As candidates for Mayor step up to oppose the Saint Paul City Council’s drive to pass a zoning plan for the Saint Paul Ford Plant site, Pat Harris released a statement today that included this paragraph:
“I am concerned that the current plan is not balanced and is not fully integrated into the surrounding neighborhood. Importantly, I believe that rezoning of the entire Ford site at this time is premature. Zoning is the City’s primary tool for encouraging quality development. Zoning is the single best card in our hand, and we are playing that card too soon – well before other cards are on the table. “
To read the entire statement that was released today go to this link: http://www.patharrisformayor.com/our-ace/
Pat’s reasoning is bulletproof as to why the Council’s actions serve only to benefit financially Ford Motor Company and prospective developers.
Rarely in St. Paul’s history have elected officials been so eager to hand over the keys to the City’s zoning power and influence in exchange for…nothing.
Which is really what the City of St. Paul gets for its trouble – and for the trouble that the City Council has created in our community by its insistence on passing a zoning plan that fails to meet any standard of commonsense.
Council President Russ Stark and Ward Three City Councilmember are the instigators of this elusive approach to reason.
Both of them, in their own way, is convinced that they know better than neighbors what is best for their community.
Yes, they acknowledge public opposition.
No, it just doesn’t matter to them.
The process of democracy in St. Paul is broken. It has been for a long time.
Perhaps there is no better example of it then this issue.
Ward Three City Councilmember Chris Tolbert knows that his constituents, overwhelmingly, oppose this project.
He can see it on the streets. He has heard it in living rooms. He has read it in the newspapers.
Yet, he refuses to concede, even slightly, to their concerns.
He refuses to even throw them a bone of democratic decency by delaying the vote on the Ford zoning plan.
A delay that would do nothing more than allow community voices to come to the table and consider whether there are other zoning options that will better serve everyone in St. Paul.
If the people of St. Paul are the driving force behind their government, the City Council will delay this vote with their gratitude.
If Ford Motor Company is the driving force behind this government, the City Council will approve this plan with their gratitude.
Ironically, the person Chris Tolbert replaced on the City Council, Pat Harris, is the very person who put together a framework that was intended to avoid the very place we are in today.
A framework that Chris Tolbert could point to next week when as he stands before his colleagues and says, “We can wait. The community deserves this opportunity to make this plan a better plan for all of St. Paul.”
The vote next week is a litmus test, this much is true.
It is a litmus test in democracy.
It is a litmus test in courage.
Some have suggested the City Council has already made up their minds and intend to vote to approve this plan no matter what people most affected by it are saying.
But, I still hold out hope that democracy still has a place in our City government.
That there is still enough courage in City Hall to stand up against the mighty and the powerful.
The courage to stand up for the neighbors who stayed behind even when Ford Motor Company closed its factory and moved away.
I still hold out hope that my voice, and the voice of my neighbors, is stronger than Ford Motor Company.
Stronger than the special interest groups that have seized outsized power on the St. Paul City Council and far too many of its members.
Until that vote is taken next week I still believe there must be some room for reason with my own City Councilmember.
Some way for him to shake free from his stubborn insistence of his rightness to find the righteous way forward on this and delay the vote.
Ford Motor Company gave up on Saint Paul, closed its factory and moved away.
It tore down its buildings and left in its place mounds of dirt and toxic poisons.
Decades from now Ford will still be cleaning up the poison in that dirt.
The question is, decades from now will the community still be cleaning up the poison from the Ford Site Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan.