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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Portland in the news

What kind of impression is Portland making on the rest of the world these days?

Here's something some folks are hearing about. To go along with this.

Comments (25)

Are readers of this list afraid of the homeless kids downtown? I'm not, nor are my out of town visitors. I could say something about Renee Mitchell and the Oregonian that might get me kicked off the blog. I will say she represents a certain mindset and point of view, usually predictable, one that is more concerned with images than facts.

You're right -- everything's fine downtown. It's got that big city feel -- Calcutta.

damn. That just sucks so bad. About the band's equipment. The homeless thing sucks too but man, that's just bad anywhere you go, despite what the writer says. I guess she's never been to Phoenix (AZ) in the wintertime.

Well, is it surprising that the band lost their gear? Here in PDX, we don't bother with property crime. We're too busy building choo-choo tracks and Epcot Center rides.

And as far as the panhandlers - well, that's just an extension of the same Portland mentality.

Sweet to see that some aren't bothered by the so-called "homeless kids" downtown. I am. Fact is, one of them followed me down the street a few days ago, hollering at me not to pass up a "brother" and generally getting in my face. Finally, I had enough.

I turned and looked him in the eye, pointed out that we were most definitely NOT brothers, and if he needed assistance, there was plenty available. He responded by grabbing my arm. And that's when I gave him his final choice: leave, or die. Yes, I carry weapons.

Oddly, he let go of my arm and stalked off. Gee. Why would this sort of thing bother anybody? I feel like I'm living in a Mel Gibson movie, just walking through the downtown area.

No, Portland is not problem free, but do I detect slight hyperbole there Mr. Bogdanski? It is so tame compared to other cities actually. It seems to me that part of the problem is that the place attracts those who are looking for "the end of the rainbow", ostriches. Then we focus on gnats and swallow camels. How to solve our problems? I prefer to focus on the white collar crime first, agreeing with ol Justice Brandeis that there will be a ripple effect on the rest of society.

I'm sure the meth heads going through your car and the thugs down at Pioneer Courthouse Square sure learned their lesson from what happened to Martha Stewart.

See you on the streetcar.

"I'm sure the meth heads going through your car and the thugs down at Pioneer Courthouse Square sure learned their lesson from what happened to Martha Stewart.

"See you on the streetcar."


Methheads downtown stole my wallet from me when I was on crutches with a broken ankle. I was in the bus kiosk, catty corner from Pioneer Square, broad daylight. I hopped to the phone booth in the kiosk and dialed 911. Took the cops two hours to cruise in for my report.

I figure it was methheads who burglarized our house in North Portland a year later, and stole and wrecked my car in Sullivan's Gulch a year after that.

You'd hardly know I lead a quiet middle-aged life. There's meth and property crime so many places now, but I had to get the hell out of Portland last summer. I don't feel any less safe with Martha roaming almost loose. :=)

Oh my God! A band had their stuff stolen! That never happens anywhere else!


A simple solution is to ignore every one of them. Also ignore the save the children people, who are FAR WORSE than any homeless person I've ever met. I have considered filing assault charges against many of them.

You're right, Bix -- everything's fine in SE Portland. No special property crime problem there. Same as everywhere.


And even if it were, is that what Portland's settling for nowadays? "No worse than anywhere else"?

They ought to put that on the side of the streetcars.

Phoenix! Are you kidding me? They lock you up down there for property crime! Sheriff Joe keeps you locked up too until you either post bond or are found not-guilty. Period. Wonder how the methheads would do up here knowing they'd need to come up with a couple of hundred bucks to get out of the pokey for the weekend. Or in my case $10,000. But that's a different blog.

So what's your solution tough guy, now that you're riding your latest righteous anger wave at your latest carefully selected scapegoat for all that is wrong with urban life?

Is it care-not-cash, like Gavin Newsom proposes in SF? More police patrols? Let charity pick up the slack? Real jail time instead of a revolving door and "community court" for property crimes?

What is this blog supposed to DO, besides apparently allow some educated middle aged white people to snipe at the latest outrage in the news cycle?

Props, though, to your Panthers. At least you're out on a limb on the stuff that doesn't matter.

Oh, Brian, you're so compelling, you cut me. Props, mah brutha, for sharing your ghetto cred with us middle-aged white people.

Yeah, police enforcement and jail time would be nice for starters. But we can't afford that when there are luxury condo towers to be built and a pretty streetcar to run.

Like a good lawyer, focusing on the irrelevant to distract...

As your own statistics bear out (in your 2/1 post), the lion's share of urban renewal is being assessed through property taxes that go to the city (something like 18.99% of the city share you say). Even if you divert what you can of this share (which may be very little given outstanding obligations), you're at best giving it back to the city.
So even if you had more city cops, you'd need to find a place to put the property criminals for what is unfortunately still likely to be a short time anyhow. The county has a place, Wapato jail, but says it "can't open it". The Portland Tribune reports that because the vast majority of county properties are already maxed out on local option levies, new taxes to the COUNTY wouldn't aid in getting the jail open, and thus the Sheriff is looking to the state to shift funds under a provision that requires state prisoners to be released in their home counties. The current county income tax provides somewhere around 16M to public safety, and the current county share of property tax pulls in for public safety a shade over 100M, according to the county assessor's website. So either you find a new source of funds in the county budget, or you find a new source of funds for the county. If we truly need to solve two problems (city cops and county jail), the city and county are not, in this climate, going to reach budget nirvana and have the city relinquish urban renewal revenue to the county.

And then, once you get the property criminals and street punks to the jail, you've still failed to address underlying causes, so the cycle continues, in someone else's neighborhood (which, it seems, suits some readers just fine).

This blog is just casting about for wedge issues to use against PDC, and it will have the most success with those currently funded by the income tax (schools, public health, and public safety). But there's no automatic connection between resolving those issues and diverting the PDC budget, however worthy reforms there might be. Then again, wedging priorities to distract from reality is nothing new in this town:

Willamette Week (2/18/04):At the same time, it’s got to be frustrating. When you were organizing to get gang kids matched up with employers, there’d be maybe six people in the room. You talk about dogs running in the park and you can fill the council chambers. As someone who comes from a history of social justice and activism, doesn’t that just piss you off…

Francesconi: I wouldn’t say it pisses me off. It deeply saddens me.

WW:…that there’s more affection for dogs than for…

'Scone: Actually, it irritates the hell out of me.

Francesconi interviews?

And then, once you get the property criminals and street punks to the jail, you've still failed to address underlying causes

Fine with me, son. Perfectly fine.

Such vitriol.

My first inclination when reading these posts was to make the same reasoning mistake--taking anecdotal snippets and attempting extrapolation. But it's idiotic. It was especially enticing to me since I've had a fair amount of different experiences with the criminal justice system (on the good side, I swear).

So I went to the DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics site, where one can search tons of variables and cities without taking a streetcar to the library. One can bicker about the statistical methodology, reporting bugaboos, cities chosen, etc. but it's the only reasonably objective stats in the thread so far.

Anyway, I picked a few similarly-sized cities to Portland (city limits, not metro areas) to compare our crime stats. The cities were Tucson, Long Beach, Kansas City, Oklahoma City and St. Louis. I don't think I can hyperlink the tables it generated, though I am a computer moron, so I'll just give the Cliff's Notes versions.

Property Crime Rates for 2002 (per 100k people, generally defined as burglary, theft, and car theft):

Portland: 7,127
Tucson: 8,783
Long Beach: 3,276
Kansas City: 8,687
Oklahoma City: 8,921
St. Louis: 12,161

Violent Crime Rates for 2002 (per 100k people, generally defined as murder, manslaughter, robbery, rape and agg assault):

Portland: 829
Tucson: 910
Long Beach: 758
Kansas City: 1,352
Oklahoma City: 822
St. Louis: Infinity (or 2,124, whichever is less)

So Tucson was worse than Portland on each, Long Beach better on each, KC worse on each, OK City split the doubleheader and St. Louis made the crime beancounters order takeout Chinese and work long into the night.

We have it pretty good here, perhaps as shown by the Bureau of Justice Statistics calling our police force "Portland Police Department" instead of its proper name, "Portland Police Bureau".

But our handling of crime could certainly be better. We have fewer cops working the streets than years past and a big incident can easily deplete an entire precinct, cops have perverse work incentives and amazingly no employee review system, the Auto Theft Task Force has been gutted, and the PPB has moved like molasses on the incredible upswing of identity theft.

The jail is worse. It has revolting criteria regarding whom they'll lodge, it releases many prolific crooks and hoods before trial with a wink and a fingerwagging to appear in court later, and it releases throngs of inmates before they've served a respectable portion of their sentence.

The DA's Office shares the blame. Most cases there pass through at least a few sets of hands before trial and therefore creates a lack of accountability, they're so swamped they refuse to take risks and focus on slam-dunks, they've failed miserably at communicating with Portland cops while successfully breeding animosity from them, and the office contains more stifling politics than Congress the day of a budget vote.

Despite all that, Portland seems to compare favorably in crime rates to other similarly-sized cities. And they won't even have a tram!


"there's no automatic connection between resolving those issues and diverting the PDC budget, however worthy reforms there might be"

Au contraire, under the Measure 5 limitations, the ability of both the county and the city to collect and spend additional funds for any governmental program other than schools is directly related to PDC's share of the capped property tax revenues. Per the Shilo Inn S. Ct. decision, PDC's property tax collections are classified as "local government" and part of the $10 tax per $1,000 of value under the M5 compression calculations. Like a blown up rubber surgeon's glove, if you squeeze one of the fingers (PDC) thereby making it smaller, the other fingers (police, jails, etc.) can grow a bit.

Yes, much of the PDC "budget" is really untouchable because it involves collections to repay existing debt for past projects. But that fact is no reason not to consider the overall impact of current and future spending plans such as the funicular. A dollar not spent on any new project means a dollar that is not committed to future repayment through taxes that then can be directed to other priorities.

One other thing - it might surprise many to learn that some of PDC's levy fingers extend well beyond the immediate areas of "urban renewal," beyond Portland proper, and even beyond Multnomah County (Wilsonville, north Yamhill Co., have "urban renewal" line items on property tax bills). Bottom line, PDC's expenditures and obligations reach out and touch a lot of people.

Genuine urban renewal is a noble cause that goes back many decades. Over that time, in Portland and elsewhere, agencies like PDC have had many successes. But that alone is no justification for making ill-advised decisions today that diminish the goverment's limited ability to raise and spend money on other things now and into the future. And, like it or not, the current mode of political discourse involves so-called polarized "wedge issues" that spotlight problems and motivate others to support the underlying cause. Here, that cause is turning the ponderous PDC ship of state a couple of degrees left or right. So, after all the statistics have been disected and comparisons made with Calcutta and Long Beach, we're still left with a simple question related to what we want in our city and how we'd like to prioritize the funding - funicular or a few more cops? (cue Jeopardy theme song)

Certainly there is heavy PDC created debt which must be serviced with their property tax skimming scheme.
Where the rub comes today is new PDC business about to blow another huge hole in today and future funding.
South Waterfront, DoubleTree Hotel, Holman Building, Burnside Bridgehead, Cascade Station, Transit Mall, Metro's Transit Oriented Development subsidies, 200 PDC employees, and 109 planners in Portland, to mention a few, will worsen every ailment we have and push genuine remedies further into the future.
Yammering PDC proponents are part of our fiscal cancer. No ointments of persuasion will do.
Extraction of these folks from policy and decision making is the only anwser.
We could of course try politely asking them to go away.

Reasoned comments, I would agree.

But call me crazy for not wondering about the current position people seem to be getting themselves into on this blog:

1. No alternative vision for urban renewal; just end it;
2. Use wedge issues shamelessly and tap into taxpayer outrage and an inferiority complex to the West Hills;
3. But don't actually articulate a vision for solving any of the wedge issues -- in fact, don't even care if they are solved or just dumped on some less vocal constituency;
4. Imply to voters that unspecified future revenues from diverting PDC funds will be adequate, in and of themselves, to resolve the wedge issues in the ways you see fit.

Here's the gap and why I'm being such a jerk pressing Jack to offer more concrete solutions: It's one thing to stop corruption at PDC. It's quite another to pretend to solve real problems by simply saying "let my interests (which seems vaguely -- and no doubt temporarily -- to be any interest unaffiliated with the West Hills) spend the money instead." In so doing, you divert attention from solutions that need political support that might actually have more impact and bang for the buck. You also limit your political alliances -- thus the Francesconi quote. In the simplistic black hat/white hat world of this blog, some people can't admit that he may have had a point there, because of "who he is".

But just as easily, you can be perceived or defined not to care what the long term outcome is or whether the problem is solved. And when West Hills realizes that, they will deal with PDC corruption by shifting chairs on deck, and deal with your political opportunism by stereotyping and dividing you as middle class cranks who can't agree on or articulate how (or even whether) these other core issues should be resolved.

Do you work for the PDC?
You sure use tired old stuff. Like the "no alternatives" play.
Reminds me of Mike Burton saying, "if not light rail then what" as if no one had any ideas, or saving billions isn't good enough, or that no one can possible figure out what to do.
What a joke.
I have heard countless alternatives to PDC schemes.
But are you unable to understand, that, say if you have a drought and someone suggests closing the spillway gates at the damn that's probably the best start?
Portland planners have many tools besides PDC and Urban Renewal. They have tax abatements, Metro TOD program, the Port on and on.
Alternatives have been offered for every PDC effort.
The problem is they play the game by claiming there are no other options like they have in South Waterfront.
Urban Renewal has become the vehicle for litterally any development they dream up.
"Bang for the buck" is whatever they declare it to be. Cascade station has devoured many millions and NO bang has appeared.
The PDC Creative Services Building promised bang and none appeared.
The PDC could sell the Holman Building and net 1.3 million but instead they are spending 3.4 million to control the building's multi-use and more promises of bang. Of course the bang is all made up BS.
Like much of your post. Especaily the part where Mr. Nobody
",,,Imply to voters that unspecified future revenues from diverting PDC funds will be adequate, in and of themselves"

Tell me who the hell ever implied such an asinine thing?

The PDC claims everything they do saves or creates jobs. It's rediculous. They are not job creators or savers.

They entities who they channel millions to know they are weak and maleable enough to be conned into throwing in wads of tax dollars for things they would do anyway.
The Holman building doesn' need any PDC schemes.
Sell the damn thing and let the free market rehab the building they way the see fit to make money.
Franz Bakery the same thing.
Cascade Station is a joke.
Brian, you are either a PDC employee or don't know enough about the PDC track record and current planning to make any case for them.
On top of many ills at PDC is their blatant lying
on big ticket items such as South Waterfront.
Our planners frequently deceive the public and city leadership.
If all you do is look at how much of downtown is in an Urban Renewal district and the huge sums being diverted you may get a grip. But I doubt it.

If you can't make any more sense of the PDC schemes than they make themselves then you are just arguing to keep the spillways open during a drought.

With every step the PDC continues to make our house of cards gets weaker. Most of their projects
are requiring huge sums to subsidize city services to them because the property taxes they pay,if they do, are going towards paying their debt for decades and NOT their own city services.
How much of this formula do you think our city can take?
Sure the PDC says someday when all these things are paid off more revenue will be arriving. But they also claim no development anywhere would happen without them and big tax subsidies.
Is this the solid Portland they have created. If that's true than they will be perpetually subsidising development and never catching up at all and the house will fall. Just as the signs in agency budgets sugsest is happening NOW.

My feeling is that everyone trumpets the importance of Portland's downtown to the city's long run vitality, but everyone is uncomfortable doing something about the increasingly visible and aggressive panhandling.

No, crime in Portland is not out of control. Yes, I have lived in cities with violent crime and robbery rates far higher than Portland. I am happy to live in a safe, clean city.

But working downtown the last six months (having lived here for five years) has left me shocked at the level of panhandling. This is not just a homeless bum or two who've wandered away from the shelters on Burnside. These are organized packs of young folks with large dogs and a menacing manner.

Imagine the impact on out of town visitors. On suburbanites visiting the mall. You can't just tell these folks "oh, it's really quite safe" and "you won't get robbed at gunpoint."

All they are working off of is their impressions, and those impressions are not good.

Anyone here visit San Francisco ten years ago? Market Street was a dump, overrun by panhandlers. San Fran cracked down and Market Street has experienced a Renaissance.

If a city like San Fran can realize that it isn't anti-poor and anti-progressive to crack down on aggressive panhandling, surely Portland can do something.

I used to live in SF and the pan-handling there is much more widespread and serious. There is still a ton of pan handlers all up and down Market, plus a few blocks on either direction. Plus out in the neighboroods - nearly all of them. Portland's panhandling is mildly annoying at best.

Last November, my car broke down as I was driving through downtown on the way to teach an evening class. During the half block walk from the car to a pay phone to call my boss, I was accosted twice by pan handlers whom I found annoying to no end. On the othter hand, I have been not annoyed but terrified by certain "prominent" lawyers and the judges they "handle". And given the choice, I would live next door to a half-way house of panhandlers than any of the above. Disrespectful people with money do more harm than disprespectful people without it, and call me an old liberal, but I do see a systemic problem here.

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