State of the City 2004
Mayor R.T. Rybak delivered his State of the City speech on April 29, 2004.
Mayor R.T. Rybak – State of the City Address
Thank you for coming to the State of the City address. I would like to begin with one of those small moments of time that we all have when we’re going about our daily business. It’s not a seemingly important moment, but it’s one of those where time seems to stand still, and the moment itself seems to take on a larger significance.
The other day when I was driving down Ninth Street – I think it was between LaSalle and the Nicollet Mall – I pulled up to the stoplight and I looked over to my right, and there was a bus stop. As I looked at that bus stop, I looked at who stood there. The people waiting for the Number 8 looked to me very much like the mini version of the United Nations that Minneapolis has become. People from all over the world, it seems, live here. People from all different income levels, there were some who were people of means, but mostly people who were not. People probably going over to Abbott Northwestern, probably people going to the University of Minnesota, but all of them needed that bus to arrive.
The light changed, we moved on. As I drove away, I thought about what happened two weeks before when the buses were on strike, when no one was at that bus stop. I thought about every one of those lives and how it had been touched dramatically by the fact that an essential public service was suddenly not there. It said a lot about how important the bus system is to us, and how important it is for all of us to continue to advocate for it, but it really said something more to me.
It said to me, and to those of us who provide public service, that what we do is about something far deeper. Government seems quite boring, and it’s often attacked in many ways, and yet government provides the community with a basic backbone. It’s essential to remember this, especially in this period of time where many people are ready to attack government. It’s essential for us to deliver basic core services in a good way for a good value.
So as I moved away from that bus stop, I thought about buses. I thought about those people. I want all of us to recommit ourselves to the fact that the seemingly mundane things we do in government – the things that go unnoticed – are very much what powers this community and makes it go forward.
I want to mention a couple of things briefly that I’m not going to say much more about. I’m not going to be speaking much about crime today, and it’s not because it’s not an important issue in this community. It’s pivotal. But over the next couple of weeks, Chief McManus and his command staff and I will be bringing out a summer crime strategy that will be tied together with a number of community initiatives. And so we’ll delay that conversation for a couple of weeks.
I also won’t talk much about the budget today. Council Members, especially Ways and Means Chair Barb Johnson, and I are working through that process, and I’ll be presenting my budget later this summer. So don’t expect too much today in the way of crime and budget.
What I want to do today is focus on two key initiatives that are at the core of what we’re doing, and those are jobs and housing. But before getting to that, I want to go through a brief list of some of our accomplishments of the past year. There have been many, and I won’t begin to touch on all of them. As you listen to these, I want you to think about how much is done in this city in a great way in many places.
It’s hard to say anything about this past year without starting with the fact that finally, after many years, the long-vacant Sears building is about to be redeveloped. We should also recognize that the single largest source of air pollution in the city of Minneapolis is the Riverside Coal Plant, and this year we’ve accomplished something great: by 2009 the Riverside Coal Plant will be converted to gas.
We also secured an additional $20 million dollars for home insulation near the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, and now moving through the legislature for the first time is a bill to develop a statewide airport strategy to look at long-term solutions to divert air traffic from our neighborhoods in South Minneapolis.
Here are some other things we’ve done this year:
With the leadership of Council Member Lane, we have committed $40 million dollars to Phase II of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program.
We worked with Council Member Zerby to secure a $7 million lead grant, also with the partnership of Gail Dorfman of Hennepin County.
With Council Member Colvin Roy, we developed a water quality strategy for the City, and with Council Member Zimmerman, we developed a comprehensive environmental strategy.
Judith Kahn is taking the reins in a strong way for the Youth Coordinating Board and is moving forward to develop a comprehensive children’s agenda.
Last year Council Member Benson led us in the adoption of and Ethics Code, and Council Member Johnson and Samuels and I are working on a comprehensive vision for the Upper River Terminal that we hope will take that key piece of the riverfront and tie it more closely with North Minneapolis.
We’ve used the Pilot City Initiative to bring national foundation dollars to Lake Street, and we’ve used Faith in the City to mobilize Lutheran-based organizations to help us on Franklin Avenue.
Dan Pfeiffer from Xcel is here, and we thank you for the $100,000 to help us move forward on lighting the Stone Arch Bridge.
I want to especially thank our labor unions. People often say that labor unions and government can’t work together. This year we had a tremendous victory here at the City of Minneapolis. Health care costs were skyrocketing, and it was no good for the City or for its employees. The union came to the table, and with the help of our great negotiator Tim Giles, together we developed a health care policy that is not only saving millions of dollars for the City, but providing better for our City employees. Thank you to our labor unions for that great victory.
And we did all of this without the elected officials killing each other, thanks in large part to Council President Paul Ostrow’s calm leadership.
And of course one of the great things that we have done is create CPED, the Community Planning and Economic Development Department, which grew out of the planning department, the MCDA, and efforts throughout the rest of the city.
We elected officials have told this department that in this period of time with fewer resources, it is time to focus our resources, and our focus should be jobs and housing.
Affordable housing was the most pressing issue facing the City when I came into office. We’ve moved forward on that by creating the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and allocated $12 million dollars to affordable housing just in the past budget year alone. There have been 3,000 housing units created in the city of Minneapolis in the last two and a half years. The City of Minneapolis has helped fund 1,942 homes. The vast majority of those, 1,500 of those, are affordable to people making $11 an hour, and that is a crucial role for us to continue to play.
There are victories in many places. One of them we can celebrate today is the grand opening of Lydia House, a supportive housing development that was built in partnership with Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation. Thank you for your work on this, Commissioner Marx, I see you there, and you’re heading off to that event, and I will be too. Lydia House is a partnership of many people, including Council Member Goodman, and is a key step in our affordable housing strategy.
We have to recognize that as important as the affordable housing strategy is to the City of Minneapolis, it has not been easy to site this housing within the city. There have been deep divisions within neighborhoods, and it’s our job to find a way to solve that. And that’s why Gretchen Nichols from the Center for Neighborhoods, and Tom Fulton from the Family Housing Fund, have helped us to develop the very innovative Corridor Housing Initiative.
I was at the Kingfield neighborhood meeting the other night and saw this in action. What it’s really about is saying we can have affordable housing in our neighborhoods and concentrated on commercial corridors if it is the vision of the neighborhood. On Nicollet Avenue you see neighbors from Kingfield and many surrounding neighborhoods coming up with an innovative vision for Nicollet that would include housing at all levels. It’s a great plan.
This weekend, a similar planning process is going on in the Powderhorn/East Phillips and East Lake Street neighborhoods. Loring Park and Nicollet neighborhoods are moving ahead as well. The Corridor Housing Initiative is, I think, the best combination of good community, of good affordability, and good neighborhood participation.
We cannot talk about housing in the city of Minneapolis without talking about Heritage Park. Heritage Park is the largest housing project we have going in the city, and one of the largest housing programs of any city in the country. Here’s what we’ve accomplished so far:
We’ve created 232 rental units and another 345 are going to be completed by the end of the year. 514 people now live in Heritage Park, and I had a great experience with some of them two Saturdays ago:
I was coming down Olson Highway, and I saw a band of folks marching down the road and stopped them and talked to them about what they were doing. They were part of the group that was calling attention to victims of crime—Amy Klobuchar, County Attorney, that was an initiative of yours. I talked to some of the people there, but two women in particular were impressive.
They talked to me about the fact that they had lived in the neighborhood around Heritage Park before the construction. They talked about the crime issues that they had. They talked about the pride they had in moving back into Heritage Park and what that meant for their community and for their families. It was a moment of great pride for them and should be for everyone in Minneapolis.
We have made great contributions to Heritage Park, and Heritage Park is making great contributions back to the city. Let me give you an example of what that means. Along with the tremendous work Heritage Park is doing in creating housing on the north side of downtown, let’s go to the bottom line for a moment.
For half a century, 50 years, the land on which Heritage Park sat paid no property taxes to the City of Minneapolis. Not a nickel. By the end of this year, there will be $650,000 of property taxes coming from Heritage Park. And when the project is done, $1.2 million dollars will be coming back to the City each year. We have made an investment in Heritage Park; the investment is paying off for people and even for our bottom line. We will move forward and complete that project in a great way.
Heritage Park is a great success. Yet, when we look to the rest of North Minneapolis, we have to recognize that housing there lags dramatically behind the rest of the city. Let me give you a couple of statistics on this. Forty-one of the 124 boarded and vacant properties in the city are located in North Minneapolis. In the fourth quarter last year, 116 permits for new construction over $50,000 were issued in the city, but only 16 of them were on the North side.
You can look at statistic after statistic, and it becomes clear that while the housing market is surging forward in most parts of the city, several key neighborhoods of North Minneapolis lag behind. It is time to do something dramatic, and we’re going to do that, and I’m very proud to announce it today.
We started with a million dollars in seed money. We said that what we needed to do was to create a fund to renovate boarded and vacant properties in North Minneapolis. We also wanted to attack a key problem in that area, which is home ownership, especially the gap among the communities of color.
Tim Marx of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, we turned to you, we asked you for partnership, and you came through in a way much more dramatic then we expected. Today I’m very pleased to announce that through Tim Marx of the MHFA, they are contributing $20 million dollars to the Northside Home Fund.
And it gets better. Then we went out to the private sector, and we said to Dorothy Bridges at the Franklin Bank, "Can you help us?" And she came back with a tremendous solution. Today I’m proud to announce the Franklin Bank has committed $20 million dollars in loan funds to the Northside Home Fund.
Those two contributions along with our long-time commitment from General Mills, means that our $1 million dollars will leverage more than $40 million dollars to attack the issue of renovation and home ownership among communities of color in North Minneapolis. $40 million dollars! Thanks to all of you, and I invite others to join us as we move forward with this initiative.
The good news about housing in Minneapolis is in most neighborhoods people want to live here. It’s a remarkable thing. In fact, values throughout the entire city are going up. And that means that in the long term we all have more money in our pockets. But there are a few very serious issues that grow out of this.
People often ask if all of this housing is being built, and my property taxes are going up, why doesn’t the City have more money? Well, the answer to that lies in the whole issue of what’s happening with property taxes in this state. The redistribution that has taken place due to changes in state law has had an immense impact on the City of Minneapolis.
Let me give you a statistic. Over the past ten years, the value of property in the city of Minneapolis has gone up dramatically. In ten years alone, the value of our property has gone up from $12 billion to $30 billion dollars. And yet we’re not generating that much more taxes to add to the City’s bottom line. Why is that? In large part it’s because of the redistribution that has taken place. The state legislature has shifted the burden off commercial property, which we have a lot of, and on to residential property. It means, for instance, that downtown Minneapolis, which used to pay 45 percent of the City’s tax burden, is now paying 35 percent of the City’s tax burden.
This change in state law has put an enormous property tax burden on homeowners in this city. Any housing policy that we have, any policy that’s about ownership, any policy that’s about affordability, must recognize the key impact that property taxes are having.
That’s why I’ve been so appreciative of the work Senator Pogemiller has done at the state capitol to address the issue of property tax distribution. And we need to go back to the legislature to do everything we can to extend the limited market value for our homes. We are unable, I believe, to develop a sustainable housing policy in this city with the state’s tax policy.
When you think about housing in the city of Minneapolis, it’s pretty clear that very quickly you move to the issue of jobs. Let me give you another number. Say you should only be paying around 30 percent of your income for an average two-bedroom apartment in the city of Minneapolis. To afford that, you have to be making $18 dollars an hour. As you well know, many of the residents of this city do not make that. It’s becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to raise a family on a minimum wage and live in the city of Minneapolis. Jobs and housing are inherently interconnected.
More and more it seems to me that we are developing two economies in the city of Minneapolis and in the State of Minnesota. One economy, that creates jobs even in toughest of times, has a ladder for people to move up. A second economy has no career ladder, is about entry level jobs, and often leads to a dead-end.
It’s clear to me that the City of Minneapolis cannot solve this alone. It’s one of the reasons why I’m so pleased that the Itasca Project, a new coalition of business leaders, has agreed to take on this issue of closing the employment gap. I want to thank Jim Campbell, the retired CEO of Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, who is chair of that organization, for bringing the business community together on this. This is not just a Minneapolis issue. This is an issue critical to maintaining the entire region’s competitiveness.
That does not mean, however, that the City of Minneapolis can stand on the sidelines. As you know from my budget last year, we committed a million dollars of seed money to launch a program called Close the Gap. The City does have a role to play, but we need partners, not only from the business community, but also from the academic institutions: those who will train our employees to be able to get up that career ladder.
With the leadership of Mike Christenson at CPED, we have brought together an incredibly impressive group of leaders from the educational institutions that are going to help us close the gap to career laddering. I would like to ask each of our partners in this to stand: MCTC President Phil Davis is president of the initiative, President Bill Clay of Augsburg, Dr. William Bradshaw of West Metro State, Robert Jones who is Provost and Executive Vice President of the University of Minnesota, Ann Wright, President of Dunwoody, Andrea Levy, President of Saint Catherine’s College, and Father Dease, President of St. Thomas University. Thank you for all of your help.
We’ll also be joined by our advisors: Star Tribune Publisher Keith Moyer and U.S. Bank CEO Jerry Grundhofer, all of us together at the table developing career ladders for city workers.
Let’s remember the best success we’ve had in this area: The Health Careers Institute. This is a great example of what we can do. We took residents in the Phillips neighborhood and identified jobs at Abbott Northwestern, moved them into those jobs, and trained them, and now we have a career ladder for them. It’s clear as you look at the Phillips neighborhood and the success we’re having there, that a career ladder is about success not only for an individual, but for the whole city.
Last year when we talked about jobs, we were in the middle of the worst summer employment market in 37 years. Summer jobs have never been more scarce for kids in this city. And when you think about that, when you think about the career ladders I just mentioned, ask yourself about the first job you had. That first summer job you had, that first step on the ladder.
What if that didn’t happen? What if you didn’t get that first job? We need to come together to bring more summer jobs to kids. We set a goal, we said we would create 200 summer jobs for kids through the Step Up program, and I’m happy to announce today we will meet that goal.
We must also recognize that a good workforce is an educated workforce. And no person advocates this more strongly than University of Minnesota President Bob Bruiniks. That’s why I’m pleased to announce that the University of Minnesota is a key partner in our Northside initiative. The U is moving part of its Center for Early Education and Development to North Minneapolis. This will be a key partnership, and I want to thank the University of Minnesota for that.
When you think about jobs, it’s clear that there will be some key opportunities where the City can have a big impact. There is no place where we’re going to be able to make a bigger impact than our Midtown Exchange, the former Sears building. That impact will start with 1,000 jobs that Allina is moving into that building. That’s tremendous, and it only starts there.
One place that we’re only beginning to hear about in the broader community, a place that’s very much at the core of my goals for the Midtown Exchange project, is the International Marketplace on the ground floor. The International Marketplace is being developed in partnership with NDC and Mike Temali. They’re some of the folks that helped bring us the Mercado Central, which did a tremendous job of supporting new Latino entrepreneurs and new opportunities to Lake Street. The International Marketplace is the next step as we move forward on that revitalization. Entrepreneurs from all communities in the city will be part of the marketplace, and it will not only be a place to shop for tourists, but an important place for the community.
To make it up that career ladder, it’s also important to recognize that many people, especially parents, can’t do that without child care. There are many good, successful child care models, but one I think we should be especially proud of is one that we’ll be launching near Abbott Northwestern Hospital in partnership with the YWCA. This new child care center will be about creating culturally specific child care in the neighborhood. Equally important, it will also be an incubator—a place where we can train new child care workers. If this is successful, we’ll be creating not only child care there, but more places throughout the community and also more ownership possibilities. The link between jobs, housing and child care is very much about trying to build not only a just society, but a successful one.
It’s also important to make sure we’re putting our money where our mouth is on our own projects, and so we’ve set some very high employment goals on the Midtown Exchange. Fifteen percent of the jobs are going to skilled minority construction workers, 20 percent unskilled, 5 percent will go to women in the construction trades, and all three of those are a big increase over previous city goals. Council Member Robert Lilligren has been a key partner in that as well as Council Members Schiff and Zimmerman, who continue to push us as we move forward to make sure that project lifts the goals for everyone.
I want to thank many of the partners that have been involved in the Midtown Exchange. I mentioned some already. I want to thank our staff: Lee Sheehy, Chuck Lutz, Mike Christenson, Jim White, you’ve been tremendous partners. Dick Pettingill from Allina and Denny DeNarvaez have been pivotal in getting Allina to move here. And Jim Campbell, you’ve played a continually strong role behind the scenes.
Community business leaders – I see Ramon Leon back there, Ernesto Reyes, and Ryan Companies – all have been a key part of what we’re doing. We’re making great progress with the Midtown Exchange, but we’re not going to stop there.
We’ve now launched a Life Sciences Corridor which moves down Chicago Avenue, starting with Allina, moving to Abbott Northwestern Hospital and the Heart Institute, the Children’s Hospital, the Phillips Eye Institute, and Hennepin County Medical Center. As you move through that corridor, you already see 19 medical institutions and 16 research laboratories. There more than 2,300 physicians and two-thirds of the hospital employees in Minneapolis right there in that corridor. We brought the leaders of those institutions together to form a consortium and we’ve created three key goals that we’re going to work on. First, a private-sector loan fund to target new business start-up opportunities. Second, a medical conferencing facility that may locate in the Midtown Exchange. And third, a focus on attracting medical device businesses to that area.
This is part of a two-pronged attack that we’ll be taking to make sure that Life Sciences and biotechnology continue to be a key part of Minneapolis’ economy. The second is University Research Park in the Prospect Park neighborhood, where we’re working with the University of Minnesota to realize the benefits of development in University research.
I want to stop here and recognize that all of what I’ve just said about housing and jobs comes out of one department in the City of Minneapolis:
Community Planning and Economic Development, the department that’s gone through enormous change over the past two years. Think about what they have accomplished with a smaller staff, with a far, far smaller budget. I would like every person who works for Community Planning and Economic Development to please stand and thank them for their great work. CPED folks, please stand up.
I also like to thank my colleague and partner Lisa Goodman, who, chairing the CD committee, has bludgeoned and pushed and inspired us all the way through. Lisa, thank you for your great work.
It’s also important to recognize that when we’re looking at job creation, sometimes the very best thing government can do is to set a level playing field and get out of the way. In some cases, that’s very much what we’re seeing. The economy of Minneapolis is performing strongly. Sam Grabarski from the Downtown Council, Todd Klingel from the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, you’ve done great work.
Let’s think about some of the businesses in downtown Minneapolis. We have many businesses whose names are familiar to you, but let’s think about some of the new names that are emerging from the private sector. When you walk through our house and you go to the sink, you’ll see soaps from Caldrea, a tremendous new business that started in downtown Minneapolis. Those soaps are now available all over the country, and it’s growing very rapidly.
Capella University is an online university that’s developing a national and international clientele. And I’m especially excited about a company called Fair Isaac Corporation. Fair Isaac is going to move half of its 400 Twin Cities’ employees from Arden Hills into downtown Minneapolis, and even though this company is headquartered in San Rafael, California, they’re starting to move key employees here. If you happened to read the newspaper a couple of days ago, you would know Fair Isaac purchased a multimillion dollar British company. As Fair Isaac grows, this company that is under the radar to most of us will continue to be a larger player in the economy. They didn’t get a City subsidy. They got one call from the Mayor, and that’s it. Mostly what they’re doing is going out and creating great jobs in the city of Minneapolis. They’re part of our future, and we appreciate their work.
I mentioned that what government needs to do in many of these cases is simply create a good government for a good value. We spend a lot of time working on that, especially in light of our budget crisis. We’ve had to do a lot to get focused priorities.
When the City Council and I came into office two years ago, we developed a strategic plan. We sat down for a couple of days and set out what really matters to us. We laid out our goals on a sheet of paper. And that sheet of paper did not stay on the shelf. That sheet of paper with those key priorities went to every department in every part of this city, and now base plans are coming back from all those departments. Business plans have been built around those key initiatives that the elected officials developed, those key initiatives that you told us about when we knocked on your door. It’s called alignment. And what it really means is that business plans throughout the City of Minneapolis are all about making good use of your tax dollars.
Leslie, there you are, could you stand for a minute? Leslie Krueger is one of the unheralded City employees. She’s lead our business planning processes. Leslie may look quiet and mild-mannered. She gets us into the back rooms and bludgeons us until we get good business plans. You’ve done a great job, and I thank you for that. I think the citizens will appreciate the fact that by doing that good work—the Finance Department has all done good work—you’ve formed a partnership with every department in the City. It means that when I knock on someone’s door and somebody tells me we should evaluate the City, we can bring them back to City Hall and these business plans, and our goals are reflected in every part of the City enterprise.
We’ve also brought some great new leaders to the City of Minneapolis. Some of them have grown up through our ranks, and we’re proud of them. Bonnie Bleskachek, our new interim fire chief, I want to welcome you.
We are also attracting new talent. I want to introduce my nominee for Civil Rights Director, Jayne Khalifa. I’m also especially proud of the fact that we have this year moved forward two home-grown managers, two kids from the city like me who are now managers in the City of Minneapolis. I wonder if they could both stand. From Washburn High School, Pam French, HR Director; and from Edison High School, our new Planning Director, Barb Sporlein. Pam and Barb are great examples of the sort of talent that grows up in the city of Minneapolis, and now is down here at City Hall making government work.
Now let’s in our mind’s eye go out to the schools of Minneapolis and walk through those corridors and think who is in those corridors. Do the employees of the City of Minneapolis reflect the diverse population in our neighborhoods and schools? We do not. The workforce of this City, as we move forward, needs to better reflect the residents of Minneapolis. That’s going to take time, especially with our budget crisis, but we cannot step back from this goal. This goal is very much about having a government that reflects the people of the city.
As we’ve developed our business plans, we’ve begun to identify training programs throughout the city and all of our different departments and partner with some of the work that is going on in our schools. I see Audrey Johnson from the schools down here. We’ve asked Pam French, our HR Director, to start to think of how we can do a better job of partnering with our high schools to take a kid in the 11th grade or 12th grade, find out if they want to be a police officer in our city, to work in our public works department, to work in CPED, and create a career path. Agents of educational institutions, as you hear that, I hope you can partake in that challenge because students in the city of Minneapolis are one day going to be standing up here, and we need to make sure that we train them and give them the resources that they need. That’s long range, but the residents are watching this should continue to put pressure on us to diversify the workforce and have it reflect the citizens of Minneapolis. We are not there yet, and we have a long way to go.
I am happy to say that we’re moving forward on trying to make City Hall more understandable to our many languages spoken here. We speak 81 different languages, and when you come to City Hall, we still have a long way to go in making sure that all of our citizens have full access to all of our resources. But we’re making progress. The report from a working team throughout the city is coming back to us in August, and their recommendations will be reflected in my budget.
A year ago when we announced Focus Minneapolis, the process that is about trying to make it easier to do business with the City, we said that one of our goals was to simply make it easier to do some of those basic things like get a permit out of the City of Minneapolis. Now that seems like a simple thing to do, but as we looked at it, we realized it would take a working team consisting of 60 different people across multiple parts of our enterprise involving some things that aren’t going to be seen much by the public but matter deeply.
For instance, members of this team took 1.6 million property tax records and updated them, so that you could get accurate property information online. That’s all a part of getting a permit easier in the City of Minneapolis. Minneapolis One Stop will begin rolling out in the next few months. Next month you’re going to be able to get online permits and here’s what that means. Right now, let’s say a contractor comes in to do some construction in a kitchen. And let’s say they needed to get a permit. Well, they can fax it down to City Hall, but it may take up to two weeks to process that. When online permitting is ready next month, if that person pays by credit card, they’ll be able to get that permit issued almost instantaneously. And somebody whose kitchen has been torn out and whose family is trying to function while construction is going on will appreciate anything we can do to make that process easier. That’s step one in a whole series of initiatives that we’ll be rolling out in Minneapolis One Stop.
We’re also looking at one of the most annoying things that citizens tell us about. They hate calling City Hall and getting somebody on the phone who may not know much about their situation. Then they get transferred somewhere else and somewhere else and somewhere else. And when they call back, there is no record of the call in the first place. There are many great employees at City Hall who try their best to make that system work well.
We, as leaders of this city, need to make sure that we’re putting the resources into creating the technology that makes it work. We’re developing a new Constituent Response Program, starting with three key areas: Public Works, non-emergency 911, and the Mayor’s office. This summer we’ll be rolling out the first part of that. Here’s what that’s going to mean: Let’s say the stoplight in your neighborhood goes out. You’ll call down to City Hall and with this new system, the first person you talk to will be able to log your request and create a work order. The system will then alert the department head and the manager, who can see if that work is taking too much time to get done. The results should be quicker service for citizens and a more efficient tracking system to make sure the work gets done. And we’ll also know, as elected officials, what parts of our enterprise are working and where we need to clean them up.
Finally there are some larger quality of life issues that we need to stay focused on, one of them being transportation. It’s important to recognize that the City of Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota are not really on the same page on transportation. Far too many elected officials leading our state have talked down about transportation. Some people even used the bus strike to question whether we need a public transit system.
The leaders you see before you today are in a very different position. I’m proud of the fact that the City of Minneapolis is moving forward putting together a multi-modal transit system that would really make getting around this city much easier over the next decade.
Stop and imagine what the transportation system can be 10, 20 years from now in Minneapolis. Certainly we know that the light rail line that’s about to open will be part of the system, but we also hope it’s part of a system that will allow us to get to St. Paul, to the University of Minnesota, and out to the western suburbs. We’ll see commuters coming in from Big Lake, and hopefully, St. Cloud, on the North Star Corridor. Council President Ostrow has been so pivotal in being a part of this. We’ll see trolleys coming down the Midtown Greenway, which Gary Schiff has been working on. Many of us are also working on Bus Rapid Transit that will go from Lakeville to Downtown Minneapolis. And as the #1 bike-commuter city in the country, we’re going to continue to move forward with more options for bikes as legitimate transportation vehicles.
We can’t do all this alone, but promoting basic transit in the city of Minneapolis is really about, I believe, leading the State to a better place. The rhetoric about transportation in this state is changing. I believe people are recognizing this crucial need, and we need to continue to be leaders. The City of Minneapolis has been a visionary transportation planner, and we need to stay out front on that. Sam Grabarski of the Downtown Council, you’ve been a great partner, and we’ll continue to go to the Legislature and fight for the most pivotal part of that transportation system, the downtown circulator. Thanks for your work, and we’ll make sure that that happens.
As we think about transportation, there are two very big challenges that remain. Number 1, we must do a better job this coming year of putting resources into basic transportation infrastructure. We had to make some dramatic cuts over the past few years. I believe we’ve cut too deeply in the areas of Public Works and Transportation. So look for us to continue to look that challenge in the eye as we move forward on the budget.
Before ending, I want to touch on just two quick livability issues that mean a lot to the City of Minneapolis. The first is trees. Trees are not the most important thing in the city, but as a kid I got to ride down streets that were lined with Elm trees. It meant a lot to the way I grew up. It should mean a lot to the next generation. A number of us were part of a great announcement this past Sunday in which we announced that we’ll be planting 5,000 trees this year. Thank you to John Erwin, and the others from the Park Board for your great partnership on that as we move forward.
Five thousand trees will more than double the amount of trees we normally plant in the city of Minneapolis in a year and will also include new disease-resistant Elms.
As you come down Park Avenue on 19th, take a look on the left-hand side of the street, you’ll see those first historic Elms. One of the great little stories you see there is look at the guards that are built around them. Council Member Zimmerman went out there with his own saw and hammer and made sure those trees were protected. It’s part of the City’s responsibility to take care of our trees.
As we look around the city this summer we’re going to see—and thank you to Carmichael Lynch Ad Agency, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine—we’re going to see green ribbons around these trees designating them a "City Tree." When you drive down the street and see those, recognize these are part of these 5,000 trees that we planted, and just stop. Ask a neighbor whether they’ll adopt it and water it, bring some water out yourself and make sure we’re caring for these trees, because those trees are very much a part of the future of the city of Minneapolis. I also want to thank the EPA which added $100,000 to extend this program planting trees for downtown Minneapolis.
Graffiti clean-up is an area where I believe we have a long way to go. Council Member Schiff has done a good job of moving through the council an effort to shorten the time to clean graffiti off buildings. And that’s a good start. We also need to do a better job with our housing inspections and our solid waste efforts on graffiti. And as you look at the budget process this year, know that my eyes are very much focused on the fact that there is far too much graffiti in this city, and we have not done a good enough job coordinating our efforts despite some good efforts within City Hall.
To finish, I want to say just a word about schools. When you think about strong communities, you clearly cannot have a strong city without strong schools. Minneapolis Public Schools have some tremendous success stories, and we all need to do a better job of celebrating those. It’s also clear that over the next six months, the schools will face significant challenges as they move forward with two key decisions. One is picking a new Superintendent; and two, is trying to decide how to allocate resources in very strained times. The state legislature’s cuts put tremendous pressure on our schools, and it’s clear they have to make some very difficult choices.
Now, I’m the Mayor of Minneapolis. I do not oversee the schools, but as this discussion goes on, I’m going to play two roles. The first is to recognize how important schools are to community and to continue to advocate for the fact that the community should play a role in how we make choices about which schools stay open. But the second role, and I think the more important one, all of us should play is to stand behind the School board and the Superintendent as they make some of the toughest choices that have had to be made in many, many years.
It’s clear there are tough choices to be made, but the more I talk to parents and students the better I feel about what’s going on out in our communities in the schools. I felt that the other night when I was with a group of neighbors involved in Pratt School. I’ve fielded literally hundreds of e-mails from parents at Kenny, Longfellow, and Seward, and many of the other schools that have been under discussion. I felt that in discussions with people from Marcy who are now doing their budget and recognizing how complicated it is.
Every school recognizes that we’re in for tough choices. But what I’ve been really impressed with is that no one believes there’s a magic bullet or free lunch in this discussion. I believe that the citizens of Minneapolis are ready for an honest, tough, innovative discussion about the future of our schools. The one thing they are not prepared to do is to stand back and do nothing, and that’s the most powerful weapon we have in the fight to make our schools better.
In recent months literally hundreds of people have come out to say they want to be part of the solution. I will stand behind the School Board, and I will also stand behind neighbors and encourage them to be constructive in their conversations. On behalf of all the kids in this city, we need to have good, healthy conversations about schools.
When you think about that, it’s illustrative to me that even in the toughest of times, the citizens of Minneapolis want to come out and help. We’ve seen that in so many different ways: This year we completed a federal mediation agreement between our Police Department and the community. The agreement came out of the most complicated, difficult conversations in our neighborhoods, and brought people to the table together to come up with solutions. I think about that with the Skate 4 Peace, in which school kids throughout the entire city came together to raise money for other school kids in their programs. And that was a creative response to the tragic shooting of Tyesha Edwards.
When we really think about great things born out of tough times, I want you to think about two years ago, the terrible incident involving Abdul Jeilani, at Chicago and Franklin. This was a terrible incident. And in the days after that as Somali leaders and others gathered in my office, it became abundantly clear we had to begin a much deeper dialogue with our partners in the Somali community. Out of that was born the idea of having a community summit, not only with the Somali community, but with all communities in the city of Minneapolis.
With the leadership of the Civil Rights Department, we’ve hosted summits that have brought more than one thousand people to the table to come up with solutions, to tell us what we needed to do to make sure that government served them, and that the City of Minneapolis represented all the people of Minneapolis. The suggestions of those thousand were compiled in a single report, which was presented two weeks ago. That report will be key to my budget process, and that report will be a work plan for Jayne Khalifa as she moves forward with the Civil Rights Department.
Those are just some of the items that I see night after night as I move through the city of Minneapolis and see that citizens are looking tough problems in the eye, and rolling up their sleeves to form and implement innovate solutions. This is the Minneapolis way: saying to ourselves while we are a good city and we move forward, we cannot stop because just being good isn’t good enough.
Thank you for your partnership in making Minneapolis a great city.
Last updated Sep. 27, 2011