The legacy of Lisa Bender – Letter to the Editor

Thank you for your excellent piece on Lisa Bender, published a few issues back [all February editions of Southside Pride].

I’ve lived in my own home here in the Wedge neighborhood since 1995 and I’m a semi-retired architect.
I’ve also been on various neighborhood committees, beginning at the time when Bender got elected to City Council, starting with active membership (ultimately taking me to chairman) in the Zoning and Planning Committee, to being elected as vice chair (and eventually serving as acting chair) of the Wedge Board of Directors.
So, I’ve had a good chance to watch Bender from her beginning in a city leadership role.
In one of her first appearances, as our Ward 10 rep on the City Council, she came to a neighborhood Z&P meeting to introduce herself.
Soon, as a member of Z&P I noticed a real flip in rhetoric at many of our meetings. Many “new” participants made a lot of “aggressive” statements at those meetings (in Bender’s presence), referring to homeowners as holding up the process of development, thereby having a “stranglehold” on any hope of providing people with “affordable housing.” At times the rhetoric at the meetings got so heated I wondered if us homeowners might be dragged out into the street like in the Cultural Revolution days in China.
Next, the pro-developer group began to dismantle the NRP program. Fed funded, low interest, and forgivable loans and a grant program to help homeowners keep their neighborhoods in good repair. The program name, NRP, is no longer used, but remnants of it remain, however quite limited in comparison to previous times.
As I participated in the Z&P committee, I took note of some blatant violation of the bylaws re: “conflict of interest.” Some on the committee were not disclosing that parties (with development plans) appearing for approvals by the committee were presently or previously “clients” of some committee members. I soon had the bylaws revised to require recusal by any member with association to parties before the committee.
When I was elected, by the neighborhood, to become a board member I found further inadequacies in city leadership.
The city planning division, by that time, had lost some of its best planners, leaving behind a “stamp and go” group, who mostly showed up at City Council considerations and final vote meetings, to state the Planning Division’s support for development proposals.
With the rollout of 2040, the neighborhood was invited to the local VFW, where:
We were given a brief glimpse of what 2040 would entail (and do to our city) …
We were broken into “discussion groups” and asked to list, in writing, those things that we found “good” about 2040 …
All were introduced to Heather Worthington (new director of long-range planning) and she asked us where most of us planned to be in 20 years (think dead, or off to Florida, Texas, or Arizona?), and recommended that we should cash out now and leave.
Bender remained in the back of the room, surrounded by plainclothes-types pretending to be bartenders.
To me, 2040 amounts to nothing more than the opening of the (regulatory zoning) floodgates that have regulated land acquisition (by developers). It encompasses all land within an approximate two-mile radius of downtown. It allows for the combining of individual lots and the construction of apartment buildings, without which developers stay away.
Most importantly, it allows, even incentivizes, the transfer of all this land from being privately owned and occupied, to being corporate and investment group owned—never to come back to private ownership. Affordable housing becomes even further off as a hope for many.
Bender has “sold” the heart of our city—to the development and investment community.
There will be no need for a “public” police force in this future inner city. All policing will be contracted out to security firms, hired by corporate property owners.
Bender is the ultimate, and best paid, modern day Pied Piper Minneapolis has seen. And she’s taught her tune to many on the City Council, especially those from the most vulnerable communities.

—Tim Dray


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