Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Debate: A "Towing Nightmare" In St. Paul

Summary: Powers-that-be say the light rail process is wide open to public input, committee members are competent about technical matters, and mitigation will take place over parking concerns, to which I respond "Not, Not, Not."

I received an answer from the powers-that-be, (sort of) regarding my posts about the Central Corridor Light Rail Project and how it will create a "towing nightmare" in St. Paul as surely as God created little green apples.

Good, I say. Let's have a debate about the towing nightmare slouching toward us. If my ideas are locked out of public comment at a meeting of the Citizens Advisory Committee, then I will present my ideas right here, and if somebody wants to debate those ideas, I will debate them, right here.

As I write these words, four inches of snow have accumulated, and I wonder if more will hit the ground tomorrow, April Fools Day. Will there be one more (so-called) "snow emergency" before spring?

(Definition of "snow emergency." It's snowing. In Minnesota. Who woulda thunk it?)

When St. Paul has a snow emergency, they tow a thousand cars. Think of it. ONE THOUSAND CITIZENS upset, even infuriated at the City of St. Paul.

And Minneapolis tows even more.

But now St. Paul (which can never get over its inferiority complex to Minneapolis) is poised to jump ahead of Minneapolis in the contest to be the most abusive non-consent tower in the state, thanks to light rail and the proposed elimination of so many parking spaces.

Robin Caufman, Manger of Public Involvement (sic), Central Corridor Project Office responded to the comments on my blog which (of course) I made a point of forwarding, with the help of my Humphrey Institute classmate Ken Rodgers. (Just because I mention him doesn't mean he endorses any of my ideas, naturally)

So Caufman sent me a bunch of informative links, and in the course of telling me about those links said some of the following:

1.) We just finished holding a series of 10 public meetings at the end of January/beginning of February, in addition to the 4 listening sessions you refer to in your blog. We don't have any general public meetings scheduled at this point [....] we are planning another series in May/June.

2.) [Regarding] the CAC and BAC meetings. The purpose of these monthly meetings is to have in-depth discussion of the issues with stakeholders [who] are very familiar with the project. These meetings are open to the public. However, the discussion and presentations assume participants are knowledgeable about technical details.

Consequently, the agenda does not include general project information or general public comment.

3.) Regarding your concerns over parking, we are working closely with the City of St. Paul and business community to develop mitigation strategies and address people's concerns over loss of on-street parking on University Ave. as well [as] residents['] concerns over hide and riding.

We will also be improving the connecting bus transit system so that people will be able to catch the bus to the train, instead of park and riding near one of the stations. This has been very effective with the Hiawatha [light rail line] with 1/3 of the riders walking an average of 1/2 mile to the station and another 1/3 taking the bus to a station.

So, in response to Caufman's email (which included a lot of info, not just the points above) I sent the following:

Thanks so much for your reply, with which I feel free to respectfully disagree on some points rather than allowing those points to stand unrebutted as though I agree.

First, I don't really see any "mitigation" taking place right now. If I saw mitigation, I wouldn't have the concerns I have about a "towing nightmare" shaping up.

Second, my viewpoint about lack of public participation remains unchanged. I was flat out TOLD there might be an opportunity to participate. What happened is described in my blog. I was treated like an empty chair. I even raised my hand. Members of the committee MUST have seen that. Nobody said, "Hey, somebody has something to add," least of all the chair of the meeting.

Since the meting was publicized in the Pioneer Press, it could have easily been anticipated some concerned member of the public might show up and want to give input at THAT meeting, not the innumerable future meetings which will, yes, I'm sure take place, including during the summertime when I will have extended visitation with my child and wouldn't DREAM of dragging him to a long meeting like that.

Third, I don't see the "technical expertise" you're talking about with these committee members. As I outlined on my blog, I saw a cranky rant about the need to crack down on jaywalkers. I saw one committee member practically pleading to be able to get technical information and saying she was forced to make formal requests to at least show she was SERIOUS about wanting the info.

I saw them all sitting there for a long time while a presentation was given, and even told to "wait, hold your questions, etc." I've seen more spunk from STUDENT GOVERNMENT COMMITTEES as far as asking critical and informed questions of presenters bearing clout and impressive titles.

So I don't see how these committee members are so very informed about technical details to the point they should be the only ones allowed to speak at meetings. The word "towing" was not mentioned, not even ONCE, and it happens to be my PRIMARY concern.

I don't see mitigation happening. I just don't. I see citizens getting abused by what may be one of the most dehumanizing city impound lots in the nation, and now [getting] set up for even MORE abuse as 600 to 900 parking spots get eliminated, and my gut says more will NEED to be eliminated.

So that's what I told Caufman. But I could add this, too:

Define "mitigation." As far as I can see, the "mitigation" being talked about is for the purpose of "protecting" (for example) the residents. But who "protects" the people in vehicles who are going to get towed if they try to find a parking spot? What some call "mitigation" I call "probably more towing." Don't be talking about these "hide and park" or "park and hide" folks like they are trespassers, interlopers.

They are citizens. They are US. And WE don't like getting TOWED while playing a brutal Darwinian game of "musical parking spots" which St. Cloud is going to make even worse by eliminating so many more spots. Talk about a stacked deck!

And, in regard to how bad St. Paul is about the way it treats citizens who are towed, at some point I'll have to go out there the impound lot and get pictures, but I've heard the tale from the "Ninja Tales" blog (replicated and linked in an earlier entry) and I've heard sordid tales of a "cattle chute" through which one oppressed citizen at a time is allowed to pass forward, I suppose to prevent another "storming of the Bastille" situation.

No comments: