Citizen Complaints Letter to Saint Paul City Council Members

September 8, 2017

Re: May 16, 2017 Letter

Dear Saint Paul City Council Members:

St. Paul STRONG (SPS) is a nonpartisan, community-led organization dedicated to improving open and representative government in Saint Paul by encouraging and supporting open and transparent public processes in local government, engaging and empowering resident participation, and building a stronger, more inclusive Saint Paul. This past May, SPS sent the City Council a letter regarding a fair amount of concern we have heard (and continue hearing) from residents who feel disenfranchised based on recent City activities. The concerns have been described as follows:

City staff who…

1. Neglect to provide all pertinent and accurate information related to a specific issue that affects organizations charged with decision making on projects that impact neighborhoods. (i.e. Planning Commission, District Councils, City Council, etc.).

2. Provide insufficient reports to the Saint Paul City Council on issues that impact citizens and neighborhoods.

3. Document public comments inaccurately by neglecting to use clear, concise, and consistent criteria to measure support or opposition to a given project.

As stated in our previous letter to the City Council, these gaps in data flow result in fractured public processes that inhibit meaningful discussions and informed, responsible decision-making. Given these observations and concerns about input and transparency, Saint Paul STRONG made the following recommendations to the City Council for consideration:

  1. City staff reports should include all pertinent and accurate information related to an issue/project. i

 

  1. Staff should establish clear, concise, and consistent criteria for categorizing public comments so that citizens understand how comments are weighted to indicate support or opposition. Then, planning commissioners, BZA members, & City Council members will get a fair representation of the neighbors' support, concerns, etc. ii

 

  1. In order to inform planning commissioners, Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), and City Council members on neighborhood issues, District Councils should be encouraged to report committee and board votes and an overview of various positions, in their minutes and reports to city staff.iii

 

SPS’s previous letter went essentially unanswered by the City Council, except for two city council members who agreed with our third recommendation regarding District Councils but neglected to pursue the recommendation in any meaningful way. One city council member suggested that SPS was asking for too much in one letter.

The purpose of this letter is that Saint Paul STRONG would like a response to all three of its recommendations, with a particular focus on recommendations #1 and #2 for which the City Council has direct control. SPS would also welcome hearing about other opportunities the City has to improve information sharing practices that ensure public input and understanding that also safeguard transparent, open processes.

 

Sincerely,

 

Saint Paul STRONG steering committee

 

i

During a recent Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA) meeting, Planning and Economic Development (PED) staff stated to the Planning Commission that the City of Saint Paul must ensure the City is in compliance with the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area. PED staff neglected to report that the City can decide to enact more protective zoning.

 

In its report to the City Council regarding proposed traffic circles on Idaho Avenue, PED staff neglected to report that Idaho is part of the St. Paul Bikeway Plan. Conversely, PED staff included in its report that buses and emergency vehicles may turn left on the two traffic circles, making it sound like a public safety issue on Idaho Ave. Staff neglected to say that left turns for buses and emergency vehicles are allowed on all traffic circles in St. Paul.

 

City staff at a recent Ford Site Plan meeting misinformed the community that another auto manufacturing plant could be built without city approval, when only light industrial zoning currently exists on the site. Staff also stated that heights of 75 ft. will not exceed six stories, however 75 ft. heights for residential buildings can reach seven or eight stories.

 

ii

The public comment letters that were sent to the City regarding the Snelling/St. Clair proposed new development were grouped into favorable & unfavorable categories that misrepresented the actual support and opposition to the proposed new TN3 zoning.

 

This same issue was frequently reported regarding the Ford site planning and rezoning. The City has consistently downplayed the level of public opposition to its plan, regularly accounting for expressions of support in its summaries of the feedback while failing to account for more numerous expressions of opposition. This gives a false picture of the situation both to decision makers and to the public and calls into question the integrity of the process.

 

iii

Mac-Groveland Housing and Land Use Committee had a fairly close vote in favor of new TN3 zoning for the Snelling/St. Clair development site demonstrating how split the committee members were on the issue. In addition, some of those in favor had not attended recent committee meetings or participated in public committee discussions that might have better informed their decisions.