News Column

'Racial equity' adds to concern about Met Council plans

May 20, 2014

By David Peterson, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

May 20--An emerging concern that a DFL-dominated Metropolitan Council is fixing to put a "racial equity" stamp on future funding decisions is raising tensions as south-metro cities and counties react to the council's new plan for the region out to 2040.

"Is any of this grounded in experiences of other communities, or research, or anything else?" asked Dakota County administrator Brandt Richardson when a pair of council staff members met with his board and senior staff not long ago.

Just for instance, he said, since equity in parks funding has been raised, "I don't get the connection with parks; I don't see how changes in parks would reduce the concentration of poverty. What's been proven in other places?"

But racial equity is just one of many issues officials are raising, with a broader sense that the influential Met Council's emphasis is shifting toward the inner urban area and away from the suburban edge.

The council was expected to approve its so-called Thrive 2040 plan on May 28. The plan will be a framework for how the council guides transportation, sewer and regional park resources in the seven-county metro region for years to come,

Comments on the plan from cities, counties and others were due late in April, and many are echoed in Scott as well as Dakota County.

"The way I put it to people," said Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke, "is that we need to be a cylinder, where there are opportunities for all, and not a tent, with everything directed primarily to the center."

Development is increasingly occurring in the central cities and first-ring suburbs, adding to the pressure to shift spending on things like transportation and parks to accompany that trend.

Dakota and Scott officials bridle at a statement in a Thrive draft that the metro area's highway system is essentially now complete. People out on the edge say that isn't true, and they fear they are going to be left out to dry.

The city of Belle Plaine's letter describes the new plan as "an abrupt change" in growth philosophy -- no longer treating cities like itself as growth centers. The language regarding cities in Belle Plaine's category isn't about "promote" or "invest" but "encourage."

To be sure, most rings of the metro are registering complaints about the plan.

Minneapolis for instance asks in its comments why the plan still envisions lots of suburban growth even though "we are adding population to Minneapolis at rates we haven't seen in decades," with 25 percent of the entire region's new residential units the past five years being permitted in its borders alone.

On racial equity, meanwhile, Minneapolis hints that it's all pretty vague: The city "looks forward to exploring what that means in real, actionable terms going forward." Translation: Its hopes for help exactly mirror the fears of Dakota County and others that they will lose out.

Addressing worries about racial-equity-based decisions, Dan Marckel, Metropolitan Council planning analyst, told Dakota board members he "can't speak in great detail about how that would happen." He added:

"This is an opening of topics. It is an aspirational plan." The marching orders, the details, are being lined up in later, more ground-level and specific plans as part of the process, he said. "That's where the details are being worked out."

In fact that's one thing he and colleague Patrick Boylan stressed -- that there's plenty of time to work on consensus as subsequent rounds unfold.

If some cities think they are not in line for enough growth, others say the reverse.

For instance, Dakota commissioner Tom Egan said he is highly skeptical of the council's prediction of strong population growth for Eagan. Eagan is the type of close-in place, with a rapid busway, where the Met Council anticipates and favors growth.

"Eagan is 95 percent developed," said Egan, a former Met Council member himself who since has often expressed exasperation with the agency. "I've lived in the city for 40 years and unless you built a house on top of a house, I don't know where these people are going to go. Where the heck are 20,000 more people going to go?"

Eagan itself, in its formal written comments, agrees. It's "unlikely" to reach the forecasted numbers, which represent a "significant increase that we anticipate to be unattainable," it says.

Council staffers told Egan they are well aware of those concerns but plan to continue to work with cities that still have reservations.

A sampling of other reactions:

--?Apple Valley wants to upgrade its future estimates of households and jobs by the thousands, saying that the current preference of millenials for city life won't last forever and the council needs to take a more "moderate stance."

--?Savage wants northern Scott County's importance recognized, saying the Minnesota River is being "used as an isolation barrier to thwart growth and future regional investments related to transit and transportation."

--?Shakopee says the plan overstresses locating jobs and people on existing and future transitways, such as light rail, versus the "actual places in the region where there are existing homes, jobs and businesses."

--?Lakeville says it fears for future highway funding, adding that the regional highway network is not complete -- that major new arterials and highways are still needed. It wants to hear more about how "racial equity" would play out in real-life terms -- fleshing out the council's talk of how to "mitigate the place-based dimension of racial, ethnic and income-based disparities."

David Peterson -- 952-746-3285

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(c)2014 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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Source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)


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