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

Light Rail Municipal Consent

Later this month the Crystal City Council will take up the topic of “Municipal Consent” for the Blue Line/Bottineau LRT project.  I’d like to discuss what Municipal Consent is, what it means, and what the possible outcomes may be.

Municipal Consent is a process that is required by MN State Law for any LRT projects.  The cities affected by the project are required to hold a public hearing on the plans.  Crystal will be holding our public hearing on February 2, at 7PM in the council chambers.

The city council is given 45 days from the date of the joint Met Council/Hennepin County/Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority public hearing to pass a resolution approving or disapproving the plans.  That meeting was in January, so the deadline for Crystal to act is March 4.

After the public hearing on February 2, the city council will begin debate on approving or disapproving the plans.  The council has three options:

  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.

The council is limited in what we can consider when approving or disapproving the plans.  We can only consider specific plans within the city of Crystal pertaining to the technical design of the LRT system.  For example, station locations, curb modifications, pedestrian facilities, park-and-ride facilities, and track placement.

Should we decide to disapprove the plans, we need to provide a detailed list of what it would take to withdraw our disapproval.  The Met Council would then hold a hearing and decide whether to accommodate our requests. They are not required by law to satisfy our objections.

Here’s the schedule of relevant council meetings for this process:

  • February 2 – Public Hearing, with option to continue to Feb 16.
  • February 16 – Consider municipal consent resolution, continued public hearing (if necessary).
  • February 29 – Consider municipal consent resolution, if no action taken on Feb 16.

If no action is taken to approve or disapprove during the February 29 meeting, the plans will be deemed approved.

If you have any feedback, questions or concerns about the technical plans for LRT, please consider attending the February 2 public hearing on the topic, and/or contacting me.

The plans are on display at City Hall or the Rockford Road library, if you want to check them out.

City Meetings Update – December 2015

Well, here we are again.  I’m behind on my updates and staring at a daunting pile of paperwork to recap.  I’m not kidding.

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This is the pile of paperwork I have gathered since last time I wrote an update, just a few weeks ago.

People sometimes ask me if this job is what I expected, or what the biggest surprise was after getting elected – and I often point to the volume of paper that you get.  There’s just so much of it.  And 95% of it is must-read.  It’s rare that you get something you can just skip over.  Not complaining, just surprised.

Anyway, enough about my paper piles.  I will continue to play with the format of these updates, including the frequency and the content.  I’m sure that I’ll get the perfect system nailed down right about the time it’s time for me to hand off the (figurative) Ward 2 keys off to the next Ward 2 rep.

That is figurative, by the way.  Much to the disappointment of a friend’s kid who asked, I did not get a key to every lock in the city when I was elected.

On to the Update…

Budgets

The big thing that happened over the last few weeks was the final vote on the city’s 2016 budget and tax levy, which happened on December 1.

There are several levies that make up your total tax bill.  The total property tax levy went up by just a hair under 3% (2.99%) over 2015, to around $9.6 million.  The total city budget is higher, because the city gets revenue from other places (like LGA, permit fees, etc.), but revenue from property taxes account for the largest percentage of the budget.

How the levy increase will affect you is another story.  I’ve been (slowly) working on a presentation that explains how property taxes work, as much for my own benefit as for the benefit of others.  But suffice it to say, it’s complicated.  You may see a larger increase than 3%, or your taxes may not change, or may even decrease.  I know that’s an unsatisfying answer, but this is the type of explanation that lends itself more to graphs and charts, not words, so I’ll get that presentation worked out and post it when I do.

We’re working on changes to the budgeting process that will, in my opinion, make it easier to track where the money goes, and crucially, to help us identify funding needs for long term capital planning.  So if you’re the type of person who pays close attention to the city budget, you’ll see some accounting changes coming up.  If you’re not the type of person who pays close attention to the city budget, just know we’re focused on making sure we’re responsible with your money.

Utility Rates

Along with the tax levy, we approved the utility rates for 2016.  Water rates, as I’m sure you remember, were increased in the middle of 2015 by $1.00 per 1000 gallons of water (or 1/10 of one cent per gallon) help pay for the water main break repairs (which are now complete, but not paid for).

The other portion of your utility bill, which includes charges for storm sewers, sanitary sewers, and street lights, saw modest increases.  The largest increase was in sanitary sewer rates which went up by $2.50 per quarter, or $10 per year.  This was due to large increases from the Met Council, who charges cities for sewage treatment. Expect these costs to continue to rise, as the Met Council has already announced fairly significant rate increases for the next few years.

Code Review Task Force

The city’s code review task force continues its task of reviewing our city code line by line looking for revisions.  The first batch of changes recommended by the task force will be voted on at the council meeting on December 15 (tonight).  Most of the first round of changes are bookkeeping type changes that either strike unnecessary parts of the code or make the code easier to read.

Important but not glamorous work.

Coming Up – Blue Line Municipal Consent

The first part of 2016 looks to be heavily focused on the so-called “Municipal Consent” process for the Blue Line/Bottineau/Whatever-they-are-calling-it-today Light Rail.  There will be several opportunities for Crystal residents to let the council know your thoughts on the plans, as they exist now, for the LRT that would go through Crystal.

As with everything government related, this is a byzantine process that doesn’t exactly mean what you would think it would mean based on the name.  When I have more details about how and when you can share your feedback, I will let you know.

Coming Up – Station Area Planning

Along with the LRT project process, there is a parallel but mostly unconnected process related to Station Area Planning (see what I was saying about byzantine?).  For this one, Hennepin County hired some consultants to work with the city on developing a plan for the land around the proposed station.

A group of citizens met a few weeks ago at the library to give feedback on the plan.

Because we happen to have a park right next to the station, a lot of focus is on Becker Park, and you may have seen some options for the park in the newspaper.  Just know that everything is really preliminary right now.  There’s a lot left to do, including answering the all important question of who would pay for this stuff.

The consultants will be back in January to present the full plan they came up with (based on our feedback) and then they will leave and we (Crystal) will have to figure out what we’re going to do (if anything) from a zoning and planning standpoint because of LRT.

This is the first chapter in what will be a very long process.

Coming Up – Long Range Planning

The council is going to continue to work on long range planning.  We had our first meeting about long term goals, and the focus of 2016 will be on getting the fiscal house in order so we can properly plan for future needs.

The council is also looking into whether Crystal can (and if so, should) become debt free.  Believe it or not there are cities out there that don’t use debt, and actually have a cash reserve set aside for emergencies.  Whether or not this is possible for Crystal, and what it would take to get there, are questions that need to be answered.  I look forward to digging into it.

 

Links and Info

The next council meeting is in about 2 hours.

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.

 

Photo:  The Crystal Crime Prevention Board presents a check for the proceeds of the first annual Run for ROCCO.  I had other photos from this night but I wanted to use the one that had my lovely wife (the lady in blue that’s not the police officer) in it.  Erin is on the Crime Prevention Board.  Pat Bedell is the board president and is in the middle holding the check.

City Meeting Recap – October 2015

Well I’m a bit behind schedule… I missed an update so I have a lot of ground to cover.  Therefore I’ll be sticking to the highlights of the highlights.

In addition, I want to point out that the City is now putting out a summary of council meetings after each meeting.  Here’s a recent example.  So if you’re looking for a high level overview of what we covered, you can find those on the City’s Facebook Page.  This is an initiative of our new Communications Director, who has been doing a great job with our social media channels and city events.

This recap covers the Charter Commission Meeting on September 17, Work Sessions on October 1, 6, 8, and 20, Council Meetings on October 6 and 20, and West Metro Fire Board Meeting on October 14.

Work Session Highlights

  • Code Review Task Force Report – The council received our first report from the Code Review Task Force, covering the changes they are suggesting for the first few chapters of the city code.  The task force had a number of recommendations for how to restructure the code to make it more usable, as well as some changes to ordinances found in the first few chapters.  The council now has to take up and discuss the proposed changes. We will be tackling changes to content as the task force goes forward, and we’ll implement all the structural changes at the end of the review.
  • Advisory Commissions – The council has been discussing changes to our advisory commissions and have decided upon a strategy for next year.  All the commissions will remain, but we’ll be making some structural changes to the city code to allow for future flexibility in adding or changing commissions to meet changing needs.  Probably the biggest change is to move to an annual process for recruiting and interviewing commission members instead of the piecemeal process we currently have.
  • Capital Improvement Funds – The council discussed a different approach to accounting around capital improvements in the city. This will lead to a more transparent and easier to understand budget by breaking out operations (payroll, insurance, office supplies) from capital improvements (new trucks, water pipes, etc.)  We also continued the discussion on how to move toward paying for street maintenance through the levy instead of street assessments.
  • Bassett Creek Trail – We received an update on the Bassett Creek Trail that Three Rivers Parks is constructing in Crystal and New Hope.  We are seeking more input from affected residents so we can minimize any negative impacts from the trail.
  • Quiet Zones – The council approved a plan from city staff to hire an engineering firm to study the feasibility of implementing Quiet Zones for train crossings in Crystal.  This would mean that freight trains coming through Crystal would no longer blow their horns at crossings.  The study is the first phase in what will be a long process, and will help us get an accurate cost estimate for what it would take to complete this work.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Police Department – The mayor swore in two new officers, and Chief Revering presented a number of commendations and medals to members of the PD for their work in the Barway Collins Case. The Patrol Division officers who earned commendations are pictured above.  Chief Revering also won an award for her work in the case.
  • Street and Alley Reconstruction – We took a number of actions related to Phase 14 and 15 street and alley reconstruction projects.
  • Budget – We held an extra public hearing beyond what is required by law to solicit feedback on the proposed budget.  The budget process will continue through the end of the year.
  • Tobacco Violations – We set a civil penalty for Liquor Barrel Wine and Spirits, who recently sold tobacco to a minor.  After discussion the council settled on a one day suspension of their tobacco license, and a $100 fine.  This is less than the maximum allowed under ordinance, but an appropriate penalty based on the facts of the case.
  • New Businesses – We approved a Commercial Kennel License for Pet Supplies Plus, a new pet shop opening at the Crystal Shopping Center, and a conditional use permit for a new business that’s opening in the old Thriftway building.  That will be a hardware store, a deli with a drive through, and a thrift store.  I’m very excited to welcome all of these new businesses to Crystal!

Charter Commission Meeting

The Charter Commission continues to look into Ranked Choice Voting, a confusing and expensive alternative to the way we vote now.  Action on RCV by the Charter Commission has been officially delayed until after the 2016 elections, but the commission continues to discuss the topic.

I continue to oppose this method of voting, which has been shown to disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters.

West Metro Fire Board Highlights

I serve as Crystal’s council representative on the West Metro Fire Board.

This month we continued our strategic planning, with a focus on what the structure of the District should look like in the future, discussed options for how to deal with our aging Aerial Lift, and discussed then deferred action on proposed updates to the District’s grievance process.  I asked for a continuance in the grievance process so I had an opportunity to more fully study the issue and get feedback from the firefighters who would be using it.

In The Community

  • Barnyard Boogie – I checked out the Barnyard Boogie with my Toddler.  It’s an event at the Community Center that includes a dance and a petting zoo, and it’s awesome.  Next year, find a kid and check it out.20151003_002041323_iOS
  • Halloween at Crystal Shopping Center – Another dance event for kids (sensing a theme yet?), this one included a costume contest and Trick-or-Treating at stores in the mall.  My little lion had a good time.20151017_172138285_iOS

In the Community – Upcoming Events

  • Halloween At the Fire Station – The West Metro Fire-Rescue District is hosting their first annual Halloween event this year. They will have firefighters in costume at all 3 fire stations, so bring your little ghosts and goblins (and Frozen Princesses and Snowmen) to the nearest fire station and check out the fire trucks! Crews will also be out on the streets handing out glow sticks and glow in the dark fire hats to help keep the little ones safe and visible. More here.
  • Light of Crystal Halfway Happy HourAt the Crystal VFW in November.

The next council meeting is November 3.

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.

City Meeting Recap – September 2015 (First Half)

This recap covers the Council Work Sessions on August 20, September 1, September 10, and September 16; the Council Meetings on September 1 and September 16; the EDA meetings on September 1 and 16; and the City Code Review Task Force meeting on August 27.

Work Session Highlights

Work sessions in August and September were relatively light on content as the focus was really on the budget process.

  • Phase 15 Street Reconstruction – We did talk in depth about the Phase 15 street reconstruction process.  As a reminder, the city is in Phase 15 of 16 phases to completely rebuild all of the streets in the city.  The affected area for Phase 15 is around Twin Oaks Park in the north part of the city. There are a number of steps to these projects, and we are at the part where we are reviewing the feasibility report, which explains the project in detail.  Residents impacted by the construction (and the assessments that come with it) will have several opportunities to provide feedback to the council, and will receive direct communication about the process.

The Budget

On September 1 we voted to set the preliminary budget for the city for 2016.  We set a number in September, and then we can’t raise the amount higher than that, but we can lower it.  The final number is set in December.

The preliminary budget for 2016 was set at just over $13 million, of which about $9.5 million will come from property taxes. This is a 3% increase (or roughly $300,000) over 2015.

The preliminary budget we adopted keeps city services level to where they have been while providing for some basic increased budget pressures (like wages and health insurance).

I hope to be able to provide some more details about the budget soon, in an easy to understand format.

I don’t anticipate the bottom line number will change dramatically, but we may shift where some of the money is allocated to better fit our long term needs.

In the long term, I hope to be able to pursue a new approach to the budget process that is more transparent and easy to understand for everyone.  The process in use today, in my opinion, is too complicated, too time consuming for all involved, and isn’t structured in a way to get meaningful public feedback.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Herzing University 50th Anniversary – The mayor made a proclamation recognizing Herzing University for their 50th anniversary.  Herzing has a campus in the north part of Crystal, and their President John Slama is a very involved member of the Crystal community.
  • Almsted’s Fresh Market Day – The mayor made a proclamation that September 22, 2015 was Almsted’s Fresh Market Day in Crystal, in recognition of Almsted’s 15th anniversary in Crystal.  Owner Jim Almsted is also a very involved member of the Crystal community, and Almsted’s is very supportive of many community events in Crystal.
  • Deputy Chief Mike Meehan Resolution – The council passed a resolution thanking Deputy Chief Mike Meehan for his service to Crystal and congratulating him on his new job as chief of the South Lake Minnetonka Police Department.
  • Preliminary Levy – As I mentioned above, we set the preliminary levy amounts on September 1.
  • CenturyLink/Undergrounding of Utilities – The ongoing saga regarding the change in an ordinance to allow new utilities to be added to existing poles continued with ordinance readings on September 1 and 16th  For background, see here. I voted against it on the 1st, and for it on the 16th.  My opposition was always to the way CenturyLink handled the process, not necessarily to the ordinance change, so I figured by the 16th I had made my point abundantly clear to everyone involved and was OK voting for the end product.
  • City Manager Evaluation Process – Earlier this year the council identified deficiencies in the way the City Manager position is reviewed and evaluated, and determined we would hire a consultant to help correct those deficiencies.  The council authorized the mayor to enter into a contract with one of the firms we received bids from.  The existing process does not provide meaningful actionable feedback or allow for clear goal setting.
  • Closure of Brunswick Avenue – The council authorized the closure of a portion of Brunswick Avenue near Basset Creek Park. The long term goal is to close the entire portion of the road that goes through the park.  Fun fact- it’s the only gravel road remaining in Crystal.

EDA Meeting Highlights

  • EDA Levy – Although the EDA is made up of the city council members, the The EDA is a separate entity with its own levy (which is much smaller than the city tax levy, and is capped by state law). The EDA set the levy amount to $246,000, which is below the cap of about $269,000 and is a 3% increase over last year.
  • Lot Sale- The EDA authorized the sale of a lot at 5626 Vera Cruz for new home construction.
  • New Acquisition – The EDA authorized the potential acquisition of a foreclosed home at 4354 Xenia Ave.

City Code Task Force

The City Code Task Force met for the third time and is really starting to gain momentum.  They will be presenting their first report to the council on October 1, and have already reviewed three chapters of the city code.

In The Community

  • Glow Golf – I golfed in the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Glow Golf tournament on September 3, and yes, golfing in the dark did somehow improve my game.
  • Traffic Symposium – The city held our first Traffic Symposium on September 10.  See a quick recap here, with more to come.
  • West Metro Fire Recognition – I attended the West Metro Fire District’s annual recognition event on September 12. It was a great event, and was fun to see so many great firefighters recognized for their work. I invited West Metro to present about the award ceremony at the September 16 council meeting so we could get some public recognition for the team at West Metro.
  • Halfway Happy Hour – The Light of Crystal’s Halfway Happy Hours are back. Events are on the 15th of each month and they have all the locations selected for the rest of the year. Connect with the Light of Crystal on Facebook here.
  • Public Works Ribbon Cutting – The ribbon cutting for the new Public Works facility was on September 16. See some pictures from the event here, including a semi-creepy picture of the mayor looking like he’s going to cut me with the oversized novelty scissors.

In The Community – Upcoming Events

  • Run for ROCCO – The Crystal Crime Prevention Board’s Run for ROCCO 5k event is Saturday September 26.
  • Walk-a-Thon – Meadow Lake Elementary’s 4th annual walk-a-thon is October 3 at 9am.  Bouncy houses, petting zoo, face painters, and of course, walking.
  • Halfway Happy HourOctober 15 at El Loro

A special note of congratulations to my colleague and friend Elizabeth Dahl on the birth of her daughter, Charlotte.

The next council meeting is October 6.

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.

2015 Traffic Symposium Recap

On September 10, 2015, the City of Crystal hosted our first Traffic Symposium.

The event was a part of the earlier announced Citizens Connection Initiative, and came about due to the high volume of concerns about traffic that council members receive.  The idea was to gather concerns citywide so we could develop a holistic approach to addressing traffic concerns in the city, rather than a piecemeal approach.

At the event there were several “stations” which covered different areas of the traffic system such as Street Maintenance, Signs, and Traffic Control devices.  Each station had a corresponding feedback sheet that allowed residents to give feedback about the specific topic.

There were also representatives from AAA, Metro Transit, and the A+ Driving School.  (The Driving school is who provided the “Drunk Goggles” I am wearing in this Sun Post article. I could not walk in a straight line while wearing them.)

The city staff also created two videos to help put traffic volumes in context, which were quite interesting.

At the city council work session this week, the council discussed that we would like to get the materials from the event online so that we can expand the amount of feedback we receive, and share the great materials with residents who were unable to attend.  The hope is we will be able to get the survey portion online so people can provide feedback with a few clicks.

I will post a link to those materials with a more detailed recap as soon as they are available.

City Meeting Recap – August 2015 (First Half)

This recap covers the Council Meeting on August 18, the EDA meeting on August 18, the West Metro Fire work session on August 12, and the two budget work sessions on August 6 and 13. August is when the budget process starts, and we have had two of the three budget work sessions so far.

Regular Work Session Highlights

  • Traffic - A citizen presented his concerns regarding traffic on Nevada Ave between 56th and 58th Ave.
  • Settlement – The council discussed a settlement regarding the assessments for phase 13 street reconstruction with two businesses.  This was approved at the council meeting later that evening.
  • Security Training – Chief Revering performed security training for the council.  If you listen to the work session we didn’t record that part.
  • West Broadway / 48th Ave Crossing – I covered this topic in detail during my last update.  We were looking at options for a crossing that needs to be reconstructed if the light rail goes through.  I’m happy to report that we have a solution that seems to meet the approval of the neighborhood (including a retired traffic engineer that lives nearby), the city staff, and the county.  The county has backed off their position on accelerating the turnback of West Broadway and we have that in writing.
  • Utilities – Another topic I discussed in detail (probably too much detail) in my last update- the council reviewed two proposed versions of a new (new) ordinance about undergrounding of utilities.  Still leaning toward voting against this one.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Awards and Appearances – We had the presentation of several awards and a few appearances at the beginning of the meeting.  That’s what the pictures above are from.  Apologies to all for me being a terrible photographer.  Awards were presented to 1) Crystal PD from New Hope PD for Crystal’s assistance during the council chamber shooting earlier this year 2) Officer Tim Tourville for being the DWI All Star for the third year in a row 3) Sergeant Brandon Dorr and Officer Julie Severson for their award from the Northstar Council for excellence in the Police Explorers Post.  The Post advisors won an award, but the Post also won Post of the year. Very impressive! 4) The Parks Department won an award for the fall Program Brochure.  5) We had an appearance from the Ride for Freedom Club who presented a check to Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, and 6) Mayor Adams presented a Commendation for Susan Carstens.
  • Point Of Sale Inspections – The council voted 5-1 to approve the second reading of an ordinance repealing the requirement that the city inspect your house before you can sell it.  We heard from several members of the community at the meeting.  One was opposed and the remainder of those who spoke were supportive of the change, including two long term residents of Crystal who are also Realtors, one who has been selling real estate since 1977.  I always appreciate hearing thoughts from Crystal residents on items that are before the council.  The council received quite a bit of feedback on this change, most in support of the change and a few concerns about safety and maintaining the quality of our housing stock, which are certainly valid concerns.  However I continue to believe we have enough tools in the toolkit to manage these concerns without this ordinance.
  • Miscellaneous – We approved the installation of Yield Signs at 48th and Maryland and a fuel contract with West Metro Fire (see below).

EDA Meeting – Only one item on the agenda, the approval of the authorization of a sale for one EDA owned lot at 45th and Yates.

West Metro Fire

There was a joint work session that included both the New Hope and Crystal Councils and then a special meeting and work session after that. (All on August 12).

  • Check In – The first work session with both councils was our annual check in where we get an update on West Metro and both councils have the opportunity to ask questions and check in with each other.
  • Grievance Procedure – At the meeting the board discussed updating the grievance procedure.  The board recently received a complaint from a fire fighter and I believe it exposed flaws in the existing procedures.  The HR departments of Crystal and New Hope will be reviewing past complaints and the existing procedure to recommend updates.  We’ll be discussing at a future meeting.  It’s critical that all West Metro Employees feel there is a process in place that is fair, and that the process is followed properly.
  • Fuel – The West Metro Board approved a fuel contract with Crystal.  West Metro currently buys their fuel from Robbinsdale Schools but will be getting it from the new Crystal Public Works Facility once that opens.
  • Long Range Planning – The board held its first work session dealing with long range planning.  This was an overview of the history of the district with some information about changes over time.  There will be several more work sessions where we dig into specific aspects of the District and discuss where we should be going in the future.

Budget Work Sessions – As I mentioned above, the budget process starts in August.  We have had two work sessions so far, the first to discuss the operating budget and the second to discuss the capital plan.  There is another work session tonight.

The preliminary levy will be set at the September 1 meeting, which means we’ll set the levy amount that we can’t go higher than.  The number can be decreased later this year.

I will have more thoughts on the budget process as we go along.  Right now my focus is absorbing the numbers, listening to the city staff, and asking lots of questions.

In the Community

  • Night To Unite was August 2. I got to 7 or 8 (I lost count) parties across Ward 2.  Many thanks to Officer K for carting me around.  It was great to see so many people out and involved in the community.  My favorite part of going around to the various parties is observing the different traditions each neighborhood has.
  • I made it to the Crystal Lions Corn Feed on August 8, but I only ate 2 pieces of corn, which is pretty weak.
  • I distributed about 200 copies of my first newsletter in the Lee Park neighborhood.  I still hope to get to a few more neighborhoods before the snow comes.

In the Community – Upcoming Events

  • The city is conducting a resident survey as part of the State Performance Measurement Program.  It’s short and anonymous. Take it here.
  • Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is hosting a “glow golf” tournament on September 3. I’m thinking about doing this because maybe playing in the dark will improve my golf game.
  • The city is hosting a Traffic Symposium/Open House Thursday September 10 at the community center from 5:30 – 7:30 PM.  Come learn about traffic control and transportation in Crystal, share your concerns about traffic, and share your thoughts about potential changes to the overnight parking ordinance.
  • The ribbon cutting for the new public works facility is September 16 from 5-7 pm (5001 W Broadway).  The actual ribbon cutting with the big scissors and tape is at 6.
  • Battle of the Badges Blood Drive August 26.

The next council meeting is September 1. There is a budget work session tonight.

You can watch the video of the council meeting 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.

 

City Meeting Recap – July 2015

This recap covers all of July, which is a bit different because there was only one council meeting, instead of the usual two.  Specifically, I’m covering the Work Sessions and Council Meeting on July 14, a special EDA meeting and work session on July 20, and the July 23 Code Review Task Force Meeting.  There was a West Metro Fire Board work session originally scheduled for July 15 but it was rescheduled for August.

Work Session Highlights

  • Old Public Works Facility Site – The council discussed some of the history of the new public works facility, and then discussed what to do with the land that the existing facility sits on (roughly 41st and Brunswick) once the new building is opened.  Ultimately we decided to put this discussion on hold until the new building is open and we’ve had some time to transition.  The question is whether to hold the land, re-purpose the land for a different city use, or to redevelop the land into single family homes.  High density housing is not a use that is being considered for this property.
  • Blue Line LRT Update

    The council received an update from the Blue Line LRT project team on the Blue Line project.

    Specifically we talked about the current “S-curve” rail crossing at 48th Avenue and were presented with options on how to “fix” the crossing to make it work better with the light rail.  A number of the proposals (including the ones preferred by city staff) would trigger a “turnback” of West Broadway from the county to the city, meaning that West Broadway would become a city street and would no longer be a county road.  That means that Crystal taxpayers would be on the hook for maintenance of that road going forward.  I expressed my displeasure to the Blue Line team and the County, explaining that it is their project that is requiring a change to the crossing, not a city initiative, therefore it is ridiculous to make Crystal take over the road (and the cost) because of something the Met Council and the County are doing to us.  I encouraged the county to re-think their position on the “turnback” provision, as I feel it’s an artificially imposed penalty on Crystal.  We’ll see what happens.

    We also discussed the station area planning process, which is the process to talk about potential redevelopment options around where the station would be.  That process will happen later this summer.

    The project team also informed us that their new projections say they need more parking spaces, so they presented a new plan for the Bass Lake Road station that includes a parking lot, as it should have in the first place.  I’m glad they came around on that issue.  The notion that we would have a station but no parking was always one of the silliest features of the plan.

    I continue to be skeptical about this project and it’s impact on our city.  The price is now expected to balloon past $1,000,000,000, which is an amazing burden on taxpayers at all levels.  In addition, Crystal seems to be an afterthought to many of the plans.

    I will continue fight to make sure that if this project gets built, the negative impacts to our city are minimized, and that the needs of our city are represented.  We cannot sit by and allow this to just happen to us, we need to make sure we are loudly advocating for ourselves in this process.

  • CenturyLink

    The council had a special work session at the request of CenturyLink to discuss issues they had with one of our city ordinances.

    In June the council voted to relax our ordinance on undergrounding new utility lines at the request of CenturyLink and Comcast.  Despite the fact that CenturyLink reps were aware of this process, they waited until after we had the second reading of the ordinance to raise concerns with the language.  I have been quite frankly disgusted with the way CenturyLink has handled this whole situation. At the work session CenturyLink reps basically said “change your ordinance or we won’t expand our service in Crystal”.

    Ultimately, what CenturyLink is asking for is not entirely unreasonable.  They want to be able to add new lines to existing poles.  The only real downside to this is that we’ll most likely never see the utilities run underground.  But, we’re also not seeing new poles get added.

    But the way the company went about seeking the change to the ordinance, their posturing at the meeting, and the fact that they have been unable or unwilling to resolve an issue for one of my constituents that has been going on for over six months, makes it very difficult for me to consider voting for this change.  I told CenturyLink I don’t think they are good partners, and their behavior since our meeting has not changed my mind.  I also have concerns about their lack of maintenance of their existing equipment in Crystal.

    We’ll be voting on a new, new ordinance in August.  I really don’t know where I’ll land on this.  I want to bring competition into our community so we have more choices, but CenturyLink’s inability to be a good partner has me having second thoughts about going out of our way to accommodate them.

Council Meeting Highlights

  • Housekeeping – A few housekeeping items: the second reading of the Bloody Mary Law ordinance (first day for 8 AM Bloody Marys in Crystal is August 23!) and adoption of a new data practices policy.
  • Projects – We approved the 2015 Alley Reconstruction project, and a new boiler for city hall, both planned projects.
  • Gaulke Pond Homes – We approved the final plat for the new subdivision on Douglas Drive at about 39th Ave.  Lot sales can start now, and construction could begin as soon as this year!  FYI, the house that’s there now is currently for sale and will be staying there.
  • Fire Budget – We approved the 2016 West Metro Fire Budget, about a 3.5% increase over LY.
  • NWHHSC Withdrawal – The city formally voted to withdraw from the Northwest Hennepin Human Services Council.  I talked about this last month.
  • Point of Sale Inspections - Another topic I covered last month, the council voted 6-1 to repeal the requirement that you get a city inspection prior to selling your home.  Second reading is in August.  While I certainly understand and appreciate concerns about maintaining the quality of our housing stock, I think that there are ways to do that don’t require government interference in a private transaction.

EDA Meeting

We had a special EDA meeting to approve the sale of a city owned lot to a builder who lives in Crystal, Day Construction.

City Code Task Force

The second meeting of the City Code Task Force was in July, and they got through part of their assignment to review chapters 1, 2 and 3 of the code.  The group is working through their process and they will continue to refine it and adjust as time goes on.  I heard some great suggestions already, and they are just getting started.  A lot of the first round suggestions have to do with improving the readability and overall user friendliness of the code, which is much needed.

In the Community

  • Crystal Frolics was July 23 – 26 and was awesome this year.  I was in the Dunk Tank with Mayor Jim Adams, Council Member Casey Peak and Fire Chief Sarah Larson raising money for local food shelves on Saturday night.  It was steamy that night, so the water actually felt so good I volunteered for a second shift!
  • There was a ribbon cutting for the new playground at Bassett Creek Park on July 29.  I captured some good pictures of the Mayor testing out the new equipment at the playground.
  • On July 22, my almost 2 year old son and I checked out the musical stylings of the Splatter Sisters at Welcome Park, part of this Summer’s Music in the Park series.  They were good, but that song about the old lady who swallowed the fly is pretty demented.

In The Community:  Upcoming Events

  • Night to Unite is next Tuesday.  Check out this great map created by the Police Department that has all the party locations on it.  If your neighborhood doesn’t participate, pick a close by party and join them!
  • Crystal Lions Corn Feed is August 8. All you can eat corn for $6.  Details here.

Newsletter

The inaugural issue of my neighborhood newsletter is out.  I’m dropping it at as many houses as my feet and schedule allow. Check out the online version here.

The next council meeting is August 18.

You can watch the video of the council meeting 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.