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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 2, 2007 1:07 PM. The previous post in this blog was Tribute to Tom McCall. The next post in this blog is Bankrupt billionaire buyback. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Friday, February 2, 2007

Super (slow) bowl

I see that former Portland commissioner Margaret Strachan visited her old haunts -- the City Council chambers -- the other day. She was testifying to the backs of the commissioners' laptop screens about what she sees as a breakdown in Portland's gigantic "urban planning" bureaucracy. As best I could tell from reading about it on Amanda Fritz's blog, Strachan was complaining, in part, that there are too many different local agencies doing planning, they're operating at cross-purposes with each other, and the resulting plans are thrown away whenever it's politically expedient.

Strachan's continuing interest in the city planning world is mildly amusing. As has been written about here before, her husband is a regular beneficiary of planning pork. When there's a stinker of an idea about to be imposed on some unsuspecting neighborhood or another, he often appears as the paid emcee of the "public involvement" show. The latest one of these that crossed our desk is the plan to turn the city's parks bureau into an independent, quasi-accountable authority. Sort of like the Portland Development Commission. Wonderful.

But I digress. Strachan's complaint about too much and too discordant planning does ring true. Back in the day when she was in office, planning was simple: Neil Goldschmidt told everybody what was supposed to happen, and they hopped to it. Now that he's no longer available to serve as the Richard Daley of Portland, there's actually some room for honest differences of opinion on land use matters. And it gets messy. That's just a byproduct of it being made more honest, which I actually applaud.

But I share her frustration with the "planning" juggernaut for a different reason. There are too many hoops for worthy projects to jump through, while garbage gets approved faster than you can say "charrette." I was talking the other day with a guy who's involved in the plan to re-do the Grant Park bowl and its surroundings to make it a more useful space. Apparently there's a bunch of private money ready to lay some artificial turf, put up some stands and lights, and get more out of the park than ever before -- particularly in the muddy months.

The "planning" for this project has been going on for a couple of years. There are some obvious neighborhood concerns -- traffic, noise, parking, the usual -- and I sympathize with the neighbors who are voicing them. But the process of getting those concerns on the table and aired out, and a go-or-no decision made on the project, seems to be taking an eternity. The latest hurdle is being thrown up by the city planning bureau, which has reportedly changed its earlier position and is now going to demand another year and a half of process, as opposed to a couple of additional months. Even if the park improvements are ultimately approved, it may be years before they're made. And while we "plan" this baby for a third and fourth year, the benefactors who are willing to shell out much of the necessary dough may find other places to be generous. Not to mention the fact that these projects don't get cheaper the longer you wait to start them.

Plan, plan, plan. After the planning bureau is done, there are probably parks planners, and school board planners, and who knows? Maybe even somehow PDC planners will have to be brought in to pick things over. And yet, if this were a Homer Williams condo behemoth or a dozen cell phone antennas across the street from your house, it would be finished by now.

Fireman Randy, aren't you in charge of "planning"? You're a red-tape-cutter kind of guy. What's the deal?

I'm not sure I'm coming at this from the same place as Margaret Strachan -- indeed, I seriously doubt it -- but I tend to agree with her that nobody knows who's on first in Portland "planning" any more.

Comments (9)

The latest hurdle is being thrown up by the city planning bureau, which has reportedly changed its earlier position and is now going to demand another year and a half of process, as opposed to a couple of additional months.

Man, if they could only get Randy Rappaport to build some condos on that site, the planning dept would have it approved yesterday.

Mayor Potter is in charge of Planning. Randy Leonard is commissioner-in-charge of Development Services. Big Picture Plans like South Waterfront are run by Planning, then individual development permits are reviewed and building permits given/monitored by Development Services.

Thanks for bailing me out, Amanda.

OK, I'll bite.

WTF is a "planner?"

The City, County, and every public agency have scores or more, along with GISsers and pamphlet makers.

PSU and UO have programs where you can get a masters in "planning." What do you learn in a "planning" program?

If I were a planner, what would I tell my mom I do? Am I an architect? Engineer? Lawyer? Financier? Mischief maker? Charrette moderator?

And why are most "planners" women, but "senior planners" men?

These planners wear so many hats, but what do they DO?

individual development permits are reviewed and building permits given/monitored by Development Services.

Well then, I guess it's "Development Services" that's causing the constipation on the Grant Park bowl deal.

but what do they DO?

They plan comfortable retirements for developer weasels.

I think you need to make a clear distinction between what the theory is that planners do and what is happening in planning in this town. As evidenced by the tribune article that I have linked here several times.
http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=115889386528643100

In the years I spent as a consultant, doing projects as close as Washington County, if you were going to ask for a variance or some concession on zoning, you had to do something to make it worthwhile to the public. Look at the contrast between South Waterfront and the $30-$40 million in parks infrastructure estimated for the Greenway waterfront restoration and park, and look at the quote from the real planners in Vancouver BC,

“In exchange for the rights to build 2,800 condos and apartments, the developer built an elementary school, a sports field complex, a day-care facility and community center.
“Everything that you see here, including every blade of grass, was paid for by the developer,” he said, with obvious pride.”

Do some quick and dirty math, these guys are building condos for somewhere between $200-$300/sq-ft, 1000 sq-ft per condo, and selling them at $500/sq-ft and up. 5000 condos at SoWhat, that is somewhere in the range of $1-1.5 Billion in profit maybe more, no wonder they can afford the ex-gov’s wife as social director.
Do you have your public servants planners going to the matt to negotiate a good deal for the people, no you have the City Engineer being set up in a consulting firm half owned by Homer Williams, misrepresenting costs of the TRAM to council, and the lead planner Mr. Brown, taking a job with him. I do know of one planner at the city that stood their ground and actually got the developer to cough up concessions, after Joe Angel go a whiff of that person, they were laid off in short order.
As far as Grant Park, the big issue there I believe was the field lighting, in a neighborhood high mast lights and the extra evening operating hours they imply tend to raise concerns, in a facility I was developing in a residential neighborhood, my firm had to jump though a lot of hoops to get lighting for the parking lot near residences, even though it was right next to a golf driving range that had these lights grandfathered in from before the area became suburbia.

I think Ms. Strachan has a good point here. The lines of responsibility between Metro and the other local gov'ts are unclear, as are some of the regulations/policies.

A bigger issue, I believe, is coordination/management of low income housing efforts in the region. The city, Metro, PDC and the state all have programs, and it would seem much more efficient if one agency handled this for the area.

As some of us in the business say, "Plan the plan". We've got so many planners planning what we should plan, then needing a charrette to tell us what we may have missed in the planner's plan.

The Grant Park bowl is turning out like the bocci ball court built a few years ago in the North Park blocks. It began as a simple project to build a sand compacted bocci court that the Italian guys hoped to build for $5T with their hard labor and money. Over a couple years later after extensive "planning" and over ten agencies planning reviews, the price was over $25T.

But let's not knock "planning", it is a large Portland industry.

What to do...what to do. I know I'm a caveman, but when do we look at a one-line ballot measure to repeal LCDC?

I'd love to have planning drop back into the laps of the counties. Arrogant? Inefficient? Dictatorial? Move your project to another county. Shop for a county that wants development and will make it easy.

Mr. Kulongoski, tear down this wall!


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