Tag Archives: Minneapolis

Open Letter re: Hennepin Avenue Redesign

I attended the second public meeting regarding the reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue last night (April 25th) and was quite happy with the way the planning is coming along. I’m excited that Hennepin Avenue has a chance at a makeover, as it’s one of the most important streets in our downtown core.

Personally, I’d like to see some traffic-calming features on Hennepin, such as narrower lanes and bump-outs at the intersections (to make a shorter crossing distance when walking on Hennepin). I also think we should look closely at lowering the speed limit on Hennepin so make this street more appealing to pedestrians, cyclists, and businesses like cafes and bars that want a more pleasant street for outdoor seating.

I’d also like to see physical protection for cyclists in the protected bike lanes, perhaps in the form of rectangular planters on either side, which would help prevent pedestrians from wandering into the bike lane and provide better protection for cyclists from motor vehicles. I like the idea of gradual curbs, but am worried cars or delivery vehicles will climb up on them for short-term parking and block the bike lane. I’d rather not have the ugly “plastic sticks” that seem to be synonymous with protected bike lanes in our city, especially on an important street like Hennepin.

Come to think of it, the protected bike lane design for the 3-lane proposal on 3rd Avenue South (which did not pass city council) would be something that I would support. That design called for planters to protect the bike lanes.

I’d also like some assurance that what happened with the 3rd Avenue design process will not happen to Hennepin Avenue. Plans were developed for a 3-lane design on 3rd Avenue, presented to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees, then it seems that city staff was directed to push forward a 4-lane design plan at the last moment by CM Lisa Goodman. Is that going to happen here as well?

I’m cc’ing CM Goodman on this email to remind her that this has been the second public meeting regarding Hennepin Avenue that has taken place, and that local business owners are welcome to provide feedback. The feedback I have heard at both meetings indicates that the community is supportive of cycling, pedestrian, and transit improvements in this corridor. I want to make sure businesses are part of this process too, as past experience tells me that they haven’t always been “engaged” early enough in the process.

If the plan is to create a “feel-good” design experience for the community only to have the plans altered at the last second by the unknown demands of local businesses, please let me know so I don’t waste my time with this process. Thank you,

Anton Schieffer

Open Comment regarding the Blueprint for Equitable Engagement

Note: this is a comment I sent to the city of Minneapolis regarding the proposed Blueprint for Equitable Engagement.

The current model for Minneapolis neighborhood organizations needs significant changes in the coming years in order to remain both relevant and responsive to the needs of city residents.

I live in the Whittier neighborhood, where over 80 percent of residents are renters. As of today’s date, there are few, if any, renters on the Board of the Whittier Alliance, which is one of the most heavily-funded neighborhood organizations in the city. As you know, the NRP funding for our neighborhood organizations has historically been determined by factors like poverty rate and the number of renters a neighborhood has.

Over the past year or two, I have participated in several Whittier Alliance Community Issues meetings. (Whittier residents are not allowed to speak at meetings of the Board of Directors, which obviously discourages attendance.) After more restrictive bylaws were passed earlier this year, making it more difficult for renters to run for the board (among other things), I have chosen to stop attending Whittier Alliance meetings and to spend my time as an activist in a more constructive manner. I have no interest in contributing my time and energy towards a neighborhood organization that actively makes it more difficult for renters and newcomers to participate. I hear many of my peers, in Whittier and other parts of the city, express similar frustrations, who decide the process is not worth their time.

The lack of renter representation on the Whittier Alliance board leads to negative outcomes. As a recent example in July of 2015, both the Executive Director and Board Chair of the WA were quoted in the Southwest Journal as requesting higher rents for a proposed “workforce” apartment complex. As a renter in an 83% renter neighborhood, it’s beyond infuriating to have my own neighborhood organization attempting to raise the rents for new housing projects. Of course, I do understand how pushing for higher rents might increase the property values for property owners who routinely dominate the Whittier Alliance board.

Of course, renters are not the only viewpoint lacking in this neighborhood. Census data shows that 20 percent of Whittier does not speak English, and that half this neighborhood is white and half is of color. Is this reflected in the membership on the board?  Has this been addressed by the Whittier Alliance? The WA is in denial when it comes to equity, stating in its June 2015 meeting minutes regarding the Blueprint for Equitable Engagement, “The WA board is diverse but they (meaning the city) don’t see it as diverse.”

Some city initiatives overlook the residents of Whittier, yet the Whittier Alliance does nothing. For example, Minneapolis recently rolled out their curbside organics program, allowing residents to compost organic matter. But it is only deployed at buildings with 4 units or fewer, and 73 percent of Whittier residents live in buildings with more than 4 units. Where was the Whittier Alliance to raise this issue with the city?

I don’t have all the answers, but engagement is something the city, and by extension city-funded neighborhood organizations, should take more seriously. A committee that addresses renter issues would help, as would utilizing more methods of online participation. Not everyone has the time to sit through a 3-hour meeting, and more importantly, that should no longer be a barrier to participation in local politics. Most importantly, if neighborhood organizations refuse to include and advocate for the renters and minorities who dominate their neighborhoods, rather than the property owners who dominate their boards, they should lose their funding.

May 10 2013 Minneapolis City Council Meeting

So I was being a complete loser and trawling through some of the archives for the city council minutes.  Specifically, I was trying to find when/if changes to the ordinance were made to allow flea markets in Minneapolis.  If anyone is wondering, the answer is that this “officially” happened at the April 12, 2013 council meeting.  It seems like everyone wrote an article on April 4, 2013 when the changes were recommended by committee, but there weren’t any follow-up articles after the city council actually voted on it.

This is a little confusing for people who maybe don’t know how our city government works.  Basically, when one of the committees suggests some change, it generally happens.  I don’t know if this is because Minneapolis is a one-party council (I should say, one party + Cam), or what, but that’s how it works and that’s why there are only articles about the flea markets prior to the actual vote.

So as I was looking through the meeting minutes, it turned out that a bunch of nominally interesting items were approved at this meeting.  Honeybees can be kept on rooftops higher than one story!  We spent $130K on tasers!  The Metrodome lease was extended!  Councilmembers gave “Notice of Intent” to file future resolutions!  So yeah, if interesting stuff happens at council meetings, I’ll try to write about it here in the future.  I’ll probably keep it to my neighborhood and places that I frequent, but who knows?

Only a few interesting things happened at the most recent council meeting on May 10, 2013, but I think you should know about them!

First, there’s a new ordinance that says if there’s an air pollution warning for particulate matter, you are not allowed to start a recreational fire.  You should also try to avoid committing arson on these days, as it’s really bad for everyone’s lungs!  So please restrict your fire-related insurance fraud to days when there isn’t already so much crap in the air.

The Nightingale Restaurant at 26th and Lyndale can now have outdoor seating, if you enjoy the roar of Lyndale traffic while eating your bruschetta. I’ve never eaten here actually, so maybe that’s a really good combo.

Car2Go is being allowed to start their car-sharing program.  For some reason, the existing programs were not allowed to use public spaces to park their cars.  HourCar, for example, has to lease their spots from private lots.  Car2Go is intended to be for short, one-off trips, whereas HourCar is for roundtrips.  Fortunately, thanks to activism from the car-sharing community, other car-sharing companies will also be able to use public spaces for their cars.  Not sure how this sharing of spaces among companies will work yet, but glad to see one company won’t get an unfair advantage.

Apparently, recyclable theft is becoming a problem – in June 2013, Minneapolis residents will receive a notice on how to keep their recyclables from being stolen.  Possible remedies include a light “misting” of all recyclables with a few drops of Schlitz Malt Liquor or deer urine.

Well, nothing else crazy going on, unless you consider the denial of variances crazy.

New Vikings Stadium and Downtown East

Strange how coincidences change the impact of news.  Monday’s unveiling of the new Vikings stadium was drowned out by the passage of the marriage equality bill by the Minnesota Senate.  And yesterday, Governor Dayton signed that bill into law, and both national and local media paid lots of attention to that (and rightly so – it’s a big deal)…but at the same time, another plan is announced regarding the future of the area surrounding the stadium.  I’m a little conflicted on this plan, but usually that’s the best time to just write down my initial thoughts and see where that takes me, rather than to proclaim “$400 million?!?” or “What the hell is even east of City Hall?!?”

So let’s start with the stadium:

65stadium0514

 

Yeah, it’s kinda ugly, at least from the outside.  Years of staring at the soulless Metrodome (and the Target Center) make any “interesting” aesthetic choices quite jarring.  From a closer perspective, it appears to borrow some ideas from Target Field – namely the gates on the concourse that open onto the field:

stadium2

 

Even the inside looks great, though one thing that is unclear is whether you can see the action from the concourse – one major design flaw of the Metrodome is that you can’t see anything while you’re waiting for nachos or putting ketchup on your hotdog (and seriously, ketchup does not belong on a hot dog anyway, please grow up).  I can’t tell from the drawings if they will open up the common area or if they’ll just plaster giant TVs everywhere.

But the stadium itself is less interesting to me than the plans for the surrounding area.  Downtown East has always been the black sheep of the seedy Minneapolis development underworld, with blocks of surface lots (reminding us that the Twins used to play here too!) and modestly-sized older buildings.  And thanks to the Vikings and monster truck rallies, those parking lots are fully occupied maybe about 20 times a year – that’s a batting average of .054, well below the Mendoza Line.

It’s unfortunate that this is the case, especially considering the stadium’s proximity to actual cool things in the city.  But car-centric planning has led us to believe this is the case – do the Mill City Museum and the Stone Arch Bridge feel just a few blocks away from the stadium?  Of course not – they may as well be on another planet, given the scenario of walking down a narrow sidewalk with very few businesses, across light-rail tracks, then getting rushed by impatient drivers on Washington Avenue…not my idea of a relaxing trip to the park.

But instead, the ambitious project attempts to connect asphalt-riddled Downtown East with the rest of downtown – according to the Vikings proposal, there are already plans to connect the new stadium to the skyway system (curiously, not pictured below), the closest entrance to which is 3 blocks from the stadium. Here’s a pretty picture of what it will look like:

MplsDowntownEastRyanCoProposal640

 

But this new proposal, which requires $400 million (aside: the source of this funding is never laid bare – it’s just this giant inconceivable figure that is paid in part by the city and in part by the developer, I assume), has a major flaw.  Apparently it relies entirely on Wells Fargo occupying these buildings.  I don’t know enough about downtown office space to know how these things work, but from the MinnPost article:

Apparently, the bank’s participation in the project is not yet nailed down. One reporter asked if there was a plan B, in case Wells decided to expand its operations elsewhere. The response: “We’re working very hard on Plan A.”

I think this will draw support from the Minneapolis City Council, some of whom are already on their way out the door due to their support of the stadium.  But I worry that the only way this development succeeds is if Wells Fargo moves in, and what happens if they don’t?  Or if the financial services sector faces another collapse?  We have an empty park in the middle of nowhere, and two undesirable empty buildings sitting on the edge of downtown.

While I’m all about open public spaces for people to congregate, I have some serious reservations about this project – there are many things that can go wrong.  That said, once you replace a parking lot with a park, it’s unlikely to ever revert to a parking lot again, and that’s a great thing for our city.

Interesting info on Wikipedia and the Metrodome

I was just gathering some information regarding the new Vikings stadium and the initial cost of the Metrodome.  I recall hearing that the Metrodome had a budget of $55 million, but that it was one of the rare stadiums that actually ended up coming in under budget – I think the total spent was about $52 million.

So I went to Wikipedia to look it up, and guess what?  They list the cost of the dome (currently as I write this) as $124 million – that’s $295 million with inflation!  Now I know that isn’t correct, so I tracked down the date of the change, and it’s been this way since May  11, 2012!  So don’t go blindly trusting Wikipedia, people – I plan to make a change and find some sources to back up the actual number, but I wonder how many people visited that site since the Vikings new stadium info was revealed?  I’m making a post about that at the moment, and hope to have it up later this week.

Another interesting tidbit – the IP address that made the change also made changes to nearly every major ballpark in the United States!  If anyone wants to unravel that mystery or wants to learn what other information this IP address has been changing, all the data is up on Wikipedia!

DFL Ward 10 convention results

Well, that was pretty dramatic.  Despite being in second place to Kendal Killian after the first few rounds of balloting, Lisa Bender managed to pull ahead during the last couple of rounds (after Ken Bradley dropped out), forcing Kendal to throw his support behind Lisa in order to prevent a “no endorsement” outcome, which would likely have led to Meg Tuthill serving another term on the Minneapolis City Council.

Lisa Bender is definitely an upgrade over Meg Tuthill, though I’ll admit that she was my third-favorite choice overall (of four candidates).  I really thought Ken Bradley would make an excellent member of the Minneapolis City Council.  He was very focused on environmental issues, acknowledging in every speech that global warming was a debt that future generations would have to pay.  I think he would have taken initiatives to make Minneapolis a greener city – I also think Lisa feels strongly about the environment, but I feel like she’s more along the lines of a supporter rather than a leader.

Kendal Killian had an amazing showing – much stronger than I had thought it would be.  He seemed to be the most polarizing candidate, and butted heads with Meg several times during some of the forums which occurred beforehand.  His strong turnout made me optimistic that the convention would be over quickly – after Meg was in third place after three rounds of balloting, I guessed that her supporters would switch their votes to Lisa, just to keep Kendal away from the nomination.

But that wasn’t the case – even after Meg was eliminated by rules (for not reaching 30 percent of the vote), her supporters instead voted “No Endorsement” on the fifth and final ballot.  Since neither Kendal or Lisa had reached the 60 percent threshold required to get the endorsement, we were at a bit of a stalemate.  Apparently it also takes a majority vote in order to adjourn, and only about 25 percent of the vote was voting for No Endorsement, so that didn’t look too likely, either.  Something had to give.

And so finally, Kendal and Lisa met after the 5th ballot.  I believe Lisa had 144 votes and Kendal had 133 (but don’t quote me on that).  Kendal got on stage and gave a dramatic speech about getting into the race because he wanted a new council member, and in order to see that this goal was accomplished, he announced his withdrawal, and that he was supporting Lisa – the place went bonkers!  It was a passionate, heartfelt speech by Kendal, and I’m sure it was not a fun decision to make after putting so much effort into his campaign.

If you want a better idea on what it was like (and you know something about Minneapolis geography and economics), what was bizarre to me was watching how the different precincts were committed to candidates.  On the left side of the room were precincts 7, 8, and 9 – basically, that’s Whittier.  This side was pretty evenly split between Killian and Bender once Ken Bradley dropped out (I’ll note that Ken did manage 15 percent of the vote in the first round).

The right side of the room were precincts 1-6 – I’m note sure about how many delegates each precinct had, but most of those folks appeared to be supporting Meg (with a few Lisa supporters in there too).  Before votes were cast, candidates had a short Q&A session and also had time to make a 10-minute speech/presentation.  It was surreal to hear almost the entire right side of the room applaud Meg consistently, while the entire left side of the room was silent.  Of course, that was flipped for the other candidates – when Kendal, Ken, and Lisa spoke, the left side went wild while the right side was silent.

In all, I’m glad that Lisa will likely be our Ward 10 City Council member (unless the greens endorse someone).  She supports biking and creating a more transportation-friendly city.  I questioned Lisa’s campaign messaging previously and while I still don’t know exactly what her priorities are, I also don’t really care.  All I know she has the potential to be a better council member than Meg, and I guess that’s good enough.

In other DFL news, I was sad to hear that Robert Lilligren did not earn the DFL endorsement in Ward 6.  I think he was a great leader on the city council – I don’t know anything about Abdi Warsame, who earned the endorsement instead.  From this Star Tribune article, it sounds like a large East African contingent showed up and supported Abdi.

An Open Letter to Lisa Bender

Well, I hate to stir up the pot, but I’ve heard from multiple Ward 10 candidates since Friday, and have generally been happy with all of them (aside from the incumbent).  But a recent email I received from Lisa Bender inspired me to write back to her, and I thought I would share:

Lisa, I remember that you called me after I tweeted that I would be supporting Ken.  When you asked why that was the case, I stated that I thought Ken had strong experience with environmental issues and groups, and I got the impression he would be an effective and progressive leader.  While I don’t recall our exact conversation, I do recall asking you about issues like progressivism and social justice, and not receiving a response I thought was enough to warrant my support.

So I was surprised to see you use words like “progressive” and “social justice” in this email – words that do not appear anywhere on your website and that I have not seen to date in your campaign literature.  Maybe this was just an oversight – some kind of miscalculation with your initial campaign messaging, but I certainly hope it’s not just empty rhetoric used to garner the support of the leftist base that is currently leaning towards Ken and Kendal.

The sudden change in attitude/messaging is a real red flag for me – I don’t want a councilperson who is willing to compromise on their own vision in a vain attempt to make everybody happy.  I want someone who will stand up for their own values, and this recent email from Lisa is not very encouraging.  As someone who paid attention to the early campaigns of the three challengers, choosing between them was a very difficult task, and I opted not to support Lisa because she didn’t seem passionate about the environment or clean energy, two issues I want my councilperson to take a leadership role on.

I sent this on Friday afternoon and haven’t heard anything from her since (I asked for a response and said I would publish it here).  I don’t have anything else against Lisa – I think she’s a great person whom I agree with on many things, and she would make a better city councilperson than Meg, but this email makes me think twice about supporting Lisa when it comes time to caucus this Saturday.