After the Minneapolis city council and mayor approved putting a new police headquarters at 2633 Minnehaha Ave., the Longfellow Community Council (LCC) started working on a community benefits agreement (CBA) to influence its operation.
The creation of a CBA was announced at a meeting hosted by the LCC and attended by more than 80 people, including three city council members, and held on Nov. 16, 2023 at Matthews Park.
It followed the city council 8-5 vote on Nov. 2 to approve buying the one-story industrial building in Seward for a future Community Safety Center/Third Police Precinct facility. The property at 2633 Minnehaha Ave sits on a 3.39-acre site that contains a building of approximately 78,500 square feet. This is the same building that the city explored leasing in 2020 to rehouse the precinct’s police department staff. The mayor asked the city council to approve the 2633 site in late October after supporting the site at 2600 Minnehaha earlier that month. (See story on 2600 site discussion in the November Messenger.)
The meeting was facilitated by LCC Executive Director Rachel Boeke, who led a discussion with three of the six council members who represent people who live within the 3rd precinct area: Jamal Osman, Jason Chavez, and Robin Wonsley.
Ward 6 Council Member Osman was among the eight who voted to approve buying the building. Chavez of Ward 9, and Wonsley of Ward 2 voted against acquiring the building. Chavez and Wonsley voted in favor of entering into a purchase agreement and doing preliminary investigations and design work for a Community Safety Center at 3716 Cheatham Ave. That proposal, however, was voted down by the council.
Concerns and hopes
Early in the meeting, council members were asked to share the history of the decision, as well as their concerns and hope for the facility.
Wonsley expressed her concerns that the center may open first with just police working there with other services being phased in later. All three said they preferred it not opening until after there was more community engagement. They also supported a more comprehensive set of safety services being incorporated into the facility when it opens.
Osman recalled receiving a commitment from the mayor that it would not open without a full range of services. That was one reason he voted in favor of buying the building.
“It has to be different. It can’t be the third precinct we know,” said Chavez. He asked the group, “What do you want it to include?”
Boeke asked about the resolution that the council passed requesting a comprehensive overview by the end of January 2024 on how the center will contribute to the implementation of the safe and thriving communities service model they have endorsed, as well as a list of safety functions, besides police, that might be co-located there.
When asked about what those might be, council members pointed to the behavioral crisis response teams that the city has contracted with. Currently, Canopy Roots provides an alternative response to 911 calls.
The resolution also calls for details about community outreach and using participatory frameworks such as a memorandum of understanding (MOU), community benefits agreement or similar evaluation methods.
No evidence that mpd is less violent, racist and brutal
The questions and responses from the audience were varied.
“Why is it called a Community Safety Center?” someone asked. “We don’t know what there will be at the time of opening,” said another. One person said that she did not support having “social service co-located with police.”
Robert Rees, from Seward, called on the council members to do more research and “study the neighborhood and see what the residents want.”
A Ward 9 resident asked, “What evidence, or data or clear outcomes have you seen that lead you to be sure MPD is now less violent, racist, and brutal?” All three council members responded that they had none.
Funding and zoning
So far, the city has identified $10 million in funding but are estimating it will cost over $14 million. They anticipate closing on the purchase next June. According to the staff report, the “city’s obligation to purchase the property is contingent on the appropriation of sufficient funding in the 2024 budget,” and the “determination of conformance of the city’s comprehensive plan by the city planning commission.”
At their meeting on Nov. 13, the planning commission found that the project was in compliance with the city’s plan but that it would require a conditional use permit that would be evaluated by the city planning commission once a completed land use application is filed.
A conditional use permit allows the city to review uses, which because of their unique characteristics, cannot be permitted as of right in a particular zoning district, but which may be allowed upon showing that such use in a specified location will comply with all of the conditions and standards of this zoning ordinance. This could be an opportunity for the commission or the council to place conditions on the project.
Worthwhile but maybe not enforceable
As the meeting was ending, Boeke invited people to contact LCC to get more information and be kept informed of future meetings about the CBA.
It is hard to know how much weight an agreement between the city and a community organization, or organizations might have. Wonsley was clearly interested in using a CBA, but warned that it would not be considered a legally binding document. Chavez and Osman expressed interest, as well.
For reference, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LICS) defines a CBA as “a contract between a developer and community-based organizations representing residents’ interests. The agreement spells out the benefits the community will receive in return for supporting the developer’s project in their neighborhood.”
There appears to be a difference of opinion about how legally enforceable they can or should be.
PolicyLink defines a CBA as a “legally enforceable contract between a coalition of community-based organizations and the developer of a proposed project. In exchange for the coalition’s public support of the project in the approval process, the developer agrees to contribute benefits to the local community if the project moves forward. In this way, the coalition has a hand in shaping the project, while the developer builds community support and strengthens local partnerships.”
Even if the city, LCC and other neighborhood organizations signed on to a benefits agreement that could not be enforced in court, Wonsley, Boeke and others appear to be convinced it would be worthwhile.