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It’s not (only) about the bikes: how a series of small fights has revealed deep divisions over the future of St. Paul

It hadn’t been planned that way. It just sort of happened that the agenda for one recent meeting of the St. Paul city council included public hearings on the city’s most argued-over issues.

In sequence, the council took up new bike lanes, infill development and a discussion of a proposal to change the way garbage is collected. For two hours, residents and business people approached the microphone in St. Paul City Hall’s third floor art deco chambers and told the members what they thought.

Coincident though it was, that single council meeting illustrated the tensions of a city where politics are in the midst of a transition. A population that is finally growing again, that is getting younger, more racially diverse and perhaps more urban is grappling with what it will look like in coming years.

“With St. Paul being less-populated for the last 20 years or so — 30 years — there was less pressure on resources,” said Mike Sonn, co-chair of the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition, which has been in the midst of some of the recent policy fights. “But with people moving back to the city, things are getting a little bit more crowded.

“There’s a sense that, hey, this has always worked for me — and all of a sudden it’s not.”

Boomers vs. millennials?

To understand St. Paul, says former Mayor Jim Scheibel, who teaches public policy and administration at Hamline University, you have to understand that issues are often neighborhood-based, rather than city-based, as they tend to be in Minneapolis.

“People very much identify with the different neighborhoods, whether it is Dayton’s Bluff or St. Anthony Park or Mac-Groveland,” Scheibel said, and they expect a voice in what happens there.

Jim Scheibel

But there are also aspects of city politics that didn’t exist a generation or two ago. “There are challenges about making sure when we do address issues; it reflects the diversity of the city.”

At one level, the different approaches to the issues that dominated that June 1 meeting are generational: baby boomers vs. millennials. Bike advocates, for instance, tend to be younger, those rejecting the loss of on-street parking tend to be older. Proponents of increasing the city’s density tend to have the same generational tendencies.

An oversimplification? Yes. Many empty-nesters are interested in urban density and the amenities it promises to attract. But the generational generalization is commonly made in St. Paul these days.

“There’s always change, obviously,” said John Mannillo, a St. Paul business owner and co-founder of a citizen group called Saint Paul STRONG, whose founders say was formed to advocate for more transparency in city government. “The last time we experienced this kind of change was with the baby boom generation, and now we’ve got the millennials.

“The problem is that, while, the millennials outnumber the baby boomers, the baby boomers are still quite vocal and large in number,” Mannillo said. “You have two extremes that are hitting heads. I do see that.”

Council Member Amy Brendmoen, whose 2015 reelection race against David Glass featured many of the issues still causing conflict (Glass said Brendmoen and the city were pushing a “Millennial Initiative”), sees the conflict as less of a battle of generations than as differences in how people view the city.

“There is a shift toward people both young and old moving back into the city and looking for amenities they think are part of a city,” Brendmoen said. “And I imagine, for people who have lived in the city through thick and through thin … want the urban piece but also tried to draw some of plus side of the suburbs — like bigger lots — into the city as well.”

Those different ways of looking at the city reveal themselves in issues like bike lanes and residential development — and even skirmishes like last year’s over putting parking meters on Grand Avenue.

“I see a bit of a sea change in St. Paul.” 

Bike lanes as proxy wars

It’s the stated policy of the City of St. Paul to both grow the population and build a city that has appeal to all generations, all cultures. The council has adopted Mayor Chris Coleman’s “8-80 Vitality Fund” concept, which promises investment in everything from bike lanes and a restored Palace Theater to the completion of the Grand Round parkway system. The plan is based on the work of urban designer Gil Penalosa, who advises cities to work to appeal to residents from ages 8 to 80 and emphasises walkability and vibrant urban spaces.

“We’re trying to plan streets and communities with people at the center of planning, not cars,” Brendmoen said. “It’s kind of like small towns in a the big city,” she said.

Bike access is central to Penalosa’s message. Yet be it the proposed bike loop downtown or new lanes on Cleveland Avenue, nothing engages the battle of St. Paul quite like bikes. And bike lanes. And bikes on bike lanes.

At the June 1 hearing, the council was deciding whether to support a Ramsey County proposal to reconfigure Upper Afton Road between Burns Avenue and McKnight Road to provide for bike lanes. On-street parking would be lost — that’s what drew neighbors to the hearing, since Upper Afton Road is a parkway with fewer side streets where visitors or service vehicles could park.

When it returned to the council June 8, the lanes passed 4-1, though not before Council Member Jane Prince said she had recently convened a meeting of city and county staff and elected officials — as well as some neighbors — to see if a compromise could be reached.

It couldn’t: the street could not hold traffic lanes, bike lanes and parking. But Prince, who had served on the city council staff for years before winning election last fall, lamented the fact that there wasn’t a way to reach some sort of accommodation when problems “pitted neighbors against one another.”

Jackson Street rendering
Department of Public Works
Plans call for off-street bike paths that could accommodate two-way bike traffic even on streets that are one-way for cars. A before and after rendering of Jackson Street is shown.

“Clearly this is not the case with our bike plan and policy,” Prince said. “I accept that this is an intractable requirement that cannot be changed to accommodate people who live on the street.”

Council President Russ Stark said there isn’t a “perfect solution” when it comes to the bike lanes on Upper Afton Road. But he also added something that describes the broader tensions at play in St. Paul: change disrupts residents’ sense of ownership of their city.

“These are really tough projects when there’s such a sense of something being lost that people thought was theirs,” Stark said. “People believe parking in front of their house is theirs, even when they’re public streets.”

The vote, Stark said, reflects a council majority’s belief that city streets must accommodate “the most people, most often.”

Brendmoen said that sometimes the issues are not as big as people make them out to be. Bike lanes, she often says, are just paint. If the problems predicted by opponents materialize, they can be erased, and she objects to the argument that residents don’t see anyone biking on streets that are inhospitable to bike riding. Once built, she said, lanes have been well-used.

But Mannillo, who said he was speaking for himself and not for Saint Paul STRONG, said that “most people still drive.” And with the aging population increasing as boomers reach retirement, “we’re building bikeways where most people can’t ride bikes.”

The divide over density

To accommodate younger residents and empty nesters who want to live near the city core, more housing is needed in St. Paul. While some of that is being built in and near downtown, the city also wants to add housing along commercial corridors that run through venerable neighborhoods. That’s what was at issue when developers recently sought to tear down a duplex at 1174 Grand Avenue and replace it with a multi-family apartment building.

The property sat between two historic apartment buildings, both similar in size to the proposed project. And it fit with zoning rules for height and square footage. Neighbors, however, felt it was too tall and too bulky.

As with bike lanes, the fight also spoke to broader issues in St. Paul. Density brings traffic and more competition for parking. It can also threaten to alter a sense of place — in a city that prides itself on having preserved its history, even as neighboring Minneapolis lost so much of its own.

“Should this building as proposed be allowed, the precedents it sets will surely encourage other developers who will move to tear down many of the same early 20th Century houses which add to the charm of Grand Avenue and its historic and eclectic mix of single-family homes and low-rise commercial and residential buildings,” Summit Hill Association board member Lori Brostrom told the council. She said that would “irreversibly” change the character of the area.

That this one project in this one neighborhood drew opposition wasn’t unexpected. More noteworthy was that a previous council voted 4-3 to oppose a similar proposal for the same lot, despite a city policy encouraging density.

Developers recently sought to tear down a duplex at 1174 Grand Avenue
City of St. Paul
Developers recently sought to tear down a duplex at 1174 Grand Avenue and replace it with a multi-family apartment building.

That 2015 decision, while celebrated by neighbors, was disappointing to those who fear the city will never grow its urban population if neighborhoods can block multi-family infill development. “I’d like to see four and five story buildings popping up on Grand,” Sonn said. “I understand that’s not realistic, but if we can’t even build three stories when everything else is three stories, it’s kind of disheartening. We couldn’t even build Grand Avenue anymore.”

Legally, the plan before the council June 1 was different — somewhat smaller than the project defeated last year, and it was now condos rather than apartments. But it still needed a variance on side-yard setbacks and was viewed as the second attempt to get the the go-ahead. After lengthy testimony and council debate, it was approved 4-1, with three members who voted against the 2015 plan — Stark, Brendmoen and Chris Tolbert — in support of  the new-ish plans.

Garbage time

“St. Paul is a very conservative city,” said  Scheibel, the former mayor — not in partisan terms, of course (it remains a DFL stronghold), but socially. “People feel there are a lot of things that work, people like the way they work.”

The city is slowly examining whether one of those things that doesn’t work is garbage. The city has a unique way of collecting refuse: 14 licensed haulers compete to win the business of each household and apartment building. The result in some neighborhoods is that two or three — or six or seven — different trucks traverse the alleys to collect garbage. There is no single garbage day, exactly, though some residents get together and agree on a single carrier to make it less chaotic.

The city’s public works department has recently been taking public comments and meeting with haulers over a plan to coordinate collection. Private haulers would still do the work, but geographic zones would be created and collection would be divided based on current market share.

The new plan is far from being adopted, and has so far attracted only a smattering of opposition — nothing compared to the uprising seen in Bloomington when that city adopted a similar conversion. In fact, much of the resistance in St. Paul has come from the haulers themselves.

But if the garbage conversation breaks less generationally than bikes or density, it does touch on an age-old tension that also underlines those issue: the way things are vs. the way some people want them to be — status quo vs. change.

Coordinating garbage collection
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
The city’s public works department has recently been taking public comments and meeting with haulers over a plan to coordinate collection.

Some residents have expressed an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” sentiment about the city’s garbage collection system, while others support the proposed change, complaining about the noise and exhaust from trucks and the burden of setting up service and finding the best deal. The proposed change is also seen as a way to better deal with illegal dumping, which remains a problem in the city.

The haulers, themselves, are listening. Ten of the city’s 14 haulers are small, locally owned businesses, and they are discussing forming a co-op that seeks to accomplish many of the city’s goals: fewer trucks, more transparency on rates, ease of arranging service. Stark said he was encouraged by those conversations.

Saint Paul Strong vs Saint Paul Strongerer

Last fall, some residents of St. Paul formed an organization they titled Saint Paul STRONG, an acronym for Safety-Trust-Responsible-Open-Neighborhoods-Generations. Members include former Ramsey County Commissioner Ruby Hunt, former council candidate David Glass, former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, St. Paul NAACP vice president Yusef Mgeni and former state Rep. Andy Dawkins. Its web page features a lengthy “List of Grievances” that reference bike lanes, tear downs, zoning variances and even Grand Avenue parking meters.

But the unifying theme is a belief that city government isn’t transparent enough, and that changes are made without input from residents.

Mannillo ticks off a series of issues that he thinks were decided without public involvement, from CHS Field to the bike plan to the proposed soccer stadium to rules for development along the Mississippi River.

“The mayor drives this,” Mannillo said of Coleman. “He’s lined up commissions to favor his position. The city tries to make it look like there’s process when there isn’t.”

That suspicion was expressed Friday, during the planning commission hearing on the master plan for the Midway area, where the new MLS soccer stadium is proposed. “Please decide based on planning principles and not out of loyalty to the person who appointed you,” said stadium opponent Tom Goldstein.

Sonn sees such debates in a different light. While there was extensive public process to decide to include bike lanes on Cleveland Avenue, it took so long that the project was delayed by more than a year. “The process extends the status quo because if you can delay change then you keep getting what you already have,” he said. “I’m beyond frustrated.”

Saint Paul STRONG has drawn some criticism — and some ribbing — by younger activists who see it as a means of simply maintaining the status quo, especially when it comes to anything having to do with driving and parking.

An anonymous parody Twitter account using the image of the statue that towers over the lobby of City Hall is called “Saint Paul Strongerer.”

The (bike) path forward

“I don’t think you’re going to continue to have battles,” Mannillo said. He sees a chance for a change in the political dynamic in the new few years, especially if Coleman does not seek a fourth term as mayor, as is expected; and if the council adds other new members like Prince, who has opposed some recent initiatives, and Noecker, who asks hard questions about issues such as the stadium and what she considers overuse of Tax Increment Financing.

“It’s not a six-zero or seven-zero vote all the time anymore,” Mannillo said. “I think Saint Paul STRONG has come up with a way to put pressure on them that they have never experienced.”

Sonn, not surprisingly, disagrees. Had the 2015 election gone differently — had Goldstein defeated Stark and had Glass defeated Brendmoen — the council and its positions would look quite different. But Stark and Brendmoen were re-elected, with 61 and 56 percent of the vote, respectively.

Taking bike infrastructure as the most obvious issue in the conflict. Sonn said he thinks St. Paul is just a few years away from it being a non-issue, similar to how biking is considered a given in Minneapolis. When more lanes are installed and more residents see more bike use, it will disprove the claim that no one bikes. He thinks that will help the city council become more supportive of the changes he hopes for, not less.

“The council knows they have some support but there’s still some trepidation,” Sonn said. “I think that whole conversation will change in the next three to five years.”  

Comments (66)

  1. Submitted by Bill Lindeke on 06/13/2016 - 11:41 am.

    the notion of process

    This is an interesting article, Peter, and thanks for writing it. I’m very close to this debate and worry that the “division” is a bit over-stated. It’s not that there aren’t people who get really angry over traffic and parking issues — absolutely there are, and the Grand Avenue meter fiasco was an example. Still we should remember that while that change was being (rudely) debated, Saint Paul did extend parking meters all through downtown and raise the rates there substantially. There was broad agreement that the changes were a good thing, and in retrospect the new meter policy is working well downtown, balancing out demand and raising revenue for the city during sports events. That kind of policy change would have been very difficult 5 years ago, I think.

    Same is true for bike lanes. We can focus on the one or two times where rhetorical fights broke out, but meanwhile the city and county have striped bike lanes in many other places without much disagreement, the city’s bike plan was unanimously adopted, and there’s a significant consensus that transit, walking, and biking are the way forward in Saint Paul, at least among voters, most city leaders, and for many neighborhood advocates. Specific situations can bring some arguments (like on West 7th Street transit planning right now) but in general there’s broad agreement around priorities both at City Hall and in the neighborhoods.

    This is to say that it’s easy to focus on people complaining about traffic, but behind the scenes, and in the neighborhood meetings, and on the streetcorner, most people would like to see density and safer streets in Saint Paul.

    PS. I was on the Cleveland Avenue task force also and the “delay” wasn’t just a timing thing. It also cost the city a significant chunk of money because they weren’t able to stripe the bike lanes during the mill-and-overlay project. In the end, though, it might have been worth it because, again, during the deliberations the group formed a significant consensus, particularly between reached by the community members and the Universities in the area. (Business owners remain skeptical, unfortunately.)

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/13/2016 - 11:48 am.


    Thank you Mr. Callaghan.

  3. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 06/13/2016 - 12:42 pm.

    And this…

    …is why I live in Minneapolis.

    Good reporting, Peter Callaghan. Keep on keeping on, Mike Sonn.

  4. Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/13/2016 - 01:25 pm.

    Sore Losers

    Remember this:

    In the 2015 elections, Russ Stark defeated Tom Goldstein for the Ward 4 council seat and Amy Brendmoen defeated David Glass in Ward 5. In 2011, Chris Tolbert defeated Tom Mannillo and was re-elected in 2015 for the Ward 3 seat. Mayor Chris Coleman has been elected three times, earning between 69 and 78 percent of the vote.

    St. Paul’s voters chose the current political leadership, and have rejected the St. Paul Stronger candidates.

  5. Submitted by John Mannillo on 06/13/2016 - 01:30 pm.

    Saint Paul STRONG

    I also think this was a good story.
    To be clear however, Saint Paul STRONG is made up of both very experienced as well as millennial age activists. We are mostly on all sides of issues. The “grievances” identified on our website are not necessarily issues we have disagreed with regarding their final decisions. We do take issue with how the process was managed by the City by limiting communication and public input. A long process does not necessarily make for a valid process.

    John Mannillo

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 06/13/2016 - 01:51 pm.


      What is the issue with how the process is managed? From the news and social circles I follow, the public processes behind these decisions have been going on for years and years. It seems like the new complaint is to say “where was the process?” when people are not pleased with the outcomes of the process. Cleveland Avenue is an excellent example of this. It feels like people were either asleep or not playing well for the first eight innings, then want to try and rally together an angry mob in the bottom of the 9th with the demand that the outcome of the first 8 innings never really happened and that the game should have started over.

  6. Submitted by Richard Callahan on 06/13/2016 - 02:08 pm.

    This is very good reporting

    Great article, and important to St. Paulites like me. Thank you.

  7. Submitted by John Mannillo on 06/13/2016 - 02:18 pm.

    A few specifics

    Seems like the shoe can be on the other foot. I heard a whole lot of whining about repealing the metered parking on Grand. Every one of the grievance issues have specific examples. The CHS Field had a Design and Construction task force convened two years prior to its opening. The City, including the Parks Department appointed members of the Task Force who over whelming supported all of City Hall’s deal which had already been made. In fact the final design turned out to be the same one submitted at the first task force meeting. My request to have public input was very publically turned down.
    Another example would be the Cleveland Avenue Bikeway. The permit parking system this bikeway generated now has to be revisited for lack of adequate public input at this Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

    John Mannillo

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 06/13/2016 - 04:17 pm.

      Pro-meter people weren’t whining about process

      We’re complaining about how subsidized storage of people’s personal property on scarce and expensive public rights-of-way (which costs money to sweep, plow, pave, and patch) is so sacrosanct that people aren’t even willing to accept demand-based pricing there to enable allocation of this on-street car storage.

      Oh, and the fact that Mike Sonn won national acclaim for his invention of “snarking” to identify unmoved cars after snowstorms (thereby soundly defeating the false claims of parking meter opponents) is icing (or snow?) on the cake.

      • Submitted by Dan Berg on 06/13/2016 - 04:59 pm.

        Demand based pricing

        I’m all for demand based pricing. I think it would be great if we applied it to all use of public infrastructure. Lets do it to pay for parking and automotive infrastructure in general. Same with mass transit and bicycle infrastructure cost. That way everybody pays for what they use.

        • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 06/14/2016 - 04:11 pm.

          Should we pay for the annual military budget

          From a gas tax? I’d go for it, but not sure folks really want to “pay for what they use” at $18/gallon.

          • Submitted by Dan Berg on 06/14/2016 - 08:19 pm.


            Fuel prices in Europe are substantially higher and as a whole they don’t drive substantially less. I would be interested in hearing what you would include to get to the $18/gallon number. My guess is that if we had all transportation users pay for their total costs cars would still be the primary choice though the percentage might shift just a bit. The bigger reaction is that by stopping subsidization for all transportation society would benefit because we consume less of it and live more efficiently.

          • Submitted by Dan Berg on 06/15/2016 - 05:30 am.


            Missed your headline explaining the $18 figure. I’d be good paying for the percentage of the military that is proportional to the economic value of the road system. Also I think we would need to not pay for the roads through the gas tax and find a mileage tax of sorts with a formula that modifies the rate based on weight of the vehicle with heavy commercial vehicles paying substantially more. A gas tax is a good way to internalize the externalities associated with burning fossil fuels but that needs to be born by boats, propane grills, heating oil, plastics and all other uses as well. There might be better places earlier up on the supply chain to apply that tax so everyone pays fairly.

            • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 06/15/2016 - 09:21 am.

              Yes, administering proper cost incidence would be challenging

              Even if people actually were willing to “pay for what they use.” My comment was more just a desultory and off-point remark to note that if we actually internalized the cost of fossil fuel use, and if we recognized the extent to which our military expenditures are for the purpose of keeping our mitts on the oil, gas price would be high enough that it actually would change settlement patterns and behavior. If we added the transfer cost for the lives we’ve immiserated under authoritarians who keep the oil flowing and, oh, the estimated present value of the 100-year cost of climate change, we might get up to a real gas price of a couple hundred dollars a gallon.

              But, we’ve never really been a people interested in “paying for what we use.”

              • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 06/15/2016 - 10:12 am.

                I love this subthread.

                You two are spot on. We don’t want to pay for the true cost of our lifestyle, up to and including worldwide hegemony to protect the flow of cheap oil.

                • Submitted by Dan Berg on 06/15/2016 - 01:56 pm.

                  It is an odd thing

                  So much of the animus that manifests in political discourse is based on who is paying their “fair share” and who benefits. I think we would be able to focus on more important issues if wherever possible we simply and directly attached consumption to the price being paid for the consumption. We will still need to address income distribution issues but interweaving creating efficient transportation systems and income equity issues together too often creates bad solutions for both problems.

                  • Submitted by Todd Adler on 06/17/2016 - 08:13 am.

                    Fair Share

                    The whole “fair share” debate is really just a ruse to reduce the amount of expenditures in one area so more money can be spent elsewhere. We see that locally with the whole dust-up about the Met Council. Some people want to change the Met Council to elected officials rather than appointed so they can then control who gets on the council instead of the leaving it to the governor. With the balance of power shifted, then more money can be allocated to utility hookups and road construction in the outlying suburbs. People have bought large tracts of land out there from the farmers and they’re speculating land prices will go up if they can just get someone else to pay the utility hookup costs.

                    The Met Council has decided though that they need to spend more money in the core cities building out light rail, bus rapid transit, and other programs that have been long neglected. That doesn’t mean the ex-urbs won’t get funding for expansion–just that they won’t get as much funding. That’s why you’ve been seeing the push these last few years to remake the Met Council.

                    As part of that effort, the pro-development people have also been pushing the narrative that “trains don’t pay for themselves” and “people don’t use them.” This, of course, completely ignores the fact that roads don’t pay for themselves either. The gas tax and tab fees typically cover just 18% – 66% of road costs, not including police protection. But the real agenda isn’t to craft systems that pay for themselves, but rather to completely de-fund certain systems (light rail) so there’s more money for other systems (roads and utilities). The end game isn’t an equitable system that serves all constituent’s needs, but one where there’s all the money for one group and none for the other.

                    Logic does not fit into the discussion at all–just the illusion of logic made with talking points that don’t make any sense if you take the time to dig into the underlying details.

              • Submitted by Dan Berg on 06/15/2016 - 10:26 am.

                Politics is basically the practice of maintaining control by sustaining the delusion that people can get stuff without paying for it. Military spending is the biggest example of that. Transportation seems to be another primary manifestation of this philosophy.

                I actually think eliminating our military intervention would likely cause gas prices to go down. Whoever controlled the oil would only benefit if they sell it so it really doesn’t matter much who has control. Also, instability caused by our interference makes things more expensive and the US military uses 4.6 billion gallons of fuel every year. The united states aa whole consumes about 140 billion so a reduction in military use would actually be a big impact on the market.

  8. Submitted by paddy martin on 06/13/2016 - 04:03 pm.

    As Bill often says

    there are wide swaths of the city that would welcome/are welcoming the gentrification and microbreweries that bike lanes and density brings and would jump at the chance (or be so apathetic as to not notice) for even more.

    The article gets the frame slightly wrong. Its not a generational divide or a process debate, its simply about people protecting their assets.

    The fact there are neighborhoods whose permanent residents would prefer to protect their generational investment in the neighborhoods and the associated parking spots should come as a surprise to no one. Despite not having the immediate time to attend every single solitary city and county meeting about ways to increase the bike mode share to 3% from 1.5% (see Reuben Collins here, the permanent residents will still be here long after transients have moved across the river or to Portland.

    At the end of day, things will change and they won’t. Some things will better some things won’t. Some of the neighborhoods have hardly changed at all over the decades some of changed a lot. That trend will continue

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/13/2016 - 04:38 pm.

      Real St. Paul residents

      So the St. Paul Stronger people are the real, permanent St. Paul residents, while the bike-riding, craft-beer drinking people are just transients passing through. Got it.

      • Submitted by paddy martin on 06/15/2016 - 02:39 pm.

        Renters turn in to owners sometimes

        It wasn’t my intention to imply that renters are transients (although they might be!). Renters in some of these neighborhoods turn into owners (I did). I was throwing shade at people who threaten to move to Minneapolis or PDX or Denver every time the St Paul Public Works Department doesn’t plow the Jefferson Bikeway.

        I was suggesting that it is my perception that (some) people have substantial investments (emotional and financial built over many decades or not) in the status quo of St Paul and to expect people to roll over and play dead while the kids build PROGRESS with their tinker toys (Street Mix) is delusional.

    • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 06/13/2016 - 10:53 pm.

      There it is

      *BREAKING NEWS* Because I rent, my opinions don’t matter; because I rent, my voice shouldn’t be considered as equal; don’t consider Ive lived in St Paul for 20 of my 24 years of life. NOPE! Renters are just transients with no regard for the true humans, the (predmonantly white, middle and upper middle class populations of the city) homeowners.

      Why does the fact I cannot afford to put 10% down make my voice less important?

      • Submitted by paddy martin on 06/15/2016 - 02:54 pm.

        I *never* said renters are transient

        You appear to have made a substantial commitment to the city. There other types of investments besides 10% down on a house. If you grew up in St Paul and chose to live here, I consider that a strong investment.

        I welcome your voice and opinions and never meant to imply otherwise. If we happen to disagree, its a discussion among friends that we can have over a beer at one of the places that serve them


        • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 06/15/2016 - 03:45 pm.

          Words Matter

          I hope you understand how your use of “protecting assets” and other language strongly implies that, even if all renters aren’t transients, homeowners would not be. To address that you want to improve on what the city is instead of transform it, and that those wishing for a transformation should have chosen a different locale is very different and more nuanced.

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 06/14/2016 - 08:54 am.

      Let’s talk about investments

      I’m planning to build small-scale urban infill. Things like fourplexes, storefronts with apartments over them, etc. Things like the things that were built a century ago in St. Paul that people today in St. Paul love about their neighborhoods.

      But I’m going to be investing in Minneapolis most likely instead. Because that’s where the “brewery-sipping transients” are willing to pay me higher rent, and that’s where the restauranteurs would rather open up. That’s where the streets are calmer in a way that is compatible with my intended investment. Etc.

      Enjoy your stagnation, Paddy.

      • Submitted by paddy martin on 06/15/2016 - 02:48 pm.

        Good Luck!

        These neighborhoods were fine 80 years ago, they were fine 40 years ago, they were fine 20 years ago, and they are fine now. Karnac predicts…..they will be fine in the future.

        Speaking of investment, I went running down the bike way today to the river and ran past the two houses be renovated by companies for resale, the tear down that’s almost finished, and the 5 other tear downs that have already been resold. But its not DENSITY DENSITY DENSITY so it doesn’t count I imagine.

        I for one welcome your stagnation, that’s what I paid for.

        • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 06/15/2016 - 04:09 pm.

          Teardowns Are Actually a STRONG Target

          Rules were written to curtail teardowns and large scale expansions. I believe it was STRONG members quoted in the Villager a month or more back, noting how variances were being granted, and how the process was obviously broken due to the number of continuing teardowns. While I would certainly prefer a 4-plex so I could look at the river while not paying more than $1,000,000 mortgage payments, I don’t think we should be discouraging new housing stock and increased values, as it lessens the tax burden on the rest of the city.

    • Submitted by Theo Kozel on 06/14/2016 - 12:01 pm.


      Parking spots have never belonged to private property owners and in no way are part of a ‘generational investment’. That applies to the space in front of my own house as much as it does to anyone’s. The streets in front of our houses are public property and it is entirely appropriate that the public should weigh in on how they are used.

      As for the rest of the post, the rhetoric used to divide renters/’transients’ versus ‘permanent residents’ is Trumpish.

      • Submitted by Dan Berg on 06/14/2016 - 12:51 pm.


        However the property owner is assessed for work done to the sidewalk and street in front of their property. So if we don’t want the property owner to have any more say than anyone else we might want to eliminate those assessments and simply pay for the difference out of general funds.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/14/2016 - 02:28 pm.

          Renters pay property tax too, just not directly. Unless you think that landlords just pay the property taxes on their buildings out of the goodness of their hearts and don’t pass the cost along to the renters.

          • Submitted by Dan Berg on 06/15/2016 - 05:43 am.

            The bill goes to…

            The tax bill goes to the building owner and has their name on it. If it isn’t paid the authorities go after the owner, not the renters. Like all other decisions with the property the property owner has the right to make them. Renters carry none of the risk associated with actually owning the building and are only responsible for paying their rent as set out in the rental contract and not damaging the property. When a special assessment comes for a new swear or sidewalk the building owner doesn’t split it up and send it to the current renters. The renters have the owner providing financial insulation to these and other similar unforeseen costs.

            Renting has a lot less associated responsibility than does owning and along with that comes less power to make decisions. A renter’s power comes from where they decide to sign a lease and what caveats they include in that lease.

            • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/15/2016 - 09:10 am.


              Renters will pay the “unforeseen costs” whether its the current renters re-upping their lease or new renters.

              • Submitted by Dan Berg on 06/15/2016 - 10:01 am.

                No commitment

                Renters have no commitment beyond their lease and the lease has a fixed cost that can’t be changed to cover unforeseen or one-time expenses. The costs get paid by the renters but the lease arrangements insulate them from responsibility for the property. The trade off is that they don’t get the same authority to represent the property as a whole.

                • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/15/2016 - 10:55 am.

                  Commitment to the City

                  You keep responding by explaining how a lease works, which is something of which I am well aware. That doesn’t change the fact that renters do have a financial stake, despite the lack of actual ownership. Their rents, whether at the same apartment on the same lease, will be affected by city policy.

                  The “no commitment” argument is just another way to try to devalue the residents of St. Paul who don’t own real estate. You may want to disenfranchise them, but those people (of which I was one for a number of years) have an interest in and commitment to what this city does.

                  • Submitted by Dan Berg on 06/15/2016 - 12:12 pm.

                    They have no legal liability

                    The fact is there is a legal difference between leasing and owning property. Renters get the same vote in elections as everyone else but they do not hold the legal liability that property owners do. That liability is a significant issue that can’t be simply ignored. The easiest thing to do is to pay for changes out of the general fund, which was my initial suggestion, rather than through assessing property owners for the changes whether they want them or not. You can’t provide authority to the community as a whole and then concentrate the costs on a few people. It is simply unethical. If we are collectively benefiting from the changes then we should pay for them collectively.

                    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/15/2016 - 12:57 pm.

                      More nonsense

                      You are using a bait and switch argument to make your point. Yes, owners have some legal liability that renters do not, but the when we get back to the real question – who bears the cost, renters bear it just like owners do.

                    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 06/15/2016 - 04:25 pm.

                      Renters actually pay far more

                      1. The MN renter’s property tax refund has a faster dropoff schedule than the MN homestead credit refund.
                      2. Renters are also paying a higher property tax through their rent without the benefit of a homestead classification.
                      3. Renters are also not benefiting from the federal mortgage interest deduction.
                      There may be more examples too.

                      I’ve owned personal properties. I’ve owned properties that I rent to others. It’s crazy to think that some people think my renters should have less of a voice than I do, despite all the other benefits owner-occupants get.

            • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 06/15/2016 - 09:44 am.

              Please Show Me This

              According to the United States Supreme Court, it is one PERSON, one vote, and not one property, one vote.


              If you can please explain why as a renter I should have less say, in a constitutional manner, I would be willing to listen and engage in a discussion over the ethics of the issue.

              Otherwise, you made an investment, a monetary investment, part of this investment is taking into account the risk associated with the property, from a failing water heater to a street being up for a reconstruction, these are risks of investing in property. The city is not a corporation, and your property is not its stock; the city must make decisions to serve based on resident opinion, and provide all members of the public with equal service.

              • Submitted by Dan Berg on 06/15/2016 - 12:06 pm.

                It is a legal fact

                Property owners have legal responsibilities which renters do not. That is a simple fact. The legal responsibilities come attached with legal authority to execute their responsibilities. Renters and property owners have the same vote which is why I suggested that changes come out of general funds, which everyone pays in to under the same legal framework, rather than through assessing the property owners. If you want to have equal share of decision making you need to a accept equal responsibility. Something renters do not currently do.

                • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 06/15/2016 - 04:16 pm.


                  Like how the 53% of Americans have a greater responsibility than the 47% Mitt Romney indicated were just the leeches on American Society? You don’t get more say because you invested in real-estate, sorry, but that is not the way our country (and therefore State, County, or City) is run. I live nearby, I have as much of a voice as you. Even if you bet more on the outcome, that’s not my fault, and I have just as much say (legally and ethically) as you do.

                  To address you assessment comments, they are less than the increase in property value. Without assessments, any public infrastructure is simply a wealth transfer to those well off enough to invest in real-estate, be it their own home, or as a landlord.

        • Submitted by Carrie Anderson on 06/14/2016 - 08:17 pm.

          Gotta agree with this

          Property taxes are very high, making rationalization behind these assessments even more incredible.

        • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 06/14/2016 - 09:55 pm.

          Assessments Are Not Ownership

          Assessments are the public entity deferring its costs by having property owners pay for (less than) the increase in value of their property due to the project. I don’t think letting them change the design unilaterally is smart.

          • Submitted by Dan Berg on 06/15/2016 - 12:25 pm.

            That is the justification…

            An increase in property value is the justification but it doesn’t really hold water. Since changes that don’t actually increase the value of the property can also result in assessments it seems that assessments are really just a way of supplementing standard property taxes. The reason it ends up being a point of pain so often is that when there are projects that are meant to be a benefit for the entire city a larger portion of the costs are born by adjacent property owners whether they want the change or not.

            Assessments make a lot of sense for maintaining existing infrastructure but it is hard to justify them for supporting larger planning projects.

            • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 06/15/2016 - 01:25 pm.

              Then challenge them

              If they do not hold water, if they do not increase property value, find an assessor, have them do an assessment before and after the project.

              Often owners will not want to recoup this value by selling, which is acceptable, but it increased the value of the property. Suggesting these property owners get a free ride while taxing the rest of the city at higher rates to cover their increased services is an awkward argument.

              Can you define “Larger portion”? Can you provide examples?

    • Submitted by Adam Miller on 06/14/2016 - 02:51 pm.

      Might need better financial analysis

      Because the things you’re opposed to almost certainly hurt, rather than help, the value of your assets.

  9. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/14/2016 - 08:56 am.

    Push against the future

    As someone who likes to inject money into local businesses, even if they’re not local to me, I find many of the stances supported by STRONG to be anti-future. As someone who enjoys hanging out in cool spots like Grand, I found the anti-future sentiment so ridiculous, I now ignore the emails I get from them and skip Grand for Highland, where parking time is limited, even if it’s not metered. It ensures that I can visit because no one can monopolize parking space, which is at a premium. I should note, however, parking is still necessary. Yes, there are aging residents who don’t get around so well any more. But there are also urbanist wannabes, like me, who want to support unique locales with their dollars but must trek in from the suburbs to do so (heaven forbid I could use transit, but that’s a whole ‘nother gripe).

  10. Submitted by John Mannillo on 06/14/2016 - 01:21 pm.

    Does everyone know what Saint Paul STRONG is?

    Not sure from reading the comments whether some people know the difference between Saint Paul STRONG and Saint Paul Strongerer (a snarky parody). Saint Paul STRONG has nothing to do with what some think, is keeping things the way they are or the way some would like to see it. It has to do with public input into the future of the City. We don’t like short term political deals that only helps a select group or political favors for the wrong reasons. We don’t like rushed deals before elections. That is poor public policy. Saint Paul STRONG thinks that by including diverse interests we can improve on public policy, even on decisions we support. Wide perspective is preferred by us rather than self serving or special interests.

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 06/14/2016 - 02:20 pm.


      It sounds like something is “rushed” insofar as you disagree with the outcome. Look at Cleveland… years of process leads to one outcome, but it’s still rushed to you?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/14/2016 - 02:24 pm.


      I have lived in St. Paul for nearly 30 years. Despite my use of bike lanes and affinity for craft beer, I actually own a home. In fact, I have owned several over the years.

      And I know EXACTLY what St. Paul Strong is. I knew what it was before the organization even existed. It is the forces that impede progress in St. Paul. It is inertia masked as process. It is resistance to any kind of change. And it is an organization now because the residents of St. Paul have chosen actual progressive leadership (quite literally, as pointed out an another of my comments) over the leaders of St. Paul Strong.

      No one here is confused.

      • Submitted by John Mannillo on 06/14/2016 - 02:41 pm.

        It gets more confused


        You might look at your earlier post about Saint Paul Stronger (?) for my confusion, or yours. To understand who we are and what we stand for please go to our website. Nothing about preventing change. You may notice that the people who make up our organization have generated more change to Saint Paul than any of the critics and continue to do so. One change may be that we want public input in City Hall decisions. What does owning a home have to do with Saint Paul STRONG?

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/14/2016 - 04:12 pm.


          I’ve read your website and followed your group, and it is everything about preventing change and preventing progress. Its come to the point where if St. Paul Strong is for something, I know that I should be against it, and vice versa. Haven’t been wrong yet.

          The homeownership was a response to (as someone wisely put it) a very Trump-like comment by a St. Paul Strong supporter here.

        • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 06/15/2016 - 10:27 am.

          “One change may be that we want public input in City Hall…”

          That is everything about preventing change. By saying you “want public input,” you are implying that the actual public input that happened is not legitimate. You are attempting to silence the voices of St. Paul. You saying the “public input” at the ballot box that resulted in people more progressive than you being elected is not legitimate. You are saying the “public input” of people volunteering their time to serve on boards and commissions, to participate in their neighborhood councils, to be on task forces studying issues, etc didn’t actually matter. You’re saying that the countless people who submitted written testimony, went to meetings even when it meant missing dinner with their kids or socializing with their friends, who called their council members to make their voice know, that all those things weren’t legitimate public input. You want public input. Just the type of public input you agree with. That’s shameful.

  11. Submitted by Linda Winsor on 06/14/2016 - 02:35 pm.

    Confusion: Saint Paul STRONG & St. Paul Strongerer

    Saint Paul STRONG is a nonpartisan community-led organization dedicated to improving open and representative government in Saint Paul. Steering Committee members include Rick Cardenas, Andy Dawkins, David Durenberger, David Glass, Ruby Hunt, Samakab Hussein, Roy Magnuson, John Mannillo, Yusef Mgeni, Pa Chua Vang, and Linda Winsor. To learn more about us:

    Saint Paul STRONG, made up of diverse community representatives, saw the need for real reform based on the fact that recent actions by the Saint Paul Mayor and City have occurred with little or no public input, transparency, or accountability.

    St. Paul Strongerer (originally named St. Paul Strong) is an anonymous twitter account that was first initiated to impersonate Saint Paul STRONG when it copied our mission statement, branding photo, and put out snarky, mean-spirited tweets to confuse the public and undermine Saint Paul STRONG’s work. In order to avoid legal troubles, they changed their name to St. Paul Strongerer, dropped our mission statement, added “The STONGEST parody account in all the land,” and deleted most of their initial tweets. To date, they have not identified who posts their tweets and / or who is part of St. Paul Strongerer. Needless to say, they clearly do not believe in transparency and accountability.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/14/2016 - 04:18 pm.

      No confusion

      No one who really understands what the toxic message of St. Paul Strong is all about was confused. St. Paul Strongerer was a funny and clever parody of an organization that richly deserved to be parodied.

  12. Submitted by Emily Metcalfe on 06/14/2016 - 03:02 pm.

    I think a difference between newcomers and long time residents is that new people moving to the city expect parking to be difficult. Parking in Saint Paul is much easier than I expected it to be, though I am sure it is harder than it was 20 years ago. So when I hear about an improvement that may cost some on street parking, it doesn’t seem as severe to me as it does to many who have lived here a long time.

    • Submitted by John Mannillo on 06/14/2016 - 03:43 pm.

      Some other differences

      Fair statement by Emily. One problem is the loss of parking is not evenly spread. Some property owners and business who depend on parking are experiencing some different treatment. Their investments are affected and in some cases businesses become less competitive. Healthy change is often an evolution over time. We may find that small electric cars with driverless GPS will be the norm in only a few years and bike ways become obsolete. I don’t think anyone should be so self righteous as to presume to know the future. We need to consider everyone else’s situation.

      • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 06/14/2016 - 04:04 pm.

        Hah, yeah

        Let’s definitely not be so self righteous as to presume to know the future. But OMG if you build an 8 unit apartment or condo building on a block it will definitely trash everyone’s property values, kill businesses, and change the neighborhood’s character. And definitely, with 100% certainty bikeways will become obsolete once self-driving cars become mainstream.

      • Submitted by Serafina Scheel on 06/15/2016 - 04:22 am.

        Parking loss

        Should anyone really expect parking loss to be evenly spread? A business model that relies on perpetual access to public property for success seems rather short-sighted. I really like the way we’ve seen many Cleveland businesses looking to new ways of attracting customers with the changes in street configurations, and I believe this is part of that healthy evolution.

        Yes, change can be uncomfortable. I owned a home on Marshall Avenue near Fairview when it went from four lanes to three with a slower speed limit. I was there when the boulevards and bicycle lanes went in. It’s unimaginable the difference that it made in safety and quality of life. I’m looking forward to the changes on Cleveland and the increased accessibility to businesses it will bring.

    • Submitted by Carrie Anderson on 06/14/2016 - 09:11 pm.

      That’s a good point.

      So is the idea of generational investment. Perhaps an important question is, Should Saint Paul be just like Minneapolis? I remember struggling with heavily congested Minneapolis parking in the 1980s, while not so much in Saint Paul after moving there in 1994. Maybe that’s a salient part of its appeal. Having a different point of view from Minneapolis doesn’t equate with being anti-future or stagnating.

  13. Submitted by Linda Winsor on 06/14/2016 - 04:47 pm.

    Biking commuting in Saint Paul

    I serve on the Steering Committee of Saint Paul STRONG (SPS). While Saint Paul STRONG does not take positions on any issues, most of our members are individually involved and working on issues in our communities.

    For example, I have been a bike commuter / transit user off and on since 1970 in the Twin Cities area and the Phoenix area. My eldest, millennial son is a year round bike commuter in the Twin Cities and he has toted my granddaughter around in a bike trailer since she was one year old. So I am a HUGE proponent of bike infrastructure and public safety.

    While there was ample public process for the adoption of the city wide bike plan, when it comes to implementing it in neighborhoods, the public process for the details that directly affect people’s lives and businesses has been less robust and consistent in some neighborhoods, which has often led to disrespect and misunderstandings between stakeholders.

    It is my hope that leaders in the biking community extend a warm welcome to the diverse community of bike commuters and supporters by dropping their generalizations about older folks like me who support the bike plan and also support open, transparent, and accountable process in decision making in our wonderful city of Saint Paul. I know that the future belongs to my children and grandchildren and that future must include sizable public investments in biking, transit, and pedestrian infrastructure. I embrace those changes and acknowledge the complexities of implementing them. I also trust in open, transparent, and accountable process to arrive at good policy. While I may not agree with some of the decisions that come out of public process, I believe that is what good government is all about.

    • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 06/14/2016 - 09:50 pm.

      Can You Take A More Public Role (Like This Statement)

      Your comments are well placed and balanced. When someone like JM is the face of your organization, while also fighting tooth and nail against change that conforms with the comprehensive plan and local elections, it makes the organization seem like a failed politician’s piss-party.

      Further, I cannot say how horrible it looks when there is time for public comment, and people take the time to complain about the lack of comment opportunities. (Or that they had to write down their comments for the record instead of being able to yell at public employees.) Sometimes the process takes time, sometimes the process as it plays out appears to support the actions of the City (see Fred Melo’s review of soccer stadium comments, tempered positivity). This doesn’t mean that the process is biased, ineffectual, or flawed.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/15/2016 - 09:06 am.


      I think you may be the one who is confused because this comment is certainly not the message being sent by St. Paul Strong, including by John Mannillo (“bike ways may become obsolete”) on this page.

      The mission statement may be one thing, but as the other commenter replying to this put it, it comes across as a failed politician piss-party. If you are truly a biking supporter, you should want nothing to do with these people.

  14. Submitted by John Mannillo on 06/15/2016 - 10:03 am.

    Amazing how you misunderstand

    I think the criteria for who you identify as an enemy is someone’s age. I’ve spent my career fighting the system to change, including a one party political system. I’ve also fought for transportation stating back with the in the 1970’s all the way to the LRT. I supported the Jefferson bikeway, and the sixth street bikeway. Another change is my support for the narrow minded position taken by some of the bike coalition. Not a good way to build support. These conversations become useless at this level. So I’ll check out.

  15. Submitted by SUZANNE RHEES on 06/18/2016 - 08:49 am.

    Which city do I want to live in?

    As a long-time Mpls resident and bike/bus commuter to St. Paul, I appreciate that SP is gradually beginning to catch up in the bike infrastructure department. As a potential future SP resident, I have concerns about the seeming inability to accept the transition from auto-centric to other modes and the glacial pace of “process.” Need more advocates, I guess!

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