Struggle over Roof Depot redevelopment enters new phase, civil disobedience likely

Roughly 70 people gathered outside in the cold Sunday afternoon to hold a Healing Circle in Minneapolis’ East Phillips neighborhood. During an open-mic, they expressed sadness, anger and frustration over the city’s plans to expand its Public Works facility near 26th Street onto the Roof Depot site.

The Roof Depot site is vacant, but for an unused warehouse. The city plans to tear down the warehouse to accommodate more Public Works staff and equipment. It would bring more diesel fumes to an already over-polluted community. Neighbors say they can’t take — and shouldn’t have to take — any more air pollution, and the illnesses and death that comes with it.

The resistance entered a new phase Sunday, with talk of direct action to block the warehouse’s demolition. The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) dreams to convert the warehouse into a community-owned asset, with an urban farm, affordable housing, and an income-generating solar array, hangs in the balance.

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No one is protecting East Phillips from air pollution, notably those who promised to do so

It’s part of a larger pattern of regulatory failures

(Correction: An earlier version misstated the pollution contribution from individual industries to East Phillips’ overall pollution problems. It has been corrected. This post also was updated with information from the MPCA.)

The City of Minneapolis has declared racism a public health emergency, pledging to “allocate funding, staff, and additional resources to actively engage in racial equity in order to name, reverse, and repair the harm done to BIPOC in this City.”

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has committed to environmental justice, saying it will focus “on developing strategies to reduce pollution and health disparities in communities most at-risk.”

Unfortunately, neither of those promises are protecting the residents of East Phillips, one of Minneapolis’ poorest and most racially diverse neighborhoods, and home to Little Earth, a 212-unit housing development that gives preference to Native American applicants.

The neighborhood has several pollution sources: Smith Foundry, an iron works; Bituminous Roadways, an asphalt plant; the city’s Hiawatha Public Works yard, and Hiawatha Avenue, a major thoroughfare.

City leaders should know that East Phillips is part of the “pubic health emergency.” The city’s 2021 Racial Equity Impact Analysis said residents living in the area “experience much higher levels of cumulative pollution than residents from majority white city neighborhoods … leading to [higher] levels of asthma and hospitalization for children and adults.”

(East Phillips asthma levels were more than double the state average in 2019, MinnPost reported.)

Unless things change soon, East Phillips will soon get even more pollution and related health problems, further exacerbating health disparities.

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Minneapolis Public Works drafts new ‘Racial Equity Framework’ while failing at existing city racial equity commitments

The City of Minneapolis seems more enamored with writing racial equity plans than following them.

This fact has come into sharp focus in the East Phillips neighborhood, where the city’s planned public works yard expansion contradicts the city’s existing racial equity promises, as well as its mission statement.

So it’s ironic that the city’s Public Works Department — which is pushing the controversial East Phillips project — has released yet one more racial equity commitment: An 84-page draft Racial Equity Framework for Transportation. It’s currently seeking public comments.

On paper, it seems like a perfectly fine plan.

Here’s my public comment: Live up to your existing racial equity commitments before making new ones, or no one will take you seriously. The lack of follow through on past promises is unbecoming of a major city.

Act now. Don’t wait to approve another racial equity plan. Reverse your decision to expand the East Phillips Public Works yard. Support the neighborhood’s redevelopment vision.

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East Phillips Urban Farm shows the City of Minneapolis’ disregard for its promises to stop systemic racism

Roof Depot site.

East Phillips community leaders have a dream: To increase the livability of their notoriously polluted neighborhood. And they have a plan:  Renovate the former Roof Depot and Sears warehouse site into a community-owned multi-use resource. It would include an indoor Urban Farm – producing healthy foods in what is now a food desert –  space for small business, jobs training programs, low-income housing, and a large solar array.

Six years ago, the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) was negotiating to buy the Roof Depot site, but the city of Minneapolis intervened and bought the property. The city wants the land to consolidate its Water Works Maintenance Facility, currently in Southeast Minneapolis, with Public Works operations already on Hiawatha Avenue next to the Roof Depot site. 

The city is blocking what would be a community asset and replacing it with a project that harms neighborhood livability.

The city is breaking multiple promises its made, and policies its passed, to address the kinds of racial injustice that exist in East Phillips.

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Events: Updates on reparations work and East Phillips Urban Farm proposal, fundraiser for Dakota Community Center

In this post:

  • MN Council of Churches announces dates for conversations around truth telling, reparations
  • Fundraiser for a Dakota Community Center this Saturday
  • Community meeting set on East Phillips’ efforts to redevelop Roof Depot site into a community amenity rather than a public works yard
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Minneapolis City Council’s reasoning to move and expand Water Yard into East Phillips remains a mystery

The city of Minneapolis suppressed a report that said it would be less costly to expand its Water Yard in its current Marcy Holmes neighborhood location than the City Council’s current plan to relocate it to the East Phillips neighborhood.

Surprisingly, the report didn’t sway a majority of councilmembers.

On Oct. 18, I filed a Data Practices Act request with the city for more information on the report.

I am requesting emails and other communication (both internal and external) to and from the Public Works Department regarding the production of the June 2021 report: “Minneapolis Water Yard: Proposal for New Two-Story Structure on Existing Site.” This includes staff directions, discussion around the report’s purpose, drafting, and distribution of the report, and any communications with City Council members.

I had no inside information. I was just curious about the internal conversations around what seemed like an important report.

On Monday, I received an email with 1,022 pages of documents. None of them helped answer my questions.

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