Advocacy and Facts: Fixing the Runnymede Path

Feb 18, 2024 | City Council, Ward 4 News

NOTE: I wrote about this topic last month, when the Runnymede path was added to the City’s Capital Improvement Plan. See photos and diagrams, as well as link to an Mlive article here:

At their meeting this week (February 20, 2024), City Council will consider an expenditure that will hopefully lead to the repair of a pedestrian and cycling path in Ward 4, connecting the end of Runnymede Boulevard to Pauline Boulevard. 

CA-6 (24-0093) Resolution to Approve the Appropriation of $140,000.00 from the General Fund Unobligated Fund Balance for the Design and Preparation of a Grant Application for the Pauline-Runnymede Path (8 Votes Required)

Agenda item CA-6 will allocate $140,000 to cover the cost of preliminary design of an improved path, in anticipation of negotiating a City easement and receiving grant money toward funding repairs. I proposed the same plan in 2022 and it met significant opposition from Ward 4 Council Member Jen Eyer.

In 2019, I was told by City staff and attorneys that this path was on private property and the City had no leverage to force its repair. In 2022, when I learned that the condo association had offered the City an easement to facilitate its repair, I made inquiries and met with multiple City staff to craft a plan. That plan included the commitment of City funds and an application to receive TAP grants through SEMCOG.

This path is not a city right-of-way, but it appears on page 61 of the 2021 Moving Together Toward Vision Zero Comprehensive Transportation Plan as a proposed “all ages and abilities” route.

This transportation plan was approved by Council on June 7, 2021:

In 2022, City staff helped me prepare a resolution to pursue a City easement, articulating the importance of this path as a City connector, used by families accessing Dicken Elementary School and Dicken residents accessing bus stops on Pauline. I wrote about it at the time:

That resolution was added to the May 5, 2022 Council agenda. Unfortunately, it prompted a firestorm on social media— Council Member Jen Eyer led and encouraged attacks on the condo residents who can not afford to repair this path. When I learned that three members of Council – Mayor Taylor, Travis Radina, and Erica Briggs – planned to be absent for the May 5, 2022 Council meeting, I was advised to withdraw the resolution. I wrote about it here:

Despite its removal from the May 5, 2022 Council agenda, CM Jen Eyer spoke at the meeting, continuing to argue against a City easement to improve the path:

“When Walden Village was developed, the city and the developer recognized the importance of maintaining this, what was already a public corridor. So it was written into the deed as part of the agreement that the Condo Association would pave and maintain the pathway going forward.”

This is not accurate. A 2022 staff memo (written at the request of CM Eyer) referred to meetings with the condo association and alluded to the truth: (link to staff memo)

“After a few meetings there appeared to be momentum toward getting the condo association to acknowledge their obligations regarding the path and to start considering capital investment strategies.”

Staff phrasing – using words like “momentum” and “considering” – is an admission that no legally enforceable obligation exists. A legally enforceable obligation is not dependent on convincing people to “acknowledge” it. Nothing in 50-year old development documents assigns responsibility for maintenance or improvement of this path. Without an easement or requirement for public access, the condo association could choose to fence off this path entirely. It is currently not a public right-of-way, though it functions as one.

In 2022, CM Eyer wildly mischaracterized the position of the condo association:

“In March, the board communicated that they had decided to commission a study to look at fixing the pathway among other things and develop a financial plan. The resolution that has now been withdrawn would have preempted further progress in this direction”

If Eyer had actually spoken to anyone from the condo association, they would have explained to her, as they have consistently told others: there are no funds available to repair a path that is primarily used by others. There was never any “progress” in the “direction” of foisting this cost on the condo residents. The community at Walden Hills is one of the few relatively affordable housing options in this part of Ward 4 and its residents are a reflection of that fact: many are older, on fixed incomes. Ironically, if this path existed in front of any one of the much more expensive single-family homes one block over, improvements to this path would be wholly covered by the City’s sidewalk millage.

In 2022, a staff memo suggested that a plan for an easement and TAP grant – the same strategy currently moving forward – was inconsistent with past practice and precedent:

“Staff believes that there are reasonable steps forward to improve the path in a timely manner without acquiring a full easement or expending city funds at this time.”

It’s unclear what has changed, if anything, in the last eighteen months. The TAP grant that is now expected to subsidize repair of this path has an application deadline in June. The staff memo from 2022 confirmed this deadline, while discouraging a plan to move forward:

“TAP grants are applied for and awarded on a rolling basis, with the next grant deadline being 6/22/22. While it is not impossible for the City to have a complete grant application by then it would be difficult given how extensive the application process is and the materials that would need to be prepared before then, some of which may require external design services.”

CM Eyer claimed in 2022:

“My goal is and has always been to get the pathway fixed as quickly as possible and do it in a way that is fair and follows precedent.”

Item CA-6 on this week’s agenda anticipates meeting TAP grant deadlines for 2024. It would appear that after obstructing plans in 2022, elected Ward 4 reps made no attempt to meet deadlines in 2023, despite their professed commitment to fix it “as quickly as possible.” 

The same plan that I proposed in 2022 appears to be moving forward, this time with both Ward 4 representatives aligned, repeating the same 2022 talking points. This weekend, CM Dharma Akmon sent a communication to residents, stating incorrectly: 

“The condo association is legally obligated to maintain the path and have committed funds to perform the repair work in 2025.”

No legal obligation attaches to this path and there is no commitment of funds from the condo association. This year, Ward 4 residents are in the unfortunate position of having to explain to both of their elected representatives that they deserve advocates, not talking points.