Paging Mayor Potter
Lots of colorful language was being flung around over the weekend concerning the Portland Development Commission's outrageous selection of a developer for the east side of the Burnside Bridge. B!X is calling it a "rogue decision," and The O says the neighbors are "sulking" (a choice of verb which reportedly is ticking off the neighbors no end).
I did my best last week with "cancerous cyst," but let me add some more fuel to the rhetorical fire: The PDC is utterly out of control.
Once again, they screwed up the p.r. big time. Never has the "us and them" attitude that the PDC adopts toward the taxpayers of the city been more apparent. PDC chair Matt Hennessee (right) told The Oregonian on Thursday: "At the end of the day, if it fails, guess who people would look at? It's not the neighborhoods." That's the cooperative spirit, Matt!
Of course, on one level he's certainly right. For example, blame for the continuing, now breathtaking, failure of the Vanport Square project on MLK Boulevard is falling squarely on Hennessee and the other commissioners -- where it belongs.
But the Burnside deal is a lot worse than just a public relations fiasco. It would have been impossible to have any good p.r. on this decision, because the substance of it is so wrong. As my litigator friends are fond of saying, You can't polish a turd.
Even Randy Gragg, The O's resident apologist for all Pearlite scams, got part of this one right. The PDC ripped off local developer Brad Malsin's idea, delayed the decision in the name of "public process," and then in effect fed Malsin's superior plan to its favored developer, Opus, so that it could get the deal. Then the overwhelming public input that the added process produced was conveniently discarded:
The PDC put out a request for proposals, suggesting a big-box retailer such as Home Depot would be a good anchor for a housing and office development. Opus and another developer, Gerding/Edlen, responded in kind. But Malsin, a developer from the neighborhood, opted for a different scheme: flex work space, local retail, artists' lofts and condos. Neighborhood advocates and eastside businesses rose up against the big box and embraced Malsin as their visionary.
Hennessee stepped in and lengthened the public process, allowing more public input but also giving the other developers the chance to shift to more Malsin-like, big-box-free proposals.
If Malsin was actually wronged in any way, it wasn't because he lost. Rather, it's because he spent $200,000, in essence creating the PDC's new request for proposals.
The rest of Gragg's spin (which was duplicated in an O editorial on Saturday) is bunk -- Opus was a sounder bet financially, we can't take chances with public money (*cough!*) -- but even he in all his soul-patched folly discerned the smell of this particular brand of rat.
Heaven forbid that, when the PDC is doling out the Real Estate Welfare, it might actually favor a bright local guy. it's a nice message to the "creative class": Move to Portland, where we'll immediately slop our inferiority complex over onto you. Fat cats like Opus get the real work -- you wait tables.
So, where is Mayor Tom Potter, at whose pleasure all of the PDC luminaries are currently serving? He was quoted last week as saying he'll take up his reaction with Hennessee privately. As soon as he gets done addressing that well-tailored Lake Oswego suit, I hope the mayor will clue us taxpayers -- who are going to pay yet another developer to build us some more condo towers -- in on what he thinks of the decision.
As bad as the Rope-a-Dope-Opus caper is, it doesn't worry me nearly as much as the selection process for a new CEO for the PDC. For some reason, the mayor is insisting that a replacement for Don "the Don" Mazziotti be found and sworn in by July 1. But all that does is give the existing PDC commissioners the right to pick Mazziotti's successor. Already the search committee is lined with the usual suspects from the Hennessee-Goldschmidt web -- the same place that the current majority of commissioners, and Mazziotti, came from.
Mayor Potter, if you really want change at the PDC, don't let this band of rogues name the next chief! Insist that your newly appointed commissioners, and not the current gang that couldn't shoot straight, make that call. What's the rush? Either get the decision put off until after July 1, or take Matt Hennessee and Janice Wilson to breakfast at the Fat City Cafe, and ask them to read your lips, if you know what I mean.