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, May 23, 2014

Environmentally Acceptable Packaging Ordinance Passes

This morning, the Council also unanimously adopted Council Member Andrew Johnson's update to the City's Environmentally Acceptable Packaging ordinance.  You can read the staff report here, and view their powerpoint presentation here.

I enthusiastically supported this ordinance, and I'm glad that it passed with such a strong show of support from the Council.  I view this as one of many actions we will have to take to make good on our commitments to move towards a Zero Waste goal for Minneapolis.

Polystyrene foam, is simply not a good solution for food service.  It is difficult or impossible to successfully recycle.  It can't be recycled into food service products, but can only be "down-cycled" into other types of items like clothes hangers, flower pots, and picture frames.  It must be very clean and dry in order to be recycled.  It leaches styrene, a likely carcinogen, into hot, oily, or acidic foods. 

Even rigid polystyrene is not a good idea.  While it is recycled in some places in the Twin Cities metro (it is not recycled in St. Paul, for example), the market for the material is not robust.  We can collect it for recycling, but it's very difficult to "close the loop" and create new food service products out of it.

And more importantly, there are good alternatives for most products.  The ordinance allows businesses to offer truly recyclable containers or compostable alternatives, something that many food businesses have been doing for decades.  This will fit in well with the planned expansion of organics collection citywide.  Where there aren't good alternatives, the ordinance provides an exemption.

Businesses now have almost a year - until Earth Day, 2015 - to find new solutions for their packaging.  Health Department staff are available to help with the transition, and funding is available from Hennepin County grants and City loans in order to help out.

I want to congratulate Council Member Andrew Johnson on this success.  His work has made our city just a little bit greener today.

Mobile Grocery Ordinance Passes

This morning, the Council unanimously passed the ordinance I authored that will allow mobile grocery stores to operate in Minneapolis.  This is a small but significant step towards increasing healthy food access in our city, and building our local alternative food economy by allowing more small-scale, food businesses to operate in the city. Businesses that can help support local growers and connect our area farms and farmers with Minneapolis residents.

This amendment came about because potential mobile grocery store operators came forward more than a year ago to let us know that the existing “Groceterias and Portable Stores” ordinance was too restrictive for any of them to operate in Minneapolis.  There are now at least two operators looking to get up and running within the next year: UrbanVentures and the Wilder Foundation.  With their participation, and that of Honeybee Mobile Market and the Hmong American Farmers Association, we came up with changes to the ordinance to make it possible to run a mobile grocery store.

Some of the changes that we made to the ordinance: 
  • Allowing mobile food stores to operate in more locations.  The old ordinance only allowed these businesses to operate in “designated senior citizens' high rise apartments,” which the ordinance does not define.  The proposed amendments would allow mobile food stores to operate in parking lots for commercial, industrial and large-scale residential properties.
  • Creating a new spacing requirement to prevent mobile food stores from operating within 100 feet of a licensed brick-and-mortar grocery store or farmers market that is currently operating, except with the permission of that grocery store or farmers market.
  • More clearly allowing mobile food stores to carry non-packaged fresh produce.
  • Requiring mobile food stores to carry at least 7 varieties of fresh produce, with at least 30 pounds or 50 items total.  There is no produce requirement in the existing ordinance, so this is a significant change.
  • Allowing mobile food stores to sell either from within the vehicle or outside the vehicle, in a farmers market stall sized space within thirty feet of the vehicle.
  • Prohibiting the sale of alcohol and tobacco products at mobile food stores, and limiting the sale of non-food items to no more than 10% of the store’s total stock.
And, thanks to the work of Council Member Lisa Goodman, mobile grocery stores will not be able to sell "non-staple" foods like candy, soda, and chips.  This is completely in keeping with the intent of the operators, and with the purpose of the ordinance, which is to increase access to healthy food.
I want to thank everyone who has worked to make this possible: the Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council, Business Licensing staff, our Sustainability Director, the Homegrown Coordinator, my Policy Aide, Robin Garwoord, and the prospective operators who brought this to our attention in the first place.  Good work everyone!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

City Ballot Filing Fee Increase Proposed Again

The Charter Commission has again proposed that the City Council consider amending the city charter, by unanimous vote, to raise the fee charged to run for office in Minneapolis. The amendment would allow a candidate’s name to appear on the ballot if the candidate files an affidavit of candidacy and either pays the required filing fee or submits a petition in place of the filing fee with the number of signatures for which the Minnesota election law provides, 500 or 5% of the number of people who voted for that office in the last election, whichever is less.  That would translate to about 100-200 signatures for City Council or Park Districts seats and 500 for city wide races like at-large park commissioner, Board of Estimate and Taxation and mayor.

The filing fee is currently $20 for all races and they are proposing that it be increased as follows: for Mayor, $250; for Council member, $100; for Board of Estimate & Taxation member, $20 (no change); and for Park & Recreation commissioner, $50. While I opposed a proposed increase that was higher that they sent us in December of 2013, I am more inclined to support this when it comes to the Council. I am concerned that if this does not pass the Council the Commission will put the higher fee proposal on the ballot in November and then it will pass.

In general I favor an easy, fair and affordable access for candidates to get on the ballot and have found value in Minneapolis’ easy open system.  I think that some of the RCV advocates are concerned that a long ballot might be used as a reason not to support expanding RCV to state offices or to other localities.  I think that if this argument is being made, or will be made, it is not founded in facts.  It is obvious when you compare races in Minneapolis (past and present mayoral races as well as various Council races) that the number of candidates is not related to RCV. Still, I take this concern seriously because I am convinced that the greatest use of RCV would be for state partisan elections, where parties would put their candidates forward through a partisan primary and then the voters could choose among them without fear of “wasting votes” or “spoiling” an election by voting for their preferred candidates rather than a “lesser-than-two-evils” candidate.  This would also prevent people from being elected without a majority of the voters actually indicating a preference for them.

There are a variety of variables that I am trying to sort out and I would welcome your views on this topic. I expect the Intergovernmental Relations Committee to hold a public hearing on this June 5.

As you think about this it might be helpful to consider what an outsider, and clearly biased, leader of election reform efforts, Rob Ritchie, thought the recent use of RCV in the Twin Cities. Rob Ritchie is Executive Director of the FairVote.
As I understand his positions, Ritchie is a big advocate for STV/RCV, easy ballot access and proportional representation.  I tried to find the article online, but was unable to. So I am quoting from it here:

“…Easy ballot access led to 35 mayoral candidates and unusually wide breadth of election choices. Had voters been restricted to backing only one candidate in one election, Minneapolis’ mayor almost certainly would have won with a low plurality of the vote. In Boston’s mayoral race, for example, the first place finisher in its preliminary election received only 18% of the vote --- and while a November runoff elected a majority winner, the price was elimination of all six candidates of color before the higher turnout runoff. … [In Minneapolis] RCV led to the mayoral candidates competing seriously but also positively. Voters elected Betsy Hodges, who earned broad consensus support. Heavily outspent, Hodges didn’t buy a single television ad, instead focusing on direct voter contact and coalition building.

“…Among those elected to the city council’s 13 seats by RCV are the city council’s first Latino, Somali, Hmong Cambodian members….Minneapolis voters overwhelmingly understood and preferred RCV, according to an exit poll by Edison Research. Commentators noted that the political climate had changed from traditional “machine politics” to coalition politics, in which candidates talk to voters more about issues and policy. A local professor called the 2013 mayoral election a “game changer.”

“….In neighboring St. Paul, incumbent Chris Coleman easily defeated three challengers, with RCV allowing that election to take place in one round instead of two. A highly competitive special election led to the election of the city’s first Hmong American. Instructively, two Hmong Americans were able to run without concern of splitting the vote – and the campaign was civil enough that the winner ultimately hired the African American who finished second to work on his council staff.”