This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 22, 2002 2:30 PM. The previous post in this blog was The dark days. The next post in this blog is And so it is. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Sunday, December 22, 2002

Music to my ears

Guess who's opening doors and allowing fresh air to blow through the City Council Chambers here? None other than freshman Commissioner Randy Leonard. Get this: He actually questioned the use of additional tax subsidies to continue the erection of the concrete jungle (actually, more like a particle board jungle) known as the Pearl District. The nerve of him!

Even the stodgy old Oregonian editorial board is applauding. Here is what they had to say yesterday:

Well, Randy Leonard didn't waste any time. He's already shaking things up at City Hall, and that's just what the Portland City Council -- and the entire city -- needs these days.

This week the newly elected commissioner raised questions about property tax breaks to develop middle- and upper-income apartments in Northwest Portland. Specifically, he wanted to know why subsidies are needed for digs where monthly rents are close to $1,800. He wondered if the Pearl District needs tax breaks to spur investment any more, especially when other economically troubled areas are going undeveloped. Good questions.

Don't worry, the developers got their 10-year tax breaks. Leonard himself ultimately went along with other members of the council because he came late to this debate. (He promised more scrutiny for future projects.) But you might have thought he had committed a crime against nature.

As The Oregonian's Scott Learn reported, "Developers of the proposed Pearl Block Apartments counter that Leonard and other critics are second-guessing long successful policies." Learn also quoted Pat Prendergast, managing member of Pearl LLC, the property owner, who said, "People are taking issue with material they don't have background on. It sends a message that the city is not open for business -- as usual."

We're as worried as anyone about this city's business climate, and it's reasonable for developers to want predictability in government policies. You plan a big project based on the expectation of a property-tax break, you ought to receive the tax break. But what Leonard is doing is hardly a sign that the city is still not open for business. He's asking questions -- good ones -- and challenging assumptions. If that's second-guessing, then second-guessing is what this city needs, especially as it tries to encourage a strong business environment.

If the policy is so successful, we're sure it will stand up to scrutiny. It's not anti-business to question subsidies for high-rent apartments. It's pro-taxpayer.

In addition to my annual list of Top 10 Nitwits, this year I may just have to draw up a list of People of the Year, just so Randy can get on it.

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