The long-awaited "new deal" for the OHSU aerial tram [rim shot] was finally shown around at Portland City Hall yesterday. The Portland Development Commission has "hammered out" one of its trademark transactions in which the bucket goes even deeper into the bottomless well of city taxpayer money. The new package just unveiled (36 hours after the public got an uninformative p.r. snow job that apparently never mentioned it) has the city paying $5.9 million of new green, on top of the $3.5 million that it's already paid, to build the Ski Lift to Municipal Bankruptcy. You math majors out there, hep us out, but I think that's a 168.6% increase.
There's that good old PDC fighting spirit that we've grown to know and love! They come in with this gem after three members of the City Council had already announced that the city shouldn't have to pay any new money. Perhaps we need to chip in to get the PDC a few subscriptions to the local newspapers.
Of course, that proposed $9.4 million revised total they're flashing around is another liars' budget. It hides the many, many more millions in underhanded subsidies that the tram has already received, which make the original $3.5 million already a fake number. Looked at more critically, the existing city taxpayer tab is probably closer to $10 million, and the new package would push it well over $15 million -- maybe closer to $20 million, as there are new forms of sneaky subsidies in the new proposal.
City Commissioners Leonard and Saltzman dismissed the new deal yesterday. But the Mayor and Sam "the Tram" Adams have made it fairly clear that they are committed to getting the tram built one way or another, and they appear to be open to "tweaking" the "new deal," with plenty more paid out of property taxes. They're softening us up with the proposed $5.9 million increase, so that they can look like champs when it turns out to be only $4.5 million (for now).
Which leaves our pal Opie as the swing vote. And he's trying to have it both ways, as usual. First he acted as though he was in the Leonard camp -- no new money, period -- but now he's hedging. He's sending out those Opie messages that you only get if you read between the lines to understand what's going on in his keen OSPIRG-like mind.
Erik Sten, two weeks ago: "We just got to a point now where we've got to say that's it. And if it's not worth the money to OHSU and the developers, then it doesn't get built."
Erik Sten, yesterday: "I'm not going to support a new agreement unless the private-sector developers eat some of the cost overruns."
Hmmm. "Unless." Hmmm. "Some" of the cost overruns. So if his "seed money" patron Homer Williams scratches up another $1 million by taking bottles back to Freddy's and giving plasma, Sten will vote to have the city pay the other $4.9 million of new city money in the PDC package? That's a funny way of interpreting "that's it."
Adams seemed to say as much: "Potter and Commissioner Sam Adams said they're open to more discussion, but Adams also wants to see more money from the developers."
At least this enhances the comedy value of the whole episode. Williams and his co-developer, a man named Dike Dame, probably don't have any more money. Developers are notorious for running on an extremely low checking account balance, reportedly getting themselves in cash flow binds fairly regularly on projects such as Homer's buildings in the Pearl. When you tell them they have to pay more money in the short term, it drives them nuts. They just don't have it. It's the stuff that HBO Sunday Nights are made of.
Meanwhile, there's another insane sideshow running under this tent. One ploy that's being used to try to obscure reality is Sten's dragging low-income housing into the picture. Opie and crew know that when they say "affordable housing," all the City Club sheep bleat loudly in approval. And so part of the new strategy is to somehow make it look as though by paying more money for the aerial tram [rim shot], Portland taxpayers are really somehow building apartments for the homeless:
An additional $18.7 million in new tax revenue would be steered into affordable housing. The city's goal is for nearly 800 of the 3,000 condos and apartments planned for the area to be accessible to low- and middle-income residents.
This stuff cracks me up. What "new tax revenue"? Do you just wave a magic wand, and "new tax revenue" appears? And even if it did, how does the city's steering more money away from cops and potholes toward housing projects somehow justify steering even more money away toward the Kohler-Coaster?
And pardon me, but talking about "goals" is pretty silly. SoWhat isn't going to be a low-income neighborhood. So far the purported "affordable housing" projects down there have not advanced beyond identifying a couple of blocks of bleak (maybe contaminated) dirt that some day, maybe, if we can come up with more public money and if we can sweet-talk somebody into it, might contain some housing that someone might be able to call "affordable" (if they don't look up in the dictionary what that word actually means).
Adding onto that fetid pile of largely empty promises is not a justification for paying more city money for the tram. The connection between the two is so preposterous that they really ought to give up trying to get anyone to understand it, much less believe it.
But the show goes on. Over in ring no. 3: OHSU's bringing its trial lawyer to the meetings with the city now. And the O is quick to point out that it's "one of the city's most prominent trial lawyers." Oooooh, scary!
Bring it on, dudes.
The craziest part -- and of course, the O acts like you shouldn't even consider asking about it -- is why work on this monstrosity continues at its frenzied pace when there's a major lawsuit looming over the financing.
Picture it this way: Let's say you and your neighbor agree to build a fancy new garage together. You and she sign a poorly worded contract that says you're going to build it, but both you and she will use the garage when it's done. The two of you will share the cost of $100x -- $50x that you will pay, and $50x that she will pay. When the thing's about a third of the way built, you discover that it's going to wind up costing $300x, and you and your neighbor can't agree on who's supposed to pay the extra $200x. The two of you are getting ready to sue each other's pants off over it. She's hired a hotshot lawyer already. The court case could take years to resolve.
Remember, you're the one who signed the contract with the carpenter. He shows up in the morning, and he's climbing back up on scaffolding. Wouldn't you tell him, "Hey, bad news, buddy, I'm not sure who's going to pay you for this. Maybe you ought to stop work until we straighten this out"? Or would you tell him, "Hurry up -- time is money"?
It's all a setup, people. The tram is going to get built, and the city's going to pay new money to build it. Sten and Adams will do their tweedle-dum tweedle-dee act, and the old West Hills money that they're supposedly "shaking up" will get its way.
It's funny watching them struggle to figure out how to put it over on us, though. They're proving themselves to be not very adept snake oil salesmen.
I don't understand what the mayor's doing. He should know better.