While I've been busy watching major league baseball in Portland unfold, the brouhaha about the planned renovation of the Pioneer Courthouse here in town sure has gotten interesting, hasn't it?
In the latest twist, the City of Portland has announced that it will not issue a municipal permit that the federal government needs to open the historic building up for private parking spaces for the federal appeals court judges who work there. The judges, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, say they want the in-house parking for security reasons, but the parking change, along with the forced removal of the Post Office from the building, has many of us locals hopping mad.
The feds apparently don't need city permission to renovate the structure, but they do need one to move the existing driveway (which I guess postal vehicles were previously using). And what they didn't count on is the fact that the commissioner who heads of the city's transportation bureau, which governs the public's right of way over the sidewalks, is running for mayor.
Jim Francesconi, the commish in question, has stated flatly that the city won't grant the permit, period. The new driveway would have the judges making a left turn off SW Morrison Street, and in doing so they would be crossing over not just the sidewalk but also the light-rail tracks. That would be a no-no for any other landlord, says Jim F., and the U.S. General Services Administration isn't getting an exception.
Bully for him! As was well pointed out by Bix over the weekend, with this maneuver, Francesconi one-ups his likely rival for the mayoral position, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who opposed the parking and the Post Office move but has lately thrown in the towel. Since his House colleague, David Wu, supports the entire federal plan, and since the courthouse is technically in Wu's district, not Blumenauer's, Earl of the Pearl has had to back off.
Enter Francesconi, who's made enough smart moves lately to make him look like an attractive choice for my vote. (Interestingly, some of the city's public statements on the courthouse have come from Francesconi aide Michael Harrison, who as I recall previously worked for Blumenauer.)
However the permitting flap turns out, the city's action points out the futility of trying to make the Pioneer really secure. It's a 19th Century building in the middle of a busy, busy downtown. Unless you close off the streets around it, which will never happen, it's always going to be vulnerable to terrorists. The judges having to walk a few blocks from a public garage isn't the real problem.
It's sad, but maybe in this day and age the Ninth Circuit belongs in a different building entirely. As I've said before, there are lower profile, less-targeted agencies who would make great tenants for the Pioneer Courthouse. The general public would get the building back. And there could be a Post Office on the main floor, for which the building was designed more than a century ago.