This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 3, 2005 11:05 PM. The previous post in this blog was Remind me to do this if I forget. The next post in this blog is Weird Science, 2005. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Thursday, February 3, 2005

The City that Works... But Not For You

Margie Boule has a great column in The Oregonian today about the poor folks up on Willamette Boulevard in North Portland, who have one of the most unsafe streets anywhere in the city. Cars running up on lawns, hitting houses; everybody speeding; pedestrians getting hit while waiting for a bus. Fifty miles an hour is the usual speed on that city street. You take your life in your hands up there to get across.

Everybody agrees that what Willamette Boulevard needs is some speed bumps, circles -- you know, the "traffic calming devices" that we're so good at.

But the folks up there can't have them, because you see, the city's broke. Sorry, say the municipal bureaucrats, if you want speed bumps, you'd better head down to Salem and put in for a state grant.

Now, my City of Portland B.S. meter is pretty sturdy, but on this one, it's peaking so hard that smoke's coming off it.

No money for transportation? Gentlemen of the City Council, we are spending $900,000 a year (and climbing) subsidizing the downtown Developer Welfare Streetcar -- which is actually slower than walking. We are about to spend many, many millions of dollars on streets and sidewalks for the Wall of Thirty-Story Condos in North Macadam. And, my word, you could sell one -- just one! -- of those stupid California Pizza Kitchen Faux-Art Totem Poles that we've got standing in the Pearl to raise the money it would take to pay for those speed bumps.

But no. Neighbors of NoPo, just deal with it.

And then our beloved commissioners are shocked when guys like me say we'll vote to end the "urban renewal" pork train, if given the opportunity. Well, if it ever happens, fellows, don't say we didn't tell you why.

UPDATE, 2/5/05, 3:10 a.m.: The comments to this post were temporarily lost in a relocation of the server on which this blog resides. When they were restored, the date stamps on the comments were changed.

Comments (15)

Of course there is a downside to everything: Speed bumps also slow police, fire and ambiance vehicles.

In England, the London Ambulance Service guessed that up to 500 people may die each year due to delays caused by traffic “calming” in London.

I wonder where Randy Leonard stands on this one?


I don't think speed bumps are Mr Bog's issue as much as the CoP plundering school/public safety monies to pay for fillips like the streetcar that goes nowhere and the Disneyland gondola ride they are builing to help the poor South Waterfront developers fill those buildings under construction.

The city that works, you over"

I'm trying to figure out how the city works, period. Especailly at South Waterfront.

And where are those who presumably were helping the city work? Why does the environmental community thinks it's a good thing for eagles nesting on reclaimed Ross Island to face a wall of marble, glass and glaring morning sun reflection?

Or, the paltry greenway planned which is no more that a glorified sidewalk to be shaded most of the day, (along with the river) by 325 ft. buildings.

I'm talking about newly elected Metro Councilor Robert Liberty, 1000 Freinds of Oregon, Willamette Riverkeepers, Portland Audubon Society, Mike Houck and the Coalition for Livable Future.

Where are they?

Has anyone else noticed their silence as developers in South Waterfront seek unlimited building dimensions and spacing along the river?

Perhaps Robert can seize the moment to lead from his new Metro position and explain the nature of their silence and the wisdom in South Waterfront.

Otherwise the curious cynic may conclude they sold out in some fashion.

Word is that Mike Houck and Portland Audubon Society took the lead in Sout Waterfront for the conglomerate of evironmental groups. Houck was on the Ross Island Reclamation committee and the Greenway committe both.

With things not looking so swell from any angle (fiscally included) in South Waterfront i would think the enviros would be front and center.

What exactly is at work here.

How about this for a concept. Maybe city government should prioritize its spending on the core services of city government. Streets, water, sewer, fire and police. What a concept! No pork projects and no new taxes until those services are FULLY FUNDED. That stuff is not sexy, and it certainly isn't as much fun as playing "sim city" in the south waterfront, but dammit, it's what they're being paid for. Trams, streetcars and condo towers abound but poor Foxworth is seen on the evening news explaining that he has to cut his budget another 5% despite the meth epidemic, and Giusto proudly shows off the gleaming, and empty, Wapato jail. Of the 1.8 billion in the city budget only about 400 million is deemed "discretionary". But "discretionary" is where our vital safety services come from. In the end, public input on spending is limited to about a 12 million dollar sliver. Commissioner Leonard keeps bragging about our AAA credit rating as an argument that the FPD&R is not a financial catastrophe. Well, if we have such a great credit rating we should be swimming in dough... certainly enough to keep cops on the street, criminals in jail and the pot-holes filled. We all know where the money goes, and why. And it ain't where it needs to be.


I think there may be some sort of fiscal and functional (or dysfunctional) centrifugal force at work.

The more the city spins out of control the harder it is for it to stand up.

Watching some defend the PDC and Urban Renewal is a strong indication of that circumstance.

Especially when they use such shallow, conceptual and less than half of the balance sheet arguments.

it is pretty sickening when the CoP is telling you one thing, but doing another. it's like when Vera was pushing the baseball stadium saying - the money would come from a different bucket than schools....

there are locales in SE and NE portland where there are still dirt/gravel roads. as close in as 60th. how do you explain to a neighborhood - "sorry, we can't put in a proper road here because we're spending your tax $$$ on sidewalks for a new development." it irks me.

Actually, I gave up on the City years ago, when they allowed the KOIN tower to go up. One of the vistas I used to love was driving down the tree-lined Sunset highway, then through the curving tunnel, and - SHAZZAM! - a whole city suddenly appeared, with Mount Hood looming over it in the background. KOIN Tower removed that important component of the view - Mount Hood. So it came as no surprise to me that they rubber-stamped Homer & Co.'s high-rise walls along south waterfront, or that they plan to extend the streetcar not only into this area but also into the east-side.

Tearing up downtown yet again to run more train tracks, shutting down the Opticon system so that the trains won't be inconvenienced by things like fire trucks and ambulances...yup, it all makes perfect sense. Sorry 'bout your luck, NoPo. There's bigger fish to fry.

the money would come from a different bucket than schools

Not to argue against everything in this thread, because, well, I don't disagree with everything in this thread, but you do realize that there are different sources of money, and many of them aren't discretionary and can't just be shuffled around.

Whether that's good or bad is another issue. But it is factually true.

You are absolutely right and, in my view, that's part of the problem. I learned the other day that 621 million of the budget is "interagency billing". That's where one city bureau charges another for some service. Do they ever look at out-sourcing any of that? Could those services be obtained more competitively from the private sector? If millions of dollars are "non-discretionary" because of the city charter, then it's time to dig into the charter. I applaud mayor Potter's plan for a comprehensive charter review, and I hope a comprehensive budget review will be in the works under his administration as well. Recently, all city bureaus were instructed to cut their budgets 5% (that of course being after their CPI increase of 2 or 3%). Across the board cuts are stupid. They need to look at line item cuts. If your household income drops 20%, you don't get to short pay your mortgage and utilities 20%... you get rid of the cable TV, movie night out, etc. Now is not the time to be cutting the police budget by 5%. By the way, even as I write these lines KINK radio is reporting that real crime in Portland is increasing faster than reported crime.

It's been my suspicion for a while that each of these Urban Renewal Districts are just sophisticated methods of covering the costs of the prior ones that never really penciled out.

Portland is like the young couple living on credit cards to sustain a lifestyle that is beyond their means. Every couple years they solve the problem of high credit card payments by qualifying for a new credit card. Convincing themselves that prosperity is just around the corner, they never change their behavior until it is too late.

I'm waiting for the day we find out that the City must keep on borrowing in order to "preserve its AAA credit rating."

"How about this for a concept. Maybe city government should prioritize its spending on the core services of city government. Streets, water, sewer, fire and police. What a concept!"

Sign me up. But they do not play appealingly on the sympathy screens and against the now-large panorama of bureaus and agencies. Three years ago I had occasion to live and drive downtown for a few months. "What the hell is this, Kabul?" I would mutter. The roads are lousy. Rebuilding is much more expensive than maintenance, but that latter option has been largely foregone.

I doubt many would really stand with us when it came to these priorities.

As to crime, one of the reasons I became so bitter about Portland is because my spouse and I, in our mundane middle-class existence, were the victims of three property crimes, none of which were investigated or pursued by police. I learned not even to blame the police. Seems the prosecutors can't prosecute because the judges can't sentence because the jails are full. A crime victim can't get even a "complimentary" copy of the police report in which he has been a victim; it must be bought. One pays many ways to be a victim of crime in Portland.

And as Mr. Lister notes, crimes are increasing faster than their reports. It is beyond a police problem, and it is a more real and greater one than I find much acknowledged on (forgive me) most of your horizons. Personally, I cannot help but think it grows in tangent with the expensive, pretty (or not) pictures most of the city is consumed with or even consumed about arguing over.

I used to occasionally stroll up Willamette Boulevard. Gorgeous up there. I guess I should be grateful I wasn't a victim of vehicular assault as well -- I had no idea I was taking my life in my hands (though as a long-time pedestrian, I did note that walking anywhere in the city has gotten far riskier with not just increased traffic but recklessly ill-mannered traffic).

Oh my God... people sure do love to complain.

I can't believe you're holding a grudge against the KOIN tower from what 15 years ago? There are better things to complain about than the view during the commute. You seem to be one of those who would complain if the Marquem bridge and eastside I5 were put into tunnels - ahhhhh, I don't have a view anymore.

You kinda missed the point, but that's okay. I don't hold grudges.

On the eastside I-5, though, now there's a huge bottleneck. So while I'd hate to see money spent a-la-Vera to stuff the thing into a tunnel, I certainly am in favor of the more cost-effect solution: re-signing the freeways such that what is now I-205 becomes I-5, and the portion of the present I-5 between Tualatin and Vancouver becomes I-205.

Most of the north/south traffic would be diverted and not dealing with skinny bridges.

Of course, they'd miss the glory of driving into the shadow tunnels created by the 30+ story "development" in south waterfront, but that's really a small price to pay.

Willamatte Blvd used to be my old stomping grounds. They have been fighting against speed bumps and traffic circles for years.

The the thought of the city not having enough money for some street improvements or, dare I say it, policing up north is really kinda funny.

I remember in a debate I had with then City Commissioner Charlie Hales back in 2000 (I was running for city council against him at the time). He was making all kinds of promises about all these neat little things. There was of course a plan on the table to increase the "water/sewer" fee that would have CRUSHED busiensses. I said something like; "Charlie NEEDS this fee increase to pass or NONE of his promises could ever take place. And this fee has been killed once already. What will he do if this fee increase gets killed? Will he quit?"

The fee was killed and Charlie quit.

Now much of the money from property taxes up in the north end of town is tied up in paying off that stinking Urban Renewal note. Kinda hard to buy equity when your revenue is being sucked up in paying off debt.


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