What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

Posts about Politics and government

W. River Parkway could be closed all year

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 1, 2014 - 5:20 PM

With a detour on W. River Parkway diverting more than 6,000 motorists a day, Minneapolis park officials say they may not have a fix in place yet this year for an unstable slope that closed the road in June.

Park officials said Friday that they're analyzing soil borings and other data to try to determine how they will stabilize the hillside so traffic can resume.

"We all wish we had a firm answer on what the next steps will be," said Justin Long, an assistant park superintendent.

He said the Park Board expects to begin construction yet this fall on a repair that will keep the hillside stable, but that work likely will not be completed until spring. Asked if the parkway would repen by the end of the year, Long said he wasn't sure.

"We understand that this is a huge commuter route and it is a huge inconvenience to our constitutents," Long said. Besides thousands of motorists, hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians also are detoured.

Long said that the section of parkway, which lies below Fairview Health Services downriver from 4th Street S., may adjoin a quarry that was mined for limestone when walls were built for the parkway in the 1930s.  The area was then backfilled with soil.

Initially, park officials have used stakes, sandbags and concrete barriers to try to pin the soil in place with a fabric casing.  But when it rains, groundwater flowing laterally through the ground washes more soil down the slope and against barriers on the verge of the road. Sometimes the flow has been strong enough to nudge the concrete barriers lining the bottom of the hill, Long said. The Park Board has trucked the silt away, Long said.

"This is very loose material and there's still signs of movement," he said.

Given that situaiton, park officials don't feel it's safe to reopen the roadway, Long said, although the pavement itself wasn't damaged. But other damage to nearly railings and to rebuild the hillside is estimated to cost aobut $4 million and the park system is documenting what it does to address the problem to claim federal disaster reimbursement.  

W. 36th Street bikeway nears construction

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 1, 2014 - 3:51 PM

The city is nearing construction of its first protected on-street two-way bike lane, and an adjoining pedestrian lane, on the south side of W. 36th Street next to Lakewood Cemetery,

Construction should begin in the next 30 days on the planned improvement that connects two sections of parkway -- Lake Calhoun and King's Highway.

The nine-block-long segment will feature two five-foot-wide bike lanes, and a six-foot-wide walkway where no sidewalk now exists next to the cemetery.

The bike lanes will be separated from the adjacent eastbound traffic lane by a three-foot buffer strip containing lightweight plastic bollards. More conventional bikes lanes are expected to be extended from King's Highway, where the protection will end, for two additional blocks east to Bryant Avenue.  

Access between the new bike-pedestrian facility and bike and pedestrian paths at Lake Calhoun will be in two stages across 36th and E. Calhoun Parkway

The project cost of $110,900 is being split by the city and by Hennepin County, which is working to fill gaps in bike routes.

Council committee approves new CPED director

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: July 22, 2014 - 3:26 PM

A key City Council committee today approved Mayor Betsy Hodges’ nomination of Craig Taylor to head Minneapolis’ department of community development and regulatory services.

Taylor has headed the University of Minnesota’s Office for Business and Community Economic Development and Business and Technology Center for the last dozen years, previously serving as a manager of corporate small business development at Xcel Energy. He also directed the city’s Office of  Women and Minority Business Enterprise for four years.

Ten people showed up to testify before the Committee of Community Development and Regulatory Services in favor of Taylor’s appointment, including university colleagues.

Kris Lockhart, who is associate vice president for equity and diversity at the U, described him as a visionary who empowers others and mentors staff.

“He can see the big picture, but he’s also got what it takes to see the details to get to the end result,” she said.

Taylor vowed to examine every business decision, program and partnership by considering Hodges’ three priorities for Minneapolis: making the city run well, helping the city grow, and improving racial equity.

He now awaits a vote by the full City Council.

Council members will also hold a hearing soon on Hodges’ nomination of Spencer Cronk to serve as city coordinator. The mayor will submit the nomination at Wednesday’s meeting of the Executive Committee.

Olson's role debated as Teamster strike recalled

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 18, 2014 - 9:53 PM

One of the more intriguing aspects of the 80th commemoration of the 1934 Teamster strikes is a rekindling of the debate over the response by Gov. Floyd B. Olson, a Minneapolis native.

Olson played a delicate role in the strike by Minneapolis truckers. He was elected as a left-leaning governor of the Farmer-Labor party. Yet he also had some support from business elements in Minneapolis for his vigorous prosecution of corruption on the Minneapolis City Council in the late 1920s, when he was Hennepin County attorney. Indeed, as one speaker this week recalled, a striker colloquially warned Olson that he was straddling a picket fence between the sides of labor and business, making any slip likely to be painful.

After open street warfare involving strikers and newly deputized lawmen, Olson mobilized National Guard troops during the May strike by drivers, but kept them on standby status.  That strike was resolved by an imperfect agreement that led to the climactic July strike, when more violence erupted.

Strikers were determined to stop truck movement, and business was determined to keep them running. After police opened fire on unarmed strikers trying to block a truck in the city’s market district, leaving two dead and dozens injured, many shot in the back, Olson mobilized the guard and declared martial law.

Farmer-Laborite Eddie Felien, editor-publisher of Southside Pride, argues that Olson’s actions maintained picket lines and preserved the strike when any other governor would have crushed the strike.

Others aren’t that charitable.  Bryan Palmer, the Canadian academic whose “Revolutionary Teamsters” advances study of the strike, spoke Thursday night at the downtown library. He addressed Olson’s role: “There was no question his actions were going to harm the strike when he brought in the National Guard.”  The guard issued permits for truck movements, seized strike headquarters and threw strike leaders into a military stockade. Palmer quoted one strike leader during this period as saying: “Trucks are moving.  They’re breaking the strike.” And another strike leader, Farrell Dobbs, simply titles one chapter of his 1972 memoir on this period “military strikebreaking."

Yet guardsmen never fired on strikers, unlike some other notable American labor confrontations.

Another historian, Mary Wingerd, who spoke on the same panel as Palmer, said she thinks Olson’s presence as governor played a significant role in strike psychology.  Despite being led by Trotskyist militants, the strikers likely mostly voted Farmer-Labor.  Having a governor of their persuasion in office — rather than a conservative hardliner -- likely made it easier for individual strikers to make the difficult commitment to put their jobs on the line in a strike, she said.

Palmer confessed that despite his research, he’s still somewhat mystified over how a strike that was starting to fray somewhat as it wound into August suddenly produced a settlement favorable to strikers. He gives more credit to President Franklin Roosevelt than Olson. Roosevelt clearly wanted the strike settled before the 1934 election; Palmer suggests that local bankers with substantial federal loans from the New Deal’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation put pressure on a key representative of recalcitrant employers.

The debate will keep historians busy for decades to come.

Park Board sets 4.9 percent levy hike goal

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: July 16, 2014 - 7:37 PM

Minneapolis park commissioners set a goal Wednesday night of achieving a 4.9 percent increase in the parks levy for 2015.

Four percent of that levy increase would be for normal operating and capital purposes, while .9 percent would continue the tree replacement program the board began this year.

The direction to Supt, Jayne Miller followed a debate over whether a 2 or 4 percent levy increase was more realistic, given that the city's levy is slated to rise by 2 percent in its five-year financial plan.  Mayor Betsy Hodges has not yet made a levy recommendation for 2015.

Some commissioners questioned whether a 4.9 percent increase is politically realistic. But Miller already has projected that with a 2 percent increase the Park Board faces a $1.3 million budget gap just to maintain current programs. The board raised its 2014 levy by 2 percent, but devoted all of the increase to beginning a multi-year program to remove and replace trees damaged by storms or the emerald ash borer.

The board also seeks added money to repair neighborhood parks, where Miller said a dearth of maintenance funds has increased the cost of replacing mechanical systems once they fail. The board directed her to devise a strategy to fund those needs.

The overall city levy, which includes separate city and park levies proposed by different governing bodies, will be set by the Board of Estimate and Taxation, on which the Park Board holds one seat.

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