26.5.06

mpls: IRV

Minvolved reports that IRV has passed the city council and will be on the ballot in November.

This is good news...

Though, KFAI News had the head of the Mpls charter comission on the air for an interview the other day, and he had nothing but degrading things to say about instant run-off. Things like, "It allows people to vote more than once!" and "Why shouldn't my first place vote count more than some else's fifth place vote?"

A two-year campaign to change the way Minneapolis votes got a surprisingly positive response today in City Hall, but supporters face more obstacles before the idea lands on the November ballot.

The City Council agreed to refer to the Charter Commission a proposed ordinance eliminating primary elections and establishing Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) as the city’s legal voting method. The 11–1 vote came after a lively discussion on voter turnout, implementation costs, and whether the state would allow such a change. IRV allows voters to rank their preferences rather than voting for a single candidate.

“This is a courageous move,” said Council Member Cam Gordon. “It’s a way to ensure we get a majority of the people involved in government.”

Mayor R.T. Rybak called the move “a very exciting opportunity for the city of Minneapolis” and argued that it was “absolutely clear” that the election system needed to be improved to encourage more turnout.
[MplsObserver]



If memory serves me right (and it does) he's also the guy who spearheaded the Mpls city council redistricting plan that redistriced two (!) Green Party incumbents into already incumbented districts in 2003. That's the big reason why the GP lost two seats in the last election. (That... and the fact that their two incumbents weren't all that "savvy" (or "ethical").)

How did this guy get his job?

5.5.06

*** News Flash ***

At the top of the headline list is all the stadium-related transit funding talk. Sen. Steve Kelley, who is not coincidentally trying to get the DFL gubernatorial endorsement, released a probably symbolic plan to fund a great deal of Twin Cities transit investments by also funding Twins and Vikings stadiums (with robo-roofs).

While it won't actually happen, such a plan is welcome news for transit supporters. It's very much like what has happened in other cities, like Denver, that have funded a bunch of LRT lines using a regional sales tax.

Here's a Strib article about the lackluster state of Minnesota transit funding . . .


Regional transit operations are currently subsidized by $70 million a year in state funds. Capital investments are covered piecemeal by a combination of federal grants, state bonding and local taxes. Some say, however, that the Met Council underestimates the future costs of its own plan. The advocacy group Transit for Livable Communities says the real price is $4.4 billion by 2020, or nearly $300 million a year. A metro sales tax is the best way to raise it, the group says. According to the group, most other metropolitan areas similar in population to the Twin Cities finance transit with sales taxes. Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Houston and San Francisco levy at least 1 percent for transit. Phoenix, St. Louis, San Diego, San Jose and Seattle have transit sales taxes ranging from 0.4 percent to 0.8 percent.

[Strib]



. . . and an opinion piece by aforementioned campaigning senator, Steve Kelley, in which he talks about the brilliant governmental investing confluence of stadiums and Light Rail transit.


With these additional dollars, the Twin Cities metro area could quickly move forward on a comprehensive transit system, including the Central Corridor, Red Rock Corridor in the East metro, the Rush Line to the north, potential light rail in the western suburbs and expanded metro busways. As high gasoline prices put the squeeze on family budgets, transit options are essential for our future. It is time to see these investments to our regional infrastructure together, because they will help maintain our ability to compete with other regions. If you look at other cities that have recently built new ballparks and expanded their transit systems, you see a regional commitment to public investment, using sales taxes as the facilitator. In Denver, the original quarter-cent sales tax in a newly created stadium district was directed to extend LRT to connect existing lines with all three downtown stadiums. The result has been a metrowide system that has benefited not only sports fans, but the entire Denver metro area. Because of the success of the initial investment tied to the stadium, Colorado voters recently approved an increase to 1 cent for an expanded and comprehensive LRT system. LRT is successful in Denver, and ridership has met all projections.

[Strib]


***

Speaking of stadiums, supporters of the Twins ballpark (e.g. the editorial board of the Star Tribune) are using urbanism as a hook to lure in stadium opponents. There was an opinion piece featuring the real-estate P. R. drawings the other day. The argument that a stadium at the juncture of the LRT and Northstar lines would boost transit ridership seems convincing, but that's a lot of money for Mr. Pohlad bank account.



The $850 million project would bring 2,250 new homes, 300,000 square feet of retail and office space, a hotel and big stretches of greenspace to what's now a concrete gulch alongside Interstate Hwy. 394 in downtown Minneapolis. The
ballpark and its adjacent train station would form the centerpiece of an important new crossroads for Minnesota -- the juncture of light-rail routes to St. Paul, the airport, Bloomington and the southwestern suburbs; the Northstar commuter line toward St. Cloud, and the Cedar Lake bicycle trail.

[Strib]




***

The paper of record, the New York Times, had an article on suburban downtowns which featured the TC burbs, St. Louis Park and Burnsville. It's a good read -- and while I often laugh at suburban downtowns, they're the crucial piece of the new urbanism puzzle.




PAT AND JEFF JERDE raised their two sons in a 6,000-square-foot home in this booming suburb about 20 miles south of downtown Minneapolis. After the boys moved out, the Jerdes were ready for the big move downtown.

Downtown Burnsville, that is.

The latest thing in suburban development is something very old: city living. For a variety of reasons, a handful of suburban areas around Minneapolis-St. Paul have begun ambitious plans to create town centers, with pedestrian friendly sidewalks, condos, restaurants and shops. If it looks like a city, well, it is supposed to.

[NY Times]

At least they're not talking about Maple Grove.

***

And Saint Paul's paper has a story on how their libraries are using something called "foreign languages" to reach out to "immigrants." Whatever that means . . .

But, on the other hand, at least the Saint Paul libraries have learned that they need to be "open" in order for people to come to them. Write that down, Minneapolis!



These events are part of a broader effort, which geared up in February, to help immigrants see the library as a welcoming, vital resource for finding work, gaining citizenship, learning to use computers, reading books and magazines in their home languages, and strengthening their English. It's also helping longtime library staffers adjust to and accommodate the unique needs of people who have come from other countries.

"We learned that one of the first messages we need to get out is this is free," said Alice Neve, a supervisor with the Lexington branch and one of the program's directors. "People don't get that — it takes awhile."

Without hard numbers, Neve and other insiders noticed a gap between the number of nonwhites living in the neighborhood and the relatively small number of them using the library. Those who did venture in often seemed frustrated and confused, Neve said, and few staffers possessed the language skills to help.

[PiPress]

***

But, on the other hand, Minneapolis is the industry standard in neighborhood involvement in development projects. It seems these days, you can't build anything without NRP approval. And that's almost always a good thing, right?

Here's an article in The Bridge about the old Riverside Market spot on East Franklin Avenue.

"I'm glad that the neighborhood's going to have a say in what happens there," said David Mann, a block club leader who lives across the street, when told of the deal.

Neighbors wanted pedestrian-friendly shops and services as has sprung up at Seward's other end of Franklin Avenue, Miller said. One possibility is to try to accommodate Seward Co-op's expansion plans on the ground floor of a new mixed-use building, he said, with co-op or condo housing on floors above.

[The Bridge]

Update:

City Pages Blotter has a revealing expose of the Strib's stadium boostage . . .

And what solid evidence did Berg have that losing the stadium would likewise torpedo North Loop Village? One quote: "The timing of all this is really important," says Robert Pfefferle, the project manager for the developer, Hines Interests.

Sure it is--but only because Hines has to figure out whether to build North Loop Village with or without a ballpark. Perhaps Berg should read his own newspaper, because that's where Hines VP Bill Chopp is quoted last summer as saying, "The site's primary focus is as a transit oriented destination. The stadium is number two." And as I wrote in a story for this paper last September that, "Even absent the ballpark, Hines claimed it will build up to 3000 housing units worth $800 million at and around the site." Oh, and exactly seven days ago a story in the Strib's business section read, "Twin Cities officials of Houston-based Hines Interests said the work they have done for the past several months on the Minneapolis mixed-use development they now call North Loop Village hasn't hinged on getting a stadium built in the area...

From the start, Hines has said the main attraction of the site is its future as a transportation hub through the planned convergence of the Northstar commuter rail and the Hiawatha light rail lines." Pfefferle is one of the Hines officials interviewed for the story by reporter Susan Feyder.

4.5.06

stp: Super Target No Longer so Super?

Also, on the Saint Paul front, there were a whole slew of public hearings/debate about the current Target store site in Saint Paul about six months ago. They -- the city and Target Co. -- had reached an agreement, I thought, even though Target didn't really need any formal approval to go ahead with their plans.

According to the lastest news, though, that's not happening any more.

Neighborhood planning groups argue that a potential light-rail line warrants more transit-oriented development on the site, at the corner of Hamline and University avenues. Although Target has offered to sell a swath of its current parking lot for development, it was not enough to appease the council.

Minneapolis-based Target was uniformly praised as a company, but the council delayed a vote until May 17, asking Target to consider creating a higher-density plan, possibly with additional retail buildings.

[PiPress]



This is another sign of new mayor Chris Coleman being serious about economic, and TOD, development along the two most important corridors in the city -- University Avenue and the Mississippi River. Good for him.

That said, the University United (a neighborhood advocacy group) suggestion for the site was a two-story Target building. That seems ridiculous without significant public subisidy, and that won't happen. Just ask ex-Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton how that worked out across the river . . .

Update:

City Hall Scoop, the great StP city council blog, has this to say.

The best moment of the SuperTarget appeal hearing on Wednesday night came during the testimony of University United executive director Brian McMahon. He wasn’t a fan. “We could add a lot more retail to the existing parking lot Target has. A lot more jobs,” he told the City Council.

[PiPress]


I'd bet the deal goes through with no changes.

stp: Grand Avenue Development?

What is -- and is not -- a "formula business?" There's been a lot of debate about this, and many invokations of the "slippery slope" argument.

But, even theough a Lunds is apparently not a formula business, it's not going to happen.

A prominent Grand Avenue developer and part owner of the site said the deal, which involved four private parties, is off the table because of a number of concerns, including a fear that the store would be too small for Lunds' needs.

"We and Lunds have concluded at this time that we just can't make it work," said Rob Stopelstad of Exeter Realty.

Exeter owns a parcel at Avon Street and Grand Avenue, currently occupied by home supply retailers Restoration Hardware and Smith & Hawken. Edina-based Lund Food Holdings bought an adjacent parcel — formerly the Italian Pie Shoppe — for $1 million in April 2004.

The Italian Pie Shoppe has relocated to 1670 Grand Ave. Under the proposal, those parcels would combine for an approximately 18,000-square-foot grocery store. But the size — or lack of it — proved to be a concern for Lunds, Stopelstad said. "It would have been by far their smallest store," he said.

[PiPress]



Or, is replacing one chain store with another chain store O. K.?

2.5.06

stp: Central Corridor Forums

There are a number of city-hosted Central Corridor forums going on this week and next. The ostensibly deal with the draft EIS, though they're mostly for PR and public awareness. The Strib has a listing of them . . .

The newly formed District Councils Collaborative is hosting six community meetings on the Central Corridor in the next few weeks.

The meetings are meant to help the public prepare for hearings later this month on the proposal's draft environmental impact statement.

Today: 7:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., Episcopal Homes, 1879 Feronia Av., St. Paul.

Friday: 7:30 a.m., First National Bank Building, Room N-110, 332 Minnesota St., St. Paul.

Monday: 7 p.m., Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning, 1030 University Av., St. Paul.

May 10: 7 p.m., University of Minnesota, Room 14, 1701 University Av. SE., Minneapolis.

May 18: 7 p.m., Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning, 1030 University Av., St. Paul.

*** News Flash ***

Gas prices affect the economy first, and our lifestyle choices run a distant second. That said, if prices continue to climb (and they will), transit ridership will go up, fuel effeciency will go up, and the cost of living will go up for those who commute a long distance. All of this adds up to environmentally sustainable cities -- in the very long term.

For more rapid change, consult your local ballot box.

***

And here's a Wall Street Journal article about the effects of gas price on transit. What fun to quote from a source that actually quotes the American Petroleum Institute. (Have you seen Thank You for Smoking?)

Even Americans who want to slash their gasoline use will find it hard to do so in a society built on cheap energy, where far-flung suburbs and powerful cars are the rule. "If you've got to drive to work every day, you've got to drive to work every day," says John Felmy, chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's Washington-based trade group.

The limits of mass transit add to the difficulty of cutting fuel consumption. Though nationwide figures aren't yet available, many systems around the country are reporting significant increases in passengers, says William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association. In Washington, where his group is based, the Metrorail transit system reports that three of the 14 busiest days in its history occurred the third week in April. The problem: Public transit isn't available in much of the U.S. and doesn't match the commutes of many Americans in places where it exists.

Research suggests it takes years for higher gas prices to meaningfully damp consumption. Opinions differ, but many experts say that, in the short term, the "price elasticity" of U.S. gasoline use is as low as 0.1. That means gas prices have to rise 10% to produce an initial 1% drop in demand.

***

And here's yesterday's Star Tribune bit about transportation costs for outer-ring 'burbs.

A new study of the Twin Cities area commissioned by the Brookings Institution shows that transportation costs -- including the need for more cars -- can be twice as high in outer-ring suburban communities than in the city, where buses and light rail are available.

For example, researchers placed a typical Farmington family's monthly transportation costs at $941. That compares to $715 in Fridley and $446 in the Longfellow and Seward areas of Minneapolis.


***

And here's a link to last week's MPR Midmorning show on redistricting. Election reform is the most important kind of reform, though Minnesota is nowhere near the list of least-competitively redistricted states

***

And, from today's Strib, more news on this De La Salle field business. Apparently the stadium opponents (no, not those stadium opponents) are getting quite a quorum together. It's going to be a traditional Minneapolis connection-off, pitting wealthy historical preservationsists against Catholic soccer moms. Who do you think has the moral high ground?

Keillor is scheduled to headline a star-filled fundraiser May 21 for opponents of the planned football field. For their part, DeLaSalle supporters are now sending Keillor e-mails and pondering whether to picket the debut of the movie based on his radio show.

Keillor, who lives in St. Paul, became involved at the behest of singer Prudence Johnson, who lives on the island in Minneapolis and said she asked for his help, but now expresses some regret about pulling her friend into the fray.