Real Stories of the LHENA Task Force: Vol. 2

This is not a picture of the LHENA task force.

October is Superfluous Acronym Month (SAM). See if you can spot the impenetrable acronyms that we’ve needlessly inserted into this month’s Task Force report.

Like last time, nothing of substance was accomplished at the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association Housing & Development Task Force (LHENAHDTF). That’s not to say there wasn’t common ground; we agreed that good things were good, and also, that bad things were bad. We haven’t yet gone on any armed raids to bust up illegal attic conversions. But there were plenty of interesting things to report on.

Kathy Kullberg Is Wonderful

Kathy Kullberg asked me how the people in my building communicate with each other, or how we would “evacuate” in some unspecified emergency. I said the resident manager would probably knock on the doors. I asked her what sort of situation she was referring to. She asked, “Do you have fire alarms?” We do. She asked if we have a TV channel for distributing building info (does she think I live on a cruise ship docked at Lake Calhoun?). Finally, I went into a highly-technical spiel about bulletin board technology.

Kathy Kullberg is wonderful. Our conversation did a lot to build cultural understanding. If only I could spend all my hours having weird conversations with Kathy K., I’d launch a thousand Twitter accounts in her honor.

Or maybe I’m the one who’s out of touch. Honest question: are community TV channels a standard amenity in our city’s new 5-story luxury skyscrapers? Kathy seemed to think the TV channel thing was a good idea. Anyhow, look for televised bulletin boards to be included in the Task Force’s final report.

Outreach Is On Me

At one point during the discussion, my friend from MRRDC mentioned that our assembled group was “representative” of the neighborhood. The room was at least 80% homeowner–and almost all of those homeowners were over 50. This is an 85% renter, hugely under-40 neighborhood. This seemed like something worth clarifying; so my colleague brought it up.

This was immediately turned around on us; current and former LHENA board members insisted that we (the @WedgeLIVE news team!) were somehow responsible for outreach to renters. And this was not a friendly request; it was more an accusing, well, what are you gonna do about it? kind of thing (I guess the assumption was that a fancy-looking guy like myself could just pick up a TV remote to dial up some friends using his building’s dedicated, interactive info channel–let’s call it WebTV™).

So, I’ve taken this to heart. I’ve done some soul-searching. I even checked my online banking; turns out, the city has deposited zero dollars into my outreach budget. And my lawyer tells me I can’t force LHENA to be relevant to people who don’t enjoy historic walking tours. If somebody dropped the ball on this, it wasn’t me.

This is not me.

(It’s also important to remember that a guy who tweets about neighborhood politics doesn’t have the expansive social circle you might be imagining; I’m not exactly Whittier’s world-famous, 70s-mustache-guy.)

After being backed into a ridiculous corner on renter outreach, I did what any violent transient would do. I dropped a bomb. I said that LHENA was organized around handing out money to homeowners. At least one witness reported there were audible gasps. That sacred cow bled out, all over the table–and nobody said a word.

Here’s what I should have added: money moves people; and when you funnel money predominantly to homeowners, you’ve got a homeowners association, rather than a neighborhood association. A financial incentive to encourage neighborhood involvement would probably be a useful tool for organizing renters; I’ve heard that Stevens Square does a rental credit. I’m not saying that buying renter participation is feasible or advisable; but it’s no more frivolous than funding someone’s historic home-rehab hobby.


The best thing LHENA has going for it on outreach? Their current and former board members annoying the shit out of a couple of neighborhood renters. It’s literally the only reason we’re at the meetings. Let’s double the money we have allocated for Antagonizing Transients. That line-item is really paying dividends.


I hope you remembered to email with pictures of great buildings. Task Force Leader / Board Member Bill (TFLBMB) was thrilled to receive so many pictures of our neighborhood’s 4-story brick apartment buildings. I sent some of those in; but not because I love brick. Those buildings are just good examples of tall-ish, boxy, attractive buildings that fit well in the neighborhood. But TFLBMB latched on to the expensive materials.

Bill admits that he’s “given in” to gentrification. He said that new buildings are not going to be affordable buildings. I mostly agree (though I would argue that new construction contributes to affordability in the context of the larger housing market). But then he went further: new buildings will never be affordable, therefore they should be built with the finest materials possible. I can’t say whether or not anyone in the room was with Bill on this point.

I would suggest that our inability to build rentals in the $700 price range does not mean we should abandon the 1,000-$1,200 range. I live in a 40-year old building. It wasn’t built as affordable housing, but it’s certainly evolved into that role quite nicely. Let me invoke John Bode (the longest of long-time residents), who said we need to plan for the future–for a time when he’s “long gone.” This melted my cynical, transient heart. He was talking about solar panels; but let’s pretend he was talking about the need for more housing in the Wedge.

For context on Bill’s gentrification stuff, here’s how he justified voting against the since-abandoned FrankLyn project:

We’re supposed to be watching out for renters. We have this thing called gentrification. It’s not being mentioned. The big ‘G’ word. It’s gentrification, which is inevitable. But please call it as such. And we are going to lose some lower income property owners, and we are going to lose some lower income renters.

So when FrankLyn II comes up for discussion, will we see a pro-gentrification version of board member Bill pushing for $3,500 rents?

15 Minutes From the Ghetto

The Murals building on the Greenway has apparently begun the countdown–at T-minus “15 minutes from the ghetto.” This is according to Bill. John Bode liked the phrase so much that he put his own spin on it, calling the entire swath of Greenway monstrosities, “15 minutes from a slum.” All this time I’ve been hating those Greenway cretins for their party rooms and fitness centers–not to mention the 8:1 parking ratio for all their antique sports cars. But the joke’s on them! Have fun drinking from that polluted stream, shanty-dwellers. The clock is ticking. You have 14 minutes.

Tune your TVs to the evacuation channel. The slum is nearly upon us.

Adorable Resource

Can we draw a dotted line around the Bode household and declare it an Adorable Resource? John Bode was worried about non-residents participating in the forthcoming LHENAHDTF Google Group; he wanted people to include home addresses in their messages. I didn’t want to crush his spirit by telling him nobody cares enough about this stuff to commit Google Group fraud. Plus, any veteran fraudster could just dial up a Google map of the neighborhood and steal someone’s ID.

That’s it for this month’s Task Force report. Tune in again next time–the first Tuesday of November. Unless I have better things to do. Seriously though–if you have plans for that day, take me with you. Tweet me or something.

Wedge Week In Review: 2320 Colfax Done?

We have the highlights from this week’s failed 2320 Colfax appeal. 90 minutes have been boiled down to seven. Lisa Goodman plays the role of parking hero–and cuts through the bullshit on variances. But, truly there’s no bigger Wedge Warrior than Janne Flisrand; despite a busy schedule, every time you turn on Channel 79, she’s making the case for requiring less parking.

The project goes forward! But, like our friends at MRRSVLD, we’re not sure this thing is over.

If today goes poorly, we’ll have a pre-demolition gathering at #2320Colfax, and everyone will fake a Fred-Sanford-style heart attack.
— MRRSVLD (@MRRSVLD) August 25, 2014

7 Reasons to Join the LHENA Housing Task Force

It’s nearly that time again. What time, you ask? Task force time. What task force? The LHENA Housing & Development Task Force (LHENAHDTF). Geez, it’s almost like you haven’t been paying attention.

The next meeting is October 7th, 6:30 p.m., Jefferson School (Media Center), 1200 W 26th Street.

Any old fool can show up, the first Tuesday of every month, and be on the task force. Even I’m on the task force. Our task? To provide LHENA with a future talking point that goes something like this: “Listen, Mr. Developer Guy and/or Corrupt Politician–our task force spent many grueling months/years/decades working on these development guidelines, and look at you, just trampling all over them.”

At least, I think that’s how it’s supposed to work.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! I’m tired of being cynical. So, below I’ve listed some reasons every Lowry Hill East resident should be excited to come out for the Lowry Hill East Housing & Development Task Force (LHENAHDTFMRRDC).

  • It’s an opportunity to help formulate development guidelines that may impact the future of the neighborhood.
  • Get to know your neighbors. It might surprise you to learn that many of them probably wish people like you didn’t live here.
  • You’ll have thought-provoking conversations that–for one evening every month–make you question why you even moved to this neighborhood.
  • Meetings are scheduled for two hours. But if you beg hard enough, you can probably get away after 90 minutes.
  • Take pride in knowing that–best case–your hard work will result in a finished product that is vague and meaningless pablum. Worst case? It will offend your most deeply held moral sensibilities.
  • A lifetime’s worth of fun. Literally. There is no known time-frame for the task force to complete its mission. I think they’re just waiting for some of us to move to Whittier.
  • Board Member/Task Force Leader Bill usually brings enough candles for the whole group.
Your arguments don’t hold a candle to Bill. He holds his own.

Still not convinced to come out for the Lowry Hill East Housing & Development Task Force ( Then you can always send your development-related comments to

Image credit: Tony Webster

Latest on 2320 Colfax Appeal

Anonymous sources are confirming:

Opponents are showing up in force/e-mailing in force for tomorrow’s hearing.  If you are able, please make your voice heard.  Please write these people —before 8am tomorrow morning: 

The 2320 Colfax appeal is being heard by Z&P this upcoming Tuesday at 9:30. If you are able, please come down and testify. The appellants have appealed everything, the variances and the site plan review.

The basis for the appeal is that William Wells can’t imagine living anywhere that doesn’t have a “party room.” You can read it here

The Weird ’90s

This is part of an ongoing series on Wedge history, culled from the archives of the Wedge newspaper. We wish we could direct you to a gofundme page devoted to saving the historic Wedge newspaper, but it’s too late. It died in 2013–nobody vigiled.

Early 90s LHENA was Bizzaro World.

The early 90s was a weird time in Wedge history. LHENA had one board member named “Bizzaro” and another named Basim Sabri (if you’ve ever wondered why LHENA has Texas-style voter ID requirements, it all dates back to the Sabri-era). Weirdest of all: LHENA’s board voted out their new president, in a secret ballot, for what seems like manufactured nonsense.

We begin in February 1994, with an item about former board member Steven Prince. It concerns his dispute with LHENA President Brian Nelson over Prince’s refusal to hand over the results of a housing survey (this catches my eye because Steven Prince–who some in the Wedge call the Prince of Downzoning*–commented recently about the attention I was calling to a 2007 LHENA survey).

Mr. Prince, release the surveys!

Then, in March 1994, the headline: LHENA Board Ousts President (in other words, Mr. Nelson got downzoned). You’ll never guess who made the motion to depose Nelson; it was my good friend, the 1994 version of board member Bill. Also on the board at that time: Meg Tuthill and Leslie Foreman (our current President). Talk about neighborhood stability. If you go to a LHENA meeting today, in 2014, you can reach out and touch some of the same people (please be gentle).

On the surface, this was about Nelson involving LHENA in allegedly unauthorized discussions with other neighborhoods about applying for a $10,000 grant (the he said, she said is available here, here, and here). But there’s more.
After the vote against Nelson, the staff of the Wedge newspaper resigns en masse (read their letters here and here). 
From editor Katy Reckdahl:

“I’ve heard that the paper is too zippy, too hip hop, shouldn’t cover rock & roll. I thought we were trying to capture some of the artsiness, some of the neighborliness, something to appeal to everyone–even the long-ignored renters that occupy 85 percent of the Wedge’s housing units, most of them between the ages of 25 and 34.

“This month, I sat through an agonizing LHENA meeting as the board voted Brian Nelson out of the board presidency. But the personal attacks that came before that vote were something I have not witnessed since the Anita Hill hearings…”

Fortunately, Reckdahl resigned in time to give the new editor a chance to apologize to Steven Prince (Prince of Downzoning, Keeper of the Surveys, Lord of the Wedge) in the next edition.

Reckdahl’s March 1994 resignation.

Steven Prince gets an apology in April 1994.

The resignation letter from Wedge writer Barbara Knox references the “ugly–and very public–attack last fall” against Reckdahl by the LHENA board. So, further down the rabbit hole we go, back to late 1993: it’s election season and Lisa McDonald–a former Wedge editor, and then-current LHENA board member–is running for City Council (she would go on to a narrow victory).

In October 1993 the Wedge ran a full page ad for McDonald’s opponent. Tuthill and friends freaked out. Meg and Dennis Tuthill co-authored a letter calling for Wedge editor Reckdahl’s resignation. A “representative from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office” was summoned to a board meeting. The editor of the Southwest Journal felt compelled to write a letter defending Reckdahl; she makes the point that the Southwest Journal ran basically the same ad in their paper. And just when you thought the plot couldn’t get any thicker: soon-to-be Council Member Lisa McDonald is forced to produce Kinko’s receipts to answer questions about whether she used her prior role as Wedge editor for politics.

I have no grand conclusions about any of this, other than to say, this is one very weird piece of Wedge history. Also, don’t mess with friends of Meg. And one more thing: Meg is totally pulling Bill’s strings in this episode, right?


  • Oct 1993: Wedge editor Katy Reckdahl allows a full page ad to be placed for candidate running against Team Tuthill’s choice for City Council, Lisa McDonald.
  • Nov 1993: Controversy over the ad. Meg and Dennis Tuthill call for Reckdahl’s resignation. Editor of Southwest Journal writes letter in defense of Reckdahl.
  • Dec 1993: LHENA President Brian Nelson writes a can’t we all just get along editorial, defending Reckdahl.
  • Jan/Feb 1994: President Nelson calls out Steven Prince for withholding results of a LHENA survey.
  • Feb 1994: Nelson voted out by LHENA board.
  • March 1994: Entire staff of Wedge newspaper resigns. Letters here and here.
  • April 1994: Prince gets an apology from the new editor of the Wedge. Meg Tuthill’s you can’t believe everything you read letter is published in the Wedge.

*Editors Note: The author of this post is the only one who refers to Mr. Prince that way. Our apologies to Mr. Prince for not getting the facts correct.

If You Thought House Vigils Were Good…

This is the true story of LHENA’s 1977 protest against an adult bookstore at Lyndale and Lake. Michael Lander is lucky these people aren’t bringing bags of “stuff” to his neighbors. Not that I’m equating Michael Lander with pornography (though his new development is an obscenity, as well as an affront to family values and porch culture).

What is a “double brother-in-law”?

Should have used a naughty bachelorette party cake.

The cake!

This is not about pornography; it’s about economic justice.

Full story here (from the August 1977 issue of the Wedge).

Where Will They Park Their Zeppelins?

In 1976 LHENA got together with some architects and planners, and collaborated with them on something called the Wedge Design Framework Plan. This proposal includes one-way conversions for all north-south streets; it would have turned Aldrich, Colfax, and Emerson Avenues into cul-de-sacs at 29th street. It’s also got diagonal parking (LHENA later disapproved this) and a rec center for cats (I don’t know what became of this). Bonus points if you can find the zeppelin.

This is just a small part of the Wedge Design Framework Plan. It should be fodder for at least a few more posts–lots of cool maps. There are three pages on what color you should paint your house. LHENA was still citing it in 2004, during their campaign to downzone the neighborhood.

Took me 10 minutes to decide this wasn’t a 70s slang term.
Diagonal parking.
Cul-de-cacs were proposed for Aldrich, Colfax, and Emerson.
Would you like a privacy fence or hedge with your cul-de-sac?

UPDATE: Santa Claus Picks a Side

We have an update to yesterday’s post about homeowner-renter conflict. In the December 1972 issue of the Wedge newspaper, Santa came out against apartment dwellers. When I get to the January 1973 issue, I’ll let you know if Christmas was cancelled due to renters.
Renters make Santa sad.

“What’s With The Homeowners vs. Renters Stuff?”

Culturally-speaking, it’s easy for me to identify with the homeowners in my neighborhood. People tell me I look like I have a mortgage; and I believe them, because neighborhood panhandlers won’t leave me alone (please don’t backtrack across 24th street after midnight to tell me your tale of woe–I’m still checking myself for bullet holes weeks later). Also, I’ve never felt the need to pee in board member Tim Dray’s yard.

In other words, I get it. I’m a descendant of homeowners, after all. But I don’t feel like that cultural understanding is going both ways. I worry that modest-living, yard-less, childless, dog-less renters are a thing certain people can’t wrap their minds around–except as a poor life choice or a moral failing.

So, in the wake of Bill Lindeke’s excellent column on the issue of renter outreach by neighborhood organizations, there’s a minor theme from the comment section that’s bugging me. It’s something I’ve heard before: the idea that the interests of homeowners and renters are perfectly aligned, and that outreach really is a cosmetic matter (and it’s just too hard anyway).
What do renters want that’s different from homeowners?

I understand where this sentiment comes from. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where a neighborhood association focuses on non-controversial, quality-of-life issues: safer streets, better parks, neighborhood events, and the like. But that’s not how it works in my neighborhood. Lowry Hill East is about housing and development (check out our task force coverage). LHENA is, and has been for much of its history, about stopping development. LHENA has even spun off two anti-development sister organizations, Healy Project and MRRDC, both run by current and former board members.
The problem with this is that housing policy is an economic issue. For homeowner and renter alike, your home is typically your biggest monthly expense. But the distinction between homeowners and renters is one of economic class. Homeowners tend to be wealthier. On average, renters are younger and more likely to be a racial minority. We have no problem understanding class conflict as it applies to much broader political debates over things like taxes and health care. Maybe it’s less apparent when it comes to issues in our own backyard.
Here’s a personal example of where our interests diverge: I feel very differently about my rent increasing than my neighbor does about her property value increasing. It’s only rational that she might favor a housing market that protects and promotes her property value (and parking, sky views, quaintness, and quietude). Not to speak for all renters, but I’d prefer to have a housing market where supply meets demand–for my own financial well-being.
This is not about tokenism, or diversity for diversity’s sake. If my neighborhood association is going to spend their time trying to set economic policy for our city (and I’d really prefer that they scale back their ambitions), then I’m going to raise hell about how unrepresentative they are. Policy-makers at all levels already favor a cohort that’s older, wealthier, and whiter. There’s no need to introduce an additional layer to the political process that will work against the interests of younger, poorer, often minority citizens.

NCR Comes to LHENA

Robert Thompson and Michelle Chavez of Minneapolis’ NCR came to speak with LHENA board members about the Community Participation Program before last night’s board meeting. President Leslie Foreman graciously welcomed me to the discussion. They talked about what makes a neighborhood eligible for funding–you can’t require membership dues, for example. They covered eligible/ineligible expenses–no food allowed. And so much more. This is the packet they handed out.

The issue of voter ID was raised by board member Becky Dernbach as a potential barrier to participation. Thompson said that neighborhoods should allow for alternative means of identification such as a piece of mail, or having another person in the neighborhood vouch for them. As part of the discussion, he obliquely referred to an individual (Basim Sabri) who buses people from across the city to neighborhood association (Whittier Alliance) meetings. And he told a story of his experience with the Loring Park neighborhood; they have a very open policy that allows anyone to participate because of the significant presence of homeless youth without an official address.

Thompson said that occasionally he reads letters from neighborhood organizations that use “I” instead of “we” phrasing; this erodes their credibility with the city (is this the opinion of a neighborhood, or one person?). He cautioned against the mixing of personal, divisive activism with the activities of the neighborhood association. This was amusing. I’ve honestly never been sure how many board members are involved with the radical, anti-everything MRRDC, besides Sara Romanishan.

It was interesting to learn from NCR’s Michelle Chavez that there’s been some behind the scenes email discussion around the Healy Project‘s ghost stories fundraiser. Do you remember last month’s proposed joint fundraiser between Healy Project and LHENA? It was nixed by the board for being too controversial–a sort of endorsement of Healy by LHENA. Now they’ve found a loophole. Healy will hold the fundraiser, and might donate some portion of the proceeds to LHENA. Maybe I’m imagining this, but Leslie seemed annoyed when Chavez brought it up. I don’t think I was supposed to hear this.

It sounded like Chavez thinks this fundraiser nonsense is a bad idea. In my mind, this damages LHENA’s credibility. But more than that, I’m annoyed that I have to remember three different names for groups with the same agenda, run by many of the same people. It’s time they started using the same acronym. HPLHENAMRRDC–or something.

Thompson used the example of Linden Hills to show what happens when a neighborhood becomes divided over a controversial issue like development. Antagonized neighbors start coming to meetings to watch the proceedings like a hawk. I’m thinking, that sounds about right. And, do you not know where you are right now, Mr. Thompson? Lowry Hill East invented this shit.