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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 29, 2008 4:41 AM. The previous post in this blog was Another back-room deal on the aerial tram. The next post in this blog is Why Sten's "satellite urban renewal" scheme is illegal. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

There is no "off" position on the genius switch

It's the perfect ending to the dubious Portland City Council career of Erik "Opie" Sten: a hare-brained stunt that will cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands in legal fees and ultimately be declared illegal. Maybe after he's gone (only five weeks to go), the rest of the commissioners will come to their senses and stop the insanity. One can only hope.

UPDATE, 2:46 p.m.: More details here.

Comments (21)

This isn't the first time that Opie has ignored the legal advice of the City Attorney, and decided to "go for it" anyway. We can all thank our lucky stars that it will be the last.

Casting dispersions on Robin Hood?

I think the money line from the Trib article is, "Unfortunately for Sten, it was questioned by special taxing districts (such as water and fire districts), which oppose urban renewal because it sucks" - although I was a little surprised by the language.

Surprising that the money is being syphoned off from the rich folks rather than the typical other way around.

I knew this was illegal the first time I heard about it. Why didn't he just ask someone at the PDC, instead of spending half a year on an "analysis."

What everyone conveniently forgets about the Pearl (or doesn't know because they moved here last year) is that it was "blighted" or underdeveloped/underused not that long ago. The urban renewal district played a big part in turning it into what it is now. Do they still need the money? Probably not. But let's not whitewash history because the "rich people" live there now. The fact is that urban renewal was spectacularly successful in the Pearl. Why use this tool if we're going to whine everytime it actually works?

The fact is that urban renewal was spectacularly successful in the Pearl.

for whom?

ecohuman is right, Brendan. The homeless people who used to sleep in or around the railroad yard and abandoned building now have fewer places to go. That's why it is so inappropriate that Commissioner Sten has championed more ways to treat and end homelessness.

But a direct answer to your question, ecohuman, would be that anyone who goes to the Pearl benefits from it. Powells trips, restaurants, theater, parks (yeah, not enough, but still). I don't live there, and wouldn't particularly want to; I even get a little snarky about the Pearl, sometimes. But it is a truly remarkable urban adventure.

If your point is that it's a better urban adventure for those with money, than those without, of course you are correct. In my view, that's an important part of the conversation, along with a discussion of homelessness, and trying to get more children living in the Pearl, but it isn't enough (for me) to take away from a great showpiece of urban redevelopment.

Brendan, shiny new buildings and over-priced restaurants do not a success make.

I'd like you to provide some objective, concrete data proving the city of Portland is not upside-down with its total monetary investment in the Pearl (including subsidies, tax-breaks and the like).

If you can do that, I'd then agree with your assertion that the Pearl is "spectacularly successful."

The Pearl was becoming the "Pearl" well before being designated an URD. They just jumped on a moving train.

would be that anyone who goes to the Pearl benefits from it.

Spoken like a Walsh Construction Company lawyer.

Ironic, isn't it, that these urban renewal district descrease revenues that would otherwise go to school districts....doesn't this sort of point towards telling us that these urban renewal districts ought not keep getting renewed?

"Brendan, shiny new buildings and over-priced restaurants do not a success make.

I'd like you to provide some objective, concrete data proving the city of Portland is not upside-down with its total monetary investment in the Pearl"

Urban Renewal works by taking a place that isn't bringing in much tax revenue because the prop values are low. You take out bonds to do projects there. You dedicate the rising prop taxes to paying back those bonds. At the end of the usually 20-year period, those revenues go back to the city, schools, county, and all the taxing jurisdictions.

When the Pearl URA expires, and those funds start to flow back to the city and school instead of paying back the bonds, the city will be very very well off indeed.

Cities grow over hundreds of years. We're talking about sacrificing 20 years of revenue (that didn't exist anyway when the area was blighted) to create the richest neighborhood in town. As the Pearl pays tax revenues over the next 100 years, the UR investment made now will most likely seem like an incredible bargain.

Urban Renewal is very complicated. I would hazzard that most people don't understand it very well at all.

I should add that I don't think Urban Renewal is flawless, or that there isn't an imbalanced situation in the Pearl right now. And I'm definitely not saying that I love the Pearl.

I just think that the "developers and rich people are subsidized and not paying taxes" argument is greatly oversimplified.

You take out bonds to do projects there. You dedicate the rising prop taxes to paying back those bonds

Except that they arent paying property taxes. They gave out tax abatements to lure the developers and buyers in the first place.

I just think that the "developers and rich people are subsidized and not paying taxes" argument is greatly oversimplified.

No its not, its pretty clear.
There are owners of very expensive condos who should be paying tens of thousands of dollars in taxes, and instead paying a couple hundred dollars.

When the Pearl URA expires, and those funds start to flow back to the city and school instead of paying back the bonds, the city will be very very well off indeed.

Maybe. If and when it ever expires. In Stenland, these things take on a life of their own, and get extension after extension. The funds will get diverted, the bonds will get refinanced, and we'll carry the debt forever.

What is now the Pearl probably would have grown quite a bit without the handouts to the developers. How much, we'll never know.

Brenden,
Yes "Urban Renewal is very complicated. I would hazzard that most people don't understand it very well at all."

That would include you.
All you have done is echo out PDC spin.

Not the "objective, concrete data" you wrongly claim.

Urban Renewal targets an area for some municipal pan. Some of the targetted properties may have low values. However in some case the values have been artificially constrained becasue of city policies awaiting the grander UR scheme.

More importantly, and what you leave out like the PDC does, is the Urban Renewal District nearly always encompasses a much larger tract of land than the planned development. And much of the district is fully developmed high value property with poroperty taxes flowing into city coffers. Often times high value existing development is including to gain more property taxes for the plan.
Upon creation of an UR district every parcel within the district, (which is ususally 100s or 1000s or acres) is immedaitely locked into splitting all future property taxes. All of the routine yearly increases, having nothing Urban renewal projects, will no longer go to basic services. Those yearly tax increases average 5% and help keep pace with the rising cost of basic services.
Those city wide property tax increases occur every year and add to the general fund.
Diverting those increases under the cover of UR is essentially spending general fund money while claiming none is being used. That's not honest.
The other whopper frequently repeated is that the new development triggers all the tax increases and provides all the funding for the plan.
That is never the case. Not even close.

North Interstate UR district is 3744 acres. All of which is having it's property taxes skimmed for light rail and the subsidized development city officials enamor over.
SoWa URD is 409 acres, the plan covers only 130 acres and the current phase 1 central district while devouring all of the plan's revenue is but 50 acres.

UR in Portland cover 12,000 acres.
ALL of the property taxes from, All of the property is being skimmed away from basic services for DECADES.
$65 million per year from $4 billion in assessed value.

Perhaps you can tell me what district
"at the end of the usually 20-year period, those revenues go back to the city, schools, county, and all the taxing jurisdictions"?

If that's what usually happens perhaps you can offer up one example?

What nearly always happens is the indebtedness capapcity is increased, the district extended, the district expanded and/or a new larger distrcit is created a soon as one expires.

Urban Renewal in perpetuity with each and every expansion ushered along with the exact same propaganda you repeated here.

And of course all the while lining the pockets of the affluent at the expense of gneral fund budgets in perpetuyal fiscal crisis.
There is no "flow back to the city and schools instead of paying back the bonds".
You don't know what you are talking about.
You also have no grasp of what is being sacrficied for what reasons.
You apparently weren't even aware that Urban Renewal diverts general fund revenue arriving from large tracts of existing development.

This is a central problem that most UR supporters don't realize. Having been misled by officials they mistakenly think the money for the projects in the plan comes from money generated by the plan itself.
Hogwash. That's putting it politely.

This misinformation you repeat is used to advance every UR district in every city. At times city officals, and even city attorneys, have told the public that ALL of the money will be generated by the planned development.
And with always piling on more lies with claims that no development can happen without the UR plan.
And here you are telling people how it "will most likely seem like an incredible bargain".

Are you familliar with Airport Way/Cascade Station or any UR district numbers at all? I don't think you are.

Urban Renewal isn't nearly as complicated as you claim.

But then you don't understand it for what it is as you advise others.

One easy way to look at it is to imagine if you were able to use all of your own property taxes for the next 30 to 40 years to fix up your own house. And to spruce yoour own house up even more you get to use part of all your neighbors' property taxes too.
Your ptich is that yoour house is blighted and by fixing yours up all your neighbors will benefit down the road.
You tell them it will most likely seem like an incredible bargain.

Of course your pretense is that nothing in the neighborhood would ever get built or fixed up if you can't use Brendan Renewal for your house.

The most difficult thing regarding the Pearl, PDC and Urban Renewal is there's no tally available anywhere for what public monies were spent, who got the money, what it did or what the public benefit truly is.
It looks pretty.
Underneath it's all scattered information with shiny suggestions and impressions that it must have been worth it.
It's remarkable how little oversight and tracking there is.
The PDC web site is chuck full of hype materials, plans, theories and goals.

We get far more hype by PDC staff about their plans and accomplishments than we get actual accounting for their activites.

All the appointed and elected officials seem to assume it's someone else's respoinsibility to check, watch and make sure things are working out.

Howard, your post to Brenden is correct. Being very familiar with SoWhat and somewhat with others, your analysis is insightful, and those that disagree should research the points you make. I agree that if you research at the PDC, the answers are very convoluted and sometimes never discoverable.

The Purl or the Purloined?

How 'bout we run this scheme for the next Buhlighted Area:
If your property is the "worst" in the Area you will pay the most property tax. If you are achieving H&B Use, property taxes will be reduced by scale.

Done.

You are welcome.

I've got an idea: let's extend the SoWhat URD to include the Sellwood Bridge.

If Opie can build a school, why not a bridge?

They only make cherry stem expansions of UR districts when they can rake in a large piece of property taxes into the UR pot or include a project location they want to subsidize.

Bringing in the Sellwood bridge, although a prudent thing to do for using UR more wisely than half the crap they pick. But it would mean they would have to spend many millions on a real public use and have less for the boondoggles they prefer.

The short version is our officials are dishonest and stupid.


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