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Friday, January 13, 2006

Fisking Joe Soucheray on Nicollet Island-DeLaSalle Controversy

Posted here with author's permission:

Date: January 4, 2006 8:23:38 AM CST
Subject: PiPress Soucheray "correction" / what they should correct

The St. Paul Pioneer Press today chose not to print any of the letters it has received responding to Joe Soucheray's column on DeLaSalle and Nicollet Island, either in the letters section, the op-ed page, or the corrections section.

Instead it reprinted 72 words of Soucheray's column in order to add two that had been left out:

Corrections:
Pioneer Press, Jan. 4, 2005

Local news: Several words were omitted from a paragraph in Joe Soucheray's column on Sunday. The paragraph should have read: "And when the school got healthy again they could finally pursue that field, which they did, in 2004. Only to find that the same residents who had been welcomed by DeLaSalle students with petitions in 1983 now intended to block the development of the field. Not all island residents, but the ones with clout, the legislator and lawyers and other DFL insiders who have come to view the place as their own private idyll."

This is how the original sentence read in Sunday's paper: "Only to find that the same residents who had welcomed DeLaSalle students with petitions in 1983 now intended to block the development of the field."

SOUCHERAY:
DeLaSalle High School, located on Minneapolis'
Nicollet Island for 106 years, has been trying to build its own football field next to the school. The school has never had its own field and won't if Phyllis Kahn, who has lived on the island for about 20 years, has anything to say about it.

FACT:
The school has had its own field since 1984, after it successfully petitioned the City of Minneapolis to vacate 20 feet of public right-of-way along one block of Grove Street to create a regulation size football field.

SOUCHERAY:
DeLaSalle preceded any current resident of the island by at least 84 years.

FACT:
That is because no island resident is 106 years old. The neighborhood on Nicollet Island preceded any current high school, whose current campus was carved out of a dense residential area, by at least 34 years.

SOUCHERAY:
In 1983, in a document jointly agreed upon by the Minneapolis Park Board and the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, Nicollet Island would become parkland, with business to the south of the high school and residents to the north. That document included language that the park board, by any means deemed appropriate — meaning who might pay for it — was obligated to build a field adjacent to the school. Miraculously, the tumbledown old Victorian homes went to the likes of Kahn and others who were aides to council members, or aides to Mayor Don Fraser, or lawyers who represented various members of the club, a DFL club. You can look it up. They pay taxes on their homes, but not on the land. That is what is called a sweetheart deal.

FACT: Distribution of redevelopment rights was by public lottery. You can look it up. The "aides to Mayor Don Fraser" Soucheray refers to is in fact one person, who when she bought her house in the mid-1990s was no longer an aide to Mayor Don Fraser, just as Don Fraser was no longer mayor. She bought her house on the open real estate market, as anyone else buys a house, after another potential buyer walked away from the deal.

SOUCHERAY:
In 1983, the school was in no position to build the field they had permission to build.

FACT:
DeLaSalle did build a regulation football field on adjacent public land (the Grove Street right-of-way) in 1984.

And when the school got healthy again they could finally pursue that field, which they did, in 2004.

SOUCHERAY (as corrected in Jan. 4 newspaper):
And when the school got healthy again they could finally pursue that field, which they did, in 2004. Only to find that the same residents who had been welcomed by DeLaSalle students with petitions in 1983 now intended to block the development of the field. Not all island residents, but the ones with clout, the legislator and lawyers and other DFL insiders who have come to view the place as their own private idyll.

FACT:
Only one current island resident is on record supporting the DeLaSalle stadium. Others, including those living in a low-income housing co-operative, and many with no DFL ties whatsoever, have signed petitions (and even worked to gather more than 1400 petition signatures) asking the city not to close a public street and public parkland to a private institution.

SOUCHERAY: "If they passed one park board requirement, the next thing you know, they needed a citizens advisory committee."

FACT: A citizens advisory committee (CAC) is required by city ordinance for any project of a certain size requiring transfer of control of park land. The DeLaSalle stadium proposed to be built on public property was going to require a citizens advisory committee from the moment it was proposed. But even putting that aside, Soucheray's statement is wrong. The "one park board requirement" to which Soucheray refers (because it is the only requirement before creation of a CAC) is a public hearing, which is also required by ordinance. The public hearing for the DeLaSalle stadium proposal took place at the same Aug. 17 park board meeting at which the park board authorized a citizens advisory committee for the committee. And at that meeting, the public hearing took place AFTER the park board created the CAC, not before as Soucheray states.

SOUCHERAY: "When the citizens advisory committee found in favor, they needed a new environmental assessment worksheet."

FACT: First of all, the word "new" implies that there was an old environmental assessment worksheet; there was not. Secon, the need for an environmental assessment worksheet in reality came BEFORE the citizen's advisory committee. On Aug. 11 the state Environmental Quality Board ruled that a petition for an EAW was valid and the city immediately issued a stay on all permanent actions regarding the DeLaSalle stadium. On Sept. 2 the city council voted to require a mandatory EAW. Not until Oct. 4 did the MPRB citizens advisory committee decide in favor of the project, more than a month AFTER the need for an EAW was established (And in contrast to what Soucheray implies, DeLaSalle itself asked the city council on Sept. 2 to complete an envrionmental awareness worksheet.)

SOUCHERAY: Most recently, the permission to build the field was bounced from the City Council back to the park board. Nobody really knows why; it's Alice in Wonderland.

FACT: No, it's state law. Once an EAW process begins for a proposed project, governement agencies like the Minneapolis park board must delay permanent action until after the EAW is complete. Simple as that. In Minneapolis, St. Paul, or anyplace in the state of Minnesota.

SOUCHERAY: What the school needs to do is vacate a small stretch of Grove Street between East Island Avenue and Nicollet Street to have a field that runs north-south just north of the school. That would capture a scrubby little piece of earth, much of it on school property, that is bordered on the north by railroad tracks.

FACT: In order to have the field it proposes, the school needs not only to vacate a public city street, but also to be given control of more than an acre of public parkland that cost taxpayers $1.1 million and carries a restrictive deed covenant specifically prohibiting athletic fields. That is Soucheray's "scrubby little piece of earth" and none of it is on school property.

SOUCHERAY: You would think we were talking about ripping out Old Faithful. Oh, but there is a cry that such historic pavement on Grove Street should not be destroyed. Right. Those bricks were laid in 1996 when the park board built some tennis courts.

FACT: The park board did not build the tennis courts in 1996. They were built in 1999. It is also disingenous and willful misdirection to state only that "the park board built some tennis courts." The tennis courts were built at the specific request and for the specific use of DeLaSalle High School. The school does in fact have priority use of the courts and the park board has never put up a sign to show they are public courts.

SOUCHERAY: The entire claim of historical significance has been a disingenuous sham. That island was left to the city's forgotten souls. Only the school remained true to it, remained true through all the years.

FACT: Through good times and bad, a residential neighborhood has existed on Nicollet Island continuously since 1866. The statement that "only the school remained true" to the island is false. It is Soucheray who chooses to conveniently forget the souls who resided there before DeLaSalle was established and since.

SOUCHERAY:
The only historical significance on that island is the school.

FACT: Nicollet Island is part of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, with both national and local designation. Most of its buildings are listed as contributed structures to the historic district.


The Soucheray column also made a bunch of attacks on Phyllis Kahn - and made it seem that this was just a Phyllis Kahn issue - rather than an issue for lot of Nicollet Island residents. Phyllis Kahn is an easy target for reporters.

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