Friday, March 21, 2008

An Open Letter To The Central Corridor Community Advisory Committee


1.) Lack of meaningful public participation in the committee meeting.

2.) Elimination of on-street parking is creating a potential "towing

3.) The future: one of the side streets made into a one-way,
elimination of even MORE parking, loss of low-income housing
replaced by daily and hourly parking lots.

Dear Central Corridor Community Advisory Committee,

This blog entry is both a report on what I witnessed at the meeting of February 20, 2008, plus input (or an "open letter") about the proposed light rail line.

For more on my view on how the project is creating a potential "towing nightmare," see previous post.

I read about the meeting in the Pioneer Press and noticed the convenient location. As one person posted on the comments page to the Pioneer Press article, the meeting was probably held at Goodwill because there is plenty of free parking right along Fairview Avenue. How ironic that a plan set to eliminate so much parking needs a location with plenty of it. But I'm not griping about the elimination of parking spots along University Avenue, only the abusive towing practices which I am certain will result. (See previous post)

Public participation? NOT TRUE

When I first arrived at the meeting, and was the very first to sign the attendance sheet, I asked one and only one question: would members of the public be allowed to speak at the meeting? I was told that sometimes took place at the end of the meeting if there was time. I have heard this line at so many public meetings and yet somehow I always fall for it. Call me a dreamer. Even sitting there and reviewing the minutes of the previous meeting, I should have realized the lack of opportunities for the public to give input, but I still sat there for two hours, hoping for an opportunity to speak for, at a maximum, one minute.

Silly me.

It appears when public comment is wanted, a special "listening meeting" will be scheduled. However, I don't think "listening" is something that should be specially scheduled, at a time a committee feels is convenient for the committee. Government "listening" is something which should take place all the time. An opportunity for the public to speak at public meetings which concern their fates and their futures should be STANDARD at all government meetings, at least at the municipal and county level where the time would most likely be utilized by grassrots members of the public, instead of (for example) professional Washington D.C. lobbyists.

They don't speak for ME

Supposedly the members of the committee represent me. But I didn't see one committee member I knew beforehand, nor do I recall any opportunity to vote for these committee members. So they did not represent me BEFORE I heard their views, and AFTER hearing their views such as a cranky rant about the need to crack down hard on rampant jaywalking, I can now confirm 100 percent no member of the committee represents my views.

In fact, I saw very little evidence members of the committee have the expertise to comprehend the light rail information being put before them, though heaven knows they appear to be trying. What I remember most about the meeting was Anne White, of the District Councils Collaborative, stating that she was forced to file official requests for information, by which I assume requests under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

What's up with LACK OF ACCESS?

Repeatedly, I heard Anne White asking for "access" to information, such as the technical reports on which the plans were based, and the results of interviews with local businesses about their concerns. If members of the committee are not getting information easily and quickly about the light rail, then what is the purpose of the committee? Window dressing?

I may not share Anne White's concerns about the elimination of parking--at least, I am not concerned in precisely the same way--but if these members of the committee can't get the information they need to inform themselves and their grassroots constituency, then I have to question if the committee is a "committee" at all, or just an elaborate pretense to create the illusion of public input.

Dr. Park And Mr. Hide

Besides the difficulty Anne White voiced in getting the information needed to fulfill her role,
I was also struck by a phrase uttered by one of the other committee members: "Park and

Instead of using a "Park and Ride" location, the changes brought about by the light rail will apparently encourage the practice of "Park and Hide," where individuals find places in nearby residential neighborhoods to park, then catch a light rail to their destination.

This strikes me as realistic. In fact, I have done the same thing myself, driving my vehicle about a mile to a location near a No. 16 bus stop, and leaving it there to catch the bus. The practice is so rampant near the University of Minnesota (especially the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood) residents don't even bother to complain. Indeed, most of the residents are student renters, anyway, and less prone to complain. This is another reason it is a perfect "Park and Hide" situation.

What am I, a CHAIR?

But back to the meeting. I had hope for a minute when the oh-so-perky chair of the meeting said she was going to take time to "go around the room" and take comments. However, by "the room" she actually meant the members of the committee seated at the tables, and not those of us who were physically IN THE ROOM.

I guess we had somehow become INVISIBLE through the mysterious process of having a "representative" at the table, since we weren't even included in a phrase such as "the room."

If I'd had an opportunity to speak for one minute, this is what I would have said:

Speech, speech!

Think beyond the elimination of parking to what happens next, which is citizens getting towed as they fight like feral dogs for the remaining scraps of parking. Imagine what happens in the neighborhoods as people engage in--and thank you so much for the phrase ma'am--"park and hide" practices. Residents are going to be complaining about those vehicles, making demands for vehicles to be towed away.

What have you done to modernize your towing and impound lot system? Cars get towed and caught in that system for days. Low income people suffer, and there are a lot of low income people who will be using the light rail, but might be parking their vehicles. If this is supposed to help the low income people, how are you helping them by creating a towing nightmare?

Yes, put through the light rail. And I'm not mourning about the loss of parking. But consider the towing nightmare you're creating and how can the City of St. Paul make its towing system less brutal, less random, less expensive for all concerned?

Also, though nobody likes to say it--and I don't like to say it, either--it seems inevitable you will need to take one of the side streets next to University and make it into a one-way, eliminating even MORE parking.

Also, you're setting up a situation where low-income housing is likely to get torn down and made into daily and hourly parking lots. It is possible to churn more money out of one of those lots with paid parking than with rentals, if you know what you're doing. I say this as a former rental property manager. With the housing market in a 30-year slump, this is right where your plan seems to be heading.

Zoning be damned, the paid parking lot folks will push for and obtain variances, especially if they're tearing down blighted housing. Folks are likely to view a parking lot as a temporary situation which will later give way to better development. And how much political power do low-income renters have, anyway, when even businesses owners are powerless to stop the light rail which is--dare I say?--barreling down on them like a train.

I don't see anybody articulating these ideas, and I wasn't allowed to articulate them at the meeting. But here they are.

That's what I would have said.

Oh, and then of course I would have plugged my blog, with its rocking new domain name:

So there you have my input, dear members of the committee, though I was forced to take the long way around.

No comments: