Fallout from Ford site lawsuit
Reporter Jane McClure did a nice job in her article about the lawsuit over the application of the definition of “open space” in the Ford site master plan (Villager, May 12). We thank her for her coverage of this issue. However, a few important points were not mentioned.
First, Judge Guthmann agreed, albeit in commentary, that based on the evidence produced at trial, it may be possible to conclude that the city of Saint Paul failed to perform an official duty imposed by law by interpreting “open space” to mean private rooftop balconies and decks. This is a key finding that the city has consistently denied.
Second, we learned that the 10-day administrative zoning appeal requirement in city code applies not only to zoning decisions but also to an intentional refusal to enforce the zoning code. Apparently, it is up to private citizens to track backroom meetings at City Hall and identify and formally appeal any shenanigans within 10 days.
We were glad to see that City Attorney Lyndsey Olson now recognizes the decade of community engagement (and likely millions of tax dollars) that went into the planning of the Highland Bridge site. Following the codified master plan that arose out of that engagement—and those expenditures—was all that we were advocating for in the first place.
The city is now working on a revised definition of “open space” for private parcels at the Highland Bridge site. We encourage citizens to get involved in this issue via the Saint Paul Planning Commission and the Highland District Council.
Editor’s note: The writers were all plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit regarding the Ford site master plan.
Who’s the sheriff in town?
There’s a dustup building between our sheriff in Ramsey County and the Saint Paul City Council. I knew Bob Fletcher when he was the lieutenant in charge of the Saint Paul Police Department’s Burglary Unit and I was a community service officer assigned under him. He’s a rootin’-tootin’, hard-ridin’, go-get-’em kind of lawman, that’s for sure. But he also has a good and honest heart. This I know.
I can’t say the same about the oh-so-proper City Council. They are an assemblage of tight-lipped, buttoned-up, starch-collared schoolmarms who want to take the sheriff behind the woodshed over his “Live on Patrol” YouTube videos. The “ladies” (that includes the two male council members) are upset that Bob never asked them for permission. Even worse, they have no authority over him in the first place. That’s what’s twisting their bloomers. Now, do they also have a hidden agenda? I’ll take that bet.
And while I’m tossing my two bits into this pot, I have neither forgiven nor forgotten the City Council’s duplicitous actions during ye olde trash cart affair. Nor how they caused former council member Dan Bostrom, another alum of the cop shop, to resign from their faculty. I was merely acquainted with Dan when he was a copper, but still knew that he was someone with integrity. His departure during the trash cart business was a loss to the East Side.
Now it’s the Edgcumbe Road sidewalk affair. The City Council wants to rule by edict, and when the residents object, they’re not above using the old bamboozle. The council puts the shade in shady, which is ironic when their plan is to cut down all the shade trees.
Development degrades charm
I have lived in Merriam Park since 1976. The new mentality of developers coming into my neighborhood and tearing down our 100-year-old homes is unconscionable. Many of us invested in the city when many others were fleeing to the suburbs in the 1960s and ’70s. Our thanks is to raise our property taxes incredibly, a huge increase in crime as reported in this very newspaper, and tearing down homes for market-rate apartments.
A housing shortage? There is no housing shortage. There is a shortage of affordable housing. Will these expensive apartments built at the expense of our antique neighborhood address that? Absolutely not. They are market-rate apartments.
Many people are attracted to our antique city for its old charm. Building ugly cubist apartments that attract college students drives people away and degrades our charm. If you developers want to build suburban buildings, go back to the burbs and build them there or go over to University Avenue, which is already compromised.
Shame on the City Council and other city leaders for allowing this to happen. The neighborhoods do not want this, and we are not being listened to.
Schools should invest in solar
The Saint Paul Public Schools plans to spend more than $500 million on school facilities over the next five years. Five local organizations are joining together to urge the school district to make greater use of solar and other emerging forms of energy. Currently, the school district makes little use of solar energy. Meanwhile, districts like Waconia and Forest Lake report saving more than $200,000 per year by using solar panels while reducing their CO2 emissions.
However, it isn’t just about cleaner energy and saving money. This issue is important in terms of racial equity. Energy insecurity affects almost one-third of Americans and an even larger proportion of people of color. It’s clear that less expensive energy would be a huge benefit. We also want to see more opportunities for young people to learn about climate change, solar and other renewable energy sources and learn from those whose jobs are in the clean energy field.
We encourage readers to contact candidates for Saint Paul School Board and urge them to make the expansion of solar and other renewable forms of energy a top priority as the district spends $500 million on its buildings.
Elizabeth Dickinson, Saint Paul 350
Joe Nathan, Center for School Change
Clarence White, East Side Freedom Library
Ellie Leonardsmith, West Side Community Organization
Conflict versus cooperation
When the news of the day includes a Martian rover with a helicopter, mixed-use projects like Lexington Station and the problems with homeless shelters, it illustrates the difference between groups seeking a common goal versus groups who are interested in taking care of themselves. In the latter case, mud slinging and tunnel vision lead to unhappiness on every hand.
As I read about Freedom House (Villager, April 28 and May 12), I ask myself, “Don’t we realize the issues involved belong to everyone in this society?” Let’s face it, the time will never come when everyone is housed. Barriers to employment along with mental illness will produce some level of homelessness. So the problem is to find locations for homeless arrangements. Downtown is a convenient choice for aid agencies, but for hardly anyone else. We have adult entertainment zones. Maybe homeless service zones would be the start of an answer.
We can engineer rocket boosters that land like in Flash Gordon. I think we can engineer an optimum siting of homeless services. But NASA would be helpless without a team spirit. Society needs that for its human issues.
Complaining about scooters
How trivial it is that our neighborhood shows dismay over the return of electric scooters. Highlanders act as if the scooters are the worst thing to come to this neighborhood, while forgetting the positive impacts electric scooters have for users and the environment. While some users ride too fast, use sidewalks versus bike lanes and leave the scooters in inconvenient places, let’s not forget the countless users who ride safely in order to save money, lower greenhouse gas emissions and have fun.
Could electric scooter companies do a better job at educating riders on proper usage? Of course. But the answer isn’t to get rid of scooters. Electric scooters are here to stay. The city of Saint Paul has approved two vendors, Lime and Bird, for the use of their scooters this season, so we might as well get used to them. Instead of complaining about the negatives, let’s show neighborliness by moving a scooter to the side if it’s in the way, by smiling at scooter riders as they zoom by, by educating rather than reprimanding. If you have a concern, send complaints to the companies and local leaders rather than arguing about scooters on social media.
We are fortunate that we have access to electric scooters, an eco-friendly alternative to gas-guzzling cars. Try it out for yourself. You might find that zipping through the neighborhood on an electric scooter allows you to forget your complaints, even if just for a few moments.
River road to perdition
For his part in defacing mile upon mile of Saint Paul’s beautiful natural river scenery with thousands of orange plastic traffic cones, I suggest that Mississippi River Boulevard be renamed the Mayor Melvin Carter III Memorial Construction Zone.
Lay off the herbicides
On a spring walk through Highland Park, I noticed a local academy had applied herbicide to its grounds with the usual signs warning children and pets to keep off the lawn while the poison seeps into the ground and wafts through the air. Children go out to play at recess on these grounds. I called the school and was told it was standard practice across the city and perfectly legal.
How much consideration do school and city administrators have not only for their kids, whom they are poisoning, but for their neighbors? Schools, particularly, need to set an example and take the poisoning of their properties out of their budgets. What kind of biology lesson are we teaching our kids that poisoning our environment does anything besides poison us?
Note to Metro Transit
Any Metro Transit manager who thinks the present setup is going to entice drivers out of their cars and onto a bus or train is dreaming. I think I speak for many elderly people and for any who are classed as lame and halt when I say that the timetable for buses is insufficient and the recent removal of half of the bus stops along Grand Avenue has made for a downright painful experience for anyone who must use a cane or crutches when walking, not to mention those with strollers or lots of bulging shopping bags.
On a recent trip to a medical office on Smith Avenue, I had to walk one block further to the office and two blocks further from the office because of the removal of bus stops at Chestnut Street. Those were three painful blocks, as were those I walked to get to businesses between Dale Street and the next bus stop two blocks farther west.
When people are going to medical appointments on a bus, they conceivably have painful problems and would like some consideration in public planning. Ditto for people who are constrained to use the bus to do their shopping. Grand Avenue is a shopping avenue, and there should be stops on every corner to accommodate those who shop.
And why are there all those weird bumpouts at many bus stops? They force bus drivers to cut sharply left to get back into the traffic lane. Without the bumpouts, bus drivers could more gently merge into traffic. Who thinks up all these idiotic changes? Who doesn’t think it’s suitable to have a bus stop at the Highland Park Library entrance?
We need fare card machines that can be read in bright sunlight and fare-charging machines that won’t freeze over in winter. We need sheltered places to sit at transit stops. And we riders would greatly appreciate hooks in shelters on which to hang our tote bags, to have a bit of respite while waiting for the not-nearly-frequent-enough buses.
Thanks from Laura Jeffrey
I’m writing to celebrate one who has dedicated the last four years to supporting our students. An AmeriCorps member with Minnesota Math Corps, Gary Taruscio has focused on providing our students with extra practice and support to improve their math skills. Over the past four years, he has given a total of 3,600 hours to help our students succeed.
Gary works one-on-one or in small groups with students. With Gary supplementing the excellent work our teachers are doing in their classrooms, we’ve seen wonderful growth. He has been an invaluable part of our community. I especially have enjoyed watching him build strong relationships with the students he serves.
I couldn’t let the school year end without acknowledging Gary and all he has done to support our students. As Gary moves on to his next adventure, we’ll have big shoes to fill in the fall. If you’re interested in joining our team as a math tutor, please visit readingandmath.net. And, if you happen to have a fifth-through-eighth-grader looking for a great school, check out Laura Jeffrey Academy.
Jacob Bonde, Math Corps Internal Coach
Laura Jeffrey Academy
1550 Summit Ave.
Moving forward with Carter
I don’t think we’ve seen a mayoral candidate as capable as Mayor Melvin Carter. He’s handsome, I love his smile, and I’m inspired by the way he speaks to the needs and hopes of our neighbors who have long been marginalized and disregarded. When it comes to the important stuff, I’m grateful for his broad and deep experience in education and executive leadership. I may not personally know people uplifted by his policies, but I believe we all do better when we all do better.
Early in his term, Mayor Carter recognized that our city must be prepared for a rapidly evolving and uncertain future—for things like climate change, a pandemic and social unrest. He developed a staff ready to address our deepest challenges and lead courageously with initiatives like the People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income Pilot Program. We’re taking care of ash trees before they die and fall on buildings, and beautiful new housing is being added to the tax base, responding to some of the exploding demand, especially for people who want to live their life in an urban neighborhood instead of behind a windshield.
Let’s keep moving forward with an experienced and progressive mayor who centers the voices we’ve long ignored. Think about how different the past year would’ve been if the focus was on monied lobbyists and nonstop frivolous lawsuits. I would’ve moved out of town.
Not Mayor Carter’s fault
Regarding Sue Shetka’s letter (“Nothing but the best for city,” Villager Inbox, April 14):
All cities have been hugely affected by people no longer commuting to work and school. Closures due to COVID are not limited to Saint Paul. Long before Melvin Carter became mayor, people called Saint Paul a ghost town at night. The whole world is observing the problem of the United States’ refusal to honestly address the catastrophe we created by 244 years of slavery and subsequent racist practices. Naturally, the number of high-profile deaths from police shootings in the Twin Cities would cloud our livability ratings.
Personally, I continue to admire the genuine interest Mayor Carter has in making our city one in which all can prosper.
Support the pharmaceuticals
Like many Minnesotans, I have had a difficult year. It has been challenging to stay isolated at home and not see friends or loved ones. But thankfully, it won’t be like this for much longer. Because of our incredible pharmaceutical advancements, we now have multiple vaccinations against COVID-19. By building on known scientific methods, these companies were able to develop critical treatments in less than a year.
As a physician assistant student, I have been fortunate to receive the vaccine and I no longer live in fear. I can’t wait for life to return to normal. But our advancements in medical innovation cannot stop with these new COVID cures. We need biopharmaceutical companies to continue their work in developing treatments for all diseases. It is crucial that government continue supporting this industry. Our leaders have to remember that without the efforts of pharmaceutical companies, we would be nowhere near the end of the pandemic.
Now is not the time to consider policies that risk endangering the development of treatments and cures, like price-setting legislation. We need to support research and development to protect all Americans. Otherwise, we risk not only harming the patients of today, but those for generations to come.
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