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Thursday, January 12, 2006

"Tram bad" -- The O

The Oregonian has figured it out: The OHSU Medical Group aerial tram [rim shot] is bad. Mayor Tom Potter's got it, too. All together everybody: Bad, bad, bad. Long story in InPortland today, and a Steve Duin column to boot. How the $15.5 million tram became the $45 million tram, and how Fireman Randy thinks it's going to top out at $60 million. And Randy says no more city money.

This is the same Randy who when running for office said something like "I don't think an aerial tram is the solution to OHSU's transportation problems." But then he voted for it anyway.

Leonard sounds embarrassed. He should be. As should his colleagues from those days, Sten and Saltzman, who are both up for re-election. The docs on Pill Hill took them to the cleaners, just as they take Medicare and Medicaid to the cleaners on a regular basis.

Another interesting aspect of today's coverage: It finally spotlights the revolving door at City Hall, where staffers leave public office and go right to work as employees, partners, or debtors of the very developers they're supposed to be regulating. No rules broken there, apparently.

We need some rules.

Matt Brown, the latest bureaucrat on the career merry-go-round, is still being quoted as a voice of the city government. He's in there saying that the "5,000 good new jobs" justify the financial hole we're digging with the Stairway to Heaven. Even if you believe that coming from the newly designated developer flak, don't I remember the original job figure being 10,000? I guess that was just another estimate, eh?

And weren't they supposed to be biotech jobs? I think that was just an estimate, too.

Overall, it was some decent tram [rim shot] coverage by the O -- albeit three years late. You can be sure it never would have happened if old Randy Gragg were around these days to whisper sweet, sexy planner nonsense into Sandy Rowe's ear. I hope when Gragg's done at Harvard, Homer Williams has a gig for him, too.

Pretty funny that Neil Goldschmidt's name has disappeared from the story. He was the fixer for the whole thing. Guess we can forget about him now -- at least, that's what the governor's office is suggesting.

And still no mention of who's going to pay to operate the tram, which will no doubt be a nightmare to run. I'm sure that's already decided -- my guess is two-thirds Tri-Met and one-third the city, like the streetcar -- but the O can't look that far ahead, I guess. I've been asking the question here for years, but no one's offered an answer, straight or otherwise. And there's no budget I've ever seen.

Speaking of the Ski Lift That Bankrupted the City, I had some correspondence with Amanda Fritz, who's challenging Saltzman for his seat, just before the new year. It clarifies her involvement with the tram from her Planning Commission days. She says she has an alibi. It's interesting stuff, and it merits a post of its own.

Comments (28)

Steve Duin wrote

Back in the winter of 1998,,,, Randy Leonard received a call from Peter Kohler, the president of OHSU,,,Kohler pointed,,, and said, "We're going to build a tram here." ,,,, "It's a dream of ours," Leonard recalls Kohler saying. "It's something we believe in." """""""""""""

However in a WW story (a good read) it was Goldschmidt in the summer before.
LEAD STORY August 26, 1998

"Goldschmidt has also tried to excite Katz about the idea of running a tram from Oregon Health Sciences University--where Goldschmidt serves on the board of directors--down to the North Macadam development, where OHSU wants to build a new Women's Health Center and office buildings.
[no mention of reseach]
"""Another example of Goldschmidt's,,,,is his work for Bechtel Enterprises,,, Bechtel became partners with the city, Tri-Met and the Port of Portland in a plan to extend light rail to the airport.,,,,,,Bechtel won't say what it paid Goldschmidt for the airport deal,,[a no bid contract],,""""

Does anyone know how much it would cost the city just to bail right now? As of today, how much is currently invested in the project?

At some point it's just not worth it anymore. What if another study comes out and says its gonna cost 100 million to build. Does Portland just suck it up and say, "Well a deals a deal."

How about we take the extra 50 million and put it toward a new baseball stadium. At least that's something a lot of Portlanders will use.

Mr M. Brown is not the latest to find a job.

I know I mentioned this before, but the job market is picking up - Mr Don Mazziotti (sp?) former PDC head ended up on his feet with a new job working for Harsch (run by the Schnitzers) Investments. Congrats!

They used to and still do own some of the SoWa property coincidentally. The O buried that story last week.

Sam in the Rain -- "vital to the economy . . ."

He still thinks the cost stuff is fully within the range of rational negotiating discretion comparable to that of an authoritarian style political/economic system.

It the voters choose to dissolve the city itself what would survive of the deal, at least as far as Multnomah County is concerned? That should at least place one outer limit on Sam's perception of his power to lock everyone in to his deal.

But the tram [rim shot] does not sound nearly as bad as the state agreeing to pay 20 million to an outfit to merely study the prospect of creating toll highways. That must surely be just the start and include lobbying fees sufficient for the long haul. Just to keep things in perspective. Highways mean jobs too.

Jim Pasero wrote an excellent article entitled "Banking on Biotech" in Brainstorm magazine in 2003. It pretty well lays out the reasons that OHSU was not ever a real contender for biotech jobs. You can find it on their arhives.

There is a very extensive discussion of the costs of pulling out over at Commissioner Adams's blog.

But when last I checked, that discussion never culminated in any concrete total of damages the city would have to pay if it stopped the project. Adams said there were several contracts that would be violated, without specifying which they were and how much each would cost to terminate.

I disagree with your image of doctors taking the council to the cleaners. Tram approval was all of Portland getting a group colonoscopy. Talk about a rim shot.

Let us celebrate a modest outbreak of sanity, however delayed.

As I am challenging Erik Sten for City Commissioner #2, I want to make it perfectly clear that I oppose the aerial tram. The developers of the tram do not have sufficient experience to pull off the project, which means the first years are likely to be mired with technical difficulties and breakdowns.

Meanwhile, crowded traffic arteries like Hwy 99E down to Oregon City which have lobbied for years to get light rail service (MAX), have been jilted. This just goes to show Portland's misguided priorities. Randy Leonard is probably correct in his projections of the aerial trams cost, if not a bit conservative.

"""""Meanwhile, crowded traffic arteries like Hwy 99E down to Oregon City which have lobbied for years to get light rail service (MAX), have been jilted.""""""""

Why would Oregon City lobby for light rail if they want traffic relief?

Did someone tell them or you that our light rail relieves traffic?

The fatal flaws with the Tram are multiplied with light rail.


Sam's claims of liability, given that the city attorney serves at the council's pleasure, seem as vacant as a teen boy telling his girlfriend that if they don't do it that he will go blind. You know, say anything, anything at all in the heat of the moment. It might work on the most naive. I hope that is not you.

You can say no.

I'm sure glad I live outside of Portland's city limits. Whenever I take that tram (if it gets built and if it works), I'll think of all of you. Thank you for paying for such an unnecessary,overpriced extravagance! All those docs who invested in that big building on the S. waterfront love you from the bottom of their fat bank accounts! And I have a headquarters hotel I'd like to sell you, too. It'll cost you only $600 a square foot. Schnitzer land donated for an grossly inflated tax deduction not included in this price.

The Oregonian coming to a common sense conclusion? Next you'll tell me Renea Mitchel actually knows something about reforming and financing K-12 education.

Congragulation Jack - I blame you.

Robert--As I recall, the city of Milwaukie and most of Clackamas County voted against the proposed north/south light rail line, thereby killing any extension of it down to Oregon City. So get your facts straight.

But what I want to know is if we are going to be allowed to vote on publicly financed elections (which this year might cost maybe $500,000), why can't we vote on the tram? Is it because OHSU is the 8,000-pound economic gorilla in town and can get anything it wants?

Back on track to the TRAM

I find the article in the "O" this morning pretty remarkable.


You really think voting down lightrail means anything around here? ALL lightrail was voted down by the people. At least twice is some cases. But the "powers that be" built it anyway.
So now we get subsidized trains, expensive downtown parking, and no repairs to roads people actually use.

If this plays out like I would expect it to, remember the Water Bureau's computer fiasco, the City Council and Mayor will fire the department administrator and everything, according to our elected officials will be just peachy and we'll start over again.

I believe I read in the paper that thew new computer system is behind schedule, oops, there goes another manager?!!

I think it's interesting how the 15.5 million "Portland Aerial Tram" became the 45.5-60 million "OHSU's Aerial Tram". Isn't there this funny little saying about how success has many fathers but failure is an orphan?


I agree that it didn't end with precise figures, but I think the conversation moved us a lot farther along. And as you noted there, I think we have to give credit to Adams for being the first to take the public heat on this issue. I know there will be those here who say it's deserved, but he doesn't seem to be ducking responsibility.

He has to handle it now -- he's the transportation commissioner and ex officio he's on the private tram corporation's board. But he denies he had anything to do with the tram in 2002 and 2003. He was Vera's economic development go-to guy (LOL), but he claims the tram project was "staffed" by others.

Jack,you and others are right on many points about the Tram.

Randy did vote for the Tram after he had meetings with neigborhood assn.s that questioned the tram's cost and actual transportation validity. Plus the planning commission hearings and report to council following our meetings bears this out.

In fact, all the Council knew of the tram's shortcomings before and after the vote two years ago. There has been time to ask serious questions by council, staff, PATI, CAC, and especially PDC. (see blog under "regarding Tryon Creek Farm..." posting under Lee)

There is a "revolving door" at city hall and PDC. Look at "O"s "Players in the Rise of the Tram". Sadly, Frank left out the early, most important "players" in the "photo lineup"-Goldschmidth, Kohler, and Katz (Adams). Out of this "lineup" there are at least six claims of "conflict of interest" that could easily be made.

Do we need some rules? Possibly-but we need some enforcement of existing rules, besides ethics.

You're right, Jack, 15,000 to 10,000 jobs was the promise. The whole North Macadam Agreement signed over a year ago has changed (agreement violations?- why can't the tram portion of agreement be altered?). Housing was suppose to be the smaller component of the Plan. Now staff admits the condo housing picture has changed upward. Has transportation planning changed to accommodate the increase traffic caused by more housing? NO. Has the need for the tram changed? YES.

Where are the bio-tech jobs? Does the public know that NM budget includes over $5Mm taxpayer dollars for bio-tech job incentives-but no jobs yet? Does the public know that "OHSU's health club building" being built now is using some of this $5M bio-tech incentive money?

Yes, Jack the "O" and other media is late, and still not getting the whole story, or right. But they knew about these issues.

Goldschmidth, legally representing both OHSU and Schnitzers was the "deal maker" for the tram. He sold it to Katz(Adams) and the story continues.

Yes, who is going to pay to operate the tram? This is one portion of what a true "life-cycle-cost analysis" defines. Does the public know that there hasn't even been an actual LCC analysis made by any agency? Does the public know that for a 20 year LCC the trip cost becomes close to $65 per trip on the tram?

Concerning yesterdays good "O" article that's three yars late: Ryan left out that there were neighborhood assn's, many individuals, planning commission members and report that questioned the tram from several aspects in the past years when it was first proposed as an $8.5M tram to the public.(the $15M budget that PDC and press likes to use is the budget used for the architectural competition a year later, and the arch. participants even questioned that)

The article title should have included "How Politics, City Bureaucrats, Developers, Media, flimsy math.....Six Times its cost".

The cost overrun causes where more than architects, engineers, steel costs. Todays "O" article is getting closer to the truth, i.e' City Council, Council Staff (Adams), PDC, PATI, CAC, bureau staff, etc.

Point being, would you ever buy a house and not consider for your budgeting taxes, maintenance, de-or appreciation, a castrophy-water line break, the condo fees, insurance, etc.? All these governmental souls know that buying a house (Tram) is more than the tram's hard costs of $60M. Even the land value wasn't included in the city's calculations.

Leonard is right, the hard costs will exceed $60M. Now will he, Potter, Adams, and any one else look at the true LCC costs? And then do something about it-like delay the tram when and if there are really bio-tech jobs down there? Or stop it? Or consider alternative solutions that were brushed over three years ago?

Having attended and spoken at several meetings with the city and the planning commission, I can assure everyone that everyone knew of the concerns of several people about the cost of the project. One has to understand that there are people and institutions in this city who obtain whatever boondoggle and benefit they want for only two reasons: arrogance and corruption. Hell, it is like Louisiana. When the Kingfish was asked how much it cost to buy the legislature, he replied. " Why buy them, we simply rent them down here".

I am learning to love the Tram because hey "It's here, it may be queer*, but get used to it." In keeping w/ the spirit of the "Keep Portland Weird sentiment" I'm proposing some additional functions for the Tram because I think once it's built it's going to have some down time if it is only used for shuttling OHSU staff back and forth.
1. POPOMO (Post Post Modern)Government funded Art Piece. Perhaps commision Cristo to design some kind of covering for it and let it be a huge piece of public art.
2.Restaurant/Bar. This goes w/ the Seattle Space Needle Idea. Slow it way down so one revolution takes a couple of hours and serve food and drinks. Imagine a romantic evening floating above Macadam,I-5,Barbur Blvd,The Historic Corbett Lair Hill Neighborhood, The Willamette River, Mt. Hood. The Trams could be done up in a Silver Art Deco Style type Diner that from the ground might even make them look like flying saucers, or Buck Rogers type space ships. This could be a huge draw for the well heeled condo dwellers of the South Waterfront not to mention Tourists.
3. Advertising. This goes along w/ the "Pill Hill" connection. Make the Trams look like giant medicine Capsules and rent out the outside to major drug manufactuers to advertise their latest anti-depressants. Think of Tri-Met buses but up in the air.
4. Floating waiting rooms for OHSU patients. Waiting to see a provider is so boring, this would make the wait fun.
I'd come up with more, but I better get back to work.
*Queer as in strange or weird, not in the gender preference definition.

Tom's on to something here. What doctor wouldn't want to ride to work in a giant Viagra pill? Hell, it could symbolize the rising cost of the project.

Sunk costs.

This is going to damn far....when one has to explain what "queer" means, we are getting to thin skinned.

to, too. two



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