Every Other Problem Is Clearly Solved

Those worried about the plague of having too many transportation options independent of Government controlled monopolies can rest just a tiny bit easier today; the city of St. Paul, responding to the demands of the taxicab industry that donates so much money to their campaigns, is about to fix all that. Emphasis added by me:

The new rules, passed on a 5-2 vote, will govern everything from vehicle inspections to insurance. They closely mirror a raft of regulations approved by the city of Minneapolis this summer.

Nevertheless, city council members Dave Thune and Dan Bostrom expressed concern that the rules do not go far enough to protect the city and the public and do not create a level playing field for taxi drivers.

of course, the “level playing field” is the problem that companies like Uber and Lyft were created to solve.

When the government “levels” “playing fields”, you may be sure that those fields are being leveled in favor of someone who’s already on the field, to protect them from newcomers.

Saint Gruber

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

This is why the cities of Brooklyn Park, Waite Park and Lake Park need to pay more taxes: so Saint Paul gets more LGA for an $8 million public library in the city’s wealthiest neighborhood, Highland Park.

Meanwhile, my street still hasn’t been plowed or even sanded, and the Mayor wants Congress to pay for street repairs.

No reason to prioritize when you’re spending Other People’s Money.

joe doakes

Proponents of the system will tell you that the money comes from two different sources; that there’s no way the library money could be spent on the streets.

In other words, they’re “Grubering” you.

Democracia Ahora!

¡Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

When I went outside this morning to put up my American flag, a pickup full of illegal immigrants stopped to ask if this is where they vote Democrat For Immigration Amnesty. No dude, that’s the Rec Center down the street. And they don’t open til 8. Yes, ocho. Yeah you have a good day, too.

In Saint Paul, the line between satire and truth is so gray and blurry, it hardly exists.

What Not To Do

I can almost hear every carry permit instructor in the Twin Cities writing down the details of this case as their prime example of what never, never, ever to do with your firearm and permit:

The complaint said [Matrix Richard] Lee got up and ran at the woman to retrieve the purse, but she drove at Lee and lifted her arm making some sort of gesture that, in fear of being shot, prompted Lee to grab his handgun, insert a full magazine and fire around the fleeing vehicle. The driver apparently gave him the finger, and angrily, he fired an additional shot at the car in effort to pop the tires, Lee told police.

Pro tip: if they are fleeing, and so far away that you have to steady your arm for a long range shot at a moving target, you are probably not “in immediate fear of death or great bodily harm”.

If the facts of the case are exactly as presented (always the caveat when the mainstream media is reporting on self-defense cases) then Mr. Lee would seem to deserve to be prosecuted for a whole dogs breakfast of charges, not the least of them reckless endangerment.

And not only will Mr. Lee truly deserve it, but I think we need to take a close look at whoever his carry permit training instructor was, just in case.

It Isn’t Very Pretty What A Town Full Of NIMBYs Can Do

The Irvine Park neighborhood, south of West Seventh Street and downhill from the XCel Energy Center, votes reliably DFL.

And so they care a ton about the homeless.

Provided they are walled away from them.

The Dorothy Day Center – across 7th Street from the X – wants to expand.  And that’s got Irvine Parkers up in arms:

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that residents of the nearby Irvine Park neighborhood want more say into the plans for the expanded shelter and service center.

Few will deny there’s a real need for the expansion. But neighbors say they already see homeless people spill over into the nearby park and onto their properties while waiting for the shelter to open each evening. They say the proposed design of the upgraded facility won’t do much to alleviate the situation.

Either will sixty more years of DFL rule, complete with using the inner city as a warehouse for the poor and de-institutionalized.

Who do we protest to about that?

University Avenue: The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Businesses along University Avenue – the ones lucky enough to survive the light rail construction process – are getting tax notices for “streetscape improvements“.

[Insurance salesman and Uni avenue businessman Doug] Nguyen was surprised to discover Thursday that he’s being assessed $3,200 by the city of St. Paul for light-rail related street work — “above-standard lighting” and “streetscape improvements” — in front of 1539 W. University Ave…Nguyen said he already pays roughly $15,000 a year in property taxes for his business, and there are still two road work signs on his block, including one directly outside his window.

 And after four months, how are all those new-urbaneriffic benefits shaking out?

 ”I don’t see any benefit from the light rail as far as my business at all,” he said. “There will be exposure (to customers), but I don’t think it’s a $3,000 benefit.”


He’s been selling insurance out of his State Farm office for more than a decade, and he and his son Alex Nguyen plan to appeal the assessment…”Light rail has been good in some ways,” said [Alex], who works out of his father’s State Farm office. “The road looks nicer — I’ll say that — but they took away all the parking. We lost the front spaces.”

 Less parking, no real tangible business benefit…

…and a big bill.  And it’s a big bill for everyone:

Many businesses with 40 feet of street frontage will be charged $1,710, while properties with more linear frontage such as car dealerships and professional buildings can expect assessments of $10,000 or more.


The owners of Spruce Tree Centre at Snelling and University avenues will foot a bill for $15,600 as a result of having 364 feet of frontage. The block-length Marsden Building at 1717 W. University Ave. is being assessed $29,600 for 691 feet of street frontage.


Jack McCann discovered that his Midtown Commons office property on the 2300 block of West University Avenue will be assessed $17,900.

And how many of these businesses, like the Nguyen’s, will benefit not an iota from the light rail? 

Indeed, how many are more than a block or two from the train’s stations, and are tradiing less parking for…absolutely no foot traffic?  And that’s assuming “foot traffic” is part of their business, which for Marsden – a company that provides janitors and building security – it’s not?

Everyone having fun yet?

The Mystery Deepens

 As was noted last week, there’ve been two arrests in the first armed robbery in the 150-odd year history of the Minnesota State Fair. 

Two Saint Paul men were arrested in the August 29 robbery of the MN Craft Beer booth, which netted (at least briefly) over $100,000. 

St. Paul residents Antontio Washington, 20, and Jarret Maiden, 35, have been booked into jail in suspicion of being behind the $10,000-plus heist, which was the first armed robbery in the fair’s history.

But there’s a mystery!

As was noted on this blog during the fair, the Minnesota State Fairgrounds was posted, for the first time since “shall issue” carry reform passed in 2003, as a gun-free zone.

And yet…:

State Fair police spokesperson Brooke Blakey tells us the gun believed to have been used during the robbery has been recovered, but declined further comment, citing the active investigation.

So there’s a mystery worthy of Poireau or Holmes.  Two, really:

  • How did an illegal gun make it past the signs at the front gate?
  • How did a gun wind up getting used in a crime where guns had just been made illegal?

Someone explain this to me?

Social Realism

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

I haven’t seen much from St. Paul’s Poet Laureate For Life, Carol Connolly, appointed by Mayor Chris Coleman. Her first poem immortalized his 2006 Budget. A later work celebrated his 2010 reelection.
I was hoping she’d write about President Obama’s 2014 decision to send advisors to Iraq, not to serve as combat troops, but to forward deploy with Iraqi troops giving tactical advice and calling in airstrikes, coming, as it does, after his 2012 decision to remove American troops from Iraq.
I thought she might title the piece “You put your best boots in, you pull your best boots out, you put your best boots in . . . .”
Joe Doakes

Saint Paul. It’s like a parody, only it’s not.

Twenty Years Ago On The East Side

Hard to believe it’s been twenty years since Guy Harvey Baker – a Gulf War Marine veteran with, clearly, mental illness issues – killed officers Ron Ryan, Tim Jones, and a police dog named Laser

The PiPress has a fairly good retrospective of the events – with one crucial omission:   

Ryan, 26, was checking on a man — Guy Harvey Baker — who was sleeping in a car in a parking lot at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood about 7 a.

He picked up a .38-caliber revolver from his lap and shot Ryan.

Scores of officers joined the search for Ryan’s killer. Jones had the day off, but he came in to help.

Laser picked up Baker’s trail about 10 a.m. on Conway Street, not far from Johnson Parkway.

Mara Gottfried’s story is excellent.  But she leaves out how the police actually found Baker’s “trail” on Conway later that morning – and, in a way, the story of a man who is both the story’s unsung hero and third (human) victim.

Lyle Granlund - 48 years old, at the time – was having breakfast with his kids on the upper level of a three-plex he owned across from the parking lot.  One of his sons yelled that there’d been a shooting.  Granlund grabbed a handgun and loaded three rounds – all he could grab at the moment – and went to his window.  He saw officer Ryan on the ground, and saw Baker driving toward another woman, standing in the doorway of a nearby apartment building, apparently getting ready to rub out the only known witness to the shooting. 

Granlund - an expert marksman – pondered taking out Baker.  But he held up, worried that the Ramsey County attorney, the infamously anti-gun Tom Foley, would prosecute him.  So he opted to fire two shots through Baker’s back window, shattering it and leaving the rounds (intentionally) in Baker’s dashboard, to hopefully scare Baker off and mark the car for the police.  He saved his third round, in case Baker decided to come for him.  But no – Baker accelerated away from the scene of the Ryan shooting…

…and it was by the shattered window that the SPPD found Baker’s trail, a couple hours later, nearby on Conway Street.

I interviewed Granlund later that year, for the old Gun Owners Action League (a predecessor of GOCRA) newsletter.  Granlund told me that while the SPPD remained officially mum about his contribution to that day’s search, more than one senior Saint Paul cop had come to his door in the following days, paying their respects to his effort to save their fellow officer.  A lieutenant left him his SPPD tie pin – a gesture that Granlund, in our interview, still found deeply touching.

I wrote about Granlund again, almost ten years ago, in a piece that includes a lot of useful background and  a link to a now-disappeared column by Ruben Rosario. 

 Granlund was right, of course; Foley did try to prosecute him.  Their attempt to get him for “reckless discharge” foundered when the police lab found Granlund’s two rounds exactly where he said they’d be in Baker’s car.  The Ramsey County Attorney’s office dropped its  attempt to prosecute Granlund only when the SPPD told Foley he’d get no cooperation from the police.  Someone listing himself as a retired SPPD cop tells the story in this thread

Oh yeah – and Granlund was denied a Minnesota carry permit; the SPPD that (quietly) regarded him as a hero also didn’t think he had any reason to need one. 

Gottfried picks up the story from 20 years ago today.

Baker heard the dog whining outside a fish house where he was hiding, saw Jones through the window and, through the side of the shack, shot the 36-year-old officer with the gun had stolen from Ryan. When Laser bit his leg, he shot the dog, too.

No prosecutor will ever issue an indictment, and no jury will ever hear the case – but in a very real if indirect way, Officer Jones was killed by official gun-control hysteria. 

The tragedy didn’t end that day.  When I spoke with Granlund, probably in September or October, he was clearly upset that he’d not been able to save Jones by killing Baker.  It went much deeper than that; Granlund spent the next ten years depressed about the episode.  He died in 2004 of a heart attack, at age 58, and is buried in the same cemetery as Officer Ryan. 

The lesson?  Let nobody tell you that an armed citizen can’t do immense good; one, and God only knows how many more, people are alive today because of Granlund’s action. 

And let no weasel government official get away with terrorizing the law-abiding citizen without a fight – preferably ending with a prosecutor sent to the unemployment line at the polls.

The families of the slain officers are the main focus of Gottfried’s story, of course.  I’ll urge prayers – or whatever your worldview does – for the families on what has to be a miserable anniversary.

Days Of Future Pissed

The Saint Paul City Council voted 6-0 to start studying a 200+-million-dollar streetcar line connecting some Godforsaken part of East Seventh to some misbegotten part of West Seventh, via downtown.  Councilman Bostrom abstained, noting that for the price of the line – basically a bus that runs on tracks – the city could resurface every single street in Saint Paul’s pothole-pocked grid. 

While there will be much gnashing and moaning about this line (almost none of which will become part of the official record, due to the Met Council and City of Saint Paul’s habit of only “seeking public feedback” after all decisions have been made), I figure it’s time to pass on some stories about a similar line, from a “high-density” eastern city much better-suited to such mass-transit fripperies, Toronto. 

Because streetcars aren’t much use there, either.

Here We Go Again

The completion of the “Green Line” has the urban planning dorks dreaming big again. 

Next up for Saint Paul – an “urban village” on Snelling by University, where the old MTC Bus Barn used to be.  It’ll be 4+ stories, the usual dog’s breakfast of “mixed-use” buildings a minimum of four stories tall, full of all of the “new urbanist” fads like “pedestrian friendly” spaces and “open spaces” that scream “crime-friendly!” to anyone who’s been paying attention. 

The refreshing part?  The consultants who are, er, consulting on the project admit up front it’s going to be exquisitely expensive:

The verdict? Those plans may be doable, but they won’t be cheap.

The report by Urban Investment Group, RNL and KHO Consulting examined potential development arrangements for the Snelling-Midway “SmartSite.”

The consultants found a $22 million to $31 million gap between today’s market value of the site and the cost of necessary new infrastructure, including $40 million in needed structured parking, as the land is redeveloped in phases.

The report encourages a mix of building types and uses, most of them at least four stories tall, with open spaces and pedestrian amenities to create the feel of an urban village.

It suggests a variety of approaches to close the funding gap, including tax-increment financing and grants and loans.

They’re suggesting a “public-private partnership”, which inevitably means large, rent-seeking “private” companies that are deeply in bed with government, building to a plan that has nothing to do with what the market demands but merely tries – at immense taxpayer expense – to skew the market toward the government’s (politically-driven and ultimately futile) plan. 

Think Galtier Plaza, Riverplace, Saint Anthony Main, The Conservatory, Mississippi Live…

Today’s News, Seven Years Ago

The Central Corridor Light Rail – named the “Green Line” because it would have been cheaper to build it out of stacks of dollar bills – is a failure, according David Markle, of transit-blog “Streets.mn”. 

I’ll urge you to read the entire piece, which is excellent and fairly exhaustive. 

The reasons boil down to these:

It’s The Wrong Line…:  Light Rail is designed to serve routes with stops roughly every mile or two – allowing it to get going to 55 miles per hour between stops.   The “Green Line” has to stop at dozens of stoplights, so it never really moves.  It takes about an hour to get between the downtowns, so it’s no faster than the 16 bus, making it useless for people who commute between downtowns.  And it’s much, much slower than cars, which even on the worst traffic days can get between the downtowns in half an hour.   

…In The Wrong Place…:  But it makes less than half as many stops as the 16, making it nearly useless for getting around the neighborhood, which is what people do on the 16.  The line should have either been:

  • a streetcar (and let’s all set our innate conservative opposition to rail transit aside for sake of argument) that stops every block or two and goes about the same speed as the 16, or maybe a little faster, and serves Saint Paul local traffic, for less than half the price we paid for the Green Line
  • or a light rail train built straight down I94, or across the 35W bridge and through the Newell and Empire Builder rail yards to downtown Saint Paul, for a similar (possibly lower) cost, but well over double the speed.
  • Or, since we’re just thinking here, a subway down University, with probably double the speed, but 4-10x (think 10x) the cost. 

What we got was too big a train on too slow a route – or as Markle puts it, “we’ve got a train that can’t run as a train should (to get commuters off the freeway and provide rapid point to point transportation) and yet can’t provide the good local service of a streetcar”. 

…For The Wrong Reasons…:  But the Met Council’s priority wasn’t moving people; it was promoting high-density urban development.  And while either kind of train will hypothetically serve the purpose (says the urban planning clique).  But the Federal Government was subsidizing light rail, not streetcars.  And the Met Council needed the subsidy. 

So instead of a line that (hypothetically) made sense either for commuters or local residents, we got a line designed to whisk people long distances, stopping every 1-3 miles, on a route that demands stops every block or three. 

Here’s The Takeaway:  The official transit fanboy community in the Twin Cities is just now waking up from their opening-day train-riding hangovers and figuring it out.  Bob Collins (one of my favorite MPR personalities, if that’s not a contradiction in terms) quotes heavily from the piece I link above, and adds his own observations:

During construction, I’d intended to take the line to Target Field for the July 4th game vs. the Yankees. But when push came to shove, and with four people in the car, it made more sense to just drive into town.

Part of that decision is owed to the 55 minutes it took to get from 10th Street in Saint Paul to the Nicollet stop in Minneapolis when we tried the new line out on the weekend of Rock the Garden.

More often, we hear “it takes too long” among potential riders. There’s a good reason for that. It takes too long.

So better late than never – right?

Of course, we – Erik “The Transit Geek” Hare (author of the peripatetic but excellent “Barataria” blog) and I talked about these exact issues, for precisely the same reasons, on the NARN seven years ago

Make of that what you will – especially if “what you will” means “the NARN has a better grasp on sane policy than the Met Council and the entire DFL”.

Two Patties Of Sizzling Ugh

A friend of mine from South Minneapolis emails.  The bad news?  :

Oh great, my favorite local bar and burger place where I have taken many of you is now world famous. The POTUS just had a “Jucy Lucy” at Matt’s. Crap. We’ve been going to this place for decades and now…the place will be known in every corner of the earth. Best kept secret burger joint now will be even more busy. Dang.

The good news?  At least he didn’t go to The Nook.  You thought it was hard to get into Matt’s even before the POTUS’ visit?

Sort Of Like An “Affordable Traffic Act” Exchange

I was driving north on 35E yesterday afternoon, when I saw there was no traffic on the southbound side coming out of Saint Paul.

Then came about 10 cop cars, whoopie lights a-blazin’.

Then the Presidential limo.

Then about a dozen or two other SUVs, limos, an ambulance, and cop cars.

Then I turned up Ayd Mill Road – a tributary arterial road that’s sort of a hidden four-lane freeway through the middle of Merriam Park, Crocus Hill and Highland before connecting to 35E – and saw traffic backed up from 35 almost all the way back to Hamline. That’s about two miles.

This being Saint Paul, I figured most of them probably voted for him, and it served them right.

That’s 1

The “Blue Line” – the Ventura Trolley, built down a right of way that either been cleared of obstsructions in the sixties, or built high above it - went several months before taking out its first vehicular rival.

The Green Line – drilled down the middle of one of the busiest streets in the Metro?  It didn’t even last a day (and that’s leaving out the four train-on-car accidents during testing).

My prediction in the first year:  12 train-on-car accidents.  Three fatalities (at least one of them in a car, and at least one staggering out of the Trend, Arnelia’s or Christenson’s.



Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Five crashes result from mixing trains with cars in the same space.  So far.

You seem surprised. This is not a bug, it’s a feature.  The system is working as designed, to drive vehicle traffic off the streets.

Soon black market cars will steal away every chance they can, through back yards to alleys and dusty roads, working on their night moves.  The rest will be up on blocks.  To save the planet for the children.  And the bicyclists.

Joe Doakes

I’m surprised they didn’t mount a chisel plow on the front of the trains.

It’s doing wonders for traffic on Marshall and Pierce Butler.

If Planning On Driving In Saint Paul On Saturday

It’s two days until the opening of the “Green Line” – and the Met Council’s toy choo choo has already been involved in four accidents.  That’s far ahead of the pace of the Ventura Trolley.

I’ve driven down University alongside the trains; it’s more than a little bit disconcerting.  And, if you’re not really really diligent about checking your vehicle’s blind spots, potentially deadly.

But what could possibly make it worse?  They’re going to turn opening night into a pub crawl.

That’s right – like Uni doesn’t have enough drunks patrolling it on a Saturday night anyway…


The Accelerating Skid

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

In the last decade, St. Paul has lost jobs six times faster than elsewhere in Minnesota. Oddly, that era was governed by Mayors Randy Kelly (D) 2002-2006 and Chris Coleman (D) 2006-present. How can their enlightened DFL policies be costing us jobs six times faster than outstate?

Bush? Koch Brothers? War on Womyn? Global Warming?

Joe Doakes

my theory: just like poverty, abortion and budget deficits, the decline of our major cities is a bloody shirt that is worth more to the Democrats unsolved than solved.

Taken For Granted

At Saturday’s Cinco De Mayo event in Saint Paul, the Fourth CD Republican Party had a total of about twenty people working at their booth, on Cesar Chavez Boulevard just east of Robert Street.  And that was just workers, not counting candidates.

And here was the DFL booth:

Photo courtesty Andrew Ojeda

There were three people there, when there was anyone in the booth at all.

4th CD chair Jim Carson notes “Never saw a candidate nor an office holder [in the DFL booth.  The GOP booth] had MANY candidates and several legislators, a couple of whom (Hall and Pratt) are not running for statewide office. At one point, we easily had twenty people in our 10×20 booth. It was a madhouse.”

I know, I know.  It’s a Democrat town.  It’s going to be a long way back to relevance for the GOP in Saint Paul.  And sometimes the GOP in Saint Paul is its own worst enemy (more on that in a few days, here).

But it was a great event, and a great step forward.

And I gotta ask all you Latino voters on the West Side (and everywhere else in the Metro) – how does it feel being taken for granted like that?

Saint Paul: “Start With The Luxuries; The Necessities Take Care Of Themselves!”

The roads in Saint Paul have been particularly awful this year.  Hamline Avenue between I94 and University was (until about a week ago) a strut-crunching road worse than a Bolivian goat path, passable at maybe 5MPH (maybe 10, now, with a coat of hot patch a week or so ago).  And others are just as bad; I saw a few “smart cars” completely disappear into a couple of potholes in the past few weeks.

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

The streets in St. Paul are falling apart.  The Mayor has no money to fix them without help from Congress.  Why not?

Take a typical house in the Midway valued around $175,000.  The homeowner pays property taxes totaling nearly $300 per month: $900 to the county,  $700 to the city, $1,000 to the school district, more to other entities including $70 for the Light Rail and $100 to “other special taxing districts.”

But wait, there’s more!

The homeowner also pays a $175 Special Assessment for Right of Way Maintenance and an additional $50 Special Assessment for Storm Sewer.  That sounds suspiciously like money dedicated for street repairs including curb-and-gutter.  And it isn’t a one-time deal: St. Paul charges those Special Assessments to every property including schools and churches, every single year.  So where’s that money?

Spent it all on street repairs and it’s still not enough?  Then the city’s budget managers are incompetent.

Spent it all on . . . something else?  Then we need some tar, all right, and feathers, too.  And a rail, so certain people can ride it out of town.

As society evolved from savagery, cities were formed to provide basic services: police, fire, sanitary sewer, clean water, passable roads to move goods from farm to market.  Everything else is gravy.  St. Paul city government is failing its fundamental purpose.

Joe Doakes

But..refrigerated ice rinks!

Carrying On

A Ramco juidge sentenced CIndarion Butler to 16 years yesterday for the joy-pummeling of Ray Widstrand.   

The mob beating – carried out by self-styled gang members in what happens to be my old neighborhood, out on the lower East Side of Saint Paul near Payne and Minnehaha, which was a “neighborhood with challenges” 25 years ago and not much better now - got national attention last summer for its callous brutality; while five punks were charged with the beating, witnesses say more than a dozen attacked Widstrand, who lived in the neighborhood, beating him nearly to death just, apparently, for kicks. 

Anyway – Butler is going away until he’s in thirties.  The only thing more depressing than  seeing a life gone so badly and stupidly astray this early is taking a drive down Payne Avenue and seeing how many are on the same path.

But to me, the real story is Widstrand.  It’s not a Hollywood ending – but he’s alive, and plugging away…:

Although he has recovered beyond initial expectations, Widstrand told Smith he’ll likely require medical care for the rest of his life. It’s unclear if he’ll ever recover enough to drive regularly, work full time or live on his own.

Widstrand lives with his parents, and continues to receive outpatient care at the Courage Center. He’s scheduled to have a plastic plate screwed, sewn and stapled into his skull on April 3, his fifth brain surgery.

Doctors had removed part of his skull to alleviate pressure and later replaced it. But it was removed due to infection, necessitating the plastic plate, which will be permanent, barring unforeseen problems.

“There is no end in sight,” Widstrand told Smith.

…but he’s alive, and moving under his own power after some of the most gruesome injuries a person can sustain, which defies most expectations.  And in among all that is depressing about this story, that’s something to celebrate. 



Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

I was doing title research and found a 1962 deed that created private restrictive covenants. It prohibits tar paper siding, houses smaller than 1,000 sq. ft., building too close to the lot line, private sewers, etc. That’s how private developers maintained neighborhood standards before zoning came along.

This particular deed also says: “This lot is sold on the express covenant that it shall never be occupied for the purpose of doing a liquor business, nor for any immoral use.”

Put me in mind of our recent discussion on legislating morality. So now I’m wondering: in a state dominated by the DFL, does this mean drunken homosexuals can move in; but registered Republicans are banned?

Probably better not to ask.

Joe Doakes


“Saving” Saint Paul’s “Soul”

I’ve snickered about “E-Democracy” – the liberal-leaning non-profit that has been running email list-serve discussion forums for something like twenty years.  Awash in non-profit money, they’ve expanded (more or less) all over the place – but have pretty much been a “progressive” echo chamber for most of the past fifteen years.

Which is, I suspect, all they were ever asked to be.

I watch ‘em, still – especially the Saint Paul “forum”.  Mainly for new blog material, or for warnings about Saint Paul government’s latest detour into delusion.

A group of contributors were discussing how to “save” the “soul” of Saint Paul.  By “soul”, they really meant “small ma and pa businesses” (and, by extension I suspect, the correct small ma and pa businesses; no gun stores, no motorcycle shops, no bars in “my” backyard, yadda yadda).

I responded.


And by “soul”, you mean “small, local, ma and pa businesses” [1], or so I assume from the thread so far.


And some of you are even flirting with some answers that sorta kinda make sense – but for the fact that they all rely on the agencies of politics to enable them. Meaning more “systems” for the well-connected to game [2], more picking of winners and losers by the people who are already in power. And this is non-partisan, by the way – it’s not even a Republican vs. Democrat thing [3].

But we could “save” Saint Paul’s “soul” in a breathtakingly short time – as in, make a huge start before the next Mayoral election [4]. It’d require a lot of people parking a lot of their preconceptions, and working for the benefit of *city* and its people, rather than the betterment of the city’s political class [5] – but let’s just imagine for a moment.

Here’s how you bring back Saint Paul’s “soul” – its small business community:

First: Declare a ten year business tax holiday. Not a TIF district. Not an enterprise zone. Not a tax break for businesses that fit the favored criteria, or a subsidy to get them going. No. Slash business taxes; make them the lowest in the state by a statutory ten percent. Abolish all city sales taxes. Yes – this would require some drastic, and for some painful, cutbacks at the city level [6]. But city government isn’t Saint Paul’s “soul” [7]. You want small business – and, while we’re at it, jobs and opportunity for all those kids, immigrants and poor people?  Give Saint Paul THE lowest business taxes in the state. And not by a close margin.

Second: Knock off the “living wage” talk. Many small businesses can’t afford it at all; others [8] can afford it only by hiring higher-skill workers who give much higher productivity than the traditional minimum wage worker. They hire fewer of them in the process. Why scare off small businesses? Not only should Saint Paul can the “living wage” talk, they should have a “training wage” for kids under 18 that work less than 20 hours a week *below* the regular minimums. That’ll actually make it *worth* it to hire the young and unskilled. [9] Long story short – let business pay for skills what the skills are actually worth on the open market – and let people work and learn the skills that make their time more valuable. That’s how its’ done *sustainably*.

Third: Put zoning back in its place. Quit trying to use the zoning process to create an urban utopia (according to the people in power, of course); pare it back to commonsense regulations. Especially parking regulations. It’s in the *businesses’* interest to make sure they have enough parking (why would you open a bar in a location with half a dozen parking spots?). Quit letting the NIMBYs hold the city’s economy hostage.

Fourth: Ditto regulations. Ruthlessly hack away business regulations that exist only to protect people who bent the ears of City Councilpeople 50 years ago. [10].

Fifth: Prune DSI back to inspecting for health and building-safety regulations according to *state* law.

So what’d happen?

Saint Paul would get *lots* of businesses.

Some would be chains. Yep. They have money, they invest it, they hire people and pay taxes.  You can not use government to pick winners and losers without distorting the market and making *everyone* a loser.

But you’d also get a lot more local businesses – because *they’d be able to compete* without an arm tied behind their backs! And this city would develop a *culture* of entrepreneurship – people would start businesses because *that’s what people do* in Saint Paul [11]. And that culture of entrepreneurship would open up financing, both through normal channels (the city would become a MUCH better risk for small business lending) and non-traditional (example: Asian family credit pools could start investing in Saint Paul, and start moving back from Woodbury and Burnsville. Maybe).

And that’s the *real*, *sustainable* way to “save” Saint Paul’s “soul” – create a place where someone can start at McDonald’s, learn the basics of how to get and hold a job, and then realize “Bull! I can make a better burger!”, write a business plan, find a location, and start grilling better burgers. And hiring a kid who works her way up, and decides she can do it better still. And so on.

THAT is how you “save” Saint Paul’s “soul”. [12]

So – let’s do it, shall we?

Mitch Berg
Private Sector Warrior
The Midway

[1] – Interesting term, “Soul”. Metaphysical – as opposed to many other metaphors that could describe a city. So – how are souls lost? By falling for whatever Big Lie your worldview abjures.  Like, to pick a hypothetical example, the idea that politics – which is nothing but the control over the state’s monopoly on force [13] – solves any problems without causing worse problems.

[2] – See: all the restaurants and bars owned by retired government employees that skate on their city inspections (everywhere, not just Saint Paul). Wash your hands before eating.

[3] In principle, anyway. That’s the problem with one party government; eventually you’re held accountable, even if only via your city going bankrupt on your 70-plus-year watch.

[4] It’d require different mayors and a whole ‘nother city council, of course. But work with me, here.

[5] The DFL, the special interests that support it; the hordes of rent-seekers, non-profiteers (including this very forum) and other favored members of the political class. And again, this is non-partisan; this would be equally true in a Republican city that’d been run into the ground – if you can find one.

[6] I’ve written about this before, in the past year; I won’t recap the whole proposal, but it does involve getting city government out of some areas. Kicker is, the city comes out way ahead. Stay with us, here.

[7] When I was younger and more rash, I’d have thrown in a “Carrie” or “Exorcist” joke here. But I’m clearly no longer that brazen plate-thrower.

[8] Including *both* Punch Pizza and Costco, by the way. From the President’s State of the Union! They were both terrible examples of businesses that pay living wages; Costco sells limited SKUs in bulk and locates only in fairly wealthy areas, and hires people at higher wages but with established skills (and contracts the minimum wage stuff, like working in the snack bar and handing out samples, out to subcontractors – who do NOT pay $11-15 an hour!). Punch is a high-end niche pizzeria with a high markup; time’ll tell if they succeed with the higher labor costs. But again – they also pick and choose who they hire. Go ahead – send your unskilled kid over there to apply. Let the forum know how it goes!

[9] But since this IS a city full of people who believe in living wages, start a program (privately) so that companies that pay better starting wages can advertise it on their front doors. Let ‘em put big “We Start At $11/hour!” signs, so that people who DO value a “living wage” can put their money where their mouths are (and gauge whether they get the same bang for *their* buck that stores with lower labor costs provide.

[10] Classic example of this: when I was in Jacksonville on business a few months ago, I travelled almost entirely by “shuttle”. That is to say, a van. A single van owned by someone who met a minimum set of standards (four wheels, seatbelts), and kept the van clean enough to attract customers. It wasn’t a posh van, but no worse than a cab – smelled better than any cab I’ve been in, ever – and it got me around Jax quickly and cost-effectively. I talked with the driver; no serious regulations other than the same vehicle safety rules everyone has to follow (which are perfectly effective), no Taxicab lobby to worry about breaking his knees, and he makes a *solid* middle-class living driving that van between the hotels, the business district and the airport. One of them (whom I used twice, and talked with about the system) gave me a card – he does with all his customers – and told me to call him when I need a ride next time I’m in Jax. And I will.

Anyway – there is no way a local businessman could set up such business in Saint Paul. And that’s a shame; our system enriches the cab company owners, at all of our expense.  This is just one of the examples of our business regulation making it impossible to start small businesses, for the dumbest reasons.

[11] Nope, it’s not “what people do” in Saint Paul in 2014. In Saint Paul in 2014, people work for government, or work outside Saint Paul. To the extent that there is a private sector in Saint Paul, it’s some very rugged people who can weather a lot of bureaucratic BS.

[12] Or shall we just continue making soothing sounds about helping small business by using policies that have made Saint Paul one of the most business-hostile cities in the upper midwest, all the while lining the pockets of the city’s political class and its hangers-on (sorry, those of you who I just described – it’s business. Not personal).

[13] I know – some of you see politics (in the form of government and the whooooole process) through soft-focus lenses. But it all devolves back to force. Try this: Stop paying your taxes, or put a statue the city doesn’t like on your lawn, or decline to send your kid to a government-approved school. Keep at it, and sooner or later someone with a gun shows up at your door to demand compliance. You can dress it up any way you want, but that’s really the essence of all politics at the end of the day.