After yesterday’s post highlighting the state of Oregon with it’s joined up government and oh-so-swift handling of the entirely expected surged unemployment claims caused by its lockdowns, I realized there are a lot more possible examples. I could go one state northwards and look at Washington’s unemployment fiasco where they managed to send several hundred millions of dollars to (mostly NIgerian) fraudsters while still preventing some 80,000 newly unemployed from applying for their benefits, but hey that’s too easy.

So, instead, we will turn our attention to the burned out husks of business properties in Minneapolis where the municipal government is working flat out to help the affected proprietors set back up as soon as possible. Well working flat out to help any proprietors who have a dedicated team of expert bureaucracy navigators to help them obtain all the necessary permits and several thousand dollars, probably hundreds of thousands of dollars, sitting around in their bank accounts not doing anything. (Note we ignore for this article the culpability or otherwise of the city authorities in letting those buildings burn down in the first place and just look at their recovery efforts)

The problem the city is facing is that very few, if any, of the affected proprietors have either the dedicated team of expert bureaucracy navigators or a well-padded bank account. So therefore the city (and county) are in fact only helping to extend the pain.

Their first trick was to require that proprietors pay their property taxes for the rest of 2020 before they could get any permits.

In Minneapolis, on a desolate lot where Don Blyly’s bookstore stood before being destroyed in the May riots, two men finish their cigarettes and then walk through a dangerous landscape filled with slippery debris and sharp objects. The city won’t let Blyly haul away his wreckage without a permit, and he can’t get a contractor to tell him how much it will cost to rebuild the store until that happens.

In St. Paul, where Jim Stage’s pharmacy burned down during the same disturbances, crews have already removed the bricks and scorched timbers. A steel fence keeps out trespassers. Stage expects construction of his new Lloyd’s Pharmacy to begin later this month.

The main reason for the different recoveries is simple: Minneapolis requires owners to prepay the second half of their 2020 property taxes in order to obtain a demolition permit. St. Paul does not.

“Minneapolis has not been particularly friendly toward business for some time,” said Blyly, who prepaid $8,847 in taxes last week but still hasn’t received his demolition permit. “They say they want to be helpful, but they certainly have not been.”

City officials say their hands are tied, pointing to a state law that prohibits the removal of any structures or standing timber until all of the taxes assessed against the building have been fully paid.

The law, however, leaves enforcement to the county, and Hennepin County officials said they made it clear to the city of Minneapolis this summer that they would not enforce the requirement for any riot-damaged properties.

When the local rag published that story the local bureaucratic cockroaches scattered in the sunlight and removed that demand. They did not however start issuing permits though.

Minneapolis property owners applauded the move, but they also complained about a continued lack of support from city and county officials. They hope that officials will expedite approvals going forward and help them by lowering the assessments on their heavily damaged properties.

“It is refreshing to see them doing the right thing,” said Steve Krause, owner of Minnehaha Lake Wine & Spirits, which was destroyed in the rioting. “But the taxes are outrageous. They are based on improved real estate, and obviously the real estate is no longer improved. It is devastated.”

Krause had to pay $17,116 in taxes on his property to get a demolition permit because his building is still valued at $363,400, according to county property records.

“This will remove one small roadblock, but I am not sure how much it will actually speed up the entire rebuilding process,” said Don Blyly, owner of Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s bookstores in Minneapolis, which were destroyed in the riots. “You are still going to have the problem of a whole lot of demolition permits being handled by people who are working at home because of COVID-19.”

Blyly, who hired a contractor to remove the rubble from his lot a month ago, still doesn’t have his demolition permit, even though he paid his taxes last week.

In fact, as far as I can tell, even now, almost a month after those stories, things are still stuck in the getting permission stages. In part this seems to be due to costs because for some reason the various contractors are quoting large sums for the removal, far more than most insurance companies will reimburse.

One day after rioters destroyed the Sports Dome retail complex in St. Paul, a construction crew hired by the city knocked the building down because it was dangerously unstable.

Then the city presented the property owners with a $140,000 bill for what it would cost to haul away the debris.

“We were really upset about that,” said property owner Jay Kim, whose insurance policy covers a maximum of $25,000 in demolition costs. “We thought that was high. But we didn’t know how much demolition would cost at the time.”

Like dozens of other investors whose properties were severely damaged in the May riots, the Kim family was stunned to discover that the money it would collect from its insurance company for demolition won’t come close to the actual costs of doing the job.

Obviously that might be contractors price-gouging, but the contractors say otherwise and point their fingers in a familiar direction:

Contractors acknowledge that prices for riot-related work are far higher than usual, but they said that is because government regulations require them to treat all debris from a burned-out building as hazardous.

Industry veteran Don Rachel told the Star Tribune those rules can double demolition costs.

“We aren’t taking advantage of anybody,” said Rachel, CEO of Rachel Contracting, one of the largest demolition contractors in the state. “Some people might have sticker shock, but how do they know? Most of these folks have never had to wreck a building.”

Plus of course there’s the fact that each proprietor has to arrange his own demolition separately, which is less than logical and not how things are done elsewhere (not even in neighboring St Paul)

For example here in my corner of Japan there were some serious floods at the start of July that damaged significant numbers of buildings in a few areas. Here in Japan, the local towns arranged a single contractor (probably the mayor’s buddy/chief campaign contributor, such minor corruption is pretty much universal) to take out all the damage in one go. And they arranged some deal with all the insurance providers (this being the countryside I expect that was mostly JA except for any branch offices of national chains) so that the policy contributions were pooled to pay for it (and I think there may have been some government funding from either the prefecture or the national government). Anyway the local government organized it and it happened in about a week to ten days after the flood waters receded. What was left was neat foundations and smoothed earth ready for the rebuild. Permits for which were also expedited such that, according to my in-laws, some properties have already been rebuilt under two months from when they were flooded out.

Amazingly, after 3 months of nothing being cleared up, this public coordination option seems to be becoming more popular in Minneapolis too:

Some property owners are begging city officials to take the lead with contractors by combining their projects and seeking public bids for the work. They say that is the only way to make sure contractors don’t exploit inexperienced property owners, many of whom are immigrants and people of color.

“There is power in numbers. If I were the mayor, I would start thinking collectively about how we can help,” said Kelly Drummer, president of MIGIZI Communications, which was destroyed in the riots.

St. Paul officials have already coordinated demolition work on a handful of projects, including the Sports Dome. Kim said he was grateful to accept the $140,000 bid arranged by the city after other companies offered to do the same work for as much as $285,000.

In Minneapolis, city officials are considering similar moves on a larger scale.

“We understand there is a role for the city to make this happen,” said Steve Poor, Minneapolis’ director of development services. “The mayor told us to go and see what you can do. We are looking at what is possible.”

Of course one detects, how can one put it? a  certain lack of urgency:

In Minneapolis, which suffered the most property destruction, city officials said they have helped owners by providing documentation to insurers proving their structures were uninhabitable, allowing stalled payments to resume. Now, city officials said, they are trying to figure out how to expedite demolition for cash-strapped owners.

“The city may have to play a very proactive role in making sure the debris is cleared and the holes are filled before winter,” said Andrea Brennan, the city’s new director of housing policy and development. “We are looking at any and all options.”

Winter? OK so sometime in the next couple of months then. Meaning that it’ll have taken four or five months since the riots burned everything down at the end of May.

Still if they can’t speed up the knockdown and rebuild, obviously they’ll be sure to make sure that they don’t lose any other businesses from further looting, right?

Err Um Errr. Up to a point Lord Copper, up to a point.

After looters crashed through his floor-to-ceiling windows and stole $1 million worth of booze in May, Chicago-Lake Liquors owner John Wolf wanted to protect himself from a repeat occurrence.

Like property owners throughout the world, he wanted to install security shutters on the outside of his building. The investment would not only prevent rioters from entering his store, it would protect his windows — which cost $50,000 to replace.

But Wolf ran into a big obstacle: The city of Minneapolis has barred security shutters on building exteriors since 2004.

Unlike St. Paul, which allows external shutters as long as owners request a permit, Minneapolis limits security shutters to the inside of a property, leaving windows vulnerable to attack. In a report justifying the rule change, Minneapolis officials argued that external shutters “cause visual blight” and create the impression that an area is “unsafe” and “troublesome.”

But in the wake of the riots, when police failed to prevent widespread looting and damage to more than 1,500 businesses in the Twin Cities, property owners said they can no longer count on the city to protect their property.

“Times have changed,” Wolf said. “I am going to spend millions of dollars to bring my business back, and I don’t want to buy 20 window panes and have them broken the first day. Property owners should have options on how to protect themselves.”

Needless to say the pols and bureaucrats deny that they actually ban such basics as exterior shutters

Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins, who represents many of the businesses destroyed in the riots, said any property owner who wants external shutters can seek a variance from the city. She said the city would show “flexibility” regarding the rule.

“In general, I think people should be able to protect their property,” Jenkins said.

Since Minneapolis put the rule into effect 16 years ago, just one business owner has sought permission for external shutters, city records show. The property owner said he needed the shutters to protect his retail shop, which had been burglarized several times after criminals broke in through the windows. The request was denied.

“While someone is authorized to file a variance, it is challenging to meet the legal findings that are necessary to grant a variance from this type of provision,” said Sarah McKenzie, a spokeswoman for the city.

I’m reminded of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Arthur Dent’s discovery that the critical planning documents were ‘on display’ in the cellar in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.

However, given these changed circumstances, where riots and looting are now acceptable nighttime activities, if business owners ask very very nicely, they might possibly be allowed to protect their premises even if the result is a tad aesthetically displeasing.

Rose, who estimates he lost more than $500,000 when his store was looted during the riots this year, said he spent about $30,000 to replace his 14 window panels. He said he is preparing to petition the city for a rule change that would allow many business owners to install external shutters.

“I think there is a way you can make an aesthetically pleasing security barrier that doesn’t give a derogatory impression to somebody,” Rose said. “The reality is, certain businesses needed to be protected because they are hot spots that people go to loot because of what’s inside.”

Jenkins said she is willing to consider changing the rule at the City Council.

“New York has metal shutters that come down at night, and it really does look like a fortress, so I think there were some valid reasons for instituting that ordinance,” Jenkins said. “But everything is subject to change. So I would be open to looking at it given the new realities we are in.”

So generous. that commitment to possibly rethink the ordinance given “the new realities we are in”. Jenkins, for those who may not have been paying attention to the minutiae of Minneapolis politics is one of the beneficiaries of a $4500/day expenditure on private security:

Councilmember Andrea Jenkins said she has been asking for security since she was sworn in. She said current threats have come in the form of emails, letters, and posts to social media.

“My concern is the large number of white nationalist(s) in our city and other threatening communications I’ve been receiving,” wrote Jenkins in an email. […]

Asked why Minneapolis Police are not providing security services to the three council members, a city spokesperson said MPD resources are needed in the community. The hourly cost of private security is similar to the cost for a police officer, the spokesperson added.

A spokesperson for Minneapolis Police told FOX 9 the department does not have any recent police reports of threats against city council members. It is possible a report could have been filed confidentially.

Jenkins said she has not reported the threats to Minneapolis Police because she has been preoccupied with the dual crisis of the “global pandemic and global uprising” over the killing of George Floyd.

Jenkins said the threats have attacked her ethnicity, gender identity, and sexuality.

Security isn’t something the little people need but is vital for their council representatives.  Needless to say Jenkins has also called to defund the police and has provided lots of pandering to the rioters, although she did at once point ask them to please not burn anything more down, because “they had no right to perpetuate violence“. Unsurprisingly the rioters paid no attention to that at all and appear to face no consequences for the second wave of riots recently. The business owners of course aren’t so lucky because the full weight of officialdom will come down on them if they decide to ignore regulations and put up shutters or otherwise do something that the jobsworths disapprove of.

I’m sure than if(when) the various business owners decide to relocate or quit it will be due to racism and have nothing whatever to do with the regulatory environment. And the subsequent collapse of downtown Minneapolis into some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland will just be “bad luck“.