Mid-Summer 2016 Update

I’ve kind of given up on how to appropriately name these posts.  So you get what you get.  Anyway, here’s what we’ve been up to since the last update.

LRT Pedestrian Bridge

Unceremoniously killed by the Met Council and Hennepin County. Read more about it here.  We did meet with Congressman Keith Ellison who pledged his support to try to resolve this favorably for us. The project will be built with about a billion dollars in Federal cash, so hoping we have some leverage here. He already sent a letter on our behalf. More to come.

Temporary Health Care Dwellings

We opted out, as I described here. Now on to developing a replacement ordinance.

Quiet Zones

Installing the necessary road upgrades so we could get quiet zones so trains would not routinely sound their horns when crossing Douglas or West Broadway.  This is still on the radar and progressing through the labyrinth of bureaucracies that have to approve of such a thing.

Crystal Frolics!

Was great this year.  I hear the fireworks were great. I was probably in bed. 10:00pm is way past this guy’s bedtime. I was in the dunk tank along with Mayor Adams, Councilmember Parsons, and a few city commissioners. We raised about $400 for local food shelves.

Who Likes Big Trucks? Everyone. 

Well this is fun. A local resident (that I happen to be married to) and mother of a truck-obsessed toddler contacted the public works department to see if they had ever considered renting out one of the rooms at the public works garage for kids’ birthday parties- including a tour of the building as part of the party. That proved too difficult to work out from a logistical and risk management standpoint, but the public works staff did come up with a neat concept where a truck could stop by and visit the kid’s house during the party, and public works would supply some fun props for photos. The resident would pay a fee to cover the staff time, etc. Community outreach + happy kids = win/win. We were the guinea pigs for the process, and worked out a few kinks, but based on the overall success I’d expect to see a public works party package available to Crystal residents soon. I offered that we could rent out council members for parties too, but was politely told that “council member in a late model Jeep Cherokee” didn’t have the same draw as “real life construction guy in a big truck”.

Budgets

The city budget process is underway, and things look ugly this year.  We’re looking at sizable increases or drastic cuts. I’d like to sugarcoat it, but I can’t.  Stay tuned.  The preliminary levy gets passed in September. After that we can lower it but can’t raise it.

Links and Info

You can watch the video of council meetings here and find the agendas and meeting notes here.  Audio recording of work sessions can be found here. Check the city calendar for updated meeting dates, locations and times.

As always, if I can be of assistance, let me know.

Crystal Pedestrian Bridge Update

Last week, the Blue Line Corridor Management Committee (CMC), which is the committee that oversees the Blue Line Light Rail Project, voted to remove the pedestrian bridge over Highway 81 from the scope of the Blue Line project.  The Sun Post’s write-up of the decision is here.

What this means is that, barring a sudden turn of events or reversal of the decision, there will not be a pedestrian bridge built to facilitate safe crossing of highway 81.

This is a disappointing, unacceptable and egregious decision, but one that was not entirely unpredictable.

If you’d like the details on what happened, read on. If you just want to know what you can do about it, skip to the end.

The History

In late 2015 and early 2016 Hennepin County sponsored a few “Station Area Planning” meetings at the Rockford Road Library. Those meetings were well attended by residents of Crystal.  The feedback from those meetings was nearly unanimous that residents felt that a bridge would be necessary for crossing 81 if a new train station would be added to the area.  The existing intersection is not viewed as safe by local residents, and the addition of the train station was expected to increase pedestrian crossings by a significant amount.

On February 11, 2016 I attended a CMC meeting because our representative (Mayor Jim Adams) and our alternate (council member Olga Parsons) were unavailable.  We were readying for the vote on “municipal consent” and the bridge had not been formally added into the scope of the project.  I was seeking, on behalf of Crystal, assurance that the bridge would be included in the scope at a later date.

It was explained that to “officially” add the bridge to the scope of the project would not be feasible, because it would require a delay in the project, but that the resolution passed by CMC was more of a technicality/formality.  We were assured that the bridge would be “formally” added later- in June.

There was unease among Crystal Council Members about taking the CMC/Met Council at their word.  At the February 11 meeting we negotiated language that I felt the city council would accept.  You can see that reflected in the minutes here.

At the February 29 Crystal City Council meeting, the council debated granting municipal consent to the Blue Line project.

Much of the discussion about municipal consent centered around our unease with the items that were not “formally” in scope- the pedestrian bridge, and visual and sound screening along the route.

We ultimately chose not to affirm or deny municipal consent, but rather allow the plans to be “deemed approved” as allowed for in MN law.  You can read a recap of that decision here.  The bottom line is that nobody felt comfortable affirmatively approving plans that were, in our eyes, incomplete.

The resolution we passed was unambiguous about our position on the bridge being a required part of the project, and that Crystal would not be assuming costs for maintenance of the bridge, as it is a part of the project. If LRT were not being built, the bridge would not be necessary.

Over the next few months the Crystal City Council continued working with Metro Transit on options for the pedestrian bridge. We had many design meetings, and even recently took a tour of other pedestrian bridges in the area.

The city council was split, but generally in favor of a bridge design that featured elevators, because of the challenging topography of the area, and the tight fit of the bridge in the area. The Met Council preferred a design with no elevators, which would cost more but be less functional.

A few hours before the July 7 2016 CMC meeting, the Blue Line Project Office (Met Council) made a surprise recommendation that the maintenance and ownership of the bridge would fall on the city, in what appeared to be a negotiation tactic to get Crystal to drop the requirement for elevators.  It worked.

Negotiations continued for a few days, and on July 19, the Blue Line Project Office, representing Metro Transit, and Crystal agreed that the bridge would not include elevators, Metro Transit would own and operate the bridge, and Crystal would be responsible for snow removal.

We had a deal.

Two days later the CMC voted to remove the pedestrian bridge from the scope of the project entirely, and the bridge was killed. Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, who represents the citizens who initially requested the bridge, spoke against it.  The vote was a simple voice vote. There was no roll call.  There will be no record of who voted to kill the bridge. There will be no accountability.

I don’t know any other way to put it- we were played. And we were played by people who are better at this game than we are. So we lost.

The Crystal City Council, and the Crystal City Staff did, in my opinion, everything we could possibly do to fight to represent our residents, but at the end of the day someone else decided we didn’t need a bridge so now we don’t get one.

As I said above, this action was disappointing, unacceptable and egregious, but not unpredictable.

I was always uneasy with being told to just trust that the Met Council, Hennepin County, and the rest of the CMC would keep their word. I always knew this was a likely outcome.  I would have liked to been proven wrong. There’s zero satisfaction in being right.

I hope there is never an instance where someone is hurt or killed while trying to cross 8 lanes of busy traffic as they rush to catch a train. But the CMC and your County Commissioner decided that $7.5 million out of a total project cost of $1.5 billion (roughly 0.5%) was too much, and they would rather risk it.

What Can You Do?

I won’t sugarcoat it. Likely nothing. The City Council and Staff are exploring all potential options, but it’s unlikely that when the full Met Council votes on the scope they will do anything but take the CMC’s recommendation.

You could try contacting Mike Opat, Hennepin County Commissioner at 612-348-7881 or mike.opat@hennepin.us

and let him know that you are unhappy with his support of removing the bridge from the scope. If he were to change his mind and represent the wishes of his constituents, that would likely help.

You could also try contacting your Met Council representative Gail Dorfman at 612.998.5214 or gail.dorfman@metc.state.mn.us

I should note that Ms. Dorfman is not a CMC member and she didn’t vote on the removal of the bridge. She will get a vote when the full Met Council votes later this year.

Temporary Health Care Dwellings

Earlier this year the Minnesota Legislature passed a law that would allow for the placement of temporary health care dwellings on private property.

The idea is that if you have a relative who needs some living assistance you could put a temporary structure (think trailer home) in your yard and have them live near you while they recover.

The League of MN Cities has a good recap of the law here.

Unfortunately, though the law was well-intentioned, the implementation of the law as written would be problematic in a fully developed and dense suburban city like Crystal. For example, the setback requirements in the law would exclude the majority of lots in Crystal from ever hosting a temporary dwelling.

The way the law is structured, cities have the option to “opt-out” of the law entirely, or to accept the law in its entirety. There isn’t an option to partially adopt or modify the law.  We do, however, retain the right to regulate land use through our regular zoning and planning authority.

After discussion at the council work session this week, it is very likely Crystal will vote to opt-out of the law at our next meeting. Many of our neighboring cities will likely do the same.

The City’s Code Review Task Force, which was created by the council last year and is reviewing our City Code chapter by chapter, recently discussed the topic of land use for similar types of structures.

The recommendation from the task force was that the council should have a more in-depth conversation about how temporary or permanent small dwellings could or should work in Crystal.

As our population continues to age there has been a national trend related to “tiny houses”, “granny pods“, temporary health care “drop homes” and other types of smaller dwellings.

Although we will be opting-out of the state law on temporary health care dwellings, the Council is committed to discussing this topic in a comprehensive manner and coming up with policies that make sense for Crystal.

An important part of that process will be seeking feedback from you. If you have any thoughts about the topic, please let me know.

City Meetings Update – May (and Early June) 2016

As always, a lot going on in our city.  Here are the highlights of the meetings that happened in May and early June 2016.

Recognizing Officer Gabe Storz – Officer Storz was recognized for saving the life of a 2-week-old baby.  The baby was choking and stopped breathing.  Storz responded to the call and was able to get the baby breathing again.  Baby Eleanor was about 7 weeks old at the meeting.  Listening to the 911 call of the panicked mother was chilling.  I’m not ashamed to admit some sawdust flew into my eye and I needed a few moments to get myself back together.  Mama and baby and the hero pictured above.

Recognizing Officer Caleb Selin – Officer Selin was recognized for being the MADD Rookie Officer of the Year, and for his lifesaving actions at a house fire.  Selin ran toward the flames to save a life. These guys are amazing.

Annual Audit/Financial Report – Each year the city’s financials are audited by an outside auditing firm. Crystal once again received an “unmodified opinion” on our annual financial audit, which is a name only an accountant could dream up, but is the best opinion you can get.

Welcome to Beacon Academy – Beacon Academy is a public charter school that will be relocating from Maple Grove to Crystal.  The school will be taking over the building currently occupied by a church and school at 34th and Nevada.  The council approved a conditional use permit and site plan for the school’s plans to expand the building. They have a lot of work to do before school starts.

Long Grass – The council approved an amendment to the wording of our code pertaining to long grass.  Somebody read it and interpreted it to mean they only had to mow a majority (51%) of their lawn.  So, we clarified you actually have to mow the whole thing.  Sorry, Mr. Clever Guy.

Open Book (Property Valuation Appeals) – There are two options for cities on how to handle appeals to property valuations- they can either have a Local Board of Appeal and Equalization (how Crystal currently does it) or they can use the Open Book process (how Crystal will do it going forward).  Many residents find the formality of going before the board intimidating.  The Open Book process allows residents who wish to appeal their valuation to work directly with the county assessors, on a more flexible timeline that meets their needs.  The residents do not give up any opportunity to appeal by using this process.  Many of our neighboring cities have adopted the Open Book process and it has worked well for them.

Blue Line Update – The Blue Line Project Office began discussions with the neighborhood north of Bass Lake Road that will be impacted by the removal of trees and relocation of the tracks as part of the Blue Line project.  The goal is to secure visual screening that will help mitigate the impact of the new project.  The council doesn’t really have a say in this process, but we are advocating for our residents on this piece, to make sure the final solution is workable for everyone.  Negotiations continue on the pedestrian bridge at Bass Lake and West Broadway.  We are going on a tour of bridges in a few weeks so that we can get some ideas for what will be workable for our bridge.  The county wants to rush some improvements to the at-grade crossings at that intersection. The council (generally) would prefer to put the brakes on and make sure we have a good solution rather than a fast solution. There is also concern about someone using the new at-grade improvements as an excuse for not needing a bridge, so I’m keeping my eye on that closely.

Open Meeting Laws – The council received our annual training on Open Meeting Laws.  There’s a lot of detail and nuance to this issue, but the bottom line is that the public’s business should be conducted in public, and that attempts to get “creative” with workarounds (as happens in other cities- not Crystal) are not a good thing.

Railroad Quiet Zones – The city is in the early stages of working through the red tape required to pursue Railroad “Quiet Zones” at the Douglas and West Broadway crossings of the CP rail line.  The feds think our plans are OK, but the county objected to them.  I would have figured the other way around, but you really can’t predict or control a bureaucracy that’s this convoluted, I guess.  Work continues to get the county to get their act together.  I’d like trains to blow their horns less.  How about you?

We’re about to head into the summer months, which means we theoretically meet a little bit less.  Only one formal council meeting currently scheduled for July and August.  That is, as always, subject to change.

Links and Info

You can watch the video of council meetings here and find the agendas and meeting notes here.  Audio recording of work sessions can be found here. Check the city calendar for updated meeting dates, locations and times.

As always, if I can be of assistance, let me know.

Curbside Cleanup Recap

On Tuesday the council met with our representative from the Hennepin Recycling Group to discuss the recent Curbside Cleanup event.

There was some chatter about the event over on Nextdoor and I promised a few answers to questions that residents posted.

Here are a few items we learned:

  1. Who Pays for Curbside Cleanup?

    You Do.

    The funds to pay for Curbside Cleanup come out of the recycling fee that you pay with your utility (water) bill.  It works out to about 90 cents a month.

  2. Do Other Cities Offer this Service?

    Yes, but not many.

    The only cities we are aware of that offer this type of service are Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Crystal and New Hope.

    Bloomington does it annually, Brooklyn Park does 1/3 of the city each year, and Crystal/New Hope typically do it every other year.

  3. I like a fall pickup date, rather than spring. Can we move it back to fall?

    Unfortunately, no.

    The contract specified that we would prefer a fall pickup, but no vendors could do it then.

    Years ago there were many more haulers that could offer the service.  But haulers are replacing their old rear loaded trucks with automatic side-loaded trucks.  This saves on fuel and labor costs.  As more trucks are replaced, we could end up having no vendors who can provide the service.

    The vendors who had done the pickup in Crystal and New Hope in the past contacted us this year and said they could no longer do it.  There were only two bids, and the one we didn’t choose wanted to start in March instead of April.

    The vendors can only offer the service at all by hiring their yard waste seasonal workers a few weeks early.  It’s not possible for them to keep them in the fall.

  4. Can’t we just find new vendors or offer them more money? Isn’t it that simple?

    Nope.

    The number of vendors is dwindling due to industry consolidation.

    And the contract isn’t a fixed bid. The vendors set the price.

    Even under those terms there were only two bidders.

  5. Can we do a Curbside Cleanup annually instead of every other year?

    Maybe.

    Unfortunately we may come to a point (soon) where we can’t offer the service at all because there aren’t any vendors who can do it.  But plans are to keep offering the service for as long as we can, and the HRG board will talk about the feasibility of an annual event.  It would obviously cost more, so we need to consider a variety of things before making a decision.

  6. OK, who is HRG?

    HRG stands for Hennepin Recycling Group.

    HRG is a joint powers agreement between the cities of Brooklyn Center, Crystal and New Hope.  HRG manages the recycling programs for these cities.

    Each city has one board member on the HRG board.  There is a part time paid staffer who runs HRG and reports to the board. That employee is currently a staff member for the city of Brooklyn Park.  HRG pays for 15% of his time through a contract with Brooklyn Park.

  7. Why isn’t Brooklyn Park part of HRG then?

    We really don’t know.  They just never have been.

  8. Speaking of recycling, can we change that to a weekly pickup?

    Maybe.

    We’re looking into it.  The same vendor services Brooklyn Park and the HRG cities.  We’re looking at a new contract that would use the economies of scale of both Brooklyn Park and HRG and would also allow weekly pickup. Stay tuned.

    In the meantime, you can get a second recycling cart or a larger cart for free by calling 763-493-8006.

  9. How much junk did we throw away during curbside cleanup this year?

    Here are some stats: 67% of households participated.  In 2016, about 900 tons of trash were collected, as well as 1034 appliances. In 2014, there were 670 tons of trash and 224 appliances collected. In 2011, 800 tons of trash and 740 appliances.

Here’s a link to a memo that we received from HRG about Curbside Cleanup.  I hit most of the highlights above, but I’m posting it in case you want to take a look.

As always, if you have any questions, let me know.

City Meetings Update – April 2016

For this month’s update, I’m going to send you over to my colleague Olga Parson’s Spring Update.  Councilmember Parsons did a great job recapping the council’s recent discussion on long term planning, and I don’t really have anything to add to it.

Check it out and let me know if you have any thoughts about the direction we’re heading.

Links and Info

You can watch the video of council meetings here and find the agendas and meeting notes here.  Audio recording of work sessions can be found here. Check the city calendar for updated meeting dates, locations and times.

As always, if I can be of assistance, let me know.

Met Council Reform Principles

Last week five members of the Crystal City Council signed a joint letter expressing our support for a statement of principles for reform of the Metropolitan Council.  In doing so, we joined a coalition of local elected officials from 35 cities and 4 counties who have adopted these same principles.

The Met Council was established in 1967 to provide regional planning services for the twin cities area- originally focused on transit and wastewater treatment.  As years went on, the Council’s scope has grown, but it’s accountability has not.

The Twin Cites is not unique in having a regional planning authority. We are, however, unique in the way our regional planning authority is organized and funded.

The Met Council has an annual budget of over $900,000,000 – larger than the regional planning authorities of Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and 13 other larger metro areas – combined!  $80 million of the Met Council’s budget comes from an annual tax levy. That figure makes the Met Council’s tax levy the third largest levy in Minnesota- and more than 8 times Crystal’s levy.

The Met Council has the largest budget of any regional planning authority (by far) and is the only regional planning authority in the United States that has direct taxing authority.

Despite these facts, the Met Council is also the only regional planning authority that contains no elected officials- instead all members of the Met Council are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the Governor.

The principles of reform being supported by the coalition of local governments are not seeking to eliminate the Council, but rather seek some common sense reforms to make the Met Council more accountable, responsive and credible to its primary constituents- the cities and counties it serves.

Among the changes being sought are staggered terms for Council Members, changing the makeup of the Council to include a majority of elected officials, ensuring that representation is population based, and incorporating a system of checks and balances on the Council’s activities.

The principles of reform supported in the letter are:

  1. A majority of the members of the Metropolitan Council shall be elected officials, appointed from cities and counties within the region.
  2. Metropolitan cities shall directly control the appointment process for city representatives to the Metropolitan Council.
  3.  Metropolitan counties shall directly appoint their own representatives to the Metropolitan Council.
  4. The terms of office for any Metropolitan Council members appointed by the Governor shall be staggered and not coterminous with the Governor.
  5. Membership on the Metropolitan Council shall include representation from every metropolitan county government.
  6. The Metropolitan Council shall represent the entire region, therefore voting shall be structured based on population and incorporate a system of checks and balances.

Links:

Note:

The Crystal City Council originally debated passing a statement of support for these principles as a council resolution. However, the rules adopted by the council prohibit resolutions of this type, and ultimately it was decided not to pursue a formal resolution. All council members were given the opportunity to sign the letter.

City Meetings Update – March 2016

I’ll just skip the part where I make excuses for why I haven’t written lately and just get on with the update for March.

The city council typically has two meetings per month, but we had to move our first meeting in March due to precinct caucuses (state law doesn’t allow council meetings on caucus night) so we had meetings on February 29 and March 15.

Council Meeting Highlights

Appearances – Police Chief Revering gave an award to a mother and son (Jennifer Auger and Cameron Auger-Pippi) who called the police on some suspicious activity and ended up preventing a domestic violence situation.

Commissions – We appointed a bunch of commissioners to city commissions as part of the annual reappointment process.  Work continues on refining the process for recruiting, selecting and appointing commissioners to ensure maximum success.

Donations – The city made donations to the NEAR and PRISIM food shelves. The money used to make the donations was raised by Crystal council members and commissioners who volunteered to bag groceries at Cub Foods in 2015.

Light Rail – This topic has been talked about quite a bit. We passed a resolution that did not affirm or deny municipal consent for the Blue Line Extension.  Read more here.

Public Works Equipment and Projects – We approved a number of new items for public works, including a new sewer camera system, a box plow attachment, and a some new sewer pumps (yay!).  All of these were items that were in the budget for the year.  We also approved this year’s sewer relining project and the next steps in this year’s street and alley reconstruction projects.

One exciting thing we did this year is purchased some equipment and shared the cost with Robbinsdale. This will help both cities save cost while giving us both access to equipment we need.  This was a great, creative solution brought forth by our public works department.

Work Session Highlights

Police Annual Report – We reviewed the PD’s annual report, which is now online for you to review as well.

Local Board of Appeal and Equalization – We reviewed the local board of appeal and equalization, which is a fancy way of saying we talked with the assessors from the county to refresh ourselves on the process for appealing tax valuations.  Much more on this to come.

36th and Regent Study – A few years ago, the council looked at options for “enhancing” (or some may say “correcting”) the traffic situation at 36th and Regent.  One option that was proposed was a mini-roundabout.  The council didn’t take that option off the table, but we also didn’t love it.  I’ll be door-knocking that neighborhood with a proposed drawing to see how residents in the area feel about the idea.

Street Maintenance Fund – We are currently in phase 15 of a 16 phase project to reconstruct every street in Crystal.  Once that ends, we will enter a maintenance mode, to ensure that we maintain the roads we rebuilt.  The council had the first of what will be many conversations about how to approach maintenance going forward, with an eye toward eliminating special assessments for maintenance.

In the Community

There were quite a few charity bowling tournaments in the past few weeks- The Light of Crystal, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, and bowling for Rocco the police K9.  I bought a bowling ball.  The picture is from the Rocco event.

On March 19, the Crystal Council joined West Metro Fire and bagged groceries for tips during the Firefighters Fighting Hunger drive. Pictures here.

Links and Info

While my blog posting has been light, I’ve been getting better at Facebook, so you can keep up with me there, if you are so inclined.

You can watch the video of council meetings here and find the agendas and meeting notes here.  Audio recording of work sessions can be found here. Check the city calendar for updated meeting dates, locations and times.

As always, if I can be of assistance, let me know.

Last Night

Last night, a police officer from Robbinsdale was injured during a “routine” traffic stop in Crystal.

Only here’s the thing that every police officer knows- there is no such thing as “routine”.

Every police officer is one call away from a major- and potentially life-altering incident. An officer responding to a “routine” matter can end up hurt or killed. They will need to make a series of split-second decisions, including whether to use force to protect themselves or others.  This is what our police officers are trained to do. But if an incident turns bad, every decision the officer made in a split-second will be second guessed and deconstructed by people who have the luxury of time, and hindsight.

Our police officers are out there every day doing the job we pay them to do. As a community, we ask a lot of these men and women, and they give a lot.

I am very thankful that the officer in Robbinsdale was not seriously injured last night. I am very thankful that I get to work with so many great police officers in Crystal who do their jobs every day with an amazing amount of compassion, skill, and professionalism. I am very thankful that Crystal is surrounded by great neighbors who have equally impressive police forces.

Please, stay safe out there.

What Happened With Municipal Consent

Tonight the Crystal City Council passed a resolution on a 4-2 vote making the choice not to affirmatively grant, nor to pass a resolution to disapprove, “Municipal Consent” on the Blue Line Extension LRT project.

Because that’s the type of sentence that could only exist in the context of government, I’ll do my best to explain what the vote we took tonight means, what it doesn’t mean, and some of the reasoning behind the vote.

In an earlier post I outlined the three options the City Council had in this process:

  1. Approve the plans as presented.
  2. Disapprove the plans, and provide a list of “specific amendments to the plans that, if adopted, would cause [us] to withdraw our disapproval”.
  3. Take no formal action on the plan.  If no formal action is taken, the plans are then deemed approved.

MN Law dictates these options, and also dictates the narrow set of parameters we are allowed to consider when taking this vote.

What We Were Voting On

The Council may only consider the plans that were presented to us, and whether we find those plans acceptable.  We were voting both on what is in the plans, and to a limited extent what is not in the plans.  (Remember this, because it will be important later.)

The council was NOT taking a vote on 1) Whether Light Rail is really neat, 2) Whether Light Rail is really dumb, 3) Whether Light Rail is good for Crystal or 4) anything else.  This is important, and very frequently gets lost in the discussion.

What We Did

We chose option 3- to allow the plans to be deemed approved as presented.  The practical effect of this option is the same as an approval.  The project will be allowed to continue, and our vote did not delay the project nor add any additional taxpayer expense.

The Plans as Presented

We were presented with a set of plans at the beginning of this year – these were the plans that were on display at City Hall and presented at the various public hearings.  For me, the issue was not so much with what was included in these plans, but rather what was not.

Because the project is only at the 15% design phase, several critical items were not included in the plans, among these the Pedestrian Bridge at Bass Lake Road and 81, sound screening south of Bass Lake Road, and visual screening north of Bass Lake Road.  These are all items that were brought up by members of the community in public meetings and during the public hearing.

It is the position of the Met Council’s Project Office that those items were out of scope at this phase of the project, meaning they weren’t going to be part of the plans that we would approve or disapprove.

But here’s the rub- this is the one and only time that the Crystal City Council gets to hold a vote on the design.  We don’t get another vote at a later date.  This is it.

Why Not Disapprove?

The seemingly logical choice would be to issue a resolution of disapproval and add the “missing” design elements to the project scope.  But, that wasn’t a real option, because we are only allowed to consider what’s “in scope” at the 15% mark of the project.  If we would have voted to disapprove based on the 3 items outlined above (pedestrian bridge, visual screening, noise wall), we would not have gained any better reassurance that those items would be added, as the items would very likely be ruled out of scope by the Met Council.  With that reality, the only practical effect of a vote of disapproval would have been to waste a lot of people’s time and drive the cost of the project up needlessly.

Why Not Approve?

So with disapproval off the table as a good option, Approval seems to be a logical position.

But I would ask – how do you vote to approve something when you don’t really approve of it? The unresolved items are critical to this project, and the lack of their inclusion in the plans makes it very hard to take an affirmative vote of approval.

Allow the Plans to be Deemed Approved

So with approval and disapproval eliminated, we get to the third option, which is allowing the plans to be deemed approved.

As outlined in State Law, if a city does not pass a resolution of approval or disapproval within 45 days, the plans are deemed approved as presented.

This option, as imperfect as it is, was the best option available to us.

The council passed a resolution that specifically outlined our concerns with the unresolved elements, but also allowed the process to continue without unnecessary delay or cost.

We didn’t disrupt the process, but we also did not add a phony stamp of approval on a set of incomplete plans.

An Imperfect Process, An Imperfect Outcome

The so-called “municipal consent” process is broken.

Cities are required to take their municipal consent vote prior to having the results of the Environmental Impact Statement.

The process asks for feedback from cities and residents, but does not allow for incorporating their feedback in a meaningful way.

The process is not about the acceptance or rejection of the concept of Light Rail, but you would not know that based on the way the topic is discussed, and the out-sized emphasis placed on the results of this vote.

We were given an imperfect process, and we ended up with an imperfect outcome, but to me the best of the bad options we were given.

UPDATE: I’ve added a scanned copy of the resolution that was passed below.  Click to see the full sized images.

And here’s council member Dahl’s take and the SunPost write up.

Scannable Document on Mar 1, 2016, 2_54_49 PM Scannable Document 2 on Mar 1, 2016, 2_54_49 PM Scannable Document 3 on Mar 1, 2016, 2_54_49 PM