Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Demonstra" Book Release Comes to North Minneapolis!

Bottom photo from the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

The end of the year is almost here and Bryan Thao Worra is back in town!  And while that's reason enough to celebrate, the launch party for his new book is coming to north Minneapolis tomorrow night.  The collection of Speculative Poetry, DEMONSTRA will be released on Monday, December 30th at the Lao Cultural Center at  2648 West Broadway Avenue in Minneapolis from 4:30 to 6:30 PM.  He'll be sharing the spotlight with debut children's book author Nor Sanavongsay and Saymoukda Vongsay of "Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals" fame.

It's free and open to the public and a great chance to see what the inside of the Lao Advancement Organization looks like.  And it will be a rare opportunity to celebrate a book release on the northside.

Like his previous collections BARROW and On the Other Side of the Eye, his new book is heavily influenced by his experiences in Minnesota, particularly North Minneapolis. Obviously I'm partial to "Iku Turso Came to NoMi," which combines Thao Worra's unique perspective with some Finnish sea monster mythos and bits and pieces of Hawthorne Hawkman trivia. 

But you'll also catch poems that give nods to many of Minnesota's popular science fiction, fantasy and horror writers such as Catherine Lundoff, David J. Schwartz, and the Lady Poetesses from Hell. DEMONSTRA also includes great illustrations by Vongduane Manivong including all-new takes on legendary Lao monsters.  I've been privy to some of those illustrations, through the book's Kickstarter campaign, and they are quite impressive.

He's thrown in entities such as the Hodag, Cthulhu, and cannibal grandmother, and another highlight is the Lao weretigers roaming a fabled Laotown of the future. (Hodags, and Weretigers, and Cthulhu, oh my!)  Bryan's Laotown is a bustling corner of North Minneapolis where the Lao set up the world's largest fermented fish factory to make their notoriously stinky padaek, only to get taken over by a benevolent Artificial Intelligence prone to playing elevator jazz. It could happen.

Lao American author Nor Sanavongsay is debuting his very first children's book from Sahtu Press, "A Sticky Mess." He has created a beautifully illustrated adaptation of a traditional Lao legend that has been popular for almost six centuries involving a trickster. Nor Sanavongsay last presented a preview of this book in 2010 during the National Lao American Writer's Summit at the Loft Literary Center, and now, 3 years later, here it is.

Copies of DEMONSTRA will be on sale for $10 and there will be additional entertainment and refreshment. Catch it if you can!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Lot to Like About the "Capri Renaissance" (and One Thing to Watch Out For)

*Disclaimer* Some of the events described below occurred at a Jordan Area Community Council housing committee meeting.  I was recently elected as Board Chair for the organization, and my comments are my own opinions, and not the position of JACC unless expressly stated as such.

At a recent community meeting, the Capri Theater presented its proposal for an expansion of their current building.  Overall, these changes are excellent, and especially as someone who lives around the corner I cannot wait for them to happen.  In fact, a main issue with the upgrades is that the fundraising needed will likely mean that we're at least a year or even two or more away from breaking ground.

Even though the Capri has already won accolades for its jazz venue, changes like adding dressing rooms and more performance and gathering spaces will greatly enhance this community asset.  But there's one thing that has me concerned, and that's...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hong Kong International Building Sold to Kemps, Rumored to Be Slated for Demolition and a Parking Lot

Photo from the "Old North Minneapolis" Facebook page.

The storefront and office or living space at 404 West Broadway, the Vietnam Hong Kong International building, has been in limbo and a source of speculation in north Minneapolis.  Today on a thread in the Old North Minneapolis Facebook group, some answers came forward, and they do not bode well for the building.

Reportedly the property has been acquired by Kemps, and that part can be verified as the Minneapolis property information website lists Kemps as the owner.  The speculation that follows, however, is not yet confirmed.  But there seems to be only one potential use that Kemps would have for the parcel...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Photo Tour of Tax Forfeitures, Continued

The first round of tax forfeiture photos were just the properties in Jordan, but I set out to chronicle all of the houses that the County will have in their possession if they aren't redeemed.  Neighborhood groups are typically asked to make one of three recommendations on such properties; either that we support the city's acquisition, that we recommend allowing the houses to go to an auction, or that we recommend the properties be withheld from auction for six months while an alternate use is determined.

Where that limited set of recommendations falls short is that we may not support what the city does with a property post-acquisition (not to mention that neither we nor the city may even know such things at this moment).  We certainly don't have reason to trust that the County will avoid selling to slumlords at auction.  And there's no way to know whether we'll find a good investor in six months or if that investor will even find the County to be a willing seller.

So in general, those three choices almost ought to be scrapped for a different system entirely--at least for distressed communities where the tax auction process invites a worse breed of buyers than other parts of Hennepin County.  What that process might look like is a topic for another post.  For now, we march on with the photo tour.  The above property is 3301 Oliver Avenue North, and then we have...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fall Round of Hennepin County Tax Forfeitures

It's that time of year again, where seasons may change but the risk of tax-forfeited properties being sold to slumlords does not.  A nineteen-page list of Minneapolis tax forfeitures was recently sent to neighborhood groups from the city of Minneapolis.  Credit where credit is due:  I've been critical of the city's policies surrounding vacant houses, but they've been a good partner on tax forfeitures.  Specifically, we used to get lists with only a few days to respond with neighborhood organizational positions on what to do with these houses and vacant lots.  The city really went to bat for our communities with the argument that this simply wasn't enough turnaround time.  Now we have until November 26th to submit comments.

The Jordan neighborhood has roughly two dozen such tax forfeitures, although for the purpose of this and subsequent blog posts, I will focus only on houses and not vacant land.  As I took a look at each Jordan property, like 2122 Ilion Ave N pictured above, I came to two conclusions.  There wasn't a single one I'd tear down (except the one that was already demolished by the time I got there), and there wasn't a single one I'd consider an acceptable slumlord acquisition.  So it's time to put our city and county government on notice:  We are watching how this process plays out, and it better result in a better north Minneapolis.

Jordan has a baker's dozen tax-forfeited properties with structures on them.  Twelve, technically, but the thirteenth was an arson-damaged home that was torn down after the list was generated.  Aside from the Ilion house, we have...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Blong Yang - First Choice for the Fifth Ward

Photo from
I first got to know Blong Yang when we worked together on a campaign to get a Hmong-speaking police officer on the day shift in north Minneapolis.  When he ran for Hennepin County Commissioner, I was looking for a candidate to support who was smart, level-headed, honest, and hadn't been responsible for foisting publicly-funded stadiums upon us.  Blong fit the bill.

While Blong didn't win that race, he ran a solid, respectable campaign that surprised a lot of folks.  He did very well especially in engaging new voters in north Minneapolis.  I was proud of him and proud of the work we did in that election.  So there should be no surprise that from day one I supported Blong Yang as my first choice for the open Fifth Ward City Council seat. 

On policy issues...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Stephanie Woodruff Gets My 1st Vote

When I first heard of this previously unknown candidate throwing her hat in the ring, I was still wallowing in my disappointment that my preferred candidate was no longer in the running.  Why, I thought, didn't someone running as a Democrat avoid the DFL endorsement process entirely?  My initial reaction was to lump Stephanie Woodruff in with the two dozen or so other non-serious candidates.  But as I listened to more mayoral debates, as I read more about the candidates who piqued my interest, and as I spoke to more and more people across our city, Woodruff continued to impress.  The word of mouth from trusted friends and colleagues started to put her over the top.

What really changed my mind was after the north Minneapolis mayoral debate, where I wound up disagreeing with Stephanie over how to approach the Upper Harbor Terminal.  Yes, a disagreement over policy led to her getting my first vote...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Sheltering Arms House Has a Buyer!

Top photo from CPED staff report, bottom photo by Jeff Skrenes.

At today's Community Development committee meeting the Minneapolis City Council took an initial step towards approving the sale of 2648 Emerson Avenue North, aka "The Sheltering Arms House" to a Charlie Browning.  Charlie rehabs homes as his profession, and does excellent work.  This is his first venture into north Minneapolis, and I can't welcome him enthusiastically enough.  The proposed rehab work would be to convert the four-unit structure into a spacious duplex, and then resell the property, hopefully to an owner-occupant.  But even as a rental, the quality of work that Mr. Browning does will almost certainly attract good owners and tenants.

A quick primer on The Sheltering Arms House and why it's so important both to the community and to me...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Surface Parking at Penn and 26th? Bad Idea.

The last time the Jordan neighborhood had a presentation at one of our committees regarding the Broadway Flats proposal, we had one area of concern.  There seemed to be an implied quid-pro-quo between the developer and St. Anne's church.  In exchange for the purchase and/or use of properties along Queen north of Broadway, the church would then get to formally convert the land they own on Penn and 26th into surface parking.  (It's been informally used as a parking lot even though it has no pavement or gravel.)

While the opinion wasn't formalized into an organizational position (yet), the general consensus at that housing committee was that we support the Broadway Flats development, but we were much more skeptical about converting the corner of 26th and Penn into permanent surface parking.  Furthermore, from a community standpoint, these were regarded as two completely separate issues.  Broadway Flats doesn't need St. Anne's to have parking in order for their development to proceed, and the St. Anne's parking situation at Penn and 26th would not be impacted by the Broadway Flats proposal.

Earlier this week a letter arrived that demonstrated that the arrangement was no longer implied, but completely formalized.  Lupe Development Partners, the same firm working on Broadway Flats, has submitted a land use application for...

Monday, September 30, 2013

Ward 5 Candidates Spar in Second Round of Debates

Videos recorded by Yang for City Council Campaign Committee

Like many voters in the fifth ward, I could not make it to last week's debates.  I was sent links to recordings done by the Blong Yang campaign, and am reposting them so others can watch as well.  I am posting without commentary, so that viewers and voters can make up their own minds about the forum.

And thanks to Jewish Community Action and the Northside Community Redevelopment Coalition for putting together the event.

Friday, September 27, 2013

26th Avenue Closure Showcases Poor Street Layout

Varying stretches of 26th Avenue North have been closed off due to construction as of late, and that closure has forced drivers and bikers to find alternate routes to cross this section of north Minneapolis.  Unfortunately, due to some very poor urban planning, those alternatives don't exist.  In between Emerson and Penn, there are no consistent thoroughfares to get people around the neighborhood.  Drivers either are forced onto Broadway or Lowry, or they wind up wandering through the convoluted side streets, likely breaking a few traffic laws along the way.

I tried to traverse the area by going a block north of 26th, only to find...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

5th Ward Candidate Karaoke

One of the most fun elements of the recent 5th Ward candidate forum was when each candidate performed either karaoke or an artistic endeavor of their own creation.  We got to see a different side of everyone, as each of the possible next council members let their hair down and have some fun.

If a better video of Ian Alexander's performance exists, I'll use that instead of what's embedded here.  I received a phone call in the middle of that, and the video turned off momentarily.  I think that was my camera saying "Finally!  An excuse to do something OTHER than film this!"  And yet I want--nay, I am compelled--to publish these videos.  Such is the burden that citizen-journalists must bear.

The other three videos, as well as a belated post-debate analysis are after the jump...

New Feral Cat Ordinance Is Almost Good Enough

Last week when I read a few articles in the Strib about a new city ordinance codifying feral cat colonies, my gut reaction was based on the last several encounters I and other neighbors have had with the crazy cat ladies.  They were not pleasant.  The photo above is from 2909 3rd Street North, a home I had actually looked into purchasing (quite literally, as it was continually open to trespass) prior to buying my house at 26th and Penn.  The 3rd Street property had been taken over by feral cats, and later (or which came first, the feral cats or the crazy cat ladies?  That is our existential question of the day.) by presumably well-intentioned people who put out both dry cat food and tins of Fancy Feast.  I made repeated calls to 311.  The house was broken open numerous times, and the cat food was replaced.

The interior of this property was, at one time, full of dozens of cats, most of them alive.  Feces and urine made the floor a minefield of sorts.  The stench was overwhelming, and the only thing that's harder than crazy cat ladies to remove from a property is the smell of cat urine.  These supposedly goodhearted people will not acknowledge that they are damaging a home, and will not leave even when owners and neighbors confront them.  And the odiferous after-effects of their presence lingers on well after they leave.

Complicating matters further is Minneapolis' trespassing ordinance, which in essence states that...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The HERC and "A Burning Question"

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

On Tuesday, September 17th there will be an excellent community forum on the HERC garbage burner.  It's called "A Burning Question" and will be hosted at the Mayflower Church at 106 E Diamond Lake Road in Minneapolis, from 7 - 9 p.m.

The Minneapolis Issues Forum has a tremendous amount of information on the HERC, more so than I could distill in a single blog post, and more than I can reasonably summarize.  Here's a decent, recent thread as an example.

I've spoken at length with supporters and detractors of the garbage burner, and find myself in the middle of the road on this one.  There are benefits to the burner, and there are costs.  The question is, who benefits and who pays those costs?  And unfortunately, low-income and minority communities in our city bear the brunt of those costs without seeing significant benefits.  Here, from my layman's perspective, is why:

Sunday, September 8, 2013

5th Ward Candidate Forum at The Capri

On Saturday, September 7th, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change hosted a candidate forum at the Capri for those running for the open 5th Ward seat. I captured the debates in their entirety and will post the footage.

The highlight, for some, was the event ending with each candidate doing what can only be described as a performance under the most liberal standards.  Unfortunately, I received a call on my cell phone (which was used since the camera was out of juice by then) and Ian Alexander's footage was interrupted.  I will post all four performances if someone has a link to the full footage.  Otherwise, it's not fair to watch the razor-thin line between loving homage and untalented desecration known as candidate karaoke for only three of the four contestants.

The rest of the forum videos (minus karaoke, which deserves its own stand-alone post) are after the jump...

Monday, September 2, 2013

How the 4th Street House Was Saved

In the summer of 2011, 2914 4th Street North was a boarded, vacant, and condemned house on the verge of demolition.  The summer of 2013 will see its completion by a nationally known developer, and the home will likely be featured on her television series.

Yes, this post speaks of Nicole Curtis, aka "The Rehab Addict," but it is not about Nicole Curtis.  It is about how the values of preservation, when put into action, produce results so positive that no one could have foreseen them.

Going back through old photographs, I can tell this house first came on my radar screen in January of 2011.  Later that year, the Twin Cities Community Land Bank approached the neighborhood with an interesting proposition...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What Does RCV Actually Deliver? (Part 2 of 2)

In a previous post, I took a look at what ranked-choice voting did for some of our Minneapolis elections in 2013.  I wanted to see if RCV makes an actual impact or not, and if so, whether it contributes to a better or worse campaign season and election.

Since I covered most of the races I am familiar with, the remaining contests will fall into one of four categories: no change, improved election, worse election, and "the jury's out."  It should go without saying that these observations are entirely subjective and if someone more knowledgeable than I am has information to sway my analysis, I welcome that.

We've got ten city council races to go, and we start in numerical order with...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

My 2925 Lyndale Back Story

The Johnny Northside blog has been covering the sordid past of the "troublesome triplex" at 2925 Lyndale Ave N, even bringing up (with my permission) how the neighborhood asked the city to crack down on the scrapping, dumping, and overall criminal activities that have been occurring at this property for years.  But what hasn't been told is how the owner, David Epstein, was given a chance to redeem himself and begin to populate that property with good tenants.

Around the time of this photo and my blog post regarding his sign-spamming proclivities, I spoke to him and even referred a quality tenant to live there.  Here's how that went down...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What Does RCV Actually Deliver? (part 1 of 2)

Not too long ago, the Star Tribune ran an editorial by renowned political scientist Larry Jacobs to the effect of how ranked-choice voting would disenfranchise minorities.  That article attempted to hide behind the veil of academic rigor while admitting a lack of sufficient data.  It was countered by a piece in Insight News that touched on a few benefits of the new system but mainly concentrated on hopeful platitudes.  The general consensus about RCV seems to be shaping up this way:  "Ok, 2009 clearly didn't count because the non-competitive mayoral race drove down turnout.  But 2013 is when we'll REALLY see what ranked-choice voting can do."

So I decided to take a good hard look at how this system is actually affecting the 2013 Minneapolis races.  Is it even making a difference?  If so, are the elections better or worse for it?  I've examined every single 2013 city race in the context of RCV vs. a single vote and primary system.  Full disclosure, I am not a fan of our current elections model and I won't feign neutrality.  But I will try to be fair, and some of what follows may surprise ranked-choice advocates.

Let's start with the big kahuna, the 35-person mayoral race.  In contrast to 2009, RCV has dramatically altered the landscape...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Yes We Have No Sex Offenders

It's not uncommon for me to receive mail at my home that doesn't belong to anyone at my address.  I get the occasional thank-you note meant for someone at the Best Buy headquarters at 7601 Penn Avenue South, and most commonly, legal notices intended for a place at 2601 Penn on the southside.  I do try to get these to their rightful owner.  But when I was the recipient of a letter from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, I opened the mail immediately and without checking to see who it was really for.

It turns out that a certain Donald Harold Hanson has told someone that he lives at "Apt 1" of 2601 Penn Avenue North, which is odd because I don't remember ever having someone of that name live in my home.  I don't seem to remember having apartments either, though, so who's keeping track?

Imagine my surprise when I found out that Donald Hanson is...

Friday, August 2, 2013

Hofstede Staff Timer, It's Been Awhile

Up until yesterday, it had been 680 days since the Diane Hofstede staff timer had been updated.  But the process of entropy had almost surely continued unabated during that time.  There just HAD to be staff members who were fired or left or were temps or all of the above, who would have reset the timer if I'd known about them.  Sort of like a Schroedinger's staff member who is neither hired nor fired until I find out about him or her, at which point they instantly lose their job.  Who can really know the state of existence of a Hofstede staffer?  All we know is that the level of chaos likely stayed the same or increased.

I heard rumors, of course, but nothing from a source who would even want to give me information off the record.  So the timer remained in that state until yesterday.  That's when multiple credible sources told me three very interesting things...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

NiceRide 170, Too Challenging

Ed Kohler of The Deets started a tradition several years ago by using Nice Ride bikes to hit every single kiosk in a single day.  I wish I would have joined him for the first year, when there were only sixty-five stations that could be traversed in about three hours.  In 2013, there are 170 stations spread out over 110 miles of biking--all of which, under the rules of the challenge, must be traveled using the 50-pound Nice Rides.  Furthermore, a lot of the new stations are tucked away in obscure places that probably no one goes to.  Like behind random buildings, or in St. Paul.

So just to see if I could do it--and in the hopes that I could find my middle-school gym teacher on Facebook and tell him I finally earned that "participation" ribbon at the 7th grade track meet, damnit--I decided to give this a shot.  It didn't go as well as I'd wished.

I started my day by remembering what the Kellogg's cereal jingle of my youth taught me about being my best and eating a good breakfast.  Eggs, hash browns, a bagel, fruit, juice, and coffee took a bit longer than anticipated, and I missed the start of the event by a few minutes.  While playing catch-up to the rest of the crew, I ran into some technical difficulties...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Quasi-Vigilante Graffiti Abatement

Here's a fun activity and all you need is an old political campaign t-shirt plus a can of graffiti remover.  (Sorry, Melvin Carter.  Doorknocking on your first campaign was great, but I don't live in St. Paul and you're not even on the city council anymore.  If it's any comfort, your campaign gear is being put to good use.)

I make the occasional forays around my home to keep my corner graffiti-free.  But with Flow coming up this weekend, a stage at Penn and Broadway, and a recent shooting nearby, I ventured farther south.

The bus stop at the northwest corner had its fair share, most of which I could remove.  Paint seems to come right off, but anything with markers seems to stick around in spite of my best efforts.  A few other garbage cans along the corridor had markings that came off with varying degrees of success.  But where things were really rough was the artistic bus stop in front of the NAZ/Five Points Building.  Every pole inside the shelter was covered top to bottom in either gang markings or the smitten professions of adolescent couples.

As an aside, if the Five Points Building had its originally intended use of a sit-down restaurant with perhaps an outdoor patio area, the foot traffic alone would be enough to deter spray painters.  As it stands now, quite a few people have commented to me that they thought the first floor was still vacant because the shades are drawn and nobody is seen coming or going.

I had to dub this "quasi-vigilante" because there were a few items that my shirt, elbow grease, and chemicals couldn't remove.  While those likely won't be gone before Flow, at least they've been reported as I dusted off the Minneapolis 311 app.

By the way, here's the map for the weekend, in case anyone else feels like chipping in on graffiti abatement at key intersections.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vacant Properties Far Outpace Northside Homes for Sale

Image from a Google maps compilation of vacant properties, put together by Chad Davis.

When it comes to the housing recovery in north Minneapolis, there's a tool in our collective toolbox that we haven't been using.  In impacted areas, or at the city's request, Hennepin County can accelerate the tax forfeiture process so that vacant properties can go into forfeiture after as little as one year of delinquent taxes.  I found out about that opportunity just before I left my job at Hawthorne.  I can't help but wonder how much farther along my old neighborhood would be if I had known about this process and utilized it from the start.

Thankfully, I don't have to just wonder.  By comparing the current boarded/vacant list and the properties for sale on the MLS in Hawthorne, we can get a pretty good idea.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Code Compliance Shortcomings Contribute to Demolitions

Creative stock photo from ebay.

Not too long ago, the city looked into acquisition of a property in the Jordan neighborhood.  The likely intent would be for demolition, so I went over to take a look.  The house was listed for sale on the MLS, so we were able to get inside and look around.  The house had suffered severe water damage throughout, and the smell of mold was overpowering.  Mold, even pervasive mold, is not necessarily grounds for tearing a house down.  But could the water damage be so extensive that it affected the structural integrity of the house?  We couldn't ascertain that in one visit.

The housing committee in Jordan recommended acquisition by the city for demolition, but only if an approved contractor deemed it unsalvageable.  Before we could take that step, the house went into multiple offers, and the city likely lost out on its bid.

The dilemma we faced was a common one for distressed properties that could go either way.  Namely, if it's NOT torn down, then who will wind up buying the house?  Will it be a known slumlord, or the next generation of problematic owners?  Or is there a chance that a good owner might come along?  The property is viewed in the community as beyond repair, not because of structural deficiencies, but because the community sees it as highly unlikely that a good owner will come along.

In this case, as well as many others, that dichotomy should not even rear its ugly head.  This house was condemned, and therefore before it is occupied--even by an owner-occupant--it has to go through...

Khan Wins Ruling on 2639 Oliver Ave N, Demolition Stayed

If Mahmood Khan put as much effort into screening tenants, or fixing his properties, as he does into paying his attorneys to fight the city of Minneapolis, the northside would be a better place.  Instead, demolitions that are all but inevitable get tied up in court for years on end, and in the meantime Very Bad Things continue to happen at Khan properties throughout our community.

As a die-hard preservationist, one part of my credo is to never hold the owner against a property when determining whether a structure is worthy of rehab and continued use.  Khan tests that ethic more than anyone else.  I hear through the grapevine that some of the features inside 2639 Oliver are quite nice--amazing, even.  But as long as Mahmood Khan owns the house, none of that will matter.  If he really was serious about preservation and rehab, he would have entered into a restoration agreement with the city long ago.  Although he doesn't do such a great job of keeping those either.

In any case, a judge reversed the demolition order on this property, and all I can say is thank God the court opinion is "unpublished" and can't be used as a precedent.  Although just as surely as we know this won't be the last of his houses with a demo order, we know damn well Khan will now try this trick again.  The ruling, although wrongheaded, does have some interesting points.  For instance, it states...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blackout Ceviche

Special credit for the term "Blackout Ceviche" goes to Johnny Northside.

You can buy shrimp at the West Broadway Farmers Market, although you might not want to do so right before a storm takes out power for two days.

That was precisely the dilemma I was faced with last weekend.  I had this great shrimp, but no way to cook it and no place to keep it fresh.  Sure, I could have used a lighter to heat up my gas-powered stove top.  Or I could have brought the shellfish to a friend's house for temporary safekeeping.  Instead, I decided to make an adventure out of this situation and also a test of faith to see if God Wanted Me To Contract Salmonella.  (He didn't, apparently.)

Ceviche, for the uninitiated, is a way to cook seafood without actually cooking it.  The acidity from citrus juices acts as a cooking agent for the meat and makes it safely edible.  As an added bonus, it is carbohydrate free, lactose free, gluten free (I think; I'm not really sure what gluten is), it doesn't contain red meat or pork, it's not cooked, and it can be made without shellfish if one so desires.  It's basically a dish that can be prepared in a way that meets the standards of almost any dietary fad and offends no one.  Except vegans.  And Ted Nugent.  Anything that ticks off both has got to be delicious, right?

So I prepared the ceviche and then stored some in my freezer and a little bit in the fridge to keep me tided over during the blackout.  Everything in this recipe was found either at the West Broadway Farmers Market, the Broadway Cub, or my own backyard garden.  The herbs from my garden are not traditional ceviche seasonings, but they were what I had available.  And just because you might want to copy my recipe, don't think you can come by and take the herbs from my house.  You'll have to buy them from the market's aggregate table.

To make "Blackout Ceviche," you take...

Everyone Should Go See "Clybourne Park"

I don't know how to start my critique of the play "Clybourne Park," but I want to make sure to point out that it tricks you into talking about race--and that's a good thing.  I've had a bit of a case of writer's block about this review, so I borrowed a tip from a high school English teacher of mine.  "When you can't think of how to start," she would say, "just write down 'I don't know how to start, but what I really want to say is...' and then write from there.  Then go back and delete the first phrase, and you have your story."  In a manner of speaking, "Clybourne Park" does just that.

The play, currently being performed at the Guthrie, tells the story of a neighborhood, through the point of view of a house, and spans multiple generations.  It opens with a White family in the middle of last century, packing up and preparing for a move.  Their African-American maid is, in many ways, the glue that has held this couple together through a deep personal tragedy, although she is often treated as if she would be incapable of performing the simplest tasks without being reminded by the wife to do things right.

Other friends and neighbors, and even a local pastor who acts as a confidante, are shocked to find that...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The DFL Convention as a Political Event Horizon

I went into Saturday's Minneapolis DFL convention as a strong Schiff supporter, and we all know how that turned out by now.  So what follows is not neutral, although I'll do my best to be even-handed.

There is a physical phenomenon called an "event horizon," in which an object cannot be affected by an outside observer.  The object is being pulled by a gravitational force from which escape is impossible.  From an observer's standpoint, the object appears to slow down and not move at all, while the object itself experiences events in real time.  Event horizons are most commonly observed at the point of no return of a black hole, but can also be experienced by attending a citywide DFL convention.

The "event horizon" for me was when one minute turned into forty-five, which astute observers already know happened when...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Who Authorized the Fire Department's Destruction of 3738 Dupont Ave N?

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, video from Nicole Curtis Design on Youtube.

When the city of Minneapolis does really stupid things, like tear down 3738 Dupont Avenue North, they open themselves up to even more foolish allegations.  After the demolition of yet another property over north that a) didn't need to come down, and b) had a willing seller and buyer, North Talk and the Minneapolis Issues Forum are full of allegations of plans to displace, or that there is some "big demo" group behind house destruction and if we only follow the money we'll find the real culprit.  So in the same spirit, I will make my own assumption that may turn out to be foolish:

The owner of 3738 Dupont Ave N did not give permission for the Minneapolis Fire Department to conduct training at his property.

That prospect is one of the many things that bothers me about this house going down, but other preservation angles are already articulated elsewhere.  If I am incorrect in my assertion, the rest of this post can be dismissed.  If I'm not, then either the city has statutory authority to conduct non-emergency and non-administrative entry to vacant properties, or someone downtown authorized and coordinated the MFD training with zero respect for private property.

Why is this a problem?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What is "Habitable"?

The City of Minneapolis has recently examined the prospect of purchasing 3019 Logan Avenue North, likely for the purpose of demolition and banking the land for future development.  I had argued that, based on the city's own report of a $15,000 - $50,000 price tag for bringing the house back up to code, rehab was an option worth exploring.  The Jordan Area Community Council supported the city's acquisition, but asked that approved development partners be given a chance to rehab this house if they wanted.  That was a fair compromise for this preservationist.

During the dialogue between the city and the community, an interesting new word came up:  "Habitability."  In my six years of working on Minneapolis housing issues, this was the first time I had seen this word used by city staff people in the context of demolition vs. rehab.  In this case, the $15 - 50,000 price tag would bring this house up to code, but according to city staff, would not make it "habitable."

"What is habitable?" I asked, almost a month ago.  And the city's response was...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How I Almost Got Elected Chair (And What I Would Do to Keep That From Happening Again)

A funny thing happened to me at the Ward 5 DFL convention:  I was almost elected chair.  Ok, so "almost" is too strong a word, as the vote wasn't all that close.  But I was nominated, and in spite of  not having run a campaign for the position, or even having thought about doing so until Saturday, I did get a surprising number of people who voted for me.

(I was also nominated for the constitution committee; a role that may have suited me better anyway.  But the affirmative action statement isn't just something we read to the crowd prior to elections.  It is a guiding principle of the party.  So I stepped aside, knowing a friend of mine who was also nominated would do a fine job.)

So here's how my ward was almost either lucky or foolish enough to wind up with me as their chair.  I was rather unhappy with how certain elements of the convention were being handled, and made no secret of that.  I was flitting from one group of people to the next like a butterfly, venting about it.  A giant, yelling butterfly.

And then someone said, "Well if you feel that strongly about it, why don't you run for chair?  I'd vote for you."

Without really thinking, I shot back, "If you want me to run, why don't you nominate me?"  And the hell of it is, he did.  I'm not the kind of person who lobs criticisms from the sidelines.  If I care about something enough to get this worked up over it, I won't shy away from being asked to be a part of the solution.  But for better or worse, the delegates stayed with the status quo.

So instead of becoming a party insider, I get to remain a party activist - a role that suits me better, for now.  Which means I'm free to vent about all the things I'd do differently if I could wave a magic wand over this convention.  Things like...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Downside of Ranked Choice Voting

I am not a fan of ranked choice voting, and Saturday's Ward Five convention did nothing to endear me to this new process.

At another convention where I was volunteering for a mayoral candidate, I wound up talking with Kim Ellison for almost an hour about RCV, and much of that dialogue centered around aspects of this system that I *do* like--for instance, candidates are adopting a much more civil tone in their campaigns.  I just happen to think we're using ranked choice in all the wrong elections. (For instance, the lack of a primary makes it hard to weed out "vanity" candidates who have no chance of winning.  But look at last year's state representative primary election.  Ranked choice voting then would have saved us from a contentious recount.)  This voting process has its upsides, but Saturday revealed a few drawbacks as well.

At the fifth ward DFL convention, the chair brought up RCV as a possible way to facilitate the endorsement process.  Here's how it (I use the next word loosely) worked...

Friday, May 17, 2013

The City of Minneapolis vs. The Wirth House

Contributed photo.

3431 Colfax Avenue North, or "The Wirth House" is yet another property that Minneapolis is needlessly moving forward with plans to demolish.  This cute little spot almost looks like a north woods cabin that's been plopped down into a residential neighborhood.  The garage bears metal lettering of "R. Wirth," although the previous family ownership is not related to the locally famous Theo Wirth.  There are times when I almost--not quite, but almost--feel guilty for jumping in at the last moment to keep a home from a date with the landfill.  If the city goes through due diligence in public notifications, only to have neighborhood activists swoop in at the last moment, I can see how that would be frustrating for those tasked with implementing a process.

Thankfully for my conscience, this is not one of those times.  The McKinley neighborhood gave the city of Minneapolis a list of properties that the organization wanted to see some kind of action or development on.  The list was decidedly NOT a list of proposed demolitions, but that is apparently how our local government decided to interpret it.  Because back in February...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How Does the Local DFL Select Committees?

Although I've been an active caucus-goer for about as long as I can remember, it was only last year that I decided to take the plunge and get involved in a sub-committee.  I picked the resolutions committee, because I was working on a resolution against Northern Metals at the time.  I gained a deeper respect for the grinding work it takes to slog through such political minutiae, and decided that I'd put in my time for the next decade or so.

I did kick around the idea of getting on the arrangements committee, if for no other reason than the last senate district convention's layout straddled the line between "inconceivably awful" and "potential fire hazard death trap" more successfully than anyone could have expected.  And I didn't want a repeat of that fiasco.

But then a funny thing happened on caucus night.  There was no chance to sign up for participation on a committee.  At least in my precinct, that just wasn't an option for anyone.  I've asked representatives from different campaigns about this, and it appears there is a completely different method for selecting committee membership - either for this year or for city elections vs. state elections.

At last year's caucus...

Monday, April 29, 2013

Preservation is Affordable Housing

There are times when I'm asked how it is that I seem to have a different reason for keeping a house from demolition each time the prospect comes up.  Well, it's because there are so many more reasons to save a house than there are reasons to tear it down.  A case in point is 3019 Knox Avenue North, pictured above.

The city is considering acquisition for the purpose of demolition and holding the land.  Because how can there be a housing crisis if there aren't any houses?  I don't know, maybe that's their logic.  In any case, this house clearly is in need of repair.  But doing so, even using the city's own numbers, creates housing that's far more affordable than new construction--although building new isn't even on the horizon at this point.

Let's do some math.  It'll be fun, I promise.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

No Reolutions at Precinct Caucuses Shuts Out North Minneapolis Voices

The DFL held its precinct caucuses this last week, and for the first time in recent memory Minneapolis did not entertain resolutions as part of the process.  Although in a previous post I poked fun at resolutions as a confusing part of an evening that has its share of eccentricities, resolutions are an important piece of how political values are set.  The reason we were given for the lack of resolutions was that since this is an odd-numbered year with no senate district or statewide conventions, resolutions have "nowhere to go."  But I keep on subtracting four years from 2013, and as far back as I can go, the years always seem to come as odd numbers.  And we've done these in previous city elections, so what gives?

A quick primer on resolutions:  these are statements submitted at the precinct caucus level, with the intent, hope, or Quixotic dream that they will become part of the party platform.  They can be simple statements, like "End all wars," or flowery credos full of "whereas-es" and "therefore be it resolved that..."  A resolutions committee takes all of the submissions and sorts them into categories based on topic and duplicates and how badly some of the writers appear to need medication. 

At the next convention, delegates vote on which resolutions pass muster.  The ones that make it all the way can then be used to measure how well potential candidates match up with party values when they are seeking endorsement.  The process can be cumbersome, but it does allow for grassroots movements to define broader political values.

The removal of resolutions in their entirety this year harms the party by keeping new ideas and new energy from being fully utilized.  Even worse, communities like north Minneapolis--or areas with immigrant or other new voters--are disproportionately affected.

Here's how:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Comprehensive Guide to Sort of Understanding the Precinct Caucus

On Tuesday, April 16, most Minnesota political parties will be holding their precinct caucuses.  For the political neophytes, which is most of us, the precinct caucuses can be confusing and counter-intuitive.  Well, I'm here to help.  By the end of this blog post, you will realize that, far from being confusing and counter-intuitive, the precinct caucus system is actually quite tedious and nonsensical.  But at least you'll know how to slog through one and why they're important.

And a quick disclaimer: I have been and will continue to be active in the DFL party.  The process I'm describing is what typically happens at those caucuses, and could be different if you ascribe to other political persuasions.  You can find your DFL caucus location by going to the Minneapolis DFL homepage, clicking on the Secretary of State pollfinder link to find your ward and precinct, and then lining that up with the caucus location on the homepage.  See?  When just finding your location is a multi-step process, that's a sign of what's to come.

So Democrats in Minnesota endorse their candidates through a two-step process:  caucuses and conventions.  A precinct caucus is where you sign up to be a delegate to the conventions.  Only delegates can vote at the party's ward or citywide conventions.  If a candidate seeking DFL endorsement gets enough votes at the second event, he or she gets the party nod and DFL resources can be directed to that specific campaign.  In years when we have presidential or gubernatorial elections, a "preference poll" is taken to gauge which of those candidates have party support.

Some people come to the caucuses just to cast a vote in those preference polls.  This year there likely won't be such a poll, so attendees will largely be people who want to be delegates, people who want to put their time in on the inner workings of party politics, or both.  If you're going on behalf of a candidate, there is a very simple set of instructions to remember.  1.  Show up at 6:30.  2.  Wait until delegates and alternates are selected.  3.  Say you want to be a delegate.  4.  Fill out the proper forms and stay until the chair of the event says delegates can leave.

For the more detailed breakdown...

Friday, April 5, 2013

We Can Do Better Than 100 New Rental Properties

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, stock photo originally from the Irving Inquisition blog.

Before delving into why that is, I should first disclose that today is my last day as Housing Director of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council.  And I believe the private market, not non-profits, is poised to take the lead on revitalizing our community--if we let it.

While private rehabbers and new owners are chipping away at the shell they've been in, here comes a new program that could keep that from happening.  Urban Homeworks and PPL are working to buy up 100 north Minneapolis houses and convert them to rentals, albeit temporarily.  The plan after two years will be to sell them back to owner-occupants, and use the interim period to do credit repair and other work with their clients.  This is an initiative I fully and wholeheartedly support.  Except for the part about rental properties.  And there being 100 of them.  And the involvement of Urban Homeworks and PPL.  Other than that, it's great.

Now if this seems like I oppose the project in its entirety, I assure you that's not the case.  Allow me to explain...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sale of 1522 Hillside a "No-Brainer," New Avenues for Rehab to Be Rolled Out

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image is a screen shot of the 3/19/13 Community Development committee meeting.

Last week the sale of 1522 Hillside Avenue North cleared one of the final hurdles before Nicole Curtis can begin restoration of this historic property.  Council member Goodman called the sale a "no-brainer," and initiated a 20-minute discussion about how to preserve more houses and engage the private market in a better way.  The motion for 1522 carried unanimously, but the preceding discussion marked what could be a sea change in city disposition of boarded and vacant properties.

For those of you who want to watch, it's the first item on the agenda, and can be seen at the link above.  If you're more interested in celebrities than policy, Nicole Curtis speaks at the 25:00 mark.  The discussion leading up to that was ripe with all sorts of fascinating information, and began with...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Last of the Green Homes North Demolitions

Post and photos by The Hawthorne Hawkman.

After two recent posts on Green Homes North, my borderline obsessive-compulsiveness drove me to visit every single parcel on the program's eligible property list.  I wanted to see if there were other houses that could be saved, or if the questionable demos only popped up in or near the Jordan neighborhood.  Out of the remaining lots in the Camden, Folwell, McKinley, Victory, Cleveland, Lind-Bohanon, and Harrison neighborhoods, there were only two recent demolitions left.  Clearly it's possible that more houses were torn down in the first round of the program, but that's speculation at this point.

The bottom two photos are of 4238 Fremont Ave N, which appears to have been torn down within the last few weeks, given the fresh piles of dirt.  A Google street view search is not terribly revealing, as the trees on the property obscure the house almost entirely.  It was blue, that's about all I can say.  And since it was in the path of the tornado, I'll reserve judgment on whether this particular house was salvageable.  If anyone has information one way or another, please share.

The other property, shown in the top photo, is 3504 James Ave N.  Google shows us some detail on this one.

The knee-jerk preservationist in me wants to say this one shouldn't have been torn down.  All the same, it really doesn't look like much.  And I do have a friend who holds similar preservation views who lives on this block.  He didn't object to this demolition, so I'll defer to that opinion.

And that rounds out the Green Homes North potential and actual demolitions.  Several properties will hopefully be saved thanks to the work of northside housing activists and a major bump in publicity from the Nicole Curtis Facebook page - 2637 Emerson, 2046 James, 2114 Irving, and 2934 Queen Ave N, with the last one being in the most precarious position.  I would also argue that 1915 Penn Ave N should not be torn down until a developer comes along with a proposal that would require demolition.  But if a developer would want to rehab that one, it's a little late to do so when the house is a bundle of sticks in a landfill.

The next time a housing initiative gets rolled out for north Minneapolis, I'll be looking forward to a process that's more intentional about preservation first and demolition only when all other options have been fully exhausted.