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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 12, 2007 5:29 AM. The previous post in this blog was Firefox: Google's Turkey. The next post in this blog is Say hello to Penryn. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Pretenses, Disguises, and Charades

Under the Potter administration, the Portland Development Commission has changed some of its evil ways. For example, its approach to public relations has definitely improved from the days of Don Mazziotti's middle finger. Now the hipsters at the PDC are all, like, kewl -- going so far as to post videos on YouTube. You can see some of their handiwork embedded on the WW website, here.

I get a kick out of the Burnside Bridgehead one. They keep saying over and over how wonderful it's going to be -- you can have business lunches at the Doug Fir! But in their eyes I see desperation. If this was such a great project, how come nobody's turned a shovel of dirt in the 2½ years since the developer was selected?

The outreach to the cyberworld is a nice touch by the PDC honchos. But turning from style to substance, some things haven't changed -- especially the agency's odd view of public involvement. Like just about all segments of government in the Portland area, the PDC seems ever inclined to decide first and seeks broad public input later.

Case in point: the confab they've got planned for next Monday night (in a holiday week) that's styled as "a community meeting to discuss the future of urban renewal." Sounds at first like an open-ended and free-ranging town hall meeting, but when you get down to the fine print of the invitation, you see that it's far from that. In fact, it's "a briefing and discussion of the Future of Urban Renewal Initiative." Big difference.

"Briefing" means they're going to tell us a few things about what's already been decided. And what's already been decided is that there's going to be an "initiative." The goals and methods of that "initiative" have no doubt already been settled in some secret or obscure forum. And now that the train is on the track, they'll have some meetings at which the public will get to find out about it, and say what they think of it, all in the space of an hour. There'll be some suspiciously well-informed people gushing their praise of it, and most of those folks will be paid in one way or another to do so. Any critics will be thanked for their frankness. But no matter what the meeting attendees say, there are some deals here that are already as good as done.

Reading down a little further confirms that this is the posture we're in:

The PDC is seeking public input and discussion on a variety of issues including:

● What 61 acres should be added to the River District?

Notice, they don't care what you think about whether 61 acres ought to be added -- that's part of the done deal. But you do get to say which 61 acres you'd pick. Whoopdee doo.

Then there's this one:

● As part of the discussion about the 61 acres for the River District, can and should “satellite districts” be created elsewhere in the city that would be financially connected to the River District and thus allow spending some of the available funds elsewhere in the city, and if so, under what circumstances?
Give me a break. Though ever-so-abstractly stated in the PDC notice, we all know in very concrete terms what this one is about. It's "Opie" Sten's latest harebrained scheme, to spend urban renewal taxes from the Pearl District on a new school for the David Douglas School District, 10 miles away. It is one of this fellow's silliest pipe dreams yet -- and that's saying a lot -- and it's probably neither legal nor feasible. But hey, we are going to spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions, screwing around with it, and oh, yes, you might get to comment on some vague conceptual presentation of it for two minutes next Monday night if you want to.

And how about this one?

● Should more bonds be issued for projects in any of the expiring districts to accomplish community goals?
Does anyone in their right mind think that "no" is an answer that anyone at the PDC would consider, even jokingly, for even a second? I work Monday nights, but even if I didn't, I wouldn't waste time at a meeting where folks are going to pretend that that question is really on the table.

The meeting notice comes replete with a reminder of the "urban renewal" mission statement:

Urban renewal is a state-authorized, redevelopment and finance program designed to help communities improve and redevelop areas that are physically deteriorated, suffering economic stagnation, unsafe or poorly planned.
"Poorly planned" -- got that? If the city decides that your neighborhood is "poorly planned" -- even if it thinks it's doing fine -- they can condemn it, bulldoze it, and turn it over to the condo tower weasels, all in the name of "urban renewal."

Now, there's something I'd like to see on a meeting agenda sometime.

Comments (22)

Looks like the Westside Future of Urban Renewal meetings have been going on since September, at the very least.

I know in our neighborhood, they started surveying and seeking public input in July. The neighborhood stakeholder meetings have been going on since August.

So, perhaps you just weren't paying attention? I don't think the work of the people who were paying attention should be tossed aside just because a few late comers want to show up at the last minute and send everyone back to square one.

"If the city decides that your neighborhood is 'poorly planned' -- even if it thinks it's doing fine -- they can condemn it, bulldoze it, and turn it over to the condo tower weasels, all in the name of 'urban renewal.'

Passage of Measure 39 in 2006 would hopefully stop this scenario from occurring. It prohibits government from using eminent domain to take property from one private party and giving it to another private party. Details can be found at:
http://www.sos.state.or.us/elections/nov72006/guide/meas/m39_bt.html

All of this is being perpetrated to perpetuate the high paid hierarchy at the PDC, their funding, their developer friends, 230 planners and the fiscally NON-sustainable mess they have created all over the city.
Having so extremely abused the municipal credit card of Urban Renewal (TIF financing) to the point of insanity, their only two choices are the loss of their stature and livelihood OR more insanity. Since they have no contraints on spending money to snow job along more insanity the choice is simple.

They proudly and smuggly make it and the newspapers, for the most part, pat them on the back.

I wonder if the PDC has already done some polling it will present to say something like, "a majority of citizens approve of these plans?" Adams used polling data at his dog and pony transportation tax/fee meetings. I still can't believe Portlanders would be willing to lavish this government in even more tax dollars while many of them are just treading water against inflation. But I'm probably wrong.

PDC has done some good things and some not so good things over the years. As with many well intentioned ideas, the implementation has sometimes been less than stellar.
Now the whole thing is too big, represents too much money, too much debt and is way too powerful. The organism is not about to give up anything. It must continue to feed itself in order to survive. Too bad...Perhaps the City Club should investigate again!

Jack

I just checked your blog's reading level and this story has moved you up to high school. Way to go. Keep up the good work and maybe you can join me at the genius level. LOL

By the way, great article. Maybe I should link to it to keep my ratings up there.

Best Regards,

Mike

they started surveying and seeking public input in July.

Maybe in some neighborhoods, with little or no publicity. There has been a series of meetings with Sten and Charles Wilhoite of the PDC board, but they never got into a wide open discussion of "the future of urban renewal."

And one thing is for darn sure -- no neighborhood ever said, in any way, shape, or form, that it wanted 61 more acres in the River District and a new school in David Douglas built out of urban renewal taxes. That was all decided in back rooms, where Sam the Tram, Sten, and Wilhoite cleared everything with their boss, Homer Williams.

Actually, there was quite a bit of publicity as well as blanket mailings in Lents. PDC staff was also soliciting comments and survey responses at multiple neighborhood events and was the headliner at a neighborhood association meeting.

Anyone who attended the amendment study meetings was aware of what was going on in the River District as it related to the options for expansion or increasing indebtedness in Lents. There's only so much acreage and funds to go around, so what happens in the River District effects the other URAs.

I serve on the Burnside Bridgehead Citizen Advisory Committee, and our November meeting was just cancelled...nothing happening. I DID get a call from the developer's rep after that they'd like to be on our neighborhood association's agenda, to explain, I imagine, why nothing's happening? (Whatever happened to that old notion of "fish or cut bait"?)

I think public involvement has become more important --and required-- but too often that means just being slicker about how to spin foregone conclusions. (Or like the 16 year old that wises up that replacing the purloined gin from the bottle with water is less obvious and less likely to get your ass grounded.)

Sometimes it's hard to decide whether to be angry or flattered when someone tries to spin me. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if we could just be more transparent with each other, and take pleasure from that?

the Westside Future of Urban Renewal meetings have been going on since September

Yes, but notice that suddenly the word "Westside" has mysteriously disappeared from the program. Now the whole city's apparently on the table.

The "Future of Urban Renewal" studies have been city-wide since they started. There are other substantial amendments, other than activities included in the "Westside" URAs that are under consideration, and they are included in the "future of urban renewal" activities. So, it's not "suddenly".

The major difference in the process is the structure of the advisory committees, which is much different for the older Westside URAs than it is for the neighborhood URAs like Lents. Public comment has been occurring for the the potential Lents URA amendment since late summer, and has been on the agendas for the Westside URA advisory committee since Sept 25th.

Anyone who is really concerned with the activities of any given URA should take the time to at least scan the meeting agendas. It's not that hard to get on the PDC listservs for individual URAs. Just sign up at their web site and pick your poison.

There are other substantial amendments, other than activities included in the "Westside" URAs that are under consideration, and they are included in the "future of urban renewal" activities.

I rest my case. Is the average person in Portland supposed to follow all that? The PDC wants our input like I want a hole in the head.

I consider myself pretty average, and I manage to keep up and give my input when the timing is appropriate.

What do you want a fruit basket and hand written invitation?

That's funny. You obviously work for the PDC or one of the developer weasels who run Portland. Or maybe the streetcar company.

I live in a dense slurry of Urban Renewal and urban decay. My spare time is spent trying to implement smart growth in a neighborhood that isn't known for being smart or growing. But, they're wrong about us. Just ask the folks down at the bus stop that are waiting for the 72. Life is exciting here in the URA, and I'm vying for a starring role in the night time drama, and the weekend drama...

Ick.

Isnoful, "Disguises" as Jack states happens at PDC. Assuming I'm concerned, somehow find a meeting agenda, get off work, and find a parking space in torn-up NW Portland along the transit mall, here is what is likely to happen as the last URAC meeting demonstrated.

After a long agenda of reports from all kinds of bureaus, etc. representing several regional governmental agencies with no public input requested, the Parks Bureau gave a report to the URAC on how raising Service Development Charges (SDCs)for parks are warranted because Portland is 12th in charges for the metro area. They proposed adding $5,000 to the existing $3600 residential charged by parks. Plus they want to prorate SDCs even higher with percentage formulas for commercial/industrial projects. This will affect the price of affordable housing that was promised in SoWhat. Of course, we're all for parks. But then after several concerned comments were made by URAC members as to implications of the additional taxes, the committee almost moved to other business, except it was asked of PDC staff if they could express those concerns to the City Council. Staff thought maybe it could be done. Luckily there was a motion made and passed. There was almost not even an "advisory" input, even though URAC stands for Urban Renewal Advisory Committee. But, also noteworthy, there was not any citizen input requested.

Most URAC meetings are usually just reports with a heavy dose of "public relations" as exhibited by the Parks report, not "citizen involvement".

"What do you want a fruit basket and hand written invitation?"

At least a basket and letter would be real.

Unlike the PDC's interest in learning and considering public opinion.

If they had any interest in public opinion they would be providing basic information requested by Urban Renewal Citizen Advisory Committee members to provide feedback. Instead the PDC essentially, provides redacted pieces of information and partial budgets with no consistency or clarity for review.

Anyone who looks at budgets for a couple years of meetings will see how line items titles and numbers continually change making it impossible to know what is being spent for what reason.
When PDC staff is asked, they either obviscate or don't know what is going on.

If it wasn't so blatantly deliberate and self serving it would be hillarious.



Hoo-Rah !!! for Chuck. He just nailed it!

"to spend urban renewal taxes from the Pearl District on a new school for the David Douglas School District"

I really don't get why they have to do this thing so complexly unless they are trying for ledgerdemain on the public. Of course, politicians get confused to all heck also.

If CoP wants a new school in David Douglas, why not just take that $30M surplus this year, don't buy Homer's parking spaces and build something for $36M?

Tom Hayden was on Book TV this weekend talking about Iraq. He made the point that elected officials view everything as noise unless their offices are put at risk. I think that's the key to all of this. These shenanigans, which would bring indictments in some parts of the country, are unlikey to change until the players change.

If Erik Sten somehow advances his plan to use TIF money to build a new school in Davis Douglas, what is he going to say to all the other schools and worthy projects that are just as far removed from the URA as David Douglas? That's an insurmountable political problem.

As long as Erik pushes the plan all the way to the edge, without actually using TIF money for the school, he looks good almost everyone. Teachers and parents think he's the Robin Hood of Urban Renewal, taking money from the rich Pearl district to use for the poor school, and the people outside the URAs think he wants to spread the wealth around.

It all falls apart, though, if the plan actually goes into effect, because the same people will start asking for their own slice of the TIF pie for their own projects, and invariably, Erik will have to say no to almost everyone else. It would also drive a wedge between the Council and the PDC, because PDC won't have as much TIF money to sprinkle over its favored developers.

Using that logic, if anyone wants to see Erik Sten politically self-destruct, support his David Douglas idea.

Urban Renewal and TIF is in as good shape as OHSU. The PDC has been lying for years. More so now than ever.

It won't be long before the PDC comes out with their version of OHSU's "by the way we're broke and can't continue playing our games."

Of course the city is upside down, big time, yet Erik Sten and the rest of the council all the think the city has a surplus.

They can't even grasp and manage the most basic fiduciary responsibilities.

There isn't any pool of TIF money to tap. TIF is used soley to repay borrowed Urban Renewal money. Erik is simply proposing the City borrow more. Wow, genius!

But what about the previous UR comedy act?

Didn't the council vote, in knee jerk fasion, to divert 30% of all Urban Renewal spending to affordable houising?

Exactly how thin can they spread a declining revenue source and how hgih can they stack up debt which requires basic services general fund budgets to pay back?

Don't ask Tommy, Erik or the rest.

They wouldn't even know what you are talking about.


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