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. 

 

Zoning

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

Probably.

“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.

Simple.

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.

Doakes Sunday: Priorities

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

I saw the article in the pie-pan (Pioneer Press) about the new bicycle boondoggle.  The estimate for the loop downtown is $18 million.  Which means the true estimate that they had is $30 million, and the actual cost will be $45 million.

The story quotes the City of St. Paul’s Sustainable-Transportation Engineer and also the Environmental Policy Director.  St Paul only has two director-level positions for bicycle ideas.  Now that, truly, is a bare-bones operation.

If only the wicked Republicans would give St. Paul more LGA, then they could plow the streets.  Meanwhile, what can we do with the cupboards being bare and the offices empty.

Joe Doakes

I love biking to work.

I just wish government spent less time and money making sure tax-paying drivers hated me while I was riding down the street (that I already paid for).

Flailing About

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Leftists despair when their own principles collide, leaving it impossible to decide who to hate.  Example:

Poor people can’t afford to buy their own homes, so they rent.  Renters don’t own the building so they can’t make improvements.  Landlords have little incentive to make improvements that reduce profits.  So poor people live in crappy housing until they can afford to move somewhere nicer.  We should hate the landlord, right?

Except in St. Paul.  Here, the City requires rental properties to be nicer than owner occupied.  I’m not kidding; I was a landlord here for 15 years and earned Class A ratings for my rentals.  I know the codes and how they’re applied.  The truth is the City set the standards for rental properties so high that landlords can’t afford to maintain them.  And when they don’t, the City tears down privately-owned rental properties and partially replaces them with publicly-owned low-income apartments, otherwise known as “Projects.”  Every renter I ever met preferred a dingy rental house with a bit of yard over the city housing Projects.  But if the City is tearing rental houses down, where else can poor people go?

The policy has the effect of eliminating low-density rental housing stock scattered in neighborhoods and herding poor people into high-density housing projects in centralized locations.  The policy mostly impacts people who receive welfare and in St. Paul, that’s mostly people of color.  So the City’s policy causes disproportionate harm to poor Black families.   Under federal Fair Housing Law, that’s called “disparate impact” and it’s a form of illegal discrimination.  Racists discriminating against welfare recipients . . . we should hate Mayor Chris Coleman’s crew?

A group of landlords sued the City on exactly that legal basis and the case was all set for hearing at the United States Supreme Court when the City backed down rather than lose the case.  The City tried to spin it as worry that Conservative justices on the Supreme Court would overturn the civil rights law that the City was violating.  So now what: hate the Supreme Court?

The City is being sued again, for the same policies that have the same racist impact.  The City Attorney assures us the landlord is a big poop so the policy is justified.  But the City is still tearing down private rentals and still pressing ahead with Projects along the Light Rail line.  Despite everything, the City continues discriminating against poor persons of color, in the name of helping poor persons of color, under cover of media blackout.

Can’t really blame the media.  The want to do the right thing.  But it’s just so hard to know who to hate.

Joe Doakes

They’re just following orders, not entirely confident that headquarters really knows what it’s doing.

Snow Place Like Home

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

City of St. Paul takes responsibility for street plowing the way Obama’s IRS does – proclaim outrage, shuffle people around, make vague promises and hope the issue goes away.

A city taxes residents to perform a few, basic duties: keep the peace, fight fires, provide safe drinking water, treat sewage and plow the streets.  Since I moved here in 1998, streets have been a cruel insult.

Comparing St. Paul to Minneapolis sounds fair – both big cities with huge staff and monster budgets – but a better comparison is Roseville or Falcon Heights – a small city with small staff and small budget whose streets are plowed and sanded, clean and dry, weeks before St. Paul’s streets are done.  If the little town can do it with tiny staff working for peanuts, why can’t giant St. Paul do it with all its union employees and LGA resources?

I suspect Mayor Chris Coleman doesn’t want to discuss the solution proven to work:  contract it out.  I vaguely recall the City did for a while back in the early 90′s – maybe during Mayor Norm Coleman’s time?  I think they contracted to heavy equipment companies that did road construction in the Summer but sat idle all Winter.  We could hire them again.

I want to say it was West or South Saint Paul, or maybe a trial program on the West Side.  The city’s union employees claimed, unsurprisingly, that the private contractors were terrible at the job, and the program was ended.  ”Cauterized” might be a better term.

Plus, St. Paul never plows alleys – residents band together to hire some guy with a Western plow on his pickup, which is good Winter work for landscapers.  They could each clean a few streets, too, and have them perfectly clean before the city crews even get to the shop.

A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, a plow on every block: now there’s a campaign slogan I could love.

That’s my block; one of our neighbors does plowing.  We each chip in $20 a winter – and he has to keep the alley plowed to get to work.  I think during the big blizzard in 2010 he may have made one of the side streets passable too…

  When I bought my last vehicle, I went shopping for a 4-wheel drive.  My in-laws asked me “Why do you need a 4-wheel drive, you live in St. Paul?” and I replied “I need a 4-wheel drive BECAUSE I live in St. Paul.”  Now that’s pathetic.

Joe Doakes

Saint Paul seems to be getting counterintuitively worse at clearing roads.  While last year was the worst – with even high-traffic streets remaining impassible sheets of glare ice for days after big storms – we haven’t had a real donnybrook of a storm yet, either.

The roads, even after last week’s modest storm, are like goat paths in the Bolivian Andes.

Adios

Michael Paymar is leaving the House:

State Rep. Michael Paymar announced Wednesday he will leave the Legislature after his current term expires.

 

The St. Paul Democrat is the chairman of the House Public Safety Committee; his district is considered safe Democratic territory.

No.  New York under Boss Tweed was “safe Democrat territory”.  Michael Paymar’s Highland Park, a part of Saint Paul that ponied up seven figures in donations for Kathleen Soliah’s defense fund, is a whole level beyond that.  The DFL could endorse a bag of dog food and get 60% of the vote, and most of the voters would say the bag of dog food made perfectly good sense in the debates.

Paymar collided this year with his party’s leadership over whether to change Minnesota’s gun laws. His bill to expand background checks and restrict gun purchases stalled when House leaders declined to call a vote.

Well, no.  It stalled when Paymar’s (and Hausman’s, and Rep. Martens’) copy-and-paste gun-grab bills served their purpose to the people who paid for their offices.

Best of luck, Representative Paymar.

12%

That’s what got Betsy Hodges the victory in Minneapolis’ mayoral election last night.  About a third (36.55%) of a 34% turnout in the first round.

Cam Winton came in just under 10% with 7,500 votes.  Which is about ten percent better than a Republican did in the last Minneapolis mayor race.  Or the one before.  Or the one before that.  Ad infinitum (or at least back to the nineties, which was the last credible GOP candidate I can recall in Minneapolis).

Now, we know there are more than 7,500 Republicans in Minneapolis.  240,000 people in Hennepin County voted for Mitt Romney, for crying out loud – and the “Republican districts” in Henco would fit into a phone booth and leave you enough room for someone to come in and ask you what a phone booth was.  If even 20% of those 240,000 were in Minneapolis, and they’d come out to the polls last night, Winton would have crushed Hodges.

But Republicans never come out for local races.  My theory:  they’re so used to getting beaten down in local, county and Congressional elections, they only come out for statewide and federal races, where their votes actually end up mattering; a GOP vote from Longfellow is worth exactly the same as a GOP vote from Dassel.

The upsides last night?  The fake Republicans, Bob “Let’s Build a Bike Skyway” Carney and Ole “Will Run For Office For Food” Savior, got less than a percent of the vote.  In a cycle in which the 5th CD GOP started out being run by people whose main goal was to destroy the GOP, that’s not a bad job of protecting the brand – although most of the credit goes to Winton, who ran a great race.

Nationwide?  I can’t be too disappointed.  Christie isn’t my favorite Republican, but he had my favorite result – crushing his opponents in a blue state.

Ken Cuccinelli outperformed expectations immensely last night, coming within two points in a race everyone counted him out of – and (this is important) losing to a Democrat vote surge in the only part of the country that’s doing well financially right now, the DC suburbs.

Takeaway?   A good candidate is better than a bad candidate.  A well-organized party in an area is better than a party that’s a Bulgarian goat rodeo.  A two-party city is a better prospect for a challenger than a one-party cesspool.   And all three factors matter, every election,every time.

And it’s going to take either a Detroit-style calamity, or several cycles of rebuilding the GOP as credible contenders, to change either Minneapolis or Saint Paul.  Which would mean spending less time in a circular firing squad shooting other Republicans and more time actually making a case to actual voters.

And I think I started saying that seven years ago, and it’s only gotten worse in the metro.

Uncommon Bravery, All-Too-Common Narrative

It was a year ago yesterday that a depraved lefty walked into the national Family Research Council headquarters a a pistol, 100 rounds of ammo, and the intention to kill every person in the office. 

He was stopped by a building manager and acting security guard, Leo Johnson, who, although shot twice, subdued the leftist gunman, who had walked into the lobby claiming to be a new intern.  Johnson asked for ID. 

After Corkins takes a suspiciously long time rummaging through his bag to produce identification, Johnson cannily stands up and walks around the desk to get a closer look at what Corkins is doing. Corkins bolts upright, gun in hand. Without the slightest hesitation, Johnson rushes Corkins, who fires twice. A bullet shatters Johnson’s left forearm. “And I just couldn’t hear anything, my arm just kind of blew back. So at that point I was thinking: ‘I have to get this gun,’ ” Johnson told The Weekly Standard. “That was my sole focus—I have to get this gun—this guy’s gonna kill me and kill everybody here.”

From there, Johnson somehow manages to push Corkins across the lobby and pin him against the wall with his bad arm. “I just started punching him as hard as I could, until I could feel his grip loosen,” recalled Johnson. Eventually he takes the gun from Corkins with his wounded arm. Before long, Corkins is subdued on the ground. Corkins now admits that it was his intention to shoot everyone in the building. There’s no question Johnson saved a lot of lives.

This was a genuine hate crime; the shooter, Floyd Lee Corkins, had a backpack full of Chick-Fil-A sandwiches he intended to smear into his victims’ faces after shooting them, apperently to suffocate the wounded. 

Johnson was a hero.  And you’ve heard scarcely a word about it in the mainstream media, who spent most of the past 18 months trying in vain to pound the utterly-non-bias-related Martin-Zimmerman case into a “hate crime”, and the past couple of years trying unsuccessfully to politicize the Giffords, Aurora and Newtown shootings.

And yet here was the real thing (and by no means for the first time).  And…

(crickets)

There are some illuminating contrasts between the media’s handling of the political dimensions of the Family Research Council shooting and the shooting of Representative Giffords. In the latter case, the media rushed to assume political motivations and were quick to blame, of all people, Sarah Palin…there is no evidence whatsoever Loughner saw this map or that allegedly violent political rhetoric—even “campaign” is a term borrowed from war—was in any way a cause of the Giffords shooting. That didn’t stop serious news organizations from lending institutional credibility to the irresponsible allegations…though Giffords was shot in January 2011, as recently as this year in an article on gun violence the New York Times saw fit to remind readers that “many criticized Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential nominee, for using cross hairs on her Web site to identify Democrats like Ms. Giffords.”

 And NBC news fairly raced to blame the Aurora shooting on the Tea Party. 

By contrast, the media handled awkwardly the revelation that Corkins admitted to plotting mass murder as a means of furthering a popular liberal cause. “A detail sure to reignite the culture wars that erupted around the shooting is the fact that Corkins told FBI agents that he identified the Family Research Council as anti-gay on the Web site of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” wrote the Washington Post during Corkins’s trial in February. It’s a little unseemly for a newspaper, when finally forced to confront actual politically motivated violence, to worry about the shooting’s impact on the metaphorical “culture war.” Particularly when irresponsible actors in that culture war continue to get a free pass from the media.

The SPLC – cited with grave solemnity as an authority by rafts of lefty bobbleheads – has become a bit of a hate group in its own right:

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was once a laudable civil rights organization that sued racists and violent extremists. Now it regularly demonizes anyone who runs afoul of its knee-jerk liberal politics, and despite this it is still regularly cited by the media as a “nonpartisan” watchdog. Some of the SPLC’s newly targeted “hate groups,” such as pickup artists, are merely kooky or distasteful. Others singled out by the SPLC, including Catholics who go to Latin mass or Christian organizations similar to the Family Research Council, are well within the mainstream. Tellingly, the SPLC doesn’t just name the Family Research Council on its website—it posts the council’s address on a “hate map.” That map is still on SPLC’s website, and the organization refused calls to take it down after the Family Research Council shooting.

But they won’t. 

I bring it up because we’re seeing the same thing with the Widstrand beating in Saint Paul.  Now, to be clear, there’s no evidence that it was a “hate crime”, per se; in other words, there’s no evidence that any of the youths stood on a soapbox and bellowed “I’m doing this because I Hate Whitey”.  And for purposes of charging that brutal assault, evidence is what is needed.

But you can see, feel and hear the nervousness in official Saint Paul and Minneapolis government circles; as crime as dropped in most parts of the Twin Cities, it’s stayed steadily well above average on the East Side, the North End, the North Side, Phillips.  Parts of the East Side have been deteriorating before our eyes over the past decade, in a city that is generally mostly just stagnant. 

And yet nobody in offical Twin Cities circles will call the elephant what it is.  They hold official observances for the “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” misery-exploitation caravan – which exists to protest the deaths of children who look like the children of NPR executives – and studiously ignore the fact that black on black crime in the Twin Cities is astronomically higher than any other rate in the state.

Everything That Isn’t Mandatory Is Banned

Joel Doakes from Como Park emails:

The neighbors fought to keep Buffalo Wild Wings out of their neighborhood completely, and lost before the St. Paul City Council, which is quite an achievement given this city’s track record.

Now the neighbors are back, bitching because it smells like fried food. Well, yes, you live next door to a restaurant. I live across from a ball park. Everybody has problems. That’s part of living in a city, rubbing shoulders, celebrating diversity.

If you want your own private estate, move to North Oaks.

Joe Doakes

Hell Is Other People.

It reminds me of the people who teamed up to ban cruising on Snelling and University during hot rod shows. These people live in a major city, but want it to sound like an Iowa corn field after dark.

“Progressivism” is always about trying to build utopia with legislation.

A Bargain – The Best I Ever Had

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

The US Bank building in downtown St. Paul was foreclosed last year. The River Park Plaza building across the river from downtown St. Paul also was foreclosed last year. I don’t know how many more are in the pipeline.

St. Paul Class A office space vacancy rate is 12%. As last report, Class B was 24% and Class C was 19%, for an overall rate of 21%.

This, five years into the “recovery.” This is not your grandfather’s recovery. It’s more like your grandfather’s Great Depression.

Joe Doakes

And that’s after the State of Minnesota rented a hog-pile of empty and underutilized space.

And, I’ll guess, before the whole “Vacant Macy’s” gets counted, to boot.  It’s not “office” space, after all; just a vacant block.

More “recovery” like this and Saint Paul might need to try to find oil under some of those refrigerated ice rinks Mayor Coleman just had to have.

Doakes Sunday: Urban Planning

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Registered sex offenders to live on Charles Avenue [A street a few block north of University, through the Midway, Frogtown and the North End of Saint Paul - Ed]. On the new bike-and-pedestrian-friendly part of the street.

 

Seems odd to be slowing down potential victims just in front of the predator’s house but then, I‘m not an urban planner.

 

Joe Doakes

It Seems Like A Simple Adjustment

Joe Doakes from Como Park writes:

We must knock down a warehouse to build a ballpark for the St. Paul Saints and also give $200,000 to artists to decorate the empty Union Station. Because it’s too expensive not to.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could afford to let some developer convert the warehouse into condo lofts, leave the Saints in their existing ballpark and allow travelers to enjoy the classic beauty of the station as-is? I’d be willing to spring for that. How much would that cost?

Joe Doakes

To the Minnesota bureaucrat, spending itself is both beautiful and efficient.  Or something.

Status Report

The Saint Paul media world is holding its collective (heh) breath, wondering if Chris Coleman is going to announce a campaign for a third time as mayor.

You can read the whole MPR piece here – it notes that Coleman has jacked up taxes at a record pace, as well as the DFL’s defense (“stuff costs money!”).

But I wanted to focus on this quotelet:

Taxes may be higher, but Coleman said residents are getting their money’s worth.

“If we’re going to have a great city that’s a safe city, a literate city, a fun city, a great place to live, you have to invest,” Coleman said. “And I think our citizens have continually said, ‘Yes, we’re prepared to pay for those things.”

So let’s run those claims through the “Saint Paul Residentmeter”.

  • Safe – Well, it’s better than it was in the eighties, when parts of Frogtown and the lower East Side were pretty malevolent.  But it’s not that much better.
  • Literate – Saint Paul’s school system has among the worst achievement gaps in the country. Parents who can – especially minorities – are leaving the system as fast as they can.
  • Fun – If you’re a hockey or Ordway fan, Downtown is a fine place.  There are some niches of fun to be had depending on what floats your boat.  And some of our older traditions (WInter Carnival, Grand Old Day) and even some newer ones (Crashed Ice) are pretty cool.  But the most fun thing about Saint Paul most of the time is the fact that we have Minneapolis next door.
  • Great place to live – Well, it’d better be.  We’re paying enough – and God knows you can’t sell a house in this town, with the city unloading all those foreclosures for a song.
  • Great city – Great?  The city is feeling a lot like it did during the Scheibel years; beaten-down, depressed.  Saint Paul is not recovering from the recession as fast as Minneapolis, and the slow job recovery is actually better than the recovery in housing prices (there isn’t really much).

Saint Paul is showing all the ills that generations of one-party rule bring to a city.

Pothole-ier Than Thou

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

It snowed 8 inches last night. The city streets have not been plowed and won’t be, until sometime tomorrow. But those of us who drove on the snow-covered streets, packing down the snow so the plows can’t scrape it off tonight and spinning the packed snow into ice at every intersection, are morally superior to those who looked out the window and said “To Hell with it, I’ve got leave coming, I’m taking the day off.”

At least, I hope we are. I’d hate like the dickens to be sitting in my cubicle not only dumber than those who stayed home, but morally equal, too.

Joe Doakes

Como Park

Gotta say, while I rarely work from home, it is the absolute greatest thing in the world today.

Public Dyslexia

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Turns out that the city council, acting as the HRA board, has allocated “$35,825 to settle costs related to the site. The HRA acquired the property from the Selby Area Community Development Corporation (SACDC) in December in exchange for $50,000.00 that the corporation owed the city. Since then, city staff learned there were delinquent taxes on the property.”

Why is it that the government can’t get a budget to balance? Could it be incompetence like this? They accept a pig in a poke, in payment of the last pig in a poke? They took a property in payment of a debt without first checking to see if it’s encumbered? Morons. I could see that with granny who takes the neighbor’s lot not knowing better. But this is the city, with it’s nearly limitless resources and unlimited access to the property records.

Bet you a nickel some of those delinquent taxes were special assessments for sidewalk shoveling levied by . . . the city itself!

Joe Doakes, Como Park

It’s Saint Paul.  The left hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.  This is no right hand.

My Urban-Renewal Idea

On a Saint Paul discussion forum, someone asked “what would you do to better the city if someone gave you a couple million dollars?”

It took me about two seconds to answer; I’ve been thinking about this one for years and years.

If someone gave me a couple million dollars my plan would look something like this:

  1. Buy three adjacent blocks of blighted housing in a down-market neighborhood that’s been ravaged by the foreclosure crisis – Frogtown, the North End, the lower East Side.  There are some blocks where half the houses are foreclosed, vacant or demolished.  I’d like to find one of those – preferably one with an old storefront or two on one of the corners.
  2. Remodel them, at least in terms of basics, leaving room for sweat equity.
  3. Sell the houses on one of the blocks.  Price them at market rates - or half-price for nuclear families where  both of the heads of household had a clean criminal record and one or both had a carry permit and could prove they owned legal firearms.  Give a cumulative five percent discount for each of the following: veterans, charter or private school teachers, cops or firemen.  In other words, a family who had a veteran, a firefighter and a charter school teacher with a permit could get the house for 35% of the already-depressed market value.
  4. Lop off another 10% of the balance if crime on the block and on surrounding blocks drops below neighborhood or city averages in, say, a year or two.
  5. Give one of the storefronts to a small charter school rent-free for five years.
  6. Wait three years and watch as the crime rate plummets, and property values rise.
  7. Sell the other two blocks at the new, higher-value market rates; no half-off for permittees with guns, but offer cumulative ten percent discounts for carry permit holders with firearms, cops/firemen and charter/private teachers.
  8. Plow the proceeds into repeating the process on neighboring blocks.
  9. Watch as the neighborhood, strong, self-reliant, free-enterprise oriented and virtually crime-free compared to the surrounding area, starts to wake up, noticing that the parts of the city run by the DFL are failing while the part run according to traditional conservative values – theirs – is doing well.  People in my project, and around and about it, start to ask “so why do we keep electing clueless DFLers to all city offices?”.
  10. Watch some more as control of Saint Paul flips from the DFL’s bobbleheaded one-party rule to conservative control, beginning an era of hard work that leads in modestly short order to a much, much better city.

I’m rarin’ to go.  Someone pony up!

Citizens: You Are Roadkill

Anh Trinh has been running Anh’s Beauty Salon, way down by University and Dale, for a couple of decades now.

Her business was one of the flood of Asian businesses that reclaimed University from blight and complete free-fall starting in about the eighties…

…and who are being displaced by the misguided “Train From Nowhere To Nowhere”.

Here, Anh testifies at the Met Council

Especially note the appearance by Jack McCann of the University Avenue Business Association.  Here’s his quote:

This project from planning to design to funding to construction can be summed up as dishonest and pathetic. An honest organization (which is not the Met Council) would have openly evaluated the real effects of shoehorning a project this size onto this avenue.

You hear this, people of St. Louis Park and Eden Prairie?  This is what awaits you if when the DFL jams the Southwest Light Rail down your throats.

Stuck On Stupid, Ineffective, Trivial

To:  The Saint Paul City Council
From: Mitch Berg, one of your few remaining ATMs
Re:  Your work ethic

The Saint Paul City Council, having saved the downtown economic scene, balanced the city’s budget without gang-raping the city’s few remaining productive taxpayers, preventing a free-fall in property values…

…sheesh, I’m sorry.  I was laughing.  But it wasn’t the mirthful laugh of the happy and carefree.  It was more the resigned hacking cough of the guy in the engine room of a ship whose captain just keeps on ramming icebergs, since he’s still technically “afloat”, just to see what’ll happen.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah.  The City Council wants to ban scary guns, provided that they’re just the ones in the hands of the law-abiding Minnesotan:

At the Wednesday, Jan. 2 council meeting, they amended their annual request to lawmakers to include a crackdown on semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines.

They join a chorus of municipal bodies, politicians and Hollywood celebrities clamoring for tighter gun laws in the wake of the horrific school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

Let’s summarize here:

  • The council of a stagnant city with a shriveling business base and whose only real resource anymore is “cheap-ish housing in a crap market” has…
  • …wasted city time to pass a meaningless resolution to…
  • …punish the vast majority of gun owners, the scrupulously law-abiding ones, because of…
  • …something they didn’t do, urging an action that…
  • …has never, ever, not even once, had a positive effect on violent crime, but indeed is positively linked to higher violent crime rates.

By the way, I’d like a word with the authors of the City Hall Scoop blog post:

Some gun enthusiasts are dubious that a ban on semi-automatics would have prevented the Newtown tragedy and other tragic gun deaths.

Well, no – not just “gun enthusiasts”, but “people who actually study the issue empirically, rather than filtering it through partisan politics”.

Let’s try to get that straight.

Here’s the release from Council Member Chris Tolbert’s office:

Councilmember Tolbert amends City’s 2013 Legislative Agenda to support changes to State and Federal gun regulation

St. Paul – In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy and gun violence around the country, Councilmember Chris Tolbert (Ward 3) and the Saint Paul City Council unanimously amended the City’s Legislative Agenda to include provisions related to gun regulation. Resolution 13-23 encourages the backing of amendments to State laws that could ban semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines.

Mr. Tolbert:  I may or may not own several semi-automatic weapons, of a type not dissimilar to the kind that the police and deputies who protect you at your City Hall office carry.  And like the majority of hunting weapons found throughout Minnesota.

Being a cake-eating Highland-Park DFL lotus-eater, you may not know any of this.

And apparently you don’t know what happened the last time a bunch of metro DFLers started on a tear against the law-abiding, gun-owning citizen.

Check out the 2002 Minnesota legislative elections.  Or, for that matter, the 1994 Congressional elections.

Keep up the great work, Mr. Tolbert and all of your colleagues.  The GOP overrreached on gay marriage – an issue that affects a tiny minority of Minnesotans – and you see what it cost ‘em.

Over half of Minnesotans own guns.  Many of them vote DFL.  Many of them live outside the smothering domain of the urban DFL, and take the Second Amendment seriously.

So just keep on doing what you do.  Sincerely.

That is all.

Due To DFL Control

The Saint Paul Macy’s is closing in March.

Macy’s is closing its St. Paul store this spring, leaving downtown without a major retailer and bringing to a close 50 years of continuous department store operations at the Wabasha Street location.

Store employees were to be told this week that the store will shut down in late March, according to sources who did not want to be named.

On the one hand, it’s not really a surprise.  The place has been a morgue for years.  The only reason it stayed open as long as it did was to stay within the terms of a loan from the city back in 2002.  Since they hit the ten year nut, a few million dollars are going to be forgiven, store or no store.

So to summarize:  No store, no more payback, no anchor retail in downtown Saint Paul.

No nothing.

On some St. Paul list-servers, some DFL-leaning residents are feeling chipper about it: “maybe Target will buy the space?”

I only worked downtown for about four years – but this was actually fairly busy, as I recall.

Nonsense.  Target didn’t get to be a huge retailer by being stupid.  Saint Paul is not a retail destination – if it were, there’d be no such announcement from Macy’s.

(“But Macy’s is just stupid!”, some might respond – but their share value is clipping along rather well, so whatever their other faults, they seem to know a bit about keeping their stores profitable).

I’ll predict the following:

  • If there’s a free-market tenant for the building?  I’ll say look forward to the world’s largest Dollar Tree.  Complete with three floors of parking.
  • But much more likely?  It’ll be rented out to the State of Minnesota, or some other agglomeration of government entities.  Likely as not by consolidating people in from smaller rentals around downtown.

Bottom line?  Six decades of DFL control have left downtown Saint Paul a ghost town, populated only by wan holdouts, scrappy and bargain-hungry small businesses, a few corporations that haven’t quite pulled the trigger on relocation yet, hipsters (waaaaay down by the Farmer’s Market), a few lucky businesses (up by the XCel and the Ordway, assuming hockey comes back someday), a lot of state offices, and – for about a catastrophic third of the office space – nothing at all.

While I realize that St. Paul’s city government – strangled as it’s been by one party rule for sixty years now – didn’t specifically set out to make Downtown into a cold Flint, I have to ask – if they had, how would things be different?

Dear Saint Paul Voters:  Remember that “Definition of Insanity” joke?  Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result?

Pretty funny, huh?

 

Everything’s Been Solved

In St. Paul, the only reason the office vacancy rate is holding steady between a quarter and a third is because the state of Minnesota rents as much as they do.  Crime is rising, the tax base is shrinking, middle and working-class parents are fleeing the school system, the Midway and Frogtown are about to get a few islands of gentrification plopped (for a while, anyway) amid long stretches of government-imposed blight, taxes are up and “services” are down, the foreclosure crisis has gutted Frogtown, the North End and the lower East Side, property values are in the toilet and will stay there because of the City Council’s vacant building policies.

But we’re free of candy cigarettes, dammit!

A back-in-the-day soda shop in St. Paul has been busted for selling cigarettes — made of candy.

Lynden’s, on Hamline Avenue near Cretin-Derham Hall High School, said a city inspections official came in last week and gave the shop a warning and added that a misdemeanor citation — with a $500 fine — would be next if the non-carcinogenic confections continue to be sold.

And how was it that the City of Saint Paul was caused to spring into such decisive action?

“Somebody from Bloomington called and reported us,” Lynden said. “The whole thing is pretty weird.”

The folks at Lynden’s should have donated more to the DFL, apparently.

UPDATE: Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

The City of St. Paul is looking out For The Children, as usual.

Best comment on-line: “It’s true, candy cigarettes are a gateway drug to real cigarettes. I used to eat Gummi Worms and now I crave night-crawlers!”

Joe Doakes

Como Park

Strooth.  I started eating Lemonheads.  I became a huge Evan Dando fan.

(#forgottennineties)