Alder Juliana Bennett
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Bennett’s Blog
District 8 Blog One EEEEEE
Hiiiiii, I'm Juliana. I'm an arising senior at UW, studying Finance and Political Science and I'm the District 8 Alder for the Madison City Council! Here is *finally* my first alder blog. All issues are in chronological order, so go ham. If you wanna chat feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Key Highlights Over the Last Month:
Moving Parking Enforcement out of the Police Department and into Parking Utility
During our first Common Council meeting of the new session on April 20th, we voted to move Parking Enforcement out of the MPD and into Parking Utility. This vote was a somewhat controversial issue, because while some believed that it is important to shift away from MPD, others (including parking enforcement officers) were concerned with the lack of understanding of the logistics of how the move would pan out. At the end of the day, the motion to approve passed with 11 votes. The transition will take place over the next 2 years, giving all stakeholders time to make a smooth and successful transition.
Men's Homeless Shelter
On May 5th, Common Council made a critical vote for the future of helping the houseless community in Madison. The vote was to approve the purchase of property on Zeier Rd (in the Eastside area, District 17) for a purpose-built Men's Homeless Shelter. The motion to my and many others' dismay did not pass, leaving a huge question mark for the future of the houseless population.
Over the past few decades, the faith community, specifically Grace Episcopal Church, provided overnight shelter for men experiencing homelessness. Staying in the old, crowded church basement was no longer an option, due to the pandemic and the faith community's capacity. Thus, the City of Madison provided a solution to transition property on N 1st into a temporary shelter. The property itself for simplicity of description is a garage. While the city, in partnership with Porchlight, has done a marvelous job at turning this location into a safe temporary shelter, the site is set to be repurposed for the Madison Public Market in the next year. Therefore, with the impending transition and lack of other immediately available options, the pressure was placed on Council to approve the Zeier Rd location so that we'll have a men's homeless shelter.
Finding a location for the Men's Homeless Shelter is not a new issue, rather it's been on the city's books for the past six years and in the past two years the city has located dozens of locations that for one reason or another fell through. That's why many council members, subject matter experts in houselessness issues, and community members rite large were so excited to finally have the seemingly rare opportunity to approve a location for the Men's Homeless Shelter. Unfortunately, not all council members agreed that Zeier Rd was the best location and thought we could do better. Since the vote was an extra majority item, with the budget amendment, requiring 15 votes, the motion to approve failed 14 aye, 5 no, 1 excused.
I believe that it is important for us to reflect on the anti-homeless rhetoric being used, assess our priorities, and prioritize the needs of this population.
Reflect: There were some really gross words being used by the business sector and some of our neighbors. From a UW professor saying a shelter would have an economic impact on the area (an unsupported idea as studies as shown otherwise) to a neighbor saying "homeownership income = good, homelessness no income = bad", the overall message was straight nimbyism. No one wants to be called a NIMBY (not in my backyard), but if the shoe fits.....plus, not calling out your neighbors/constituents and actively fueling such beliefs is just as bad.
Assess: I stand firm that voting no was the wrong decision on this item. It is our duty, as Council members, to listen and take into consideration the input of subject matter experts, staff, and impacted communities. In this case, all three parties, including the men that would benefit from having a purpose-built shelter were all excited with the purchase of Zeier Rd. Voting 'yes' offered a clear path forward on houselessness issues in Madison and by turning down this opportunity the future of houselessness issues remain up in the air.
I understand that a few of my colleagues believe that we can find a better location, but as fellow Alder Figueroa-Cole said "Mars wouldn't even be the right location". In other words, this idea that the perfect shelter will somehow magically appear is ludicrous and wherever we put the shelter, we'll encounter the same rhetoric being used to turn down this location. I pray for the sake of the men experiencing houslessness that this brand new prospect for Pennsylvania Ave works out, although, I am personally still pessimistic about it, given the amount of other locations that have fallen through.
Prioritize: Homelessness is a protected class in Madison. We certainly don't treat it like it is. There are a host of anti-homeless city ordinances still in place and houselessness issues always seem to be put on the backburner. I hope that we can take this perspective and channel it into policy-making, by prioritizing the needs of this vulnerable community.
Reopening Madison Public Libraries :)
The Madison Public Library Board voted to reopen libraries to the public in Madison :) Libraries are operating at 50% capacity, except the Monroe St library, which is at 75% capacity. Over 17,000 patrons visited our libraries in the first week, 356 new library cards were issued, and about 1000 patrons used our computers. Starting June 2, we will not be requiring masks, but staff will wear masks at least until June 2nd. Study rooms, seating, and wifi use will be phased in through the next two weeks (June 2-12). See full reopening week pdf here :)
Approved Plans for 619/621 N Lake St
This is my baby <3 Soooo yes, for those of you that have been following the plans for the 619/621 N Lake St, Common Council did approve the appeal for the plans. This project is on the outer edge of District 8, right next to SAE and across the street from the Pyle Center, near Langdon St.
AXS (Alpha Chi Sigma-chemistry fraternity) has been contributing to Madison since 1902. The 619 house was built in 1899 and 621 house, in 1909 - soon thereafter, AXS acquired both houses and maintained them at the highest quality possible. Over the course of battling natural decay and constant repairs, the houses have fallen into irreparable disarray. Displayed in the photos and livestream video (see attached and District 8 Alder Instagram), you can witness foundational issues, burst pipes, broken boilers, exposed wiring, and outdated plumbing systems that have made the homes an uninhabitable health hazard. Notably, the North wall of the 621 N Lake St house is bowing into itself at an exponentially fast pace. Supported by merely four expired beams, the house is at the end of the line. The question Council members faced was if we want to displace this historic fraternity and let this property fall into further disrepair or give AXS the opportunity to redevelop their home at its founding location.
AXS in a final effort to save their place in the downtown area decided to partner with Patrick Properties (a local developer) to demolish the two houses and build a multi-unit apartment building. The Plan Commission placed the 619-621 N Lake St proposal on file for not meeting demolition and conditional use standards, largely based on a controversial understanding of historical preservation. Thus, AXS appealed the Plan Commission's decision and brought the plans to the Common Council for approval.
In short, the Common Council approved the appeal, under the condition that the architect change the design to maintain the facade of the area. This was a huge win for District 8! In part because it's quite rare for Common Council to approve an appeal, but most importantly because this will provide below market rate and market rate housing and keep a fraternity in the place they've resided for over 100 years. So, for those of you living in the N Lake St/Langdon corridor, keep your eyes peeled for new development.
Zoning Ordinance Changes
This past Tuesday, June 2nd, the Common Council voted to approve zoning ordinance changes to *modestly* upzone certain areas in Madison. The zoning changes came about from a number of recommendations to undo Madison's history of redlining and find the "missing middle" housing, through taking away the conditional use barriers for multi-family and mixed use developments in some areas of Madison. Essentially by changing the zoning code from conditional use to permitted use, property owners would be able to redevelop their properties, without having to go through additional steps to receive neighborhood and Plan Commission approval.
The issue became controversial, largely in part (in my opinion) from overselling the zoning changes in saying that it would help create affordable housing and small BIPOC developers enter the market. I would like to make it clear that the zoning ordinance changes will not create affordable housing, nor will it assist BIPOC developers in any significant way. The changes simply and again *modestly* assist with helping to increase the supply of housing--that does not guarantee that rent prices will suddenly drop. I found the constant reference to BIPOC people, by white people and further tokenization of one of the only BIPOC voices involved in the zoning changes unsettling. In my conversations with several BIPOC folx, some of whom are well-versed in housing issues, there was a sense of ambivalence towards this topic. I think that Justice Castaneda said it perfectly, the changes are *modest* and there is SO MUCH MORE that we need to be working on to bring about affordable and equitable housing. I understand the concern from my colleagues and community members about affordable housing, when the current plan, including the Housing Forward plan, seems vague and incomplete. There's no one-size-fits-all solution; however, I believe that by putting the matter of zoning to rest we can redirect our energies towards actually bringing about affordable, equitable housing.
Resolution to End Evictions in Reindahl Park Evictions
Gosh, where do I start...sooooo in response to the City of Madison evicting people experiencing houselessness in Reindahl Park, I drafted a resolution to end evictions in Reindahl Park.
A little background....Due to the pandemic the Mayor issued an Executive Order to allow temporary permissible encampments in the City of Madison. This allowed for people experiencing houselessness to pitch their tents in designated areas in the city. The problem....the only designated area the city allowed was in Starkweather Creek, which is a Fricken Tick-Infested Swamp! So, people were previously camping in McPike Park and due to neighborhood concern the campers were evicted from there and sent to Reindahl Park. With the park set to reopen, residents of Reindahl Park were issued an eviction notice April 9th and given only one month to find alternative accommodations. The city identified Starkweather Creek (the tick-infested swamp) as the perfect location to relocate residents (note the sarcasm). With resident and community outrage, I put forward the resolution and the following substitute to put a hold on evictions in Reindahl Park until we find a humane solution.
Now that the Emergency Order is over from June 2nd, the city's anti-homeless ordinance to disallow encampments in the City of Madison is back in effect. That does not mean that we are going to back down or give up on finding a solution for this community. Keep your eyes peeled for the agenda to be on the following committees: Board of Park Commissioners (on the June 9th agenda), Board of Health for Madison and Dane County, City-County Homelessness Issues Committee, Equal Opportunities Commission, and Plan Commission. Myself, fellow alders, the mayor's office, city staff and service providers will be collaborating to find a solution that works for all stakeholders, prioritizing the needs of the houseless community.
I want to thank all organizers, but more importantly the folx that have been put through the trauma of being evicted by the city on top of experiencing homesslessness. I find it Sickening that the city would ever serve an eviction notice of all things to someone without housing. That bs is backwards asl. I know/hope that all of us are doing our best to serve the community. So, if you need anything hmu.
Registrant Video Use During Virtual Meetings
On Tuesday June 2nd, the Common Council Executive Committee received a presentation from staff about allowing registrants to use cameras, during virtual meetings. The presentation and RESJI analysis was quite interesting and I highly suggest that anyone interested in why the city hasn't allowed registrants to use cameras to check it out. Essentially, several complaints were issued that deaf and hard of hearing folx could not participate in online meetings, because they could not read lips. The RESJI analysis found that lip reading alone will not be sufficient and the city must offer a host of accommodations so that everyone can participate. That said, the first recommendation, as one may predict, is to allow optional video during virtual meetings.
At this point, there's nothing holding the city back from allowing camera use than the city itself...so I'll be working with Council leadership and city staff to allow camera use, during virtual meetings!
Come Chat with Me!
I'll be holding virtual alder hours on Wednesday June 9th from 3-5p Juliana Bennett (she/her) is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting. If you wanna hang up and chat it up see ya there. If you can't make it, no worries, you can contact me via email to schedule a meeting!
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Meeting ID: 739 414 5442
Peace, Love, and Prosperity <3
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