Meet the Wedge: Mitra Jalali Nelson

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to speak with Mitra Jalali Nelson, who is running for City Council in St. Paul’s Ward 4. I came to St. Paul loaded with the ultimate gotcha question, which turned suddenly into two gotcha questions. By the end of the interview Mitra had got gotten. Below is that portion of our conversation (read my endorsement of Mitra here).

Mitra Jalali Nelson


Can we end on a gotcha question?

Mitra: Oh god.

This is a style of question that got a lot of candidates in trouble in Minneapolis last year. Remember the question about a “city without police?” This is a similar style of question, but not on police. Can you envision a city without single-family zoning? What does that look like?

Mitra: Yes. I really see potential for a whole diversity of ways people could live. I’m really interested in housing cooperatives. I’m really interested in more mixed use apartment buildings. I’m interested in multi-family zoning.

Single-family zoning as a traditional way of life is organized around people’s access to wealth and that status has been organized around people’s racial and ethnic background. When you start to unpack that, you understand that it’s a form of organizing our economy that has meant lots of people don’t have access to the same things as others. For some that’s hard to unpack and fathom, but for my family that’s just been a reality that we’ve had to understand about the world — and for a lot of families.

What’s more important to me is that everyone has a place where they can have a concept of home, whatever that looks like for them. And be able to build off of that. What we’ve done is said the only true concept of home is that type of zoning and that type of living situation. Part of this is just my psyche as someone who is from a really complex family, and has had a really specific life experience navigating the world. 

Being racially vague and ambiguous kind of changes your brain chemistry. You’re always thinking what do I have in common with other people? What is home? What does that mean for me? There’s a lot of first-generation immigrant kid issues going on with that too. This concept of home for me has never been just what the traditional American concept has been. There’s just always been more abstract forms of it. 

Speaking in real terms about right now, 2018, in our city: what we need is as many ways as possible for people to have a dignified way of life and a way to actually live and save and build — not just survive, but do well in our city. When we are taking entire sections of our communities and not maximizing them for the benefit of everyone, we’re fundamentally taking away from other people’s ability to do that.

I gotcha.

Mitra: You’re not gonna ask me the police question?

Uhhhhhhhh, ok. You want to answer the police question?

Mitra: Well, I mean, yeah, I can envision a world without police.

Is that going to get you in trouble in St. Paul?

Mitra: I don’t know. I actually don’t know. Because I think we’re in an interesting moment for public safety in our city, in that we are trying to shift the culture and say, public safety starts with investing in people’s lives. Police are the biggest part of the budget. When you take the city budget and break it down and see how much of it is emergency response services, and how much of that is fire vs. police — I think that it at least warrants a reevaluation.

And there also was a world without police, already. That already existed. Thinking about what modern community safety looks like, now, is the kind of imagination that helps us get to a better community. We’re in a moment as a community, people want to have that conversation. That’s what I’ve learned.

And I’m running in a ward that’s — my ward is not generally who’s being disproportionately policed by SPPD. It’s not like it’s not happening here and there, but this isn’t the part of the city that experiences as much aggressive, disparate policing. And yet the amount of people who care about it, that I’ve talked to, it’s probably the number three thing that people ask me about [when doorknocking]. There’s just a desire in our city to see real change and feel like it’s actual change and not tweak a thing here, tweak a thing there.

What I’m scared about is — there’s so much trauma in our community from the death of Philando, and the death of Marcus Golden, and different names in our community — I’m really exhausted from going through this cycle of tragedy and marches and feeling like nothing is changing. Having people and politicians just wring their hands, saying “it’s just so complicated.”

I feel like we are really racked with a struggle that doesn’t feel like it’s evolving right now unless we’re willing to go further and say maybe we actually just start to reinvest in other things. Maybe we just figure out what aspects modern police offer right now that can only be offered by them vs. something else — and be willing to think that way. I know it’s complicated and that it’s really sticky for people.

I am different now because in the last two years I’ve supported people whose relatives have been killed by police and watched their lives go on after the activism has stopped and after the public response has stopped. When you actually see someone privately going through it in that way, they don’t just check out and say “ok, I’ll wait until the anniversary of that comes around again to post something about it on Facebook and then it’s out of my mind.” Those people are still living their lives, or trying to, and feeling re-traumatization and psychological impacts. There’s too many public health concerns about it for me to not be willing to imagine it.

MN Congressional District 5 Endorsement: Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar is a state representative who’s amassed a lot of political capital, and a large national following in a relatively short career. She hasn’t been shy about using that power to lift up new leaders, as when she took the unusually bold step of endorsing Phillipe Cunningham’s successful 2017 campaign against powerful longtime Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson.

Former Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, might be Omar’s most credible opponent. A lot of people recall Kelliher’s earlier political career with fondness. She’s a competent politician by all accounts. But I’m looking at this race partly with a hyperlocal lens. I go out of my way to avoid further entrenching the Lisa Goodman/Barb Johnson wing of the local DFL. Margaret Anderson Kelliher is the definition of old guard; take a look at her endorsement list, which includes Goodman and Johnson.

(To illustrate my point: I recall being frustrated by former Senator Al Franken’s endorsement of Lisa Goodman for Minneapolis City Council in 2017. Why did our celebrity senator, who I’d never heard say a word about Minneapolis issues, have to put his thumb on the scales to help an already heavily favored, well-funded incumbent on the eve of the caucuses? Of course, I understand it’s the most natural thing in the world for entrenched incumbents to endorse their good friends: other longtime incumbents.)

Kelliher campaign mailer
Omar campaign video

There’s likely not much practical difference in how Omar or Kelliher would vote as members of Congress. But there is a significant difference in how they’re campaigning. I see Kelliher targeting reliable older voters in her advertising. Likewise, Kelliher’s social media posts give the impression of a campaign focused (probably smartly) on older suburbanites.

Omar’s constituency includes more young people, people of color, immigrants–the kind of District 5 voters the DFL needs to maximize to win in statewide and presidential elections. And that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of older white people excited for her campaign. Omar has vowed to pick up Keith Ellison’s mantle and become a voter turnout machine. I believe Omar can do this. I’m pretty certain that Kelliher can’t.

So it’s a simple choice for me: Ilhan Omar, the leader who won’t just win elections for herself, but is willing to put herself out there to win elections for a new generation of leaders.

Note # 1: Local writer Naomi Kritzer has very nice things to say about the other credible candidate in District 5, Patricia Torres Ray (while also arriving at Omar as her top choice). If you can’t vote for Omar, I’d suggest Torres Ray.

Note #2: Please enjoy Kelliher’s weird commercial featuring a staged protest and candidate acting as the supervisor of a sweatshop (allegedly) that produces American flag quilts.

Minneapolis 2040: The Final Countdown

Moments ago I submitted some last-minute, under the wire comments on the Minneapolis 2040 draft comprehensive plan. And I will continue to do so, throughout the day, as the situation merits, right up until the deadline.

YOU CAN KEEP COMMENTING ALL DAY –TODAY– SUNDAY, JULY 22!

Here’s a sample comment you could leave in the built form section:

Interior 1 doesn’t go far enough. Homes already exist in these neighborhoods that exceed what would be allowed under Interior 1. The minimum designation in Minneapolis should be Interior 2. 

Areas that are currently designated Interior 1 should be changed to Interior 2. Areas that are Interior 2 should be changed to Interior 3. Areas that are Interior 3 should have their maximum height raised from three to __ stories.

Or you could simply say:

Exclusionary zoning is dumb and terrible. I can’t believe we still do that. Please let people live their lives, even if that means four households occupying a four-unit house instead of just one family.

But there are so many more comments for you to send — and today is your last day to send them!

Minneapolis is growing. People want to live here. Businesses are hiring workers here. A Minneapolis with many more people needs many more homes — otherwise a lot of people will be displaced. Those homes shouldn’t all be in big expensive single-family homes or big expensive apartment buildings. We need less expensive triplexes and fourplexes, and small apartment buildings too. In order to make that happen we need a zoning code that allows those small-scale homes to happen. We need to legalize housing.

But that’s not all. In a majority renter city, we need policies that support and protect renters, people who are disproportionately low-income, indigenous or people of color. We need a transportation plan that prioritizes people, not just cars. We need to recognize that single-family zoning isn’t just exclusionary, but promotes car-dependence and sprawl that does grave damage to our climate.

Minneapolis 2040 Charts and Maps

Some charts and maps to consider as we close in on the comment deadline for the draft of the Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan. You have until July 22 to comment at minneapolis2040.com!

Minneapolis and its neighbors are adding more people than places for those people to live. A housing shortage is a game of musical chairs that hurts those with the least money. The next Minneapolis comprehensive plan needs to help us shift that equation in Minneapolis and set an example for neighboring cities.

Data: Met Council community profiles and 2017 population/household estimates.

 These charts show how the Minneapolis and St. Paul are losing the sort of housing that is least expensive: 2, 3, and 4-unit homes. Why? Because zoning codes make them illegal to build on the vast majority of residential land.

Minneapolis lost over 6,000 duplex/triplex/4plex units since 1990. The city added around 2,500 single-family homes in same period

St. Paul lost about 3,300 duplex/triplex/fourplex units since 1990. The city gained around 2,000 single-family homes in same period.

Below is a map of racially restrictive covenants, courtesy of Mapping Prejudice. Areas of South and Southwest Minneapolis dominated by racially restrictive covenants in the first half of the 20th century are dominated by single-family zoning today.

There’s a direct line from racially restrictive covenants to redlining to restrictive single-family zoning:

The FHA promoted zoning as an effective tool for assuring a “homogenous and harmonious neighborhood.” In the view of the FHA, however, zoning was not enough to accomplish the segregation of races as a means to protecting property values. The FHA underwriting manual made the case for racially restrictive covenants, using language that described people of color as undesirable neighbors in the same vein as nuisances such as odor and high traffic.

In case you missed this post from a few days ago, here’s a chart breaking out Minneapolis residents by renter/owner and income. The low-income, cost-burdened renters are disproportionately people of color; they’re also far less likely to receive a housing subsidy than the high-income homeowners.

This map from Scott Shaffer debunks the notion that low-density zoning keeps the bulldozers away. Right now under existing zoning in Minneapolis, homes are bulldozed and replaced with larger single-family homes — we make it illegal to build anything else. We could choose to allow homes that are cheaper to build, rent, and own. Instead, we’ve chosen expensive housing.
If you aren’t yet fed up with exclusionary zoning, watch my award-eligible documentary film “It’s Always Single-Family in the Twin Cities.”

Minneapolis 2040 Deadline Roundup

There’s just one week left in the comment period for the draft Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan! Concerned residents assured me it would be shoved down our throats, but I’m not sure my throat could handle a lengthier process.

Leave your comments at minneapolis2040.com until July 22. The city will spend a few months synthesizing that feedback into a new draft to be released in late September.

Below I have compiled the latest news on the comprehensive plan, including two presentations to City Council committees earlier this week.

Innovative Housing Types. Minneapolis city planner Brian Schaffer (RIP) says that “innovative housing types” aren’t new. Single room occupancy, accessory dwelling units, co-housing–those are all concepts that are “ages and ages old.” What happened? We banned them.

In a presentation to the Housing Policy and Development Committee, Schaffer showed council members this chart:

Schaffer highlighted these points in his presentation:

  • Largest segment on the chart are the 47,000 homeowner households making greater than 100% area median income ($94,300/yr).
  • Second biggest: 31,000 renter households making less than 30% AMI ($28,300/yr). 
    • 19,000 of those households are severely cost burdened (spending more than 50% of income on housing)
    • 6,000 are cost burdened (spending more than 30% of income on housing)
    • People under 30% AMI are majority POC and majority renter – and “disproportionately both.”
Which of those groups have their housing subsidized? To a much greater degree it’s the high-income homeowner households, says the city’s housing director, Andrea Brennan.

In response to what I thought was an illuminating chart, City Council Member Lisa Goodman told Brian Schaffer: “I don’t need a planning degree to know that people at 30% or lower of the MMI are cost-burdened.” (The acronym for area median income is AMI, and the over-educated Brian Schaffer refused to correct her, even though it was his last week at work and he could have just said “I’m too old for this shit” and given the entire council double-fisted middle fingers.)

FLASHBACK: Lisa Goodman told an economist the same thing about his economics degree in 2016 when she was agitating against an academic study, commissioned by the city, that showed benefits to raising the minimum wage.

There’s a climate change opportunity in adding more commercial zoning in Minneapolis, says city planner Paul Mogush. Nationally, 45% of trips are for shopping, while 15-20% are trips to work. Mogush says, “Based on some research that we’ve done, we know that people in Minneapolis are spending a lot of their retail dollars outside city limits, so there’s an opportunity to capture more of that inside the city of Minneapolis.”

Council President Lisa Bender asked a question about small storefronts in neighborhood interiors that “have been made illegal over time in the zoning code.” Mogush said they’re trying to legitimize existing commercial uses, but gave no indication there would be allowances for more. (Idea: you could send feedback to minneapolis2040.com to ask for more small storefronts in neighborhood interiors).

Say goodbye to everyone’s favorite fit young planner:
Brian Schaffer calls it quits after more than a decade swatting microphones as a Minneapolis city planner. He will be missed. But he’ll always be my brother. pic.twitter.com/WTewlE0toO

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) July 12, 2018


Looking for a Minneapolis 2040 policy overview? Read this series from Neighbors for More Neighbors. And some thoughts from Our Streets Minneapolis.

I livetweeted Wednesday’s Minneapolis 2040 info session.
One attendee said the meeting left them feeling “ashamed to be alive.” Lisa Bender told the crowd of longtime residents, “You can boo me but I will continue to pause and wait.” Heather Worthington, the city’s director of Long Range Planning, at one point surrendered the microphone to a resident who continually interrupted her answer. Read the whole thread here.

This has maybe been asked about doomsday cults before, but what are these people gonna do for fun after this is over and the world doesn’t explode?

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) July 12, 2018


Council Member Jeremy Schroeder, chair of the Zoning & Planning Committee, released this FAQ to tamp down an explosion of panic and misinformation.


ICYMI: I published a post in response to an explosion of panic and misinformation–and apocalyptic yard signs.

Start practicing your impassioned speeches. In a committee hearing earlier this week, Lisa Goodman, who is the council’s most vocal critic of the draft, said she was eager for a public hearing in front of the full City Council, instead of just at the City Planning Commission.

BLOOPERS: If you made it this far, you deserve a blooper reel from this week’s City Council meetings. Here’s a bonus blooper reel.

Other cities can’t learn from Minneapolis if we never do the thing that’s supposed to teach these cities a lesson. So I think we’re pretty much legally bound to go forward with the plan.https://t.co/Ml7dZYvZsY pic.twitter.com/o8o73Ulbz7

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) July 12, 2018

Timeline. Here’s a rough schedule of the comprehensive plan process going forward:
  • July 22 – end of comment period (there’s still time!)
  • Late September – new draft released
  • Late October – public hearing at City Planning Commission
  • December – City Council adoption
This content is made possible by readers like you — support Wedge LIVE on Patreon!

Beyond Apocalyptic Yard Signs

It’s a maddening time lately, with political actors denying obvious truths and using scare tactics to sidestep honest dialogue. In any debate about change, political winds favor the side with the simple message: NO. It’s easy to fearmonger, deceive, and put words on lawn signs that conjure impending annihilation.

I like to think Minneapolis is better than that. In Minneapolis we recognize real problems and act to solve them. We recognize that housing is in short supply and unacceptably expensive for too many of our neighbors. We recognize that climate change is real, and is driven by lifestyles made necessary by our region’s sprawling, auto-oriented development patterns. We recognize that nobody should have opportunity limited by the fact they can’t afford to live in the right neighborhood.

To foster an honest conversation about the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan, let’s focus on this widely recognized fact: Minneapolis doesn’t have enough homes. MPR reports that the fabled “starter home” is disappearing from the Twin Cities due to a combination of factors: “land, laws, labor, and lumber.” For the sake of conversation, here’s a few examples of things affecting the cost housing:

  • Energy efficiency standards substantially add to the cost of a new home
  • Land on which to build new homes is made more expensive because of growth boundaries
  • Restrictions in zoning codes all across the Twin Cities prevent building “twin homes” (or fourplexes, or apartments, or anything that’s not a single-family home) that share a wall and sell for much less than an equivalent single-family home 
  • Car parking requirements add to the cost of every unit of housing, especially when it’s a massive parking structure

If we can agree to the facts (that these things affect the cost of housing), then — and only then — we can move to what should come next: an actual conversation about what we value.

No doubt, there are trade-offs: someone who values action to fight climate change will probably support energy efficiency standards and growth boundaries–believing sustainability is worth the added housing cost. Sometimes an action can tick off multiple priorities at once: easing density restrictions and parking requirements will move us away from the expensive, auto-oriented, exclusively single-family neighborhoods that dominate most of the Twin Cities. It’s not unheard of — even for a person with a garage — to list abundant street parking as their number one value (because we’re having an honest conversation, please don’t be ashamed to say it out loud).

What are the values served by saying the most walkable and transit-accessible areas in the state of Minnesota must be dominated by low-density, auto-oriented uses? What are the values served by saying these areas must always and forever be reserved for ever-larger single-family homes?

We’ve inherited a system, a legacy of redlining, that’s left us with increasingly exclusive neighborhoods. It’s a system where not being able to afford the neighborhood you want means you can’t afford access to a good public school; or to be near grocery stores and other amenities; or to keep yourself and your family safe from dirty air, soil, and water. It’ll take a lot more to undo that legacy, but ending exclusionary zoning is a necessary step.

They are using the word “extinction” to defend legal requirements forcing (usually large) single family homes as the only land use in huge swaths of our city, which virtually requires people to drive cars nearly everywhere they go.

— Robin Garwood (@RobinGarwood) June 28, 2018

To put a finer point on it: they’re worried about the “extinction” of single family homes, but seemingly not worried at all about the ACTUAL extinction of real, climate-threatened species.

That’s a special sort of cognitive dissonance.

— Robin Garwood (@RobinGarwood) June 28, 2018

Only one of these is real.

I’ve previously written that the Minneapolis 2040 plan is bold. But it’s only bold when judged against the low expectations set by generations of misguided policies. We’ve been numbed into thinking what we’ve been doing for decades is our only choice.

Allowing up to four families to live in a house the size of a large single-family home isn’t bold. It’s not bold to legalize three-story apartment buildings in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown. It’s not bold to allow many more people to live along major transit corridors. These are all modest changes, and the very least we should be doing to give ourselves a fighting chance at a better future.

Instead of rejecting the idea of change and holding dearly to an unsustainable status quo, I hope you’ll seek out facts about the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Tell the city council what you value.

People of the Lakes React to Minneapolis 2040

Last night, a coalition of Lakes-area neighborhood organizations hosted a public meeting in beautiful lakeside Lowry Hill. City Council Member Lisa Goodman and Heather Worthington (Minneapolis director of Long Range Planning) in the same room for a Minneapolis 2040 showdown! Turns out there was no showdown aside from Worthington referring to Goodman as Lisa McDonald. But other things did happen. Last night’s tweets have been lightly edited into the article below. 

(comment on the Minneapolis 2040 plan)

Guy from Kenwood neighborhood org is running the meeting, announces that Heather Worthington is on her way: “Stuck in traffic.” And everyone thinks that’s hilarious. I guess she should have biked. (Worthington was on her way from a Ward 11 public meeting immediately preceding this one.)

Kenwood guy says Lisa Goodman is here in the back of the room, but this plan hasn’t been to the city council. He’s very careful to make sure nobody here blames Goodman for it.

Kenwood guy with introduction highlighting key parts of the plan including “eliminating single family zoning.”

Kenwood guy asks reporters to identify themselves and I’m not brave enough to do that in this room. Profile in courage. I’m more of a columnist. It’s fine. You may recall last time I came to Lowry Hill (for a board meeting) a lady turned her head and snapped “off the record” at me.

Heather Worthington arrives and asks who in this room grew up with a septic system. I hope she’s comparing a looming environmental disaster induced by human sewage to single family zoning.

Heather Worthington comparing the comprehensive plan to a hypothetical family making long-term plans: college education for children, vacations, other longer term concerns.

Starting with pre-submitted questions. (I had no idea that was an option.)

Can this draft be changed? Will our feedback be incorporated? Worthington: “Yes, yes, yes”

What’s the basis of the research behind these population projections? Worthington says data comes from the state and federal government. She says we’re ahead of projections right now. Lots of people coming from other places. (I wrote a thing touching on some of these themes earlier this week.)

Heather Worthington invites people concerned about Livability to check out the comp plan’s environmental section. She says we are not on track to hit city’s climate action goals for 2050, and that’s a big concern for air quality.

Can you name how community input was collected? Were neighborhood organizations engaged? Yes, a multi-year process with countless meetings.

Worthington says growing racial income disparities are not sustainable. Housing cost burden is up while incomes have gone down.

What is your basis for the idea that increased density increases affordability?
Worthington: we never said that. We said we should offer more options, and right now in the city there’s only one option: single family homes. Right now, smaller single-family is replaced with bigger single family.

Worthington doesn’t want to “get trapped in the fourplex discussion.”

Worthington asks the room to imagine getting older.

Question about the impact of increased housing density on single-family property values. Heather Worthington says she is not an economist. (Neither am I but I predict the people of the lakes neighborhoods are gonna be ok.)

“Will fourplexes be subject to setbacks and footprint limitations?” Yes. Worthington reads the description of fourplexes in the comprehensive plan: 2.5 story height limits, matching scale of existing buildings.

Worthington: “If you don’t see yourselves in this plan, you should tell us.” Lady: “We don’t see ourselves in this plan!”

Worthington: “density doesn’t make housing more affordable… We never said it. We never will say it, because it’s not true.”

Analysis: I’m gonna suggest that massive swaths of the city set aside for only single family homes doesn’t make housing affordable.

Worthington reassuring them: “we understand the value of single family homes.” Worthington notes that she lives in a single family home. (These people are so very fragile about their single family homes.)

Question about education: “Plan gives short shrift to education. Please do not say it’s the responsibility of the school board.” Worthington says… it’s the responsibility of the school board. Worthington:”It’s like saying the city is responsible for the state of Minnesota’s budget crisis.”

Worthington says school board has its own budget and people here voted for school board members, right?

More property value concerns: “Have economists reviewed the plan and its impact on property tax values?” Worthington says, “that’s not what this plan is about.”

“How will deliveries and guests get here from outside the neighborhood?” Street parking is amazingly cheap says Worthington. Says there are no parts of the city you can’t get to. Worthington points out a lot of people drove to this neighborhood meeting.

Worthington: “environmentalism is a really important part of this comp plan.”

We’re entering what Kenwood guy is calling the “live mic session” 🎙️

Kenwood guy announces: “this meeting is being livetweeted… Even though I did ask reporters to identify themselves.” 😱😱😱😱 (Somebody blew the whistle! You’re lucky if I don’t do protected tweets from now on!)

Good chunk of the meeting taken up by a guy who really wants to know how many rental units there are going to be in the future.

Worthington: “I think it would be great if everyone who wanted to own a home could own a home… I think we’re over relying on that as a wealth building activity. But a lot of people don’t have a choice” to own. She points out how hard it is to predict things like condo conversions.

Representative from Minneapolis 2040 opposition group takes the microphone to plug their website.

Guy predicts “a kid will get run over when there are four story buildings there.” Worthington expressing skepticism that a four story building will hit a kid.

Lady says Minneapolis is unique in having beautiful neighborhoods “7 minutes from downtown.” She’s making historic preservation argument.

Question about whether research supports the idea that “density will move people out of their cars.”
People here see traffic congestion “all day!” They shout “all day” in unison.

Lady said she only saw three open parking spots around the lake on her way to this meeting. Says Lakes can’t handle increased density. Concerns about lack of off street parking for new multifamily homes.

It occurs to me during this meeting that I want to invite Heather Worthington to the 2nd Annual Cats of the Wedge Walking Tour and turn it into a feedback session.

Worthington compares the microphone-wielding Michael Wilson of CIDNA to Phil Donahue.

Guy asks crowd if they were on the City Council would they vote for it? Crowd responds indicating they are not at all supportive of the plan. Worthington says it would be more beneficial to get constructive feedback of what people actually want in the plan, rather than outright rejection.

Worthington accidentally referred to Lisa Goodman as “Lisa McDonald.” Oops. She caught herself.

Real estate agent wants to know what he’s supposed to tell his clients about the potential for a multi-family home next door.

Did you know that 80% of Minneapolis residents live on a block with multifamily housing on it to-day and that it’s fine?#minneapolis2040 pic.twitter.com/WAx23khZAX

— Scott Shaffer (@scttdvd) June 7, 2018

There is concern from a lady that the closest engagement meeting was far away at MLK park. She had no idea this was going on until last November.

Worthington: There’s 87 neighborhoods. We couldn’t go to them all.

(As the meeting was still happening, a former Park Board candidate tapped me on the shoulder to chastise me about my tweets. I asked her if she’d read any of the tweets. She said no.)

I earned it tonight. Please support my courageous work deep in the heart of the Lakes-area neighborhoods.

A “Pro-Family” Comprehensive Plan

One of the common criticisms you hear about the Minneapolis 2040 draft comprehensive plan, if you go to enough public meetings, is that it’s anti-family. People say if you want to support families, you’ve got to restrict the vast majority of city land for single-family homes. This criticism doesn’t hold water unless the only kind of family you’re concerned about is a white family of significant means. It turns out a lot of current Minneapolis families live in something other than a single-family home.

Comparing pro-family credentials of two very different Minneapolis neighborhoods.

If our definition of “pro-family” extends beyond the kinds of families who aren’t exclusively white and financially comfortable, we should be legalizing cheaper housing types — small-scale multi-family homes.

There’s only so much real estate to go around. Did you know the Met Council projected Minneapolis would hit 423,000 people by 2020 and we exceeded that total in 2017? We can’t all afford to live in a single-family home, or a large luxury apartment building downtown. The Minneapolis 2040 plan can be pro-family by greatly expanding the definition of which families matter in our zoning code. It doesn’t mean eliminating or outlawing single-family homes; it just means legalizing the kinds of homes families are already living in: multi-unit houses and small apartment buildings.

There’s another group of critics who take the other side of the “family” argument; they say Minneapolis has too many families already. For these folks, a plan that envisions so many new people is an environmental disaster. A surprising number of people appear to have the mistaken impression that the city’s draft comprehensive plan calls for tens of thousands of new humans to be conceived between now and 2040. To be clear, there’s nothing in the plan that incentivizes baby-making. In other words, if you like your birth control, you can keep it.

(I suppose there are those who would say implementing Chinese-style population control policies is more practical than allowing more people to live closer together, with less parking, and many fewer people driving.)

What these nominal environmentalists don’t acknowledge is that the additional people we’re planning to house in 2040 have largely already been born. The critics ignore the reality that forcing the people of 2040 to live in some as yet undeveloped, far-flung green pasture is bad for the environment. Forcing people to live far away from transit, jobs, and daily destinations fosters the car-dependency that is actually driving climate change.

In 2040, the cost of housing a family in Minneapolis will be painfully high if we don’t actively plan for enough homes of all kinds, across all neighborhoods. Planning for the future means recognizing some basic realities:

  • family sizes are shrinking, single-person households are growing, and many existing neighborhoods lack the housing diversity to serve an aging population;
  • families do actually live in apartments and fourplexes;
  • family means different things to different people, and my family may not match your traditional conception of a family;
  • immigrant families and anyone else seeking opportunity needs our city to be a welcoming place;
  • and, most crucially, humanity will continue to reproduce (pending partly on our ability to adapt to a sustainable future where people drive less by living closer to daily destinations).

I know we all want a comprehensive plan that’s pro-family. A realistic conversation that anticipates and plans for population growth is the responsible thing to do for all of our families, present and future. I hope more people take that approach when they comment on the plan.

Plan Meets Skepticism with Older Crowd in SW Minneapolis

I made my way to Southwest High in Linden Hills yesterday for a “Palmisano Presents” community forum on the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan (👈 leave your feedback!). This is a lightly edited tweet transcript from last night’s live coverage. Don’t miss the Hitchcockian “Palmisano Presents” opening credits video.

Ward 13 Council Member Linea Palmisano begins by saying she has received “numerous calls, emails, and handwritten letters.”

Palmisano more than once referring to Heather Worthington, who is the City’s director of Long Range Planning, as the “owner” of this comprehensive plan. Palmisano says, “I don’t endorse this draft in its current form. This is not my work. I have a lot of concerns.” Palmisano says the plan has the “right goals.”

Palmisano saying her best way to implement changes to the draft is “through you.” She means public input.

More Palmisano:

  • “I’m concerned fourplexes in our Ward doesn’t mean affordable housing.”
  • “I’m concerned how new corridor designations affect single-family homes.”
  • “There’s a lot of input to be gleaned from all of you.”

Heather Worthington says she knows this question is on a lot of people’s minds: “Where is the PDF?” It’s coming by the end of May!

Worth repeating: the comp plan isn’t zoning. It’s guidance. Zoning is far more detailed and complicated, and comes after the comp plan.

They paid a mural artist to draw the commentary on the wall in cartoon form. Good luck making Ward 13 more cartoonish.

Worthington points out the raw data from public input on the comprehensive plan is published on the website. You can read all the comments collected at the end of each engagement “phase.” It’s at this link, bottom of the page.

First question is about “single-family homes replaced by high-rise condos.” Resident: “All those houses are going away.”

Analysis: Saying that a thing can happen in many different places, does not mean it will be forced to happen in all places. Neighborhoods change very slowly.

Worthington says nobody would be forced to sell their home. Oh my, these folks are really concerned about “eminent domain.”

Analysis: Eminent domain is not happening and if it were you would hear about it for real. It would be more than rumor spread at public meetings.

Palmisano says the eminent domain fear is a common concern she hears. She makes it clear that this is not a thing the city does. The city is not taking people’s homes.

Question: have setbacks been eliminated?

Worthington says setbacks are a zoning issue. That’s a detail to come later. The comp plan is not a zoning code.

Brian Schaffer asked to tackle the off-street parking question. Uh oh, we’re gonna lose the room!

Analysis: Not requiring the construction of parking is not the same as “parking will no longer be built.” Also, you will still be able to park your two boats in your driveway.

I took a walk through beautiful Linden Hills before the meeting, and here’s a look at the parking situation:

Linden Hills parking situation yesterday.

Question: Why are we doing any upzoning absent a guarantee the mayor’s affordability plan will become real?

Worthington talks about zoning’s historical role in restricting access to the most desirable parts of the city. This is the Single Family Zoning is Racist part of the presentation. She then points out another goal of the plan was to allow people to age in place, remain in their neighborhood in a smaller home, when their single-family home becomes too much.

Worthington says that if you don’t like this plan, let us know. But please offer an alternative that shows how we’re going to house all the people who want to live here.

Round of applause for the idea of more off-street parking requirements.

Worthington mentions the city council is currently working on an inclusionary zoning plan to either require or incentivize affordable units in new development. This is happening separately from the work on the comprehensive plan.

Palmisano says this comment period is “not one that we will endure” but that will actually shape the next draft. (Speak for yourself, I’m enduring it.)

Looks like Heather Worthington anticipated the question about inclusionary zoning. Already answered, but she answers again.

Worthington says this comprehensive plan is about addressing the issue of equity through a “systems lens.” Housing, jobs, transportation, are all related to closing racial and economic disparities.

Speaking of  transportation difficulties for people without lots of money, Worthington notes it costs $8000/yr to own a vehicle. (Can we have another round of applause for requiring more pricey off-street parking?)

Question: How do we keep the historic qualities of our neighborhoods?

Worthington says you can pursue historic designation, though one problem with historic guidelines is that homeowners often don’t like restrictions on fixing up their homes.

Question: What’s the rationale for this plan? Palmisano answers by mentioning projections for population growth.

Worthington says statute requires the city to update its comprehensive plan every ten years. In the past, the city has done a “check the box” update that has not meaningfully addressed problems. As a result we’ve fallen further behind.

SW Light Rail! Palmisano notes largest station will be in West Calhoun.

Question from resident skeptical about the utility of SW Light Rail. How many commuters will actually take the train to Eden Prairie? What do you do when you get there? Walk?

Palmisano is very adamant we need workforce housing along the SWLRT corridor, if it ever happens.

“Why must blocks adjacent to transit corridors be so excessively upzoned?” (Speaking specifically about Interior 3 and Corridor 4 designations)

Resident mentions the city’s goal of “15 percent of commuters riding bicycles” which gets a dismissive round of laughter from the crowd.

I think people cheered the idea of Palmisano driving around in her car, but the cheering was so loud I couldn’t hear it all.

Nobody uses the bike paths, says guy. Guy says Blaisdell has 200 cars for every bike.

I think the submitted written question format has created some pent-up energy. So the open mic session could be interesting.

Question: Why did no Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan information get mailed to us? This is biased against people without computers. Worthington says they’ve put resources into other forms of engagement. It was a good decision and she’ll defend it.

Former two-term Ward 10 council member Lisa McDonald is very concerned about fourplexes and variances. Gets first crack at open mic. Mentions development at 36th and Bryant. Gets some applause. She’s plugging a website and wants you to join her movement. Just like Carol Becker at the Longfellow meeting last night.

It’s heartening to come to these meetings to watch these voiceless, powerless current and former elected officials grab the microphone to fight back against a system that’s crushed them for too long.

Question: Lynnhurst is going to become Uptown.

Worthington begins to answer, is interrupted, then says, “I’ll finish my thought and then you can get the microphone.”

Resident says about the plan: “You’re totally destroying the character of those blocks…”

And continues: “I don’t wanna live on a block that has 3 or 4 apartment buildings that are 3 or 4 stories high.” He’s speaking of an area along 50th St. He loves single-family homes.

Guy predicting ruin for his block. “People are already leaving the neighborhood.” Analysis: Property values don’t bear this out.

Palmisano calling out the “cyberbullying” of people willing to stand up and speak into a microphone at these meetings.

There’s an East Harriet/Ward 10 contingent here to talk about the 41-unit building at 36th and Bryant. Worthington says that’s an issue of existing zoning. (And you may be thinking, did you do live coverage of a neighborhood meeting about 36th and Bryant? YES!)

Resident is skeptical about predictions of future population growth.

Palmisano says, “We could be building housing for 7 years straight on the existing zoning that we have.”

Analysis: would that not require the use of eminent domain?

Resident asks question about Heather Worthington’s resume and where we can see how her work has impacted other communities.

Heather Worthington just recited her quite lengthy resume and received a round of applause.

Resident is concerned that this comprehensive plan means older people from Minnetonka won’t be able to downsize into a smaller home here in Ward 13.

“This area, we can’t handle more density.” In other words, cars are a reality, there’s just too many cars.

Support tonight’s live coverage from the far, far, deep nether reaches of Southwest Minneapolis.