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Lack of transparency and user friendliness at the City of Richfield once again rear their ugly heads with the most recent submission of Ron Clark Construction’s proposal to the City. At the May 8th council meeting Council member Fred Wroge brought up the issue that he had found that the Richfield Patch had posted all of the documents Ron Clark had submitted for Pillsbury Commons before he had received them from the city. Steve Devich corrected him saying that the documents were posted on the City’s web site and that Patch must have downloaded them from there.

The problem with Steve Devich’s comment was that while it may have very well have been posted on the City’s web site it appears that the City did the bare minimum to alert the public (and evidently the city council) on a very widely followed issue. There were several RCU members that were waiting AND looking for the documents and had contacted the city on the matter and were told the City would post them by Friday. Unfortunately it was buried on the Community Development section on the City’s already unruly web site.

Unfortunately the City could have done much more to make it more visible and transparent. It could have posted a notice on the front home page of the City’s web site which it has done before with other notices on Pillsbury Commons – making followers of Pillsbury Commons assume the same would be done with this important document. The City could have an email alert system which other cities have for citizens wishing to be notified when important issues come up. The City could have even posted a notice on their Facebook page. Instead what was posted there was only one posting – an “out and about” fluff piece. Obviously they had some time on their hands. The City could have from the beginning created a topic page for the Pillsbury Commons development (as it should for all developments in the City) where all infomation and documents related to Pillsbury Commons is aggragated and kept. This is what the Richfield Patch news site had done.

While they may have meet the legal requirement, it is evident that whether intended so or not the effect was to bury a very important document. Doing the minimum may have been the way things were done in-the-day, but with today’s communications it no longer meets the standards of good government.

Based on the analysis of the City’s current supply of rental housing, there is an immediate need for rental housing at both ends of the affordability spectrum. On the one end would be upscale, amenity-rich properties that would appeal to young professionals and early retirees who currently must search outside the city for such options. On the other end of the spectrum would be subsidized units with two or more bedrooms for very low-income families, which are essentially non-existent in Richfield. ~Report Coverletter, Stantec Consulting Services

On April 16 of this year, Stantec presented their Richfield Housing Inventory and Needs Assessment at a Special Meeting of the HRA, Planning Commission and the City Council – I know that I wasn’t the only one in the audience who was surprised by the presentation but having a long background in data I knew that before I reacted I needed to look into the root data and see how the presenter arrived at his conclusions – the following is the first part of my assessment.

The most critical thing to keep in mind is that the report in its current form does not normalize the data which significantly complicates any meaningful interpretation. Also at question is their odd selection of “peer communities”. While a comparison of communities adjacent to (Bloomington, South Minneapolis, Edina) or nearby Richfield (Eden Prairie) is to be expected, the inclusion of the other suburbs is subjective and in this instance I’m deeply concerned that it implies correlations that are neither relevant nor appropriate.

Needs Assessment

I would like to point out that three different members of our city council stated very clearly at the onset that the scope of the project was to create an inventory of existing housing. Yet, the following areas were identified of potential need.

1. Two and Three-Bedroom Units

Report: Therefore, in order for Richfield to diversify its supply of rental housing it should look for ways to increase the number of two-bedroom units either through new construction or perhaps rehabilitation of existing units.
2. Newer Properties with Modern Amenities and Features
Report: This lack of newer rental options with modern amenities and features is limiting the City’s ability to retain longtime residents and attract new, younger residents who want more modern rental housing, particularly young professionals who work along I-494 or in Downtown Minneapolis.
3. Subsidized Units Appropriate for Families
Report: To put the lack of subsidized housing into context, consider Richfield’s peer communities. Among the 11 communities analyzed, the overall percentage of general-occupancy rental housing that is subsidized is 6.4%. In Richfield, the percentage is less than 1%. Therefore, in order for Richfield to simply meet the peer community average, it would need to construct close to 300 new subsidized units.
4. Senior Housing (All Types)
Report: The problem is that subsidized senior housing from this era was designed mostly for single women, which at the time made up the vast majority of need. Although older, single women still dominate the need for subsidized senior housing, there are many more low-income older couples today than there were 35 years ago.

In a previous blog post I gave my “2 cents needs assessment” to post against Stantec’s $24,000 needs assessment and am very proud to say that I was not very far off even if it was just on one of their four points.

My assessment:

….while Richfield has a good supply of affordable rental housing for efficiencies and units with 1 or 2 bedrooms, there is a critical gap in the supply of affordably-priced rental housing for units with three or more bedrooms.

I was pretty dead on.

I also said…

What probably won’t be discussed in the report is the appropriate thing to do

I was apparently dead on this prediction as well too.

So what is the solution?

My solution from my blog post is modified somewhat to fit Housing Report assessment that Richfield needs to build newer rental options with modern amenities and features and that the lack of such amenities is limiting the City’s ability to retain longtime residents and attract new, younger residents who want more modern rental housing, particularly young professionals.

  1. Convert many of the one bedroom units in older 1960s Class C apartment buildings that Stantec identified as needing renovation into subsidized three bedroom units to help the families in need of housing that can meet their income (Assessment 1) and also raise Richfield’s ratio of Subsidized Units appropriate for families (Assessment 3).
  2. Replace the lost market rate one bedroom units with newly constructed one bedroom units like those at Woodlake Plaza which would help attract higher income young professionals (Assessment 2) Include 10%-30% one bedroom subsidized units in those development for low wage young professionals seeking modern amenities and features.

What is NOT the solution? (and why)

Building new large scale, income-restricted apartment complexes with 2-3 bedrooms such as the proposed Pillsbury Commons; while it will make Ron Clark plenty of money to spend at the Galleria, using the Stantec data it is a poor decision for Richfield because, if we build new, large scale income restricted 2-3 bedroom rental housing, yes we will be filling the need but without removing older one bedroom units we will be adding to Richfield’s already massive affordable rental housing market NOT strengthening the tax base.

My Gap Analysis

There is still a gold mine of data with some interesting conclusions for anyone willing to take the time to slog through it.

Fun with data

Richfield Rental Housing Inventory report Table 17: Annual Household Income by Age of Householder and Tenure 2010

I found that by consolidating the base numbers and removing the non-peer peer communities an interesting trend appears (it is critical to note that I have not altered any data – what I’ve done is to remove areas of segmentation such as age).

Annual Household Incomes of less than $10,000
South Mpls 1,478
Bloomington 1,360
Richfield 1,024
Edina 813
Eden Prairie 582
Annual Household Incomes of less than $10,000 as % of Population Less than $10,000
Richfield 2.9%
South Mpls 2.06%
Edina 1.69%
Bloomington 1.64%
Eden Prairie 0.95%
Annual Household Income of $150,000 or more
Edina 5,241
Eden Prairie 5,610
Bloomington 3,476
South Mpls 5,080
Richfield 710
Annual Household Income of $150,000 or more as % of Population
Edina 10.93%
Eden Prairie 9.23%
South Mpls 7.09%
Bloomington 4.19%
Richfield 2.02%

Conclusion: Richfield is not only the top city with Annual Household Incomes of less than $10,000 as percent its of population AND the bottom city with Annual Household Income of $150,000 or more as a percent of its population but we are the only city that has a greater percentage of its population with household incomes of less than $10,000 than household incomes of $150,000 or more. So which is more important? If our goal is economic diversity and sustainable, supportable and responsible growth, is it more important for Richfield to increase its percentage households of incomes of less than $10,000 or does it need to increase its percentage of households with incomes of $150,000?

Misleading Data

Also if you inspect the data you do find that it may not represent the real situation. For example take the following finding in the report:

Richfield has very few subsidized units; less than 1% of its general occupancy (non-senior) rental stock is subsidized. In contrast, its peer communities have an average of 6.4% of their rental stock as subsidized units.

Yet we need to consider the fact that in Edina, one of their subsidized developments Yorkdale Townhomes with 90 units was built on Richfield’s border and within the Richfield School district.

So the report lists Edina having 154 subsidized units making 3.2% of Edina’s rental housing stock as subsidized is misleading because it does not fully impact the infrastructure of Edina. If you subtract the 90 units that were built in Richfield’s School district Edina would actually have 64 units making 1.3% of Edina’s rental housing stock subsidized.

Richfield in contrast would actually have 131 units if you added the subsidized rental housing built within its school district boundaries making for an actual 2.7% of rental units that are subsidized. Still not quite 6.4% but I strongly suspect that upon investigation many of the subsidized numbers would not hold up similarly as Edina’s didn’t.

Additionally, even if you think it is a stretch to consider Yorkdale Townhomes in Richfield’s subsidized housing numbers it is still important to point out that Edina has 4,803 rental units, Richfield 4,857 – based on population that means that Richfield has one rental unit per 6.85 people and Edina has one unit per 9.69 people – that’s about a 45% difference.

Next …

This is not the end of my analysis of the Richfield Housing Inventory Report. I also completely left out Needs Assessment, Senior housing which I think is very important and does have and should have a very important place in Richfield’s rental housing plans. Unfortunately, I have to volunteer my time to crunch numbers so I can only squeak out my analysis and assessments as time allows. But guaranteed I will be posting on this subject more to this blog and the Facebook page.

Richfield High School 1958

Richfield High School 1958

First, let me start out by saying I am impressed with the work the current high school principal and school superintendent are doing. That said, let me also say that was not always the case.

While I don’t have children of my own I worked for eight years with children that had emotional and behavioral problems. Several years I worked in the Minneapolis school system and for three months I worked at Richfield High School working with what would be considered level 5 high school students (students with quite a bit of behavioral problems and needed to be removed into their own classroom and building).

This was back in the 1990’s. Richfield’s schools were just starting to change, taking on more racially and economically diverse students. Funny thing, from my observations the Richfield School District had almost no idea how to handle those newcomers and even worse, they really did not want to deal with them. I know it is a trite and overused mediphor but an ostrich with it’s head in the sand would fit well. It appeared that the school administration were more interested about reaching retirement and passing off the problems than actually dealing with them.

I was no fool. Having worked on the frontlines with children with behavioral issues I knew it has a loosing battle if the administration was not competent on the issues at hand or worse, not willing to back you up. Hence, I left after three months. At the time I did not live in Richfield. Maybe things would have been different if I had actually some skin in the game.

I did know this, no one was dealing the problem realistically at the time, instead acting like it was still Richfield 1980s and before. Problems were ignored, some of the high school kids I worked with were shuttled off to Community/Technical Colleges for day classes even though they were not making progress in our classroom. The reports that came back from the Community/Technical Colleges were that the kids were having behavioral problems there as well, but hey, at least we didn’t have to deal with them.

Big mistake

The Richfield School District is now dealing with a graduation rate of 67.1% and a drop out rate of 4.2% and test scores that are consistently across the board below state averages for subject proficiency. As I said before, I am impressed with the work the current high school principal and school superintendent are doing. But it didn’t have to get this bad if we just took the blinders off several years earlier and dealt with the issues back then.

We have a chance to deal with housing issues realistically today and not pretend like it is “Richfield 1980” and pass on our bad decisions to future Richfield citizens in 2020 or 2030. We can recognize that Richfield is an integrated community and has lost its status as solidly middle class and has entered the ranks of the lower class (sadly, just as much of American society has done).

Kübler-Ross’ The Five Stages of Grief

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

It appears that many city leaders (this includes church and business leaders too) are still in stage one – denial. Like I mentioned before they still strongly hold on to the belief that this is “Richfield 1980s”.

After working with Richfield Commoners United and have the opportunity to flyer and meet with Richfield citizens around the city I believe their are few who are still in stage one. Unfortunately many I talked to appear to be in stage two – Anger. People are pissed and scared at the changes occuring and want someone to blame. City Hall is always a perennial favorite to blame, but unfortunately so are the new arrivals to Richfield. Many of the newest arrivals are people of color and new immigrates, both of which usually have lower incomes than the established white residents of Richfield. However, blaming them would be directing their anger at the shadow rather than the substance of the issue which is rather discriminatory housing practices by real estate agents and mortgage companies as well as discriminatory housing policies that concentrate low income people of color in certain inner city neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs.

I do hear a lot of bargaining as well: “If the city puts up Pillsbury Commons I am going to put up a for sale sign on my house!” Depression is what scares me the most. It is when people give up and do move away or simply stop caring and investing in their homes and community. That is what can do serious damage.

I am hopeful that many will make it to the final stage Acceptance and begin to work with the situation realistically and accept Richfield as an integrated and low income community and work to stabilize it racially and economically to keep it from falling into resegregation – a fate that befalls communities that can’t get out of the first stages of grief.

This is an expansion to my original comment on Facebook. While Facebook can be a good place for quick short quips, the space unfortunately is not good for getting more complex thoughts out. Councilman Pat Elliot is right be to upset about my comment, and I do feel the need to clarify it.

“It isn’t age as much as lack of diversity in life experience. While many of those on the commissions and city council like to tote their life long connections and residencies to Richfield, that is actually a bad thing especially in today’s …world. Think about it. Would you hire someone for a position that required critical thinking when previously they worked at the same company for 30 years since they were 16 years old or would you want someone that has worked different companies and acquired trouble shooting skills while working at each of those companies?”

First off, having a life long connection to a neighborhood or community is not a bad thing. In fact I do believe that many issues today is due from the transient nature of our society and the inability to put down roots and to stand up for the community that you live in. However, when it comes to community politics, it always appears to be an over-played card.

Not having lived directly in Richfield while growing up, I certainly have orbited it by living in East Bloomington in my childhood and then in South Minneapolis in my teens. I also went to Holy Angels for High School and then settled here buying my Grandparents house they themselves bought back in 1947. I certainly would not trivialize my connection with Richfield in dealing with issues of the day.

However, my thoughts about the need for diversity in life experience in the political ranks come from two different live experiences of my own.

Example One: STAY vs SNO

In my spent much of my 20s and some of my 30s living in Northeast Minneapolis. This was not the hip and happening Northeast of today. This was the old East European, dying part of Minneapolis back in the 1980s. During that time, artists including myself were located their because of the cheap warehouse space after being kicked out of the warehouse district in Minneapolis by real estate speculators buying up the warehouses for “Loft Style Living” condos. The warehouses in Northeast were basically Superfund Sites so no real estate speculator was ever going to touch them.

This was the old Northeast Minneapolis that threatened the new owner of Mayslack’s Bar to stop poetry readings he was trying out to attract new customers  or they would have his liquior licence pulled. This was because it was drawing in patrons that were showing up dressed in black and sporting pink and purple hair . However, the titty bar, “24th Street Station” up the street was ok.

While I was there I followed the local politics and at one point I sought to get involved in the neighborhood and attended a neighborhood meeting of the local neighborhood council, “Sheridan Today and Yesterday” (STAY). It appeared the group was made up by older neighbors that obviously had lived in Northeast their whole lives. And they had a problem, they were very focused on crime and they were trying to figure out how to get young families to move into the neighborhood. However, it was apparent they “knew” what young couples wanted – The housing stock was too old – Northeast was too old. They need to complete with the suburbs so they needed to tear down old Northeast and replace it with new suburban housing with attached garages and split level designs like those in the sububs. The commitment to demolishing was evident in it’s allocation of 1/3 of its Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds for demolition projects. (1)

It was during the particular meeting I attended they were listening to a developer and architect talk about their proposal to turn the Grain Belt Brewery into a hotel and Marina. The problem was the plan literally turned the building’s back to the neighborhood and did everything but wall it off reminiscent of the Riverplace and St. Anthony Main developments several years earlier. Oddly enough,I also happen to know that lawsuits were filed against the architect’s previous building that was built in the uptown community. I brought up these these issues and mentioned that the building or at least the out buildings should have something to do with the neighborhood like say – a library or community center with the development reaching into the neighborhood. The architect explained that the lawsuits were against the contractor and the materials not the building design. Simple explanation.

After the meeting I was approached by one of the members of STAY and he proceeded to scold me for coming in as an outsider and try to through a wrench in the works. I did not bother returning to any more meetings after that.

Years later I come to find out (with no surprise) that Sheridan Today and Yesterday (STAY) group lost its Minneapolis Community Development Agency NRP participation contract to the Sheridan Neighborhood Organization after the STAY imploded (2) and SNO was recognised as the true representative of the neighborhood. And in this case it was a group made up of the talents old timers as well as and the talents of many young non-natives. The new arrivals also had different ideas and priorities that have breathed new life into the vitrified husk of old Northeast Minneapolis. They stopped the wholesale demolition of Northeast realizing its historic character was an asset not a liability. STAY also had an enormous amount of NRP money budgeted for crime prevention. While crime and safety are important in any neighborhood, Northeast had been a surprisingly stable lower crime area. The NRP money given to crime prevention was way out of proportion to the actual problem so the money was reduced. (3)

SNO dropped programs that STAY had developed in total, like The Cop on Every Block program allocated up to $50,000 per property to purchase and demolish a house. The lot would then be offered to a Minneapolis police officer. The officer would then finance the construction of a house on that lot.
Instead money was either increased or newly allocated to programs like the following: Community Health Program, Expanded Pierre Bottineau Library Support, Eastside Food Co-op, Bicycle programs, Business Exterior Improvement Loan Program. Their current phase two plan includes funding for the arts and parks.(4)

The result is with the new blood and creative thinking Northeast has been able to transform itself from a stagnating community pessimistic about its future to one of Minneapolis’ trendiest neighborhoods with enormous economic growth.

Example Two: Social Work

I worked for 6 years at St. Joseph’s Home for Children. One aspect that I have come to appreciate was how hard they worked and how progressive they were in their hiring practices. While they hired they usual college graduates in social work, they also would also hire people without college degrees but lots of life experience. This policy led to some amazing hires and very creative thinking. A staff who is American Indian and has had to deal with homelessness in his life is something can’t learn through a social work degree at the University of Minnesota or the University of St. Thomas and needless to say he had ways of connecting with the kids who usually were minorities  from economically underprivileged backgrounds that many of the other staff simply could not.

After leaving St. Joseph’s Home for Children I went to work for two similar organizations whose policy it seems was to hire only staff with college degrees in social work from either the University of Minnesota or the University of Saint Thomas. The result was of the organizations’ handling and care of the children was at best comical and at worse downright horrible treatment to the children. Not that the staff were not smart, capable, or well meaning or that social work programs at the University of Minnesota or the University of Saint Thomas are terrible programs (they are not) ; it’s just that they all read from the same playbook and shared similar life experiences of white middle to upper middle class kids growing up. All of them came up with the same solutions which the kids they worked with were already wise to. None of the staff could think outside the box for solutions in working with the kids.


So when I talk about “lack of diversity in life experience” I am also talking about how it leads to Group Think and a lack of creative problem solving. It’s not that the Richfield city council members and commissioners are not smart, well meaning, or even capable, but there is a need to diversify life experiences of the group by bringing in more people who have lived life outside of Richfield and outside of their life experience economically and culturally. And while political climate is not nearly as bad as Northeast Minneapolis, their are aspects of it that are eerily similar. Like Northeast, they have to stop looking for White Knights (Private Developers and State Government) to come in and save them. They need to creatively think of the solutions themselves. Like Northeast they have to stop assuming and start researching. Given where Richfield is in its development life cycle is it really realistic to focus on attracting “Young Families” when it would be more realistic and successful to focus on attracting young singles and couples? If Richfield does not have the skill set to attract this demographic (which it has demonstrated over and over it does not have) then maybe it should seek out professional advice.

I understand getting new comers to come out and participate is easier said than done. Sadly citizen participation is at an all time low. Not only does the economic situation prevent people from participating when both parents have to work, and often people have to work two jobs each in order to make ends meet, but in is increasing difficult to get people to turn out to meetings because, pathetically, they can’t be bothered to miss their TV programs like “Jersey Shore.”


I just had an incident that builds on what I was discussing in a previous post “Open Government, Transparency and Civic Engagement (or lack of) on the City of Richfield’s Website” While this did not occur on the city’s web site but rather on the City’s Facebook page, it does bring up some very significant issues with Richfield’s refusel to develop open and transparent citizen engagement.

When I went to the City’s Facebook page I noticed a post about the video for January 24th  special work session being posted on the city’s web site and asked why they couldn’t keep the city council meetings up indefinitely like our neighboring suburbs. When I looked back to my astonishment I discovered that while my post was responded to (only partly) they had however deleted my original post. Now don’t get me wrong, it is the City’s site and they can set the guidelines. Even I would agree that Facebook is a not a great tool for doing meaningful engagement. However, deleting a rather benign comment because it asks a somewhat uncomfortable question about the city’s services is a bit over the top. More appropriately would have been to direct the discussion to a city blog where appropriate official could engage them a in public discussion or maybe even offer a guest post with an alternative view. However, unlike several other of Richfield’s neighbors the city chooses not to even offer a blog.

Richfield’s reactions so far have also shown the wrong way to respond to negative comments. Instead of trying to engage in honest conversations with its citizens on a democratic platform, the City of Richfield replied angrily by deleting a post.

Below are screen shots of the City of Richfield’s Facebook site. Showing each comment and response and subsequent deletion. It does not include my original post which was much more polite than my subsequent posts. I did not have the foresight to make a screen shot since I really did not expect my comment do get deleted. However, after it was deleted I pretty much expected any thing else I posted to get deleted as well so I figured I would at least give them something worthy to delete -but not until I took a screen shot.


After my screen shots showing my engagement on Richfield’s facebook page, I have included screen shots of my postings on Edina’s Citizen Engagement Blog where I asked a question that I could only assume would get deleted anywhere on Richfield’s social media sites. Interestingly, even though Edina may shirk it’s responsibility when it comes to affordable workforce housing it does a good job on engaging its citizens AND as evedenced by their interactions with me, a non-citizen.

Not only did they post my comments, they sought me out on the Richfield SOS site to make sure I comply with their guidelines (I did not include my last name in my comment)so they could post my initial first comment (I sheepishly admit to not having read the guidelines before I posted) .

Richfield’s Reactions





Edina’s Reactions



To illustrate my point, I provide a clip from Monty Python. The skit is about a man, Dennis Moore, and his misguided and poorly thought out attempts to level economic justice by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. It goes well in the beginning, but Dennis is a one-trick-pony and not a very critical thinker. So he keeps robbing and robbing until the rich are poor and the poor are rich causing him pause to say “this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought!”

Monty Python - Dennis Moore

His original actions may have been motivated by the believe in economic justice but lack of understanding of the deeper issues topped with his lack of creative problem solving and sticking to the only thing he could do well lead him to be a major (if unintended) player in carrying out major social injustices.

Richfield’s City Hall – Viva la 1980s!

Many of the Richfield movers and shakers have been around since the 1980s and 1970s. I know this because I went to high school back then and was a political cartoonist for the Richfield Sun (Now Richfield Sun-Current). I moved away when I went to college but came back and bought a house in 2002 and was amazed to find some of the same people in power and even more amazing was that while the world and Richfield had changed dramatically they had not nor had their policies.

One example was the love affair with senior citizen housing at 66th and Lyndale. By 2003 they had created a large fixed income/senior ghetto and were effectively cutting off the blood supply to the business community so that even a Dunn Bros. or Quiznos couldn’t survive there. However, they created a great climate for medical storefronts like a dialysis clinic or for discount dollar stores.

What worked well in the 1980’s with the Lake Shore Drive Condos didn’t work so well thirty years later when repeated over and over and over…

This is clearly going on with the affordable housing issue right now. Richfield 1970/1980 was very white and very middle class, diversity and affordable housing were clear issues that a progressive thirty or forty-something would have seen and should have been concerned about. But fast forward to 2012 when Richfield is now one of the most diverse suburbs in the metro area, even more diverse than many areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It also now has one of the most affordable home owner and rental housing stocks in the metro as well.

So the issues toward these should change. Instead of “how do me make Richfield more diverse?”, it should be “how can we understand each other better?” and more importantly, instead of “how do we make more affordable housing for those with low incomes?” The focus should be on maintaining the quality AND affordability of the existing rental stock not adding more and more low income housing when the older forty to fifty year old rental apartments are running down.

If being a champion of social justice is what is wanted then they need a better understanding of the deeper issues and to start creatively problem solve as well as take unpopular political risks by holding accountable the Metropolitan Council and wealthy cities like Edina who continue to shirk their responsibility of helping the poor with low income workforce housing.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24

Are churches in Edina only for show?

One thing that has become apparent after working on the Pillsbury Commons project and looking into housing policy are issues of open goverment and transparency with City of Richfield, especially if you compare it with what other city governments are doing. Government transparency is important because it allows the public to be informed about what the government is working on as well as the policies they are trying to implement. Government transparency gives insight to the public on how decisions are made and hold elected officials or public servants accountable for their actions.

More and more people are expect to be able to access the information they need instantly online. Sometimes given the lack of resources and funding that expectation can be wishful thinking especially when it comes to historical data such as government records created in the pre-digital age. However, with newly created public documents there little reason they cannot be made available online and remain archived online for public accessibility.

The Matrix

Below is the result of some noodling around the city webs sites of Richfield, Edina, Bloomington, Eden Prairie and St. Louis Park. I was frustrated by what I precived as a lack of transparency and open government by City Richfield so I created a Matrix to compare the each city to one another. The results are interesting. Hands down, Edina is doing some of the best work in citizen participation. Not only do they open up their Facebook page to posts as well as comments from its fans but it has what it calls a Citizen Engagement blog where they actively seek out and engage comments on projects and budgets. Something not done by any of the other cities. The only one that comes close is Eden Prairie which does have blogs but has turned off comments on the “City Manager’s blog” the one blog they should be seeking comments on.

One common action across all web sites is live streaming of city council meetings. All cities provide a way for people to watch meetings live online. Most with the exception of Bloomington stream their Planning Commission meetings. However, one area Richfield does shine is livestreams its HRA meetings as well.

Live Streaming is one thing but what if you want to view an older meeting? All web sites do offer some way of archiving their older city council meetings and all but Bloomington archive their past videos of Planning Commission meetings. Since Richfield is the only one filming its HRA meetings it stands to reason it is the only one that can archive it which it does.

However, Richfield does have one big fail when compared to the other cities. It has a policy to only archive older videos of meetings for two months before pulling them down. Edina, Bloomington and Eden Prairie all have video archives of their council meeting going back several years. Given the plummeting cost of digital storage it is odd that Richfield would continue such a policy. It is important to note that all cities including Richfield have their meeting minutes (in PDF or HTML form) posted online going back several years.

One the things the matrix does not measure is the time it takes post agenda notices and the meeting minutes after they are approved which for Richfield seems to be a cronic problem. Other sites like Egan allow people to sign up with their email address to get the agendas and minutes automatically emailed to them like an e-newsletter subscription.

Civic Engagement

Social media is more than just claiming a Facebook account and posting information on it, it is about dialog and focusing on the “citizen” not the “customer” by seeking to engage its citizens as owners of and participants in the creation of public services, not as passive recipients of services.

The matrix reveals each cities thoughts on citizen engagement. Edina, Eden Prairie and St. Louis Park all have policies that allow its “fans” to post directly to the cities Facebook page. However only Edina and Eden Praire have “view all posts” as the default view rather than only posts by the city which going the extra mile for citizen participation. Unfortunately both Richfield and Bloomington do not allow their “fans” to post to their page. Ironically both Edina and Eden Prairie are affluent communities. It may stand to reason that they have less controversial 100% density low-income projects Pillsbury Commons that they have to wrangle by their citizenry like Richfield does or West Bloomington has to with East Bloomington.

South Metro Open Government/Transparency Matrix

Richfield Edina Bloomington Eden Prairie St. Louis Park
People can write or post content on the wall No Yes No Yes Yes
Commenting Turned off? No No No No No
Wall shows all posts by default N/A Yes N/A Yes No
City Council Meetings
Searchable agenda and Minutes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
How far back do archives go? VIDEO: Archived for two months
MINUTES: 5/1/2009
VIDEO: 9/1/2009
MINUTES: 1/1/1997
MINUTES: 1/1/2001
VIDEO: 1/1/2008
MINUTES: 1/1/2004
MINUTES: 8/1/2006
Live Webcast Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Archived Recordings of all taped meetings online No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Meetings on alternative public site No Youtube No No Vimeo
Planning Commission
Searchable agenda and Minutes Yes Yes Yes Yes ???
How far back do archives go? VIDEO: Archived for two months
VIDEO: 9/1/2007 MINUTES:
VIDEO: 1/1/2008
MINUTES: 1/1/2005
VIDEO & TEXT: 2/1/2011
Live Webcast Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Archived Recordings of all taped meetings online No Yes No Yes Yes
Meetings on alternative public site No No No No Vimeo
Housing and Redevelopment Authority Yes, one exists Yes – however little activity since 12/20/2005 Yes, one exists Department Department
Searchable agenda and Minutes Yes Yes yes ??? ???
How far back do archives go? VIDEO: Archived for two months
MINUTES: 1/1/2009
MINUTES: 1996 MINUTES: 2010 No No
Live Webcast Yes No No No No
Archived Recordings of all taped meetings online No No No No No
Meetings on alternative public site No No No No No
Blogs No Yes No Yes No
Allow commenting? N/A Yes N/A Some N/A

The City of Richfield has just hired Stantec Consulting Services Inc. to conduct a Rental Housing Inventory and Needs Assessment and are paying them $24,750 to do so. And for the cost of $0 will I will give you the Needs Assessment answer and much earlier than Stantec:

  1. the market for for-sale housing had decreased significantly from recent years
  2. while Richfield has a good supply of affordable rental housing for efficiencies and units with 1 or 2 bedrooms, there is a critical gap in the supply of affordably-priced rental housing for units with three or more bedrooms.

Richfield has affordable rental housing, lots of it. In fact, it has so much (55% affordable) that the Metro Council did not require Richfield to build any affordable rental housing. THE CITY STILL DID.

You see, Richfield has an amazing amount of Class C Rental housing, that is apartments that are 30-40 years old and considered to be less desirable than Class A or B apartment housing. More so, many of those units are one bedroom or efficiency. So while we have a 55% affordable rental housing market it is lacking in rental units of three or more that can support large families.

I can tell you this because the city is paying Stantec $24,000 to answer a question that is already well known. However, Stantec’s report will make it “official” and it comes from an authoritive source and they can once again commence with building low income housing.


What probably won’t be discussed in the report is the appropriate thing to do. The City of Richfield will simply try add more affordable housing to a fill a multi-family niche

in an already swelled low income housing market in Richfield. Instead the appropriate thing to do is what has been done in other cities and that is to rehab some of those older rundown Class C apartments from one bedrooms and efficiencies into 3 bedroom units. This results in more multi-family housing which the Metro Council wants and the rehabbing of marginal rundown Class C apartment buildings (if done right) will improve the surrounding neighborhood. There would be a loss of one bedroom and efficiency low income units but with Richfield at 55% low income rental it actually still wouldn’t hurt Richfield’s affordable housing standing. Edina could then pick up the slack and build one bedroom or efficiency low income rental units to offset the loss since they have most of the low wage jobs and a large waiting list for low income housing anyways.

But which Apartment Buildings should be Rehabbed?

Unfortunately there is no shortage of Class C apartment buildings in distress in Richfield. One set of apartment buildings that would be good candidates ironically are right next to the proposed Pillsbury Commons site on Not-So-Pleasant Avenue and 76 Street. The apartments have been suffering from the lack of good maintenance for years and have been a headache for nearby neighbors. They are the right size/density and if converted and manged by a respected, qualified non-profit property management company that specializes in affordable housing, they could be an asset to the neighborhood rather than a blight. Oddly enough the city staff, Planning Commission and HRA appear to look at projects like Pillsbury Commons in a vacuum with little interest about the surrounding issues with problem housing as if it would have no impact on the development.

Very interesting to compare the Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative with the Grandview small area plan. Even though Edina received a Metropolitan Council Livable Communities grant of $100,000 for the planning process. I can find nowhere in their minutes, agendas and meeting notes any mention or thought given to helping out the less fortunate with affordable housing. It seems like an ideal situation for creating affordable housing since the city already owns a good chunk of the site.

The Metro Council and the City of Richfield seemed to have stacked the deck in the Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative inorder to set the agenda to make it seem like the creation of affordable housing was a given more info

in the planning process.  They brought in the organization “Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation” to help facilitate the meetings with the Corridor Housing Initiative. Looking over their web site ( they appear to be more of a organization that does community planning for social services rather than an urban design agency like say; Close Landscape Architecture and Cunningham Group Architecture, which were selected to be co-lead consultants on Edina’s Grandview project. I am a strong believer in not just doing brick and mortar improvements but to help the lives of people as well. It is interesting that Edina in all of their planning process completely ignored that.


Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative:

Grandview Small Area Plan:

The following was a message emailed to the Richfield City Council on the proposed development by Ron Clark Construction on the former city maintenance facility site.

I am writing to clear up a misunderstanding by some City of Richfield workers and City Council members that the protests to the Pillsbury Commons project is a NIMBY reaction by the neighbors not wanting the poor in their neighborhood.

Their reaction is due to two issues:

1. Disregard to the planning work and out come done by the neighborhood with Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative

2. Metropolitan Council’s Formula for Allocating Affordable Housing which lets wealthy communities like Edina off the hook for their share responsibility


Back when the City did its “Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative” in 2007-2008 what came out of it was plan for the 76th Street and Pleasant Avenue site  was low to medium density  residential mix (2 – 3 story height limit) that included different household sizes and incomes (low and moderate income families). This is what the neighborhood told the City and what the planners said would economically work. The neighbors understood and were fine with the development including a mix of affordable and market rate housing. It was supposed to be designed for public safety, including “eyes on the street.” (1)

Unfortunately Ron Clark Construction’s proposal meets none of the criteria developed by the neighborhood in the guidelines. The proposal is now for a high density development which is out of character of the neighborhood. Instead of mixed income it is made up completely of low income housing units. By making the development all low-income, the renters there will wind up being stigmatized as the people living in a “low-income” development. One of rationals for having mixed income developments to prevent stigmatization and to help integrate people into the community.

Livable Communities Act

The Affordable Housing Goals through 2010 set by the Livable Communities Act (LCA) for Richfield was 757 units for owner occupied housing of which Richfield produced 262 obtaining 34.6% of the goal. For rental none was required (55% of Richfield’s existing rental units are considered affordable, one of the highest perentages of affordability in the South Metro – In Minneapolis 67% rental units are considered affordable) however Richfield produced 43 units of affordable rental housing in spite of the fact that none were required.

However during that same time Edina the Affordable Housing Goals through 2010 set by  LCA for Edina was a modest 170 units for owner occupied housing of which Edina produced 3 obtaining 1.8% of the goal. For rental  the goal set by LCA for Edina was 31 units of which Edina produced 8 units obtaining 25.8% of their modest goal.

(2) (3)

Richfield Working Class Takes Low Income Housing Burden for Edina Upper Class

At 70 units, Pillsbury Commons takes the creation of affordable housing burden off the neighboring community of Edina since is the proposed development is being used as a dumping ground for low income housing in Richfield with little regard for them or the neighborhood around them.

Attached is a page from “Metropolitics” a book written by Myron Orfield, Professor of Law; Executive Director, Institute on Race & Poverty at the U of M and a former State Representative. He writes about Exclusionary Zoning – a zoning practice to make it impossible to build housing for anybody but the affluent effectively cutting out the working poor by adding budget busters zoning requirements like large lot sizes, large street sizes, 2-3 car garages, custom built kitchens, etc… In his book he points out that Edina was one of in the eight communities in the Twin Cities area practicing Exclusionary Zoning.

Oddly enough while the Metropolitan Council’s own 2006 Report to the Minnesota Legislature on Affordable and Lifecycle Housing  stated that within the City of Edina zero affordable rental units were created between 1996 to 2005. Currently they say that Edina (the home of Ron Clark Construction and Design) only needs 212 units while Richfield needs 765.

Flaws in Metropolitan Council’s Formula for Allocating Affordable Housing

This is number is arrived at by a very flawed and inherently biased formula that makes sure the poor stay out of the areas of the wealthy. (4)

Here it is:

Affordable housing needc = (HH growthc * K1) *

{ 1 + (Jobs/Workersc – 1) + (0.30 – Existing aff housingc) + (Transit Adjustmentc) } * K2

In a nut shell, if your community diversifies its land use by having commercial or industrial and creates jobs OR is progressive and has mass transit the guidelines say you need to have more affordable housing units in your city. However, if you keep mass transit out or build your city to be a gated bedroom community and let your neighbors build commercial/industrial your community gets rewarded with little to no affordable housing units in your city. Another piece of the formula is Growth. How many housing units do you plan to build in the future. Edina, did much of its low/medium/high density housing development (between York and France) during 1996 to 2005 the years they built zero affordable housing units according to the Metropolitan Council.

Jobs is another part of the Metropolitan Council’s formula for allocating affordable housing.  Edina has low wage jobs and lots of them. Attached is a map created using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Center for Economic Studies which shows where the low-wage jobs actually are – and not many are in Richfield. Both Edina and the area round the  Mall of America are the hot spots for those jobs and yet, both are virtual ghost towns when it comes to low-income housing.

U.S. Census map showing areas with low wage jobs.

You will find that now Edina is open to affordable housing and at least willing do it lip service now that they have shut the housing development door. This is because the Metropolitan Council’s affordable housing program has been criticized for rewarding participation rather than results. Critics of the Metropolitan Council say that focusing on the LCA ignores the state Land Use Planning Act, which they believe requires the council to determine the region’s affordable housing needs and each city’s fair-share allocation to meet that need. (5)


I have discussed this with many of my neighbors and given that the City so wontedly disregarded the careful and costly planning done with the 76th Street neighborhood during Richfield Corridor Housing Initiative currently there is little good will or trust with City Hall that they will behave in a ethical or transparent manner on this project. Still, I am hoping that the information here will open some eyes on the true nature of this conflict which is one of the wealthy communities such as Edina, not taking their fair share of affordable housing and instead doing community planning that shuts out the working poor. This is also an issue of a flawed Metropolitan Council formula for affordable housing which lets these wealthy communities off the hook.