Recap

LRT Municipal Consent

Here is a great article by Council Member Kolb on Municipal Consent.  He details the timeline and general process, and our options.  We are currently working on securing the Bass Lake Road pedestrian crossing over Hwy 81, with the pedestrian bridge as a favored option.  Joe Bowen of the Sun Post wrote this article summarizing the general feeling on this issue.  New designs of the pedestrian bridge were presented to the Council during the January 25th work session.  Residents also participated in the LRT Station Design workshop that evening.  From the input I have received, I understand that the pedestrian bridge would be a welcome solution to the already snarled intersection.  Having the bridge as a viable option is an essential sticking point for me- our residents must have a full range of choices.  The next step in the Municipal Consent process is the Open House and Public Hearing on February 2nd.  The Open House will be held from 5:30-7:00pm in the Community Room at City Hall.  The Public Hearing takes places in the Council Chambers during the 7pm meeting.  It is very important for us to hear your opinion on the LRT project, and I hope many of you can make it.  I am currently on maternity leave, so I will be watching the meeting from home.  Your phone calls and emails are welcome, however!  Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions and concerns.

Recap of January 19th Council Meeting

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Personal Update

My baby boy, Emanuel David, was born on January 17th.  We are both healthy and recovering well.  I can't wait for everyone to meet him!  For now, we are staying put at home, but I anticipate returning to full time Council work in the next two or three weeks.  Here he is just two days old. Emanuel2

I’ve been offline for a while, and need to catch up on some current issues of importance to Section 2.  For an excellent December overview, which covers the Budget and Utility Rates, please read Council Member Kolb's update here.  Take a look at that stack of reading material!  On to my update:

LRT Municipal Consent

We are in the Municipal Consent stage of the LRT project. The Blue Line Open House on Thursday, January 14th, 5:30-7pm, at the Crystal City Hall Community Room. The preliminary design plans of the project will be presented, and community input taken. The City Council will also hold a Public Hearing on February 2, 7:00pm, City Hall, Council Chambers.

Station Area Planning

Community members have been actively participating in the Station Area Planning phase of the project. One of the issues has been the use, and potential improvement, of Becker Park. Residents have singled out Becker Park as one of our most important public assets. The park is in need of updates, and there is significant excitement about the possibilities. Residents and the Council agree that Becker Parks should remain its current size; we now need careful planning and community input to bring out the best in this space.  Another issue is the pedestrian crossing over Hwy 81.  The current design and traffic conditions of the 81 and Bass Lake Road intersection make it nearly impossible for pedestrians to cross safely.  There are several options to improve this intersection and make it more user friendly, including building a pedestrian overpass. Click here to learn more about Municipal Consent and Station Area Planning.

Freight Rail Quiet Zones

City Staff are officially researching the establishment of Quiet Zones at the Canadian Pacific intersections at Douglas Drive and West Broadway. Staff is working directly with SRF (the city's quiet zone consultant), and representatives from Hennepin County, MnDOT-Rail, Federal Railroad Administration, and Canadian Pacific railroad. A meeting was recently held on the actual rail crossings to review the options. This issue will be discussed in more detail at a work session in approximately one to two months.

New Tenant at the Crystal Shopping Center

Robbinsdale School District plans to open an educational facility at the Crystal Shopping Center. This facility will be geared towards children with disabilities and adult learners. The leased space will be 42,000 square feet in the south two- thirds of the west building. Most of the space is currently vacant, with the Dollar Tree and Pro Nails Salon moving to another unit within the Shopping Center. Both the Council and Paster Properties feel that this is a positive step for the area- expanding the Shopping Center’s use by serving the community, and bringing in more consumers for established businesses. The proposed opening date for the school is July 2016.

City Code Review Task Force

City Code Review Task Force is making great progress! This Sun Post article gives a good overview of their work.

Looking for Commissioners

We are recruiting volunteers for our Commissions! Click here for more information.

Personal Update

I am due to have my third baby at the end of January, and will be on a semi-official maternity leave for approximately 6 weeks. In the meantime, I will be watching the council meetings and listening to the work sessions. My plan is to come back as soon as possible, with baby in tow.

A detailed summary of each Council Meeting is now available in this handy format:

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Upcoming Community Events

Light of Crystal Half Way Happy Hour

Friday, January 15th, 5:30pm, Buffalo Wild Wings

Facebook Event Page

Quad Community Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Bowling Fundraiser

Fundraiser to benefit our local Service Members and Veterans.

Sunday, January 31

Sign up at Doyle's Bowling & Lounge begins at 10:30 a.m.
Bowling begins at 11:00 a.m.
$20/participant
(includes 3 games, shoes & lunch)

In September, we've had the Public Works Grand Opening, voting on the preliminary Levy, Run for Rocco, and Council members bagging groceries at Cub, among many other things.  I'll provide an update on the biggest issues currently at play.

2016 Budget

On September 1st, the council voted to set the preliminary Levy at a 3% increase. This means that the increase cannot exceed 3% when we vote on the final Levy in December.  Please see my last post for background. The EDA Levy was also increased by 3%. The EDA is a separate entity, and has its own budget and Levy.   As I’ve stated before, I would like to continue working with staff to find ways of lowering this number for the final December vote.  Council Member Kolb talks about the Budget process in his council recap here.

METRO Blue Line Extension

LRT 1The plans for the Blue Line Light Rail are progressing. On Monday, September 28th, community members met to identify strengths and weaknesses of the area immediately surrounding the proposed LRT station. The meeting was very well attended, and residents provided thoughtful and insightful input. For many years, The LRT LRT 2project has been planned and managed by groups outside of our community, but the people who really matter are Crystal residents. We know and love Crystal, and our opinions are essential to any plans that these groups may have. The Federal Transit Administration, Hennepin County, Met Council, the Counties Transit Improvement LRT 3Board, and MNDot are all very powerful entities, and our own community may seem lost in the shuffle. It’s essential that we are present to advocate on behalf of our city. There is also a myriad of committees- Mayor Adams and I are members of the Corridor Management Committee and the Steering Committee. We also have the Crystal Community and Business Advisory Committees, and the Community Working Group. The CWG is focused on managing the plans for the area immediately surrounding the proposed station, and is made up of residents, council members (Julie Deshler and myself), and city staff. All these committees are active for the purpose of bringing the community's interests to the table. Here is a link to all the committees involved, and the dates on which they meet: METRO Blue Line Committees.

One specific LRT issue that the Council recently resolved is the West Broadway “S Curve” intersection at 48th Avenue. This intersection will not be functional as is if Light Rail is built, and we had to negotiate with the County to find an appropriate solution.  We did not want the burden of remediation alone, as the County suggested, but we did arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. You can see the proposed layout here. Hennepin County is responsible for construction, and will continue to maintain West Broadway as a County road.

Future Meetings and Opportunities to participate:

Please give your feedback on the LRT station by filling out this survey. In the Seach window at the top left corner type "Crystal", and you will be directed to the appropriate section.

The next community Open House will be on Monday, October 19, 5:00–7:30 p.m. at the Crystal Community Center. This meeting will provide information on the results of the Environmental Analysis. Click here for more details.

Train Horns

Many residents in Section 2 have expressed a desire for creating Quiet Zones at train intersections, specifically at Douglas Drive. City Staff are currently researching the details of this project. The Federal Government regulates all laws pertaining to freight rail, but the financial burden of establishing Quiet Zones falls directly on local communities.  Here is some basic information on what is involved in this process.  This is a lengthy and expensive project, and often times, cities may receive County or State funds to make it possible. You can contact our County Commissioner Mike Opat, and State Representatives Lyndon Carlson and Ann Rest, and let them know that this is important for your quality of life as a Crystal resident.

Click Here to contact Commissioner Opat

Click Here to contact Representative Carlson

Click Here to contact Representative Rest

Twin Oaks Reconstruction

Sidewalk Door KnockingOn October 1st, the City held an informational meeting for those in the Twin Oaks Neighborhood. Earlier, Julie Deshler and I door knocked on Wilshire Ave to inform residents that a sidewalk was proposed for their street. During the open house, residents were polled on their preference regarding the sidewalk. The jury on it is still out, so there is plenty of time for residents to weigh in. Please don't hesitate to contact me with your opinion on this issue.

A Public Hearing will take place on Tuesday, October 6th, 7:00pm, at City Hall.  This is another opportunity for residents to give their input on this project.

Commissions

The Council recently came to a consensus on how to improve the function of our Commissions. This conversation spanned the entire summer, and I am confident that we have reached a good conclusion. Here are the changes that we hope to implement:

  1. Move to annual recruitment and interview process for commissions.
  2. The whole Council interviews candidates.
  3. We will be working with the City Code Review Task Force to move Commissions from the Code to Resolutions.
  4. Implement annual orientation for Commissioners.
  5. Formalize expectations of Commissions, with a work plan and annual reporting- There will be a whole work session on this soon.
  6. Require biennial review of Commissions.
  7. Increase City Staff presence during Commission meetings.

I feel that these changes will put Commissions on the forefront of Council priorities, improve communication and our ability to work more cohesively.

City Code Review Task Force

I recently attended a City Code Review Task Force meeting. The caliber of work was impressive, and I am looking forward to discussing their ideas with the whole Council!  I am pleased to see diversity of background and opinion in this group, and feel confident that their proposals are made with careful deliberation. Simplifying the City Code is one of our top priorities, and we cannot do this without the work of our volunteers. Thank you to all who have stepped up to this challenging task!

Traffic Symposium

Council Member Kolb wrote a recap of this event.  You can read it here.

Community Events

Here is what's coming up in Crystal!

Crystal Shopping Center’s Halloween Event

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Click Here for the Facebook Event Page

Fourth Annual Herzing from the Heart- Healthy Halloween Fun

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Light of Crystal Half Way Happy Hour

Thursday October 15th at El Loro, 5:00pm.

Are you interested in getting to know your Crystal neighbors?   You are invited to this casual and fun social gathering!

Click Here for the Facebook Event Page.

That's all for now!  As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns!

I’m trying out a new format for my council meeting recaps.  Due to the number and variety of council meetings, it may not suit to provide a detailed recap of each event.  Instead, I’m going to highlight current council issues and community news.  Each update will have up to four categories- Regular Council Meetings, Work Sessions, Other News, and Information and Announcements.  I hope this format will provide a more straightforward snapshot of what’s happening in the city!

May 5th Regular Council Meeting:

Phase 14 North Lions Park Street Reconstruction

The council authorized the sale of general obligation improvement bonds in the approximate amount of $2,620,000.  The council will consider award of the bonds at the June 16th meeting.

Welcome Park 2015 Alley Reconstruction

The council authorized a resolution approving plans and specifications and ordering the advertisement for bids.  The council will consider this project one more time before giving the final green light.

Repair of the 42nd Avenue Joint Water Commission Water Main

I covered our discussion of this topic in my previous recap.  This issue is of utmost importance to the council.  We have an aging water infrastructure, with most of the city’s water pipes installed in the 60’s when the city was being established.  The recent water main disaster shows that we must maintain our infrastructure to prevent this from happening again.  After considering several options, the council concluded that the most responsible and transparent financing option was to raise the water rate by $1.00 per 1,000 gallons.  The council voted to approve this increase, with the intention to maintain this rate until at least January 2018.  Even with the increase, Crystal provides clean and great tasting water at the rate of less than one cent per gallon.  We can now ensure that this essential service is protected for the future.

Work Sessions:

The Council continues to discuss the ways to improve our Commissions.  Read this Sun Post article for a little background.  The article now contains outdated information, however, since we have made more progress in our conversation. Our ideas are still in a rough draft format, and I welcome your input if you have any ideas to add to this discussion.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me!

We have recently interviewed candidates for the City Code Review Task Force.  This group is charged with reviewing the entire code, and recommend changes to the Council.  We have more Task Force projects planned for the future. For instance, the “Crystal Ball” Task Force will focus on organizing a new community celebration event with music and dancing. Another suggestion is to create an Urban Agriculture Task Force.

Download the Council packets here

Watch the Regular Council meetings here

Listen to the Work Sessions here.

Read Council Member Kolb's update here.

In other news:

Recently, I've been able to go on two bus tours of the city- one organized by the Parks and Rec board focusing on our parks, and the other a general tour of the city.  We were able to see the various projects in process, and get a broad understanding of the needs for improvement.  It's exciting to see the progress of the new Bassett Creek Playground, with the zipline going up first!

newPlaygroundWe have neighborhood parks with a lot of potential and in need of TLC, and this is definitely something we would like to focus on as a Council.

Another great event was the Arbor Day Celebration and Park Clean up at Forest Park.  A fun time of cleaning up, food with neighbors, and the kids planted a tree with the help of our City Forester!

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Memorialday

 

 

 

 

Memorial Day service at Glen Haven Gardens with Julie Deshler speaking on behalf of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon.

 

Information and Announcements:

Basset Creek Park Cleanup is tomorrow morning, Saturday, May 30th, at 9am.

Lion’s Soo Line Neighborhood Community Garden:

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Frolics Buttons and Button Registration for Prize Drawings

Crystal Airport Open House

Get ready for Night to Unite!

I missed recapping April 20th, but you can read Council Member Kolb's nicely done highlights here.

First Work Session

During our first work session we had the opportunity to meet and greet candidates for the Charter Commission.  The Charter Commission is comprised of 9 members from the community.  Their job is to review the city charter and recommend any changes to the city council.  We are impressed with the caliber of our applicants, and had a nice time getting to know them during this time.

Per the request of several council members, we received a primer on the differences of public right-of-way, boulevards, easement, and private property.  This issue has surfaced several times since I have taken office, primarily as a question about trees located in the boulevard- who is responsible to take care of trees located in your front yard, but not exactly on your private property?  Why do some residents find new trees planted in their yard without their consent?  This issue is also at play with the planned Three Rivers Park District bike project.  Many people, myself included, are unsure exactly where their private property line is drawn.  The city and county are able to use a part of your front yard for their purpose, and this arrangement can be unwelcome and distressing to many residents.  Boulevards and Public Right of Way are city property, and are reserved for city and public use. Boulevard is generally the area between your property line and the curb, and Right of Way is the entire street (and sidewalk area).  Residents do not pay taxes on the this piece of land, but are responsible for the Boulevard's upkeep (mowing the grass, shoveling, etc). If you have any questions about your Boulevard or Public Right of Way area, please do not hesitate to contact the city (or me)!

Regular Council Meeting

The Pledge of Allegiance was led by a Boy Scout Brian Lindahl.  Thank you, Brian!  We had a special appearance by Police Chief Revering, who recognized Officer Tim Tourville as a recipient of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Award.  Chief Revering also presented Officer Mason Barland with the Chief’s Award recognizing his excellent service in our community.  Take a look at this Sun Post article commending the outstanding work they are doing!

During Open Forum we heard from the members of the Environmental Quality Commission.  They expressed their views on the importance and direction of their commission, and what the council can do to assist them in their work.  For a little background: The council is currently discussing what we can do to improve our commissions.  This is an important conversation, and it is vital to have the input of our citizen volunteers.  My hope is to establish a plan that will revitalize and improve our commissions, fostering an action-oriented and rewarding experience for everyone.  We are addressing issues of communication, structure, function and necessity of certain commissions, and the candidate interview process.  I am grateful to the EQC for their helpful and very important contribution to this conversation!

We held a Public Hearing on the Alley Reconstruction Project in the Welcome Park neighborhood.  Three alleys are up for reconstruction, and we heard from several residents with various questions and concerns.  We discussed the timing and necessity of the project, materials used (concrete vs. asphalt), concerns for residents who do not actually use the alley but are paying for it, and amount of the assessment.  This is indeed financed through a special assessment, and I have voiced my opinion on this before.  My belief is that special assessments are an excessive burden on our residents, and we must work to find alternatives for future city projects.  I anticipate this conversation during our budget sessions this summer.  The council ultimately voted in favor of ordering preparation of plans and specifications for this project.  The city will be following up with residents who had specific concerns.

During our Regular Agenda, we discussed a resolution supporting the Three Rivers Park District grant application to Hennepin County for the Bassett Creek Regional Bike Trail.  The trail will connect French Regional Park and Theodore Wirth through residential areas in Crystal.  The park district held an open house on April 27th where residents were able to converse with the project officials, and provide their comments.  Council members Kolb and Dahl proposed amendments to the resolution providing more focus and ensuring Crystal’s involvement in the design and construction process.  In light of the amendments and the input we have received, the council voted in favor of the resolution.  Three Rivers will now proceed with their grant application to Hennepin County. Construction is anticipated in 2016.

The council approved the purchase of replacement wastewater pumps.  Two of the pumps have been in operation since 1992, and had major repairs completed in 2014.  The pumps process a total of 69 million gallons of wastewater per year!

We approved the purchase of a floor sweeper for the new Public Works facility.  The council discussed the necessity of this expensive purchase, a total of $28,170.00.  The possibility of saving money and contracting out for cleaning services was discussed.  This purchase was approved due to the technical needs of keeping cleaning “in house”.  The council plans to discuss the potential for contracting out other services during our budget sessions this summer.

Second Work Session

During the April 9th work session, we began discussing financing options for Crystal’s share to replace the water main that runs through Robbinsdale.  Here is some background reading on the break that occurred last year, and this article on our plans for repairs.  The estimated total cost of the project is $5,600,000, and our anticipated share is between $1,500,000 and $1,700,000.  At this time, our Water Fund cannot easily come up with this amount, and the council came to the conclusion that we must increase water rates to provide revenue for this project.  The proposed rate increase is $1 per 1,000 gallons, with a two-year rate freeze.  This way, we will be able to pay our share of the cost, and provide water rate stability until 2018, at which point the rate increase will resume to the regular .20 cents per unit (1,000 gallons) per year.  The new rate will go into effect on July 1st.

That is all for May 5th!  To watch the entire council meeting, listen to the work sessions, and read the packet you can click on the links below.  As always, I welcome your feedback!

Listen to the Work Sessions here.

Watch the Regular Council Meeting here.

Read the packet here.

 

First Work Session

Representatives from the Blue Line LRT provided an update on the LRT station design for the Bass Lake Road and Bottineau BLVD intersection.  We reviewed the results of a recent traffic study that showed traffic patterns for this intersection, and the impact of the proposed LRT station.  Each intersection in the Twin Cities is rated on a scale of A through F based on traffic levels during peak hours.  The current “Level of Service” at the Bass Lake Road area has a rating of C.  Ratings of A through D are considered acceptable in the metro area.  With the station built at grade level, the Level of Service rating is projected to decrease to D.  According to the Blue Line officials, this means that a driver will wait less than a minute at a traffic stop.  This is currently one of the most congested and frustrating intersections in Crystal, and it appears that adding a LRT station will complicate matters further.  Also, the study did not consider the possible second BNSF freight rail line.  The Council was reluctant to accept these conditions as favorable, and requested to consider grade separation to alleviate the anticipated traffic issues.  We understand that grade separation does not promise to solve these issues, but we would like to consider it as a viable option.

Regular Council Meeting

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, the council convened as the Board of Appeal and Equalization.  For more information on this, you may read my previous council re-cap here.  No residents appeared before the board, and we heard a brief update on a couple of cases from Hennepin County Appraisers.  We moved to approve the 2015 Assessment Roll as presented by the county.  The board adjourned, and we reconvened the regular council meeting.  We continued to approve the agenda, the council meeting minutes, and the consent agenda.  During Open Forum, one resident spoke on behalf of the Human Rights Commission with a proclamation about the National Child Abuse Awareness month.

We continued to the Regular Agenda.  We were pleased to appoint John Slama and Denny Walsh as Crystal’s representatives to the Blue Line Extension Business Advisory Committee, and Justin Youngbluth and Gene Bakke as our representatives to the Community Advisory Committee.  We were able to collect a pool of excellent candidates to interview for these positions, and spent a considerable amount of time designing a rigorous and fair interview process.  Each interview was meaningful and thorough, and we were pleased with the results.  We are confident that our city has strong representation for this project!

Next, we appointed our new Public Works Director and City Engineer Mark Ray to the Basset Creek and Shingle Creek Watershed Management Organizations.  We’re excited to have Mark Ray on board, and are looking forward to our work together.

We considered a resolution supporting the Three Rivers Park District’s Bassett Creek Regional Trail.  This bike trail is planned to connect French Regional Park in Plymouth to Theodore Wirth Park in Golden Valley through New Hope and Crystal.  The path would follow 36th Avenue from Winnetka to Nevada Avenues, then south on Nevada to 32nd Avenue, then east of 32nd to the noise wall, the south to the bike/pedestrian bridge over Hwy 100.  According to the staff report, this project has been planned since 2007, and the park district needs our approval in order to apply for financing from Hennepin County.  According to the report, Crystal has no financial obligation, and little to no maintenance requirements.  I personally love our regional bike trails, and my family uses them extensively in the summers, but I do have a few concerns about this project.  The trail will go through residential areas, and its construction will eliminate existing sidewalks and replace them with a much wider path (12-13 feet wide).  This means that adjacent properties will be affected by the loss of space.  Also, bike commuters and recreational riders seeking a connection between two major regional parks create a change in traffic flow in a residential neighborhood.  Neighborhoods accustomed to having a pedestrian sidewalk may find it problematic for several reasons- more concerns for children using a path designed specifically for speedy bike traffic, residents wishing to walk their dogs, etc.  These issues must be taken into consideration, and residents need a chance to provide input.  The park district assured us that they will be working within their existing right of way, and will not be acquiring properties or land.  The council agreed that it is necessary to consult with the residents affected by this project.  Would you like to have a bike trail connection through your neighborhood?  Why or why not?  It’s our job as council member to represent your interests, and we need to research this before making a decision.  For more information on this project, take a look at the council packet posted online here.

Next, we approved the cleaning and repainting of the Becker Park building, along with expenditures to resurface and re-strip the tennis courts.  Becker Park is our star park, and we believe it’s a priority to maintain and improve this facility for the benefit of our community.

The last item on our agenda was to approve the purchase of a portable lift for the mechanics area for the new Public Works facility.

EDA

We approved the sale of two residential plots to developers. During my last recap, I mentioned that we have a new developer in Crystal- Tollberg Homes.  Tollberg Homes operates out of Anoka, and we are happy to have their business in our community.

Second Work Session

We received an update on the Phase 14 Street Reconstruction.  The next two steps for the council are to approve the Public Hearing on Assessments, and award the bid for Construction.  We also received an update from our city manager regarding the open constituent cases- everything from taking care of downed trees, property maintenance concerns, and improperly parked cars.  It is our commitment to resolve all issues brought forward by the residents in a timely and considerate manner.

That’s all for Tuesday, April 7th!  Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.

You can listen to the Work Sessions here.

Watch the Regular Council Meeting here.

Our agenda for the evening was very full.  Mayor Adams was absent due to severe illness, and Council member Deshler acted as Mayor Pro tem.  Council members Dahl and Libby were also absent.

Citizen Input Time

The Council has recently put in place a tracking method that ensures timely resolutions of all constituent issues.  We receive updates on all “open” cases, and discuss ways to provide a satisfactory solution.  Our goal is to make sure no one falls through the cracks.  During this Input Time, one resident came to speak about an ongoing issue with the lack of maintenance of a pond located in her neighborhood.  This has been a problem for several years, and the whole neighborhood would like this resolved as soon as possible.  Our city manager agreed to a timeline and a plan that appears satisfactory to the resident.

First Work Session

Representatives from Hennepin County Assessor Department spoke about the process of appealing the estimated market value of a home in Crystal.  Each year, homeowners receive a letter from the County Assessor Department stating the current estimated market value of their home.  If a homeowner disagrees with the estimated value, they can appeal to the County to discuss adjusting the assessment.  Most disputes can be resolved by working directly with the assessor’s office, and some issues are brought before the Local Board of Appeal and Equalization.  The Board meets each year with the specific purpose of ensuring that all local property is correctly assessed, and judge on disputed assessments brought forward by the homeowners.  If the dispute cannot be resolved with the local board, the homeowner can appeal to the County Board, and finally to the Minnesota Tax Court.

The Crystal Board of Appeal and Equalization will meet on April 7, 2015, at 7:00pm. Click here for more information on this meeting.  Click here for more information from Hennepin County on how you can appeal the estimated market value of your home.

Regular Council Meeting

Following the approval of the agenda, we heard the following presentations:

Tech Dump event presented by the Environmental Quality Commission.  Click here for more info.

The 5th Annual “Firefighters Fighting Hunger” Drive presented by Assistant Fire Chief Joel Nelson.  Through the end of March, The West Metro Fire-Rescue District is collecting food and monetary donations to benefit The Food Group.  On Saturday, March 21st from 11:00am-3:00pm, they will be out in many of the local grocery store parking lots collecting donations.  The Crystal City Council will be assisting by bagging groceries at the Cub Foods on Hwy 100 and 36th.  I am very excited for this event!  Click here for more info.

We breezed through the Consent Agenda, heard one resident speak during Open Forum, and moved on to the Regular Agenda with the reading of disbursements over $25,000.

The Council continued by approving contributions of $750 each to NEAR and PRISM food shelves.  NEAR and PRISM food shelves serve hundreds of local families each month, and provide food for school children during the summer.  All monetary donations are matched during the month of March, and I highly encourage our residents to pitch in with this very important service to our community.

The Council considered civil penalties for the illegal sale of tobacco to an underage person by A-1 Liquor.  A-1 Liquor failed an annual compliance check conducted by the Crystal Police Department.  City Code outlines the following civil penalties that the Council may impose against the business owner:

First violation results in a fine of up to $750, and loss of tobacco license for one day.

Second violation within 24 months is a fine of up to $1,500 and a loss of license for up to five days (three days for alcohol)

Third violation within 24 months after the first is a fine of up to $2,000 and a loss of license for up to ten days.

Fourth violation within 36 months after the first is a permanent revocation of license.

The council recently changed the penalties for underage sales of tobacco and alcohol, and this was the first case in about a year.  This Sun Post article explains the history of the revision.

This was the first violation for A-1 Liquor.  The Council received the police report with details on the incident, and the business owner appeared before the council for questioning.  According to the owner, the clerk responsible for failing to properly I.D. the underage customer has dyslexia, and has been sent to receive proper treatment.  The owner was respectful and apologetic, and understood the severity of such an offense.  Following the questioning and a thorough discussion, the council unanimously voted to impose a fine of $750, but forego the license suspension.  I felt that suspending the license on the first offence in this case was too harsh.  The fine, along with the arrest and having to appear before the council, is a punishment that meets the crime.  Much tougher consequences should be reserved for repeat offenders.  I felt that the council treated this matter seriously, and A-1 Liquor fully understood their responsibility in the matter.

Next we considered imposing penalties for a failed alcohol compliance check by Liquor Liquidator.  This was their first alcohol offence, and the penalties are similar.  The owner appeared before the council, and informed us that the business purchased an electronic card reader to ensure that this never happens again.  The council had a more difficult time arriving at a consensus, with Mayor Pro tem Deshler wishing to suspend their liquor license in addition to the $750 fine.  The council finally voted to impose the fine in the full amount, and forego the license suspension, with Julie Deshler voting No.

Both decisions were difficult.  The council had to fairly balance several factors- the health and safety of our community and youth, the needs of small businesses, and imposing proper punishment that will deter repeat offending.  I feel that we were able to strike that balance.

Following this, the Council heard a presentation about Crystal’s Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program.

We approved a resolution ordering hearing on proposed assessment in Phase 14 North Lions Park Street Reconstruction.

We approved the 2015 Alley Reconstruction Feasibility Study.

We approved expenditure for the new Bassett Creek Playground.  This project is funded mostly through Grant money, and will be a wonderful addition to our community.

We approved several expenditures for the new Public Works facility.  Many of the purchases are coming in below budget, and we are happy to see the savings.

The council was presented with a Cooperative Agreement with Hennepin County on the purchase of the land necessary for CP-BNSF freight connector track.  This article provides some background information.  Hennepin County wants Crystal to cooperate in this process.  We felt that the language in the document needed clarification, and more discussion was necessary before approval.  Our city attorney agreed to work with the County to obtain better verbiage.  The council voted to continue the discussion during our work session on Thursday, March 19th.  The council received the revised document on Thursday, and we voted unanimously to approve the agreement.

The final item on the agenda was approving the second reading of the city code amendment relating to council rules.

EDA

We approved the sale of three residential plots to developers. We were happy to see a new company expand their operations into Crystal.

Second Work Session

The Crystal Police Department presented their annual report.  You can read it here.

City Manger Anne Norris provided an update on unresolved constituent issues.

That’s all for Tuesday, March 17th!  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like clarification, or to discuss any issues.  You can listen to the Work Sessions here, and watch the Regular Council Meeting here.

Our meeting kicked off at 6:30 with a short work session to discuss contributions to food shelves from charitable donations, and the distribution of charitable gambling funds.  Ten percent of charitable gambling profits must be contributed to local charities, and we decided to continue to award this money to NEAR and Prism food shelves.

The council convened the regular council meeting at 7:00pm.  Immediately following the roll call, we approved the agenda, meeting minutes from the previous sessions, and the consent agenda.  This is a fairly quick process, and we moved on to the Open Forum. One resident approached to speak about the proposed rail connection project, with comments and suggestions on rail safety issues.  Brief note about the Open Forum: The council welcomes residents during this time to speak about any issues important to them.  A person has three minutes to speak, and no topic may be addressed for more than ten minutes.  We hope that more residents take this opportunity to bring their opinions and concerns to the council.  For a more informal time with the council, consider attending our Citizen Input Time.

On to the Regular Agenda:

Mayor Adams read through disbursements over $25,000.  These payments are on file, and are available to the public for review.  Previously, all disbursements were part of the consent agenda, and for the sake of financial transparency and responsibility the council moved larger expenditures to the regular agenda.   We are able to discuss these items in depth, and move to approve, deny, or table them for further conversation.

At this time the council considered the second reading of a zoning ordinance amendment allowing impound lots with a conditional use permit, and a zoning ordinance amendment regarding businesses dealing with secondhand goods.   For more information on these you may read Council Member Kolb’s previous recap here.

The council approved a financing plan for the new Public Works facility (finally)!  This has been under consideration for over a year, with much discussion and debate.  The council had three financing options: Bonding, part bonding and part cash, and all cash.  Recently, our Financial Director provided the council with numbers detailing all three options.  The numbers were clear- if the city bonds any portion of the Public Works expense there will be a tax increase for our residents.  Any conversation about bonding was a conversation about how much of a tax increase is acceptable.  My answer was No Tax Increase, especially after seeing that cash was actually a smart and reasonable financing option.  Avoiding bonding was the original plan when this project was proposed, and I was pleased to see the numbers demonstrating why.  The estimated cost is $13,500,000, with the Major Building Replacement Fund contributing the majority of the funds.  We were left with a deficiency of a little over one million, and were able to cover that with an Internal Fund Loan, which is basically a "pencilled-in" transfer of money within the city's general account.  A city's budget is much like a family budget- one bank account, but several smaller funds, so transfering from one to another is a simple book-keeping task. The Economic Development Authority also contributed $650,000.  The city will build back its funds through the current tax levy, and I anticipate that this can be done in under three years.  Past discussions revolved around the fear that the city cannot sustain this expense, however, the information provided by our Financial Director shows that our budget is entirely capable of handling this project.  Cash financing keeps Crystal fiscally secure, avoids finance charges and increased taxes.  I am happy to say that the council voted 6-1 in favor of cash, with Council Member Libby voting nay in favor of bonding.

The last item on the Regular Agenda was adopting new council rules.  Council members Jeff Kolb and Casey Peak worked together with our city attorney and staff to create a revised version of the rules, and proposed it to the council for approval.  Some of the goals they maintained are: to clarify processes and expectations, and decrease conflict; to protect the rights of both the minority and majority; to put in place good government practices that will last beyond the existing council; and to balance formality with flexibility.  The council rules were unanimously approved, and will be publicly available at every council meeting.  It is important to have a clearly defined set of expectations, and I am grateful to Council Members Kolb and Peak for completing this important project.

An EDA session immediately followed the Regular Council meeting, and we voted to authorize the sale of a lot to a developer for a construction of a new house.  Fairly quick and easy!

During the following Work Session we discussed the process of appointing residents volunteering for advisory commissions.  We are beginning the interview process for the Blue Line LRT Committees, and need to decide on a process that is fair and easy to implement.  This process will also be used when we are interviewing residents for our city commissions.  After a lengthy discussion it was decided that each applicant will be interviewed individually, with the entire council present; ranked by each council member; and a decision will be made based on the overall score.  This conversation is part of a bigger discussion on Crystal’s citizen commissions- What commissions function well, and why?  What goals do we set for our commissions?  Do we have the right ones in place?  We are making progress by deciding on the interview process right now, and will continue to discuss how to improve our commissions in the future.

That’s all for Tuesday, March 3rd!  You can watch the council meeting here, and listen to the work session here.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns!

Reminder: Please consider attending Crystal's Freight Rail Open House tomorrow, Saturday, March 7th.  Click here for details!

Congressman Keith Ellison is having his own Rail Safety Open House on Wednesday, March 11th, from 6:30-8:00pm at the Crystal Community Center.

In this recap, I am going to focus on the Canadian Pacific and BNSF freight train connector rail project.  What does this project mean for Crystal?  What is currently being done to address the issues it presents?  What can Crystal residents do?  For background information, you may read past recaps written by council member Kolb.  The following questions were discussed during our regular council meeting, and the latter work session.

What does this project mean for Crystal?  Currently, our main concerns focus on public safety- the potential for reduced emergency response time from West Metro Fire, Ambulance, and Police services; and the danger presented by highly volatile Bakken oil being moved through our city at a much greater frequency.  I also anticipate that this project could be detrimental to our local economy and housing market, hurt our small-town atmosphere, and generally reduce quality of life.

Emergency Response Time:

The cities in the northwest suburbs have agreed to provide aid to one another during emergency situations through Mutual Aid Agreements.  Currently, during some emergency events, other nearby cities will assist by responding to support the city in which the emergency is happening.  In the short term, should a city experience delays in emergency response due to a train caused delay, these agreements would allow other cities to provide emergency services to the city in need.  However, this is not an acceptable or sustainable long-term solution.  Other cities may not be able to sustain our needs along with their own emergency demands.  The delay in our services creates a ripple effect in the area.  We need to ensure that Crystal remains entirely functional, and can independently sustain the majority of our own emergency needs.  The CP/BNSF rail project threatens our ability to do this.

Danger of Bakken Oil Trains:

What is the difference between regular oil and Bakken oil?  Bakken oil is derived from the “Bakken Formation”, which is a geological formation found in Montana, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.  The oil is extracted through Fracking and drilling, with primary operations out of North Dakota.  This type of oil accounts for more than 10% of all domestic production.  Bakken oil has been called an “imminent hazard” due to higher levels of combustible gasses. Read this study published last May. This Monday, one day before the council meeting, a Bakken oil train derailed in West Virginia, “The derailment shot fireballs in the sky, leaked oil into the Kanawha River tributary, burned down a nearby house, and forced nearby water treatment plans to shut down”.  The train cars in this derailment met the current safety standards.  In 2013, a derailment occurred in a Quebec town, killing 47 people, and eventually destroying most of the city’s downtown with a blast radius of over half a mile.  Bakken oil trains currently present a real danger to our community, and this danger will only grow as Canadian Pacific increases the frequency and length of trains through our city.

What is currently being done to address these issues?  At this point, our options are limited.  Railroad companies are regulated by the Federal Government, and are entirely out of our jurisdiction.  We are, however, taking the following steps:

1. We are petitioning the Surface Transportation Board to require Canadian Pacific and BNSF conduct an Environmental Impact Statement prior to beginning construction of the new connection.  Based on several conversations our city staff has had on this topic, we have reason to believe that the railroads are taking steps to avoid this assessment.  An environmental study will reveal the actual toll on public safety and quality of life, and will allow for official community input.  I hope that the results of the study will further unite our community and government officials against the project.  On Tuesday, the Crystal City Council unanimously passed a resolution “Petitioning the Surface Transportation Board to Require an Environmental Impact Statement on Construction of Railroad Connector Track in Crystal, Minnesota”.  Other affected cities including New Hope and Robbinsdale have passed similar resolutions, and on Monday, February 16th, the MN State Senate passed a similar resolution as well.  Today, Thursday, February 19th, Governor Dayton issues a formal statement supporting our efforts.

2. We are taking steps to alleviate the resulting traffic congestion, and maintain proper emergency response time.  Constructing a grade separation in one of the intersections will achieve these goals.  On Monday, February 16th, the State Senate introduced a bonding bill appropriating money for the construction of a grade separation on Douglas Drive and the Canadian Pacific crossing.  The council and staff agreed that grade separation should be put in place even if we succeed in blocking the freight connector track.  The timeline for such a project spans at least three years, including several months of road closure during the actual construction season.  The grade separation will ensure that our emergency vehicles can pass without impediment.  It will also help in creating quiet zones around residential areas.

3. We are actively working to gather a coalition of local government authorities to unite against this project- area Mayors and council members, and our County and State representatives. Governor Mark Dayton sent a letter to the STB today expressing his concern about the project, and our local elected representatives are all engaged in the process.  Our action plan is to petition Senators Klobuchar and Franklin, and Representative Keith Ellison to exert pressure on the Surface Transportation Board to cooperate with our request for an Environmental Impact Statement.  We also want our Federal representatives to enact measures granting communities more power in matters that have a direct local effect, such as railroad expansion projects.

For more detailed information, you may read the complete report compiled by Crystal city staff.

What can you do?  Call and write Senators Klobuchar and Franklin, and Representative Keith Ellison, and ask them to petition the Surface Transportation Board to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  The EIS will allow our community to review the project details, and present our concerns to the rail authorities.

Senator Al Franken

Click to Email 

Phone: 651-221-1016; 202-224-5641

Address: 309 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Click to Email

Phone: 612-727-5220; 202-224-3244

Address: 302 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Representative Keith Ellison

Click to Email

Phone: 612-522-1212; 202-225-4755

Address: 2100 Plymouth Ave N; Minnesota, MN 55411

2263 Rayburn Building, Washington, MN 20515

You can watch the entire council meeting here.

Listen to the work sessions here.