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 , 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.


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:

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.