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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Portland City Hall's culture of backroom deals

This is a fascinating news story that deserves a full read. In it, the developer scoundrels who are bankrupting Portland brazenly explain how they get their crazy projects done: They make secret deals with the politicians and bureaucrats at City Hall, and don't let the public see what they're up to until it's too late to stop them.

Homer Williams, the developer who helped create the Pearl District and South Waterfront, says that with enough will and political capital, developers can put bold designs into place in Portland. But it’s hard, he says. And Con-way has taken a wrong first step, he believes.

By showing its preliminary master plan to groups with a stake in the development, including the neighborhood association, Con-way opened itself up for criticism before it was ready to deal with it, Williams says.

He says he learned from his experiences with the Pearl District and South Waterfront that he had to have agreements in place on specific pieces of developments before his plans went public.

With South Waterfront, he says, he secured commitments from Mayor Vera Katz and from Oregon Health & Science University on its investment in a campus that would be connected to its main campus by the tram. And those two weren’t the only ones with whom bargains were made.

"We got everybody around the table every Monday for months, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.," Williams says. "PDOT, OHSU, PDC (the Portland Development Commission), (the) planning (bureau). We said, 'OK, let’s make an agreement.'"

What a disgrace.

Then there's this person, who thinks that the real problem in Portland is that it has neighborhood associations who can occasionally stop greedy weasels like his clients from ruining the place. He ought to take his "bold visions" out to his hobby farm in the Gorge and stick them in a shady spot, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, before you do something foolish like vote for Adams, Middaugh, and Smith in the City Council races, read the linked article and think about to whom this city belongs. Sam the Tram and his partner wannabes will tell you it's you, but from 11 to 2 every Monday for months, they'll be selling it by the pound to Homer and the Boys. Later, when the fix is securely in, they'll let you know.

Comments (22)

Homer Williams says:

"We got everybody around the table every Monday for months, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.," Williams says. "PDOT, OHSU, PDC (the Portland Development Commission), (the) planning (bureau). We said, 'OK, let’s make an agreement.'"

... and that agreement was to single out the one property owner who was not at the table, take their land, and turn it into Poodle Poop Park.

Have you seen the picture of this project from the Front Porch O-Live blog post?

It's a street with a Canal on it. Portland will be the Venice of the NW.

and a streetcar. how could they forget the streetcar

This was a hot topic on talk radio back in Vera's days. The meetings with Homer and the boys, dailey, and every Fridy lunch with Neil Goldschmidt grooming Vera for the big con of Portlanders. How Hoffman came into play I don't know other than US Bank being a player via Mrs. Hoffman. Big projects take big planning and conning.

In Fry’s estimation, the biggest obstacles to bold, visionary design such as Con-way has proposed are Portland’s neighborhood associations.

“We artificially empower mediocrity,”

OMG--who died and made this guy the Design King?

This Trib piece lays out the development process that took place in the Pearl and So. Waterfront with amazing clarity. The quotes in there are gems.

I'm joining my neighborhood association.

Ah yes...Mr. Fry, self proclaimed design king; who tells anyone who will listen, "never ask a question to which you do not already know the answer".
Of course the 'bad neighborhood associations'among others, put the lid on his plans for the Burnside Bridgehead/Home Depot development after he and another weasel had already bought the Templeton Building on the SE side of Burnside across from the proposed development hoping to cash in big time. They are still stuck with it for sale sign and all. Too bad, so sad...

Interesting perspective, Jack. I think you are badly misreading the politics of this. Sam Adams and the current council are completely attuned the interests of the neighborhood associations. And many of these associations *are* dominated by a few individuals who are averse to any sort of major changes.

But these are the same people who provide the political cover for all the sorts of things you don't like.

I'm honestly not sure what you oppose in this proposal. What you have objected to in the past--and I've agreed with you--is poorly planned density (such as the large structure on 15th street).

That's not at all what is being proposed here; here, a company is proposing a major, geographically contained, highly dense development precisely in an area of town that can handle it, one that is served by buses, streetcars, and nearby Max.

Wouldn't it be better to have density in the Pearl / NW, where demographics show that the sort of unattached and childless couples are already congregating, than to shoehorn it into communities like Irvington, Ladds, Mississippi, Foster/Powell, and others areas dominated by single family homes?

I thought your issue with Homer Williams was not his vision, but that he sucked on the public teat to implement his vision.

Sam Adams and the current council are completely attuned the interests of the neighborhood associations.

facts would seem to point convincingly (and repeatedly) to the opposite conclusion.

but, if you can point to a few (heck, even one) sizable development project on which the neighborhood association got its way, i'd be grateful to hear about it.

and no, i'm not talking about how many floors in a building, or the color of the paint, or the number of parking spaces.

Doesn't this subvert the public records law?

I'm sure Homer buys this stuff thru shell companies to make sure he can get deal when he buys since any notice would probably drive up the price.

Speaking of public records, ever wonder what Michael Powell's bi-weekly visits (look at his calendar) to Sam comprise?

Yes, NW can "precisely" handle this vastly increased density - as long as we assume that none of these thousands of people will ever drive a car in or out, up 23rd, down Lovejoy...

Isn't this the sort of thing that runs afoul of the Public Meetings statutes?

I'm honestly not sure what you oppose in this proposal.

That's because you didn't read the post before commenting. This post does not address the particular proposal to densify Northwest Portland with condo skyscrapers, although I suspect it's awful. This post is about how City Hall routinely puts the interests of Homer Williams, Joe Weston, Gerding Edlen, Hoffman Construction, Hank Ashforth, etc., etc. over the interests of the voters.

And they sneak around doing it.

the one property owner who was not at the table, take their land, and turn it into Poodle Poop Park

Don't cry too hard for them. They got $3.3 million an acre in the condemnation and are still laughing about it today.

"Sam Adams and the current council are completely attuned the interests of the neighborhood associations."

Unless they happen to live under the Tram or more than a mile away from downtown or don't ride a bike or streetcar.

Y'know, though, if PDC is going to be buying low-income housing, Fry is right there is a ton of inventory. Perhaps instead of him building more, PDC can buy some of what is already built and languishing?

... and after spending $2,000,000 on design, the 2-block Poodle Poop Park isn't built yet.

Help me understand something: Homer's style ignores the community until the deal's set. That's bad. Boretz shows his concepts to the various stakeholders at the front end before working the agencies. That's also bad.

Have I missed something in your reasoning?

I'm not sure why Adams' supporters refuse to acknowledge the facts. Adams was Vera's boy and he has never done anything to disassociate himself from that legacy. Vera took cronyism at City Hall to new levels and Portland has never been the same. That's not to say that in the beginning urban redevelopment wasn't needed in certain areas, but once the gravy train started rolling nobody was pulling back on the reigns, especially not Adams who has campaigned on his desire to see these "big visions" continue. What isn't mentioned is that those big visions make a few well-connected people very rich. The PDC and urban redevelopment is a bit like the federal govt and the military-industrial complex. It's an insider's game to keep feeding at the government trough.

Sadly we have SoWhat as a prime, real example of what could/will happen for NW Portland.

The final 325 ft height limit began in concept as 65 to 100 ft as presented to the public, media. Then Homer, OHSU, Goldie, Schnitzer, Zidell and others had their secret meetings with CoP and time passed and it was decided that 250 ft heights were needed with over six times FAR increases from 2:l to 12:1

Then as more projects became more defined, the secret meetings began again to increase the height to 325 ft with four standards to allow the height.

Then the John Ross developers/architects in their preliminary designs decided that they wanted to exceed the four standards. Again with secret meetings they convinced the PDC and CoP planners that they needed their support to meet the nasty public to "revise the standards" for larger footprints of the building,closer together to other buildings, etc. After the decisions had been made they have the "charade public meetings". Guess the outcome.

Homer and the like aren't the only conspirators to this typical scenario. You must have the cooperation of CoP planners, PDC, and the City Council. It is a fantastic game, makes big money for all involved-a lot of paper, and keeps Leonard's BES and Adam's PDOT very employed.

Anyone else notice the glowing article in the ZERO this morning about that condo weasel Joe Weston? I always find it interesting that they make such a big deal about high income charitable contributions of people like Weston. Are these writers even remotely aware that these donations can seriously reduce one's tax bill? They don't all donate out of the good of their heart.

No, Jack, I did read the post.

You don't like Homer Williams and the City doing as much homework as possible on a project before it's brought into public view.

I think that position is naive--the neighborhood associations ARE generally NIMBY and will stand in the way of major projects.

The question for you is whether you think doing your homework before you go public is a good thing or a bad thing, SEPARATE from whether you think these project unfairly benefit a particular developer.

I think you're having a hard time separating your dislike for Homer Williams from the hard facts of how you have to sell large public projects.

Paul g. - you left something out - the question of whether or not big developments such as the pearl district are desireable or undesireable. there is a difference of opinion on that. Everyone does not necessarily think that sucking tax revenues out of the general fund to build huge high-density residential neighborhoods is a good thing. Particularly when those new neighborhoods increase the demand for general fund services that - by the way - now are underfunded due to all the tax revenue give-aways to build the new neighborhoods.


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