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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Two guys, four faces

Here's a laugher for a slow week in local politics. Fighting the pending move to have the City Council take control over the budget of the Portland Development Commission, Grampy and Big Pipe have started whining about how the matter should be put up for a public vote.

Gimme a break, boys. We don't get to vote on public campaign financing of municipal campaigns, or massive subsidies for greedy condo developers, or shutting down the police stations at night, or building the Floating Twinkies, or blowing neighborhood revitalization money on toney theaters for the rich, or the ongoing sellout of the city's parks, but suddenly the voters simply have to have a say in which set of face cards gets to dole out the PDC pork? Have you so soon forgotten the old "Let's try it for a while and see how the voters like it before they vote on it"?

Sure, let's have a vote on "urban renewal" in Portland. Let's vote on winding it down, since it's pretty much wrecking the place financially and aesthetically.

Comments (13)

I'm not sure I understand the point either. Isn't it pretty clear that the voters would overwhelmingly side with Sten, Leonard, and Adams anyway??

I don't understand it. One one hand you excoriate these guys for being in the pocket of the developers but you want to turn PDC over to them directly. At least now when a commissioner's assistant calls for a favor the employee can refer them to the Commission.

I agree that PDC needs refomred for better oversight but turning it directly over to City Council is a recipe for coruption.


As between City Council control and PDC board control, I favor City Council control. Always have. In fact, I have long advocated dissolving the PDC and turning it back into a regular city bureau. There are too many unsupervised pots of public money around here that are being stolen from. Getting the urban renewal grease back under the City Hall roof would mean one less pot.

The influence of the developer weasels wanes as accountability increases. Appointed, autonomous boards are far less accountable than directly elected officials.

But actually, this post is not about which side of that issue one comes down on. Instead, it is the hypocrisy of Potter and Saltzman preaching about public votes. Our politicians favor public votes only when it suits them; the lines they draw when deciding which issues should require such votes are utterly without principle.

That line seems to be drawn when the powers that be are likely to be defeated. If we turn it over to a vote of the people, then they can do their best to buy the vote and possibly have it turn out in their favor.

As for corruption, it's already there. PDC has violated its fiduciary responsibilities multiple times in the past year, alone. What makes you think that it would be any worse under the commissioners? At least they can be clearly identified and removed from office. Can the same be said of the PDC board of directors when it comes to familiarity to the public and ease of removal from office? The thing with PDC is that there is no accountability whatsoever; to the public, at least.

Did you see the editorial in today's "O" about saving the PDC. Disgusting! I'll vote to scrape it entirely. How could that possibly be worse than the bunch of sharks and weasels that have been feeding in the urban renewal trough for decades. A feast sponsered by the PDC but mostly funded by the taxpayers.

I agree with Bojack's "hypocrasy" post. Additionally, I think we have to consider the reality of the media "slant" if the PDC issue is put before the voters, and how the measure is written. The media is so important when an issue is vague to many voters.

The Oreonian has already come out strong for the continuance of PDC-maybe with a minor tuneup. The Tribune might also, considering their past/recent comments on PDC. Let's face it, how many of the voters really know the nuiances of the PDC issues or how it affects them in their pocketbooks? Not many. For example, consider Lily's post above, and "she" is knowledgable; "PDC...mostly funded by taxpayers". PDC is entirely funded by taxpayers.

If the three commissioners who are advocating sending the PDC issue to the state legislature, would spend as much time/energy to send it to the voters, it could pass. I for one would want city voters to know the true story behind the PDC history and financial failures without the media slant.

And who will carry on the "education" of voters if the measure becomes a reality? Are there any commissioners or other public officials that will help/sponsor the "re-education" efforts? And will the public education districts, Multnomah Co., police, firemen, etc. who are loosing taxdollars to their budgets because of the PDC step forward and question and support PDC reforms or elimination? It is a delicate "political ballgame" when one part of government questons another part. Multnomah Co. and a few fire districts have questioned Urban Renewal and its affect on their budgets recently. But the media has downplayed that difference, but it is there.

I, and several others have met with state reps, and lobbyists about Urban Renewal, PDC. They listen, but several eyes glaze over, and they have a hard time following the tax dollar ball; and they worry about the "media fallout" in taking a position. Even going to the legislature with the PDC issue is questionable because it would be watered down. But we should try either course.

I think the problem is we are so far down the "slipery slope" on this one as with many other things. In itself Urban Renewal is a great idea. I remember driving through some of the slums that spawned the race riots of the 60's. There are problems with what UR has devolved to, and things we have to remember.

UR decision making is too concentrated and there are no performance measures or adequate accounting practices in place to do a true and uncorrupted cost/benefit on how UR spending and its mirror immage reduced disposable income to government services and residents effects the City and Region as a whole, existing (non-subsidized) business expansion, and the pocketbook of the average Joe.

The thing to remember is capital when it belongs to an old family in the West Hills or Beacon Hill is guarded and a healthy ROI (Return on Investment)is expected before any matching funds are expended. They have "critical mass" and can keep it in T-bills and their lifestyle comfortable as wealth becomes more concentrated it takes more ROI to cut this money loose from not only the old guard but pension funds managed by the same investment trust officers.

If public tax money is invested in UR, and the "owner" of the project is protected from losing thier leveraged investment with the pledge of tax money, and this development stimulates the local economy, provides affordable housing, or family wage jobs, that is one thing. If public tax money is used as it has been in Portland to bleed money from taxpayers to provide a free source of capital for the developers and thier "investors" and cushie jobs for their offspring and relatives that is another.

As Jerry has pointed out elements of prudent financial analysis are forgotten, if you look at the life cycle of a PDC project. A good example the gravey, is the conversion of Harrison Towers, this was the great UR project of the 60's and 70's. The Randy Gragg of the day must have been salivating. This was the Jewish Slum torn down and "redevleoped" with public money. All those appartment units were put up, with UR money, and a positive cash flow from rents kept things rolling to assure the owner a good ROI, what happened when rents went up did the City get a share of the better ROI, and now the Condo conversion. The question would be what was the Public's ROI on thier investment and what was some nameless group of investors ROI on that UR deal.

In a society that is more and more programed toward instant gratification,and a goverment that only looks at a budget that will carry them through the next year, the best example of this was the surplus cookie jar the council went through this year, why not pay off a few of the bonds early, and cut down the future bond obligation.

No one, with the possible exception of maybe Fireman Randy, is looking out for the people in these deals, they have no place at the table they pay for.

To me this whole dust up has an interesting slant politically. I think it is the opening salvo for the mayoral campaign in '08 and is bringing forward the question of whether Potter will have a support base upon which to run for a second term.

Couple the PDC article with the "transparency" article (or is it "tramsparency"?) and then check the murmurs column which speculates that Potter is about to shuffle the deck and reassign bureaus. He could hand Sam some loser bureaus to get him out of the spotlight, give Sten a plum to placate him and maybe get out of this 3 to 2 voting situation. Then, and only then, can he move forward on charter reform or "visioning".

Bottom line folks, it's politics pure and simple, and who will be able to say what in 2008. It's going to be quite amusing.

Dave, I think you are right-Urban Renewal has the potential to be a major issue in '08 in the mayoral campaign.

Several of us tried to get the Mannix campaign four years ago to minimally discuss the UR issue on a state-wide basis and particularly Portland. What deficiencies we see today were there four years ago, and even the City Club UR committee was citing the problems even then. Then we tried again with Saxton. Didn't quite catch on. And it would of helped his campaign because Ted didn't know a thing about UR and its affect state-wide.

I appreciate that your campaign for City Council acknowledged the problems with PDC and UR. But like always, the media downplayed it.

PDC and UR should be a major issue in '08, and not just only for the "corruption" examples, but its affect on the tax base. If you run we will try to help you make it an issue; and I think Amanda Fritz agrees.

PS: UR should not be thought of as a democrat or republican issue. That doesn't mean it won't end up there. UR deficiencies are seen by both spectrums.

Maybe we should get to vote on term limits? That would prevent some of the power accumulation/consolidation by the entrenched incumbents. Plus, we may wind up with some of those much vaunted "women and people of color" on the City Council.

It worked for MultCo.

If not term limits, then how about an idea I read about over on CommissionerSam.com:
2% for Sinkholes!


Thanks for the encouragement. I did indeed try to focus on UR's impact on our basic services in the campaign. I believe it resonanted with everyone who got to hear it.... just didn't get to enough people. A lot of people believe the city is concerning itself with everything but what it should.

I am not ruling out a run in '08 but it will pretty much depend upon the political landscape as it begins to unfold this coming spring.

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