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.