Angela Conley for Hennepin County Board, District 4

There’s a lot of talk this year about Hennepin County never having had a person of color serve on the board. It’s a big deal, if not surprising. It needs to change. But if you haven’t entirely tuned into the campaign in District 4, you might have the false impression that the arguments here are entirely about identity. They’re not. Continue reading “Angela Conley for Hennepin County Board, District 4”

Local Elections are Happening in 2018

We’re less than two months from election day on November 6. As you’re likely aware, this is a pretty important national election. A great way to get involved during this critical time is with a local campaign. Turning out voters for local DFL candidates (as the Democratic Party is known in Minnesota) means you’ve likely turned out votes for Democratic candidates all the way up the ballot: for governor, the state legislature, and US House and Senate races.

If you live in Minneapolis, the most consequential 2018 races are for offices in Hennepin County. If you care about policing, there’s the sheriff’s race. If you care about criminal justice issues, there’s the county attorney. If you care about housing, transit, health care, and human services, there are two competitive races for the Hennepin County Board, which controls a massive budget of $2.4 billion (for context, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey recently proposed a 2019 budget of $1.6 billion). You should find a reason to feel strongly about one or more of the candidates below. They need your help over the next two months.

Please note: this list is for informational purposes only. These are not endorsements. Some of the candidates listed below are terrible. Wedge LIVE endorsements will be announced at a later time. For more information about these candidates, and those in next door Ramsey County, consult MSP Votes.

Hennepin County Board District 2

Irene Fernando (DFL endorsed) – VolunteerDonate
Blong Yang – VolunteerDonate

Hennepin County Board District 4

Angela Conley – VolunteerDonate
Peter McLaughlin (incumbent) – Donate

Hennepin County Attorney

Mike Freeman (incumbent) – Donate
Mark Haase (DFL endorsed) – VolunteerDonate

Hennepin County Sheriff

Dave Hutch (DFL endorsed) – VolunteerDonate
Rich Stanek (Republican, incumbent)

Minneapolis School Board At-Large

(You vote for two candidates)

Kimberly Caprini (DFL endorsed) – Donate
Rebecca Gagnon (incumbent) – Donate
Josh Pauly (DFL endorsed) – Volunteer – Donate
Sharon El-Amin VolunteerDonate

Minneapolis 2040 is back!

Minneapolis 2040 is back! In just a few weeks a second draft of the proposed comprehensive plan will be released by the city. This is a big important document guiding future decisions on street design, housing, land use, and job access.

In an article originally headlined, “Minneapolis 2040 scares the rich. Is that such a bad thing?,” City Pages relays concerns from two Minneapolis City Council Members.

Lisa Goodman, who represents the ritzy lakes-area neighborhoods of Ward 7, tells a sad story:

“If somebody lives in a house they bought 30 or 40 years ago for $300,000,” she says, “and it’s now valued at $900,000, and they can no longer afford the property taxes on it, that’s often the cause of people moving.” 

That’s sad, but tragedy plays out on a sliding scale. Try telling one of Ellison’s [Ward 5] constituents how hard it is to own something worth so much you can’t resist the urge to sell it.

Any plan for how we create a city that’s affordable to everyone shouldn’t be focused on the needs of wealthy people (yes, if you own a $900,000 house free and clear, you are a wealthy person). It should be focused the huge chunk of Minneapolis renters, predominantly people of color, legitimately struggling to afford a home.

If property taxes in exclusive neighborhoods are high, Goodman created that by advocating for policies that concentrate wealth and shut out new neighbors. Exclusionary zoning drives the shortage which promotes skyrocketing property values and higher taxes in these neighborhoods. This result was achieved on purpose.

Linea Palmisano, who represents swanky Ward 13, says her constituents have been subjected to unfair criticism, including from city staff. She suggests there have been accusations of racism, and says that’s “a great way to end a conversation.” Others might suggest many of her constituents would rather not have a conversation about systemic racism and exclusionary zoning.

Speaking of great ways to end a conversation, Minneapolis for Everyone (the group behind all those red yard signs foretelling the apocalypse) has a reaction to the transportation policies contained in Minneapolis 2040. In the Star Tribune (“To cut pollution from cars, Minneapolis wants more neighborhood destinations”) Minneapolis for Everyone co-founder Lisa McDonald says of the Minneapolis 2040 draft plan: “It has no room for cars. They don’t mention cars. They want to get rid of cars.”

(Full disclosure: Minneapolis for Everyone is an organization co-founded by Carol Becker, who is the very weird elected official who recently attempted to trademark/steal the name of this website because she doesn’t like the content. I am currently embroiled in legal wrangling.)

The plan isn’t nearly as revolutionary or scary as McDonald makes it sound. A city planner put it in common-sense terms: “Put the stuff closer together so it’s easier to get to the stuff.” You’re more likely to drive if your destination is further away and harder to get to. In other words, we should make it legal for more people and businesses to exist in more places while expanding options for getting there. Let’s make it easier to not drive.

Minneapolis was built to serve cars. You might say we’ve spent the last 50-plus years using a blueprint called Minneapolis 1970. It’s very easy (and will remain very easy) to drive your car in Minneapolis. You can’t always say the same about walking, biking and transit. Plans for the future should be focused on making those alternatives more viable, if we care about having options for sustainable, safe, and affordable transportation.

Change is hard, especially when you’ve spent generations doing exactly the wrong thing. The truth is, we will probably end up with a Minneapolis 2040 plan that doesn’t go nearly far enough. Transit, bike, and pedestrian advocates will still have to fight too hard for small victories. Driving will remain easy and the vast majority of people will continue to do lots of it. We will continue to take concerns about neighborhood character far too seriously when deciding what kind of person can live in which kinds of homes in which parts of town.

In comparison to the hole we’ve dug for ourselves, these are only the smallest of first steps towards making Minneapolis a more affordable, sustainable, and livable city. If we’re going to take those steps, we need more people willing to say yes.

Neighbors Sue to Stop Apartments at 36th and Bryant

The immediate neighbors to a recently approved 41-unit apartment project at 3612/16 Bryant Ave S have notified the City of Minneapolis of their intent to file a lawsuit in order to stop construction. [Read the complaint.]

The apartments, located near a transit and commercial corridor at 36th and Bryant, were approved by the City Planning Commission on April 23. Neighbors of the project, led by Steven Verdoorn, appealed that decision to the City Council. That appeal was denied in May. Verdoorn is also one of the plaintiff’s behind the lawsuit.

The complaint alleges that the apartment proposal approved by the city council “represents a substantial change in the character of the neighborhood and is a substantial detriment to neighboring properties.” There are three four-story buildings directly across the street from the site. There’s a seven-story building a half-block north.

The complaint also alleges, among other things, that the city “abused its discretion” because “the density approved was more than three times the maximum required by the comprehensive plan.”

The lawsuit can be seen partly as an extension of the ongoing politics around the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan update. The lawyer representing Verdoorn (and “Friends of 36th Street”) is Timothy Keane, who is also the registered agent for a group called Minneapolis for Everyone. This is the organization famous for its red apocalyptic yard signs with messages like “STOP Mpls 2040.”

Minneapolis 2040 is the name for an update to the city’s plan to accommodate equitable growth in Minneapolis over the next 20 years. Opponents of the plan have concerns about density, traffic, and neighborhood change. Supporters of the plan like that it tries to address the housing shortage caused by ongoing population growth, and fosters neighborhoods that are less car-centric.

(Full disclosure: one of the leaders of Minneapolis for Everyone is Carol Becker, who is the elected official and trademark troll who recently tried to steal the name “Wedge Live” which is the name of the website you are reading right now.)

The 36th and Bryant lawsuit comes on the heels of a Minnesota Supreme Court decision ending a years-long legal battle over a condo tower on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. A group calling themselves Neighbors for East Bank Livability, many of whom live in towers themselves, were successful in delaying the project for years. Ultimately neighbors lost in court — in addition to losing the $100,000 bond they were required to post in order to move forward with the lawsuit.

ANALYSIS: Even if neighbors can’t win in court, lengthy delays aren’t just costly, but they have the potential to kill projects entirely. The economic situation years from now might not be conducive to constructing an apartment building. Legal challenges and other delay tactics (from people with the means to deploy them) also work in tandem with exclusionary zoning that says whiter, wealthier neighborhoods are off-limits to change.

My statement on the legal process to defend Wedge LIVE!

Wedge LIVE! anchor and managing editor John Edwards (and his newsbike).

Hi! I’m John Edwards. For the past four years I have been producer, writer, and all-around content creator for Wedge LIVE, a hyperlocal news source based in the Wedge neighborhood of  Minneapolis (Twitter , Facebook , YouTube , wedgelive.com). In addition to general political coverage and analysis focusing on Minneapolis and St. Paul, I report on local housing and zoning issues in detail: attending neighborhood meetings, livetweeting planning meetings, and producing video content that I hope is both entertaining and educational.

On August 10, a longtime Minneapolis elected official named Carol Becker, who I have at times been critical of, filed multiple applications with both the state and federal government in an attempt to secure rights to the name “Wedge Live.”  I believe this was an effort to shut down my platform and steal the identity by which the community has come to know me. Lacking a clear understanding of trademark law, I was initially afraid I’d had my identity stolen out from under me.

If you’re wondering — just as I initially wondered — whether any of this is legal, here’s what a law professor said about Becker’s actions in the Star Tribune: “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. You don’t get to steal someone’s brand out from under them by filing an application for registration — especially one that doesn’t have any use for it yet.” While she has temporarily withdrawn her applications, Becker has vowed to do this all over again in six months  (and has started comparing me to Nazis on a local internet forum).

Becker has put forward competing explanations for why she’s doing this, sometimes saying that acquiring the name would be a good business opportunity: “I think they’re worth money and I think I could make some money off of them.”  At other times she’s said she wants to use it as leverage to force me to change how I operate Wedge LIVE!: “I don’t know any other way to get through to [Edwards].”  Becker has also used language indicating that she is just one person among a larger group seeking to take my name:  “Becker repeatedly used the word ‘we’ while describing her efforts to file the business and trademark registrations.”

I believe this, or something similar, is likely to happen again. If it’s not Carol Becker, it will be someone with similar aims. So I have begun a legal process. While I will continue to make jokes about this ridiculous situation, I’m also taking my position very seriously. I will do everything in my power to defend myself. I will not leave myself vulnerable to a person, or group of people, with the money and motivation to engage in an unlawful effort to shut down the platform I’ve spent more than four years building.

SUPPORT WEDGE LIVE!

I’m starting this fund because people have asked me for a way to support Wedge LIVE! during this time (aside from a monthly Patreon contribution). I don’t entirely know what to expect from the legal process ahead, but I want to be prepared for it. To everyone who has asked how they can help: Thank you.

Read my complaint against Carol Becker.

Local news coverage of this situation:
Tony Webster
Star Tribune
City Pages
Pioneer Press
Pioneer Press
Star Tribune, Letters to the Editor

The Shape of the Minneapolis Inclusionary Zoning Debate

City Council President Lisa Bender

Inclusionary zoning is an umbrella term for a wide range of policies designed to encourage or require the inclusion of affordable units in new housing construction. Here are three example scenarios from yesterday’s presentation to the Minneapolis City Council’s Housing Policy and Development Committee:

  1. Require 15% of a new building’s units be affordable to households making 60% area median income.
  2. Require 10% of a new building’s units be affordable to households at 60% AMI.
  3. Require 5% of a new building’s units be affordable to households at 60% AMI.
The authors of a city-commissioned study on inclusionary zoning, consultants from a group called Grounded Solutions Network, landed on 10% as the sweet spot.
You might be wondering, why not require 30% affordable? Why not 100% affordable? Because, in the opinion of the city’s outside experts, a 15% mandate is “the very outer limit maximum of what we could possibly consider feasible.” Anything higher makes it very difficult for a profit-seeking enterprise to build apartments.
The experts explained why a mandatory, not voluntary, system was the right path for Minneapolis. Offering developers density bonuses or parking reductions in exchange for affordability doesn’t work because the city has already implemented relatively aggressive parking reforms and has virtually no density restrictions downtown (an area that in recent years has added a lot of units — making it the kind of place where inclusionary zoning could make a big impact).
An inclusionary zoning ordinance is something that Council President Lisa Bender has said must be passed alongside the package of zoning reforms contained in the Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan. I expect she has the votes to back it up.
If City Council approval of a bold version of Minneapolis 2040 hinges on inclusionary zoning, it’s worth thinking about what that debate looks like.
There are people who will argue for a prohibitively high (25%… 50%… 100%!) inclusionary zoning percentage. These people are:
  • those who think for-profit multifamily housing construction is bad, and that stopping it is good.
  • those who think building an apartment building is wildly more profitable in percentage terms than it actually is.

Then there are skeptics who say inclusionary zoning hasn’t worked in other cities. They see the construction of thousands of new homes as part of the solution (though not the sole solution) to a massive housing shortage and affordability problem. For them, policies that potentially discourage the creation of more homes are counterproductive
The argument from skeptics is that affordable housing is everyone’s burden to shoulder, not just residents of newly constructed apartments and condos. The skeptics say: tax everyone to pay for affordable housing. The owner of a million dollar home in Ward 13 has as much obligation as the renter living in a $1200 Whittier apartment, or the owner of a $500,000 condo. Someone tweeted at me yesterday that the key to inclusionary zoning’s popularity is that it puts the burden on a small and often disliked constituency: residents of apartment buildings that haven’t yet been built.
Inclusionary zoning supporters on the City Council will probably latch on to something resembling the case made by the group of experts the city hired to study the issue. Those experts are recommending an affordability requirement that gives developers a choice: 1) 10% of units affordable at 60% AMI or 2) a subsidy to go to 20% of units affordable at 50% AMI. The city’s experts contend that development would remain feasible in most parts of the city under this system.
The experts also say that while the cost of a new inclusionary zoning regime will initially eat into the profits of individual projects — making new home construction less likely — landowners would eventually start to bear those costs: “Over time, developers who all face the same increased cost will all negotiate for a lower land price.” This would take years, however.
A few alternative scenarios specifically not recommended by the experts would involve the “politically fraught” process of drawing lines on a map to designate the parts of town with strong enough housing markets to bear more stringent affordability mandates. You can imagine how this might upset a landowner just barely on the wrong side of one of these lines on a map.
The city-commissioned report on inclusionary zoning is set to be finished in a few weeks. For more detail on yesterday’s presentation to the Housing Policy and Development Committee, see my Twitter thread here.

Carol Becker vows to come back to take “Wedge LIVE!” in 6 months

Maybe you’ve heard: a local elected official named Carol Becker is “behind an effort to file business and trademark registrations for Wedge LIVE!” (which is me, the guy you’re reading right now). Becker currently serves as President of the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation. This appears to be an unlawful effort to shut down speech she doesn’t like.

After a weekend of backlash, Becker indicated in a forum posting that she will temporarily back off. She said she “will be back in about six months” to try and take possession of the name “Wedge Live.”

It is my intention to take steps in the meantime that would prevent her from doing that. Here’s a countdown clock so we can all prepare.



MN House 62A Endorsement: Jen Kader

My first impression of District 62A candidate Jen Kader has stuck with me since watching her at a candidate forum back in January. Jen is among a handful of first-time candidates competing in 62A, and she stood out as far and away the most prepared person on that stage. It’s the mark of someone who has been working on — and passionate about — the issues since long before she considered becoming a candidate.

Me discovering a great candidate.

Jen has a decade of community organizing and environmental advocacy experience that includes founding MN350, an organization devoted to fighting climate change. Through her job at the Freshwater Society, she works at the State Capitol finding ways to protect Minnesota’s freshwater resources. As a board member of her neighborhood organization, and as a founder of both the Whittier Project and the Give-a-Shit social club, she’s volunteered countless hours to breaking down barriers to political participation in Minneapolis. Jen is a frequent transit rider and bike commuter who knows firsthand why it’s essential to fund a transportation system — from sidewalks to buses — that works for everyone in our city.

Jen is endorsed by outgoing 62A Rep. Karen Clark (a dual-endorsement shared with fellow 62A candidate Margarita Ortega) and Minneapolis Park Board President Brad Bourn, among others.

Jen is steady, experienced, and always prepared. Observing her campaign over the last several months, I’ve found her to be wonderfully kind, earnest and unassuming. I’m proud to endorse Jen Kader; I know she’ll make the residents of District 62A proud if they elect her to the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Vote in the primary August 14! Visit Jen’s website to volunteer.

MN House District 62A extends roughly from Lyndale Avenue to Hiawatha (west to east), and from I-94 to Lake Street (north to south). Use your address to see which races and candidates are on your ballot.

District 62A


St. Paul City Council, Ward 4 Endorsement: Mitra Jalali Nelson

I got up early last Sunday and traveled from the Wedge to St. Paul’s Ward 4 to spend the morning with City Council candidate Mitra Jalali Nelson. The next day I watched her answer questions at a 90-minute forum. I worried this was too much time to spend, and in such a short period, with a stranger I met on the internet who only wears pink pants.

But I learned a few important things. Mitra is unreservedly pro-city, pro-housing and pro-transit. She’s a renter who chose her apartment because she wanted to live on the light rail in a vibrant neighborhood. She wants a city budget that invests in people — in things like rec centers — rather than hiring more cops. She’s called for funding the remainder of the St. Paul bike plan. She feels a sense of urgency about passing a minimum wage ordinance right away, without exceptions or carve-outs, because “it’s time to pour cement under our feet of sinking wages.” She’s thoughtful, she’s compelling, she’s experienced. I understand why such a broad and diverse coalition of people have been drawn to help get her elected.

I asked Mitra what she would tell a constituent with concerns about adding more housing to address an ongoing shortage of homes. What would she tell people when they say things like “there’s too many people here already”?

Our city is already growing. We’re falling behind. It’s hurting everyone that we haven’t created more places for people to live. Homeowners feel it because they’re pinched by property taxes. Renters feel it because the citywide vacancy rate is two percent. It’s creating a suffocating choke-hold on our city, a situation where people feel like they can’t stay here. In our ward there are tons of seniors who will be selling their homes and need to find a place to live. If they can’t find an apartment to live in nearby, they’re going to be pushed out of the community they spent their lives in.

At the next evening’s candidate forum, the very first question was about “neighborhood character” and “preservation.” These are buzzwords used frequently to signal opposition to change. Though some of the audience was less receptive to her position than I was, Mitra delivered the same answer she gave me: neighborhoods aren’t “livable” if you can’t afford to live there in the first place.

When I asked about policy ideas she’d like to borrow from other municipalities, Mitra cited the example of St. Louis Park requiring landlords to provide relocation assistance to tenants in cases where buildings are sold. As council member, she is committed to strong anti-displacement measures.

[More: Mitra Jalali Nelson talks about exclusionary zoning and police]

In a very St. Paul moment during the candidate forum, Mitra gave an unwavering defense of organized trash collection as a basic city service. Compared to some of her other answers, it seemed more common-sense than courageous… until the only other serious candidate equivocated and pandered.

I spend a lot of time listening to local elected officials talk about housing issues. And even among the best of them, there is usually hesitation and hedging about doing the right thing. Mitra is fearless. She wears her values on her sleeve. She says, “I’m running to be a leader on housing issues for our city.” And it’s so refreshingly clear that she means it.

There are a lot of great candidates up and down the ballot in 2018. But lately, when people ask me which candidate I’m most excited about, I say Mitra Jalali Nelson. St. Paul needs a leader like Mitra. At a time when so many of our local problems — from high rents to low wages to inadequate transportation — are begging for collective and regional solutions, we all need more leaders like Mitra.

The election is August 14th! Unlike other races on the ballot that day, this is a special election, which means the winner is the next council member for Ward 4 in St. Paul. Mitra’s the sort of candidate worth going all-out to support: