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Thursday, November 11, 2004

What's that smell?

A while back I wrote about how the proposal for an "industrial urban renewal area" in North and Northwest Portland looked like a scam to me. I had just gotten a very odd brochure in the mail about it from the Portland Development Commission (motto: "We put the gold in Goldschmidt"), and I got the sense that a major backroom deal had already been made.

My concerns were increased when I read a story about the plan the other day in the Tribune. The lead of the story was how Zidell Marine, which is being moved out of its North Macadam location to make way for the Condo Tower Jungle and OHSU Tram Park, suddenly wants to move to land it owns in North Portland near the University of Portland. As part of the transfer, it wants a piece of the urban renewal pork pie.

That is strange. With all the planning that supposedly went into the North Macadam deal, nobody figured out where Zidell Marine was going to take its business, and jobs? The condo towers are already being built down there, and the city's still talking incentives with Zidell? That, folks, is the opposite of planning.

Buried lower in the Trib story is another eye opener. The PDC has put the urban renewal plan on a "fast track" -- a classically Goldschmidtean move -- because it's in a hurry to convince Siltronic Corp. to build a chip plant in industrial Northwest Portland instead of in Singapore.

So that explains the weird-looking map for the "industrial urban renewal" zone. Most of it's in North Portland, but there's a curious piece on the other side of the river, in Northwest. That must be Siltronic.

Siltronic is already in Northwest Portland, and its environmental record there seems less than good:

Siltronic's existing wafer plant has caused contamination at the site, the result of trichloroethylene leaking out of underground storage tanks and seeping under the river.

"We're still trying to get our arms around it," said Matt McClincy, a DEQ project manager.

Don't worry, PDC to the rescue. We'll spend a bunch of public money (including some that comes out of citywide property taxes) to clean up the site next door to Siltronic so that it can expand -- even before it takes care of the mess it's already made under its existing plant.

I wonder who's doing the "consulting" for Siltronic on this deal. It smells awfully familiar.

In any event, I'm with the League of Women Voters, who thinks the "fast track" for this area is very misguided. The train ought to be put back on the regular track, where the public gets a legitimate chance to see and digest what is really going on (not just ogling some goofball brochure). Two months is not enough time for an honest and open examination of this proposal. Two years would be more like it.

We might lose the Siltronic expansion in the process. They might have to take their pollution to Singapore. So be it.

Mayor Tom, where are you on this one?

Comments (5)

I wonder if University of Portland can sue PDC, under Measure 37, for reducing the value of their property by allowing Zidell to move right next to their campus?

Is it possible that Siltronic is using the urban renewal project to avoid paying a huge amount of taxes and avoid paying for environmental cleanup?

I'm glad you're keeping us aware of this.

Old News Jackie boy. The company is paying for the clean up.Jobs will be created, ain't it awful.

I've often wondered if urban renewal districts in general aren't a scam. I don't know much about them other than one experience while serving on the City of Canby Budget Committee.

It seems that the Canby city council decided the town desperately needed a Fred Meyer. (My skin crawls just thinking about it.) They went through all sorts of gyrations to get the store in town, gyrations that nobody questioned, one of which was the creation of an urban renewal district.

This urban district stretched along both sides of 99e running from Ivy toward Oregon City (this makes sense if you know Canby). The area wasn't particularly run-down, but okay. Then this long, narrow strip ballooned to include a huge hunk of land recently annexed by the city, the hunk of land on which the Fred Meyer was constructed.

No sort of "urban renewal" was performed on any part of that district except around where the Fred Meyer was built. The place looks exactly the same except the addition of the Fred Meyer.

What the hell was this about? Tax breaks for Fred Meyer? Or, perhaps the other direction: added tax revenue for the city? I don't know. It seemed fishy then, though, and it seems fishy now.

I suppose if I were really that passionate about the subject, I'd research exactly what urban renewal districts are all about. But all I'm really passionate about is the fact that I hate Canby's mad desire to become Wilsonville or Tualatin or one of coutnless other bedroom communities. Idiots. Remain a farming community. Retain character. Be strong. Be different. There's a reason I moved away...

Pam: Good. When the cleanup's finished (it hasn't even started), I'll consider giving them another handout.

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