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Monday, September 11, 2006

This time won't you sing with me

Hey, the City of Portland is sponsoring a program in a couple of weeks called "ABC's of Land Use." The city promises that those neighborhood activists who attend will "[l]earn about the City of Portland's land use and development review processes. Get hands-on experience responding to typical issues that come up in land use reviews."

A very valuable workshop, no doubt, but I can't wait 'til October 7. Let's get a head start by reciting some of the ABC's of land use here in the Rose City. O.k., here we go:

"A" is for "abatement"...

Comments (45)

"B" is for bully pulpit.

I forgot to add that "B" could also be for "backroom deal"-perhaps even "bribe".

"C" is for Condo

all things bicycle uber alles

"B' for bribes

"D" is for Dame, who makes condos grow
Higher and higher, though the code says "no."

"A"'s for abatement
Developers' way
To make lots of money
The rest of you pay

"E" is for eco-roof
Even a crude one
Build as tall as you want
If you'll just include one

"F" is for FAR
For condos so dense
You buy it from Tri-Met
That doesn't make sense

"G" is for Gerding
And his buddy Edlin
Don't sample the snake oil
These fellows are peddlin'

"H" is for Homer
Who's not a straight shooter
He runs neighbors over
With his Segway scooter

Now that Isaac has given us the meter, this thing writes itself. Come on, people!

"I" is for infill
It prevents sprawl
But greedy developers
it doesn't stall

"J" is for Jackology
which is what to call
the methodology of City Hall.

K is for Klepto,
As in, stealing our dough.
The term fits PDC
Like white fits the snow.

"L" is for Linnton
the "plan" was for show
Grampy and Randy
just had to say NO

This training is to help neighborhood activists understand how to participate in the land use process as effectively as possible - which I know, sometimes is "not very", but still, there are ways to make public participation somewhat more effective. It mostly deals with land divisions, adjustments, and the kinds of applications seen more in neighborhoods outside downtown.

I asked and the staff agreed to allow a neighborhood volunteer/expert to help teach the trainings. There are four per year. Bonny McKnight, chair of the Citywide Land Use group, has agreed to speak at the one in October. If anyone is interested in being part of the pool of experienced land use activists willing to help teach the class occasionally, please email me.

A is for Approval Criteria - the rules even the Council has to address in some way. Learn what they are and why they matter.

B is for Brevity - how to get to the point in three minutes (hint: don't assume you can make any point in three minutes. If you leave it to that, you've lost).

C is for Conditions - sometimes neighbors can make a proposal slightly better by knowing what to ask for.

M is for machination
Pretending its real
When this ain't planning
But a pretext to steal

"N" is for neighbors, whose views we respect
(Their opinions, that is, not the vistas we've wrecked.)

"P" is for pedestrian improvements we can't afford, thanks to cost overruns on the Tram, and TIF opportunity costs.

"T" is for trouble:
With condos galore
We're bursting the bubble.
And still they build more.

Shoot. Who needs Dr. Seuss?

"O" is for Opie. He incessantly chants: affordable housing, affordable housing... 'til he fills his pants.

No one in law enforcement wants to sniff around the subject of possible payoffs in Portland. Excuses like "We were in a hurry", are accepted with reverential silence. Maybe if anyone looked we'd need an ABC program to teach our local politicians how to make license plates in the Big House. So why not use this exercise to suggest possible criminality here? It could be as close to an honest investigation as we ever get: A is for Allegations, B is for Bribes (suggested by haha and Cynthia), C is for Corruption, D is for Defendant, E is for Evidence, F is for Felony, G is for Grand Jury, H is for Hearing, I is for Indictment, J is for Judge, L is for Lawyers, M is for Maximum, N is for No Contest, O is for Obfuscate, P is for Prison, R is for Remand, S is for Sentencing, T is for Time, V is for Verdict, W is for Witnesses, X - is for Xmas, as in "Won't be home for...." , Y is for Years, and Z is for Zillions.

The presumption that Portland citizen activists need to be taught their ABCs nauseates me. Many are professionals themselves: architects, engineers, planners, lawyers, accountants, educators etc. It isn't that we don't understand the process, but are seeing that there is something WRONG with it.

I am not as much of a citizen access TV addict as I used to be, but even now I find lawyers arguing that a developer's lawyer is making an end run around planning standards and criteria. And not long ago, I saw a meeting of the Washington County Commission where a retired lawyer from California submitted his resignation as chair of a citizen planning organization, noting that he had seen politiking in California, but nothing like what (he alluded to pure unadulterated corruption) he had seen here. The investigatory machinery in the state is clogged (probably by developers' lawyers). Somebody needs to have the chutzpah to unclog the pipes.

A= Assessments, totally optional, flexible and good for bribes.

B=Brown as in Matt Brown covered up the phony $15.5 million Tram price tag.

C= Congestion as a goal

D= Debt service costs, concealed city agencies.

E= Environmental fanatics at corrupted public agencies

F= Fraud

G= General fund budgets being raided

H= Holman Building bought by PDC for millions then given to the Chairman of the SoWa Urban Renewal Citizen advisory committee for $400,000.

I= Incompetent public officials enabling the corrupted agencies.

J= Just do it for developers.

K= Katz & Kohler, living life large with no responsibility or consequences for their actions.

L= Loser neighbors. You don't like the plan? Too bad. You got three minutes.

M= Missing reports required by State Law.

N= Neglected infrastructure

O= Overrunning budgets

P= Propaganda, deceiving the public, an acceptable tool to advance the planners agenda.

Q= Quasi OHSU, public or private, whenever it suits them.

R= Retarding growth instead of accommodating it.

S= South Waterfront, the most dishonest Urban Renewal scheme in State History.

T= Tram, Trammel Crow's Alexan (denied) tax abatement, even with the PDC's pitch man pulling the snow job.

U= URBAN RENEWAL, Stolen basic services revenue for liars, thieves and con men.

V= Vera, Leader of the UR cabal.

W= Whole lotta money funny business going on round here.

X= Xylophone, uh? time out

Z= Zen planning

Cynthia touches on this topic. It is sad that we have to have classes to forge our way through a planning process. It was not too long ago that a simple citizen could walk into the "planning bureau" (remember that simple name versus what we have to call it now) and comprehend and execute a planning endeavor. Why do we have to have "specialists" to accomplish something that we have an right to.

We now even have planning staff that cannot answer questions about planning requirements-they need to consult, study, interpret Title 33 before they may give a qualified (maybe) answer. And sometimes that is days, weeks, months later. This is what should be discussed and deliver workable answers to this stifling dilemma in this program.

Layers of planning is restricting the economy, costing all of us too much, and making the endeavor of building anything unpleasant.

Cynthia, your point that there are many activists who don't need the class is a good one. That's why I asked that experienced citizens be included in teaching it. Remember that there are 95 Neighborhood Associations, and volunteer burnout can be rapid so there are always new participants. And often those volunteers have less than three weeks to figure out why they received a land use review notice, and what they can do about it. The training is designed to help those folks. The city has been doing the ABCs classes for years, sometimes with citizens helping to teach them, recently not. They are always well attended and reported to be useful by those participating.

The other point of many of these posts, that there are major problems with some citizens having more influence with decision-makers than others, is separate. Even if the playing field were level, new participants would still need experienced fellow-players, coaches, and referees to help them understand the rules.

P is for Payola,
Which is all over the place.
Point it out to the town's DA,
And he'll have Sizer spray you with Mace.


My major frustration is that the problems with process behind the scenes-and the intellectual dishonesty that dogs the process out front prevent this from being a worthwhile use of time for anyone. The outcomes of some council votes and land use hearings are simply too strange to accept as legitimate.

Doug in SW:

I love it!

Amanda -

In the name of fair play and diversity and sustainability - shouldn't the city have a class for 'Property Rights Activists'? When this happens let me know, I'll be the first to sign up.

Portland - social engineering at it's worst.

(and yes, this was a cracky post)

It isn't that we don't understand the process, but are seeing that there is something WRONG with it.

I agree, Cynthia. It's not a level playing field. The class doesn't teach how to level that playing field, but how to play on it...which, I'd agree with Amanda, is not without value (it has a LOT of value), but it begs the larger question of how we restore the role of neighborhoods in neighborhood development.

There is enormous pressure from the development community to keep pushing the boundaries, and they can hire the full time professionals, the lawyers, and lobbyists. We need the city to push back, at least a little, to represent the unrepresented at the table.

In the meantime:

Z is for zoning
It establishes the rules
Protects the neighborhood's vision
It's one of "our" tools

Except a funny thing happens
As we talk about density
We find those rules shifting
It's become their propensity

To kept expanding the boundaries
of height and bulk restrictions
"Its bigger buidings we need"
despite neighborhood convictions

"Just who do you think you are?
We hear developers say
"It doesn't pencil out
I can't build this,...no way"

"Unless, unless...
It's varances and exceptions we need!"
"The rules stand in the way!
This isn't about greed."

"It's about building a better city,
Don't you know, don't you get it?"
Get folks out of their cars!
It's all about transit!"

Except...where is the better
Bus system to take?
Seems we just raised the fare price.
Isn't that a mistake?

Or the tene and hundreds of millions
For streetcars, trams
...and more
But we can't afford sidewalks so kids can walk to the store?

Where are our priorities?
Those neighborhood visions and dreams?
Put up on the shelves
In their place...new development schemes!

The outcomes of some council votes and land use hearings are simply too strange to accept as legitimate.

I agree. But at least in land use reviews, there are written rules that can sometimes be enforced. And the potential of an appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals if abuse of the rules is too flagrant. I've been successful after a couple of those.

problems with process behind the scenes-and the intellectual dishonesty that dogs the process out front prevent this from being a worthwhile use of time for anyone

The alternative is to leave 'em to it. For me, participating in development review is a worthwhile use of my time even if the gains are minor, or limited to knowing that without my involvement, the insiders have won without a fight.

In the name of fair play and diversity and sustainability - shouldn't the city have a class for 'Property Rights Activists'?

They have a whole bureau for that - Development Services. They have classes for homeowners and developers every month.

The presumption that Portland citizen activists need to be taught their ABCs nauseates me. Many are professionals themselves: architects, engineers, planners, lawyers, accountants, educators etc. It isn't that we don't understand the process, but are seeing that there is something WRONG with it.

Judging from how this city seems to run, I think this class is going to be used as an indoctrination seminar...they want people to see things their way. Then maybe we will understand, right?

Maybe these days it is realistic to expect more than a rubberstamp of developer actions from LUBA and the Court of Appeals. I have been away from it for a while. My experience is that these are grossly political courts that will unreasonably affirm insiders if they think they can get away with it. Which led to me to write The Song of the Court of Appeals:

The courts they are in crisis
the dockets crowded as can be
How can we poss'bly achieve
judicial economy?
Afirm without opinion
No one ever will see
that we're really only serving
the pow'rs that be that shouldn't be

Justice takes a mighty long time
Awop, awop my baby oooo

Ponderin' weighty legal matters
is really such a chore
We'd rather be out jogging
or biking at the shore
Hoppin' in the Volvo
Pluggin' in the keys
Packin' in the kids
On our way to Chuck E Cheese


So with little people and their lawyers
we do just as we please
Because they have no "status"
we drive them to their knees
And if their slow to learn "the game"
or by its rules to play,
we'll just sick the bar on them,
the cops or the DA


The Bible says "pursue justice"(the rule of law)
In Deuteronomy
And Isaiah says that justice,
the ultimate standard in the courts should be
But Isaiah wasn't modern
He didn't realize


And I agree, Jon. My sense is that it is more about indoctrination than anything else.
Although, I think Amanda has a point that being involved produces more than not being involved. I would just rather be involved at the level of cleaning the state up/out.

That's if they're slow..

I think this class is going to be used as an indoctrination seminar...they want people to see things their way. Then maybe we will understand, right?

No, that's not what it is. This class has been offered for years, and gets great reviews by attendees.

Participating in land use reviews, and particularly participating in a manner more likely to be successful, isn't something inherently easy to do. The Zoning Code is about 4" thick, but only a few lines are relevant to each particular review. Neighbors new to the process often waste their energy arguing about issues that can't be considered, legally. For instance, when I met with the staff to plan the Octber class, I suggested dropping much of the information on Metro's goals. Unless those aspirations are incorporated as rules into Portland's code, they don't matter in the review of a development application.

Land use reviews are like legal trials. It's impressive there are so many activists citywide who volunteer their time and are often successful in participating in them, and appropriate for the city to help neighbors new to the process understand the rules of engagement. That's what this class does. Knowing the rules may not change the outcome, but at least neighbors learn how to use their time most effectively.

The trouble is, from what I have seen, city and county commissions in our region often ignore their own rules and processes to cater to developers. I think Frank describes the dynamics that permit that pretty well. Then we have the construction industry and so much of the local economy involved in it, and the industry's traditional ties to organized crime.

And Amanda,

I am not sure the success rate is really that high; you admitted it yourself above.

One more thing:

It seems to me that people who have not been involved in the legal system tend to venerate it as a shining well-functioning institution, when actually, like every other human system, it is flawed and tends toward decay. Judge worship seems particulary odd to me; when the public goes for it, those who intimidate judges can also control public perception. How independent is our judiciary, really? In the mid 1990s, a Clackamas County lawyer informed me that the judiciary there was "under a mandate to develop the county?"


No wonder I heard some Clackamas County school kids singing "kickback paddywhack throw the judge a bone, as the chorus to "This Old Man".

Wow! I love the alphabet thread - "collective creativity" on the fly. Kudos y'all

Amanda, Frank,

I was thinking today about the land use review classes, and I can see that maybe it IS a good idea to arm citizens with the code's approval criteria. This might help us distinguish between genuine citizen involvement and the orange-button hordes that showed up in support of the Goose Hollow and Linton projects. I do think there is a place for that kind of pressure, but it is extremely limited: you push UP To reasonable interpretations of law and equity, not beyond them. As always, there are lines that are sometimes not bright. The one time I had citizens come to a hearing (wearing cat armbands) was in a suburban city when an "informational" where a petition based on lies was to presented against my client and there was no testimony allowed. The council was being deceived, my client denied the chance to confront evidence against her. I had to disrupt that farce. The mayor who set that up is gone now. Perhaps he tried that once too many times.

I think we need both root and branch solutions. Often, when I am grappling with a problem, someone will recommend a book that addresses it. One very helpful book on the courts and David/Goliath battles is Ralph Nader and Wesley J. Smith's book: No Contest about how corporate lawyers can pervert the civil justice system. They argue, that lawyers should be counselling their clients to respect the law-and reasonable notions of equity (not equity translated as bias in favor of money). Instead it seems like many just get as much as they can for their clients, the public interest be damned. In the long run, though, it is their interest, too.

Thank you for your insights, Cynthia. It's important for citizens to know that the rules of the process for most quasi-judicial land use reviews are different from the more nebulous choices elected officials make on Comprehensive Plan changes like Linnton. Lobbying on a legislative change is very different in tactics and chance of success compared with testifying in a land use review like a subdivision or adjustment request. That's why this class is important. And, as you say, why we need both root and branch solutions.

Neighbors new to the process often waste their energy arguing about issues that can't be considered, legally.

And that's exactly the problem, Amanda. We're put in a straight-jacket by what CAN be considered --or not-- "legally."

And who decides what's "legal" or not? Who gets to frame THAT discussion?

When we --the Hosford-Abernethy Neighborhood Association (HAND)-- were trying to save our iconic historic homesite on 26th & Division (whose zoning was changed precisely TO save that homesite)...ten years later the "why" for the zone change is "irrelevant". The ONLY issue is the zoning in place, "legally"...while the home goes bye-bye, the historic site is destroyed, and we're now looking forward to a four-story condo building, whose imposition is "legal" but contrary to everything the zone change was intended to accomplish.

What's "legal" or not is not an abstraction...there's CONTEXT. (Just as, on another level.. it WAS "illegal" for colonists to call for resistance to the King of England. Should Thomas Jefferson have kept his mouth shut and played by the King's rules? Or is it right to call a stacked deck a stacked deck?)

Then again, on the supposed "legal" front...when City Code is consistently overridden by "variances" and "exceptions" (well, they don't REALLY need to follow the rules)...where's that concept of "the rule of law" then? Does it exists for someone's convenience, to be overridden at will by the folks with the savvy, political connections, and lobbyists who know how to game the system?

I'm all for for citizen-activists knowing the rules of the game. But we also need to understand that those rules are specifically intended to PRECLUDE a level playing field... as we slip our straight-jackets on, and are told to lower our voices, or we'll lose our TV privileges.

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