Sign-on Letter: Response to Route Modification Proposal, May 2022

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. In April 2022, the project team released its route recommendation and once again we are deeply disappointed to see a missed opportunity to break away from long-standing patterns of public planning that fail to prioritize or take concrete action to shift the predictable and disproportionate harms that impact our communities. 

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. 

That is why we are frustrated to see, in report after report, at every step of this very long process that we have been committed to for nearly a decade, the concerns of our communities — especially around anti-displacement issues — are bookmarked for later discussion, later action. We know that this approach ends up being too late for our families, our businesses and our lives. That’s why we have been putting forward concrete policy recommendations for years, including residential and commercial rent stabilization, tenant opportunity to purchase and more effective inclusionary zoning measures. Yet, once again, those recommendations are erased and our communities are asked to sit at another Anti-Displacement Work Group to reiterate to policymakers and project leaders what we already know and have made abundantly clear. 

The “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. And yet, this central and persistent concern is sidelined as a separate issue, warranting just a few paragraphs in the “Process Overview” in a 124-page report. While the report is replete with timelines for all aspects of the project there is NO time table for the adoption of these crucial protections for our communities. We have made clear that anti-displacement measures must be the foundation, the backbone, upon which this project is built, and yet again we see the same patterns at play that push our communities out of their homes and businesses. 

Let us be clear, this will be NOT BE a “community-supported route” unless:

  • Clearly communicated concerns around gentrification are addressed first — not left to 2023 or beyond following the conclusion of a county work group
  • Strong anti-displacement policies are in place — not simply proposed for future adoption without any assurance that those protections will materialize 
  • Significant financial resources are secured to ensure increased ownership and stability for marginalized businesses and residents — not an unmet aspiration left to the political will of future leaders  

There is an urgent need to redress the disinvestment and lack of transit options our neighborhoods have endured for generations. Once again, we reiterate that the project must address the following: 

  • MITIGATE harm: In all phases of this project — from pre-development to post-construction — historically and systemically marginalized communities will be disproportionately negatively impacted by the Blue Line extension. Even with the best of intentions, we know that much of the new development will not be accessible to our residents, corporate speculation will buy out or undermine many of our businesses, rising property values will push out lower-income families and massive disruption to neighborhoods and businesses during construction will cause emotional stress and economic strain. It is not an unintended consequence when we can clearly predict the outcome. That is why the project must outline a mitigation fund for each phase of the project that is commensurate with the size and scope of the project — and the demographic of residents and business owners along the corridor.  For the Green Line LRT project, for instance, nearly $16 million in public funding was invested before and during the project construction to mitigate disruption to businesses along the route. We know that, even with the addition of nearly $12 million in philanthropic support through the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative this was nowhere near enough to support business, housing and other development that maintained or increased the prosperity of historically and systemically marginalized communities. Therefore, given the dramatically larger scope and geography of the Blue Line Extension Project, Hennepin County and Met Council leaders must commit to a minimum of $150 million in public funds — and a commitment to raise $150 million more through private and philanthropic sources — to protect our communities from displacement and economic harm. 
  • ARTICULATE benefits: Yes, our communities deserve fast, affordable and reliable transportation options. But we also deserve to benefit from the billions in investment that will come along with this publicly funded infrastructure project. Much like a stadium or mega-development, the Blue Line extension will create new opportunities along the corridor and have massive ripple effects in the adjacent neighborhoods. Immigrants and communities of color who live and work along the corridor must have clear and binding commitments from each government entity engaged in the Blue Line as well as each contractor that is hired to do work on the Blue Line that articulate expected outcomes with detailed timelines — and accountability measures if those outcomes are not met. This must directly involve and center systemically and historically marginalized people in the community and could take the form of a Community Benefits Agreement or other model. 
  • LEGISLATE protections: We remain hopeful that the Anti-Displacement Work Group will produce strong recommendations — but we simply cannot wait for the conclusion of yet another process of studying a problem for which our communities have already proposed solutions. Prior to route recommendation approval by Hennepin County and the Met Council, we need corridor cities to commit to the passage of essential anti-displacement measures — including those outlined in the Blue Line Coalition 2022 Community Report and articulated in the demands from Harrison Neighborhood Association — before breaking ground on the project, because we know that once the first shovel hits the ground, it’s already too late.
  • COMMUNICATE effectively: There are still members of our community who live within a few blocks from — or directly on — the proposed route who have heard nothing about this project. We recognize that the county and Met Council have limited resources, but it is absolutely imperative and incumbent on project leaders to understand and implement communications strategies that effectively connect with the communities most impacted along the corridor. Hennepin County and Met Council leaders must commit to a minimum of $5 million in public funding to community-based and culturally connected organizations to disseminate relevant and comprehensible information through video, public arts, door knocking and other outreach activities. 

We want to believe in and support this project. But it MUST break harmful patterns by putting forward a route that addresses our communities’ needs first, not last. 

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. We know Hennepin County and Met Council leaders are claiming this will be a “community-supported” route and project. We do not agree. 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.

Signed by,

The Alliance
Harrison Neighborhood Association
Our Streets Minneapolis
Pueblos de Lucha y Esperanza
Pillsbury United Communities
Heritage Park Neighborhood Association
MICAH
Urban Homeworks
MN350
HOME Line

If your organization would like to sign on, please email ricardo@thealliancetc.org

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