Minneapolis approves extended liquor store hours

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Despite some public safety concerns, the Minneapolis City Council on Friday approved a measure that would allow city liquor stores to extend their operating hours until 10 p.m. six days a week.

The move, on a 10-3 vote, completes a rather odd chapter in the city’s off-sale liquor history. The council last spring, in response to a 2005 state law, was essentially forced into extending off-sale operating hours. The state law—and the ordinance—expired on June 1, with the idea that the council would revisit the matter.

But Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said it was a bad idea then and remains a bad idea now. Glidden, who represents an area south of Lake Street, said residents in her ward have long complained about public drunkedness, empty beer and wine bottles, and public urination around liquor stores. “It’s a public health issue,” she said. “And I don’t believe there’s been adequate notice for residents.”

Council Member Paul Ostrow called the idea “the wrong direction to go” and noted that the only reason the council was even considering extending the hours was because the state legislature “foisted” the issue on the city in 2005. And to extend the hours, he argued would create a public safety problem. “We’re going to see a huge uptick in crime,” he said.

Ostrow added that the earlier closing times weren’t hurting liquor store business in the city, because few neighboring municipalities had longer hours. But Council Member Gary Schiff disputed that point, noting that “consumers are already going the extra mile” by making the short jaunt up Central Avenue to Columbia Heights, whose off-sale establishments currently stay open until 10 p.m.

As for concerns about public safety, Schiff said that in the months since the hours were extended, police reported only three 911 calls to liquor stores. “If there are issues, we can deal with them,” he said.

The earlier closing times are the result of “archaic” laws, which send the wrong message to people who may be considering moving to the city, said Council Member Ralph Remington. “It makes us look like a puritanical, nanny city.”

Remington added that the law does not force any liquor store to extend its hours against its will. “Business owners have a choice. They can stay open until 8 or they can stay open until 10,” he pointed out. “We shouldn’t mandate what people should do.”

More taxi cab licenses forthcoming
The city will add up to 45 new taxi cab licenses per year for the next four years before eliminating the cap on licenses altogether in response to what some critics are calling a decline in the quality of service from the current cab companies.

“We can see what happens to the quality of service when we allow a cartel to dominate the industry,” said Gary Schiff, who noted that the city now has fewer cabs per capita than Cleveland, Atlanta, and other cities in the country.

Paul Ostrow said the City Council had not been monitoring the issue adequately. By law, the number of licenses should be evaluated every eight years.

Latino cab drivers have been pressuring the city in recent months to expand the number licenses in the city from its current 343. They have complained that established cab companies have not been providing good service to the Latino community.

The council will begin holding public hearings on the matter in the weeks ahead. “It’s a unique opportunity,” said Schiff.

The measure passed on a 12-0-1 vote, with Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy abstaining.

Transfer station sold to make way for biomass plant
The council cleared the way Friday for a local development group to acquire the city’s South Transfer Station and build a new biomass power plant on the site. The $86 million power plant will use wood waste and other biomass to generate electricity for the Phillips neighborhood and the surrounding area.

“It’s a step ahead on several fronts,” said Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy, who noted that the plant will not only generate power, but also help the Park Board dispose of its wood waste from diseased and downed trees. “This will be a partnership that will help the Park Board save money,” she said.

A new transfer station, which will include the city’s first household hazardous waste drop-off site, is being considered on a site in Southeast Minneapolis.

Plan to install cameras in Cedar-Riverside postponed
Cedar-Riverside residents who were hoping to have surveillance cameras installed this summer will have to wait awhile longer. The council voted to postpone its decision on the cameras for three weeks in order for staff and council members to evaluate the public safety needs of other neighborhoods.

Council Member Cam Gordon, who represents the area, suggested postponing the action in response to criticism from his colleagues about putting cameras in the relatively calm Cedar-Riverside neighborhood when more crime-ridden neighborhoods are still waiting for solutions.

“It’s a very good move,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak. But he added that the council shouldn’t limit itself to simply weighing the needs of one neighborhood against the other. “Let’s not just have a conversation about how to divide the pie. Let’s get a bigger pie. I’m committed to that.”

He said he would work to include more surveillance cameras across the city in his 2007 budget. “I don’t think we should slow [Cedar-Riverside] down, but speed up the others.”

Council Member Don Samuels, whose Fifth Ward is home to some of the most troubled neighborhoods, said he was “thrilled” by the technology now available to fight crime. He noted that the new citywide Wi-Fi infrastructure could be used to spread the cameras throughout the city at a lower cost than first estimated. “It’s going to be a new day,” he said.

On questions of privacy, Samuels said, “No civil libertarian outcry is happening because the residents are already saying we are less free.”

In other action, the council:
• Sent the resolution that would put a charter referendum allowing Instant Runoff Voting on the November ballot back to the Charter Commission because of a mistake in the wording of the referendum. The council will take up the matter at its August 4 meeting.
• Introduced an ordinance that would require the police chief to discipline police officers cited in citizen complaints that are sustained by the Civilian Review Authority.

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