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Thursday, February 28, 2008

The ultimate mystery

Forget for a moment the fact that the City of Portland appears to be on shaky ground financially. Even if it were in good shape money-wise, how can the city be building streetcars, redoing the downtown transit mall, handing hundreds of millions to the SoWhat boys, buying up the Main Post Office to hand over to a developer, and talking about building a new no-cars bridge over the Willamette, when the entire city we have is literally falling apart at the seams?

I guess if you ask a simple question enough times and politicians don't answer, the question isn't valid any more.

Comments (36)

The answer to your simple question is equally simple - because we let them.

As backward as everything this city does is, it seems like it'd be really easy to elect a candidate who speaks straight, tells the truth, and can propose a viable solution to get us out of this problem we're in.

Thanks for posting this Jack, it is the hidden stepchild of the long term debt information you have in the sidebar. Someday to make things functional we are going to have to issue still more bonds for the necessities to keep the city functioning.

I think the #1 thing we should be doing is preparing for the big earthquake we know is going to come. For example, we should have those portable bridges nearby and ready to be moved to the river if we get clobbered by a huge quake. We should have equipment stored around the city - all the things we will wish were there the day after. Once we take care of the #1 threat we face - recognizing that there will be some overlap to other possible threats - then we should spend the money on infrastructure - no more sexy projects. No more city-development partnerships that aren't necessary. We should be preparing as if a gigantic economic storm is approaching, because it probably is. I'm not talking about being more afraid. Acting responsibly to genuine concerns is a way to feel less afraid. Watching these endless snazzy projects tear into our financial stability - now, that's scary.

Sam Adams was on Lars Larson yesterday, and was asked about the money being spent on mass transit items when roads need repaired...his answer was that the federal transit money they get can only be spent on mass transit by law, not repair or upkeep of anything else. And that if we didnt build the trains, streetcars, & such, the money would just go to another city.
But isnt there a "matching funds" issue as well? There is local money spent too right? And that money could be spent on repairs I would think...
But they just have trains on the brain.

Jack... Please, relax. Sam Adams has a very educational video for you that will explain everything. You'll feel better.


the federal transit money they get can only be spent on mass transit by law, not repair or upkeep of anything else. And that if we didnt build the trains, streetcars, & such, the money would just go to another city.

The feds don't pay anywhere near all of the massive construction costs, and they don't pay any of the very substantial operating costs. If somebody offers to buy you a Hummer, it's not much use to you if you have no money for gas, oil, registration, or tuneups.

What about the MRAP retrofit for the MAX and Streetcar?

Actually most of the debate here is beside the point since cc answered your question right off the bat.

I'll expand. Once upon a time there was a local elected official who could spend local money fixing potholes or could use it to match Federal dollars on a bright shiny choo choo train. So he and the Senator went to the people and said, "How would you like a bright shiny choo choo." And the people said "WOW." So the Senator and the local official were reelected and both went on a fact finding mission to Paris to look at shiny choo choo trains.

While in Paris the local official said to the Senator, "What about fixing the potholes?" And the Senator replied. "Just give them another shiny choo choo and they'll forget about the potholes until I retire and you are elected Senator. Then it's some other jerks problem and he can tell the people we need to raise taxes to fix the potholes."

The End.

Greg C

And I can do stick figures too if y'all want. :-)

If gas all of a sudden becomes a rare commodity, or absurdly expensive, which looks quite likely, Portlanders will be happy that these rail lines have been installed.

Now regarding the City of Portland and where the hell is all of our current tax dollars going, has anybody actually done any sort of analysis on this?

How much is the City/County taking in and where the hell is it going?

Its quite likely that the voters will approve another stupid tax increase. We got some pretty weird folks living in this city

What a bunch of idiots they were, 100 years ago, to put in sewer lines that would break someday! Now Bill McDonald, he's got the answer -- prepare for an earthquake!!! The commenters on this site would go nuts to see floating bridges laying around in storage.

The reason we are in an infrastructure maintenance crisis across the county is because we've built up suburbia -- larger numbers of roads, and associated utilities, to serve a more broadly spread population. When it's new, it's easy to get the costs paid.

Nonetheless, the City has not ignored infrastruture, even though it has been slow to invest the huge dollars it takes. The big pipe is a good example of what it takes to get big fixes done. And there has been loads of grumping about it, right? That's because the grumps grump about everything.

I expect my 100-year old sewer line will have to get replaced at some point here. Just another cost of life/living.

We have to change course, these Right Wing Wacko's have destroyed Portland.
Sam for Mayor.

...and, if you want my opinion, they ain't doing it out of altruism.

It's the same old story: the power of the people concerned about potholes (a metaphor), is diffuse. The rewards; warm fuzzies and re-election. The power of those who benefit directly (Hoffman, Walsh et al) is focused and seductive. The rewards; tangible and fungible (I love that word, even if it's not the right one)

The seduction really isn't that difficult. What real risk is there in pissing off a bunch of people whose lives are filled with the challenges of everyday life; people who simply can't devote the time and energy necessary to be "activists".

As I've often said, the vast majority of these folks naively believe that local government will do the right thing without the need for their constant involvement. They're wrong, and those who take advantage of their naivete are selfish, opportunistic predators.

Once our leaders have gotten over the hump of convincing themselves that their motives are pure (enough) and that their actions are justified by some higher purpose (money, power, etc.), it's open season.

In some cases, I'm not sure about the hump.

Those who collude with our "public servants" to skew the city's priorities away from the traditional ones (see: potholes) are even more insulated from the ire of the average citizen - their business is done on a level far above household finance. What do a few, or even a lot of, angry individuals matter to them?

Time for revolution (hahaha).

Change will not come without crisis. Anyone who takes the laudanum that Adams, Sten and the rest of them spoon out will tune out. The noise from sources like this blog just doesn't register. That's why I support "guerrilla tactics" like refusing to vote for new taxes - even when they're "for the children". It's sad that voters may be forced to take hostages like entrenched bureaucracies and politicians do, but the bile that this attitude generates is worth it in the long run. It's just a different type of medecine; and we all know that the bad-tasting stuff is the best for you.

...at least that's what Mama said.

What a relief that I wasn't wrong about you, Jonathan.

"his answer was that the federal transit money they get can only be spent on mass transit by law, not repair or upkeep of anything else. And that if we didnt build the trains, streetcars, & such, the money would just go to another city."

He neglected to mention that when he visits Earl B to write up these appropriations/earmarks, Eral specifies thest funds must be spent on light rail.

So Mr Adams always has this fallback. Face it, they hate cars, roads and sewers since they interfere with the dream of making downtown into Oz.

"I expect my 100-year old sewer line will have to get replaced at some point here. Just another cost of life/living."

My issue is you can do ongoing maintenance on your car to prevent the big blowup or just wait until it collapses and get stuck with a huge surprise bill.

Infrastructure spending has been bottom priority and the big pipe would have gotten ignored (regardless of the Adams' photo opps) if the Bushies/environmentalists hadn't sued CoP.

Everytime we get Fed money to build something new, we never get money to maintain it.

Slick Senseless Sam also said the lottery money
($250 million for Milwaukie MAX)
couldn't be spent on anything but MAX.

How dishonest is that?

SSS knows the local agency lobbyists went to the legislature to get the lottery money for MAX. They just as easily could have went after lottery money for the Sellwood Bridge.

Not only that they still can. Milwaukie MAX is along ways off.

SSS can ask any legislator to sponsor a new bill to re-direct the lottery money from more light rail to the Selwwood Bridge.

Just as there's nothing stopping SSS (Sam) from lobbying our congressional
cabal for road money.

Sam (SSS) further misinformed by stating SDC's couldnt' be used for anything but adding capacity. That's a total farce.
The list of projects SDCs are about to fund has all sorts of non capacity projects.

Sam has also said Urban Renewal can;t be spent for maintenence. Again that is inaccurate and he knows it.
UR is routinely used for maintenence as maintenence is often re-building of streets, which happens all the time in UR districts.
And much of the maintenence backlog includes re-building of existing streets.
Of which many are within UR districts.

Sam also claimed streetcars and light rail are paid for with other dollars, fed, LID and local combinations.
He hides the fatc that Urban Renewal (general fund property taxes)are routinely used for streetcars, light rail and associated projects to the tune of hundreds of millions.

There's not a straight forward honest thing SSS has to offer.
His agenda depends upon public deception and intergovernmental back room schemes.

Throw him out and demand full audits from Mayor Sho.

Jonathan, If I lived on the coast, I would want the government to have a tsunami warning system. Why? You deal with the knockout blows first. We live in an earthquake zone, so I believe the government should prepare for that. You start with the biggest threat, then move onto the basics. If your household has emergency supplies of food and water, then you're already doing it. We have a city that depends on bridges and the geologists think we're overdue for a big quake. We need equipment in place for that. I'm not saying it's the answer as you suggest. It just eliminates one of the tougher questions. That's what responsible government should do: Limit our exposure to potential problems. Should we spend a fortune preparing for a hurricane? No. But our earthquake problem is literally underfoot. I don't think it's crazy to prepare for it. I think having temporary bridges in warehouses by the river is a wise idea.

cc, why don't you pull the foil off your head.

First, come out from under the cover of anonymity. Second, come up with some evidence that there is a cabal of activists and politicians colluding against anyone (or really, they're just colluding against you only ... they're watching you carefully, good thing you're anonymous). Third, let me get this straight -- you think the City's first priority (or one of the top) should be potholes? I'm thankful that those making the decisions (everyone, on every side of every issue) are more far-sighted than you.

I'm thankful that those making the decisions (everyone, on every side of every issue) are more far-sighted than you.

I'll have you know that I've been far-sighted for over 45 years. I need thicker lenses more and more frequently as I age gracelessly. Don't talk to me about hyperopia - I live it every day.

Even a blind man can see what's going on, Jonathan. Only those too close to it have a problem...

...that's myopia, I believe.

As for anonymity, it's a wonderful thing. Why else would we have the secret ballot - or is that paranoia, too? Why not address the validity of my rhetoric - I don't know who you are, nor do I care. I don't imply that you're nuts, just misguided.

Not that I've ruled out nuts...

Oh, and in connection with your third "point", look up metaphor you literal-minded scold, you.

Jonathan, re. anonymity, does anyone at your firm care that you're stirring it up on this blog? Is it good for business? Do your partners know? Just curious.

Jack, have faith. I've noticed that in the past five years, or so, the kinds of questions now being asked in the vane that you and others are asking were not asked frequently before. They are now and we must keep asking them because they are embarrassing as visual consequences of their avoidance is now staring us in the face: roads, schools, bridges, sewers, etc.

If we can get a few more people on commissions, committees, boards that will ask and comment with common sense questions and opinions, then change will quicken. As far as City Council, METRO, TriMet, PDC, County Commissions, those institutions will take longer to change. But even one common sense voice on any of the bodies with the right demeanor can affect change. This coming election is very important. A "no body" with the right questions is even effective, and hopefully the electorate will hear it; but I am skeptical someone can break through.

I believe the time is near.

Al M,

If we did run out of gas (or ban automobiles altogether, which is far more likely in the People's Republic of Portland), the existing light rail and trolley would serve perhaps 10% of the populace. If the funds spent on light rail were spend on fuel cell or natural gas buses, we could transport the entire metro population several times over.

That said, we aren't running out of gasoline for (at least) another 50 years, and the existing light rail trains will be relics by then. Even when the last gallon of gasoline is long gone (or prohibitively expensive), I would venture that private transport (electric vehicles, scooters, and buses) will continue to need smooth roads, safe bridges, and traffic signals...All the stuff that we have been neglecting to maintain/upgrade for the last 20 years.


The old brick/clay sewers were never designed to last for 100 years. The city engineers (and related agencies) use well established metrics to determine when something OUGHT to be replaced, and the City of Portland has fallen well behind that replacement schedule. You aren't supposed to wait until the S}!t is literally bubbling up and running into a creek to replace the pipe, yet that is exactly the method by which the B.E.S. is frequently forced to reprioritize their work plans. Notably, two B.E.S. trucks have fallen into sinkholes in the past two years while working on broken water mains. That's not a city that works. It's a city that responds to crisis.

Uh, this may be a stupid question, but what are "city asset managers"? They aren't guys and gals whose budgets would be be increased by this money they are proposing to be spent by the city, are they? 'Cause if so, sure seems like one might be somewhat skeptical of their number, or at least regard that number as inflated.

"you think the City's first priority (or one of the top) should be potholes?"

I don't think they should be bottom priority. At a min, we only really need 3 things - law enforcement, good schools and good roads from CoP. So far they have flopped at 2 and arent responsible for schools.


Jonathan knows full well that potholes aren't the issue here. Jonathan simply chooses to insult me (us) by implying that I (we) do. It's nothing new or even particularly clever, just the same, tired obfuscation that we see almost daily from the city clowncil, the Oregonian and every other mouthpiece for the status quo.

He asks me to "...come up with some evidence that there is a cabal of activists and politicians colluding against anyone..." which, of course, treats my hyperbole literally in order to deflect the real question - the simple one which Jack poses in his post.

This whole business should be conducted in the public arena and the more public the better (are you paying attention, Mr. Bhatia?). That's where the effects are felt and the only place in which to engage the unengaged. The use of inflammatory rhetoric is easily defensible, given the stacked deck from which our hand is dealt. In that venue, I don't need to prove my case - the lawyer (really?) needs to defend his.

Attacking my hat and glasses, though, is poor form and will only serve to piss off the jury. It's possible, though, that Jonathan simply hates me the way he imputes that sentiment to Jack regarding Chris Smith.

See how easy that is, old darling?

OK, maybe I need a new hat - so sue me.


Good thing this debt is priced in U.S dollars and not Euros. Hey?

I did attend the city's budget forum last night and spoke with the city's chief accountant. He said the city has about $500 million set aside in cash-like reserves to handle emergencies/contingencies. You wouldn't know there was much debt concern from this meeting, as there was an infinite number of proposals to spend last year's revenue surplus.

As I walked back through the Pearl district and on to downtown, these areas did look impressive. (Not so impressive was getting hit up twice for a cellphone call, or one lady saying, "sing you a song for some change.") I live on the eastside, and I can't say that all this subsidized building and streetcars does me and most others much good. In fact I try to avoid downtown when I can. I'd enjoy less glitz, less taxation, and less density from cityhall. I think commissioner Adams just likes to build beautiful buildings and other amenities more than he likes to see Joe Taxpayer keep more of his own money. Joe Taxpayer's spending is so mundane.

Mr. Radmacher's firm's client base may shed some light on his comments. It includes:

Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund
Oregon School Activities Association
StanCorp Mortgage Investors, LLC
StanCorp Real Estate Investors, LLC
Standard Insurance Company
Walsh Construction Company/Oregon

Yes, to this group, the current Portland City Council is inspired...

Potholes or pensions.

Pick one.


Your client base: zero. Your throw-stones logic is more reflective of a first-year law student than a law professor or (remarkably) one who actually practiced law. Then again, let me guess, you feel free to call public officials by juvenile names, and apparently to go after me. How many minutes to you delete this comment and ban me?? Oh, and then make snide comments about it?

My firm represents a wide range of companies and interests, a few public, mainly private. I wouldn't hesitate to talk to any of my clients about my views on these issues. Most thinking people, including my clients, value a public discourse. And I believe that a discussion in the public sphere should be just that. "cc" stupidly confuses public discourse with voting -- yes, no one should be forced to reveal how they're going to vote, but if one thinks they bring anything to the debate, let's hear it (unless, hmmm, anonymous presidential debates, now that would be interesting).

And then the hyperbole, and apparently only the metaphor to potholes (not even an example, just a metaphor), ignores the lack of evidence of some kind of collusion between activists and politicians.

Jonathan's angry comments should be preserved for everyone to see. I picture spittle flying out of his mouth.

Powell's . . . evidence of redevelopment?

And . . . I invented the Internet

Reason between the lines. There are limits to the peacock theory of practicing law, some folks can see right through a weak argument.

I really like to dwell in that never never land between full and free expression and the malleable phrase "professionalism." Mocking Jack for teaching. That is a doozy. Raising the notion specifically to invite certain removal. Sorry, this is a sort of problem that Jack cannot solve. I advise you to seek professional counsel from a different profession, the need for which is more than objectively reasonable.

I have been puzzling over a Kids Playing With Toy Blocks argument. One builds, one knocks over. Let a kid play with your blocks and they are magically converted to his blocks. Watch it some time and think of it in terms of moral development as a phase one goes through.

"cc" stupidly confuses public discourse with voting -- yes, no one should be forced to reveal how they're going to vote...

I just don't know what to say, counselor.

I'll leave it to George Eliot:

"He was like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow."

Counselor? cc, you've been watching too many lawyer shows. As we all know, you have an honorable profession ... oh wait, I forgot, you're anonymous. Yet even with anonymity, unable to document collusion.

And pdxnag, yes Powells. I doubt the figures about Powells' investment in the last 10 years is public, but you can't walk between Park and 11th and not realize it.

Not to interrupt this fascinating exchange, but I thought this was appropriate to the actual topic in the original post:

“The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.” —James Madison, FEDERALIST #57 (1787)

Counselor? cc, you've been watching too many lawyer shows...

Are you offended by the term, or just being offensive?


Truth be told, "counselor" was NOT my first choice.

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