Wedge Club™ v. City Council in a Battle for Legitimacy

Vigils

2320 Colfax vigil: Neighborhood residents and local figures at a candlelight vigil on April 22, 2014. (Photo)

Last week, the Star Tribune published an article explaining the frustration experienced by developers in trying to navigate the neighborhood approval process, citing the need for “extensive haggling” with neighborhood groups. This is understandable considering there is no consistent process amongst the 81 neighborhoods, and, though developers are required to present plans to residents, these groups have no formal power.

In the article, Ward 10 Council Member Lisa Bender expressed a seemingly common-sense concern that these groups fail to represent the full range of her constituents. That may be upsetting to some people currently on the board of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association, one of whom is rumored to be running an anonymous anti-development Facebook page—a group standing in opposition to proposed developments for 2320 Colfax and the corner of Franklin and Lyndale.

Not surprisingly, this anonymous and often ridiculous online character argues for the supremacy of LHENA and similar groups in representing neighborhood interests. Of the recently held LHENA election, they boasted, “Out of thousands of applicable and notified voters, just over 100 people attended.” Well, hey, that’s great. Barely anyone came, but at least they spent a lot on postage.

Now, let’s talk about real elections. In November 2013, there were 1239 total votes cast in Lowry Hill East (precincts 10-1 and 10-2) for Minneapolis City Council Ward 10. Lisa Bender received 760 first choice votes (61.3%). That’s as fair a representation of the neighborhood as you’re likely to get. Candidates went door to door, spoke with voters, gave interviews, mailed flyers, and debated the issues over many months. Nearly $143,000 was spent between the two front-running candidates to get their message to voters ($82,559 of it on behalf of Meg Tuthill). We had a long time and ample opportunity to get to know the candidates.

For comparison’s sake, I’m not sure there are 1,239 people in The Wedge who could tell you what the acronym LHENA stands for. If you’re a politically active resident of The Wedge, you probably met and had a chat with Lisa Bender prior to the election. But if you endure the three hour runup to a LHENA election, you’re voting blind—because board hopefuls announce their candidacy mere minutes before ballots are cast. This is not a process that inspires confidence.

In the wake of Meg Tuthill’s defeat, loud opposition has sprung up against two new developments in Ward 10, one of which is proposed for the site of an arguably historic house located at 2320 Colfax and built by T.P. Healy. The second development concerns a mixed-use building to replace an older, though not remotely historic, building and adjacent parking lot at Franklin and Lyndale. But the opposition comes tinged with a Tea Party-esque distrust of the political process and victim mentality that might relate to how these groups (Healy Project and MRRDC) are largely led by the remnants of the old Tuthill campaign.

Tuthill’s old campaign website and the Healy Project non-profit corporation are registered to the same individual—a person who also made false accusations against Bender during the early parts of the 2013 campaign. The most visible public faces of The Healy Project and MRRDC, Trilby Busch and Anders Christensen, are Tuthill donors. Tuthill is a fixture at MRRDC/Healy house vigils; and she showed up at City Hall, with MRRDC allies in tow, to lobby her former Council colleagues on the issue. This is not to suggest even an ounce of impropriety. But let’s be clear: this seems to be as much about sour grapes as old houses.

Responding to CM Lisa Bender’s quotes about neighborhood groups, the anonymous anti-growth blogger (and rumored LHENA board member) argues that decisions should be left to the “best local people” who “put in the time and effort” to show up to three-hour LHENA elections.

In theory, neighborhood organizations are closest to local residents. But in practice, they are older, wealthier, whiter, and more likely to own real estate or their own business than a typical resident. Neighborhood groups are essentially interest groups lobbying on behalf of small slices of Minneapolis.

The assertion that the “best people” to make decisions are those privileged enough to have three disposable hours to devote to an annual board election is, at the very least, goofy. At worst, it’s offensive. Freedom from work, family, or other life obligations should not be the standard for who’s “best” included in the decision making process. Suggesting that neighborhood organizations—composed of elites—should get a veto is just another way of saying certain economic, racial and age groups aren’t worthy of the process.

By this theory, the size of the electorate should be shrunk down to ensure participation is difficult or inconvenient. The special few with the ability or inclination to overcome all obstacles are rewarded with an amplified voice in the process; and this amplified voice is something that’s earned and well-deserved. That’s an idea you expect to see in right-wing circles, but here it is popping up in the neighborhood politics of lovably liberal Minneapolis.

It isn’t enough to show up to the DFL caucus, the primary, the general, and even special elections. If you turned out for all of them, that would put you into the elite category of super-voter. But, according to this clubhouse mentality, even a super-voter is subject to overruling by their neighborhood organization. This is obviously wacky stuff. But it’s pervasive among those who’d like to use neighborhood groups to nullify the results of last year’s election. You shouldn’t be able to shrink the voter pool down to a size that makes it possible for you to achieve some desired result.

Enough with the sour grapes. The whole city voted in a real election 6 months ago. If you don’t like the results, make better arguments than my neighborhood club trumps your city council; or, if good arguments aren’t your thing, you could just start printing anonymous flyers for 2017.

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28 Responses to Wedge Club™ v. City Council in a Battle for Legitimacy

  1. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller May 13, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    What’s MRRDC?

    • Ryan Johnson
      Ryan Johnson May 13, 2014 at 9:29 am #

      There’s some links in the post that explain, but I should have unabbreviated and included the full name for the first mention: it’s Minneapolis Residents for Responsible Development Coalition. https://www.facebook.com/MplsRRDC

    • Joey Senkyr
      Joey Senkye May 13, 2014 at 9:32 am #

      Minneapolis Residents for Responsible Development Coalition. They have a Facebook page. A fun game to play is making reasoned, non-inflammatory posts on the theme of this article, and seeing if you get banned.

      • Eric Anondson
        Eric Anondson May 13, 2014 at 10:50 am #

        Indeed, their admins do not appreciate people noticing how unrepresentative their group is.

        • Ryan Johnson
          Ryan Johnson May 13, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

          I’m happy to report that since posting this article, I have not been banned. … Yet.

          • Brian Udell May 13, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

            I got banned within about an hour after making a single post, where I stated that I thought their strategy of personally attacking CM Bender undermined their position. I cry myself to sleep each night thinking about it.

            • Ryan Johnson
              Ryan Johnson May 13, 2014 at 6:45 pm #

              I was blocked from the Healy Project’s group for the simple act of requesting to join. What did I even do, friend the wrong people or something?

  2. Casey May 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    I think you are grossly over simplifying this idea of representation. I voted for Lisa Bender and I regret it. My understanding of her before the election was that she was for transportation, small business and affordable housing. I did not know she was for tearing down homes for luxury developments, evicting current small business for luxury developments,and for increasing density beyond the capacity of the neighborhood before any transportation or infrastructure improvements. I do wish I had researched better before voting and will not make the same mistake again. I believe Lisa Bender fails to represent the full range of her constituents which will be proven when she is up for reelection.

    • Nick May 13, 2014 at 2:22 pm #

      Hi, Meg

    • John Edwards
      John Edwards May 13, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

      The idea of representation isn’t that complicated. Do the people at your meetings look like the people in the neighborhood? The simple answer to that question is no.

    • cdElle May 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

      Hi Casey. Maybe you could convince your friends at MRRDC to contribute a post on this issue to streets.mn. I’m sure they’d be glad to post a rebuttal.

      I voted for Lisa Bender too. And everyday I find new reasons to be glad that I did.

      • Casey May 13, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

        You guys really don’t like people with different opinions. Seems like this is just a forum for big developer republican double speak. I thought that since I have never owned a car or even had a drivers licence (by choice), I could find some like minded people interested in bikes, buses and walking.

        “Do the people at your meetings look like the people in the neighborhood?”

        Wow, what an extremely judgmental statement. Yes, they do, an interesting mix of age/race. I may not look like your idea of a wedge resident but they have been so much more welcoming than the people on this site. You have assumed to know me and who my friends are, I bet you all would be the first to judge me if you saw me walking in the neighborhood.

        • MplsJaromir May 13, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

          Wow. “Republican double speak”, says the group of people that work tooth and nail to preserve the legacies of a housing developer and brewing scion. I’m pretty sure lamenting the fact that the city is not sensitive to the histories of rich, white, male capitalists automatically makes you the GOP candidate in the city council race.

        • Matty Lang
          Matty Lang May 13, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

          Hi Casey,

          I hope you don’t feel unwelcome here. People will debate ideas, but try not to take it personally.

          There’s certainly a lot of emotion involved in this particular issue and I understand that. I do think you’re not being fair to Lisa with your 1:27pm comment–there’s a lot more going on here than your list of what you characterize her as being supportive of based on recent votes.

        • John Edwards
          John Edwards May 13, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

          I’ve been to LHENA meetings. And I guess you could describe it as an “interesting mix” if you have no interest in diversity. Not being judgmental. Just an observation. The meetings consist of mostly older homeowners in a young neighborhood that’s over 80% renter. Do you disagree? If so, we must have been at different meetings.

          This is about affordability to me. People won’t stop wanting to live here if you cap the housing supply. Older housing will be converted to upscale housing, and then I can’t afford the rent anymore. But that makes me a Republican.

          It’s fine to disagree on this and still share an interest in transit and bikes. I live in a car-free household as well.

        • cdElle May 13, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

          As a young female minority I was THE diversity at the LHENA election.

          Sorry for making assumptions but I assumed you were the Casey who spoke at the LHENA meeting, and whose posts I’ve also read on MRRDC. It’s a small neighborhood.

          If by some chance you happen to have friends who share your opinion (sorry for the offensive assumption), please encourage them to submit a post here. I know it would be welcomed.

        • Brian Udell May 13, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

          I’m not too surprised you’ve been met with hostility. Unfortunately, some folks are taking their frustrations over the MRRDC’s conduct out on you. That’s probably not fair.

          I think CM Bender is doing precisely what she promised to do when she ran. There’s no real way to cut it, Meg’s a NIMBY and the Ward 10 residents got sick of it. It’s a very diverse ward, so its impossible for one person to completely “represent” the entire constituency. I voted for her, and she seems to be representing my views quite well.

          Feel free to voice your opinion here, it just shouldn’t come to a surprise that a lot of people here are likely going to disagree with it. Hopefully they do it respectfully.

          • Bill Lindeke
            Bill Lindeke May 14, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

            If you want to know what Lisa Bender promised before she was elected, you’re welcome to listen to this hour-long interview that I recorded with her. She talks in great detail about the interconnections between density, transportation, and street design.

            https://streets.mn/2013/02/10/podcast-23-minneapolis-ward-10-with-city-council-candidate-lisa-bender/

            That said, streets.mn does not endorse candidates and didn’t endorse this one. I recorded an interview with Ken Bradely as well.

  3. Nick Magrino
    Nick Magrino May 13, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    This is obviously a great post (with actual research!) but I think it may be a good time to let this all go. We won, overwhelmingly (11-2!), at the City Council and at this point some of the continuing (probably deserved!) haranguing feels like overkill.

    If Franklin & Lyndale is revisited in six months, or a year, by all means let’s get together and get it built–but in the meantime it may be best to let Minneapolis Residents for Responsible Development Coalition, whose name already sounds like something from an Onion article, do their own accidental satire.

    • John Edwards
      John Edwards May 13, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

      I feel like this post is more about the perceived legitimacy of neighborhood groups and not any specific development. It’s just kind of hard not to bring up the recent past as context.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke May 14, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

        Yeah, at this point, talking about the Healey house issue is like letting a sleeping dog kick a dead horse. That said, there is a persistent problem with representation and neighborhood groups in Minneapolis.

  4. Peter May 14, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    I have to wonder if by continuing to discuss MRRDC, we give it legitimacy that it wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s a Facebook group with 230 members, and other than the page admin(s) there’s very little actual activity. It’s a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing, and maybe we should just let them run themselves out of energy like a small puppy, rather than trying to actually engage with them.

    On the plus side, any attempt at engagement is met with a ban!

  5. ryan0290 May 15, 2014 at 9:15 am #

    Lisa Bender’s husband is treasurer of the LHENA board, and it’s president is a renter.

  6. Cadillac Kolstad May 15, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    I agree with the premise that there are issues with representation on neighborhood groups in Minneapolis. I could probably come up with more examples than the author. The problems are numerous and wide ranging. I’m not sure that the Healy or other examples in this post are compelling instances of said phenomenon.

    I agree with Bill and others that the discussion of the 2320 project on here has become excessive.
    There have been numerous posts in favor, none providing a counterpoint and it was never to my knowledge clearly disclosed that at least one Streets.mn board memeber works closely with the Lander group.

    With 81 Neighborhoods more than 1 example should be provided. In my experience with at least 4 Neighborhood groups the discrepancies with the community are almost always pro development, not, as suggested by the recent summit with developers the opposite.

    In discussing Lisa Benders recent election, I would suggest being careful with the analysis of the results. Two factors to consider.

    Redistricting had taken place. This means there were many new and different voters who had no background with Tuthill or Bender. Bender did a better Job of reaching out to this group. It was wide open and Tuthill lost the typical incumbent advantage. Robert Lilligren had been representing a large part of the new ward until then.

    Meg Tuthill was considered to be too pro development by many, mostly renters. The reasons to vote in that race for a new person often given (I do have an opportunity for face time with numerous people from many walks of life) were. Opposition to demolition of uptown bar, frustration that the same bar was not allowed to reopen in theater antiques space, frustration that Meg was obstructionist with small business and liquor stores. Never once did I hear from a resident of the ward that Meg was not allowing enough apartments to be built, in fact many felt she was allowing too much.

    How many who voted in the race were new to the ward? That is a big piece of missing information.
    A big reason many voted for Bender was that she was not Meg Tuthill, not because they wanted to support unrestrained development in the ward.
    In fact many of the council members who lost were defeated because they were too pro development, especially when it came to the new stadium and effectively stopping it.
    Is anyone on here aware of the proposal approved for 1618-20 w Lake? If you are concerned with rising prices consider this. The developer is planning to tear down several buildings which house three businesses and contain several lower priced residential rental spaces. The replacement will contain some retail and 4 (yes only 4!) Luxury Condos. My understanding is Lisa Bender also supported this project. So for those of you concerned about being priced out of Uptown supporting development without restriction may not be in your own best interest.

    I still have some hope for Bender and that she will effect some positive changes besides making development of apartments easier.
    Just some food for thought.

    Thanks

    • Peter Bajurny May 15, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

      Restricting supply will not decrease rents. People with money will always outbid people with less money, it’s how money works. Yes, in this particular case, a development is resulting in a net loss of units. And the new units won’t be affordable in any sense of the word. But not all developments result in a net loss of units. On the net new development is adding new units, and on the net increase supply is the best way to deal with increased demand.

      And anybody is welcome to submit an piece to Streets.mn, but since MRRDC purges anybody that disagrees with them, I doubt they’d be willing to submit their opinions to the scrutiny of somebody that disagrees with them.

      • Cadillac Kolstad May 15, 2014 at 11:51 pm #

        Hi Peter,
        I was more interested in presenting / discussing info about the election, but since you brought it up. . .
        Nobody is seriously trying to constrain the housing supply, to suggest that in a debate of two projects with under 100 total units added is not good math. With about 180,000 units in the city and with the thousands of units in the Wedge, this is statistically insignificant – close to zero percent in the city and another very small % number in the neighborhood. So I wish people would stop accusing others of trying to “Restrict Supply” its mathematically invalid!

        Furthermore to give a real life example of a topic the two of us have discussed before. On West Bank where a developer is adding almost 300 units, half of which are defined as “affordable” though they will be more expensive than anything around there, with nearly 1,000 bedrooms, right next to Riverside Plaza. Rents were recently increased at riverside plaza after this new project was approved. How does this fit into the supply and demand argument?
        To be fair during the extensive planning of the project the city permitted the demolition of at least as many units as were created with the 40 + millions of public money. I suggest it is more complicated than a simple supply demand ratio.

        The most glaring example or restricting supply are city policies, the “vacant building” list, aggressive demolition, extreme fees for rental conversion, pedantic rules defining what can be a dwelling, and so much more. These are very real restrictions removing thousands of potential units from occupancy. These and restrictions represent a much more significant constraint on the market than any preservation efforts.

        Not really my main point but, I’m not sure if the statement about who has the money paying more is a fact or not. It was found by Martin Luther Kings organization and has been demonstrated, time after time that poor people pay more per square foot than wealthy or middle class renters. This may be changing but was a fact for a long time. You can look it up it’s well documented.

        This still does not change my question of a clear mandate for development policies being enacted.

        Thanks !

        • Peter Bajurny May 16, 2014 at 12:08 am #

          Not sure why we can’t increase demand through both new construction and loosening of restrictions, it’s not an either or. And you make this claim that a few hundred units is not statistically significant, which yes, a single project does not move the needle, but I’m not sure of the point of that statement? Are you saying we should only build a project if it increases supply by a certain percentage (is 1% good? Should we only allow projects that add 1800 units or more?). For someone that claims to support small changes that will add units a handful at a time, why would you make the claim that “small” developments don’t matter for supply? Obviously they do, or why bother to make it easier to allow these smaller additions to supply?

          You can say that a new development caused a raise in rent in surrounding supply, I’ll say that supply isn’t growing fast enough to meet demand. I think if you look for scholarship on the issue you’ll find a lot more that supports my interpretation than supports yours.

          But back to your original point, sounds like a lot of words trying to delegitimize a legitimate election because you disagree with the person that won.

  7. Cadillac Kolstad May 15, 2014 at 11:54 pm #

    Dang it I was trying to “restrict” and “constrain” my comments to discussing Neighborhood Groups !!!!! Shucks !!!!

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