Category Archives: General

Let’s Talk About Speeding

One of the most common complaints we get as council-members is about speeding in residential neighborhoods.

I had a meeting with a resident this morning to talk about one of these complaints, and I thought this was a good opportunity to discuss the city’s process for dealing with speeding complaints.

At a high level it works like this:

  • Citizen Makes Complaint
  • Traffic Study Conducted
  • Targeted Enforcement if Necessary
  • Corrective Action/Adjustments Made

Citizen Makes Complaint

These complaints originate from many places such as calls to the police department or city hall, or conversations with residents at events or meetings.  I would encourage people to start the complaint process with their council member.  This allows us to monitor the process and make sure we know where problem areas are. We really like to know what goes on in our neighborhoods.

Traffic Study Conducted

After the complaint is made, the city will deploy the traffic count device to the area.  You’ve seen it- it’s the thing with the two rubber tubes that go across the street.  This device will count all of the cars that go down the street and also track the speeds.  At the end we get reports like this one:


This allows us to see what the average speeds are, and if speeding is happening- when.

In the image above, we can see that 738 cars went down Louisiana Ave on the Tuesday in question. The speed limit is 30. 90% were going less than 35mph. 9% were between 35 and 40 and a few jerks exceeded 40.

Targeted Enforcement if Necessary

If there is a speed issue identified, and if the speeding fits into a pattern, the police department will institute targeted patrols to the area to help identify who is causing the speeding.

Most of the time when we get speed complaints the residents think it’s people cutting through the neighborhood that are doing the speeding.  Unfortunately, the real speeders are usually people who live in the neighborhood.

Corrective Action/Adjustments Made

After the data is in the city will also look at making traffic control adjustments such as adding or removing signs, adding or removing pavement markings, or temporarily deploying the radar speed trailer (that sign that flashes when you go too fast).

How Long Does This Process Take?

Longer than you want it to but as quickly as possible.

The traffic counter is used for more things than responding to speeding complaints, and there are other things to consider when counting traffic (weather, time of year, school break, etc.) to make sure you get good numbers.

That’s great, but can’t I just get a stop sign?  

Well, no.

I’ll admit that before I was on the council I didn’t understand this one. But after quite a bit of explaining and convincing and watching quite a bit of time-lapse traffic video, I begrudgingly understand… Stop signs don’t actually impact speed or improve safety the way you (or I) think they do.

When drivers perceive stop signs as “unnecessary” they either roll through them, or speed up after going through the intersection to “make up” the time that they “lost” by stopping.  (Yes, you know and I know that’s irrational. But we also drive around town to save a penny on gas even though we burn up more in gas by doing so.)

Stop signs can also create a false sense of security because people, especially kids, figure that if there’s a stop sign that cars will stop.  And that’s a bad assumption.

So, it’s not personal, and we’re not being cheap or mean by saying no to a stop sign request.  What we’re doing is trying to make the roads as safe as possible for everyone.

In Conclusion, the Necessary Disclaimer

This is obviously a high level overview and every situation is unique.

Again, if you have concerns with traffic or speeding, I encourage you to contact your councilmember (or if you don’t know who that is, contact me and I’ll get you to them).

Thanks for reading, and drive safely out there.

UPDATE: 10/11/2016

One thing I forgot to mention- the traffic tubes don’t work well in temperatures that are less than freezing.  So if requests are being made now, they may not get fulfilled until next spring, as there is already a queue of requests from this year.

The Crystal Airport Isn’t Going Anywhere

Last week the Crystal City Council had a meeting with the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) about the future of the Crystal Airport.  MAC owns and operates the airport.

In 2015, there were 41,838 landings and takeoffs. There are 185 based aircraft at Crystal Airport.

MAC is currently working on the comprehensive plan for the Crystal Airport for 2035.

As a part of formulating that plan MAC is seeking public input.  The public meeting is scheduled for Sept. 27 from 5 – 7 p.m. at the Crystal Community Center. There’s a second meeting the 29th in Brooklyn Park.

MAC’s current proposed plan for the airport is to close down two of the runways.  This will “right size” the airport for the volume of operations that are projected through 2035, and also provide some safety enhancements.  One benefit of this plan is that it would open up some additional land on the airport for commercial aviation or potentially non-aviation uses.

The other plan MAC is considering, but is not their “preferred alternative” is to lengthen the runways a bit, which would potentially allow slightly larger aircraft to use the airport.  No jumbo jets, but we could see some corporate type aircraft with this plan. During our meeting several council members including me expressed their interest in exploring this plan in more detail. We’d need to see more info before formally supporting it, but I think we should keep that option open.

What MAC is not considering is closing the airport.  Their plan assumes the airport will keep operating indefinitely- at least through 2035.  So if you’ve heard any rumors about the airport closing- they are not true.

I asked MAC about the process of closing an airport – what we could expect to see if someone somewhere decided they wanted to close it. Bottom line- like many things in government it’s a complicated and convoluted process that requires interaction from many layers of government.  It won’t sneak up on us.

If you are interested in the future of the Crystal Airport I encourage you to either attend the open house Sept. 27 from 5 – 7 p.m. at the Crystal Community Center or send feedback directly to MAC. Info for that and much more on their website.

(Image courtesy of SEH Inc)

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.

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?


    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?


    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?


    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.

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.



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.

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.

Rail Meeting Recap

We had a great meeting this morning at the Community Center regarding the proposed rail connection in Crystal.  Over 200 residents came out to learn more about the project and how they can help make an impact.

(For background on the project, click here and follow the links.)

If you couldn’t make it to the meeting, you can still help out.

The Surface Transportation Board (STB), a federal agency, is required to approve this project before it can move forward.

The STB has discretion on whether it will require a full environmental review (known as an Environmental Impact Statement or EIS) or a lesser environmental review.  It is our position that this project should require a full EIS so we can understand the impact to our community. We believe that an EIS will uncover serious issues that must be addressed before this project could go forward, if it could move forward at all.

Right now we are asking residents to contact the STB directly and request that they require a full EIS for the Crystal rail connection project.

You can help by writing a letter (handwritten is best) to the STB and our federal elected officials explaining that you are a concerned resident and that you want an EIS to happen.  (Addresses below)

We had pre-addressed post cards at available at the meeting today, and we’ll have more at City Hall on Monday afternoon.  Or, you can send it in your own envelope.

For more information, you can visit the dedicated page on the city’s website and/or the new Facebook Group for this project.

I’d also like to thank the mayors of Golden Valley, New Hope, and Robbinsdale, several council members from those cities, as well as Senator Rest, Representatives Freiberg and Carlson, Met Council Chair Adam Duininck and commissioner Mike Opat for attending the meeting today, the Crystal city staff for organizing the event, and Crystal Mayor Jim Adams for running a great meeting.

As always, if you have any questions or if I can be of assistance, please let me know.


Surface Transportation Board
Debra Miller, Acting Chairman
395 E Street SW, Washington, DC 20423

Senator Al Franken
Phone: 651-221-1016; 202-224-5641
Address: 309 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Senator Amy Klobuchar
Phone: 612-727-5220; 202-224-3244
Address: 302 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Representative Keith Ellison
Phone: 612-522-1212; 202-225-4755
Address: 2100 Plymouth Ave N; Minnesota, MN 55411
2263 Rayburn Building, Washington, MN 20515

Committee Testimony: HF75, Met Council Plans

Earlier this year, the Minnesota House of Representatives created a new Subcommittee on Metropolitan Council Accountability and Transparency.

I was honored to be invited to the Capitol today to testify on House Bill 75 (HF75), one of the proposed bills that the committee was hearing.

HF75 would make Met Council plans advisory in nature, meaning that a city or county could not be forced to comply or conform with Met Council projections or guidelines.

I feel that this is an incredibly important reform.  What we have seen in recent years is a Met Council that has been aggressively attempting to expand their purview over decisions that have historically been the domain of local governments.

In all 5 people spoke in favor of the proposed bill, and none spoke in opposition.  In addition to myself, testifiers included Rhonda Sivarajah, chair of the Anoka County Board of Commissioners, Kelli Slavik, Mayor of Plymouth, Mary Giuliani Stephens, Mayor of Woodbury, and an attorney representing Dakota County.

I have pasted below my testimony as prepared.  These were just my notes, so I did go a little off script during the actual testimony.  There were also some questions that the committee asked that are not reflected here.

UPDATE: Audio of the committee hearing is here.  My testimony starts around the 22 minute mark.


Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Jeff Kolb, and I am a member of Crystal City Council. Prior to joining the council I served on Crystal’s Planning Commission.

Crystal is a fully developed suburb with a population of about 23,000, located just northwest of Minneapolis (first ring).
I am here in support of HF75 which would make Met Council plans and guidelines advisory in nature.

I believe this is one of the most important proposed reforms that this committee could take up.

The City of Crystal has significant concerns with the Met Council’s Thrive 2040 plan, and the direction the Met Council has taken in recent years.

I have with me today copies of several letters that were sent to the Met Council by Crystal city officials regarding our concerns.

To date, we have received no meaningful replies from the Met Council to these concerns, only an acknowledgement of receipt of our letters.

Some examples of the issues that Crystal experienced with the Thrive 2040 plan were the initial “projections”- (more like goals) that were prescribed by the Met Council for Crystal.

  • Population up by 28% (6,149)
  • Number of households 35% (3,217)
  • Employment 55% (2,171)

In a fully developed city with no new land.

Revised “projections”

  • Population up by 5% (1,149)
  • Number of households 9% (817)
  • Employment 40% (1,571)

For some context, during the years of 2000-2007, Crystal had a net gain of 179 housing units, an average of 22 per year. Those numbers dropped off dramatically during the post 2008 recession. The initial Thrive 2040 projections would have required 107 units per year be added in Crystal, or 5 times the historical rate. The revised projections would require 27.5 units per year, still a rate higher than during the “boom” years.

At the same time, Crystal is “projected” to add 1500 jobs, presumably in the same land that would be used to add housing units.

Clearly there is a disconnect between reality and these projections.
The practical effect on a city like Crystal is that we are required, by law, to create a comprehensive plan.

Our city objects to language in the Met Council’s Thrive 2040 plan that seems to mandate that Crystal amend our comprehensive plan to accommodate these “projections,” including a mandate for density minimums.

There are several other areas throughout the Thrive 2040 plan where the Met Council seems to overstep its statutory authority by attempting to mandate the adoption of certain transportation and streets policies that have historically been, and should remain the purview of local governments.

These encroachments on local government authority are not specific to Thrive 2040, but rather are common place throughout Met Council plans.

I would like to read a brief excerpt from a letter sent to the Met Council in September of 2014 by Crystal City Staff in response to the Council’s Draft Housing Policy Plan.

“As the city discussed in its April 18, 2014 letter regarding Thrive MSP 2040, the city objects to the Council’s treatment of housing as if it were a regional system on par with transportation, sewers, and so forth. For good reason the Land Planning Act does not include housing as a regional system because it is predominately privately-owned, in contrast to the statutory regional systems which are public facilities. The Land Planning Act does not speak of density, only that a city must provide adequate housing to meet the city’s share of existing and projected needs. Crystal is a fully developed community, and its housing is already predominantly affordable when compared with regional averages. The Council is using high density as a proxy for affordability, thus twisting an affordability requirement into a density mandate and exceeding its statutory authority.”

Today there are a number of punitive measures that the Met Council can take against a city that does not comply with their mandated “projections” including denying grant funding or even suing a city to force a change to their comprehensive plan, as has happened in the past.

By passing HF75, you would clarify that Met Council plans are indeed advisory in nature, not binding documents that can be used to infringe on the ability of cities to govern themselves.

Thank you.

Proposed Train Connection: What You Can Do

My colleague Olga Parsons wrote a great recap of the latest round of updates on the train situation, so if you want the details, please head over to her site to check it out.

In the meantime, many of you have asked what specific actions you can take to make an impact.

Our Federal elected officials need to hear from you on the importance of this issue.  The Surface Transportation Board, a Federal agency, has some discretion on whether or not it will require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before the connection can proceed.  We need to do everything we can to make sure that a full environmental review is performed.

Please consider contacting our Federal officials by phone, mail, or email.  Ask them to petition the Surface Transportation Board to require a full Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed rail connection in Crystal.

Senator Al Franken
Phone: 651-221-1016; 202-224-5641
Address: 309 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Senator Amy Klobuchar
Phone: 612-727-5220; 202-224-3244
Address: 302 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Representative Keith Ellison
Phone: 612-522-1212; 202-225-4755
Address: 2100 Plymouth Ave N; Minnesota, MN 55411
2263 Rayburn Building, Washington, MN 20515


Also, Governor Dayton wrote a letter to the acting chair of the STB today, and it does a good job of succinctly explaining the issue.  Check out that letter here.

As always, if you have any questions or if I can be of assistance, please let me know.

Seeking Applicants for Light Rail Advisory Committees

The city of Crystal is currently seeking applicants for four (4) representatives to Metro Blue Line Extension (BLRT) Advisory committees.

We have two positions on the Community Advisory Committee, which represents our community and residents, and two positions on the Business Advisory Committee, which represents our business community.

These are new positions on new committees.  The committees will jointly advise the Met Council and Hennepin County on the proposed Blue Line Light Rail project that would go through Crystal.

Committee members will be appointed by the city council and will serve a two year term (through December 2016).

If you are interested in providing feedback about the Light Rail project in Crystal, this is your opportunity to formally join the process.

The deadline to apply is 4:30 PM on February 27.  To apply, or to see the job descriptions which will provide more information about the positions, click here for the application packet.

If you have any questions about the process, please contact me.