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Reclaim the space we need for housing by covering the freeways

Minneapolis had a half-million people … prior to the construction of the freeways. Now it has trouble housing 400,000. When the freeways were built, they ripped gashes through our neighborhoods that displaced tens of thousands of people. This was done not for the residents whose neighborhoods were divided or destroyed, but for the benefit of people passing through the Twin Cites, and to allow commuters to move quickly from the downtowns to the outer suburbs — while the central cities and inner suburbs lost space, destroying housing we’re now trying to replace on much less land. Minneapolis and Richfield are trying to cope with chronic housing shortages by zoning changes, increasing density, and protections for renters, but our core problem is simple: more housing requires more land.

The way we get that land is by covering the freeways, and reclaiming much of what was lost to us.

It sounds like a big disruptive project, but bigger and more disruptive than building the freeways in the first place? Had Minnesota built tunnels instead, it would have had to remove all the existing buildings, dig a big trench, lay the road, and put a roof on it strong enough to build on and reconnect the streets. Notice that all that actually happened anywhere freeways were built in trenches, except the part where we build the roof and rebuild the neighborhood.

Even if the roofs covering the freeways could support only single-family homes, that’s a great many single-family homes; and imagine being able to cross the freeways without having to figure out which streets cross, and which end in unexpected places leaving you to do your best Lewis and Clark impression trying to get turned back the right way.

The addition of large numbers of additional housing units will lower market prices, plus we can use a combination of mandates and subsidies to make sure much of the housing is affordable. Even where freeways were built at ground level, there will be stretches where we can build over the freeways and create space that can be used for something, even if not housing. An example is the roof over the stretch of Hiawatha Ave that runs though Minnehaha Park: the roof is part of the park, including a street that connects Minnehaha Parkway. Overpasses that are just wide enough to accommodate a street could be made much wider, perhaps not suitable for housing, but at least offering a place for more greenspace.

This is obviously a long term project, not just in construction, but in getting the support just to do it. I ask you to support me for your next state representative so I can get started on a long-term solution to our housing shortages: getting more land to build on.

Make college free for anyone who commits to living in Minnesota

The massive debt most people have to take on to attend college either discourages them from advancing their educations, or burdens them with debts that force them to make every life choice in terms of how it affects their ability to pay that debt. Start a business? No, have to make the debt payments. Buy a home? No, can’t pay a mortgage and the student loan debt. Start a family? Maybe not when you just bring debt to the marriage, and children are an unworkable expense when those debt payments have to be made.

At the same time, Minnesota’s economic growth lags the nation because of worker shortages.

It’s arguable whether we have an actual “brain drain”. That depends on the criteria, when a report came out, etc., but it’s inarguable that we aren’t retaining and attracting enough young adults to keep up, at the same time that young adults find their opportunities limited.

There’s a way to address both at the same time. I call it “Commit to Minnesota”.

Make post-secondary free: technical colleges, community colleges, universities. In exchange for getting their educations free, students must commit to living in the state five years after leaving school. If they leave the state earlier than five years after leaving school, then the cost of their educations turns into loans. After Minnesota invested in their educations, they’re going to stay in Minnesota and give us the benefit of that investment. If they leave even one day early, then they’re going to pay us back, every penny.

After living their first five years after school in Minnesota, they’ll likely at least have a job if not be on a career track they won’t want to give up. They may have gotten married, bought a home, even had children — after all, they aren’t weighed down by student loan payments. They’ll likely have higher incomes because of their educations, which means paying more in taxes.

And that’s how we fund the program.

This is a long-term investment. We will have to be patient enough to wait for the first people attending school under “Commit to Minnesota” to graduate, enter the workforce, get the higher wages their educations will get them, and pay more to the state in taxes than if they hadn’t gotten their educations — and of course more than if they had left the state after leaving school. Eventually, however, this program will become self-sustaining as the additional taxes cover the costs for the next students.

If you think Commit to Minnesota could work to make college affordable and stop or prevent any brain drain of young adults, then I ask for your support so I can get working on it.

Fight climate change with pumped hydro

There are really just three things you need to know to understand global warming: it’s real, it’s man-made, and it’s urgent. Actually, let’s add fourth: we’ve been spinning our wheels for decades trying to convince science deniers, even though their core goal is to remain unconvinced.

I understand the need to convince them when they hold enough political power to stop anything getting done, so maybe we need to acknowledge the reality that the first thing Democrats have to do is win elections. Only then can we get to arguments like solar versus wind instead of real versus unreal.

Let’s be optimistic, and assume climate change realists win elections. Then what do we do? I support connecting our solar farms and wind farms to pumped hydro systems.

The one reasonable objection to relying on renewables is the lack of baseload power, which means the times when the sun shines and the wind blows might not be the same times we need the power they generate, whereas the coal plant just puts more coal in the furnace. The need is for a way to store that power until it’s needed. Battery technology might reach that point … or it might not. Pumped hydro already exists, showing we can do it with current technology.

In a pumped hydro system, the power generated from solar cells or wind turbines is used to pump water uphill to a reservoir. Then, when the power is needed, the water is released to run downhill over turbines, just like when electricity is generated when a river runs through the turbines in a dam.

There is a risk that we’ll build pumped hydro systems, and then there will be a jump in battery technology that makes pumped hydro obsolete. However, if we wait, there’s a risk battery technology will never get where we need it, and we remain stuck choosing between nuclear and fossil fuels.

Minnesota needs to invest in pumped hydro plants now to allow renewables to become our primary sources of power and let us stop spewing greenhouse gases. I ask for your support for state representative so I can start pushing for the change we need.

Require liability insurance for guns

You can’t drive a car without liability insurance. You don’t have to have collision insurance for yourself. If you prefer to save on insurance premiums and be on your own if you cause damage to your own car, that’s fine, but you have to have insurance to cover any damage you cause someone else. If you insist on driving without insurance, that’s all police need to stop you driving any further. They don’t need to wait for you to crash into someone.

However, we don’t require insurance for guns. We should.

If you’e injured when a gun owner does something criminal or irresponsible, you’re just hoping the owner has the cash to cover damages, but that makes no more sense than letting someone drive a car without insurance.

I own historic reproductions, but even these guns that take half a minute to load could hurt someone. So when I’m at an historic event, the guns have to be covered by some liability insurance from either a group I’m with, site management, or event organizers, and surprise, this hasn’t resulted in anyone’s guns being taken away. We take these precautions even though we’re almost always just firing blanks. Is it really a hardship to insure much more dangerous modern firearms?

Some homeowners and renters policies already cover liability, so some gun owners won’t even have to buy a rider for their policy.

If you’re so irresponsible a driver that you won’t buy liability insurance, or you have a record where no insurer will cover you, you can’t drive. Neither should someone similarly irresponsible with guns be walking around with a gun. Let’s make Minnesota the first state to pass liability insurance requirements.

Just to be clear, liability insurance isn’t either/or with other measures to fight gun violence. I support making it law that guns be kept in a safe, red flag laws, background checks, and limits on magazine sizes for semi-automatics.