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