It's not just about process
There's a front-page article in The O today (at least up here in Portland editions) about how Portland Development Commission director Don Mazziotti is under fire and may be on his way out of his $167K-plus job. It was an unusually blunt article by that paper's standards -- the reporters were somehow able to rightly insert the "G" word into the lead paragraph -- but it still came up a bit short.
According to the article, Mazziotti's fine on the substance, but he's got problems with management style, demeanor, and public process. Developer John Russell is in there calling him a "godsend," but outgoing PDC chair Matt Hennessee concedes that Mazziotti lacks a certain "charm." One of the hundreds (if not thousands) of outraged neighbors who have dealt with the PDC over Mazziotti's three years is quoted; her complaint is about the closed-minded "gestalt" that the agency displays when dealing with neighborhoods.
But the article takes as a given that the PDC has produced great products under Mazziotti's apparently heavy hand:
In the past few months, Mazziotti's agency has brought forward a series of headline-grabbing projects, including the five-block Burnside Bridgehead development, a proposal to develop an 800-room hotel near the Oregon Convention Center and a project to kick-start development on a long-neglected section of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
By delivering projects, Mazziotti has pleased business, which hates to see projects stalled by bureaucratic process or neighborhood interference. In 2003, Mazziotti told the Business Journal that "there is just far too much focus on process and planning and insufficient appreciation for the role of the private economy."
"Delivering"? As far as the MLK deal, the Burnside Bridge project, and the hotel, all that's been delivered so far are promises.
And indeed, there are a few of us out here in Curmudgeonland who think all three of those projects have serious substantive flaws, which we've blogged about here before. The Convention Center expansion was an enormous mistake -- throwing good money after bad when the original center flopped. Having the taxpayers build the hotel would just complicate matters. No one in Mazziotti's PDC is willing to face the fact that Portland just isn't going to be a great convention city, ever.
The MLK deal is years late, and the original hopes and expectations have been dashed. Keeping a couple of dozen call center jobs was the most recent, lowered ambition, and I seem to remember reading somewhere that even that's falling apart.
And as for the Burnside Bridge, it's just another condo tower block, likely to be handed to the same old, same old developers who get all the PDC pork. And dammit, the PDC has decided, the inner east side is going to get a Home Depot somewhere soon, whether they like it or not. Why is that? How dare you ask, punk. It's all part of the dark, ominous talk that emerges from the PDC. Mind your own business. Don't cross us.
If you look at where most PDC dollars are spent, you'll see that it is not about helping all the many corners of Portland that need a shot in the arm. It's mostly about downtown, the Pearl, OHSU, the airport, and the Convention Center. Oh sure, the occasional bone is thrown on Alberta Street or somewhere out in Randy Leonard City. I guess they're doing stuff out in Gateway. They may plunk down some millions around light rail (built by You-Know-Who's clients, of course). But the real bucks are spent close in, where the West Hills folks have all their money invested.
And it's not just that the neighbors don't get process. Look at the OHSU aerial tram scam, for example. There's been lots of process. It's the substantive decision that has made so many long-time city residents so angry.
Then there's the matter of the Portland Family of Funds, the pesky little PDC "investment bank" adventure which the City Club has suggested may be illegal, or at least very bad government policy. Public money and public risk-taking are apparently enriching a hand-chosen few there. The Oregonian ackowledges that "continuing scrutiny" of PFF "could hurt Mazziotti." That's putting it mildly.
In sum, there's more not to like about this agency right now than just process and style.
According to the article, Mazziotti was originally hired on a 3-2 vote, and although the O story neglected to point it out, two of his main board allies will be gone come July. I wouldn't be surprised if we were looking at a new PDC director by year-end. As a former resident of the Lair Hill neighborhood, I wouldn't be sad about it, either.