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Thursday, July 6, 2006

Randy gets religion

One of the things we've learned in our years in the blogosphere is not to ask why Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard takes the positions he does. If you dare to suggest that politics enters into his calculations, the good commish himself will often jump into the conversation to say, How dare you question his reasons! "You don't know my motivations," he'll tell you. "You're insulting me."

The more I've thought about this line from the good fireman, the odder it seems. Is that what he's going to tell his constituents the next time he runs for re-election -- "You have no way of knowing what motivates me"? Either you're trying to please the people who vote for you, Randy, or you're the dumbest politician walking around Portland -- and we all know for a fact that the latter isn't true.

And so it is with Leonard's recent salvos against the Portland Development Commission. Now he's got the religion we've been preaching on this blog for around four years now. The PDC's footsie deals with the private developers who are cashing in on the city government's bizarre condo fetish look a little hokey. Paying millions for property, then suddenly discovering it's worthless and literally giving it away. Fireman Randy now says (with Opie and Sam the Tram nodding frantically in agreement) that that smells at least a little fishy, and it needs to be independently audited. No kidding, dude!

And hey, maybe the PDC shouldn't continue in its current status as a "quasi-independent" body, i.e., not really accountable to anyone. With a budget north of $200 million a year, perhaps it ought to be subject to much closer scrutiny from the City Council on an ongoing basis. Like a regular city bureau? Right on!

But where've you been, commissioner? And why the sudden, intense burst of activism? Especially now, with the new Potter PDC commissioners on board, the Convention Hotel scam temporarily on hold, and a recent commitment by the PDC bigwigs to better performance measurement? It's still a tangled web over there, but the general direction seems to be one of mild improvement. So why the sudden attack bursts from Randy and his City Council colleagues?

Now that's the question the good fireman won't answer, or even sit still for you to ask. But you have to notice that the turning up of the heat comes along just as we ponder the PDC's recent court victory over the local construction workers' unions. The unions wanted PDC-sponsored public-private "partnership" deals declared sufficiently "public" that they had to comply with the laws that set minimum "prevailing wage" pay scales for public projects. A judge in Multnomah County court rejected that proposition, and so the developers who get PDC pork can still say they're "private" and not comply with those laws.

Funny thing, but that's right about the point that Fireman Randy, a former firefighters' union chief, boiled over on the subject of PDC roguishness generally. Coincidence?

Do not get me wrong, people. I'm all for the unions. My dad was a Teamster his whole working life, and if he hadn't been, I wouldn't be where I am today, that's for sure. As Steve Earle puts it, "If you ever had a dangerous job, you'd know you need a union."

And like Fireman Randy, I'm down on the loosey-goosey status of the PDC -- they deserve all the scrutiny that he's proposing, and a whole lot more. But let's get right down to it. I suspect that when the PDC rolls over on the "prevailing wage" issue (and it's just a matter of time), things between that agency and the city commissioners will get all nicey-nicey again.

Speaking of the "prevailing wage" controversy, I was intrigued to see this announcement from the PDC after its meeting last week:

Finally, the board introduced a resolution authorizing the Executive Director to enter into an indemnity agreement with the owner on the Assurety Northwest project, to cover construction cost increases attributable to the application of prevailing wage law up to five percent of the $2.735 million construction contract.

"This resolution means the PDC Board is behind this project and committed to its success," said Commissioner Mark Rosenbaum. "This project is extremely important to the Lents community and represents renewal and jobs to this community."

Assurety Northwest has proposed to purchase a 77,000 sq. ft. site along SE Foster Blvd. in the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area (Lents URA) with the intent to build a new 30,000 sq. ft. commercial building. The site is currently empty and the project represents the first major new commercial investment in the Lents URA since the creation of the urban renewal area in 1998. The project would meet several economic development goals for the district beyond the construction investment including creating new construction and permanent jobs, and moving Assurety's 45 employees to Lents to help revitalize the Town Center area. The Assurety resolution was approved by a vote of 4-0.

Does this action (apparently not on the meeting's official agenda) mean that the contractor out in Lents is going to be bound by the "prevailing wage" law? And that it will continue to pay illegally low wages, but that the PDC -- namely we, the city taxpayers -- will pick up the difference?

Is that what Fireman Randy is driving at?

Just another crazy day in Portland city government, I guess.

Comments (1)

Mr Bog - Sorry, I think all of this is a diversion from the PFDR "solution" he is pushing on the ballot in the Fall. Some solution - only 31 years of prop tax increases according to the SnOregonian. He can now say he has done something without changing anything.

The E85 proposal is a joke since most cars get worse MPG and will use more gas over the same distance in addition to having to pay for ethanol. You can see my comments below on the Chevy Tahoe example. So, Randy's fix sends more money to Houston and Eastern Oregon and the average guy is poorer.

I think a lot of City Hall stuff is they sit with their group of buddies and think of great theories without considering the voters (who make about 1/3 on average what a comm makes.) Then they pat each other on the back for striking a pose and go home leaving deeper potholes in the road.

Posted by: Steve at July 6, 2006 07:27 AM

Quite the contrary, I really enjoy being challenged here and in other venues. As I have demonstrated here before, I enjoy a lively debate.

However, you actually imply corruption, collusion and various other dark motives in some of your posts about me and the entire council.

Maybe I was mistaken in assuming you wanted a healthy dialogue on this site.

If that is the case, your right, it is odd that I would react on any level to your various charges.

Posted by: Randy Leonard at July 6, 2006 08:11 AM

Oooooooh!....fireman Randy is getting a bit testy. If he can't stand the heat, maybe he should get outta the kitchen.

Posted by: veiledorchid at July 6, 2006 08:41 AM

Healthy dialogue is great, when it happens. Usaually responses are ignoring an issue or trotting out the same weak arguments. Examples:

PFDR Reform - Either "why do you want to throw firemen's widows in the snow" or we have a fix, even if it takes 31 years of tax increases

E85 gas - No response to numbers or facts

Citizen Committee on Charter Reform - Totally ignore committee inputs on strong mayor form (which I am not crazy about either, but at least I'd give a reason.)

Posted by: Steve at July 6, 2006 09:10 AM

I'm so exasperated with the PDC that I'm happy about the possibility of any oversight.

Posted by: fsr at July 6, 2006 09:47 AM

So Randy...implying "dark motives" isnt part a healthy dialogue? Why is that? Because you dont want to answer?
You must have got that from Potter...he doesnt like tough questions asked of him either. When that happens, there is usually something to hide.

Posted by: Jon at July 6, 2006 10:24 AM

Meh. I think you're both right. (Bojack and RL, that is.)

Our esteemed host is correct that Mr. Leonard does sometimes get distracted by discussion of his motivations. When the subject of his motivations comes up, he tends to get all defensive about that and forget to discuss the actual facts of the matter at hand. [*] I'd prefer if he just ignored all discussions of his motives and focused on the objective facts, such as they are. (But I have to give the man credit for just showing up here; it's a lot more than his colleagues manage.)

But I think Mr. Leonard is also right that our host (and various commenters) sometimes implies that there's corruption motivating some councillors. [*] There may (or may not) actually be corruption in the council, of course. [**] But the problem with the accusation is that in the absence of actual proof, it asks the subject to prove a negative in defense of their reputation. It's no wonder that a person would object to a line of rhetoric that dispenses with the presumption of their innocence. I think RL is right to find this frustrating and objectionable.

My advice (which is almost certainly futile, but what the heck) is for everyone to show a bit more restraint when discussing motivations. (And for some commentors, a lot more restraint.) Discussion of motivation usually ends up being a distraction from discussion of the real issues at hand. [***]

[*: Before anyone else leaps on this, yes I know it's a horrible generalization and there are a good many counterexamples. That's why I say "sometimes".]

[**: When it comes to the Tram, even I have to wonder what the hell is going on up there.]

[***: Motive could be a real issue itself, of course, but that's not how it usually works.]

Posted by: Alan DeWitt at July 6, 2006 11:50 AM

There's no corruption in Randy's taking on the PDC. In this case, however, one could certainly conclude that it's all revenge for the prevailing wage lawsuit, and when that issue is settled to the unions' liking, this particular crusade will die. Until election time, of course, when Mark Wiener might throw it into a radio ad or two...

Posted by: Jack Bog at July 6, 2006 11:57 AM


The rest of the adults are trying to have a conversation. Why don't you sit in the corner until you learn to have a mature dialogue.

I cringe when people like this waste their opportunity to interact with an elected official by making it utterly inhospitable. Hey Trolls, you can disagree and make salient points to debate, but no politician is ever going to come here again if you resort to schoolyard taunts. As much as I detest the likes of Sizemore, McIntire and Hemstreet, I would relish the opportunity to pick their brains and have civilized debate.

I wish Sten, Adams, Potter and others would show their face around here every now and then, but... I kinda understand if they don't.

Posted by: TKrueg at July 6, 2006 12:51 PM

Alan, "to show a bit more restraint when discussing motivations."

That is like asking a cow not to shit because you don't want to clean out the barn. It must be cleaned up so you might as well look on the bright side and call it fertilizer.

Jack's words captured my thoughts quite well and I had not yet divined a possible explanation for Randy's selective flip. Jack's expression of his thoughts are the absolute truth as to his "opinion," at least as represented by his outward expression.

TKrueg, Have you seen Ed Whalen's clip of the little rascal expressing shock and surprise? I love that clip.

Posted by: Ron Ledbury at July 6, 2006 03:17 PM

"one could certainly conclude that it's all revenge for the prevailing wage lawsuit..."

That is just not true, Jack.

Over one year ago I introduced a resolution that abolished the Commissioners positions at the PDC and would have created a Bureau of Economic Development.

After a very public hearing, it was defeated by the Council 4-1.

Posted by: Randy Leonard at July 6, 2006 03:31 PM

And it was dropped like a hot potato. Now the wind is blowing back in from that direction. Perhaps I should be asking why your colleagues Erik and Sam are suddenly on board. It's puzzling, if you AFSCME.

As for the Police Headquarters scam, that one's been around for quite a while, but the City Hall curiosity about it is very recent.

Posted by: Jack Bog at July 6, 2006 03:38 PM

Jack, please don't forget about the additional PDC scams like the Holman Building on the east end of Hawthorne Bridge that PDC bought for $700T, invested $1.5M in improvements, and sold to a PDC committee member for $450T.

Or the PDC Block 49 in North Macadam that the City Council and Randy will be considering in the Amendment 8 review in a few weeks of NM URD, where Homer Williams is being paid $5M for the block sold for $1.5M a year ago, then being given exclusive rights to develope "affordable housing" on the site without public bidding and the city taxpayers pay for the site toxic site cleanup. All this done without an appraisel. Sign me up.

Is this "healty corruption"?

Posted by: Jerry at July 6, 2006 04:15 PM

Commissioner Leonard,

How about going after the folks who lied to Council on the initial cost of the tram?

You named at least one of them in your April 12th testimony. Get the public funds based on the fraudulent testimony recovered. Return them to the public treasury.

Additionally, Council should seek all the proceeds that would not have existed but for the false and material misrepresentations to council.

Until that happens, I will suspect City Council conspired to defraud the public of its funds.

Furthermore, the tram will always represent that the Portland City Council condones the formulation of public policy based on lies if no attemtpt is made to recover the funds.

Posted by: The Shadow at July 6, 2006 06:50 PM

Who? Me? Worried about getting reelected? What makes you think I'm even planning to run for reelection?

I do not share the motivations of mere mortal men: I am the SUPER-RANDY. I am here only to defent the helpless, enforce justice, and protect THE AMERICAN WAY.

Posted by: Mister T at July 6, 2006 08:59 PM

It's about time someone spoke the truth about Commissioner Leonard. He IS right about the PDC, but it's pretty clear that the prevailing wage issue and his union buddies (not to mention his friend at BOLI) pushed him front and center in this particular fight over the audit.

I think Jack is hitting on a larger truth about the good Commish: Almost every view he has is pro-union, even at the expense of the greater good. Like Jack, I personally am a labor supporter, but there's a point where people expect their elected reps to act in the public interest, not in the special interest of those who helped get them elected.

One prime example is FPD&R reform. Leonard was apoplectic when Saltzman pushed for real reform that would have put Portland police and firefighters into the same pension system as every other law enforcement agency in the state, and at the same time close the disability loopholes that allow beneficiaries to engage in outright fraud. He rounded up the unions in opposition and threatened to derail the entire thing at the ballot box. The "compromise" that everyone has now agreed to raises taxes on Portlanders for the next 30 years while giving police and fire a MORE generous pension than they currently have and making cosmetic changes to the disability system that will do nothing to actually curb the fraud. Leonard is touting this charade as "real reform."

Another example is Leonard's push to hire 50+ new Water bureau employees rather than contracting out the work to private sector firms. The analysis presented to Council BY THE WATER BUREAU showed no cost savings, and possibly a cost increase, but he pushed it through anyway. Hmmm. . . fifty new City jobs, with City benefits and pensions. I wonder if that's something labor would appreciate?

Yet another is the entire Council's caving during the latest contract negotiations. The unions got everything they asked for without so much as a whimper of protest from the City. That's not solely Leonard's fault, but he was certainly complicit in the outcome.

Commissioner Leonard is playing a very good political game. He knows that the unions will do everything they can to get him reelected in two years. Or get him elected Mayor if he decides to run. And he's betting, probably correctly, that lefty Portlanders won't hold his pro-labor agenda against him.

Meanwhile, the larger public interest suffers.

Posted by: City Observer at July 6, 2006 11:45 PM

Wow, he'll go ballistic when he reads that. Brutally blunt.

Posted by: Jack Bog at July 7, 2006 12:16 AM

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the comment made by "City Observer".

To stipulate to one comment up front, I am pro Union. I make no excuses about that.

I believe working people have been exploited throughout history be every economic entity beginning with land barons to today's mufti-national corporations. I believe that the desire for more profits are pursued no matter that those that produce the labor may be a single parent raising children, working without health insurance not to mention a pension. All at a wage, if they are lucky, that barely allows a roof to be overhead and food to be placed on the table.

On the FPD&R reform, yes, I was not happy with Dan's method of creating changes to the system. His strategy was to develop the changes he thought were appropriate without working with the firefighters and police officers who depend on that system if they are hurt or killed and for a retirement when they are done with city service.

Yes, the changes proposed will cost this generation of taxpayers money. But, changing from an unfunded retirement system to the states Tier 3 PERS system means we will be pre funding each firefighter and police officers position.

By the way, the changes I agreed to include changing the retirement age from 50 to 53...a change that both unions did not like. It also includes changes to the disability system that requires a hearings officer to resolve all disability disputes...not the board made up partially with police officers and firefighters...a change they did not like but that I supported.

I did push for the water bureau to quit its over reliance on outside consultants. I was concerned, as were many others, that there existed an overly cozy relationship between water bureau administrators and the consultants who received contracts that often morphed into a contract to construct capital projects.

The answer was to have the water bureau hire the engineers and others it needed to do the work load they could predict out for at least 10 years.

I think the strategy to reduce and/or eliminate the water bureau's reliance on outside consultants and contractors, wherever possible, helps restores the water bureau's credibility in the community.

Further, that recommendation was approved by a water bureau citizen budget committee made up of members including the Friends of the Reservoirs, small business people and the Portland Business Alliance, to name just a few of the interests that crafted the current budget. They looked at the costs and felt that eliminating the consulting contracts that the water bureau wanted would pay for the new postions added.

I believe I have been very clear and consistent in my various positions.

I believe that I consistently give the least powerful the benefit of the doubt over the most matter the subject.

I have taken a number of actions in the past four years that has been challenged all the way through binding arbitration by a city union. However, I do work to settle issues in a collaborative and respectful way, wherever possible, with the city work force.

Unions are far from perfect but, in my view, they are the best means possible to give voice to the value of a working person's labor.

Finally, I am doing what I promised I would do when I first campaigned for the council 4 years ago. I do not accept the status quo because "it is". I do try and challenge the bureaucracy. I do question activities that were not being questioned (eg, tax abatements).

And if it were easy to do someone else would have done some of these things before me. It isn't easy and one need only read some of the comments and posts on Jack's site to see why.

Posted by: Randy Leonard at July 7, 2006 10:55 AM


Thank you for the patient response. I, for one, appreciate your willingness to engage in this forum. It is a forum I am often wary to enter as a private citizen, so I comend you for being willing to take the heat. There are many readers out here who appreciate it and don't take the time to chime in often enough.

(As an aside, I hope you're keeping an eye on our opinions about the proposed changes to the Central Eastside Industrial District in an earlier thread. Please keep us in mind as you vote. We are so nervous about being priced out of our neighborhood and the also about the character changing so much that we wouldn't be welcome here anyway.)



Posted by: rww at July 7, 2006 02:34 PM

I appreciate your kind words.

Posted by: Randy Leonard at July 7, 2006 03:06 PM

I've been laughing for 20 minutes reading through this. Thanks for the humor Randy! You really are a piece of work my friend. See you next week.

Posted by: Charlie in Gresham at July 7, 2006 04:30 PM

So much for representing the taxpayers.

Why not let the Union bosses hand out the promotions while you're at it: they're already in charge of the terminations.

Posted by: Mister T at July 7, 2006 06:21 PM

Thank you for your response, Randy. As much as I disagree with your positions, I do appreciate your engagement in these forums. As for the substance:

FPD&R reform. You say you opposed Saltzman's reform efforts because he didn't work with the unions on his reform plan. But the unions have allowed the disability system to be exploited for years, so the idea of working with them to reform the system is like asking the fox to help remodel the henhouse. Most cops and firefighters are honest, hard-working people. . . so what I can't figure out is why the unions allowed the abuse to happen right under their nose. If they really cared about preserving this safety net, they should have been pushing hard for reform 10 years ago.

What you tout as disability reform -- having a hearings officer decide cases -- fails the laugh test because the FPD&R board will still set the policy that the hearings officer abides by. Neither the City Club nor the independent committee that looked at this issue thinks your disability reforms go far enough -- why should the voters? Police and Fire need to be part of worker's comp, like all other public safety employees in Oregon, and the reason they opposed this is because they know they can't defraud the worker's comp system like they defraud FPD&R. Pre-funding the pension system is fiscally responsible, but doing that without reforming the disability system increases taxes without reigning in the abuse. I am curious why you didn't mention that the new pensions in many cases will be larger than what they currently get? How did you allow that to happen when the goal of reform was to control a growing fiscal threat?

Your posts on this blog sound sincere, so hopefully you view this criticism as constructive. My observation of the Council, and you in particular, is that you suffer from a lack of objective information and analysis. Your new gas mandate is a perfect example of a well-meaning policy that will have huge unintended consequences that even you acknowledge you didn't anticipate (e.g., scrambling to help Jubitz truck stop). Lacking critical information you are forced to rely on your friends, whether they be union leaders or eastern Oregon farmers, to help you make policy. That's not a good approach, and it leads to many of the debacles the City is currently dealing with, which reduces the public's faith in government, which makes your job that much harder.

Please, ask questions first, then shoot if necessary. If you feel yourself getting quick on the draw, take a deep breath, reholster the gun, and ask Jack what he thinks.

ps -- Regarding your support for unions, please keep in mind the context within which Portland's public employee unions operate. This is a liberal town with a liberal Mayor and a liberal City Council. We are all pro-labor here. In such an environment, the narrative of "workers being exploited throughout history" doesn't really apply. City workers, including cops and firefighters, have generous pensions and benefits, good salaries, and almost total job security. These workers do not need your protection -- they are not being exploited. Taxpayers, however, do need Commissioners who will be voices of moderation to avoid the excesses of things like FPD&R. We need you to protect us.

Posted by: City Observer at July 7, 2006 10:41 PM

I do not think it is reasonable, or a successful strategy, to leave out firefighter and police officer input into the creation of a new disability and retirement system because some police officers and firefighters abused the system.

Also, under the new system the majority of the board are non beneficiaries. Therefore, I think your criticism of the rule making process being controlled by firefighters and police officers is inaccurate and unfair.

As far as what you say are increased retirements under the new system, maybe you have seen something I haven't. However, what I understand to be the new retirement system is essentially an IRS 401K retirement system.

If you are assuming a certain rate of return on the employees's retirement account that in the end gives them more per month than the current system, so what? The fact is that the city's costs under the new proposed system are less than under the current system. If the employee benefits from a robust stock market why is that a problem?

Thank you for your advice to ask questions first and shoot later. However, as this very exchange points out, most who fire that arrow could benefit by that advice themselves.

I have spent over 10 months immersing myself and my staff in the field of alternative energy for vehicles. I am very comfortable discussing or debating with anyone the wisdom of our city developing a biodiesel industry including the inclusion of biodiesel in all passenger diesel vehicle fuel outlets.

As you may also be aware, this past budget season I successfully pushed to include a $735,000 allocation for the Office of Sustainable Development to create an economic development initiative around biodiesel (yes...the money went to OSD instead of PDC...long before prevailing wage became an issue).

Some have a lot of angst over battling with moneyed interests like the petroleum industry and, believe me, I understand why.

There is, however, a fine point between proceeding with caution and being too timid to proceed.

I believe I am as cautious and prudent as the issue I am dealing with demands.

And finally, instead of me asking Jack for advice you could use your real name and I could ask you. :)

Posted by: Randy Leonard at July 7, 2006 11:28 PM

Would it matter if my name was Dan, Sam, Eric, or Tom? Or maybe Vera or Bud? Not to put too fine a point on it, Randy, but I've heard stories about you going after those who disagree with you. Perhaps you can convince me that the stories aren't true, but as someone who has consulted for the City in the past and hopes to do so again in the future, I'd prefer not to find myself on your list. If my desire for anonymity bothers you, perhaps a braver soul than I will take up the debate.

Regarding firefighter and police officer input on FPD&R reform, I would ask the following: Have you been working with the oil industry to make sure they are on board with your alternative fuels mandate? Have you brought PDC to the table to make sure they agree with your reform proposal before you submit it? No, because asking the oil industry to give up its profits or PDC to reform itself doesn't make any sense. You consult with them, you ask questions, but you don't let them dictate the policy BECAUSE THEY HAVE A VESTED INTEREST.

Your approach with FPD&R reform, however, was to allow those with a vested interest to dictate the bulk of the policy. In the end, I think you've already proven my point. The City started with a solid reform proposal. You insisted that the unions have an equal say in crafting the final draft, and we've ended up with a weak reform plan. Politically you still may win at the ballot box, but substantively the citizens of Portland have already lost.

Specifically on the pensions, my understanding is that the new system is PERS-plus. That "plus" should have been set to AT MOST match what they would get under the current system. But didn't the actuaries say they'll get more? If that's the case, even if it's cheaper than the current system, it's more expensive than it should be. Let me know if I'm mistaken on this point.

On alternative fuels, if you have spent 10 months studying the issue, why did you have to scramble to find a solution for Jubitz? And why during that 10 months didn't you recognize the unintended impact that a fuel mandate may have on local gas stations near the City's borders? I'm all for the development of a local biodiesel industry, but I just don't see how mandates on a city by city basis will work. I guess I'll just trust you on this one -- but if the worst case scenarios that some are painting come true, you might want to start fundraising now for your reelection.

Posted by: City Observer at July 8, 2006 12:58 AM

Instead of viewing Jubitz as an example of a problem, I think it shows the value of public hearings and elected's actually listening to what is said.

Jubitz presented a unique problem that, frankly, I am not sure will truly be an issue, i.e., Jubitz believes that out of state drivers will think of a 5% biodiesel/95% petroleum mix as, in there terms used by some, "hippie fuel".

The proposed solution is to allow anyone that wants to sell 100% diesel to do so as long as they have one pump that is B-20, which is 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel.

I am not sure why you think the public airing of this issue and our solution points to a problem rather than a strength in public hearings.

And whether you really are a consultant or someone who works in the building, you must know my office encourages, at all levels, robust debates...especially where I am challenged. It helps me make sure any issue is completely flushed out with any possible errors discovered in advance.

I suspect your anonymity is not driven as much by fear as it is your desire to make increasingly misleading and/or false statements in your comments.

Posted by: Randy Leonard at July 8, 2006 10:28 AM

"I suspect your anonymity is not driven as much by fear as it is your desire to make increasingly misleading and/or false statements in your comments."

You're in danger of proving Jack's post -- that when someone challenges you or your motives you go on the attack. Is that your intent? Nothing I've written is either false or misleading. I believe you purposefully weakened FPD&R reform, and above I tried to explain how it was weakened and ask you to explain why you did it. I believe you introduced a poorly thought out alternative fuels mandate and have tried to explain why it's poorly thought out and asked why you didn't address some of the unintended consequences beforehand.

In neither case have you answered my questions. If after 10 months of work you are just now discovering some of the problems, that's an indication that the Oregonian is (shockingly) right when they say "There's no indication that the city has given much thought to the unintended economic consequences of this mandate, from creating shortages and driving up prices to hurting businesses and alienating consumers." These are major issues that should not first be raised in a public hearing. Yes, I'm glad you're dealing with them now, but the lesson you should take from this is that you need to slow down, do more analysis, and put something in place that will actually work. Your proposal is similar to the County's gay marriage snafu in that it could permanently set back the move towards alternative fuels if done incorrectly.

Regarding shooting first and asking questions later, keep in mind that you are an elected official, and I am not. (There -- you can cross four potential names off your list.) When I am wrong, the only thing that gets damaged is my pride. When you are wrong, real damage can occur to the City and its citizens. Elected officials have a responsibility to exercise caution, and I don't see that as your strong suit.

Posted by: City Observer at July 8, 2006 02:33 PM

I am very comfortable discussing or debating with anyone the wisdom of our city developing a biodiesel industry including the inclusion of biodiesel in all passenger diesel vehicle fuel outlets.

one issue I see with this that nobody seems to mention...the governor's taking California's emission's laws means that new diesel-powered passenger cars are no longer legal to sell here after its implemented. (if they took the CA regulations to the letter)

So why the big push for bio-diesel? Its a small minority of owners, and there wont be any new vehicles that need it.

Posted by: Jon at July 8, 2006 02:37 PM

It is true that the new EPA regs re passenger vehicle engines has made the current generation of diesels obsolete.

However, VW, Jeep, Chrysler and other manufacturers are retooling for a generation of diesels that will comply with the new emission regs.

The 2008 model year (at various times throughout 2007 for different manufacturers) will see a new beginning of diesel powered passenger vehicles that will inevitably become a huge segment of the US passenger automobile market...just as it is currently in Europe.

Diesel powered vehicles get at least 30% more mpg than a similar gasoline engine and require less maintenance and are more durable. Biodiesel actually causes the engine to run better than petroleum based diesel...and Oregon offers a perfect climate for one of the best sources of biodiesel...Canola.

As more and more people see the benefits of a passenger diesel powered vehicle over a hybrid our creation of a biodiesel industry in Portland and Oregon will be, in my opinion, a major source of our economic engine.

Posted by: Randy Leonard at July 8, 2006 04:40 PM

I fail to see how one can support unions by selecting a union representative for them.

The elementary protection, elementary individual right, is the right to select a bargaining agent of their own choice.

Erik could argue likewise that he supports business, in general, merely by cutting a city check to Flexcar. And you, a particular biodiesel plant.

Here is an arrow.

Will you let me post a flier, a union formation invitation, targeted to all the tier-3 employees, inclusive of anticipated future tier-3 safety workers, in each and every location where the particular "unions" that you now support can post their notices? (Reasonable demand.)

AFSCME obtained an award, in late 2004, of union dues directly from the employer (from public funds) rather than as a deduction from the pay of employees, as a discretionary "penalty" related to an unfair labor practice complaint. Imagine that I got a similar discretionary award from the ERB regarding my efforts to organize the lower-pension-tier folks within the City of Portland and the Portland Public Schools alike. Do the math. I could then sustain an organizing campaign and PR blitz, and even a legal barrage, from the proceeds for quite a long time. All this, ironically, in advance of having a single member in the organization.

Will you concede liability (just as with date-of-hire higher status for city employees) to me on an unfair labor practice complaint (without me even having to file one) and cut me a city check that represents the full union dues for all current tier-three employees? (Unreasonable demand, to mirror that of the folks that want to create multiple tiers for the safety worker pension.)

Should all city employees and city council members with a personal financial stake in retirement related issues recuse themselves from making decisions on any matter that is better left to the judiciary?

Posted by: Ron Ledbury at July 9, 2006 06:14 AM

As more and more people see the benefits of a passenger diesel powered vehicle over a hybrid our creation of a biodiesel industry in Portland and Oregon will be, in my opinion, a major source of our economic engine.

You're right about diesel probably being a better solution than hybrids, but if it is superior why mandate that it must be offered and not let the market drive things? Also, for vehicle diesels to succeed, they need low-sulfur oil which is really going to rachet up the price of diesel. In addition, biodiesel costs 50% more than diesel and requires more energy to make.

Posted by: Steve at July 9, 2006 03:31 PM

Amazing! The City of Portland's very own futurist (Commissioner Randy Leonard) has declared that diesels are going to be VERY BIG with the American Consumer.

Never mind that diesels comprise less than 1% of all American cars. Never mind that that "old" diesels will continue to belch black smoke with or without 20% biodiesel.

You want to know why diesel cars are so popular in Europe? Because diesel is CHEAPER in most of Europe. Why is it cheaper? Because DIESEL is taxed $1.00 per gallon LESS in France & Germany than is gasoline.

That's right, even the Socialists in Europe have figured out that if you want to promote something, you tax it LESS, not more.

Randy's Boutique Fuel Ordinance will raise the price of ethanol blended gasoline and bio-diesel blends.

Does anybody think that is going to change consumer's behavior or reduce pollution?

I don't.

Posted by: Mister T at July 9, 2006 04:14 PM

Here's the link to a 2005 study from Conoco Phillips that includes (slide 8) the study of European fuel tax differentials vs. the U.S.

Posted by: Mister T at July 9, 2006 04:35 PM

Actually when my office did a survey of the cost of petroleum diesel and biodiesel in May and June, biodiesel was five cents a gallon less.

That was well before a barrel of oil hit a record high last week of just over $75 per barrel.

Biodiesel actually takes less energy to make than petroleum diesel.

As far as the market vs a mandate, the petroleum industry controls the market both economically and politically. I think the last few months have demonstrated that Americans will pay exponentially more money than even currently for a gallon of fuel.

Biodiesel, on the other hand, is an emerging industry that has become viable only because the oil industry is exploiting it's near monopoly in the fuel market. Far from costing more per gallon, most who study this stuff agree that with petroleum prices continuing to climb, the price gap between a gallon of biodiesel and petro diesel will soon be even greater than it was in our survey in May and June.

I believe it is going to take more political will than has been demonstrated at the state and federal level to wean this country off of oil as an energy source.

According to many in the industry (oil and alternative fuel industry) biodiesel presents one of the most -if not the most- attractive alternatives to petroleum.

Posted by: Randy Leonard at July 9, 2006 05:06 PM

Randy Leonard: I have spent over 10 months immersing myself and my staff in the field of alternative energy for vehicles. I am very comfortable discussing or debating with anyone the wisdom of our city developing a biodiesel industry including the inclusion of biodiesel in all passenger diesel vehicle fuel outlets.

JK: It is such a good product that you have to force people to buy it.

Gimme a break


Posted by: jim karlock at July 9, 2006 05:11 PM

Randy Leonard: As more and more people see the benefits of a passenger diesel powered vehicle over a hybrid ....

JK: Over a hybrid?? What is wrong with the best of both worlds: a diesel powered hybrid.


Posted by: jim karlock at July 9, 2006 05:22 PM

Diesel hybrids are under development as we speak. A mid size diesel hybrid passenger vehicle is reported to get up to 80 mpg.

An interesting article is here

Chrysler has a concept mid size diesel hybrid under development as well.

Posted by: Randy Leonard at July 9, 2006 07:00 PM

Randy: are you suggesting the $1.00/gallon price advantage for diesel has NOTHING to do with how popular they are in France and Germany?

All vehicles are getting more fuel efficient, including those with gasoline engines. The fact that gasoline and diesel have doubled in price is motivating both the auto industry and consumers to focus on improving fuel efficiency.

It's called a free market. Try it, you'll like it.

Posted by: Mister T at July 10, 2006 06:03 AM

Mr Leonard, I hate to admit this, but you are right the price of biodiesel has caught up with petrol.

I guess my issue is if biodiesel is superior (I think it will be) to petrol, then let the market take care of itself. Some entrepeneur will start selling biodiesel exclusively and put Jubitz out of business, make a profit and give people what they want.

In addition, with a mandate, you have a few people in government deciding what the market should do which is troublesome.

"As far as the market vs a mandate, the petroleum industry controls the market both economically and politically." If you are complaining about the petro-industry being a quasi-monopoly, OK, but it takes a lot of cash to produce gas safely (if you notice the two recent fires at the biodiesel plants show.)

BTW, government is as much a monopoly when we tax everyone to pay for targeted things like PFDR, a tram/parkinglot shuttle for OHSU and building theaters. Sorry, I was agreeing too much I had to get that in!!!

Posted by: Steve at July 10, 2006 07:04 AM


You are myopic on fuel here (as a sales gimmick to the Progressives, as a diversion)-- which is not a remedy to the problem of monopoly ownership.

The monopoly issue just pops again when a monopoly diversifies. It is like clockwork. As a clue -- Bush really likes to subsidize alternative energy research and the purchase of hybrids. Do you know who is using their special subsidies to obtain lots of patents? One guess. Do you know who is gaining from overpriced hybrids? One guess.

If you want to raise the issue of monopoly then sponsor a plan to create an Oregon based stock exchange. It would be subject to the SEC oversight just like the other "private" exchanges. Yet, the state of Oregon could have their own oversight and could try to condition the listing of entities to those that are incorporated in the state of Oregon. And where special laws or contracts/gifts originate from us through our government -- require that Oregon residents must always own at least fifty percent of the traded entities. This would sort of, but only slightly, remedy the present distortion in the capital market that diverts local savings to remote locales.

Access to capital, or lack thereof, is one those things that has a significant affect upon who it is that gets to capitalize on a market opportunity. Can I buy stock in the company that will produce the non-oil stuff locally? Do I even have equal access to you to know just who it is that has been lobbying you, even without regard to whether I could buy stock in the company?

Would Bushies bad mouth a particular biodiesel plant, even though it is biodiesel, if he and his buddies could not own it because they reside in the Country of Texas? Or at least if they could not benefit from a local law to mandate that gas stations must carry the biodiesel?

Who will own the plant itself, anyway, Randy? Also, can you assure me that not a cent of any known-to-be-issued pension obligation bond proceeds resulting from your proposed multi-tier Charter amendment for the Portland safety workers will not directly or indirectly be invested in a local biodiesel plant? What assurance do you have? To answer this you could ask the Oregon Investment Council whether Portland's current Lump Sum account held in trust by PERB/OIC for the benefit of Portland citizens to cover future pension obligations, that are not yet due and payable, is invested in any local gasoline retail outfit or could be used to participate as owners in any proposed biodiesel plant. (Dare I add an inquiry about whether the biodesel plant construction project is already destined, much like the Gorge Casino deal, to be a union-only project as per backroom deals?)

Posted by: Ron Ledbury at July 10, 2006 11:52 AM


Let's take your legal advice as 100 percent valid, as to the ability to force a gas retailer to carry biodiesel.

An initiative could follow that very legal advice to force all car dealers (new and used) within the city limits to carry an inventory of mopeds of 150cc or less (or human powered vehicles), with the percentage requirement being measured by the value of the inventory and not the number of units.

I could also demand that any land that is offered to a biodiesel plant be offered on similar terms -- as if the land was in a neutrally drafted Enterprise Zone -- to an operation to build/assemble mopeds for delivery to local retail outlets, and beyond. It would surely employ more people than a biodiesel plant. Local unions (and pro-economic development folks) should prefer such a labor intensive operation over a pro-biodiesel scheme that is heavily lopsided toward being capital intensive. Sam is fond of blurting out jobs, jobs, jobs, even for the Tram-Tower-Art project. How about you? I could even wave the "import substitution" phrase from genuine economic development disciplines.

Come on back now, you hear, and have some fun with me. The one third of the population that gets left behind is like the one third of the population of jolly old Rome that were slaves. What can you offer them -- jobs that pay enough for them to afford the very thing that they could make, a mere moped?

Shall I rate your policy choices on a scale of Somoza-to-Ortega, you know, from that little war in Central America back when I thought Raygun was the most evil guy on the planet, and where I tried my best to understand how it was possible that seemingly rational folks can make stupid decisions that cause maximum harm to others. Let's talk left, or at least populist. But, I'll likely bite your nose off and spit it back at you, if it doesn't fall off all by itself (i.e., your reasoning is upside down).

Posted by: Ron Ledbury at July 11, 2006 04:17 PM

As much I disagree with Randy's Boutique Fuels Ordinance, Ron Ledbury makes me realize that local politics could be even crazier. It reminds me of ol' Tenskawatawa's rants.

Would anybody care to guess the spot price of ethanol today (assuming you buy in 7,500 gallon lots)? I'll give you one hint: it's higher than gasoline. The near term futures are also higher than the wholesale price of gas.

Higher prices and lower mileage. What's not to like?

Posted by: Mister T. at July 11, 2006 08:20 PM

Mister T.,

The government MO here is to start with a result and an intended beneficiary and then work backwards to find some plausible legal justification. Yet if you look at the proposed legal justification and then extrapolate the vast list of plausible other factual situations that could also fit then the limits on government intrusion seem to vanish. Did my hypothetical introduce a fact set and a set of folks that might wish to snap a little whip towards Randy, and his adventurism? The biodiesel fact set is not a good and complete test of the legal proposition offered in the legal advice from the city attorney.

Pick your own facts -- perhaps a mandate of 10 feet of shelf space at major grocery chains to accommodate Randy's Fireman Brand of Chips, after the pension bond proceeds -- that are not yet due and payable -- are used to plausibly buyout Lay's. Etc. Etc.

The issue is whether Randy can admit to any limitation whatsoever other than his whim even when he can argue one single issue that is favorable to rationalize some intrusion into the private capitalist market. Imagine an emboldened PDC that is dedicated to intrusion into anything involving any private enterprise, under the guise of Economic Development, without either legal restraint or self-restraint by the political branch (including via initiatives). The limits, the legal limits, are supposed to protect the public from the extremes from the right, the left and the purple. The absence of limits is the equivalent of the lack of the rule of law, and the judiciary remains the last resort. Randy's adventurism reveals the need for the judiciary to step up to the plate and do their job.

The legislature and the judiciary have already opened the door to all manner of crazy economic notion to advance unrestrained. (The state court test in the economic realm is any ad hoc -- in court for the first time by a lawyer -- rational and permissible purpose. Randy wins hands down, and he knows it. But only because an opponent would have to argue that no possible plausible non-absurd rationalization exists and thus some policy choice is absurd, as a mater of law. That is a nearly impossible hurdle.) It is an uphill battle to end the current tolerance for wholly arbitrary action.

The dividing line is not even about arbitrainess but transparency of the arbitrary action. See for example this post from last year "California Legislature (SB 439) Will Soon Exclude Venture Capital Investments By Government From Public Records Disclosure Laws."

Posted by: Ron Ledbury at July 12, 2006 12:31 AM

Earlier in this thread, Commissioner Leonard suggested that ethanol was 5 cents a gallon cheaper than gas. At the present time, it is selling for $0.50 to $1.25/gallon more (depending on the delivery date) than gasoline.

Also: there is an inadequate supply of farmland in the United States to even consider ethanol as any kind of replacement for gasoline. At the projected ethanol production rates for year end 2006, the U.S. can produce sufficient ethanol to equal 15 days of gasoline consumption.

If we somehow managed to import all our food, and grew nothing but corn in the United States, there is still inadequate acreage to even satisfy half of our current gasoline consumption.

The economics of biodiesel aren't quite so ugly, but it's still a liberal panacea: it feels great, and politicians of both parties will line up to subsidize it (like Randy), but it falls short in terms of achieving energy independence.

Posted by: Mister T at July 12, 2006 10:28 PM

[Posted as indicated; restored later.]


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