We now have confirmation that the January 22, 2018 meeting with Commissioner McDonough will be in the Highwood Hills Elementary School cafeteria. 6:30p - 8p.
The Ramsey County Board met recently to discuss how it plans to set programming for its juvenile justice system. After many discussions last fall and spring with community members, and with juvenile justice professionals, they concluded that the best option for our youth is to have them housed in small, family-like settings in various neighborhoods throughout Ramsey County rather than in a single large facility. They will still need a facility for "out-patient" work and schooling and to house staff, and right now it looks like that larger facility will be in Roseville - easily accessible by public transit and more centrally located than Boys Totem Town. The girls in the system, who have all previously been sent to Greater Minnesota or out-state, will likely be housed with Hennepin County, since that County already has a program for girls. Hennepin and Ramsey County remain committed to sharing programming knowledge and resources - just NOT a single facility.
The final decision about what will happen with the placement of youth offenders won't happen until June 2018, or perhaps a bit later. But in all likelihood, only a small portion of the Boys Totem Town site will be retained by the Ramsey County for its juvenile justice program. THIS IS NOT YET A FINAL DECISION, but it is looking more and more likely.
HOWEVER, because development of the smaller facilities and their placement throughout Ramsey County will take some time, Boys Totem Town would not be vacated for AT LEAST another 2 years. The City of Saint Paul is being encouraged (by Ramsey County) NOT to begin its process until closure of Boys Totem Town is imminent, probably in 2019.
A lot can happen between now and June 2018, let alone, between now and 2020... No one wants to spend time and money planning for an uncertainty. At this point, District 1 remains committed to its community-building efforts in the Boys Totem Town vicinity, beginning with a meeting in January 2018 with Commissioner Jim McDonough to provide the latest news and to answer questions. We are having some difficulty settling on a date and place for this meeting, but it should be in the week of January 22. The Boys Totem Town Work Group will not meet again until sometime after the January meeting.
Stay tuned for more news.
The August meeting of the Boys Totem Town Work Group had very limited attendance because of family and work obligations of many members. At this meeting, staff informed the group that, once again, the County has lengthened its timeline for its decisions about programming and the site. At this point, the County is no longer even guessing about a date by which they will make their decisions, but it could be more than a year from now.
As things progress, the District Council will reconvene both work group and community meetings on a regular basis so that everyone knows what is going on. Right now the only thing happening is that the County is trying to figure out what its juvenile justice programming will look like. Updates of the project will still be posted here as new information comes to us, and as we need to address misinformation that may be floating around the neighborhood.
The August meeting included a brainstorming session for how the Work Group’s community outreach will proceed given all this uncertainty. Work Group members were asked – Whose voices are still missing from our discussions? What obstacles are keeping them from participating? and How can we, as a work group and as individuals, reach out to them?
We identified the voices of renters, especially among people of color – both in single family homes and the apartments, immigrants, local business owners, young people, and families with children as those missing from the discussions to this point. We have heard other voices, recorded what was said and that information is not lost. But we need to hear from the entire community.
Obstacles to reaching these missing voices include not understanding the project and the process, being intimidated or turned off by the length of time involved and the process, the lack of specificity and the shifting timeline for decisions, lack of a local place to hold community meetings, lack of a sense of community generally, lack of trust in government, no sense of this area being a specific place/neighborhood, not being encouraged to think creatively and fear of being critiqued, and both miscommunication and lack of communication about the process and project.
We decided that we need to start by building trust between the “missing voices” and our organization, build a sense of community among those same voices, then build connections across this community to the community of homeowners. This will all be done in a variety of facilitated discussions within small groups of people – in different settings and different opportunities that come up. We will use the data gathered from surveying residents at the Peace Celebration (see summary below) to define topics around which the small groups will meet. Once the trust and sense of commonality is created we should be ready to re-engage around the BTT process itself. By then the County should be ready to decide what they will do with the site.
The other part of the meeting was a debriefing of the Peace Celebration held on July 22 and a discussion of the survey results.
Forty people were surveyed. We estimate this was between 15 and 20% of the attendees. Unfortunately demographic data of those participating were not collected so we cannot be sure that the results reflect those “missing voices” we were trying to hear from. 32 of the 40 people surveyed lived in District 1 and 32 of 40 had heard of Boys Totem Town. HOWEVER, there was not a one-to-one correlation between living in District 1 and having heard of BTT. Those not from District 1 lived mostly in Daytons Bluff, but there were also some from other neighborhoods. All responses are included in this summary, regardless of where people lived. Most people provided more than one answer to each question. We grouped similar answers and identified themes. (The complete data set can be found in a file on this page – peacesurvey.pdf)
Question 1 – What would you like to see at BTT? Twenty people responded that they would like to see programmed space at the site (places to gather to participate in programming – for example, a place for gatherings, nature center, teen center, swimming pool, etc). Fifteen people mentioned unprogrammed open space (trails, greenspace, dog park, etc.). Twelve people mentioned food related spaces (urban agriculture, community garden, food shelf – particularly mentioning a focus on providing for people in need). Eleven people mentioned job or specific commercial endeavors (workforce center, jobs for youth, board game café, etc.). Nine people mentioned housing (affordable housing – both apartments and single-family homes, senior housing, etc.). Three people specifically mentioned mixed use development (including both commercial, housing and open space). There were three miscellaneous comments – “not a prison”, “safety is important”, and “need more info and to learn more”.
Question 2 – What would you like to be able to walk to in the neighborhood? Thirteen people mentioned shopping amenities/opportunities (including ice cream shop, coffee shop, grocery, restaurant, brewery etc.). Thirteen people mentioned park facilities (both programmed and unprogrammed…) (trails, rec center, dog park, swimming pool, open space). Two mentioned types of gathering spaces (library, common meeting space). There were four mentions of miscellaneous amenities especially around transportation issues/access, but this category also included “my neighbors”. Eight people did not answer and one said the question didn’t apply in this area because of “Nature”.
Question 3 – What is needed in the community? Eleven people mentioned programmed recreational space (better teen programs, rec center, gym, swimming pool, trails, park etc.). Ten people said leave it as it is/no change or gave no answer. Eight people mentioned safety (need for more police, slower speeds, etc.). Six people mentioned community gathering space/sense of community (place to mingle, have events and learn to be safe). Four people mentioned improved transportation options (multimodes). Three people mentioned address poverty (affordable housing, food shelf etc.). Two people mentioned commercial amenities (coffee shop and “more businesses like in Hamline Midway”[?]. Miscellaneous comments included increased outreach from government and others, and “get rid of Tom Emmer”.
As mentioned above, there are some recurring themes in this survey that can be addressed regardless of what happens with the Boys Totem Town site – safety, for example. In addition, it is clear that people are unaware of what amenities are available within walking distance of the site – e.g., Battle Creek dog park, Battle Creek Water Park (although it can be expensive), existing coffee shops, playgrounds at both Highwood Hills and Taylor Park. So opportunities exist for the district council to work toward existing community goals, and we will do so…
The Boys Totem Town Work Group met on this date to continue learning so that we can have better information for the general public. As part of the discussion we reaffirmed the purpose of this work group: to build community locally, identify potential leaders for the future, provide background, and ultimately generate a proposal for a local vision. This does not replace the city process which will again engage neighbors and many others.
As yet there is no county decision on juvenile justice program needs, which will lead to city decisions on the BTT land – whether to retain all of it for current purposes, retain part of the land and sell some of it, or sell all of the land. Bill Dermody of the City of St. Paul's Planning and Economic Development said the county may not make these decisions until the end of the year. The city will not begin any process until those decisions are made. If there is a decision to sell, it is the city’s responsibility to determine what the zoning – possible uses of the land – will be.
We had two agenda items for this meeting: a presentation from Bill Dermody, and planning for the Peace Celebration effort to continue gathering input on Boys Totem Town from neighbors.
Bill explained that when the county makes its decision, the city planning commission will set up a task force to guide staff in developing recommendations for the site. The task force will be eight community members selected by planning commission chair Betsy Reveal. Many people will likely apply. This is NOT the same as the District 1 BTT Work Group. The whole process (which is unlikely to start before January 2018) is estimated to take 12 – 18 months.
The process will involve not just the task force but also the broader public – people who live nearby, other stakeholders, and Ramsey County, the latter remaining the landowner throughout. Ramsey County has committed that they will not sell the land until the city process is complete, although they are not required to wait by law. The broader public will be engaged, likely both early and late in the process, including via formal public hearings. At the end of the task force process, staff will have written a recommendation, which then goes to the planning commission for hearings, and after that (if approved or revised) to the city council for hearing.
In the task force process, staff will bring in technical information such as limitations for slope and wetlands. Bill’s rough estimate is that the steep slopes are the most significant factors, and that maybe one-fourth of the land is unbuildable for that reason – if there were a recommendation to build at all. The process could include a request to the city for funding, probably a few thousand dollars, to do a market analysis. For example, if there were a desire to build any kind of housing, is there a market for housing at that cost?
A zoning study could take place during the development of plan and recommendations, or after. Two points on zoning. One, Bill acknowledged and others present confirmed that although the Highwood Plan passed in 1993 and re-approved in 1999 has been superseded by other plans, there is still in current documents the key sentence we have learned about, a statement that if BTT ever closes, that the land should be held as “open space.” That does not mean, however, that the zoning could never change. These plans, in general, tend to change about every ten years.
Two, Bill said the current zoning status of Boys Totem Town is R4, which means in theory the county could sell the land to build single family homes on lots of about one-fourth of an acre – which Bill thinks could in theory be about 40 homes. No city action (zoning change) would be needed for that to happen. However, Bill believes the county will wait for the process to unfold, and he noted that city councilmember Jane Prince has been vocal that they need to hear from local residents.
What if potential developers contacted the city or county before the city task force begins work? Bill said they would probably be referred to the county – but the county would alert city and everyone if there were any “red flags” of possible uses that seemed in great conflict with the directions being expressed to date by neighbors and the work group and District 1. The BTT site will never be as attractive to developers as the Ford site was, with strong access to population center, transit, and other development.
We thank Bill for his great review of what the process is likely to be when and if the county makes the relevant decisions.
The group then made plans for gathering input at the EastSide Community Peace Celebration set for July 22, 3pm-7pm at Battle Creek Rec. This event is organized by Amin Omar and friends, not by District 1 – but Amin has agreed to let the BTT work group have a booth and undertake a survey there, to reach people we have not yet reached. For example, many young families may be there for the bounce houses and more. Volunteers from the work group will have maps of D1 and Totem Town and other materials. They will ask survey questions similar to what we have asked at previous community meetings, including “what is needed in your community”?
After the July 22nd event, many of us will participate in events like National Night Out and organize outreach efforts to gather more inputs. We will be planning another large community event focusing on Boys Totem Town for the fall.
Our apologies for not getting last month's notes out earlier. We have been extremely busy in the office with the City-wide Drop Off Day, completing our Equity Plan, getting community gardens off to their seasons, and a remodel of our office... As well as our regular day-to-day work with residents...
In May, the Work Group met to try out a new method for gathering input from the community - an individual and group mapping exercise. The method did not show promise for large group work, so staff has been reformulating other approaches to gather as much input from as many neighbors as possible. We hope to use a modified version of this mapping exercise in small groups in the future. We will roll out our new large group approach at the July 22 Peace Celebration at Battle Creek Rec (3-7p), a family-oriented celebration of cultures that is being organized by a local Somali resident.
In June, we heard from Jim Erchul of the Dayton's Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services to learn about how potential developers would look at a site like Totem Town and assess whether they would invest and, if so, how they might envision development. This led to a very informative discussion about the limitations and potentials of the site - what is attractive and what is problematic, from the developer's point of view. We learned about developers' dislike of uncertainty in the outcome of their efforts - uncertainty arising from regulatory constraints, lack of preparedness and agreement on the part of neighbors, and costs of basic infrastructure. We also learned - or were confirmed in our sense - that it is extremely important that we, as a neighborhood and as a City, have a master plan for the site. We invited Jim because DBNHS is not a developer that would take on a site like this one, but one that has experience in innovative approaches to neighborhood development and with dealing with governmental partners on a regular basis. He provided deep insight into how the City and County approach projects.
We want to publicly thank Jim and DBNHS for their willingness to help in our education around these issues. As Work Group members share what they learned with their neighbors, we become better prepared for the future that we will be building together.
We still await a decision by Ramsey County for how they envision their juvenile justice facilities meeting their juvenile justice program needs. In the meantime, we continue to gather ideas for what the neighborhood and the district considers the best use for this site.
We hope to see neighbors on July 22 at Battle Creek Rec, and still plan a large community meeting about the site in the fall, with updates from the County and (we hope) more details from the City about their processes. Stay tuned...
The April 10 meeting of the Boys Totem Town Workgroup involved a lengthy discussion of the March 25 community workshop, which is summarized in an earlier blog. Each of the four groups' facilitator teams reviewed the discussions in their groups and then commented on what worked and didn't work in the format and process of the workshop. We also outlined what type of information still seems to be either lacking or misunderstood about the objectives and process of this work. Our summary of the workshop tries to address the misunderstandings that remain.
The rest of the meeting was a presentation about housing issues in the Metropolitan area, and goals for meeting future housing needs by the City of Saint Paul. The purpose was to educate the work group members on housing issues, NOT to say that we are looking at housing for the BTT site specifically. We heard a history of the interaction of race, poverty and housing and how this history has resulted in the concentration of low income and "affordable housing" within certain neighborhoods. We reviewed the results of the predatory lending practices of financial institutions during the housing bubble and its aftermath on communities of color and low income communities. We looked at the City's Comprehensive Plan (2010 version) related to housing, at the District 1 Community Plan related to housing, and at data in the City's Consolidated Plan that sets HUD housing goals. The latter identifies roughly 50 new low income housing units needed in District 1 as a whole, with an emphasis on such housing being along transit corridors. Looking at people's housing AND transportation needs in combination is vital to creating successful housing.
This presentation was one of many that provide background to the work group as it assesses input it gets from our community workshops. Previous presentations have included one on the Highwood Plan and on demographic change in District 1.
The fully transcribed notes to the meeting are a downloadable file on this page. All of these comments have been recorded for analysis as this process continues. What is presented here is a summary of the workshop based on comments from the small group facilitators.
The workshop had about 45 attendees who had an opportunity to tour the Boys Totem Town site in addition to working in one of 4 small groups. The guiding questions for each of the discussion groups were:
1) What does community mean to you?
2) How do you envision this area for your grandchildren?
3) What makes a community a good and healthy place to live?
4) What are some opportunities for our community to work together?
5) What is it that you would like to know about this site and this process?
We had also hoped to ask participants if there were any surprises for them as they toured the site for the first time OR with new eyes/perspective after participating in this process. However, due to programmatic issues within the Totem Town facility, the tours took longer to get started, and longer to finish, so there wasn’t time to ask this important question.
If you went on the tour, and there were any surprises for you, please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope that even long-time residents took the opportunity to tour with their eyes opened to new perspectives given our discussions.
Essentially the four themes identified in our first meeting – preserve the natural character, develop a community gathering space, increase access, and include all ages – were still evident in the comments in small groups at this gathering. However, the emphasis was somewhat more slanted toward community building and a gathering space than previously. The attendees included both those who were at the January meeting, and people brand new to the process. The general sense from the facilitators was that, although this workshop was not as diverse as the earlier one, the spirit of it was far less confrontational and far more collaborative.
Responses to the question about grandchildren – thinking about this area in the future – focused on increased access to an essentially unchanged site, but one located within a neighborhood that was better connected and more active socially. Respondents were interested in community gatherings, both structured and unstructured (i.e., organic), that were participated in by all cultures and ages.
A lot of questions remained about how this work fits into a process that is, itself, not well understood. There were a lot of requests for detailed information that implied that the city has begun, and is deep into, a planning process already.
This latter assumption is simply not true. THERE IS NO FORMAL CITY PROCESS UNDERWAY. NO DECISION HAS BEEN MADE YET BY THE COUNTY ABOUT WHAT IT NEEDS TO DO FOR THEIR JUVENILE CORRECTIONS PROGRAM. So let’s try to clear up what is happening now and how it relates to what may happen in the future.
NOW – 1) Ramsey County is researching what is the best plan for matching their Juvenile Justice program with its correctional facilities. They HOPE to have some decision made by their summer budget-setting deadline.
2) District 1 is in the process of building community in the Totem Town area by holding workshops and meet-ups for different segments of the neighborhood. This community building focuses on discussions of general visions of the neighborhood and is not a formal planning process – more preparatory.
3) The City is doing nothing at this time about this site. They have a general format for a formal planning process SHOULD THE COUNTY DECIDE TO SELL ALL OR PART OF THE SITE. This format is similar to what it has done at the Ford Plant and the Soccer stadium sites – but on a shortened timeframe.
SOON (within 1 year) – 1) Ramsey County decides what kinds of facilities it needs for its programs and where those facilities will be located. IF they decide to retain all or part of the current site, there will be a review of their plans to build by the City. IF they decide to sell all or part of the current site, they will wait for a city planning process to play out before “putting out the for sale sign.”
2) District 1 continues with its community building process with a stronger focus on defining DISTRICT 1’s recommendation to the City about use of the site. It also works to identify leaders within the community who it would recommend to serve on any City task force.
SOON (within 1-2 years) – 1) The City establishes its Totem Town planning group as a part of its formal planning process. The planning process will include a zoning study of the site done by professionals but open to comments from interested parties (individuals and organizations). This formal process will include formal public outreach efforts and hearings.
2) District 1 makes its formal organizational recommendation for the site to the City planning group as a part of the public hearings.
FUTURE (3-5 years) – 1) Ramsey County builds new juvenile justice facilities and fully institutes its juvenile justice program. It may or may not sell all or part of the current site.
2) Outside developers (IF THE SITE IS FOR SALE…) would purchase and any plans they proposed would go through a formal city review process with a public hearing.
It is important to understand that District 1 is NOT responsible for deciding how the site will be used. It has only an advisory role in that decision-making. Individuals also are encouraged to give their input. District 1’s formal responsibility at this time – specifically funded by the Saint Paul and Bigelow Foundations – is to build community in this area of changing demographics. Our formal responsibility once the City begins its process is to advise about use of the site based on the whole district of which this neighborhood is one part.
For the March meeting of the Boys Totem Town Work Group, we spent about a third of the meeting with updates about the neighborhood and outlining what we know and what we do NOT know about the site... the rest of the meeting was spent planning for the upcoming Community Workshop on Saturday, March 25 from 12:30p to 2:30p. The workshop will be held at Boys Totem Town in Koehler Hall (follow the signs to the hall...) and will include an opportunity to tour a portion of the grounds and the buildings. Staff has been working with Totem Town staff to make this event a fun and informative one.
The most recent news from the County is that they have not made - and are not ready to make - a decision about the direction they take with regard to how they will configure programming, and, from that, how they will need to site new facilities. However, they reiterate that their decision about Boys Totem Town will be based on what is best for the youth they are responsible for in the juvenile justice system. They also reiterate that they have heard from juvenile justice advocates that smaller facilities embedded in the communities from which the youth come are the ideal.
In terms of what happens to the Boys Totem Town site itself - the future potential use of the land (which is determined by the City, not the County) - this focus by the County means that if they retain the current site, they will be unlikely to need the full parcel.
So we proceed with our visioning and community building, thinking about what is best for all the people who live in this area. Any changes at the site including any construction would not even start for several more years. There is a lot of time and a lot of community building still to be done.
We hope to see people at the workshop on the 25th. There will be pizza and there will also be activities for children, if families attend.
What we were formerly calling the Boys Totem Town Task Force is now called the Boys Totem Town Work Group, to try to help clarify what the group does...
The group met on Monday, February 13, to assess the input of the first community workshop and to plan for the next workshop, coming in March. The notes to that meeting are listed here.
The tentative plan is to hold the next community workshop at the end of March. An exact date and location is currently being negotiated. Check back here for an update.
Thanks to Crystal Rogers for her work transcribing the attached notes. The participants were asked 4 questions - 1) what do you leave the neighborhood for to find elsewhere? 2) what issues and challenges do each of us face living in this neighborhood? 3) in a perfect world, what do you want to see in the neighborhood? 4) in a perfect world, what do you want to do in the neighborhood?
The responses varied and did not always correspond to the questions asked. No attempt has been made here to analyze the results - that will be the work of the Task Force. There were several groups of people answering the same questions. The notes are presented for each group.
District 1 Council Staff