Saturday, January 31, 2015

Has the Lino Lakes City Council Jumped the Shark?

Editorial published in MinnPost | 11/17/14

During the waning days of the long-running TV series "Happy Days," a game-changing episode aired in which a water-skiing Fonz jumped over a shark. The stunt, intended to boost ratings, instead merely demonstrated the lengths to which some will go in order to keep a worn out idea afloat.
In Lino Lakes, our City Council is taking it to extremes and may finally have undone itself.
Early this year, in an amazing display of hubris, the mayor and City Council voted unanimously to leave the Centennial Fire District, a 30-year-old, well-functioning fire and rescue organization. An article from the Quad Press, referring to Jeff Karlson, Lino Lakes city administrator, stated, "his research suggests the city will pay significantly more" (after the split). This time the City Council may have gone too far.

City Council attorney Joseph Langel stated that, in his legal opinion, the council made an "administrative" (as opposed to a "legislative") decision, and thus had the right to deny a required 750-signature petition requesting the fire district measure be put to a vote by the people this November. The explanation for this move is even more telling. The council says they pay 70 percent of the cost of the fire district while using 70 percent of the services, but have only 33 percent of the voting power. So the decision is all about the City Council’s level of power, not about the quality of service or the needs of those being served. The council has spent our tax dollars on attorneys' fees to fight anyone who disagrees with it. 

The Centennial Fire Relief Association engaged attorney Eric Kaardal to file a lawsuit in Anoka County Court on Aug. 18, citing that City Council actions clearly demonstrate that because in truth it acted in its "legislative" and not "administrative" capacity, it therefore does not have a constitutional right to deny the petition. This summer Anoka County District Court Judge Tammi Fredrickson ruled in the City Council’s favor, but the fight is not over yet.

Divisive actions

This behavior by the City Council follows previous decisions of a dubious nature that divide the community rather than bring it together for a common purpose. On the same night the council unanimously chose to scrub the petition for a ballot measure, it also unanimously chose to deny action from the Charter Commission requesting a vote on a city ward system for Lino Lakes. 

Other community-discordant actions by the mayor and City Council :
  • Ongoing disagreements that have created tension with the Charter Commission. 
  • In a recent City Council meeting the mayor disrespectfully referred to some charter commissioners as "troublemakers" without objection by anyone. 
  • In January of this year the City of Lino Lakes was found guilty of violating campaign-finance reporting requirements by a three-member panel of judges while promoting a Charter Amendment (see the blog "Pursuing Truth in Lino Lakes").
  • The council’s continuing insistence that the City Charter’s requirement for a vote on all road construction assessments is the reason there have been no road improvements. In fact only one road in the 32-year history of the charter was denied by voters in three different elections because it asked for far too many improvements to be paid for by homeowners through assessments. One would think that it's time to move on to other road projects, but that idea was not broached until this year.
  • The City Council finally did decide to initiate other road projects; when asked by citizens to outline specific road improvements in specific locations, it failed to do so.
  • Its failure to meet directly with members of the Centennial Fire District to explain the fire protection plan and ask for input.
  • It has damaged its relations with the City of Centerville (partners in Centennial Fire Department).
  • It has damaged its relations with the City of Circle Pines (partners in the Centennial Fire Department).
The friction between the Lino Lakes City Council and many in the community is not new. As far back as 2008, the city gave audience to Dustin Deets, a consultant who handed out a document during a council work session outlining "Brainstorming Preparation Considerations." Deets was paid over $9,000 of our tax dollars to consult the City Council in what was ostensibly a "campaign" to stop the city from being "controlled by the Charter." Suggestions include "Lull and confuse pro-charter supporters with extended period of silence." This suggestion does not promote comity, trust or respect between The Lino Lakes City Council, the Charter Commission and the citizens of our city even though the charter was enacted by the people in a landslide election in 1982.

This same City Council engendered statewide infamy in the summer of 2010 when it adopted an "English only" policy. The American Physiological Association states: "English-only is socially divisive and poses a threat to the human welfare that psychologists espouse in the The American Psychological Association's "Ethical Principles of Psychologists for government interaction with its citizens." I would submit this "English Only" law is, at best, an example of a solution in pursuit of a problem. 

Is it true when Councilman Dave Roeser at the Aug. 11 City Council meeting said that he wants to work with citizens to solve the city’s problems? The answer is clear. Almost everyone who has tried to work with the City Council's unanimous mandates learns that either you agree with them or you're in a fight.

What can be done to support the firefighters’ efforts to keep the integrity of the Centennial Fire District? Go to their Facebook page

Lino Lakes citizens are also urged to vote every chance they get, to replace the City Council with a governing body that truly represents the best interests of our community.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What would stop Blaine Airport from becoming another Midway?

Editorial published in MinnPost | 11/30/12

Earlier this fall, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) hosted its annual  "Community Informational Meeting" regarding the Anoka County-Blaine Airport (ANE) at Blaine City Hall.
Those attending the Sept. 12 meeting included Gary Schmidt, MAC's director of reliever airports, and Joe Harris from MAC; Andy Westerburg from The Anoka County Board; Blaine Mayor Tom Ryan; Councilman Dick Swanson; State Rep. Roger Chamberlain; Mounds View City Administrator Jim Ericson and  Jack Plasch and Barbara Haake, citizens from the AC/B airport advisory commission and many other citizens.

Officials were quick to point out that ANE would not expand any time soon because of current economic conditions. No elected official would say that they did not want the airport to expand. Joe Leon, a citizen of Blaine, pointed out that many officials stressed the needs of the business community and not one advocated for the needs of another kind of stakeholder, the citizens living near the airport 24/7/365.

Schmidt said that ANE could never be a major airport. Mayor Ryan said, "There are two kinds of people those who want the airport and those who don't." He also said, "We are not bringing the big planes here. That's never going to happen."

I have talked to many people about the airport in the last four years, and I have not found anyone who "does not want the airport."  I do know of hundreds of people who do not want to see it expand even further, diminishing property values and peace of mind. When I heard the emphatic promises of Schmidt and Ryan I bit my tongue knowing I could not counter the arguments at that moment without the facts in hand. Here below is my assessment of what could happen to a future ANE.

While it seems reasonable that the airport will not expand soon or quickly, let's look at what future potential ANE has for expansion. MAC currently owns a total land area of 1,900 acres at ANE. Using  a Google Maps picture of ANE you can see the airport with the current 2 runways North/South is 4,855 feet long and East/West is 5,000 feet long. If you put a ruler on the map and use the 5,000-foot runway as a kind of yardstick, you can measure how far in all directions Mac property extends.

Currently the East /West potential length is 13,000 feet and N/S is 14,000 feet. Taking into account that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires a 2,500 foot Runway Protection Zone on each end of this size runway. If we do the math, it seems there is still the potential for runway expansion to 9,000 ft North/South and 8,000 feet East/West at ANE. ANE is the second largest airport property in the seven county area. By federal law any airport must allow any size plane to land on its runways if they are adequate in length and strength to do so.

Now let's take the example of Midway Airport in Chicago. According to the FAA, Midway has a total of 650 acres with 5 runways, the longest of which is 6,522 feet.  The Chicago Department of Aviation website says it has 476 flights in an average day and 39 flights average every night. This is a very busy airport.

By far the most common plane flown at Midway is the B737, with 403 flights every day and 32 flights every night. Boeing calls its plane the best-selling commercial jet in history. Each B737 carries between 132 and 200 passengers, depending on the model. This is a lot of traffic at an airport that is currently only a third the size of our ANE.

Will the MAC ever allow ANE to expand this much?

Along with longer runways, there may be more than two in the future. The Metropolitan Council and MAC have an objective  of "parallel runways for post 2025 system needs." at ANE. This would double the available runways.  You may view this idea by downloading the MAC Comprehensive Plan. Read page 30. According to MAC, the current average number of all flights in a 24-hour period at ANE is 200.
The MAC just rolled out plans to expand Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.

Is it really an alarmist stretch to think that we should be concerned while watching very carefully what transpires at MAC and ANE?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Before Blaine Decides on New Wal-Mart, Several Questions Need Answers

Editorial pubished in MinnPost, February 23, 2012 

Once again, elected officials in the North Metro are entertaining unwise choices with regard to economic development. Other recent debacles have included The Anoka County Vikings stadium misfortune, an attempt to expand the number of Blaine Airport flights over the top of new homes and a proposal to build a stock car/drag race track in one of the quietest corners of Anoka County.
The City Council of Blaine will soon vote on a conditional use permit for a new Super Wal-Mart  store directly across a two-lane road from and facing a 25-year-old housing development. The new location on Ball Road east of Lexington Avenue would be open for business 24/7. This store would be less than 900 yards from an existing Wal-Mart in "The Village," a developed shopping area less than 10 years old that has recently seen the loss of a video store and a women's-clothing outlet. The current Cub Foods grocery store would then have to compete with the new Super Wal-Mart. The proposed move would further erode economic integrity at the existing Village Shopping center, which would suffer from an abandoned Wal-Mart anchor store. There will be few new permanent jobs created from this plan.
Wal-Mart hired Spack Consulting to do a traffic study for the project. According to the study, traffic on Ball Road will increase from a current daily volume of less than 3,000 vehicles to more than 13,000 vehicles in this neighborhood of single-family homes. Traffic would increase on other surrounding roads as well. The plan does not include any additional through lanes for any roads near the proposed site. There are few sidewalks in the neighborhood. Hundreds of children walk on the roads to access a nearby Centennial High School and Grade School campus located within 500 yards from the planned development.

With few sidewalks, how will children be protected?

Many questions need to be answered before the City Council takes a vote. What additional safety measures are being considered to protect children from traffic conflicts? Why did the Blaine City Council wait until several months before a crucial vote by the city to reveal to the public a plan that has been in the works for at least a year? What tax incentives are being offered to Wal-Mart? Why should the citizens of Blaine give up property values, piece of mind and safety to a multibillion-dollar corporation in order to satisfy its desire to sell groceries directly across the freeway from an existing grocery store?

There is a viable alternative site. A land owner named Joe Preiner offered his property directly across Lexington Avenue from the Village site. He claims his site is shovel ready. The property was once part of the Vikings Stadium site in Blaine and is already zoned for development.
A group of neighbors have decided to do something about this problem and have gone to Blaine City Hall to ask that a "big box" store not be put into their neighborhood. Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth Inc. has asked the City Council to consider other development for this land that will not have such adverse impacts on their neighborhood.

While Wal-Mart may or may not benefit from such a move, it is guaranteed that nearby residents will suffer.