community meetings on the stadium proposal held earlier this month. While there I chose to listen rather than participate. It was very interesting and helpful to hear from a variety of Minneapolis residents (and others) who had questions and comments.

I believe that some inaccuracies may have been shared at those meetings. Just in case some people got the wrong impressions from some of the comments made, I wanted to take some time to clear up some details, or at least offer my understanding of these details with a focus on our sales taxes, the stadium proposal and what the City Council would be expected to vote on should the house stadium bill (HF 2810) be passed.

A. There are no sunset provisions for any of the City sales taxes. They do not and would not have to be extended because they have no end date. These do not expire even with the full payment of all Convention Center Bonds, set for 2020. That said, just like with any and all of our taxing authority, the state legislature can change that and some recently threatened to do so just as negotiations were heating up this year about how Minneapolis might be a local funding partner for a stadium deal.

B. The state has not forced us to impose this tax, they authorized us to impose it. The original 1986 statute (https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/?id=396&doctype=Chapter&year=1986&type=0) says, the city of Minneapolis may by ordinance impose an additional sales tax of up to one-half of one percent on sales taxable pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, chapter 297A that occur within the city, They City did so.

C. The state does not dictate exactly that these funds can only be spent on teh Convention Center.The City Council has some discretion regarding these funds and every year we approve the taxes as revenue and we vote on how to divide up the funds as expenses within our total ($1.17 billion) annual budget. In fact, in the 2012 budget they make up 5% (or close to $65 million) of the total budget. From this we spend about 4%, (or $48.7 million,) divided up as follows: 68% to the Convention Operations, 17% is contracted out to Meet Minneapolis to promote tourism etc. and 15% goes towards the Target Center (see the 2012 Council Adopted Budget pp 139-140). Additionally, $140,000 from the sales taxes goes to police. Incidentally, in 2012 the debt payments for the Convention Center will be around 20 million and for the Target Center $5 million.

D. The state has actually given us far more flexibility with these funds than we are taking advantage of. First from the original 1986 statute:

Subd. 3. [USE OF PROPERTY.] Revenues received from the tax may only be used:
(1) to pay costs of collection;
(2) to pay or secure the payment of any principal of, premium or interest on bonds issued in accordance with this act;
(3) to pay costs to acquire, design, equip, construct, improve, maintain, operate, administer, or promote the convention center or related facilities, including financing costs related to them;
(4) to pay reasonable and appropriate costs determined by the city to replace housing removed from the site; and
(5) to maintain reserves for the foregoing purposes deemed reasonable and appropriate by the City.


Then amended later in 2009:

Sec. 12. Laws 1986, chapter 396, section 4, is amended by adding a subdivision to read:
Subd. 4. Minneapolis downtown and neighborhood projects. (a) For revenues collected in calendar years 2009 and 2010, to the extent that revenues from the tax authorized in subdivision 1 exceeds the amount needed to fund the purposes in subdivision 3, the city may use the excess revenue to fund any city services. The total amount used in both years for this purpose may not exceed the total amount of aid and credit reductions under Minnesota Statutes, sections 273.1384 and 477A.011 to 477A.014 in calendar years 2008, 2009, and 2010 due to a governor's unallotment or due to statutory reductions.
(b) Beginning with revenues collected in calendar year 2011, to the extent that revenues from the tax authorized in subdivision 1 exceeds the amount needed to fund the purposes in subdivision 3, the city may use the excess revenue in any year to fund capital projects to further residential, cultural, commercial, and economic development in both downtown Minneapolis and the Minneapolis neighborhoods.
(And heres the link to the 2009 Law: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/?id=88&doctype=Chapter&year=2009&type=0 , pretty far down the page, Article 4, Section 12)

Clearly the 2009 amendment already allows us to use surplus funds to be used for capital economic development projects throughout the city, including improvements to the Target Center and even including improvements in the neighborhoods. Indeed, once the Convention Center debt has been paid these funds could support economic development and job creation throughout the city.

E. While the City Attorneys opinion might be worth discussing (and worth strongly disagreeing with as I do) in the end it will be moot because the legislation, as proposed trumps it. If passed as proposed it makes clear that the Charter does not apply. All that is required is 7 votes from the Council. So, even if this passed and was taken to court, I fear a judge would be forced to find that the state legislature and the city council acted within the law because of the authority the state government has over city government.

Here is what the proposed bill says about our fundamental compact, the City Charter:

CHARTER LIMITATIONS NOT TO APPLY.
43.27Any amounts expended, indebtedness or obligation incurred including, but not
43.28limited to the issuance of bonds, or actions taken by the city under this article are not
43.29deemed an expenditure or other use of city resources within the meaning of any law or
43.30charter limitation. The city may exercise any of its powers under this article to spend,
43.31borrow, tax, or incur any form of indebtedness or other obligation, for the improvement,
43.32including but not limited to, acquisition, development, construction, or betterment, of any
43.33public building, stadium, or other capital improvement project, without regard to any
43.34charter limitation or provision. Any tax exemption established under this article shall
44.1not be deemed an expenditure or other use of city resources within the meaning of any
44.2charter limitation.

The scope of this provision is so broad that it appears to allow use of any and all sales taxes to go to any sports facility. In fact it opens the door for massive borrowing in the future to upgrade the Target Center as well as the construction or improvement of any other public buildings, stadiums or other capital improvement project

Despite these facts I beleive that it may still be within the power of the Charter Commission to put this issue on the ballot in November. I intend to research this further.

F. If the bill passes, however, it will need a council majority to be approved. According to state law, these kinds of special, local laws must be approved within 30 days by the local governing body. This is articulated in the house bill as follows:

Sec. 5. EFFECTIVE DATE; LOCAL APPROVAL.
44.4This article is effective the day after the governing body of the city of Minneapolis
44.5and its chief clerical officer comply with Minnesota Statutes, section 645.021, subdivisions
44.62 and 3. Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the city of Minneapolis and its chief
44.7clerical officer have 30 calendar days following final enactment of this act, to comply with
44.8Minnesota Statutes, section 645.021, subdivisions 2 and 3.


I have a number of concerns about this proposal (some hinted at here and others outlined in previous blog entries), I question the wisdom of taking on this kind of public obligation while we are still working to cover the costs of other venues like the Convention Center and the Target Center, as well as the sports arenas and stadiums owned by other public entities like St. Paul, Hennepin County and the University of Minnesota. Before we take on more major long term financial obligations related to another large publically-owned entertainment venue in this region, I believe we need to not only have much more accurate information, but also a much deeper community conversation about where and why we ought to invest public resources; and we need to develop a practical, coordinated and regional plan for how to own and operate these facilities in a cooperative way.

=====================


The following is most of the new potions of Article 4 of the House Stadium bill as it was approved by the Commerce Committee. This is the section, if passed by the legislature that the City Council will need to approve within 30 days of passage.

The bill could be heard next week in the Government Operations and Elections Committee. If you have any questions or need additional information please contact me. Please continue to share your views with each other, and with your elected representatives


MINNEAPOLIS CONVENTION CENTER

37.21 Section 1. [297A.994] CITY OF MINNEAPOLIS SALES TAX; ALLOCATION
37.22OF REVENUES.
37.23 Subdivision 1. Scope. Notwithstanding the provisions of section 297A.99,
37.24subdivision 11, the provisions of this section govern the remittance of the proceeds of
37.25taxes imposed by the city of Minneapolis under the special law.
37.26 Subd. 2. Definitions. (a) For purposes of this section, the following definitions
37.27apply.
37.28(b) "City" means the city of Minneapolis.
37.29(c) "Special law" means Laws 1986, chapter 396, sections 4 and 5, as amended.
37.30(d) "Tax" means the sales taxes imposed by the city under the special law.
37.31(e) The terms defined under section 473J.03 apply for purposes of this section.
38.1 Subd. 3. General allocation of revenues. The commissioner shall apply the
38.2revenues from the taxes as follows:
38.3(1) the commissioner must deduct the costs of collecting and administering the taxes,
38.4according to the applicable law and agreements between the commissioner and the city.
38.5For revenues from the general sales tax, the commissioner must deduct a proportionate
38.6share of the cost of collection, as described in section 297A.99, subdivision 11;
38.7(2) after deducting the costs in clause (1), the commissioner must deduct refunds of
38.8any of these taxes due to taxpayers, if any;
38.9(3) after making the deductions provided in clause (2), notwithstanding the
38.10provisions of any agreement between the commissioner and the city providing for
38.11collection and remittance of these taxes, the commissioner must deposit to the general
38.12fund the amounts specified in subdivision 4; and
38.13(4) after depositing to the general fund under clause (3) as specified in subdivision
38.144, the commissioner must remit the remainder to the city for the uses provided in the
38.15special law.
38.16 Subd. 4. General fund allocations. (a) The commissioner must deposit to the
38.17general fund the following amounts, as required by subdivision 3, clause (3):
38.18(1) for state bond debt service support beginning in calendar year 2021, and for each
38.19calendar year thereafter through calendar year 2046, proportionate amounts periodically
38.20so that not later than December 31, 2046, an aggregate annual amount equal to a present
38.21value of $150,000,000 has been deposited in the general fund. To determine aggregate
38.22present value, the commissioner must consult with the commissioner of management and
38.23budget regarding the present value dates, discount rate or rates, and schedules of annual
38.24amounts. The present value date or dates must be based on the date or dates bonds are
38.25sold under section 16A.965, or the date or dates other state funds, if any, are deposited
38.26into the construction fund. The discount rate or rates must be based on the true interest
38.27cost of the bonds issued under section 16A.965, or an equivalent 30-year bond index, as
38.28determined by the commissioner of management and budget. The schedule of annual
38.29amounts must be certified to the commissioner by the commissioner of management and
38.30budget and the finance officer of the city;
38.31(2) for the capital improvement reserve appropriation to stadium authority beginning
38.32in calendar year 2021, and for each calendar year thereafter through calendar year 2046,
38.33so that not later than January 1, 2022, and as of January 1 of each following year, an
38.34aggregate annual amount equal to the amount paid by the state for calendar year 2021,
38.35under section 473J.13, subdivision 4, increased each year by an annual adjustment factor;
39.1(3) for the operating expense appropriation to stadium authority beginning in
39.2calendar year 2021, and for each calendar year thereafter through calendar year 2046,
39.3so that not later than January 1, 2022, and as of January 1 of each following year, an
39.4aggregate annual amount equal to the amount paid by the state for calendar year 2021
39.5under section 473J.13, subdivision 2, increased each year by an annual adjustment factor;
39.6(4) for recapture of NFL team advances for capital improvements and operating
39.7expenses for calendar years 2016 through 2020 beginning in calendar year 2021, and
39.8for each calendar year thereafter until all amounts under this clause have been paid,
39.9proportionate amounts periodically until an aggregate amount equal to the present value of
39.10all amounts paid by the NFL team have been deposited in the general fund. To determine
39.11the present value of the amounts paid by the NFL team to the authority and the present
39.12value of amounts deposited to the general fund under this clause, the commissioner shall
39.13consult with the commissioner of management and budget and the NFL team regarding the
39.14present value dates, discount rate or rates, and schedule of annual amounts. The present
39.15value dates must be based on the dates NFL team funds are paid to the authority, or the
39.16dates the commissioner of revenue deposits taxes for purposes of this clause to the general
39.17fund. The discount rates must be based on the reasonably equivalent cost of NFL team
39.18funds as determined by the commissioner of management and budget after consulting with
39.19the NFL team. The schedule of annual amounts must be revised to reflect amounts paid
39.20under section 473J.09, subdivision 13, and taxes deposited to the general fund from time
39.21to time under this clause, and the schedule and revised schedules must be certified to the
39.22commissioner by the commissioner of management and budget and the finance officer
39.23of the city, and are transferred as accrued from the general fund to the NFL team, for
39.24repayment of advances made by the NFL team to the city of Minneapolis; and
39.25(5) to capture increases in taxes imposed under the special law, for the benefit
39.26of the stadium authority, beginning in calendar year 2013 and for each calendar year
39.27thereafter through 2046, there shall be deposited to the general fund by February 15 of
39.28each following year, amounts calculated by the commissioner under this clause. For
39.29each year, the commissioner shall determine the excess, if any, of the taxes received
39.30by the commissioner over the benchmark scheduled amounts of the taxes, as described
39.31in this section. The benchmark scheduled amounts for each year must be based on the
39.32actual amount of the taxes for calendar year 2011 inflated for each subsequent year at an
39.33annual rate of two percent, according to a schedule certified to the commissioner by the
39.34commissioner of management and budget and the finance officer of the city. The amounts
39.35to be deposited to the general fund by the commissioner for each year equal:
40.1(i) zero for the amount of the taxes for the year up to a scheduled benchmark of
40.2$1,000,000, inflated at two percent per year, in excess of the taxes for calendar year 2011;
40.3(ii) 50 percent times the difference, if any, by which the amount of the taxes for
40.4the year exceeds the scheduled benchmark in item (i), as inflated, but not greater than a
40.5scheduled benchmark of $3,000,000, inflated at two percent per year, in excess of the
40.6taxes for calendar year 2011; and
40.7(iii) 25 percent times the difference, if any, by which the amount of the taxes for the
40.8year exceeds the scheduled benchmark of $3,000,000, inflated at two percent per year, in
40.9excess of the taxes for calendar year 2011.
40.10(b) The annual adjustment factor for purposes of this section and the special law
40.11for any year equals the increase, if any, in the amount of these taxes received by the
40.12commissioner in the preceding year over the amount received in the year prior to the
40.13preceding year, expressed as a percentage of the amount received in the year prior to the
40.14preceding year; provided, that the adjustment factor for any year must not be less than
40.15zero percent nor more than five percent.



Cam Gordon
Minneapolis City Council Member, Second Ward
673-2202, 296-0579
cam@camgordon.org
cam.gordon@minneapolismn.gov
http://www.minneapolismn.gov/ward2
http://secondward.blogspot.com/

Monday, April 16, 2012

Plaza Protest Resolution Coming to PSCR&H

Council President Johnson's resolution to make it harder for protestors to exercise their free-speech rights on City-owned plazas did not pass last Friday's Council meeting.  Instead, the Council referred it back to committee, where an action that substantive should really start.

The resolution comes before the Council's Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health committee on Wednesday.  Interestingly, as Vice Chair of the committee, I will be chairing in Council Member Don Samuels' absence, and there will be an opportunity for members of the public to comment provided.

I will vote against this resolution at committee.  However, I fear that there are the votes on the committee to send this forward to the full Council.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Plaza Resolution Sent to Committee

This morning, the Council voted to send Council President Johnson's resolution restricting the Occupy movement's use of City-owned plazas to the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health committee. It was good to a Council Chambers full of so many concerned people and I want to thank so many members of the Occupy movement for attending this morning's Council meeting, and being such a positive force for social change.


I supported the action to refer it back to committee with some reluctance; I would have preferred to simply vote the resolution down this morning. A resolution this substantive should not be sprung on the Council - and, more importantly, the broader community - 24 hours before it is voted on.  That practice is fine for honorary resolutions such as those celebrating a longtime employee's years of service, but a resolution creating a new set of rules, backed up by police use of force, in public spaces requires more vetting. This resolution also looked like an effort to change our ordinance without following the process required to do so.  Our rules governing how city-owned plazas are used are already codified in our City Ordinances (in Chapters 440.10 and 440.20), and the ordinance amendment process includes a formal notice being given, a vote and referral to a committee on introducing the subject matter, a public hearing at the Committee level and discussion opportunities at both the Council and Committee levels.

At this point it looks like the matter may come back as a formal ordinance change, or perhaps an effort will be made to pass the resolution through the committee. At this point I am not expecting much conversation at the committee but that it will either be referred to staff or that a date for a hearing might be set. I will keep you posted.

What every happens, I intend to vote no on this in committee if a vote is taken, and I will vote no again if it comes back before the full Council.  I hope that this morning's vote by the Council majority - over the "no" votes of the author and her allies - is a sign that there are the votes on the Council to stop this effort.

One last note: there were at least four Minneapolis police officers sitting in the hall outside Council Chambers for the entirety of this morning's meeting.  That's in addition to the several Municipal Building Commission security guards who were on hand.  Assuming that they weren't there on their own time in full uniform, I question the dedication of that much City taxpayer money for that use.  The meeting lasted two hours, meaning that we spent a full 8 person-hours on police presence at this morning's meeting, or enough to have one cop out on the street for an entire day.  Was this really necessary?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Resolution Targeting "Occupy" Use of Plazas

Council President Barb Johnson has shared a resolution that she will be moving at tomorrow's Council meeting.  The intent of this action appears to be to prohibit Occupy MN protesters from using City-controlled public plazas.  The full text is below the fold.

I will vote against this resolution.  It clearly goes against another resolution that the Council adopted last October, "Supporting Peaceable Calls for Reforms to the Income Tax, Financial, and Electoral Systems."  It puts the City on the wrong side of civil liberties, including freedom of expression.  Because any such move by the City will be viewed - rightly - by the Occupy movement as a direct attack on them, it positions the City on the side of the 1% against the 99%.  It is clearly designed to send a message that Occupiers will be arrested, giving the MPD a green light (and proactive political cover) for more of the mass arrest events like we saw last Saturday.

This isn't necessary, and it isn't a good idea, and it isn't right. Rather than finding ways to stifle and silence this movement, I believe that we should be exploring ways to help ensure that its message is heard and that its work to bring more economic justice to our community and country can move forward.

I will vote no, and hope that a majority of my colleagues join me.

Read more »

Asian Carp and the Upper Harbor Terminal

Recently, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board took a major step towards protecting the upper Mississippi from the invasive asian carp.  They signed a new contract with Paradise Cruises that does not allow the leisure boat to go through the Upper Saint Anthony Lock.

This action came in the wake of Mayor Rybak's veto of a previous action that would have continued to allow Paradise Cruises to use the lock.  That action on the Mayor's part was in response to a request by three Park Commissioners who deserve special credit for their part in this action: Annie Young, Liz Wielinski and Anita Tabb. 

The Paradise boat accounted for a significant percentage of the trips through the upper lock, over 800 per year.

A few things are clear.  The carp are devestating to the ecology and economy of the affected areas.  River and lake ecosystems become much less diverse as the carp crowd out other species, and are no longer safe and enjoyable places for recreational boating.  The only two effective places to stop the carp from reaching Lake Mille Lacs are the Ford Dam and the Upper Saint Anthony Dam.  Every trip through either of these locks represents a chance for the carp to invade the upper Mississippi.

And, unfortunately, federal action to close either or both of these locks is not likely to happen particularly soon.  As you can read here, the federal officials charged with preventing the spread of asian carp are not concerned about Minnesota watersheds, and will be of little help.

By the time the federal government acts, it may well be too late.  So it's critically important that the rest of us - local units of government, nonprofits and businesses that use the river, and individual recreational boaters - do what we can.  That's what makes the Park Board's action so necessary and positive.

It's also why the City should do the one thing we can do to reduce the trips through the Saint Anthony Lock: close the Upper Harbor Terminal.

The UHT is a service provided by the City to a small number of industrial businesses in north Minneapolis.  It accounts for a relatively small percentage of the overall trips through the Saint Anthony Lock, much smaller than the trips generated by Paradise Cruises.

But it's important that the City send a strong message to the State and Federal governments that we want this lock closed, and we're putting our money where our mouth is.  It's also important to send a message to residents who use the river that we should all avoid using the lock to the extent possible. 

The Mayor and Council President have proposed to do just that.  They are bringing an action to the Council in early May that would start the 180-day clock running on closing the UHT.  If passed, that action would mean that the Terminal would close in mid-November.

Our Citizens' Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) has also weighed in and unanimously supported closing the UHT as soon as possible.  Given the support from many other environmental groups for the Park Board's action last night (including Clean Water Action, Friends of the Mississippi, National Wildlife Federation, Audubon and more), I expect that the broader environmental community will also support the UHT's closure.

I support the Mayor and Council President on this, and will vote to close the Upper Harbor Terminal.  It's one of the only things we can do in the near term to prevent the ecological disaster of asian carp from invading northern Minnesota.

Educational Videos on Biking in Mpls

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Program and Communications Department have worked together on two great online videos about bicycle facilities in Minneapolis.

One is on bike lanes, and helps both bicyclists and drivers understand how standard, advisory, buffered and cycle-track style bike lanes work.  They stress how to turn across a bike lane safely, which is extremely important because turning vehicles tend to cause the most car/bike accidents.

The other is on shared lanes, and describes both the "sharrow" markings and bicycle boulevard treatments we've started using in Minneapolis.

These videos are fantastic, and demonstrate the value of the Bike and Pedestrian Program in Public Works.

Gardening Hubs in the Press

It's great to see the gardening hubs get some good press.   The hubs are a key activity of the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative, funded by the Minneapolis Health Department through the State Health Improvement Program (SHIP).

The idea was that there are many people in Minneapolis who want to grow their own food, but don't necessarily have the skills, experience and resources to start.  The hubs get novice growers connected with those resources - including seedlings - and people who have done more gardening and can answer their questions.

If you're interested in getting involved in the hubs, go here as soon as possible.  Membership is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Seeds and plants will be distributed April 14 and May 19, but the membership slots may fill up before then.

The MPD's Problem with Cameras

As you can read in multiple news media outlets - City Pages, the Pioneer Press, WCCO and more - a Minneapolis police officer significantly damaged a KSTP television camera at Saturday's mass arrests of Occupy movement participants. 

There's video of this incident.  According to the cameraman, he received no verbal warning from the officer before being shoved backward and having his camera thrown to the ground.

Police Chief Dolan has released a statement: "The Minneapolis Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit is in the process of reviewing the incident involving a KSTP cameraman Chad Nelson last Saturday evening. We instructed all of our officers before this, and any demonstration, to not take individual actions unless they are warranted for personal safety. From my preliminary review of the video regarding Mr. Nelson, the officer's interference does not appear to be necessary. If that is the case, I am very disappointed."

This sounds good.  Unfortunately, this is not the first instance of MPD officers breaking cameras, targeting people using cameras for enforcement, or confiscating cameras and other recording devices.  Similar incidents occurred during the weeks before and during the Republican National Convention, and on more than one occasion during Critical Mass events.  Many of these incidents were similarly caught on camera.  The only major difference between this incident and some of the others that have occurred in the recent past is that the victim of the MPD action is a cameraman for an established mainstream media outlet, rather than an individual or blogger.

It is unclear from Chief Dolan's statement whether the MPD has a clear, formal policy on how to interact with people who are filming police actions in a non-threatening, non-obstructive way.  It is increasingly and disturbingly clear, however, that there is a de facto practice and culture within MPD that it is common and acceptable to harass people with cameras.

That's a problem.  It is not illegal to film a police officer in a public place engaging in an enforcement action.  In fact, from the perspective of a City Council Member, it is helpful. Well beyond that, the US Constitution enshrines the freedom of the press, and police officers targeting people with recording devices have a direct chilling effect on those who would record police actions.  If our officers are doing their jobs professionally and well, they have nothing to fear from having their actions recorded, so harassing people with cameras sends a clear message that officers feel they have something to hide.

I have begun talking to my colleagues about how we can have a discussion about the MPD's policy on interacting with people with cameras, because whatever it is, it's not working.  I would prefer to have this discussion in public, at the Council's Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health committee.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Governor and Legislature Gut CRA

Police accountability in Minneapolis has taken a major hit.

Governor Dayton has signed a bill that will dramatically weaken the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority by removing its power to make findings of fact.  More press coverage is available here.  The bill was pushed by the conservative Minneapolis Police Federation, which clearly opposes any meaningful police accountability, and strongly opposed by the City of Minneapolis.  It unfortunate that the legislature and governor were unwilling to heed the requests and reationales offered by those of us elected to represent the people of Minneapolis and our staff who worked hard on this.  This may well end up destroying the CRA, which is undoubtedly the Federation's end goal.

I am extremely disappointed in both the Governor and those in the legislature who voted for this bill.  This action is a real blow to the Governor's record on civil rights and basic fairness, especially in the context of his ongoing work on the Vikings stadium.  If he truly believes that we should be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to a billionaire team owner and simultaneously making it much more difficult (if not impossible) for victims of police misconduct to get accountability, his priorities are quite skewed.  He has made clear that he stands with the wealthy and powerful against the rest of the population, and that's disturbing.

This also represents another instance in which the views of the actual people of Minneapolis - who made his election possible in 2010 - don't seem to matter to Governor Dayton.  He's willing to do an end run around the referendum required by our charter and has now undermined a democratically instituted system of police accountability.  Are there local decisions and authorities that he does respect?

I was also dismayed and disappointed to learn that three legislators who represent Minneapolis residents voted for this: Representative Paul Thissen and Senators Ken Kelash and Kari Dziedzik chose to stand with the Police Federation against the people of Minneapolis.  I commend and thank representatives Allen, Champion, Clark, Davnie, Greene, Hornstein, Kahn, Loeffler, Mullery and Wagenius and Senators Hayden, Higgins, Dibble and Torres Ray for opposing this and standing with the Council and the people of Minneapolis.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Signing Ceremony for Urban Ag

This is fun: a video taken by Mayor Rybak's staff at yesterday's signing ceremony for the Urban Agriculture Text Amendments.  My remarks are at the 1:55 mark.

Let it grow!

Urban Ag Unanimously Passes Council

We did it!

This morning, the Urban Agriculture Text Amendments passed the Council unanimously.

The issues that we’ve been working through in the last few weeks all went well: hoop houses at urban farms, market gardens, community gardens, schools and large apartment buildings will be able to be 12’ tall. Market gardeners will be able to sell directly to customers from their sites for 15 days per year. Market gardeners and urban farmers will not be required to get soil tests and post signs indicating whatever soil contamination they find.

But we need to take a step back from these smaller victories, as important as they are, and note the major victory we won today: for the first time since 1963, people will be allowed to grow food commercially in the City of Minneapolis. Commercial growing will be allowed on a large scale at urban farms in industrial districts, and on a smaller scale at market gardens in low-density residential areas. People will even be allowed to grow food commercially in their own backyards. Aquaponics and aquaculture will be allowed at urban farms. Arbors, trellises and raised planting beds will be clearly allowed. Cold frames and hoop houses are now OK. Farmers markets will be able to leave their signs up all year long.

This is a major step forward for the local food movement in Minneapolis. It is a big, big deal.

A few people were absolutely essential to getting this done. Aly Pennucci and Amanda Arnold in Planning can’t be thanked enough – they did the work to push this through. June Mathiowetz was essential to not only these amendments but to all the other Homegrown work that has been going on at the same time. Patty Bowler and the rest of the Health Department found the funding for the Urban Agriculture Policy Plan that made this change in the law possible.

But most of the credit goes to the community: members of the Food Council, local growers and eaters, everyone who testified at the public hearing at the Planning Commission, wrote your Council Members (and encouraged your friends to do the same). You made this happen.