LHENA had a board meeting last night. As you may know, I am a board member. During the meeting we learned of two grievances. The individuals attached to these grievances were unnamed (a “grievance” is a new process LHENA uses to resolve complaints lodged against the organization or individual members).
One grievance had to do with a pizza-related social media post (I immediately recognized this as one of my tweets). The other grievance was something else that happened on social media–no content was specified (I also recognize this as one of my tweets).
Hey two mystery grievances just came up at this board meeting. Sounds like they’re against me and my social media.
The pizza grievance was dismissed. The second grievance remains a mystery to be resolved later. While I don’t know who’s behind these grievances, I can guess from whose Facebook posse they might be coming. I think the strategy here is to lodge as many frivolous complaints as possible, establish your crew’s reputation as an incredible cast of goofballs, and then really lay the hammer down when I’m least expecting it (save this sentence for a future grievance).
At the very end of the meeting, during the “new business” portion of the agenda (I’m new here, but I gather that’s where you need to watch out for an ambush), someone handed me this motion: an accusation that I used an account with the name “Wedgelive/Wedgedead” to fool people into thinking I’m the official LHENA Twitter account and a demand that I remove all traces of the Wedge newspaper from my website and Twitter. At least half the board was visibly and vocally irritated to have this pile of unexpected nonsense dumped in their lap after a two-plus hour meeting, right as they thought they’d be able to go home.
Totally urgent, emergency, last-minute motion.
Exhibit A: “Today’s Header.” Distributed at last night’s meeting.
Someone thought this motion was a reasonable thing to write, and print out, and show to a dozen other people. Someone seconded this motion, and a handful of people would’ve voted for it, but it was tabled and sent over to the LHENA grievance committee–where I’ve racked up three tweet-grievances in my young career. And this item will probably linger well into 2016. These people are not right. Here’s what one board member said shortly after the meeting, in a private message:
In April, I ran for the LHENA Board of Directors and delivered a speech at the annual meeting almost entirely premised on the fact that I had digitized the paper: “I gave you an archive of the Wedge paper, vote for me.” I won.
At the May meeting, my blog was made a surprise topic (not listed on the agenda; strange that this keeps happening). I was accused of mistreating a “single mom” (more on that here), and concerns were raised about newspaper copyright. In July, the board settled concerns over the copyright issue by deciding to neither give permission nor demand I remove the archive.
And now we’re talking about it again in October, ostensibly because I changed my Twitter header image to something I found amusing and visually interesting. The Wedge newspaper is one of the most historic/wonderful/hilarious things about this neighborhood. It’s an ongoing source of surprise to me that devoted defenders of the newspaper’s legacy aren’t glad to have it accessible from their phone.
I was elected to the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) Board of Directors in April. Before that, I had been blogging and tweeting about local politics for roughly a year. Not everyone’s a fan.
At LHENA’s May meeting–my first as a member of the board–my blog was made a topic for discussion (surprising because I wasn’t on the agenda). During the discussion I was accused by a fellow board member of “publishing the home address of a single mom.” This was an intentionally vague and misleading reference to a blog post I had written about HGTV personality Nicole Curtis’ permit violations at some of her Minneapolis properties (also a threat to single moms: this WCCO story).
In July, a second board member accused me of “stalking” and demanded I delete a tweet linking to political commentary in a public Facebook post. The topic was parking reform (not vacation photos), so “stalking” seemed over the top.
Four days after the “stalking” accusation, I received an email from an unknown sender using an apparently fake name. The subject line was my girlfriend’s name. The message began by saying, “someone is playing your game.” The email contained a link to a Craigslist ad seeking sex; the ad was written to appear as if it came from my girlfriend, using her name, location and description. The email ended with a threat: “take down all your creepy posts about LHENA volunteers etc. Or who knows maybe her exact address, picture or phone # might show up tomorrow in a different category.”
We reported this to the police immediately. In September, all but one of my fellow board members voted to request the police seek a subpoena for Craigslist and Gmail to determine the identity of the person who sent the threat. I appreciate that, though I’m skeptical the police will pursue it.
You might imagine my initial reaction based on the content and timing of the email threat. Yet I’ve been told that it’s offensive to ask whether someone within LHENA has any connection to or knowledge of who might be responsible. It was said during September’s board meeting that this is no big deal; that putting my girlfriend’s name, location, and description in a sex ad is just someone being “snarky.” It’s also been said that the more important issue is all the unfair attacks (never specified, but presumably from me) coming at LHENA over the past year.
Not helping matters, Minneapolis’ Neighborhood and Community Relations Department replied to my initial email reporting the threat by sending a list of social media guidelines. I forwarded the email to NCR, and they gave me a lesson in discouraging participation. It was disappointing to have the city department that oversees neighborhood organizations suggest–in an email sent to the entire LHENA board–that my actions are the problem.
That attitude has carried over to the months-long debate regarding LHENA’s new “code of conduct” policy, with the argument being that the organization has been victimized by social media. Some folks were very adamant about including broad rules against “disparaging” language that causes a “barrier to participation,” and generally trying to define the most stringent possible standard for speech infractions.
I wish there was the same urgency to address those few LHENA board members who have disparaged me as a sort of predator–to the degree someone felt putting a Craigslist target on my girlfriend’s back was appropriate payback. As for barriers to participation: I’m pretty sure the only reason the anonymous emailer knows her name, or where she lives, or that she even exists, is because I brought her to neighborhood association meetings. She won’t be coming back.
The concerted effort to hype me as a menace has put someone close to me in danger, making it harder for her to feel safe in her own neighborhood. I sense too much denial and defiance from the people participating in that effort. This all escalated over a period of months during which I made the mistake of saying nothing. So I’m writing this post as a matter of self defense. My hope is that calling this out publicly makes it less likely to happen again.
The author is John Champe, who is an anthropology professor at the University of Minnesota. Instead of lost tribes of the Amazon, he decided to study the far less civilized world of Minneapolis neighborhood associations. I especially appreciated the insanity of Chapter 2. And if you like giant inflatable Godzilla-based protests against affordable housing, give Chapter 1 a look.
1. “Homeowner Revolution” Millions of dollars in NRP money helped drive the 1992 takeover of the Whittier Alliance by property owners hostile to affordable and supportive housing. Keep in mind that the reason Whittier received so many millions of dollars in city money was because of their large population of poor and minority renters.
Two years before the “Homeowner Revolution” many activists against more subsidized housing had already formed The Whittier Homeowners Association. This coalition “was a key force in the campaign”, and after its adherents gained a majority on the 1992 Alliance board, it simply moved itself into the Alliance. The Homeowners Association had made itself defunct because while it had scant money and legitimacy, the organization it took over had reams of cash and was certified by city hall as the official representative of the neighborhood. (Ch 2, p 12)
2. Culture Shift
The big change in 1992 turned the Whittier Alliance away from its long history of supporting low income housing.
Between the Alliance’s birth in 1978 and the 1992 revolution, the Alliance had developed “330 units of low income housing … The Alliance was one of the most productive nonprofit low income housing producers in the city.” (Ch 2, p 11)
3. “Elitist Cabal”
Champe describes how difficult it was for the Whittier Alliance’s new leadership (the “Friends of Whittier”) to get along with its staff:
I find that it was naïve of the FOW [anti-affordable and supportive housing] faction to think that they would find people to work in low paying, non-profit, inner-city, community jobs, in a poor, racially diverse neighborhood, who were not “social justice” oriented, and who did not see the poor, the renters, and the minorities as underdogs deserving of extra help. Even hiring a community organizer and a director who were Republicans did not solve this problem, as both still found the board an elitist cabal that was impossible to get along with. (Ch 2, p 14)
4. Opposition to school for the blind.
In 1993, a school for the blind proposed moving into the Pillsbury mansion. Board Chair Dave Hoban is reported to have said something to the effect, “I don’t even understand why they would want to buy that building, because it is so beautiful, and they wouldn’t be able to see it anyway.”
5.“Rode out of town on a rail, honey.”
A Board Member from 1993 tells her story:
When the Pillsbury mansion was converted from a residence to the school, oh my god people flipped out. And you know, the Dave Hoban’s of the world, which I’m sure you know, went nuts, that’s how I lost my board position because I voted for Blind Inc. Lucy and I got rode out of town on a rail honey. (Ch 2, p 32)
6. Mafia-style street justice.
After the Blind Inc. vote Dave called me and wanted me to come out into the street so we could wrestle in the street. That same night the husband of another board member who voted for it got punched in the jaw outside the Black Forest and we’re convinced that Dave arranged for that. (Ch 2, p 32)
7. Political Parties
The early 1990s sees the advent of political parties in Whittier, called Friends of Whittier (FOW) and Diversity & Democracy (D&D):
Naming themselves “Diversity” was a jab at the FOW, who were seen as hostile to ethnic minorities and the lower classes. And “Democracy” was a way to show how they were opposed to what many considered the decidedly undemocratic methods of the FOW activists – their privileging of homeowner participation, and their “dirty tricks.” (Ch 2, p 40)
8. Bylaws Shenanigans
the FOW appeared to have a three pronged strategy – mobilize the base to come out to vote for your slate at the annual meeting, manipulate the bylaws to get other FOW members on the board after the election, then harass the rivals that did get elected to the board until they quit. (Ch 2, p 41)
9. Rooftop Godzillas for Responsible Development Coalition
Lisa Goodman meets her match during a 2001 battle over low-income housing:
At that time, city council representative Lisa Goodman hosted a monthly “Lunch with Lisa” chat session with local constituents at the Acadia café across the street from Plymouth Congregational. At her lunch immediately following her public statement of support for Lydia, Citizens picketed outside the cafe while their Godzilla held his own twenty four hour protest on the roof above. (Ch 1, p 8)
You might think Whittier–with over half of households cost burdened, a third living in poverty, and a quarter without cars–would be a logical place to make your affordable housing more affordable by building less parking. But in this case, the developer anticipates a building occupied by car owners, which means giving residents a place to store them. So much for the aparkolypse. Rest easy Chicken Littles, the sky isn’t falling nearly fast enough.
“I think you’re underestimating the neighborhood in terms of design, character and cost,” [Executive Director] Biehn said.
[Board Chair] Christ requested larger units. She said families are desperate to find larger apartments in the neighborhood. She also suggested that the neighborhood could handle higher-priced rents.
Neighborhood associations like the Whittier Alliance are city-funded, and ostensibly tasked with advocating on behalf of neighborhood residents. In Whittier, that would mean advocating for the 83 percent of residents who are renters, most of whom already spend too much of their income on housing. But the Whittier Alliance doesn’t even pretend to do that; they come right out and ask for higher rents. Six months after implementing radically restrictive rules that exclude renters, the Whittier Alliance is still doing a terrible job representing neighborhood residents.
“We’re trying to build reasonably-priced housing.” N’hood org: “What about EV charging stations and a rooftop deck?” pic.twitter.com/EKTwOJLmmx
Minneapolis is one City Council vote away from enacting a major, nationally-heraldedparking reform authored by Council Member Lisa Bender. I’ve watched with great interest as the debate has unfolded on Channel 79. To summarize the back-and-forth as uncharitably as possible: utopians on bicycles deployed a slew of crowd-pleasing parking analogies* (1, 2), while some of our city’s original inhabitants countered with predictions of the aparkolypse (it’s a “boondoggle” of an “epic fail”).
One misconception coming from opponents of the policy is that it will cause the parking ratio for housing construction in the specified transit corridors to fall to zero. This mistaken assumption is the basis for the primary argument you hear from parking maximalists: this policy will fail because there are still so many cars and drivers out there (Minneapolis isn’t ready for your radical car-free agenda!).
It’s true, cars are still a thing. Which is why developers, and the banks who loan them money, aren’t about to start creating crisis-level parking situations that sink their investments. But I’m just restating Council Member Lisa Goodman’s rebuttal to what she sees as “a lot of misunderstanding” regarding this plan:
We’re not telling developers not to build parking. We’re just simply saying we’re not going to tell you what the minimum or maximum is going to be. I personally think that’s a better role for the city. The people who have their money in the game are the ones who are going to have to determine if they can sell or rent homes.
Goodman went on to explain how the policy will lower the cost of constructing affordable housing, and that “new buildings cannot be required to solve the problems [i.e. lack of parking] of existing buildings” (her full remarks are worth watching).
Then there’s the charge that this policy is corporate welfare, a sop to developers. I hear this a lot, as it’s often delivered Tourette-style, right in my ear (by the way, it’s an honor and a privilege to serve on my neighborhood association’s Board of Directors). At first, I dismissed this as phony left-wing populism, but just today I saw a note from a parking profiteer on the bulletin board downstairs. Now I’m ready to pretend to take this pretend argument seriously.
“This business plan is going to require a manufactured parking crisis. Who do we know at City Hall?”
Lowry Hill East is fertile ground for parking entrepreneurs, with many parking lots constructed soon after Minneapolis enshrined residential parking minimums into the 1963 zoning code. One of those lots belongs to my apartment building. I regularly and obsessively count the empty stalls; according to my non-scientific analysis, the effect of our city’s 50-year-old regulations is a parking lot that never exceeds 60 percent full (as a pessimist, I tend to see it as 40 percent empty). Extrapolate this surplus parking goldmine to similar buildings in the neighborhood, and you can imagine the potential for ill-gotten gains.**
This is to say nothing of unintended consequences; squeeze the supply of parking too tight, and some “job creator” will capitalize by building more parking. It’s not a stretch to say this policy assures even more parking will be built. If you’re a knee-jerk liberal urbanist like myself, the last thing you want is another corporate parking lot. Even so, I’m not pretending when I say this is still a plan worth supporting.
While I’d prefer to live in a city with fewer full-time drivers, I fully acknowledge their existence. Likewise, this proposed policy change accommodates the reality of car ownership. However, what Minneapolis’ existing parking mandate does not do is acknowledge the existence of people who live without a personal automobile. Residential parking regulations are levied against them, like a tax. It’s illegal for developers to cater to them.
A socio-economically diverse city should have parking regulations that actually accommodate diversity. Parking has a cost; it’s as much “for sale” as a hanging hot tub or water stairs. We shouldn’t mandate residential parking in a way that eliminates choice and ignores the needs of so many Minneapolis renters and buyers. On parking, let the market decide.***
* More parking minimum analogies: it’s like a TV/VCR combo; it’s like an apartment with bundled cable TV when you just wanna stream it over the internet; it’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife; it’s like meeting the man of my dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife.
You’re a hero to attend such meetings. Hang in there!
I don’t understand why LHENA board thinks we need cops on bikes? Who can explain? or is it an attempt to get at something else, i.e. more interaction with the public. Sorry, but I just don’t know about crime in LHENA. Or maybe the current board just can’t think of any way to use its money for neighborhood stuff like a youth development program, home maintenance for seniors, community gardens, a database of miscreant landlords. I could go on.
Thank you for your support. The MPD issue is tricky. It’s a delicate balance between my pro-crime and pro-bike agendas. I’m glad you approve of my approach. As for your other concerns: I pledge to get a handle on our neighborhood’s youths, seniors, plants, and miscreants by the end of my first 90 days. And I’m gonna do it without raising taxes. I’ve got a team of volunteer coders working on a “miscreant database” as I write this.
Kristina, via social media, writes: “so what was up with lt edwards?”
You’re right, Kristina, that was a confusing series of Tweets. Let me clarify. Lt. Edwards (no relation) was at last week’s Board meeting to talk about a plan, proposed by LHENA’s Crime Committee, to pay for MPD bike patrols. Lt. Edwards got a glowing introduction from the 5th Precinct’s Inspector, which included repeated use of the phrase, “Lt. Edwards is fantastic.”
Board President Leslie Foreman then introduced him as Sgt. Edwards, prompting the entire room to simultaneously conceive of the same joke: “Don’t demote Lt. Edwards!” It was the most fun LHENA has seen in a while. Lt. Edwards then good-naturedly expressed his concern with our time management (fair point, L.T.).
View from the LHENA tent at Open Streets on Lyndale Ave.
It’s been an interesting first two months on the job as a LHENA Board Member. Many blog posts have gone unwritten, while others have been drafted only to remain unpublished. Some observers have speculated that I’m saving material for a political autobiography (rumored title: Eyewitness to Power: God, Guns, Grits, Gravy, and Screenshots).
But really, it would be a disservice to my constituents if I stopped doing the communicating that helped me win a landslide tie for sixth place. Of course, I’ll have to modulate my tone. For example, I may start using phrases like “my esteemed colleagues” as a way to soften the blow felt by my esteemed colleagues when I dismiss their ideas. Comity before comedy, I always say.
At last week’s Board meeting, I heard from a colleague that the planned 29th Street makeover was met with an unenthusiastic reception at the LHENA tent at Open Streets on Lyndale. I’ve also heard that the neighborhood has been ignored, and that the process for seeking public input has been inadequate. I felt this was too silly a point to bother bickering over at the time, but just silly enough for a blog post/constituent update.
The Open Streets comment was a surprise to me, as someone who worked the LHENA tent that day. The first thing you should know about the experience at Open Streets is that LHENA’s big, beautiful, professional-looking “Wedge” banner had everyone thinking we were the Wedge Co-op. I spent a lot of time providing customer service to shoppers in search of food items with names I have never heard before (fundraising opportunity for next year: Cub foods at Wedge prices).
We did finally come across a young woman claiming to be a resident. She was so enthusiastic about getting involved with her new neighborhood. In the excitement, I immediately gave her a “Wedge Walk Patrol” hat, without checking ID or making her play a silly game. After she departed, we noticed the address she left on the signup sheet was in the Lyndale neighborhood. She’s probably somewhere right now impersonating a member of the Wedge Walk Patrol, making unlawful arrests.
Seen a Lyndale resident wearing this hat? Report her to the Wedge Walk Patrol.
Then there was the surly mom who seemed to hate everything we were doing. She had a hugely negative reaction to all the options on our Mueller Park survey, one of which was “staffing the pool so babies don’t drown.” If we’re using the feedback we received at Open Streets to draw conclusions, our primary takeaways might be that hardly anybody knows who we are, and Wedge moms have a deep hatred for all things LHENA (not a scientific survey of Wedge moms).
There’s been plenty of time to bang the drum if anyone thought the neighborhood’s concerns for 29th weren’t being addressed. There were three public meetings last year (I walked to two of them from my home; other LHENA honchos were there as well). Aside from complaints about process, I’m not sure what the substantive objections/critiques are. If you happen to have any, there’s one last meeting scheduled for June 29th.
For the previous installment of the LHENA Loans Saga see this post.
Here’s the new proposal from last month’s board meeting, which completely disregards the spirit of what was done in November. All the “free” money (0%, forgivable), and the resistance of some folks to placing income restrictions on that free money, is something I have always found puzzling. It occurred to me today to do the math on the distribution of housing money broken down by building size.
I often point out that we’re an 80%-plus renter neighborhood. Of course, some of those renters live in 1-4 unit buildings (duplexes, triplexes, etc). But 68% of people in Lowry Hill East live in buildings containing more than four units, and that number includes a lot of homeowners living in condos. Despite this, only 21% of housing money is going specifically to buildings larger than four units.
Here’s another odd number: among the funds ($500,814) devoted to 1-4 unit buildings, $166,943 is forgivable. Even this smaller slice of forgivable money is more (by $8) than the total amount ($166,935) set aside for buildings larger than four units.
In addition to the problem of unbalanced allocation, I still say owners of historic, half-million-dollar Healy mansions should have to pay the money back at 3% like the rest of the neighborhood. If you agree, come to tonight’s LHENA meeting: 7 PM, Jefferson media center.