They're not listening
Dear Mayor-Elect Potter:
In your campaign, you didn't promise much specifically. But one thing you did say over and over was that you were going to make sure that the City of Portland started listening to its residents again. And you say you'll take over all city bureaus for a while as soon as you are sworn in, to be sure that the bureaucrats get that message.
I sure hope you're counting the Portland Development Commission in that group, because Houston, I believe we have a serious public process problem there.
The other day I wrote in this space about how the PDC is ramming through a new concept -- an "urban industrial renewal area" -- with only two months of public involvement. That's only about 10 percent of the year and a half of public comment that a new urban renewal area typically gets. Commentators like the League of Women Voters are up in arms. I share their concerns.
Then on the front page of the Metro section in yesterday's Oregonian, we find a story about another rush-rush PDC project -- a $7 million rehab of a building on MLK Boulevard. PDC originally bought the place for a grocery store, but now that that isn't going to happen (read: bad planning), it's hell-bent to try to turn it into a telephone "call center."
Some think the $7 million price tag is a ripoff, and that the public is being deprived of a full and fair look at the project before it is a done deal:
The project's estimated cost per square foot is twice that of comparable building rehabilitation projects, said Mike Warwick, co-chairman of the advisory committee, which signed off on the plan last week despite misgivings about missing details.Behind it all is Gerdling/Edlen Development, the outfit that's building the North Macadam Condo Tower Jungle and OHSU Tram Theme Park -- a favorite beneficiary of PDC pork. The structure of the MLK transaction is complicated enough to make one's head spin. And there seems to be an enormous amount of risk in the deal for PDC.
"There's a great deal of concern that the project is being used to serve other purposes than redevelopment on MLK," Warwick said. "We feel they're moving awfully fast and that there is a rush to make a decision."
So why the rush?
Chief Potter, as I understand it, you will eventually appoint all the commissioners on the PDC. The group that Mayor Katz has installed there looks a lot like a group that would have been assembled by former Mayor Goldschmidt. The PDC's chair and CEO are both long-time Goldschmidt lieutenants. They've appeared to be in bed with Gerdling/Edlen, and other contractors who have been making bundles of money on the backs of Portland taxpayers, for many years. That's the same Gerdling/Edlen, by the way, who gives many thousands of dollars in campaign funds to candidates in city elections -- money that you had too much integrity to take.
I think you should clean house at the PDC. But if you don't, can't or won't, at least derail the "fast track" mentality. Please sit down with these folks and have them put the industrial urban renewal area and the MLK proposal back on a normal track, subject to public scrutiny, right away. And tell them to stop rushing deals through. They're supposed to be planning experts -- why is everything an emergency?
PDC shouldn't stand for "Please Don't Comment." And if the leadership over there won't change its ways, please find us some commission members and a CEO who will. I'm sure the disgraced former governor can find all the current PDC face cards something else to do.