January 25, 2022
Dear Governor Walz, Representative Omar, Commissioner Fernando, Commissioner Lunde, Chair Zelle, Mayor Frey, Council member Ellison,
The Blue Line Coalition is rooted in the BIPOC and immigrant communities that will be most impacted by the Blue Line Extension project. Since 2013, we have been working together to make sure government leaders recognize the Blue Line extension is a racial justice and regional equity issue and that community inclusion and leadership must be central to ALL planning and outcomes.
After nearly a decade of planning, and more than $100 million spent, the Met Council and Hennepin County announced in August 2020 that they were abandoning the previous route for the Blue Line Light Rail Extension project. Since March of 2021, the project team has been engaging community members along the new proposed routes with the goal of identifying a “community supported route” by April 2022.
We believe in this project because our communities have a right to quality transit projects and safety improvements. We see a vibrant future where fast, reliable transit options make it possible for a mother to attend her daughter’s soccer game instead of waiting on multiple bus transfers. We see train stops that serve and grow immigrant and BIPOC business districts that create wealth and stability in our cultural communities. We see safe street crossings that allow elders to walk to their community-owned grocery store.
But that requires a different planning approach — one that doesn’t aspire to equitable outcomes but takes the intentional steps at the appropriate time to achieve a different result.
Because of our decades of deep relational organizing and years of engagement on this project, the Blue Line Coalition has the expertise and solutions to advance equitable outcomes. Together, BLC partners have successfully advocated for community-centered approaches, including advocating for adequate funding to resource community organizations in building trusting relationships with people who have vital expertise but have been blocked from participation due to cultural, language, financial or other barriers; extending the timeline for the selection of a new route to create space for authentic community engagement; and centering the adoption of anti-displacement policies as an essential aspect of the planning process.
The “Draft Route Modification Report” only further underscores that displacement and gentrification are a broadly held and overwhelming concern of the communities most likely to be negatively impacted by development pressures and construction impacts from the project. While the report consistently elevates this concern our communities need more than recognition — they need action. We applaud the creation of the Anti-Displacement Work Group, but we must match the timelines of route selection and policy implementation to avoid yet another cycle of too-little too-late when it comes to protecting the interests and demands of our communities.
The “Draft Route Modification Report” also highlights how some touted aspects of community engagement continue to leave us out. For instance, 51% of respondents to the online survey were white, while just 6% were Black and 3% Latinx — and the majority earned more than $60,000 per year. In addition, the community engagement cohort lacked representation from Spanish-speaking organizations and important aspects of engagement, like the online map, were created only in English, leaving out large segments of the community who speak other languages. This project should and must include the input of all stakeholders, but these disparities in certain types of engagement must be acknowledged, transparently, in weighing community input.
And, more broadly, the community engagement process led by the project team continues to give only surface-level content to community members — for instance, visualizations of the proposed routes and stations — without any concrete information about the pre construction, during construction or post construction impacts that are essential to informed decision making. And the impact of the pandemic and uprising cannot be overstated in its impact on community-based outreach efforts, given the serious health concerns and ongoing trauma in our communities.
There is an urgent need to redress the disinvestment and lack of transit options our neighborhoods have endured for generations. The project will only have an authentic “community-supported route” when the project team:
- Continues to invest resources to learn from community members who are Black, Immigrant, Indigenous, People of Color, and who are underrepresented in the current engagement efforts but disproportionately impacted by development pressures; this includes involuntary displacement as a result of the construction of the Blue Line Extension Project. The representation on the engagement efforts should represent the demographic of the corridor.
- Before deciding on a “Community Selected Route”, allows CURA’s Anti Displacement Workgroup initiative to conduct their proposed work plan. This plan would develop deep awareness and buy-in from decision makers who will be in charge of implementing and enforcing policy solutions that create protections for tenants, production of affordable housing, and preservation of older stock of housing which is currently more affordable than market rate.
- Brings investment to the corridor and allows for the community to learn about those opportunities that can impact employment opportunities across the corridor, affordable housing, free fares for families and individuals who live on the blue line, business incubators, and other strategies that can help start the healing process in the area after decades of lack of investment and racist policies that have kept our communities from building wealth, power and influence.
This project can and MUST be different than those before it. There is no doubt that many light rail lines in our region — and across the country — have pushed out current residents, immigrants and communities of color from their homes and businesses. This is the moment that we can choose to make bold decisions that make this project an example of justice and equity for cities across the nation. Our communities have the solutions and we urge you to not just hear and study our concerns but work with us to create lasting change.