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Plan would make Park Board owner of downtown park

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: December 4, 2014 - 12:38 PM

By Eric Roper and Steve Brandt

The Park Board gave preliminary approval  Wednesday night to a plan to take ownership -- in name only -- of the Downtown East park beside the new Vikings stadium.

The committee approval occurred after lengthy late-night discussion by park commissioners. The full board vote is scheduled for Dec. 17, after an expected City Council vote on the proposal on Dec. 12.

The plan is intended to maintain compliance with the city's charter, which grants the Park Board exclusive authority to operate and maintain public parks. That authority was made clear a year ago, when a district court judge said the Park Board must eventually take control of the space.

The proposed lease says the city will transfer the park to the Park Board for $1 after Ryan Companies completes construction. The Park Board will then lease it back to the city for the length of its agreement with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority over use of the space, but no more than 50 years.

The Park Board previously declined to take control of the park because of the money it would require and the number of days that the city has committed to private uses under its agreement with the Authority.

The Park Board will not be responsible for funding the construction of the park's enhancements, which are expected to cost several million dollars. The lease agreement also says that those enhancements must include the following items:

(i) the design will be comparable to the standards for Gold Medal Park, including mature trees, seating, lighting, and pavement treatments, but without the mound as developed in Gold Medal Park; (ii) the design will provide for flexible programming of the space with an open core, locating any permanent structures on the perimeter; and (iii) the design may, but is not required to, include a playing field with high quality durable turf.

The city intends to have the park's operations and maintanence overseen by a third-party conservancy, which will likely be handled by the new organization Greening Downtown Minneapolis.

Former City Council President Paul Ostrow, who filed a lawsuit in 2013 challenging -- among other things -- the city's authority to control the park, urged park commissioners to reject the agreement.

"Once you approve this agreement you will own this debacle that further subsidizes the Vikings and makes a mockery of the public park system," Ostrow wrote in an e-mail to the board.

He called the plan a "gimmick" aimed at reaching compliance under the charter. "Whether or not such a dubious agreement would pass legal muster there can be no doubt as to your complicity in overriding the clear intent of the charter," Ostrow wrote.

Four of five park commissioners on the board’s administration and finance committee voted for the proposal.  They are Anita Tabb, Meg Forney, Jon Olson and Scott Vreeland.   Brad Bourn abstained. The proposal will need six votes from the nine commissioners to proceed.

Bike advocates lobby for protected lanes in 2015

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: December 2, 2014 - 2:52 PM

Bike advocates delivered some 3,400 postcards to City Hall on Tuesday with the aim of ensuring that the city funds protected bike lanes.

Mayor Betsy Hodges has proposed $790,000 to install protected bike lanes in 2015, plus money to maintain them. The council votes on that budget next week.

Several hundred Eighth Ward residents signed cards stating why they want the protected lanes, which typically are divided from traffic lanes by a physical barrier. That was the most for any ward. The Fifth Ward had the smallest stack of cards, with 65 residents declaring their support for the lanes.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition delivered cards from each ward to the City Council member or a staff member, and to mayoral aide Peter Wagenius. They’ve been collected over the past eight months at events such as the six Open Streets events led by the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, at which pedestrians and bikers have exclusive use of a major street for several hours.

The postcards let bikers put their support for the protected lanes in their own words.  In Ward 8, resident Faith Kumon wrote,  “I want to bike to work downtown without feeling terrified during rush hour.”  Anther ward resident, Jacquelynn Goessling added, “I love not being killed when I ride.”

Meanwhile, the city’s bike plan revision that will specify where to put those protected lanes is falling behind the original schedule of sending recommendations to the council by the end of the year. Only one project has been designated to date for 2015, which adds bike and foot lanes to a portion of NE Broadway St.

Some bike advocates have suggested that Minneapolis is falling behind other leading biking cities in not moving faster on the protected lanes, which are intended to help bikers feel more protected from cars and encourage more people to ride. The city has adopted a goal of creating 30 miles of such lanes by 2020, which was advocated by the coalition.

The postcards were delivered to City Hall in a plastic file box on a bicycle trailer hauled by Ethan Fawley, executive director of the coalition.   

The money for protected bike lanes made it through the council’s budget markup session with any effort to remove it.  That’s despite a comment recently by Council President Barbara Johnson that fighting crime should have a higher priority in the city’s budget than protected lanes.

Council Member Linea Palmisano on Monday aborted her proposed amendment to strip ongoing funding for pedestrian safety work by $250,000 of the $350,000 it gets.  

(Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, delivered a box of pro-protected bike lane postcards to City Hall on Monday on a bike trailer.)

Monitor finds particle violation on upper riverfront

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 26, 2014 - 8:55 PM

A state air monitor near the upper Minneapolis riverfront twice recently measured airborne particles at a level that violates the state standard.

The monitor is located is located on a rooftop just south of Lowry Avenue, and is sited across the street from a scrap recycling yard and its controversial metal shredder owned by Northern Metal Recycling at 2800 N. Pacific St.

Company President Stephen Ettinger said in an e-mail that he's been told that the state will need to evaluate about 17 companies.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the wind was blowing from the direction of the yard on both Oct. 26 and Nov. 1, when the violations were recorded. It said no violations have been recorded since.  

However, the agency said it is still analyzing the type of particles that were captured by the monitor, which has been operating since the beginning of 2013. It said the source of the particles is likely to be within one-quarter mile of the monitor. It said that multiple sources may contribute to the violation.

The agency said that the violation involves total particles, rather than the more worrisome fine particles that can be inhaled into lungs more deeply.  

The monitor was installed in response to community concerns about potential air emissions expressed when the agency decided in 2012 to modify the Northern Metal emissions permit, which a 2009 test showed that the company was violating.  There was no immediate response from the company.

Yonis guilty of stealing Minneapolis park rental fees, jury finds

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 25, 2014 - 11:53 AM

Hashim Yonis, once a rising star in Minneapolis, is guilty of felony theft for pocketing soccer field rental money due the public, a Hennepin County District Court jury found Monday.

But the jury found that Yonis took less than $1,000, far less than the more than $5,000 the prosecution claimed. Jury Foreman Greg Auston called the prosecution's proof for the higher amount "woefully inadquate."

Yonis was accused of not turning over money collected from the organizer of a soccer league for weekend rental of Currie Park in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood last year. The presumptive sentence for his offense is probation and a stayed sentence of one year and one day. Prosecutor Susan Crumb said the ocnty will seek restitution of the money.

The 27-year-old North Side resident was running for a city-wide seat on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board when the allegations broke just before he filed for office.  He subsequently lost jobs  with both the park and school districts.

The conviction was a stunning reversal for a man that park Commissioner Scott Vreeland praised as a rising star even as he testified against Yonis.  Yonis had been cited for his accomplishments by both employers. Mayor R.T. Rybak took Yonis with him to the White House to tout a city youth jobs program, and President Obama embraced him as “my East African brother.” Yonis is a refugee from Somalia’s civil war.

Crumb argued that Yonis came to regard Currie as his turf which he could run as he sought, free from oversight. “That’s what happened to Mr. Yonis – too big for his britches,” she said.

Yonis, his voice burning with emotion, last week in his testimony accused Vreeland, a commissioner for the district including Currie, and another incumbent, John Erwin, who was also seeking one of the three city-wide seats in a 10-person field, of a political conspiracy against him. He denounced a 77-name petition filed against him with Vreeland over lack of Currie soccer field time for local East African youth teams as a put-up job. The petition included names and e-mails for Somali mothers who have a low literacy rate, he said.

Testimony did not mention the $3,000 that Yonis lent his campaign in mid-August.  Attorney Ira Whitlock, representing Yonis, sought to whittle away at the amount that the charge alleged, and poked at the credibility of key witness, Moises Hernandez, the organizer of a mostly Latino league, who said he paid Yonis in cash but got no receipts.

Susan Crumb said Yonis lied about when the payments started, and initially got Hernandez to lie. But Hernandez later said he or others paid Yonis weekly inside a small park building at Currie for the rentals. Worried that he’d be discovered not turning over cash, Yonis at last created a permit and turned in some money, and eventually told an investigator that more was in his office.

Whitlock argued that the Park Board forgave Hernandez more than $13,000 after he accused Yonis, but a Park Board supervisor said the alleged debt was an error. Hernandez testified that he has paid the park system some $16,000 in fees.


Late Pearl Lindstrom acknowledged a horrific history

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 20, 2014 - 4:10 PM

Pearl Lindstrom, who embraced commemorating the horrific racial history of the Minneapolis house in which she'd unknowingly lived for over 50 years, is dead at 92.

Lindstrom’s death was confirmed Thursday by the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office. No other details were available.

Lindstrom lived at her Columbus Avenue house for more than 50 years. Not until several years ago did she become aware that it was the site of huge racially motivated demonstrations in 1931 in which mobs of thousands of whites tried to force out a black couple, Arthur and Edith Lee, and their small daughter.

Once she learned that ugly truth however, she embraced the efforts by neighborhood leaders to commemorate the Lee family’s stand against intolerance.  A marker commemorating the incidents was installed in 2011 in a corner of her front yard, and the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year, something she wanted before she died.

She often flew a U.S. flag from the porch of her white craftsman house, and she told a University of Minnesota researcher this about her inherited house history: “Oh, it means a lot to me; I’m a U.S. citizen, and I’ve been through a war. This house stands for freedom! You know, that freedom that they talk about? Well, some people believe in it and some don’t. Yet, there are a lot of people that are prejudiced. When I tell people I’ve got a historical house, they say, ‘Oh really?’ Some say, ‘well, our house is historical, too.’ And I say, ‘well, this one is special.’”

Added Greg Donofrio, a University of Minnesota professor who helped to prepare the national register nomination: "I doubt I'll ever hear another person spontaneously explain so clearly why the history of a property was personally meaningful because it represented a broader set of values and ideals."

“She wanted people to realize that we can all get along regardless of their skin color,” Stearline Rucker, a staffer and former president of the Field Regina Northrop Neighborhood Group, who also helped resurrect the Lee history.

Lindstrom outlived two husbands, both ministers, Rucker said. “She said her faith grounded her in looking at people for who they are and beyond their skin color,” she said. She was exposed to a wide variety of people because of the international ministry of one of her husbands.

After World War II, Lindstrom continued working at Munsingwear despite societal pressures of the time.  “She was one of those women, I would say, before her time,” Rucker said.

The Lees stuck out the hostility in their all-white neighborhood before moving about 10 blocks north to a traditionally black neighborhood. Their story remained only as lore among south Minneapolis black families until the 2001 publication of research by law professor Ann Juergens.

Lindstrom had one daughter, Carla Bielawski, who lived with her and found her dead at home Wednesday morning.

Video below from a 2014 Twin Cities Daily Planet interview:


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