Following menthol cigarette restrictions approved by the Minneapolis City Council in August 2017, the number of stores selling menthol cigarettes decreased from 354 to 82. This is according to a staff presentation to the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee last week.
The city’s updated flavored tobacco ordinance, which took effect in 2018, restricted availability of menthol products to tobacco shops and off-sale liquor stores. According to the city, “These changes are to prevent youth tobacco use, lifelong addiction to nicotine, the negative health effects of tobacco use and the tobacco-related health disparities between white populations and people of color.”
But as a result of these restrictions — with convenience stores looking to recover a lost profit center — the number of tobacco shops in Minneapolis increased from 25 to 52.
A plan to alter the composition of the Minneapolis City Council had no support at the Charter Commission on Wednesday. This means the Charter Commission will not take up this issue again. The group behind the proposal will now need to collect and submit the required number of voter signatures if they want to put the charter amendment on the ballot.
The Minneapolis City Council’s most contentious development debate since last year’s comprehensive plan has nothing to do with building height or parking, and everything to do with how it could be financed.
Last Friday, the council agreed to delay a vote to authorize an analysis of whether “tax increment financing (TIF) assistance is appropriate and justifiable” for Bessemer at Seward Commons. The delay was intended to give Ward 6 Council Member Abdi Warsame a chance to be present for an issue affecting his ward.
On Wednesday the Minneapolis Charter Commission was presented with a proposal to cut the number of city council seats from 13 to 9. The plan would also replace 3 district-based ward seats with at-large members elected by a citywide vote. This would reduce the number of wards (districts) by more than half — from 13 to 6.
Minneapolis’ City Clerk and top elections official, Casey Carl, spoke bluntly about the “wealth of research” showing the racist effects of such a radical change to the way voters elect members of the city council.
Carl added: “Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg stated that along with racial gerrymandering… at-large elections are the primary means of diluting the power of the vote and denying equal opportunity for minority voters and candidates.”
At yesterday’s 2019 budget hearing a large contingent of folks showed up to Minneapolis City Hall to ask the City Council to divest 5% from police, and invest in community instead. Among them was Wedge resident Andrew Beeman:
“I’m also a public health worker. I can tell you an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Let’s think about some of that preventative work we can do.”
The Minneapolis City Council hired some economists from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs to produce this study on the impact of raising the local minimum wage. The study showed that raising the wage would not lead to economic apocalypse. The study did show that raising the wage to $15 would help a lot of people who need it–at the cost of an extra 50 cents to $1 for a $25 restaurant meal. Council Member Lisa Goodman was not happy with the results.
Goodman started her comments at yesterday’s hearing by accusing the University of Minnesota researchers of bias, asking whether if she were to “Google your names” she’d find evidence they’d written in support of the concept of raising the minimum wage. She made fun of their findings that a higher wage would alleviate the problem of food insecurity: “I don’t have to have an economics degree to figure that out.” She went off on a riff about expensive ice cream cones. She asked if the authors talked to business owners, as if to say a rigorous economic analysis needs plenty of anecdotes.
At a City Council meeting in 2015, Goodman called the idea of even studying the issue a waste of money because, in her estimation, an actual Minneapolis wage increase had no chance of ever passing with a majority (the City Council voted 10-3 in favor of paying for a study; Yang, Barb Johnson, and Goodman voted no). Her comments indicate she believes most of her colleagues are as impervious to evidence as she is:
If there were seven votes to create a minimum wage in Minneapolis only, we’d be doing it. So I’m just wondering why $175,000 for a study, what is that, like a political out? I’ll vote for a study but I wouldn’t really vote for the change itself?
Lisa Goodman just knows things. She doesn’t need studies or experts to help inform her opinions. Now that the minimum wage study is complete we get to see whether Goodman was correct in assuming her fellow Council Members operate the same way.
Lisa Goodman to economists: you’re all biased, and I could probably use google to prove it.
Your study is crap. Your economics degree is dumb. Here’s something I just made up about expensive ice cream cones.
Numbers are great, but where are your anecdotes? Have you talked to business owners?
Last year: opposes a study, on the grounds that evidence won’t influence the City Council majority.
But the mall protest never really happened; crowds moved instead to the light rail and the airport, “creating a rolling wave of disruption on one of the busiest travel and shopping days of the year.” Cano tweeted a few pictures and words of support for BLM, causing her mentions to fill up with people–probably tweeting from home–more distressed by minor holiday travel delays than the death of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by Minneapolis police a month earlier.
Around the same time, Cano was receiving messages to her official Council email address from local people upset by her presence at the protest. She tweeted screenshots and responses to those messages, explaining why she supports BLM.
In the immediate aftermath of Screenshot-ghazi, Council President Barb Johnson, after saying she would not comment, brought the TV news into her home–on Christmas Eve!–to comment. Johnson was obviously determined to pour gas on the fire, leading some to speculate that she really does not like Alondra Cano.
Four months later, City Pages published the article “Alondra Cano flunks City Council 101”. The story was based entirely on anonymous quotes from at least two other members of the City Council. They called her “lazy” and lacking “self-awareness.” One described their reaction to Cano’s behavior during a particular Council meeting: “I just wanted to shoot myself.” In the days after the story was published, all 12 members of the City Council not named Alondra Cano publicly denied being the source of the quotes in the article.
Trashing your co-workers by giving anonymous quotes to reporters is a pretty mean and cowardly thing to do. But City Pages let anonymous insults distract from a real, legitimate story: there is widespread frustration with Cano among her Council colleagues that goes beyond policy disagreement.
Here’s an example of what that looks like. In June, Cano sat through an excruciatingly long Zoning and Planning Committee meeting in order to speak about a particular agenda item. Prior to the meeting, the committee’s chairperson, Lisa Bender, informed Cano that the item she wished to address would be postponed to a later meeting. Even though Cano isn’t a member of the committee, and despite the fact that she knew the topic would be postponed, Cano sat through three-and-a-half hours of unrelated presentations and public comment. As the meeting was coming to an end, she expressed shocked outrage that she had sat there for hours, yet wouldn’t get to speak:
Immediately following that Z&P meeting, Cano took to Facebook to call Bender a racist. (editor’s note: Lisa Bender is not a racist.)
Now, in politics it is perfectly legitimate to put people on the spot, in the middle of a meeting, to see if you can force an issue–to use the element of surprise to your advantage. But if it becomes a routine tactic, your coworkers might become legitimately annoyed with you. You have to pick and choose the degree to which you try to bull your way through other people’s agendas. And despite the fact there’s a lot of racism in the world, of which Cano has received more than her share, it’s good to be judicious when calling people racists.
The Star Tribune characterized Cano’s email as a “warning” to her colleagues. City Pages called it a “threat.” Here’s the relevant section of Cano’s email to Johnson:
I disagree with the findings and have kept screenshots of the ways other Council Members including CM Frey, Bender, Glidden, Abdi and others have used city property for “political” purposes. If the Council votes to approve the Ethics findings I will speak out against the vote and circulate a press release to the media about the issue with the screenshots I’ve gathered since January of 2016.
Cano responded to the stories about her email on Facebook, saying: “When a person of color speaks up, it should not be misconstrued as a “threat” to society, it should be respected as their truth.” Whatever Cano’s intent, the reason people interpreted her email as a threat, is because she constructed it that way: if you vote against me, I’ll put out a press release with incriminating screenshots. This is not to say Cano can’t make an argument that she’s being singled out unfairly, or that she can’t produce evidence to support her defense. But if she was trying to make that argument, she obscured it by writing an email that looked like blackmail.
Alondra Cano really has been the target of vicious racist attacks because of her support for BLM. Separate from those vile attacks, Council President Barb Johnson and some of Cano’s other colleagues really have gone out of their way, to a sometimes comical degree, to trash her in the local media. But it’s also true that Cano picks too many unnecessary battles, irritating her colleagues in a way that transcends race and ideology. If Cano is being unfairly targeted for punishment–and that’s difficult to judge unless/until details become public–that dynamic goes a long way towards explaining why.
Two members of the Minneapolis City Council have expressed serious concern over what they see as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources pushing special land-use restrictions that would protect the proverbial backyards of certain unnamed elected officials. The comments were made during a June 9 Zoning and Planning Committee discussion about new rules for the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area. The MRCCA is an area along the Mississippi River subject to “special land development regulations that protect and preserve unique natural, recreational, transportation, and cultural features.”
Council President Johnson called the DNR’s proposal “distressing” and joked that she’d like to make a special deal to protect her own backyard: “If I could carve some stuff out too, I might do that.” The area in question—half of Nicollet Island and an adjacent area encompassing Boom Island Park—includes the homes of State Rep. Phyllis Kahn and former Minneapolis City Council member Diane Hofstede.
Council member Lisa Goodman said she was “outraged” and described the DNR’s proposal as “last-minute changes made for political purposes to provide downzoning and protections for elected officials and their families and not anyone else.” She added that the DNR’s map “boundaries make absolutely no sense” other than as a political favor: “There’s no other explanation for why half of Nicollet Island would be in a further-protected area in the middle of our central business district.”
City Council members suggest the DNR is attempting to “downzone” the area in yellow as a favor to the elected officials who live there.
One consequence of the DNR’s proposed map would be a restriction on building height that conflicts with the city’s current code. Nearly 50 properties currently zoned R5 would fall under an MRCCA maximum height of 35 feet, far less than the existing Minneapolis zoning which allows for 56 feet.
Both Johnson and Goodman expressed a strong desire for Minneapolis to maintain “flexibility” and independence on land-use decisions, with Johnson citing the benefits of “billions and billions of dollars worth of investment” along the river in recent years. Goodman worried it would create another layer of zoning confusion for residents: “Our zoning is what should prevail and not some DNR-imposed fake rezoning that would give people some sort of feeling like we’re going to be capping heights and development and distance from the river.”
A draft response to the DNR proposal written by Minneapolis planning staff notes the area in question contains buildings which are already taller than the proposed limits, and points out this is an urban center designated by city policy for future growth. The letter says it would be “short-sighted to designate this area long term as low density residential” and requests the area be reclassified to match adjacent “urban” districts.