Back on December 14, the appointed group of volunteers serving on the City of Minneapolis’s Rent Stabilization Work Group completed their work and made a recommendation. Hours later, Mayor Frey delivered his rebuttal: “It’s not happening.” And four months later, Frey’s administration presented a report to the City Council reinforcing his opposition, recommending against enacting any version of a rent stabilization policy. Under our new government structure, even when they’re doing work in service of the City Council’s legislative function, city departments answer exclusively to the Mayor.
The analysis in the staff report is narrow, focusing on competing recommendations from the city’s work group. One side of the work group was made up largely of tenant advocates pushing for a maximal rent control policy. The other faction was tilted towards landlords and developers who recommended a more lax policy. Differences between the two sides’ recommendations go well beyond just capping rents at different percentages. It’s more complicated than that.
After a nearly four hour meeting Monday night, the Planning Commission voted to expand the possibility for small scale corner stores and offices across large parts of the city. They also passed an amendment to make grocery stores viable by easing square footage maximums. The City Council takes up the issue next.
It’s been a quarter century (1999!) since the city last redefined which land uses are allowed in which places. So testimony at yesterday’s public hearing on land use rezoning took note of the “once in a generation” opportunity. It’s the last big step in bringing the city’s zoning code into compliance with the city’s 2040 comprehensive plan, adopted in 2018.
A lot of the primary results analysis in the Ilhan Omar vs. Don Samuels congressional race has focused on Omar’s margin differential from 2020 to 2022. And it seems to me that’s not a perfect comparison — considering 2020 was a monumental presidential election, with much higher turnout.
While she won Minneapolis with 55% of the vote, Omar was down by over 8% across the city compared to two years ago. Possible explanations abound: a relatively well-known challenger in Don Samuels, Omar’s failure to take Samuels seriously, the increasing salience of crime and police politics, and the fact that many of Omar’s progressive supporters are more likely to turn out in a presidential year.
The more natural comparison is midterm-to-midterm. Though the 2018 comparison also has drawbacks: Keith Ellison had just vacated the seat to run for Minnesota attorney general, so there was no incumbent. And there were more than two credible candidates.
As I look for deep meaning in tomorrow’s primary election, it may offer hints about how much fear is still driving local politics.
Think back to the big headline of last year’s election: the public safety charter question. It was twisted, amidst a rising crime rate, as an attempt to abolish the police. Though Mayor Frey agreed with some key elements of that charter question – creating a public safety department, and removing the minimum police staffing provision – the message from Frey’s campaign and the multi-million dollar PAC run by one of his former campaign staffers was fear. They said a yes vote would be to defund or eliminate the police department. They said a yes vote would be like demoting or firing a beloved chief (who many predicted was about to retire anyway – which he did shortly after the election).
Just a few months after he won reelection, along with a new Frey-allied City Council majority, Frey was pushing his own idea for an equivalent to a department of public safety. And that plan is moving along. Last week, the City Council confirmed his pick for Commissioner of Community Safety, a role created to integrate and oversee a handful of public safety-related departments, including the police (if I wanted to scare people, I’d tell you the chief has been demoted and won’t be able to get the mayor on the phone in an emergency). You might say it’s a shining example of what you can accomplish when you work together. Or what you can accomplish when one side isn’t fighting for political survival by spending millions of dollars scaring voters.
Politicians often talk about “embedding accountability mechanisms” into their legislation, but I have embedded an accountability mechanism right into my website. My hope is that TickCounter.com remains a viable website for as long as it takes to get a full-time bus lane on Hennepin Avenue.
What does the phrase “very near future” mean to you? A couple of weeks, months, next year? To be generous, maybe it means we wait four years for full-time bus lanes, after Hennepin Ave S has been fully reconstructed? https://t.co/0T3kFej3X9pic.twitter.com/sNhE6BQIQm
The major point of contention in the Hennepin Avenue reconstruction debate is whether the street gets a full-time bus lane or if that lane should spend 20 hours per day as car parking. On June 16, the City Council approved a full-time bus lane. A day later, Mayor Frey vetoed. This Thursday there’s a chance for the City Council to override that veto.
The street currently has partial and part-time lanes — a big hit when they were first installed as a pilot four years ago. This success inspired the city to put in full-time lanes on 7th Street to serve the C Line BRT. The timing of the Hennepin reconstruction is fortuitous: the street reopening in 2026 will coincide with the opening of a $60 million transit upgrade, the E Line BRT.
The E Line is funded largely by the state, which is why all 15 Minneapolis members of the Minnesota House and Senate have written to the Mayor and City Council urging them to implement full-time lanes. The legislators’ letter cites an earlier request from Metro Transit, and emphasizes the importance of full-time lanes to the success of the E Line.
The reason I go into all this history is so you can understand why my head exploded after reading the email newsletter Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman sent to her constituents justifying her vote against a full-time lane:
So much agreement on something so necessary, ambitious and having to do with the removal of any amount of parking is incredibly rare. But in a Friday evening veto, Mayor Jacob Frey stomped all over the remarkable consensus that has formed in support of full-time bus lanes serving the E Line BRT when it opens in 2026. Not only was Frey using his veto power to override a vote of the Minneapolis City Council — he was disregarding things like the strongly worded request (expressed in a recent letter) of the entire 15 member Minneapolis legislative delegation, his own professional Public Works staff, the desire of Metro Transit (who’d like to ensure the success of a $60 million transit upgrade), and the needs of transit riders.
But there are reasons to keep pushing. Transit advocates have had an answer every step of this process. They have built this consensus for full-time bus lanes so successfully that the Frey administration can’t tell the truth about what they’re doing. They know they’re on the wrong side and they aren’t proud of it.
Mar 2, 2021 – Professional staff in the city’s Public Works Dept release two options for Hennepin Avenue: both include full-time bus lanes, relying on policy contained in the recently adopted Transportation Action Plan.
March 4, 2021 – Public Works traffic engineer Allan Klugman provides stats at an open house: 6,600 bus riders per day is expected to become 14,000 bus riders once E-Line bus rapid transit is added. Transit riders already account for 49% of those in vehicles on Hennepin during peak times.
2021-2022 – Lisa Goodman continuously fucking around behind the scenes, threatening and blowing up at staff.
Early to Mid 2021 – Initial timeline for City Council approval of Hennepin layout. This was indefinitely delayed for no apparent reason.
August 4, 2021 – Metro Transit sends a letter to the city’s Public Works Dept giving feedback on the Hennepin layout: “all-day bus lanes are critical to the success of both the Hennepin Avenue reconstruction project and the METRO E Line.”
January 2022 – A final staff recommended layout for Hennepin is released, based on public input received for the initial two options. Full-time bus lanes are included. This is referred to by staff as the “inform stage” – meaning the Public Works Dept will make no further changes in response to public input. City Council is the next step in the process.
Feb 10, 2022 – Mayor Frey’s appointment for the position of Public Works director, Margaret Anderson Kelliher (Lisa Goodman’s actual best friend) is confirmed by the Minneapolis City Council.
May 19, 2022 – The Minneapolis City Council’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee holds their regular meeting and committee vote on the Hennepin layout, at which it will be officially announced for the first time that Margaret Anderson Kelliher has yanked the full-time bus lane from the plan.
May 26, 2022 – Expected date that the full City Council will vote to approve Hennepin layout.