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Wednesday, June 9, 2004

What I have in common with Jay Zidell

Now that the budget for the OHSU aerial tram is out, people are starting to focus on the $30 million question, Who's going to pay to build it?

Nearby landowner Jay Zidell, one of the Crown Princes of Old Money Portland, thinks the $2.1 million tab his family's going to have to pungle up, as part of the proposed local improvement district, is too high. Normally, guys like that would just pick up the phone and call You-Know-Who to get that sort of thing fixed. But Y-K-W isn't answering right now, so Mr. Zidell's complaining publicly in today's Oregonian business section. (Via AboutItAll Oregon.)

Finally, Mr. Zidell and I have something in common. I think my share's going to be too big, too. I'm interested in seeing how much "urban renewal" (read, citywide property tax) money is in the construction budget. Whatever my share is, it's too much.

In that regard, I'm trying to get my hands on the new tram budget itself, which was aired before the City Council the other day. Does anybody have a link to that, or are they keeping it off the internet so that none of us little people can complain about it? Perhaps mayor-wannabe Jim Francesconi, who sits on the tram board of directors along with Mr. Zidell, could shoot me a copy.

Meanwhile, for comic relief, you can read architecture dandy Randy Gragg's latest gushing column about this monstrosity here. Randy's black turtleneck, raspberry beret, and groovy goatee have never seen a pork project they didn't like. He must be the nephew of one of the Oregonian executives that they even have a job for him. Here's his latest:

Since at least the Middle Ages, humans have understood that the fastest, easiest way to travel between the top of a mountain and the bottom is on a rope.
What profundity.

Comments (21)

Randy Gragg writes about architecture in Portland. That's his job.

His job isn't to critique whether or not buildings should be built. His job is to critique HOW they are built.

Yet, without fail everytime Jack mentions Randy, he rips on Randy's column and then attacks him personally.

Frankly Jack, you sound jealous and petty.

All this tram stuff comes up at Council tomorrow afternoon. If you want to get copies of whatever material is related to those agenda items (which presumablyincludes budgetary information, but who knows), contact the clerk and ask for electronic copies to be emailed to you. They usually have this stuff in pdf format.

And on Gragg: Actually, as architecture columnist his job is to report on architecture -- which as a discipline is not merely concerned with design and how things are built, but what role these things play in the communities in which they are built. So he has every right to weigh in on the "should we build" question, if he chooses to do so, and in fact he has talked about those sorts of issues when talking about some architecture projects.

My beef with Randy is that he's a pawn of the industry. He never criticizes anything that gets built around here; he's very much a promoter of every new project that comes along, regardless of whether it fits in with Portland's strengths, and regardless of whether it's a sound investment of public funds. I wouldn't be surprised if he's getting lots of perks from the usual suspects in the architecture, engineering and construction firms who suck the life out of the City Hall coffers year after year.

That, and he has lousy taste.

My additional beef surrounding this gentleman is directed to his Oregonian bosses, who spend many column inches letting him praise projects like the Pearl, North Macadam, and the tram to high heaven. When it comes to discussing the merits of the public funding of these things, The O adds very little. It's very good at regurgitating what the planning bureaucracy tells its reporters. Critical thinking and real analysis are just too much work.

The Oregonian sucks, no question. It is a sorry excuse for a newspaper. But this struck me:

> He never criticizes anything that gets built around here; he's very much a promoter of every new project that comes along, regardless of whether it fits in with Portland's strengths

You criticize everything that gets built around here; you're very much a detractor of every new project that comes along, regardless of whether it fits in with Portland's strengths. I haven't been reading this blog since the beginning, but since I have been here, I haven't read anything positive about a new suggested project. I've read carping on the tram, the streetcar, the new MAX, a baseball francise and stadium, the new Home Depot on E. Burnside, and so on.

Isn't there a middle ground somewhere?

One cannot expect JB, with a family and gaggles of young admirers, to see the hot-babe-benefit of the Tram. Build it and they will come…

They're all a waste of precious public money, Brett. I'm not alone in criticizing all of those as just terrible ideas. And you forgot the MARC.

If the wealthy people who benefit from these projects would pay their entire cost, you wouldn't hear a peep out of me. But they never do.

Why is Tom Potter going to be the next mayor? Because quite a few people around here agree with me that the priorities of city government have become a disgrace.

My ideas for "urban renewal" in Portland:

1. A competent, well-funded, well-trained community police force.

2. A public mental health system that's not an embarrassment.

3. Good public schools.

4. Affordable, detached single family homes.

5. New public parks in all new developments. And not concrete fountain plazas, either. I mean green parks. With trees and soccer fields and swing sets.

BTW, you're not reading carefully enough. I support Major League Baseball.

I'm with you, Jack, but I'm not so sure about Potter. I heard him say on a radio interview that he favored MORE urban renewal projects and TIF financing. I'm not so sure that voting for Potter as an "outsider" won't be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Has his position changed? I think I heard this three or four months ago.

Since February, every time I read a development criticism on this blog, I imagine the author’s voice is that of Dana Carvey’s grumpy old man SNL character. I know it’s selfish, but if Jack Bog could add “that’s the way it was, and we liked it!” a few times throughout development posts, it would make the posts that much more entertaining.

For example: When I was a boy, we didn’t have a TRAM to get up pill hill. No, when someone got hurt, they tied a rope around his neck and dragged him a mile, through brambles and over wrought iron fences to get to the hospital. If he lived, he endured the hell of amputations without anesthesia. People laughing “look at him, all cut up, no limbs!” But that’s the way it was, and we liked it!


You're getting a taste of the other edge of the blogger's sword, and I have to say I think it's warranted in this case.

You rail against boondoggles, yet you like Major League Baseball in Portland? Give me a freakin' break.

And what, we're supposed to respect the intellectual rigor and logical beauty of the legal profession, but summarily dismiss architecture, urban design, and urban planning as boringly effete? They'd love you in Houston.

In the other Oregonian article, I was troubled to read this paragraph.

"The notification came from Ginny Burdick, a public-relations consultant with the firm Gard & Gerber, which is on contract for OHSU. Burdick is a state senator for Southwest Portland, including the South Waterfront area. "

This appears to be a conflict of interest. I wonder how many other people in the public section also have a conflict of interest related to the TRAM?

I'm with you on items 1-5, Professor. But at the end of that process, aren't we just.. Kansas City? Sacramento? Or some other nondescript, boring Anywhere, USA? Portland has personality. That's what draws people here and makes people stay. I think it's very possible to do both: to have your steps 1-5 and the tram. And the streetcar, and the baseball stadium. (Incidentally, are you in favor of public funding or public guarantees for the stadium?) We have proven that it's possible, because we've done it in the past.

And what do you mean, the wealthy people who benefit? Everyone benefits from these amenities. Some more than others, of course, but there's no income qualification to get on the streetcar or walk around the Pearl.

Why can't we do both?

I'm not so sure about Potter. I heard him say on a radio interview that he favored MORE urban renewal projects and TIF financing.

This is just a hunch on my part, from following the campaign and not from the specifics of that interview, but I suspect that what he favors is more properly targeted use of urban renewal funds and TIF financing.

I was also struck by the reference to Gard & Gerber, but for a different reason, which I'll phrase in the form of questions.
1. Which former governor of Oregon was Gard & Gerber identified as representing, in some media unpleasantness last month?
2. Which North Macadam property owners has the same former governor represented in connection with the North Macadam project and the tram to OHSU?
3. Which large Portland law firm shared space with the former governor's consulting firm?
4. Is it the same large Portland law firm that has provided two of its partners to be the CEO and general counsel of OHSU, one of the two main promoters of the tram?

Nah. Coincidence.

Which former governor's wife was on the tram design judging panel?

"Portland has personality"

True. Which is why we don't need expensive gimmicks to get folks to feel good about living here. It's an insecurity disorder - folks who don't have backbone want trinkets to justify their living in rainy Portland.

Gard & Gerber shills for all sorts of entrenched power interests. They were the ones behind the entirely fake "citizens campaign" against a Multnomah County public utility district.

Gard & Gerber is a PR organization. They are paid to do... public relations! So they're just doing their job. In the interest of full disclosure, they're a client of my firm.

> folks who don't have backbone want trinkets to justify their living in rainy Portland.

Really. So anyone who doesn't want to live in a boring town has no backbone? That makes a lot of sense. I don't want these amenities to "justify" (!) my living in Portland; I want them because I do live there.

Maybe you're feeling insecure about commenting on Portlanders while living in Japan. I have no idea. Enlighten us.

People in Portland who despise new public projects are in for a rough couple of decades. Portland is growing at an alarming rate, especially considering the piss-poor economy. And it's is not likely these projects are going to slow down all that much.

Should the Portland City Council spend less time focusing on development and more time on community policing and universal health care?
Most Definately!

But these projects are going to continue to roll in, and griping about them isn't going to change anything. (With the exception of burying the resevoirs. And griping, I've decided, is the chief responsibility of a blogger.)

For what its worth, I think they should spend more money on the TRAM. Go Big or Go Home. Portland needs some big type or architecture that signifies the city. Something that separates us from the rest of the cities in the U.S. And frankly, this TRAM could be that thing.

Gard & Gerber is a PR organization. They are paid to do... public relations! So they're just doing their job.

There is a difference between public relations and lying to the public (or at least there should be). To take the PGE/PUD issue as the shining example, they didn't simply do PR for PUD opponents, they cobbled together an alleged citizens movement that was almost entirely populated by employees of PGE, Pacific Power, and Gard & Gerber itself.

That isn't "doing their job," it's diving headlong with gusto into snowing the public and distorting the debate on a public issue.

Mayor Vera Katz is one of the worst things that has happened to Portland in a long time. Growth can be good, yes, but when the cost is foisted off on the taxpayers, it's a different story. During the current regime, just about every project has come in well over budget, with the outstanding debt handily absorbed by the taxpayers.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference What I have in common with Jay Zidell:

» Tram Tram Tram Went The Folly from The One True b!X's PORTLAND COMMUNIQUE
As we write this, we are watching the live webcast of the Portland City Council's consideration of various aspects of the South Waterfront development, including a large focus on the aerial tram to Oregon Health Sciences University. It's the sort of th... [Read More]


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