Council rejects bid to restrict alley traffic

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Minneapolis alleyways will continue to be open to garden gazers and other curious pedestrians after the City Council on Friday soundly rejected a call to limit access to the city’s 455 miles of backyard thoroughfares. The 10–3 vote against the proposed ordinance marked a decisive victory for civil liberties over public safety.

“How much of our liberty are we willing to give up?” asked Council Member Paul Ostrow. “It sends all the wrong messages.”

Council Member Cam Gordon, who led the effort to kill the plan, stressed that the ordinance would invite racial profiling, discourage homeowners from getting to know their neighbors, and do little to combat crime. “This is a one-size-fits-all across the city approach that doesn’t work,” he said.

The proposed ordinance, authored by Council Member Robert Lilligren, would prohibit anyone from walking down an alley whose property did not connect to the alley. Also exempted were invited guests, utility workers, and others with official business in the alley. Lilligren argued that the measure simply expanded current laws that restricted vehicular traffic in alleyways. “These are not public thoroughfares,” he said.

It quickly became apparent, though, that the council was split between high-crime and low-crime areas on the issue. Lilligren, who represents Ward 6, which includes the Whittier and Phillips neighborhoods, where drug dealing and prostitution are common, found his strongest supporter in Council Member Don Samuels, whose Fifth Ward is home to the bulk of the city’s homicides this year.

Lilligren admitted that the ordinance “may seem useless and frivolous” to those representing less troubled neighborhoods, but he argued that it would be tool for police to help “take back our alleys.”

Samuels went further still, noting in a passionate call for action that he’s been propositioned “several times” in the alley behind his own home and suggesting that those council members representing parts of the city with less crime were too “squeamish” about civil liberties. “Please remember that there are some neighborhoods in this city that are under siege,” he said, adding that “we may have to give up some liberties” in order to squelch the virulent crime in pockets of the city. “Some invasions need to happen,” he said. “We’re going to have to do some things we haven’t done.”

Lilligren concurred. “Walking down an alley isn’t a right, “ he said. “It’s a privilege.”

Restricting access, however, would hamper what Gordon said was one of the city’s best crime-fighting tools—ordinary residents exploring their neighborhood. If there is a crime problem in alleyways, he said, the answer isn’t to restrict the citizens, it’s to deploy more police.

“It’s a little bit of false hope,” said Council Member Gary Schiff. A more restrictive ordinance wouldn’t result in better enforcement; a call to 911 on an alley trespasser would be handled as a Priority III emergency, with a response time of around 30 minutes. A better solution would be to organize an “Alley Night Out” as a way of highlighting community crime prevention efforts on those thoroughfares.

Council president Barbara Johnson threw her support behind the ordinance, pointing to fears here constituents have expressed about alleyway crime, but it was not enough to sway the vote.

In other action . . .
• The council postponed action on a controversial ordinance that would require retailers restrict access to spray paint. Retailers have protested the idea of storing spray paint in a locked cabinet, storage room, or behind the counter and ordinance author Gary Schiff agreed to put off a vote while city staff explore a partnership with the National Council on Teenage Delinquency, which has funded underage compliance programs with liquor stores and bars. “It may render the proposal to lock up spray paint unnecessary,” Schiff said.

• Council members will be allowed to use the city’s official seal on their business cards and printed material instead of the 1950s-era sailboat logo, but city staff will continue to research the creation of a new city logo and tagline, despite concerns voiced by several council members. “Using contemporary graphic design to market the city is always going to be dated,” said Schiff. “We should step away from a marketing approach we’re going to regret in a few years,” he said. Still, the council voted 10–3 to continue to develop a new logo, with Schiff, Sandra Colvin Roy, and Lisa Goodman dissenting.

• With supporters lauding the significance of the concept, the council approved the selection of U.S. Internet to build and operate the city’s new wireless Internet system. Cam Gordon was the only dissenting voice, arguing that the council should be able to review the final terms of the 10-year contract before it goes into effect.

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