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, April 26, 2013

More on the Transit Bill

Representative Davnie has responded to my initial blog post on the Transit bill, and has made clear why he doesn't support increasing the sales tax to fund much-needed transit improvements.  While the changes between the initial legislation and what has passed are complex, there is a simple way to understand the problems with the House bill that Rep. Davnie supports.

Here are the transit improvements proposed by the Governor that are funded by the Senate bill, but not funded by the House bill:

  • Operation of the planned Southwest LRT Line
  • The Bottineau LRT Line, which will extend the Hiawatha line north into Brooklyn Park
  • Arterial Bus Rapid Transit on Chicago Ave, Lake Street, and 10 other high-transit-use corridors
  • Bus Rapid Transit on I-35W and up to 5 other highway BRT lines
  • Annual improvements to standard bus service, meaning more routes, longer hours, and more frequent service
And in addition to all of this, the Senate bill would create the State's first dedicated funding stream for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

If you think we should make these transit investments, you need to tell your legislators.  The Legislature could either make these investments possible this year, or refuse to do so.

There's one other necessary clarification.  While it's true that the House is increasing transit funding over the last biennium, it's very important to understand that this is simply undoing a past cut that was pushed through by the last Republican legislature.  (For what it's worth, this is the key reason to support dedicated funding for transit: it becomes a target when there is an anti-public-and-nonmotoroized transit majority is in charge of the legislature.)  In fact it appears that the $130 million for Metro Transit in the current House bill is not enough to pay for the transit lines we have now.

According to the Metropolitan Council, even with the $130 million in the current House bill, they are still $18 million short.  That $18 million is the state's unfunded share of operations funding for the Hiawatha Light Rail ($9.2 million) and Central Corridor Light Rail ($8.8 million, starting in 2014).  The Met Council has made clear that after years of inadequate budgets forcing one-time fixes, they do not have the capacity to absorb this cut.  Though the House bill is an increase over past starvation budgets, it is not an actual increase from the status quo.  If it is the final outcome, the Met Council will have three bad options: 1) cutting transit service, 2) increasing fares, and/or 3) using capital funding (which is needed to make any major improvements to funding like those listed above) to pay for operating costs.  Rather than taking the opportunity to make transit investments possible, it will actually make them more difficult.  And missing this opportunity matters, because it rolls the dice on getting this done during a state election year in 2014, or keeping transit-friendly forces in control of the Legislature in 2015.  I don't think we should take that risk.

Those are the stakes, and why I believe it is so important for all members of the Minneapolis legislative delegation to support dedicated transit funding.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Seward Cafe Community Member Killed in Hit-and-Run

Elyse Stern, a 28-year-old woman with strong ties to Second Ward businesses the Seward Cafe and Bedlam Theater, was struck and killed by a drunk driver on her bicycle at Cedar Ave S and Lake Street on March 30th.

The driver, Juan Ricardo Hernandez-Campoceco, has been charged with felony hit-and-run and driving while intoxicated.  He has not been charged with criminal vehicular homicide.

I know that Elyse's friends and communities are collecting donations to create an education and outreach campaign to help bicyclists get access to lights and helmets.  On Wednesday, the Bicycle Advisory Committee passed a resolution calling on the Minneapolis Police Department to participate in this campaign. The idea is that Elyse's memorial fund will purchase lights and/or helmets for MPD officers to hand out to bicyclists riding without lights and/or helmets.

The BAC also asked that MPD officers get training on the rules of the road, and that MPD spokespeople be careful in the aftermath of serious bike accidents to give even-handed advice to road users.  Here is the statement from Sergeant Bill Palmer that has drawn criticism from bicyclists:
“I’m not blaming the victim here,” Palmer said, “but certainly one of the key ­lessons here is prevention. At 2 in the morning, you should take strong consideration of wearing a helmet ... and take strong consideration of having lights on your bicycle.”
There are several problems with this statement, from the BAC's perspective.

The driver who hit Elyse was driving while intoxicated.  If the MPD was going to use this tragedy as a "teachable moment," it would have been good to stress that people have a responsibility not to drive while intoxicated.  A statement advising drivers not to drink and drive and bicyclists to use lights and helmets would have avoided giving the impression that this fatality was the victim's fault.

While Sgt. Palmer was careful not to directly state that helmets and lights are required by law, that is the strong implication of his statement.  The only legal requirement is to have a front light at night, though a rear light (at minimum) is a good idea.  It is unclear that a helmet or rear light would have saved Elyse's life.  Claerly better decisions by Mr. Hernandez-Campoceco - not getting drunk and driving a car - would have been the best way to have prevented this tragedy.  The BAC's resolution is asking that in a similar situation (though let's hope there are none), the MPD's public statements will be more careful and more even-handed.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Tranist Bill Needs Show of Support

A very important transit bill is in jeopardy at the Legislature, and I’m hoping that you will take action to convince your State Representative to support it.

If it passes, this bill will make it possible for our metropolitan region to make long-term investments in transit, including:
  • Increasing bus service by 4% 
  • Ensuring that we can build 3 new Light Rail lines
  • Putting Bus Rapid Transit on 4 highway corridors
  • Creating 12 higher-amenity “Enhanced Bus” routes, likely including Route 21
  • Providing $50 million per year for metro-area cities and counties to address local needs, including accessibility enhancements, safer sidewalks, and bicycle routes.
This bill is supported by over 50 organizations, including Transit for Livable Communities and the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee.
Quite simply, the Twin Cities metro region is falling behind on transit. A metro-wide sales tax is the way that nearly all US regions fund transit – and it’s one of the reasons that other regions have made significantly more progress on transit than we have.
I have heard from State Representative Jim Davnie, who represents most of Seward and all of Longfellow, that he is not yet supportive of this bill. I have a great deal of respect for Jim and one thing he mentioned to me is that he has not seen a broad base of support for this this year. I think that there is strong community support for this bill, but obviously we need to show it more clearly. To do that, all of us who support this stable funding source for better public transit in the metro area need to make our voices heard.
If you agree with me and you live in District 63A, please consider emailing Representative Davnie to ask him to support this bill: .
There are legitimate arguments against this bill, but I do not find them persuasive.
Yes, sales taxes are more regressive than income taxes. But the impacts of cuts to transit service, inadequate transit service and fare hikes also fall inordinately on the working poor.
Yes, this sales tax will be borne by the metro region and not the state as a whole. But outstate Minnesota is very unlikely to ever accept a sales tax to fund metro-area transit. Sticking to this principle means that we will never have stable, adequate funding for transit.
Yes, this funding will be walled off from the state’s general fund, but that’s a good thing. When transit funding is commingled with the general fund, it becomes a tempting target for Republican governors and legislatures to make budget cuts at the expense of transit riders. And having no constant, stable, predictable revenue means that we can’t properly plan for building out our transit network because projects take longer to implement and are much more vulnerable to stalling.

And yes, there are many worthwhile priorities this year, from balancing the budget to clean energy legislation. But this bill can happen now, and if it doesn’t happen now, we will have missed the best opportunity to fund transit that we’ve seen in more than a generation, and the Twin Cities will continue to fall behind.

I believe that a vote against this bill is a vote against transit. It’s as simple as that. And our legislators should be on the forefront of supporting and improving transit, bicycling and walking, not holding us back. If you agree with me, and live in 63A, please get in touch with Representative Davnie.

Transit for a Stronger Economy

I strongly support the “Transit for a Stronger Economy” bill, and I'm disappointed to see that it seems to be in trouble at the legislature.

Still, there is hope that a bill with funding to increase bus service, support new Light Rail lines, Bus Rapid Transit and help create higher-amenity “Enhanced Bus” routes is possible.  The bill is supported by over 50 organizations, including Transit for Livable Communities and the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee.  It would use a small sales tax increase, like nearly all US regions, to fund transit.  I urge you to contact your State Legislators and encourage them to support this incredible opportunity to provide stable, adequate funding for transit in Minneapolis.  You can take action here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Early Voting Bill Moves Forward In State Legislature

It looks like a proposal  that I stronlgy support to establish and implement early voting are anticipated to be heard on the House floor in the coming weeks.

The bills in both the House and Senate define early voting as “voting in person before Election Day at the office of the county auditor or designated municipal clerk.”  Early voting is something already legal and being done in many states throughout the country (including all our neighborhing states) and helps improve voter turn out and also take some of the pressure of polling places on election day.
It also eliminates many of the administrative burdens and costs of the current absentee ballot procedures. Unlike the absentee voting process, early voting allows the in-person voter to correct errors made marking the ballot and discovered by the ballot tabulator, the same as a voter on Election Day.

According to the proposal, early voting would begin 15 days before the election through 5 p.m. on the third day before the election. All voters in line at 5 p.m. on the third day before the election must be allowed to vote. Voting would take place between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on each weekday during the early voting period; from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on at least one of those days; and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the two Saturdays before the election.

The Senate language for early voting is included in the elections omnibus bill (SF 677) authored by Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport), chair of the Elections Subcommittee. This bill will be heard in the State Department and Veterans Division, tomorrow, on April 16. If it passes, it is anticipated that it would need to be heard in the Senate Finance Committee before being considered by the full Senate.

In the House, HF 334, authored by Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL-Fridley), was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on April 15 and it passed along party lines.

The Governor has indicated that he will only sign elections bills that have bi-partisan support, so it is going to be key to get some republicans to support Early Voting in the days ahead.  

Please consider contacting legislators in both the House and Senate to support the passage of HF 334 and the early voting provisions in the Senate omnibus elections bill (SF 677). Share your experience with elections issues and how early voting would help you. You also might want to mention some of the following key messages:

• Early voting provides the same rigorous and secure process that occurs in the polling place.

• In-person voters cast their ballots at a designated polling location and have their eligibility verified by election officials, decreasing concerns about absentee voter fraud.

• There is no delay in processing the ballot; it is immediately inserted into the tabulator.

• Even though ballots are inserted into the tabulator, actual election results are not tabulated until the polls close on Election Day.

• Early voting ensures greater ballot accuracy because the tabulator notifies voters of potential errors so that the voters may correct their ballots and still have them processed by the tabulator in their presence.

• Fewer absentee voters could lower the high materials and postage costs associated with distributing and processing absentee ballots. Early voting would cost approximately half of the cost of absentee balloting.

• Early voting provides more opportunity to the voter by extending the voting period and can relieve polling place congestion on Election Day.    Find out who your legislators are and how to contact them here.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Major Improvements to Honeybee Ordinance

This morning, the Council voted to approve a significant positive change to the way the City regulates honeybees.

The core of the change, which was authored by Council Member Lisa Goodman with the support of Sustainability Director Gayle Prest, makes it much easier to install a beehive on a rooftop.

In downtown and other densely-developed parts of the city, the old ordinance - which requires prospective beekeepers to get signatures of support from 80% of property owners within 100 feet - was simply unworkable.  When CM Goodman and others became interested in placing a beehive on the roof of City Hall, it became clear what an insurmountable obstacle the old ordinance was.

So under the new ordinance, beehives on the second story or above do not require signatures from neighbors, and do not require fences.  This is based on an understanding of the way bees actually behave; when they leave the hive, they tend to first fly upwards.  The impact of a rooftop hive on its nearest neighbors is negligible.

As this good change came through committee last week, I made an amendment to make it even better.

I have been hearing from beekeepers throughout the Homegrown Minneapolis process that the City's bee ordinance is cumbersome in other ways.  One of the consistent complaints I've heard is that the annual renewal fee of $50 was prohibitively expensive.

Well, it turns out that Animal Care and Control staff agreed.  The annual inspections of beehives that are funded by the renewal fee haven't turned up problems.  Staff supported doing away with the inspections, and making annual renewal free for beehives.  Working with beekeepers and staff, I crafted an amendment to just that, and it passed unanimously in committee.

These two changes open up our honeybee ordinance to allow many more people to keep bees in Minneapolis, and to keep them much more cheaply.  This is very important, and not just as a local food issue.  According to the New York Times, last year was a terrible year for bee deaths in the US.  A huge proportion of our food is pollinated by bees.  The more healthy hives we have in Minneapolis, the better, and it's great to see the City start to really facilitate beekeeping.

This is not necessarily the endpoint for the Minneapolis bee ordinance.  I've heard from beekeepers that the hurdles they must clear to start up are possibly too high.  I am open to bringing another ordinance change this year or next to work on this.

I want to thank Kristy and Erin from the Beez Kneez for their participation in this whole process.  Your help made it possible to make this ordinance better.