Countdown to 2017

This New Year’s Eve let’s skip the countdown to 2015. Nicole is “counting the days” to Election Day 2017. Now’s the time to begin stockpiling campaign contributions (up to a max of $300).

2014 Wedgie Awards

The Wedgie Awards were a real thing. We’re bringing them back.

At tonight’s LHENA holiday party we’ll be handing out trophies to some of the neighborhood’s wackiest characters to honor their amazing performances in 2014. We’re revealing the names of Wedgie recipients in advance on the blog, but don’t tell the winners. And you should still come to the holiday party. I don’t want to be the only transient turd in the punch bowl. That can get unbearably awkward.

Best Comedy

The nominees:
  • Lady who asked during a meeting, “who’s the Palestinian guy we don’t like?” This was when she couldn’t remember Basim Sabri’s name.
  • The time LHENA coordinator Tina Erazmus’ daughter sabotaged her mom’s ringtone, then called the phone during the final presentation of Lander’s 2320 Colfax to LHENA. It played for ten seconds at full volume before Tina realized she was the obnoxious hip-hopper in the room.
  • The time the Board Member from MRRDC proposed that LHENA hold a joint fundraiser with Healy Project, formalizing the alliance between our neighborhood’s Axis of Long-Timers (LHENAMRRDCHealyProject.org).

The Wedgie goes to: The time the LHENA Board was considering two candidates for appointment to a single open board seat. After a vigorous 5-minute campaign that included one of the candidates (Pet Supply Guy) explaining he would be unable to attend any board meetings, there was a tie. Following much deliberation, the LHENA board broke the tie in favor of transient hero, political juggernaut, and guy who CAN attend the meetings, Michael Roden.

Outstanding Performance in Shameless House Advocacy

The Wedgie goes to: Anders Christensen for calling out the City’s Z&P Committee as a bunch of heartless bastards for allowing a property owner to sell/shut down his boarding house. This was only a month after Anders brought a proposal to LHENA that would have shut down the same boarding house. 

Most Scatter-Brained Anti-Development Rhetoric

The nominees:
  • Task Force Leader Bill’s contention that certain Greenway buildings are “15 minutes from a ghetto.”
  • Board Member Bill invoking “the big G word” (gentrification) as a reason to oppose development at Franklin & Lyndale.
  • Months later, in his capacity as Landlord Bill (I guess?), he would advocate for the neighborhood to demand only the finest materials be used in new developments; that there is no difference between $5,000 rents and $1,500 rents; and that it’s not really the neighborhood’s responsibility to push for housing affordability anyway.

The Wedgie goes to: It’s a three-way tie between Task Force Leader, Board Member, and Landlord Bill. 

Most Misremembered History

The Wedgie goes to: LHENA Board Member Sue for constantly citing the location of 19th century Lake Blaisdell as a reason not to develop the parking lot at Franklin and Lyndale. For the record, the lake was east of Lyndale.

Runner up: Mean-spirited rumors that some of our neighborhood’s long-timers are old enough to have swum in 19th century Lake Blaisdell.

Best Lesson in Neighborhood Democracy
The Wedgie goes to: The time Board Member Tim said there would be a neighborhood vote on Lander’s 2320 Colfax project. A majority turned out in support (many of whom had better things to do), but the vote never happened. Lesson learned: LHENA only votes on development issues when they have the numbers to oppose.

The Great “Party Room” Rebellion of 2014

This movie is not about LHENA’s
disastrous relationship with Basim Sabri.

As the year comes to a close, let’s give a second viewing to a story that fell through the cracks.

The Channel 79 production of the September 30, 2014 Z&P Committee hearing only has 90-some views (it was a limited release). Still, it made an impression. Imagine it as a movie where a swarthily corrupt developer (a composite character loosely based on Michael Lander and Basim Sabri; played by Alfred Molina) proposes to construct rental housing at 2320 Colfax with few amenities. After a bunch of underwhelming speeches, it climaxes with William Wells (played by Sally Field) concealing MRRDC inside his burqa, and fleeing to the southern Wedge, where they find luxurious refuge and ample parking (in the party room at Flux). Here’s the script.

Alright, maybe that metaphor doesn’t hold up. But listen, they really did appeal 2320 Colfax, in part, because it would have no party room, no gym, and no staff in the lobby. This from the crowd who’s not shy about shoehorning gentrification-based criticism into their arguments against all new development. I realize many gentrification complaints are made with a wink and a nod, and a healthy dose of the kitchen sink; but it’s still worth taking time to highlight the nonsense.

This was the closing argument on the day history died at 2320.

And then there was Anders Christensen’s delightfully obnoxious performance in the role he was born for.

Some background on Anders for the uninitiated: he’s a former LHENA president (1979), house historian, real estate tycoon, house restorer, master of frivolous lawsuits, gofundme magnate, and Wedge walking tour guide. While he no longer lives in the Wedge, he loves our neighborhood’s old homes harder than ever. Those so-called “experts” who would declare any of our houses to be “not historic” will find themselves derided by Anders as silo-sucking fourth-ring-suburbanites. Perhaps most importantly, he is the spiritual leader of the notorious Facebook group/doomsday cult called The North Wedge Historians.

Anders introduced himself to the committee as an advocate, not for houses, but for “low-income and vulnerable adults.” He then launched into a speech where he calls out the committee members as a bunch of heartless bastards for allowing the owner of the boarding house to sell his property, as this would displace the home’s current residents. I don’t know how it played in the room, but I was deeply moved watching at home on YouTube.

What I found problematic was some inconsistency in the plot. The previous month, Anders and his organization, the Healy Project, presented LHENA with an alternative to the developer’s proposal. This alternative preserved the houses, while eliminating all the rooming-house-style units. The alternative plan contained not a hint of concern for the “vulnerable adults” (though they managed to squeeze in plenty of additional parking). Turns out, Anders was really in love with the houses the whole time! Oops, I forgot to say spoiler alert.

Bottom line: despite the illogical plot twists and over-the-top sanctimony, I think it’s worth a rental, or at least a quick YouTube scroll-through.

Final verdict: 3.5 Healys

Resignation Letter

Dear Task Force Leader/Board Member Bill,

After careful consideration and in consultation with loved ones, I’m formally resigning my position on the LHENAHDTF, effective noon tomorrow. For some of my colleagues this will come as a shock. For others, it will occur to them in three months, “Hey, whatever happened to that one guy?”

The turning point for me was election day. I walked into a crowded and bustling polling place. I saw young and old; I saw black, white, Hispanic, and Asian; I saw Whittier’s world-famous 70s mustache guy registering voters. Then I went upstairs to find two LHENA board members at a table. Eventually we got to six people.

There was an entire neighborhood of politically engaged people downstairs with absolutely no interest in formulating meaningless neighborhood development guidelines. It was at this moment that I realized what I had always known: LHENAHDTF is a big, frustrating waste of time. I’m with the people downstairs.

While I no longer have the heart to continue the struggle against a barely existent organization with imaginary power, I will not fade from public life. I want to assure the neighborhood that I have no plans to move to Whittier. I have not given up on Lowry Hill East. I will continue to live-tweet LHENA board meetings, as this still amuses me greatly.

I have a message for those, on both sides, that I’ve worked with over these last few months. I’m proud to say that we spent so many hours together not getting anything done. You are all fine people, and I know you will continue to not get anything done without me.

Sincerely,

John Edwards

Real Stories of the LHENA Task Force: Vol. 3

This is not a picture of the LHENA development task force.
This month’s Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association Housing & Development Task Force (LHENAHDTF) was sparsely attended. Were these the death-throes of a LHENA sub-committee? Either way, this is likely our last Task Force Report (more on that in a future post).

TFLBMB

This one felt like a re-run. Task Force Leader/Board Member Bill continues to use the Murals apartments as the poster child for Greenway “junk” that won’t last 20 years. Board Member Michael Roden was there to push back on the notion that these buildings will crumble to the ground.

As usual, Bill put forth the idea that the neighborhood should push for the finest possible materials. Just like in a previous episode, I insisted he should recognize the relationship between fancy materials and fancy prices. His attitude was that a rent of $1,500 is no different than $5,000. In the past, Bill has said that gentrification is “inevitable.” Maybe he really just thinks it’s preferable.

I mentioned that I live in a building that they would have considered “junk” 40 years ago (and probably a crime against the neighborhood). Everyone at the meeting seemed to agree that the 60s-era 2.5 story walk-ups provide a large portion of our neighborhood’s affordable units. But they never seem to grasp what I’m getting at. LHENA was formed, in large part, as a reaction against those buildings. That attitude from the 1970s persists, along with many of the same people.

In the moments when local NIMBYs feel the need to burnish their pro-renter credentials, they will insist that they really, truly value the ’60s-era apartment buildings. I don’t buy it. We’re just decades past the point where they can fight to stop them. 

Bill wanted to know why we’re obligated, as a neighborhood, to consider the issue of affordability as it relates to development. Basically, if you can’t afford to live in this neighborhood, go live some place else. It reminded me of the anonymous email comments from after the first meeting:

Affordable housing? That has moved to a different part of the city. People are going to have to realize that if they can’t afford a certain part of town, they need to look elsewhere.

This sentiment grosses me out–almost as much as when they were advocating for more party rooms in the appeal of Lander’s 2320 Colfax project.
Now, I’m not banging the drum for (or against) welfare or anything. I’m not asking LHENA to use their precious NRP dollars to buy up properties and fund public housing. I just want people to stop trying to pervert the housing market for their own purposes.
Like I said, a re-run. This is why the Task Force Trilogy will not have another re-packaged sequel. It would just be a blatant cash-grab.

A Facebook Page Come To Life

My esteemed colleague, the representative from MRRDC, went over a long list of properties owned by KLP Real Estate LLC. It felt like a stage version of the MRRDC Facebook page (I prefer the movie). Apparently, those turkeys from Renovate to Rent have something awful planned for 27th & Girard.

Reasonableness

One woman (who shows up to all the meetings) was concerned about green space. She had no problem with extreme building heights as long as more green space was included with new development. She gives me hope that our neighborhood’s older generation might someday grow into constructive members of society.

Volumes One and Two of our LHENAHDTF series.

Violence Against Houses

It can be hard for carpetbaggers to understand the special relationship between the Wedge’s long-time residents and certain neighborhood buildings. It’s a forbidden love; the house belongs to someone other than the love-struck neighbor, and a deep affection only materializes when the owner finds another suitor. To help me understand this dynamic, I spend an absurd amount of time poring over old newspaper articles. As an example of my ignorance, when I came upon the headline, RAPE IN THE WEDGE, I just assumed it wasn’t a weirdly offensive metaphor for perceived crimes against houses (sorry, I gave away the surprise ending).

June, 1981.

In case the author or his family are still around, let’s call this guy Shermann. Shermann once slapped a friend of his 6th grade daughter after the two girls made a mess playing with paint in the basement. How do we know this? Because Shermann published yet another weird metaphor in the Wedge newspaper. In this one, retirees who sell their homes to the highest bidder are the equivalent of child-slappers (Also, Reagan).

Maybe it’ll make more sense if we put it in meme-form.
On the left: the classic Healy Project meme.
On the right: Shermann’s 30-year-old metaphor/confession.

The last thing I want to do is imply that all neighborhood house-fans think like Shermann, but it sure would explain the vigils.
Deep down, you know this many people
wouldn’t vigil in your honor.

“Vigil” image credit: Tony Webster

Unpermitted Rehab

EDIT #2: To delve further into the drama of 2320 Colfax, see our timeline.

EDIT: Some background for those who aren’t closely following Wedge neighborhood drama. Last week, Nicole Curtis had a Facebook freakout, distributed to her 500,000 fans, over the removal of siding on a house located at 2316 Colfax (in preparation for demolition). Nicole is an HGTV personality who remodels homes all over Minneapolis. She’s also the celebrity friend of the Wedge’s collection of anti-density activists (MRRDC, Healy Project, Team Tuthill, etc). She’s been especially critical of a plan to demolish the houses at 2316 and 2320 Colfax to make way for an apartment building. If you have a house vigil, she’ll bring a camera crew. She says things like, “Uptown needs another apartment building like a hole in the head.” 

Everyone and their mother was having Fred Sanford-style heart attacks last week over the Wedge’s most notorious homeowner, Mike Crow, doing work (let’s call it “de-hab”) on 2316 Colfax without a weekend permit. It got me thinking that I could make a name for myself, and graduate from fake journalist to nosy neighbor, by taking down a permit scofflaw.

Does this guy have a permit for being an unbearable jerk?

So I headed downtown. After going to three different government buildings–and speaking with every security guard, every sheriff’s deputy, and every no-nonsense older lady behind every information desk–I finally had a clue. A stranger handed me a piece of paper. I made a few phone calls; a source told me that this coded message was actually an address.

I knew this had to mean something.

I went up to the third floor, where I could hear the distinctive voice of everyone’s favorite fourth-ring suburbanite, City Planner John Smoley, advising people on city planning type stuff. I stepped up to the counter, asked a few questions and gave the nice woman an address. She brought some information up on her screen.

“Isn’t this the lady from that home rehab TV show? Nicole Curtis? You’d think she would know better.” She laughed as she said it. I asked her to print the information for me.

Unpermitted rehab.

From my limited understanding, the code “DBLE FEE” indicates someone has started work without a permit. For the property pictured above, we have a new garage door, removal of a bearing wall in the basement, and some basement plumbing work.

Another property I checked on was on 25th Ave N, which Nicole features on her website.

New stoop.
Water piping.
At this point, I had seen too much. It was all I could stomach. I had visions of dead renters filling the basements of all of Nicole’s properties from Minneapolis to Detroit. So I gave up and went home. Imagine what a real journalist could find.


A previous version of this post contained images with un-blurred house numbers. I regret the mistake.

The Basketball NIMBYs

Just under the feather boas, Mueller Park’s dark underbelly.

The 1974 plans for Lowry Hill East Park (as Mueller Park was originally known) put the basketball court on the western side, along Colfax Avenue. Two hoops were available for full-court play until they were demolished as part of a park renovation that began on May 4th, 1998. The newly renovated Mueller Park opened later that summer with one half-court hoop, located on the Bryant Avenue side of the park. Considering the events of the intervening years, those of us who live in the neighborhood today are lucky to have any basketball court at all.

Lowry Hill East Park plans, 1974.

Mueller Park hasn’t always been about free piano concerts and historically accurate ice cream socials. There was a time, as the Wedge newspaper tells it, when Mueller Park was dominated by basketball-wielding “ruffians” and sharp-shooting “toughs” raining chaos down on the neighborhood like a barrage of Ray Allen 3-pointers.

The first published complaint about Mueller Park comes from Meg and Dennis Tuthill in May of 1977, just a year after the park opened. Their concern had nothing to do with basketball. It was more their way of saying the neighborhood had too many children already:

We have witnessed children with BB guns, knives and air rifles. It occurs to us to ask where the parents are. At any given time there seems to be about 30 or 40 children playing at the park but at the very most 2 or 3 parents.

Towards the end of their letter they caution parents, “There just are not that many things for older children to do at the park.” Which seems like a logical enough starting point for what would become a decades-long push to remove the basketball hoops from Mueller Park.

Behavior in 1980 was good.

I’m not sure where our current neighborhood nostalgia for children and families comes from, because the children of the late 1970s sound like the meanest little bastards the world has ever known. In June of 1979, resident Mary Atkins describes seeing two 8 year old boys taking up sledgehammers to destroy “everything in both bathrooms.” At the end of her letter, Mary vows to  keep “watching, phoning, and getting angry until someone listens!” She would go on to become an integral part of the LHENA “Park Watch” program in the early 1980s.

What started for Mary as an act of resistance against a “massive act of vandalism” would turn, inexplicably, into a crusade against basketball. She spent a lot of time in the park–watching. Based on accounts from Park Watch, the summer of 1980 was a “good” one. Despite the reported good behavior, Mary writes another letter the following May:

Last summer, and again this spring, I have noticed that the basketball courts at Mueller Park have been completely taken over by adults, many of whom I do not recognize as residents of the Wedge. 

I have watched the younger children and adolescents from our neighborhood stand on the sideline for hours, waiting to get a chance to play on the courts, usually to no avail. Often the people that use the courts descend on our park by the carload, beer in hand, and hook up their speakers to tape players or radios and turn the music on full blast…

Mary was concerned for the plight of “neighborhood youth who would like to play basketball at the park.” So, naturally, she suggests a “petition to have the basketball hoops removed.” She ends her letter with a question: “How do we assure [the youth] a fair chance to use the facilities at Mueller Park?”

On May 6th, 1981, the same month Mary’s letter is published, there is a public meeting; “the hottest item on the agenda was the issue of the basketball courts.” Mary alleges “physical aggression by adults” towards children. Dennis Tuthill suggests removing the courts. Another resident, David Forney, advocates lowering the baskets “to discourage ruffians from outside the neighborhood.” Neighborhood hero Glen Christianson stands up for basketball, while pointing out the shortage of hoops available in the city; “Let’s not tear it down,” he says.

Outside of Mary’s incredible accusation of violence against children, which is absent from her just-published letter, there’s not one specific allegation of criminal behavior. So, what is it about these basketball players–ruffians… many of whom I do not recognize… descending on our park by the carload… music on full blast?

Oh Mary, is this all that’s left of your good intentions? Suddenly, “ruffian” doesn’t seem like such a cute word.

Glen Christianson, rim-protector.

Ostensibly this started as a quest to preserve the basketball court for neighborhood children to play basketball. But Dennis’ solution is to reserve the court for Tuesday evenings of adult volleyball. Mary Atkins organizes Wednesday night volleyball for kids (volleyball really is the antidote to basketball). Glen Christianson, legendary neighborhood rim protector, organizes pickup basketball games for adults. And there’s this excellent suggestion from the following year: “roller skating to music on the basketball courts.” Hilariously, I can find no trace of anyone ever suggesting they reserve the court for children’s basketball.

Park Watch continues through the summer of 1981. A September article announces that neighbors “have helped solve the problem about the use of the basketball court and the park.” Mission accomplished, but how?

  • Park Watch. Mary Atkins’ eyeballs are the best deterrent.
  • “They informed park police about beer drinking, dope smoking and bad language among the white and black teenagers in the park.” [italics added]
  • Family volleyball night.
It’s not just the blacks.

These teenagers, white and black, need better coaching; shooting the ball with a beer in one hand and a marijuana cigarette in the other won’t get you to the NBA. Also, did you hear about the white teenagers? We haven’t seen such a gratuitous insertion of demographic detail since Steven Prince’s infamous former renter caption (in fairness to Mr. Prince, he’s not responsible for downzoning the basketball court at Mueller Park–that we know of–but we do enjoy re-posting the image below).

Former basketballer, now volleyballer Steven Prince.

In the same article that declares victory in the war on basketball “bullies,” the Wedge reports for the first time that race may be a factor:

[Park Board representative] Hutera described the basketball players as young adults. He said, ‘I do think some racism is involved.’ But he said blacks were being bigoted also, calling others ‘honky.’

Both Atkins and [Dennis] Tuthill as Mueller Park spokesmen pointed out that racism had no part in the issue. Tuthill said the inappropriate behavior among blacks or whites drinking beer, smoking dope or using bad language in the park was unacceptable. Atkins described the problem as more the neighborhood “toughs” than the basketball players….

…. 

Another problem at Mueller Park is that it offers few facilities for recreation… [Asst. superintendent Feldman] agreed a sand volleyball court at Mueller Park would be safer and more enjoyable for volleyball than the asphalt court currently being used. He said Mueller neighbors have legitimate reasons, and not ideas coming in from outer space, about removing the asphalt. 

You thought the last word of this 
paragraph would be “basketball”

I think Mary just admitted that the problems in the park were unrelated to basketball players; I knew Mary had a good heart. It should also be mentioned that removing the basketball court and replacing it with a sand volleyball court would have resulted in no net increase in the number of recreation facilities; though I can imagine it would have resulted in an emptier, less useful park. And notice the creative paraphrasing used to ensure that everyone knows assistant superintendent Feldman has confirmed that Dennis & company aren’t all a bunch of crazed volleyball fans. The article closes with Dennis complaining about the kids being excluded from basketball fun; followed by Dennis reserving Wednesday night court-time for a children’s activity that isn’t basketball.

The neighborhood stops targeting the basketball court from roughly 1982 until 1990, when LHENA begins having one of the hoops variously hooded, capped, or locked for most of the next decade. A “vandal” (more like freedom fighter) breaks the lock off the south hoop in 1996; Glen Christianson would have been proud.

Basketball: the least of your problems.

In the summer of 1993, in an item headlined “Mueller Park Crowd Getting Out of Hand,” LHENA vice-president Audrey Johnson notes “there have been problems with noise, bad language, rowdy behavior, fires being started in the bathrooms and under trees, and glass being dumped in the swimming pool.” She doesn’t mention basketball, but it’s not hard for some to connect the dots. Notes from the August board meeting mention the fires, the glass in the pool, people being “accosted by hidden persons,” and the need to call the police to close down basketball. It’s possible that accosted by hidden persons is just a euphemism for good, hard defense; though it could also be the case that your neighborhood has bigger problems than basketball.

1995 lockdown.

The idea that basketball courts bring crime to a neighborhood is not all that uncommon. There’s the case of a 2011 hoop removal in one racially diverse Chicago neighborhood. It emptied the park, but it failed to reduce gang violence as intended. Critics say it was about targeting black kids and pushing a gentrification agenda. My favorite response to the basketball-haters is from Arlene Rubin in 1990, based on her experience living across the street from a Chicago park: “To hear some people, you’d think that taking down the hoops would solve AIDS, unemployment, and the national debt.”

The only study I can find on the topic shows that parks with basketball courts, as opposed to those without, are “associated with lower rates of violent and property crime but not disorder crime.” Basketball courts are noise generators, but at least nobody gets hurt. Now, volleyball–it’s hard to imagine anyone caring enough to get loud over volleyball.

The whole story makes me wonder if the LHENA crowd ever regretted tearing down a half-block’s worth of houses to build this nuisance of a park.

1997 renovation plans for Mueller Park.

Previous posts on Wedge history are available here and here.

This Survey Is No Joke

I made fun of this survey a while back. But in retrospect, I really dropped the ball. This is no joke. LHENA is about to decide how to spend money based on the results. There’s going to be a community vote at the October 15th board meeting. It’s hard to say if the voting will include options for “Improving Housing Stock” that go beyond the two choices in the image below. My hope is that they don’t spend all the money on a brand new historic district and some historic walking shoes. Let’s withhold the “sudden windfall” until LHENA can figure out how to assess neighborhood priorities without rigging a survey.

Now you understand why I call them LHENAMRRDCHealyProject.org.

One more thing about historic districts. Some Healy/MRRDC-types who attended the historic district information session a few weeks ago were extremely interested in expanding the proposed boundaries. One of the difficulties with that is it would take money that the city doesn’t have right now. There were questions directed at John Smoley about finding an outside funding source. It wouldn’t surprise me if they try to funnel some neighborhood money into downzoning the neighborhood via historic district (but with this conservation district nonsense happening, maybe they don’t need to).

Peter Kim wants to buy himself a historic district. Asks if donations would provide city the resources to expand north of 24th.
— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) September 23, 2014

So if my theory holds, there should be big turnout. And when you gather so many long-time residents in one room, there’s a greater than 50% chance of weirdness. It should be fun to watch; and you can vote while you’re there. They’re holding the vote in the Jefferson cafeteria instead of the media center.