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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 1, 2006 5:46 PM. The previous post in this blog was Weed rather not. The next post in this blog is Game report: Blazers 99, Lakers 93. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.



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Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Scams of the future

Here at, we don't just whine about all the government scams currently under way in and around Portland. We also try to spot the new ones as they begin to hatch.

Usually they start with just a teeny, little peep. Like the one in the paper today about how Multnomah County is going to sell off some "excess" real estate holdings to start to put a dent in the down payment for a hideously expensive new county courthouse. The old one would need a lot of work to fix up, and so despite its historic significance and innate charm, in The Oregonian news pages it's now officially "decrepit."

What properties would the county sell? Apparently, an older building up in the west end of downtown, and some parcels of vacant land down by the west side of the Morrison Bridge. And who would the buyer be? Hold on to your seats, people. Those fine stewards of the public trust, the Portland Development Commission -- that's who!

With those details in place, there's little mystery surrounding how the ensuing few years will go. The PDC will pay some crazy amount for the real estate -- say, $25 million. Then it will let the property sit idle for a year or two. Board up that old building -- make it a real eyesore and a bad neighbor. Let the street drunks and taggers get at it. After everyone's sick of it, suddenly discover some horrible environmental problem or other major disfigurement that, golly, nobody even thought to look for before.

The end game is always the same. Sell it to one of the Chosen Few Developers for $1. Make a few calls so that the minions in the city planning bureaucracy sign off on waiver after waiver of height and density restrictions. The next thing you know you've got yourself some lovely 25-story condo towers -- maybe even tax-abated, if the scam goes well.

The taxpayers wind up paying both for the courthouse and for the condos. Then it's on to the next one.

Comments (18)

You got it right, Jack. PDC owning these parcels also affects the properties nearby-it puts everyone on hold waiting for the "gifts"-just like North Macadam. And 10 to 15 years can pass by so quickly. Free Enterprise? Lost tax revenue as we wait?

I happen to know something about the Martha Washington (SW 11th halfway house), it is being valued at $5.4M, however to use any of the 130 rooms, one needs to spend another $5M for new plumbing, seismic retrofit, etc. At this price, you are right, it is a teardown. Where was it stated PDC will buy it?

That is a good bet and quite similar to the deferred maintenance game they played at the Sheriffs Office, where a leaky roof was allowed to ruin the building, or so they claim.

This is getting too easy. Jack is so right:

" some horrible environmental problem..."

I'll bet it's the latest scourge: Mold!

Looking for mold and environmental hazards. How about the old Corno's block on MLK that Jack allegedly owns. I think a courthouse with fruit on top would be lovely.

And the new Wapato Jail sits empty

By George, Jack, you've broken the code!

Note to private developers: The City has a vision. And if you're not on board for the same vision, the City has the power (in the words of Erik Sten) "to slow this down."

But wait, isn't the Central Eastside URA supposed to expire ... oh, my THIS YEAR!

Well, well. I guess we'll have to renew that renewal area because we spent the last 20 years "renewing" the area by building ...

TA DAH!! The Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. You know, the strip of concrete, hypodermic needles, and dog crap that has sent property values through the roof and sucked up about 80-90% of the URA funding for the area.

Maybe all is not lost. Perhaps the local favorite optometrist-turned-developer can suckle from the public teat this time around.

Voters must grasp the fact that there is nothing resembling any sort of a business plan for these Urban Renewal schemes.

The PDC 20 year budgets used for approval never hold up and there is no agency or oversight entity providing any comprehensive auditing of the great Urban Renewal structure and function.
There is no governing body enforcing Urban Rewewal laws.

It's true fiscal musical chairs.

Any pretense by elected officials that this massive diversion of basic services funding is a controlled and well thought out investment plan is official maleficence.


of the 'greater' Urban Renewal structure and function.

The City Council has long been trying to turn Portland into their own personal amusement park so they need a name.
Every theme park has a name, and thanks to this post I've thought of one. How about Future Scam?

Can't say I am surprised at the faction of the commissioners that is promoting this, the one that accuses Diane Linn of not being a "team player". Not every team is worth joining. I hope she further distances herself from the crew team on the River Styx.

So, we know this is how the game is played, but how can we stop it before this city has gone completely down the tubes?

Though I tend to agree with your distrust of the PDC and the city/county development complex in general, I hope you're not suggesting that the need for a new county courthouse is a red herring. One way or another, the old county courthouse must be replaced, and it must be replaced soon. It's not simply decrepit, it is dangerous to everyone who visits and especially to those who work there (myself included). Forget the fact that it's not rated for even a mild earthquake, if it weren't a vital county building, I find myself doubting if it would have passed the recent fire inspection. Take a look at the recent Multnomah County Bar Association publication for a good explanation of why the courthouse desperately needs to be replaced.

The real scandal is why the county has put it off for so long - while they've been waiting, prime locations on government square (between 3rd and 4th for the several blocks south of Salmon downtown) that would have made sense financially have been allowed to go off the market. That's part of why the price has gone up so much.

Post Script to my above: No, despite how my post reads, I promise I'm not a PR person for the County. I'm just a concerned employee of the state Judicial Dept who happens to work in the building being discussed.


Is it your understanding that the county is looking for an entirely new site for a courthouse, rather than intending to tear down and rebuild on the present site? And do you know if the county has considered upgrading and restoring the current building, along the lines of the restoration of City Hall? Simply abandoning the current courthouse and building somewhere else seems like a bad idea.

I don't work in the courthouse but do work in the legal community and therefore visit the Multnomah Courthouse frequently. It's easy to see that it's overcrowded and in very bad shape, having suffered the effects of poor quality maintenance, remodeling and expansion over the years.

If you really wanted to, you could save the courthouse the same way the Pioneer Courthouse, the Central Library and City Hall were saved. But the will, apparently, is not there, and I'm sure Hoffman Construction or one of the other local corporate welfare recipients has a new building greased and ready to go.


I would sincerely hope that the current courthouse would not be demolished - it is a very significant historic property (not sure if it officially has a historic preservation status to it, however) that is part of Portland's urban fabric. Tearing it down would be like tearing down Penn State or the Empire State Building for a Wal-Mart.

Anyways, the current courthouse isn't big enough to handle the # of cases that go through it right now. Besides, there already is a huge remodeled addition to it - have no idea when it was built, but its terrible - completely screwed the place up, and is likely incurring huge maintenance bills due to its terrible design. The proposal would be to demolish the addition and restore the building to its former glory, and then possibly let another government (state, city, feds, not sure) agency utilize it.

Then build a new one.

But for god's sake, when you're going to build, do it right - otherwise you're going to regret the financial hell that results from buildings that require enormous maintenance work, additional expansion & upgrading, etc - if they aren't addressed properly in the first place.

Also, tearing down architectural significant buildings in ANY city will bring down hell and high water - damned citizen activists and preservationists - and make your life not worth living.


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In Vino Veritas

Lange, Pinot Gris 2015
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Cleto Charli, Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco, Vecchia Modena
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Edmunds St. John, Bone-Jolly Rosé 2016
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Chehalem, Inox Chardonnay 2015
The Four Graces, Pinot Gris 2015
Gascón, Colosal Red 2013
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L'Ecole No. 41, Merlot 2013
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The Occasional Book

Marc Maron - Waiting for the Punch
Phil Stanford - Rose City Vice
Kenneth R. Feinberg - What is Life Worth?
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Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
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Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
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Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
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Road Work

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