|For old times' sake|
The bojack bumper sticker -- only $1.50!
To order, click here.
I'm no big fan of the University of Oregon, but it's hard to see why Fireman Randy and Nick the Fish are so opposed to the planned alteration of the famous Old Town sign. If all they're going to change is the wording -- if the stag and the red nose at Christmas aren't going to change -- then what's the big deal? It's not as if the sign has said "Made in Oregon" forever. For decades it said "White Stag."
Meanwhile, Big Pipe Saltzman, channeling yesterday's O, has a moment of uncharacteristic clarity. He describes the fireman's conduct on this issue as bullying. Indeed, there are days when Randy does tend to be the City Council's version of Officer Humphreys.
Portland's urban planning philosophy is sweeping the nation.
Both Willy and the O are reporting that the sort-of-deal that the Portland City Council passed this month to fund the crazy Henry Paulson stadiums project has lots of holes that make it an iffy proposition. In addition to the fact that the mortgages on the new stadiums will be subprime in the extreme -- today the O estimates that the interest rate will be 9%, with no interest and no payments for 11 years -- now it appears that a key part of the plan is that some of the bonds will bear tax-exempt, as opposed to taxable, interest.
Whoever thinks that that will happen is exhibiting some serious naïveté.
As the O explains it:
[Eric] Johansen [the city's debt manager] says the city's current plan is to sell taxable, zero-coupon bonds. But there's virtually no demand for such bonds in the public debt markets.They make it sound as though the issue of tax exemption for the bond interest is somehow controlled by the wizards of Wall Street. Unfortunately for Paulson and Johansen, it's not. It's a question of federal tax law, and under that law it is notoriously difficult for interest on bonds being used to benefit private companies (such as Paulson's) to qualify as tax-exempt.
Public officials elsewhere have successfully used similar bonds for stadiums.
The Louisville Arena Authority offered $349 million in bonds -- including $30 million in zero-coupon bonds -- to finance a new arena.
Unlike Portland's proposal, the Louisville zero-coupon bonds were tax-exempt and a relatively small amount of the overall package, said Jim Host, the authority's chairman. Despite those advantages, "they ended up becoming the most difficult to sell," he said.
Johansen said he, the city's underwriters and Paulson's contacts at Goldman Sachs will search for ways to turn some borrowing, including the zero-coupon bonds, from taxable to tax-exempt. That move could reduce the interest rates and financing gap.
Indeed, so tough are these rules that even the bonds that the city recently floated to some day build a new Multnomah County Courthouse don't qualify as tax-exempt. Because they were part of an "urban renewal" bond measure with potential private benefit, the city went ahead and agreed to pay interest on those bonds at taxable rates. It pays those relatively high rates to this day, while the proceeds of the bonds are sitting in some investment account, earning much less, if anything at all. (The courthouse won't be built for many years, if ever.)
If you can't float tax-exempt bonds to build a county courthouse, can you float them to create a "soccer only" stadium, thereby restricting existing public uses of the facility, and build a new baseball stadium, to be leased to a private company to make a private profit? It's a lovely, but seemingly unrealistic, hope.
The fact of the matter is that in order to produce even a modest 6% return on the $130 million or so total investment that will be needed from all corners to make this deal fly -- and in order to pay everyone back their investment over 25 years -- the soccer and baseball teams would have to generate about $10.2 million a year above operating costs. If a third of the investment commands a 9% return, they'd have to clear $11.2 million a year. And if Paulson's partners want a 12% return on their third, the required annual net is $13.2 million.
It's truly ludicrous to think any such thing is ever going to happen.
The City of Portland's disastrous forays into "urban renewal" (code word for construction-company-and-developer welfare) keep piling up. An irate reader who's apparently been keeping track of such things (although we can't vouch for the accuracy of everything he or she says) writes:
When we look at one failed deal (such as the Nines Hotel) here and there it is worrisome, but when you add in other deals that are teetering on the edge, we have an epic risk of publicly bonded projects failing all at once. For example:It's so depressing when the taxpaying public actually pays attention.
1. Roux Restaurant on N. Killingsworth owes over 400K in back taxes and is on the verge of having to close, yet PDC is lending money to the owner to open a new restaurant downtown. Sound like a smart idea to you? Me neither.
2. The building on Fremont and MLK where Belly restaurant is (formerly Terroir) remains almost vacant except for the restaurant. Who's paying for that, and what about the failed publicly financed townhouse deal next to it owned by the same developers that also received public money?
3. Portland Center Stage, the tenants for the Armory, are laying off staff. If they bail on their money owed to PDC/Portland Family of Funds, who ends up paying for that? Remember how Don Mazziotti and Norris Lozano (s**m) put that deal together using federal funds meant for "low income areas" and got their hands slapped by the City Council because of it. Don is also the "mastermind" behind the PGE/MLS deal. Ugh.
The whole Twitter thing is getting tiresome fast, but I'm definitely willing to follow Fake Ron Wyden for a while.
Here's a Top 10 ranking for Portland that everybody at our house will stand up and salute.
Here's a rock show I wish I could have seen.
Rather than stomp around all mad about the City of Portland's insane plan to blow many tens of millions of tax dollars on redoing PGE Park yet again, and building a whole new minor league baseball stadium to boot, we've decided to take personal action. In the past, we've attended a few Portland Beavers baseball games, and we've had good things to say about the Timbers (although that brand of soccer has never been our cup of tea). Now that Henry Merritt Paulson is playing big spender with our tax dollars, however, we've decided not to pay any more money to attend Beavers games, and we'll urge others to stay away from both Beavers baseball and Timbers soccer.
As readers pointed out in blog comments last week, there are other opportunities to see these sports played in the Portland area. Maybe it's not the same caliber as the Beavers and Timbers, but if you're like me and my family, you're a casual fan who comes out once in a while for the game without having any idea who's playing. In that event, who cares whether it's pro or college, Triple-A or Single-A, Division I or Division III?
On the baseball side, so far we've got this list:
-- Minor league baseball with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, June 23 to September 6. Maybe we could get a bus ride going.No doubt there are some other local diamonds worth spectating at over the summer -- readers? We're interested in developing a similar list for soccer, and we're sure you'll help us with that one as well.
It never ceases to amaze how many managers in the Portland city government can't do their jobs without having the taxpayers pay for them to have professional coaching. This practice came to prominence years ago when a wayward management coach hired by the Portland Development Commission set off a chain of hilarious events which culminated in the departure of several major face cards at that agency. More recently, it was revealed that the folks heading the city's Bureau of Development Services needed a paid coach. And now, lo and behold, it's time for the city's taxpayers to hire a coach for some manager or other in the city's Transportation Bureau.
The official request for proposals, posted last week, is here. It doesn't say who the transportation manager is who needs the coaching, and it doesn't say how much the coaching contract is going to cost. But it does indicate that just one manager will be helped, and that the person needs work in such areas as "Building Trust,... Emotional Intelligence,... Establishing Focus/Setting Direction,... Maintaining Personal Credibility,... Organizational Communications,... [and] Providing Direction...."
Having seen a few of these arrangements in the past, we'd bet that the coach has already been selected, and the proposal process is a mere formality. It would be interesting to know who the manager is who needs the coaching. Another of the mayor's unqualified bathroom buds, perhaps?
Helicopter manufacturer Erickson Air-Crane has moved 25 employees to Portland and opened an international office here. This is cause for celebration, but of course the ongoing criminal investigation of the city's mayor clouds everything. There he is at some sort of press shindig with the Erickson people, and everybody is silently making up their own helicopter-related sex jokes.
Anyhow, Erickson, welcome to our little corner of the planet. You're obviously a brave outfit.
The regular stream of hot air from Metro government -- we need 300,000 apartments, quick, because any day now another million people are going to show up -- continues unabated today. (And of course, it's parroted back faithfully by what's left of the Oregonian.) Given the growing vacancy rate in ugly apartment units within the city limits -- this year the whole "Street of Dreams" show will be a boulevard of broken condo dreams -- Portland could go a couple of years without building any new housing, and nobody would die. A few greedy developers might find something better to do, however -- and that would be a good thing.
Just as Wall Street made bets on bets with credit default swaps and then watched investors bolt, print journalism mass-produced gossip about gossip, and now sees its audience flee.The whole thing is here.
Remember The Man from U.N.C.L.E.? He's still around, but these days he's taking over failed banks, with an army of other suits and a guy from a lucky competitor bank.
Really -- the FDIC operates like a spy team, and then like a SWAT squad working a hostage taking. Read all about how it went down in the 'Couv recently, here.
For some folks, everything.
Me: "I'll send you the directions by e-mail."
He: "Can you just Facebook it to me? The e-mail server here is down."
Another soulless tower in Moyertown finds itself with lots of vacancy.
"These are people who like to be connected to a community. They like to be part of a movement."Translation: The landlord's on Twitter.
Mikey does what his dad tells him to.
Another Paul Allen venture reaches its logical conclusion.
They had a tough first year together.
... here's my nominee for mayor.
There he is in the Trib this week with "The city must do this when I tell them to" and "The city must do this when the soccer league tells it to." At least Homer Williams sat behind the curtain when he pulled the strings on Vera Katz.
Meanwhile, Paulson's infamous dad will stop at nothing in cashing in on our children's future. What a clan.
Fireman Randy "wants control."
Sit back and savor this one, people. Every politician around Portland -- guys like Opie Sten and Fireman Pele -- lives for that magic moment when he or she gets that positive mention in The New York Times. When the Times sends out a travel reporter who writes back to the Big Apple with a buzz and a puff piece, it makes the local politicians so elated that they want to, well, kiss the nearest intern.
Portland's in the Times again today, but it's not good. Suddenly it's a microcosm of the disintegration of the American economy.
You won't see the relentless City Hall e-mail alert machine pumping out links to that kind of story. But there it is:
Of course, the Times misses a large part of the Portland tragedy: the part about the City Council wrecking the municipal government's financial future with one expensive, harebrained stunt after another for the benefit of the local developers and construction companies.
But that doesn't stop him from shilling for wasteful "urban renewal" projects like the insane Burnside-Couch traffic "couplet" and streetcar, which Mayor Creepy will gladly foist upon the taxpayers of the city unless the unlikely occurs and he's drummed out of office this summer or fall. Powell is the "citizen" front man on that one, along with well-meaning, lovable dupes like Chris "Streetcar" Smith.
Indeed, as "hesitant" as he is with his own money these days, Mike Powell's not nervous at all when he's spending yours. Maybe somebody in our local media (I believe there are three or four reporters left) could ask him why he isn't cancelling his advocacy of the couplet while he's so wisely cancelling his store expansion.
Or if you do, just say no.
But this fellow knows.
Here's some breaking news about wind energy.
They're still gutting bus service so that they can pay for streetcars and other condo marketing toys, but for now they're keeping the ghosts of a few good old bus lines that they were planning to kill altogether. For example, Grant High School to downtown is apparently still going to require a transfer. A real shame for Portland -- one more straw on the back of the livability camel.
I'm still giving peanuts the evil eye -- now this.
The basic principle works at our house if we leave the flue open.
The people who brought us Portland's groovy new public toilets had a mutual back-patting ceremony yesterday. Included was a rare Grampy sighting. Given the continued insanity of his successor, I am confident that people will soon look back on Mayor Potter's tenure in office as a relatively benign four years. It was Portland's last chance to pull back from the edge of the financial cliff. The majority of the city's voters didn't want to.
Remember when Opie Sten had his cute little idea to have the City of Portland make a hostile takeover bid for Portland General Electric? That was crazy, and we wondered back then why the city didn't support a more credible process whereby public power might be instituted in Portland. Now, in light of another CEO pillage story, state legislators are talking about it again, and with serious clout.
And their editorial board couldn't make endorsements? Sounds like a plan.
The basic premise of Merritt Paulson's proposal to kick the Portland Beavers out of PGE Park is that the "major" soccer league insists that only soccer be played there. A reader olf ours questions this assumption in an e-mail sent to us earlier today:
While everyone has so far been focusing on the financing of the proposed PGE Park/MLS deal, I did some research and discovered a huge lapse in fact-finding on the part of the city's task force.Can Fireman Randy wear the scarf to the meetings?
The current proposal hinges entirely on the claim that MLS standards for soccer-specific venues would preclude PGE Park from being shared with the Beavers baseball team. Here's the problem: There are no such MLS standards.
After reading the task force report and finding no explanation or analysis of soccer-specific standards, I then read all of the other MLS-related documents posted on the city's website, and found nothing there either. Then I started Googling, in general, and found a definition of "soccer-specific" on Wikipedia. Basically, it's a marketing catch phrase coined by an MLS owner that simply describes MLS's wish list for its venues. The only written, objective standard is that the field has to be a certain size. I went on to Google documents on other soccer venues, etc., and found no other information to indicate that there are any MLS standards for soccer-specific venues.
That means there's no reason to relocate the Beavers, tear down Memorial Coliseum, and build a new baseball stadium, thereby saving $55 million.
I support MLS soccer coming to Portland, but not without proper fact-checking and public accountability. So, I hope this information will kick start a campaign to re-open negotiations with Merritt Paulson, and come up with a better deal for the people of Portland.
A reader in Portland writes:
You, Sir, may like to check this little bit of information out. I received my water/sewer bill and noticed my usage was down, but the total bill was higher. This prompted a call to the water department. I was told by a very nice lady, "This is the one time a year which the water department adjusts water bills." They add a additional 7 days of usage to the first bill of the year so that if you use more water during the summer months to water your lawn or garden the bill in September won't be a shock. Therefore the water department gets to keep the cost of 7 days of water usage for 180 days before crediting my account. Who gets the interest on my money for 180 days and is this practice done to all water department customers? If so, that's a tidy amount of money the water department gets to play with. I am not on any type of bill averaging program, and if I don't use any more water during the summer, do I get my 7 days back with interest?Indeed we might.
You might just want to look at your water bill and compare it with the one you received in December.
So far spring break 2009 seems pretty subdued, don't you think? Not surprising, considering the economy and all. Is there anything exciting going on that I'm missing?
Next up: the credit unions.
After he left last week's gleeful celebration with Fireman Pele here in Fake Madrid, Oregon, the commissioner of the "major league" soccer league took a few moments to speak to a New York Times reporter who was writing a story about the financial woes of pro sports leagues. And this is what he said:
But Commissioner Don Garber said there was reason to worry.Don't worry, Don. The gullible taxpayers of Portland will be here for you. Go by streetcar!
"We’re all dependent on ad dollars and people spending money on tickets," he said. "I don’t believe people will prioritize spending over putting food on the table."
BTW, the Times story continues the soccer league's line, hotly repeated by its new franchise in Seattle, that the average ticket to the game is priced under $20. Funny thing -- in selling the financial loosey-goosey deal that the Portland City Council approved 3-2, the proponents down here reportedly used a number well north of $30. Which is it?
An alert reader writes:
I ran across a site listing the banks most likely to fail. The link is below. Notice it lists Corus Bank as fourth in the total amount of "troubled assets."I think I just did.
Also, here is a link to Corus's list of outstanding projects which it has underwritten.
Click on the "Condominium Construction" tab, and then click on the sub-tab for "State." There, you will see this list of projects (many of which have been on your hit list for quite a while):
This is proof that what you have been railing about locally is part of the national banking problem. You need to get a post up about this.
The Westerly Portland OR $53,440,000 3720 Portland OR $113,000,000 The Elizabeth Lofts Portland OR $36,500,000 The Strand Portland OR $81,850,000 Broadway Condominiums Portland OR $31,326,000
But in fairness to the developers of these awful bunkers, there's no telling from the Corus site which of its fine projects are delinquent. Maybe all its Portland condo borrowers are making their payments on time. D'ya think?
A private plane reportedly owned by an Enterprise, Oregon outfit has crashed in Butte, Montana, killing 17 people, including children. It appears that this was the aircraft. For what it's worth, this listing shows seating for 12, but reports state that 16 or 17 people were on board. The flight plan is here.
Of the 16 teams left in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, 14 of them were seeded no. 1 through 4, one was no. 5, and one was no. 12. It appears March Madness may turn out to be March Predictability this year.
An alert reader sends along a copy of an e-mail message that she received from Portland Mayor Creepy Adams regarding her complaint to him about the Little Lord Paulson stadiums deal. One paragraph that popped right out at us was this one:
With respect to the baseball stadium, the City has agreed to provide $18.5 million in funding. This money will be generated from the sale of zero-coupon bonds. Under current market conditions, the City cannot sell these bonds. The Paulson family has agreed to step in and find a buyer for these bonds, thereby allowing the City to tap into this resource. If the Paulson family fails to find a buyer, then the City can walk away from the deal. Furthermore, this $18.5 million does not impact any of the money that has been reserved for other projects in the Oregon Convention Center Urban Renewal Area.Huh? The city can't sell the bonds, but the Paulson family will find a buyer? Who will dictate the terms of that deal? And if the Paulsons' friendly buyer charges an arm and a leg in interest, and demands all sorts of lender-friendly provisions, can the city say no? Is it even legal for an Oregon city to commit in advance to such a deal?
And "zero coupon" bonds? Those are loans on which the borrower makes little or no payments currently, but with a gigantic balloon payment due at the end of the loan term. Why in heck would anybody borrow money on those terms, except because they can't afford to pay the loan back in the first place? Can you say "subprime mortgage"?
Oh, and the $18.5 million isn't money that could have been spent on other things. Heavens, no. As everyone knows, "urban renewal" money grows on trees.
I don't usually get up to watch the Sunday morning talking heads, but this might be worth it.
UPDATE, 7:26 p.m.: I won't even have to -- it will be on after the ballgames tomorrow night.
In a conversation with our suburban friends a while back, one of them gasped: "Did you say Lloyd Center? You take your kids to Lloyd Center?" As if it were too dangerous a place to patronize.
You're Les Miserables!
by Victor Hugo
One of the best known people in your community, you have become something of a phenomenon. People have sung about you, danced in your honor, created all manner of art in your name. And yet your story is one of failure and despair, with a few brief exceptions. A hopeless romantic, you'll never stop hoping that more good will come from your failings than is ever possible. Beware detectives and prison guards bearing vendettas.
Some readers of this blog think I'm an old grouch. They might be right. But none of my curmudgeonly rants hold a candle to this story. If there's any justice, the neighbors who don't want to hear the laughter of children will someday get what they deserve instead. Maybe a nice, quiet nuclear waste dump.
With the economy sliding and more people suffering, here's a sign of what may be coming next.
If the prices don't kill you, this guy might.
I see you are going to get a vegetable garden going on the White House grounds. Good for you -- seriously. May I make a suggestion? You need these guys to help you. I can set you up with them if you'd like.
I know you probably have more expert advice at your disposal than you really need, but I doubt that any of your advisors can hold a candle to a certain gardener friend of mine. Before you plant the whole thing, give her a call.
Now that the AIG guys have been identified as the official National Scapegoats for the Financial Meltdown™, the politicians are falling all over each other trying to step up and score some points by beating on them. Today it was Salem's turn, with the bobbleheads in the state capitol announcing that they want their pound of flesh from any bank type who gets a bonus while his or her company gets TARP money, just like the feds propose to do with AIG. Meanwhile, Attorney General John "Press Release" Kroger declared today that yes, we are joining New Jersey to sue these people!
And to protect us from having this happen again, they're going to...
Ahem... I said, to stop this from ever happening again, they're going to...
Our fearless regional planning drones (at Metro) are once again screaming that OMG, a jillion more people are going to move to Portland, like, in the next two weeks! "Where will we put them all?" they breathlessly ask.
This enables the builders of apartment bunkers to wreck the city's nice neighborhoods as quickly as possible, all with government blessing and subsidies.
The truth, of course, is that within the city limits of Portland, population growth is running at a fairly steady rate of around 1.3 percent a year, if that. That's around 7500 new people a year, according to the population experts at PSU. All the king's condos haven't sped the growth rate up at all, and there have been some annexations in the not-too-distant past that make the growth rate for the city seem even higher than it really is.
Meanwhile, over the past 10 years, the Portland metropolitan area has grown by a rate of about 1.7 percent a year. The Metro folks have goosed that up to 1.9 percent, based on who knows what, and done the math to warn us that 21 years from now, the current area population of 2.1 million will grow to 3.2 million. Wow! Big numbers!
Why stop there? At that rate, 100 years from now the area's population will be 12.8 million. In 2259, the population will be 227.5 million! Yikes! Better bring in Homer Williams for another tower right away.
It appears that yesterday's reports of a "postponement" of the announcement of the "upgrade" of Portland to "major" league soccer were greatly exaggerated. It now appears that the breaking of this news has been "postponed" merely to tomorrow. Reliable sources have spotted the commissioner of the league boarding a plane in New York, headed for Portland to share the news with Little Lord Paulson, Fireman Randy, and the 200 people who show up for soccer "rallies." Never was $150 million so foolishly spent. Go by streetcar!
Here's a story out of Alabama that throws a spotlight on domestic activities by the U.S. military.
And he's totally dissing the Pac 10.
This couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch of people.
This morning the word on the street was that Portland would be awarded its "major" league soccer franchise on Friday. But now the O and the Daily Journal of Commerce are reporting that it won't -- that the decision on the franchise has been "postponed."
I wouldn't blame the league if it held off on this. The goofy "deal" that the City Council passed last week has some serious holes in it, and it's pretty clear that unless the taxpayers get snookered, the business model for a Portland team simply isn't going to pan out.
A reader writes:
I am a leader of a neighborhood association in Portland. I just received in the mail in a City of Portland envelope, with postage affixed with what looks like a City of Portland postage meter, about 10 sheets of paper from the City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI), including a cover letter signed by Commissioner Amanda Fritz and the woman who heads ONI, touting what a good job ONI does and asking me and the folks at the neighborhood association to write letters to other city commissioners and appear at budget hearings to plead for funding of ONI (and, not so coincidentally, save the jobs of many ONI employees.)I don't know, reader. If the city pays high-priced "consultants" who essentially shill for guys like Merritt Paulson, I'm not sure what the rules are. Perhaps other readers can enlighten us.
I may be missing something, but I think that neither state agencies nor school systems may use their official funds to advocate for various political or spending programs.
Is there some special exemption for the CoP that its employees can use city funds to build "spontaneous public support" for their pet spending programs?
... is good news in Portland. For once we are on the good side of a corporate downsizing.
Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz is still pretty unhappy at the galling lack of public process that preceded the recent City Council vote on the quixotic Henry Paulson stadium fiasco-in-waiting. That's good for us opponents of this foolish scheme, because there will be several more council votes on it, and we may have a new mayor by the time the last of them is taken. The pushers will be giving it their best "It's too late to turn back now," but perhaps the council members will be smart enough to see through all that, and have the personal integrity to just say no.
Well, they're cutting and scrimping over at the Portland public schools, but apparently there's still money around for some nonessentials. An alert reader of this blog sends along a copy of an e-mail message he got as a public school student's parent:
Dear Parent,The reader adds his own commentary, as follows:
Portland Public Schools is working diligently to upgrade phone service across the district with an ultimate goal of delivering in & out phone service in every classroom by September 2011. We are soliciting feedback from parents in PPS schools to better understand the challenges you have or are experiencing using the current old phone system when communicating with staff & teachers at your child's school. This information will be used in our effort to build out and implement a 21st century telephone system that includes a phone in every classroom and voicemail for each teacher.
Please click on the link below to complete the short, seven (7) question survey. Thank you in advance for your time.
Office of Information Technology
Portland Public Schools, Voice Mail/Phone survey
They must have more money available than they are letting on if they can waste it on a survey and likely purchase of a VOIP system to replace the existing phones in all PPS classrooms. What is wrong with the phones that exist? And why do teachers or kids need to be talking on the phone during school hours? We communicate with our kids’ teachers by email and it works fine. Note, if you click on the survey link, you get an error message – perhaps it burned up on contact from all the blistering responses.
There's no love lost between this blog on the one hand and Hank Ashforth and his minions over at the Lloyd Center on the other. Those guys have been trying for years to cash in with a Convention Center hotel to be paid for by the hard-earned property tax dollars paid by ordinary Portlanders. Today they're crying that Mayor Creepy's plan to squeeze a new minor league baseball stadium in about four feet from the Rose Garden arena is going to drain all the tax dollars out of their real estate fantasies.
"It's our time," Williams said. "We can be just like the Pearl District in a different form."When I read that one, my head spun all the way around and I had to work hard to hold the pea soup down. But in a way, I feel sorry for these guys. Nobody told them that the 20 years of meetings they've been going to about inner east side "urban renewal" promptly became worthless when Little Lord Paulson showed Fireman Pele a good time in the Big Apple a while back. Since then, nothing matters but minor league baseball and soccer. All the other "urban renewal" plans for the Convention Center area have been tossed out like an intern who doesn't know how to kiss.
How to kill Afghanis in real life, in real time, from your swivel chair in Tucson.
I love the technology age, but when I meet my maker, I won't be bragging about this.
The flap between the City of Portland and Multnomah County over the diversion of property taxes to developers' pet projects through "tax increment financing" is taking place just as a similar controversy is brewing in Chicago. Back there, members of the public want the sweetheart deals to be completely transparent, with all the relevant documentation placed on line where the public can easily inspect the fine print. Not surprisingly, the developers' buddies on the city council are resisting that.
The spring rains are here, and with them some of Portland's ancient streets are collapsing into sinkholes. There's a good one going at 37th and Sandy that's getting some media attention, but an alert reader tells of another one not too far from there that seemingly is being ignored:
New Year's Day 2009 was very rainy in Portland, and this depression in the ground near SE 39th and Main got a lot bigger. It had been there a while -- around 4 feet across and a foot deep with a deep hole at one end -- but now the deep hole was around a foot-and-a-half across and just descended down into the dark unknown. A kid or a dog could fall into it and never be heard from again. So I called the City That Works and reported it on Friday, January 2nd. My wife and I were very impressed when this safety equipment showed up by the next day, and some dirt appeared to have been dumped in the bottom of the hole. But that was it -- nothing more. Lately the rains have returned, and the hole is widening again. So I'm sending you these pictures from just yesterday.
Here's the entire depression with 39th in the background:
Here's the hole at the end of the depression. It's been raining recently and a lot of the dirt has washed down:
This is my favorite. See the curb just hanging there in the air? When it rains a stream of water comes from under the roadway through that slit beneath the curb down into the hole, so there has got to be some erosion at work under the asphalt. At this point, I don't walk within 10 feet of this thing:
I know we've been concentrating on million-dollar deals in this town, but this is an honest-to-God safety problem. It's the type of situation I used to check out when I was a little kid, and I'm concerned some youngster might fall in. There's a hole under this dirt that could go anywhere. Isn't it time for our city council to refocus on stuff like this? I mean, it has been 2½ months since the city put up the safety equipment. Notice it's even been tagged since then, like it was part of the neighborhood. But the ironic part -- given our recent political shenanigans -- is that this stretch of ground really is a blighted area. Can't we at least declare it a tiny Urban Renewal District and stuff the hole with money?
A sad, sad day in Seattle.
Somebody's gotta pay for those streetcars to nowhere. Surprise! It's you. One more reason not to go downtown.
And hey -- scroll down in the story. Maybe they'll tack a surcharge onto your garbage bill to pay for them, too! Wonderful.
Here's today's howler: "[I]t is challenging to confront vested interests, such as unions...."
The annual craziness known as the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament descends upon the Rose City this week for the first time since the 1970s. Eight teams will be at the Rose Garden for a marathon on Thursday: Illinois vs. Western Kentucky, Gonzaga vs. Akron, Purdue vs. Northern Iowa, and Washington vs. Mississippi State. The winners of those first two contests will play each other here on Saturday, as will the winners of the last two. The two survivors will head off to the "Sweet 16" round in Memphis and Glendale, respectively, the following weekend.
After failing to score tickets to Thursday's games in the NCAA lottery, I hear there's still hope to get in on Saturday, as many fans of the four Thursday losers will likely be in the mood to cash out what they paid to get in -- maybe even head home on Friday. So what are the best strategies to get a decent deal on some seats? Stand outside the arena on Thursday? Craigslist? Some other forum?
Meanwhile, Portland State fans will be schlepping to Boise, where the Vikings take on Xavier, and then if they're lucky, either Florida State or Wisconsin. I'd say that over there, anything's possible.
And now here comes the east side part of the Burnside-Couch traffic "couplet" -- another enormous waste of money, mostly for the apartment tower boys. You know the busy corner of 12th and Sandy? It appears there's going to be a condo bunker right smack dab in the middle of where that intersection is now. I kid you not. Going east on Sandy, you'll be forced onto Couch, unless you want to crash into the lobby.
"It was intended to create nearly 5,000 jobs within a year at a cost of $503 million." Now, that's funny. Five thousand jobs doing what? Working in the Burnside Bridgehead development, I guess. Let's see, that one's been languishing untouched for how many years? And it's going to get going in this economy? Uh huh.
Oh, and the couplet apparently doesn't qualify for state or federal funding, which is why we have to rush out and get started right away. With local transportation money. The potholes will have to wait. Yes, I know, it's an awful intersection that needs traffic improvements. But do you really think putting a tower where the intersection is now is going to help things?
If you haven't given up on Portland City Hall yet, you will soon. There's more, lots more, of this on the way from Mayor Creepy and Fireman Pele. The fun never stops. Go by streetcar!
Blood has been boiling all weekend about the bonuses that are being paid to the slick dudes who ran AIG into the ground -- all of which bonuses are being paid with bailout money from the federal taxpayers. Even more troubling, though, are the revelations about where much bigger AIG bailout bucks went. The shadowy insurance giant apparently paid out on some derivative contracts and similar insurance policies where the policyholders hadn't even recognized their insured losses yet:
[S]ecrecy [surrounding the payments on the claims] raised hackles because the insurance claims were paid off in full, even though widespread defaults on the underlying debt have not occurred. Why, many people wonder, did the Fed make A.I.G.'s counterparties whole on losses that have not happened yet? Why didn't it force these financial companies to close out the contracts at a discount, making them take what is known on Wall Street as a "haircut"?And surprise, surprise! Old Henry Paulson's cronies at Goldman Sachs got checks for $12.9 billion out of the deal -- on top of the TARP dough (I believe it was $10 billion) Goldman got from the government directly.
Some state governments also got paid, and lo and behold, Oregon is one of them. According to this press release from AIG, the amount was $0.27 billion. It will be interesting to read what that was all about -- if the local media bother to ask. Apparently the folks running the state's money parked some of it in a risky place and lost. Oregon was 10th from the top on the list of states whose deals with AIG required bailout funds.
Oregon's relationship with AIG has never been a smooth one. About a year ago, the state reportedly sued the company for alleged securities fraud over purchases of AIG common stock by the PERS state employee retirement fund. AIG also reportedly settled with the state early last year after a multi-state investigation was launched into its brokerage commission practices and alleged bid-rigging.
While my pro football pool performance this past fall was a winner, my pro basketball fantasy team was a disaster. The badness started as soon as the computer produced my team in the draft. I got Dwight Howard, which was a godsend, but the rest of the squad was pretty weak. Corey Magette of Golden State got hurt. Then they traded Allen Iverson from Denver to Detroit, where he pretty much disappeared before hurting his back, being relegated to benchwarmer status, and effectively leaving the building. Around mid-season, I made a few gambles on injured guys that came back strong -- Richard Jefferson, Jermaine O'Neal, Hedo Turkoglu, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas among them -- and for a while lately, I've looked as though I might actually squeak into the league "playoffs," which start over spring break.
Ah, but no. One of my late-acquired stars is Zach Randolph, the former Jailblazer who recently sat out 2½ games for punching a Euro pretty-boy. Then Zach's father took ill, which led to one of his patented bereavement deals. I don't know if he went to the strip club on his way out of town again, but he managed to miss two games for the bedside farewell and another two (and counting) for the funeral. Though perfectly healthy, he's missed half his games over the last month. All those zeroes don't matter much in the real world -- his team is hopeless, and they'd probably just as soon not have him, his bong, and his gun around at any given moment. But alas, my chances at a payoff are now worthy of bereavement as well.
Perhaps somebody up there is trying to tell me something. Right around the time that the calls are coming in for entry fees in the guessing game known as the NCAA Tournament, I'm realizing that there are too many players whose hoops savvy and luck outweigh mine. My dough might better be spent on Powerball.
I may need counseling. Last night I dreamed I was ordering a sandwich at a takeout place, and Neil Goldschmidt was behind the counter making them. He was really laying on the spinach. I tried to avoid eye contact.
This is the time of year when basketball players start getting tired from the long season, and they need to start conserving energy for the important post-season games ahead. Brandon Roy of the Blazers is starting to look bushed, for example. He's the go-to guy every game, even when the competition is weak. Lately he's been having to save his best stuff for the fourth quarter, sleepwalking through other stretches of the game.
At this point in the season, nobody can be too thrilled at having to play long multiple-overtime games. But if the score's tied at the end of the contest, the ballers must play on. This past week, we had the six-overtime thriller between Syracuse and Connecticut in the college ranks. Then last night in the pro's, Miami took three overtimes to beat Utah. Dwayne Wade played 52½ minutes and scored 50 points for the Heat. The final score was 140 to 129. Dee-fense!
These guys really, really just don't get it.
Former Portland City Council candidate Jeff "the Sweater" Bissonnette is in the news again -- and for his buddies, the news isn't good. He and they have managed to make the politicians in Salem unhappy, which doesn't bode well for the tax-financed money pot known as the Energy Trust of Oregon. The 13% pay raise that the boss of the place just got isn't helping.
Yesterday was a nice, spring-like Willamette Valley day. The sun was shining, although there was some serious rain in the forecast for the weekend.
And those conditions, friends, are when the grass seed farmers south of here start burning their fields, blowing nasty smoke every which way. They do this each late summer and fall, but I could have sworn I detected that smell yesterday afternoon. Glad I wasn't planning to go for an afternoon run or bike ride and actually breathe that stuff.
It looks as though some folks in the state legislature, along with the governor, are trying to end the ugly practice of burning. As longtime readers of this blog know, such efforts have my full support.
While you were out, the credit card company that's been financing the last 10 years of America's shopping spree called. It doesn't sound good.
Think of how much we could learn about our local government if the City of Portland would do this. How about it, Amanda?
Unfortunately, this week the city has pulled the rug out from under hockey in favor of the Merritt Paulson stadiums deal. As best we can tell, there will be no place for the Buckaroos' current successors, the Winter Hawks, to call home after Memorial Coliseum is torn down this summer to be replaced by a minor league baseball stadium. Maybe Paul Allen will let them use the Rose Garden for every home game -- maybe.
The Oregon Legislature, which can't even pass a bill to ban cell phone use while driving, is now in the business of rewriting the U.S. Constitution. Whatever.
When Paul Allen asked the City of Portland to bail out his mortgage on the Rose Garden arena a while back, then-Mayor Grampy showed him the City Hall door. "No city money available for rich guys' sports teams," he was told.
Imagine how displeased Allen must be now, to find out that there is plenty of city money -- property tax money -- to stick him with an unwanted minor league baseball stadium as his next-door neighbor. For a different rich guy. Without so much as a courtesy warning before the news suddenly broke in the media.
It's easy to villainize Allen -- heaven knows this blog has done so more than once -- but at a certain point, it's a good idea to stop taunting Goliath. We suspect we haven't heard the end of this from him or from the NBA. A Paulson-Allen slap fight could be in the offing. Now, that would be worth $50 for a seat to watch, and another $9.50 for the beer to go with it.
We've been having some interesting visitors here, reading up on the Portland stadiums mayhem, brought to you by the Paulson family. Yesterday someone from Dean Witter Financial Services in New York visited this site intermittently throughout the day, at one point spending more than an hour on this site reading about the soccer heist. A Wall Street insurance outfit named Johnson & Higgins showed up as well. There was also somebody winging by repeatedly from the First Bank System in St. Paul, Minnesota, focusing on the same posts.
Hi there, banker guys! Yes, some of us cranky Portland taxpayers are going to fight the carpetbaggers all the way!
Maybe this gal could front you a few hundred bucks.
This is the political Quotation of the Year so far -- hands down. Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler to Portland City Commissioner Randy "Pele" Leonard:
After engaging in a spirited fight with Leonard on the possible effects of the deal on the county's already anemic budget, Wheeler told Leonard: "I'm new on the job, but I wasn't born yesterday."Touché, Ted! This guy is racking up big points.
... you can't have pink hair.
The people "managing" Portland's transit system are too busy hassling honest customers to be bothered with the muggers and thugs who often populate the trains and buses. The managers are also not smart enough to refrain from persecuting riders for not having their tickets when they can't find a ticket machine that actually works.
Today an outraged rider who got a summons from a fare inspector as a result of the malfunctioning machines had her day in court, and bless the judge, she won. The bumbling Tri-Met folks not only didn't get the $115 fine, but they also shed more light on their own maintenance failures. For example, until I read today's story, I had never heard of TriMetDown.com, a private site where patrons can report (and everyone can read about) malfunctioning machines and other service failures.
New blood is badly needed over there at Tri-Met.
UPDATE, 11:34 p.m.: A reader sends this photo of two Tri-Met employees manually selling tickets at a downtown Max stop yesterday -- apparently the machine there was broken:
Here's a "highlight" from today's Portland City Council kabuki performance over Little Lord Paulson's stadiums proposal:
Adams and Leonard called the complaint unjustified, however. They argued that property taxes diverted to renewal projects would not have otherwise been available. According to this view of urban renewal, the projects increase property values in the area, producing additionally tax revenues that would not otherwise be available.Changing PGE Park to a "soccer only" stadium, and changing the Timbers from a bush league team to a shrub league team, is not going increase any property values anywhere. You know it, I know it, and Bob Dole knows it. But Fireman Randy and Mayor Creepy just can't resist rubbing your nose in the falsehoods, time and time again. To them it's an important part of the public process.
They passed some amorphous blob of something today. Hardly anybody got a chance to look at it before the vote, and they keep changing it on the fly. They eliminated the new "urban renewal" district, probably sensing that it might cost them their jobs, and so now out of a $90 million liars' budget for construction of the two new minor league stadiums, they only know where $75 million is coming from. But hey, something passed. Steve Janik will tell you in a few months what it was.
We're heartened to see that Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler -- one of the few smart and decent local politicians left in these parts -- plans to head down to Portland City Hall today to protest the shameful grab of 20 years of property tax increases from most of northwest Portland for the proposed Henry Paulson pro soccer stadium. To say that the area around the current ballpark, PGE, is "blighted," and that whacking the stadium up yet again (we just did it six years ago) for a "soccer only" facility is somehow going to cause property values in the neighborhood to rise, is just piling one lie on top of another. Bully for Wheeler for calling the Paulson robber barons out on it -- although assuredly he'll be more diplomatic than we could ever be.
Where's his fellow county commissioner, Jeff Cogen (above left)? Wouldn't it be sweet if he chimed in? We doubt that he will, though. Cogen's political big brother, City Commish Dan Saltzman, is probably going to cast the key vote in favor of the ill-advised stadium deal. For Cogen to tell Dan to his face, with cameras rolling, that he's stealing money from the needy residents of the county -- which he most definitely is if he votes for this scheme -- might be just a wee bit too uncomfortable for them both.
We blogged a while back about the "hit squad" of city inspectors that Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard unabashedly sics on downtown businesses that he deems to be sources of trouble. We wondered aloud whether it was healthy for one person to have such unfettered discretion -- to throw the book at businesses that he alone selected, when it is common knowledge that nearly every commercial operation has quite a few code violations that the city could write up if it wanted to be picky about it. If not dictatorial, the practice under Leonard seemed ripe for abuse -- and it still does.
Now we learn from some of our entrepreneurial friends that a quieter phenomenon with the same odor of Chicago City Hall has begun to appear around Portland. According to these sources, the city's Fire Bureau, presently starved for money under major budget cuts, is purposely boosting its own revenue by undertaking white-glove inspections on a scale not usually seen in these parts. One writes:
[T]he only revenue the PFB is currently getting is from those $400 "inspections." We felt that we were being singled out for all sorts of petty stuff that is just now being "discovered" after many years in our present location. We have spent [more than a thousand dollars] on fees in the last few months for inspections and then re-inspections to see if we did what the fire marshal told us to do. It was all stuff that had been previously passed in prior inspections....Based on unofficial conversations with friends in the Fire Bureau, the reader concludes:
We were not special at all. This is the new way to get money for operating expenses to avoid having to lay off or cut down on firefighter personnel.Now, I'll bet there has rarely been a business that is happy when the inspectors show up, but this friend is not ordinarily a whiner. It seems that he or she has made a legitimate observation.
These pricey inspections come right off our bottom line, and one doesn't want to bitch for fear of having to endure more time and expense. I feel as though we are the victims of a form of extortion, but there is not one thing we can do about it.... This is another tax on small businesses that really hurts everyone at this time.
I thank you for your interest in this issue and I appreciate your willingness to keep our name out of it.
Are Fireman Randy's fire inspectors really increasing their inspection levels during the recession? And if so, why?
"Earthquake" and "Hanford."
As we slide from a recession into a depression, readers who share our outrage at the fact that the City of Portland is about to spend $89 million to build a new minor league baseball stadium and radically change PGE Park for "major league" (in name only) soccer are asking what can be done to stop the boondoggle.
We wish we could be more encouraging. Portland ran former Mayor Tom Potter out of office for Creepy Sam, and this is just the beginning of what it is going to get as a result. Potter was criticized for "doing nothing," but compared to this, nothing looks pretty good.
The state legislature could stop the stadiums deal in its tracks, but any law it passed would have to get the governor's signature. This is Governor Ted we're talking about, who's so tight with the people who stand to profit from the thing that he's not even worth talking about in this context. You might as well ask "the Don" Mazziotti, consultant to the Paulson boys and longtime Ted ally, to stop them himself. Won't happen.
Can the voters of Portland overrule the City Council? In theory, yes, but the deck is stacked extremely heavily against them. According to the city's web page on the subject, in order to force a council ordinance onto the ballot, one needs to submit 19,335 valid signatures of legal voters from within the city limits within 30 days after the ordinance is passed. That's roughly one out of every 17 registered voters in town -- a daunting number.
One would think there will be at least a couple of ordinances passed on the Paulson stadiums deal -- the ordinance authorizing the sale of bonds would be a crucial one, but there would seemingly be others -- and a signature effort could spring up after any one of them. But it would take an enormous effort, and there would need to be both big-time money and substantial luck involved. The "business leaders" downtown tried to challenge "voter-owed elections" -- the wonderful taxpayer financing of city-level political campaigns -- this way in 2005, and they came up short on signatures.
That's not to say it's impossible. If the Multnomah County leadership had any pulse whatsoever, it would immediately declare its opposition to Paulson and work, officially or unofficially, to get the voters a crack at this. The dudes who want a Convention Center hotel should chip in, because with this deal the financing for their shangri-la is dead. Throw in the public schools people who will lose lots of money under the Paulson property tax grab, and you might have a shot. But it would have to be one heck of a historic month.
Contrast this with what it would take to put a recall of the mayor or a city commissioner on the ballot. That one takes 32,183 signatures, but you get 90 days to collect them. If you're going to be out there in the rain, why not go after the root of the problem, rather than the latest symptom? Think of all the fun you could have collecting signatures against Fireman Randy from the duct tape people at the Rose Parade -- if it isn't cancelled for streetcar construction, that is. That guy gets you coming and going.
Another possible roadblock could be thrown up by the pending legal action that has the city's Pearl District and "satellite" urban renewal shenanigans on hold. At some point, a judge in that case may decide to make Portland actually live up to the letter and spirit of the state laws on urban renewal -- as opposed to laughing out loud while it freely disregards them. Perhaps such a ruling would put a damper on the Paulson plan.
Last but not least, it might be a good move for concerned Portlanders to start a letter-writing campaign to the "commissioner" of the "major" soccer league, letting him know that the opposition in Portland is bitter, organized, and prepared to make a lot of trouble for any franchise that is brought here. "We will fight you in the legislature, we will fight you with referendum petitions, we will fight you in the courthouse, we will boycott your games," etc. Maybe they'll give the team to some other city. And after all, if Paulson doesn't get his soccer franchise, this whole deal goes away, and probably he does too.
Portland's dying daily newspaper is breathlessly reporting this morning that the Paulson stadiums deal is sealed. According to the O, Little Lord Paulson and his Bush administration honcho dad have "agreed to hold the city virtually harmless for paying... back... most of" the construction costs in the ill-advised plan to spend nearly $90 million on new minor league sports stadiums for that family's private teams.
There is so much weasel room in "virtually" and "most of" that you just want to scream, but until the details of the deal are revealed, there's no way to verify whether the O reporter's sunny, vague assessment is anywhere close to correct, anyway.
The basic algebra that we have been detailing here for the past week or so has not changed. Unless the rent on the stadiums pays all of the city's construction debt, the rest will have to come from taxes and city "fees." There's no other money in the picture. If the debt is $85 million and the interest rate is 6 percent, the debt service will be $6.2 million a year for 30 years. Today, suddenly, they're talking about only $60 million of "city-backed loans" -- no telling where the other $29 million of construction funds in the liars' budget are supposed to come from. But at 6 percent interest (which is low -- the rates will likely be higher), $60 million of bonds would require annual payments of $4.4 million a year for 30 years. Unless the Paulson family is agreeing to pay $4.4 million in rent on the two stadiums, taxes will make up the difference. New taxes, old taxes -- unless it's rent, it's going to be taxes. How much rent the Paulsons are agreeing to pay, no one at the O is saying, and they probably don't even know. If the rent is only a couple of million dollars a year, a guarantee of that rent doesn't come anywhere close to paying off the bonds without taxes.
And indeed, there will be plenty of taxes paying off those bonds. Just as we noted yesterday, there will be a huge new "urban renewal" area declared all over northwest and southwest Portland -- from NW Thurman Street to Portland State -- and all increases in property taxes from that area for decades will go to pay for these stadiums. Since the new minor league baseball stadium will be built next to the Rose Garden, the same will apparently be done with property tax increases in the grossly overdrawn "Convention Center urban renewal" area.
And of course, we're ignoring for the moment the $27 million that the city still owes on the last renovation of PGE Park in 2001 to 2003. We're all just supposed to forget about that.
You think it's hard to fix a pothole or get a cop to show up now? It's only going to get worse for the next 30 years. While they close fire stations and police precincts, and cut off funds for mental health assistance and child abuse counselling, all our taxes are being dedicated to junk.
The next fake drama -- replacing last Friday's bogus lovers' spat between Fireman Randy and Lord Paulson -- surrounds the question whether the Fireman and Mayor Creepy have a third vote on the City Council for the stadiums. Don't be silly; of course they do. Nurse Amanda will probably go along, and if she doesn't, old Dan "Big Pipe" Saltzman surely will. Most readers will remember the "profiles in courage" moment when Danny Boy cast the dramatic final vote for the SoWhat District and the aerial tram -- truly the low point in the fiscal stewardship of the city. This is another one cut from the same cloth. As long as some big construction company and the construction union workers get tons of tax money, it doesn't matter how ill-advised a project is. Portland City Hall always comes through.
Oh, and guess who just showed up as a consultant on the deal -- Steve Janik! Let's see -- Vera Katz, Janik, "The Don" Mazziotti -- about the only guys missing are Neil Goldschmidt and Homer Williams. Done deal, people. As in, totally done.
The other stunning thing about the latest news is the cavalier way in which major decisions have been made about public assets without serious public input. For example, the Memorial Coliseum will be knocked down for a minor league baseball stadium. Period. Missed the hearings on that? Me, too. Remember the neighborhood involvement process surrounding the idea of putting the stadium in Lents Park? That's over now. Period. Meetings cancelled.
But the financial tragedy is more serious than the process insults. Certainly, with this misadventure, Fireman Randy passes his old nemesis Katz in causing the most lasting damage to Portland over my three decades here. When you add in the looming police and firefighter pension debacle, for which he is singularly responsible, he surpasses even the current occupant of the mayor's stall for fiscal irresponsibility.
As others have put it so well recently, the future of Portland -- what little was left after Williams and Peter Kohler sucked up most of it with the SoWhat district -- has been sold to Henry Paulson, folks. If the voting public in the Rose City ever comes to its senses, it will be too late to turn things around. Sadly, it seems time to stop paying attention to these things. It doesn't do any good.
The Blazers routed the hated Lakers tonight, but that is only part of the story. A Laker scrub took a blatant cheap shot that seriously injured Blazer shooting guard Rudy Fernandez. This is horrible for Fernandez, of course, but if he recovers quickly, this is going to turn out to be a defining moment for Portland hoops fans. All of us who have been lukewarm about the Blazers so far this year suddenly can see the external enemy. For 30 years, my two favorite NBA teams have been the Blazers and whoever is playing the Lakers, and tonight it was the same team. Seeing some gangster wannabe in a purple uniform hurt somebody during garbage time cements it. Watching class guys like Brandon Roy get in the faces of the Laker spoiled brats in the skirmish that followed the flagrant foul was a real tonic. This Blazer season suddenly matters -- a lot.
Another pair of worthless phonebooks showed up on the front porch today, inside another worthless plastic bag. Our fearless politicians have us paying deposits on water bottles and hauling refrigerator-sized recycling carts out to the curb every week, but they can't stand up to that phone company money, no sir.
At least this pair had covers that led to an interesting father-daughter exchange:
Daughter: So Dad, are those the three best players on the team?
Dad: The guy in the middle is definitely the best player on the team. The guy on the right is the second best. The guy on the left is supposed to be good, but he keeps getting hurt, so we can't tell how good he is. Every time he gets to going good, he hurts his knee and then he can't play for a long time.
Daughter: You mean, he's so good that he hurts himself?
Dad: Yeah, something like that.
Thus spake Earl the Pearl.
Here in Portland, the fix has been in for Merritt Paulson's pending $100 million sports stadiums boondoggle for a while. The City Council is performing the traditional kabuki that it puts on for these things, but there is little doubt that it's a go. The powerful construction contractors, architects, and labor unions all want the public pork that this exercise in foolishness represents. Not to mention Little Lord Paulson himself, who has captivated Mayor Creepy and Fireman Randy with his New York city-slicker talk, much the way Mayor Vera fell in love with Homer Williams over Pimm's Cups at Paley's Place a decade ago.
As ever, there are lots of informed and concerned souls among the public who can see through the deal for the fiasco that it is, and they are straining to make themselves heard as the city fathers plow on toward another bankrupt Big Idea. And right on cue, Paulson -- with coaching from former Portland Development Commission boss Don Mazziotti, who oversaw all the Katz administration's ill-advised real estate misadventures -- is starting to parrot the buzzwords that in the past have put stinker projects over the top at various junctures.
This week, the Paulson camp is flying the twin flags of "guarantee" and "general fund" as part of the latest phase of its dubious sales pitch. These are words that Portlanders have heard before -- in the last PGE Park re-do earlier this decade, and in the atrocities known as the OHSU aerial tram [rim shot] and the SoWhat district [gong], to name just a few instances. The words have their usual ring to them, but when you stop to consider what they mean, it's pretty clear they seek to divert listeners' ears from the unmistakable rumble of Financial Disaster Ahead for the city's residents.
Let's start with the "guarantee." Paulson is now on record telling the world that somebody's contract with somebody is going to be "guaranteed" by him and his wealthy dad (the Bush Treasury secretary and bailout-meister). What exactly does that mean? If it means that the Paulsons are going to guarantee that the rent paid to the city from the two new stadiums will be sufficient to pay all the principal and interest on the bonds, that would be great. But that's certainly not what they'll be promising.
Perhaps they're going to guarantee to the bondholders that if stadium rents, property taxes, ticket taxes, income taxes, and other taxes and fees that the city and state are supposed to throw at this deal don't amount to the bond payments, he and Dad will pungle up the rest rather than see the city default on the bonds. That's wonderful for the bondholders, but what does it do for the taxpayers? For taxpayers, it would be a decent deal only if the taxes that the bonds are going to siphon off are really new revenues that wouldn't be collected without the two new stadiums and the upgrade from "minor league" to "major league" (by U.S. standards) soccer. And that seems a bogus hypothesis.
At last report, the plan was to declare a huge swath of the inner west side of Portland -- from NW Thurman Street to Portland State -- an "urban renewal" zone, and take any increase in property taxes from that area over the next 25 or 30 years to pay the stadium bonds. The technical name for this is "tax increment financing." Where I come from, it is also known as grand theft. The slight upgrade in soccer quality and the subtraction of the Beavers baseball team and many other events from the renovated "soccer only" stadium would hardly be the cause of any significant property value increase in that area. Yet the Paulson stadium would in effect be taking credit for every single penny of additional property value there, for decades.
No, the Paulson family "guarantee" isn't going to help taxpayers much unless it guarantees revenue to the taxpayers as well as to the bondholders. Just telling the bondholders that the Paulsons will make them whole if the taxpayers can't does nothing for the general public.
On to the "general fund." This was one of Vera Katz's favorite catchphrases during aerial tram and SoWhat time. The cheerleaders at the Oregonian editorial board loved it, too. "The bonds won't ever have to be paid out of the city's general fund," they'll tell you. Which is true on its face, but economically, it's meaningless. The bonds absolutely will have to be paid out of funds that would have been in the general fund except that the City Council is going to divert them away from the general fund before they ever get there.
The "general fund" is a figment of a bookkeeper's imagination. It's just a box where taxes go if the City Council wants them to, and don't go if the City Council doesn't want them to. The simple reality here is that the "urban renewal" part of these bonds is going to be paid out of property taxes, including yours and mine (or your landlord's, if you are renter in Portland). Look on your property tax bill: If you live in Portland, about a quarter out of every dollar you pay the city in property taxes goes to something called "urban renewal." A bunch of the Paulson stadium bonds are going to say "urban renewal" right on them. That's you and me and money that we all would rather spend on schools and police and parks and paving over potholes and a hundred other more worthy, truly public, purposes than pro soccer. That money could go into the general fund if the City Council would just let it.
Much of the rest of the bonds is supposedly going to be paid out of state income taxes, ticket taxes, user fees, yada yada yada -- but the operative word there, once again, is taxes. Rent from the stadium won't be enough to pay off the debt -- it won't even come close. I've already explained here that the debt payments on these bonds are going to be more than $6.1 million a year for 30 years. Paulson admits that his soccer team will bring in only $4.4 million of ticket revenue after the rickety league takes its cut. He'll have a payroll of around $2 million, and all sorts of other expenses. There's no way that money coming out of private pockets will be sufficient to pay these bonds. There's nothing else to pay them with but taxes.
I don't care if you run it through the "general" fund, the special fund, the slush fund, the office donut fund, the March Madness pool, petty cash, or the tip jar in the men's room. If it's property tax revenue, it ought to be used for something that the residents of the city really need. A slight upgrade in the quality of the Euro-fantasy known as pro soccer does not fit that bill.
If there's a bright side to this hornswoggle, it's that folks in Salem are taking notice. Even "progressive" Portland-area lefties are drafting bills that would curb some of the excesses of the city's "urban renewal" juggernaut. Under one bill, all future "urban renewal" districts would be submitted to an up-or-down vote by the local county commissioners, who when last heard from were holding bake sales to pay jail deputies. It doesn't take a genius pollster to see how such a vote would go on the Paulson proposal in this day and age.
With the stadiums deal, Fireman Randy, the mayor and the rest of the City Council are issuing a big dare to the taxpayers of the city, and to the rest of the state. Wouldn't it be sweet if it brought the whole game to a grinding, permanent halt? One can only hope. Maybe Merritt Paulson will turn out to be a local hero after all.
The Federal Trade Commission and Whole Foods have reached a settlement of the government's antitrust suit against the grocery chain in connection with its acquisition of the competing Wild Oats stores in 2007. And as part of the deal, Whole Foods has agreed to sell a bunch of the former Wild Oats stores that it bought in the summer of 2007. One of the stores slated for sale is Whole Foods on Cornell Road in Hillsboro -- which if I am not mistaken is a relatively new joint that never was a Wild Oats store to begin with.
Anyway, the FTC explains:
The 32 former Wild Oats stores that Whole Foods must divest comprise 13 currently operating and 19 formerly operating stores. These stores represent a significant portion of the Wild Oats stores that Whole Foods acquired and is currently operating, as well as all of the formerly operating Wild Oats stores for which leases still exist, within the alleged geographic markets. The divestitures will provide competitive relief in the majority of geographic markets defined in the Commission's administrative complaint and will allow consumers in these markets to once again enjoy competition among premium organic markets. The newly divested stores also could provide a "springboard" from which an acquirer might expand into other geographic markets.Also included in the deal are Wild Oats stores, on Jean Road in Lake Oswego and on Burnside Road in Gresham, that Whole Foods shut down shortly after the acquisition. It's not clear what's left of those operations to sell, but whatever there is (maybe the leases) is supposed to be put on the block.
The order will immediately place the responsibility for marketing and selling the stores with a divestiture trustee, who will have six months to sell the Wild Oats stores and related assets to one or more FTC-approved buyers. If the trustee has not sold the assets within six months, the Commission may extend the time provided to do so for an additional six months. The order also will require Whole Foods to maintain the viability and competitiveness of the stores until the divestiture is complete.
"Forcing" Whole Foods to "sell" locations that it has already closed doesn't sound like much of a victory for the feds. Shedding operating stores is a more serious business, but one has to wonder how many of those Whole Foods already wanted to get rid of. The debt from the Wild Oats deal has not been kind to its cash flow.
Moreover, there's no telling whether buyers will come forward in this economy to pick any of the listed stores up. We wouldn't be surprised if old John Mackey of Whole Foods has spent a good part of the weekend laughing into his sock puppet at how the whole thing has turned out.
Following right up on buying commuter trains from a manufacturer that it knew was about to go under, the wizards running Portland's transit agency went out and bought hedge contracts from a bank, locking in high fuel prices right before they dropped dramatically. Brilliant move!
You've got to wonder who made how much of a commission on that deal. And they're in their bunker today telling us, "It was the right thing to do -- we'd do it again."
Do you ever get the feeling that we need to clean house over there? The geezer board that Governor Ted has overseeing the place (starring Homer Williams's stepdaughter) isn't getting it done. And how much are we paying Fred Goldschmidt-Hansen for his, ahem, remarkable leadership as general manager?
A blogger complained the other day:
Today’s news is there is no news on the front page of today’s Washington Post. Not one of the six articles on page A1 begins with a hard news lead that imparts real news to readers.Do newspapers need to "go soft" to survive?
Welcome to the new age of daily newspapering, where the actual news of the day has migrated to the Internet or TV or radio or the inside pages of the paper. Bye-bye to the old "who-what-when-where-why."
We're talking big white flakes, people. It is sticking to the roofs and the decks and the cars. If you are planning to walk on your roof, your deck, or your car here in the Portland area, be very careful.
Portland has been voted one of the least "manly" cities in the United States. This kind of taunt is dangerous. Portland may feel the urge to go slap some place like Breitenbush upside the head just to prove something.
Deadly ice pellets have begun to fall outside the bojack.org Storm Center. They are melting upon contact with the ground, leaving wet surfaces. These, of course, are very hazardous, and so please use extreme caution.
Breaking news: Another deadly Arctic Blast® is about to bear down on the Portland metropolitan area, bringing frozen precipitation to pile up on our streets. As much as an inch -- an inch! -- of snow accumulation is possible. Possible!
As always, you should stock up on essentials, pull down your window shades, bring in your pets, cover your outdoor plants, and do nothing -- nothing! -- until the media tells you it is safe to go outside again. Stay tuned to bojack.org Storm Center 9000.2 for further updates as this menacing storm develops; we will bring you bulletins at once. That is all for now.
I am not believing that story for a second.
It is standard operating procedure at City Hall to talk tough for a while, build the drama, but then give everything away when it counts. The bigger the giveaway, the bigger the show. The Scone (who's priming for a comeback, it appears) used to make this face and tell you how pained he was to do it, and then sell out the taxpayers anyway. I remember Vera shrieking at the aerial tram people, "You get just 15 million dollars -- and it had better be a picture postcard." What a charade that turned out to be.
No, the only safe assumption is that the Paulson stadiums deal is still very much on track, regardless of how utterly insane it is. The little last-minute lovers' spat that the papers are faithfully prattling about tonight is all for show.
Meanwhile, another second-tier sport in town just declared bankruptcy. But hey -- ignore that. Ignore all common sense. The stadiums deal is for the "jobs." And in the end, we'll pack the place with capacity crowds who will pay upwards of $30 apiece for cheap seats to soccer that the rest of the world yawns at.
A stone cold linchpin is what it is.
It's a waste to have this bright, smart guy sitting around drinking coffee and talking to reporters. Let's put him to work.
If you still file your tax returns on paper, whoopdee doo! Free copies. (But not for a few more weeks.)
What would you like to send him?
Peanut insanity continues. Now Sheridan Fruit is recalling all kinds of peanuts it sold over a 13-month period. A lot of these were sold to restaurants.
Given the ever-expanding recall, I'm pretty much through knowingly consuming these bad boys for the foreseeable future. How about you?
Here we are with the stock market at historic lows. So now's the time for PGE to make a public offering of stock so that it can pay off debt?
Portland's ongoing major sewer reworking -- known colloquially as the Big Pipe project -- may make the Willamette River cleaner, but it may also make the air in certain parts of the city decidedly less pleasant. And so the city's going out to bid for a contractor to design an "odor control" system for the neighbors whose olfactory senses are going to be assaulted. The request for proposals explains:
The Portsmouth Force Main is an element of the Willamette Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system that will convey up to 120 million of gallons per day (MGD) of combined sewage from the Swan Island CSO Pump Station (SIPS) to the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant (CBWTP).And here we thought it was located at 1221 SW Fourth Avenue.
Based on the most recent operating plan, which includes both wet weather and dry weather operation, the new Portsmouth Force Main may generate hydrogen sulfide and emit odors at the discharge end of the pipeline. Swan Island CSO Pump Station design and construction work will include a chemical injection system to suppress sulfide generation in the force main. However, due to intermittent operating scenarios, the discharge of the pipeline cannot be guaranteed to be odor-free. The design and construction of this facility will treat foul air exhausted from the sewer system and protect the neighbors from nuisance odors.
This project provides design (pre-design and final design) of odor control facilities that will be installed at the discharge end of the new Portsmouth Force Main where it connects to the existing Portsmouth Tunnel at what is called the "North Shaft" for the Portsmouth Force Main. The Portsmouth Force Main design provides two exhaust ducts (30-inch and 10-inch) from the North Shaft to a foul air vault at grade that is open to the atmosphere. The Portsmouth Force Main Odor Control Facility will provide design of a ventilation and odor control system to treat the foul air from the force main and the tunnel and will connect to the foul air vault, which will be located at 6825 N. Willamette Boulevard.
When I first moved to Portland a little over 30 years ago, I was warned not to jaywalk. The police here ticketed you for that in those days. This quaint custom disappeared after a while, but apparently it's back, at least in these photos taken today and sent along by an alert reader:
And yes, that's a $97 fine.
Here's someone calling for the legislature to take a long overdue look at the wayward slush funds known as "urban renewal" in Oregon.
"Every square inch of land in the state of Oregon can be considered blighted," Gorman said. "There are 14 very vague rules regarding blight and those vaguely written rules allow urban renewal agencies to basically declare whatever they want blighted."Indeed.
A problem, though: The reformers have thrown in their lot with Dave Hunt and Ginny Burdick, who aren't going to rock the boat on this in any serious way. Hunt's latest claim to fame is carrying water for the Henry Paulson stadiums deal; Burdick is the state senator representing the Arlington Club.
We must have missed the memos on this one. The Portland Development Commission is going to build a "sustainability center of excellence" -- a "structure that will be an icon for green building and highlight the city's leadership in sustainability." It's going to be down by Portland State.
And you get three guesses as to who's going to build it for the PDC... Come on, now, think really, really hard...
Right! Gerding Edlen Development, SERA Architects, GBD Architects, and Hoffman Construction.
Originally Gerding Edlen was supposed to build "workforce housing" on this site; that never panned out, apparently. Who knows what it will be now? But it will be green. And the Usual Suspects will make a ton of dough. And property taxes from all over the city will pay the freight. Of some things, you can be sure.
We do hope they hand out soup to the people starving outside. Go by streetcar!
First promise in writing not to say anything to anyone if you're not happy with the care you get.
I got a pretty convincing phish message in yesterday's e-mail that purported to be from Comcast, our internet provider. It looked like this:
I foolishly clicked on the link, which sent me to a log-in page that looked pretty authentic:
I logged in, and then was directed to a page that asked for stuff like an address, a phone number, and a Social Security number. I actually started entering that data before it dawned on me that I might be being had. Fortunately I hadn't yet clicked on "Submit" or "Send."
Sure enough, retracing my steps, I noticed that the link I originally clicked on out of the e-mail message had as part of the URL address "mail.haining.gov.cn." That is an address in China. Maybe Comcast is operating out of China these days, but I doubt it. I hightailed it out of there and logged on to Comcast a different way. I changed my password and am hoping that's the end of it.
It sure doesn't seem legit.
Indeed, Little Lord Paulson, and that point has already been reached. Please pack up your carpetbag and return to the Hamptons. And if you could take Fireman Pele, Mayor Creepy, and Storm Large with you, at least as far as Greenwich Village, that would be greatly appreciated.
At least during my 30 years here, this is as bad as it has ever gotten. Decent people, I warn you: it's not safe for work. Indeed, it's not even safe to look at if you just want to keep living here. Sure, it was filmed last fall. But this revolting video pretty much sums up how the City of Roses has fallen from a great little livable city to a pathetic, self-absorbed, creepy little dump. What losers they are, and we are.
Now with its own seal of approval:
Fireman Randy "Pele" Leonard and Mayor Creepy continue to load dry ice into the smoke machine in front of the plan to spend upwards of $85 million of public funds on new stadiums for minor league baseball and "major league" (by U.S. standards) soccer in Portland. Media coverage of the proposal has been long on the concept but characteristically short on dollar figures. Today let's play amateur bean-counter and throw out some numbers to see how the plan "pencils" out, or doesn't.
Bear with me on this. It's not that complicated.
The private owner of the teams in question, Henry M. Paulson III, wants the city to put up the $85 million, and given the dire straits the city finds itself in, the money would all have to be borrowed. Recently, the city's long-term urban renewal bonds have borne interest rates of more than 6% a year. To borrow $85 million over 30 years at just 6%, you'd need to come up with $6,175,157 a year, for 30 years, to retire the debt. Assuming that the new soccer team would play 15 home games a year, that would come to $411,677 a game. The average ticket price in that soccer league is something like $22. And so even if the new team drew 18,713 paying fans to every game -- which is quite a bit above the league's average announced attendance, and even more above its real ticket sales -- every single penny the fans paid for their tickets would have to go to pay off the bonds.
Is that realistic?
Definitely not. For one thing, the "major" soccer league itself takes a big cut of ticket revenue right off the top -- one-third on most tickets, apparently -- and so even the rosiest of projections shows net ticket revenue of only $4.4 million a year. With debt service of nearly $6.2 million, it's clear that ticket sales wouldn't pay off the bonds for the stadium construction. It's not even close.
Now, sure, there would be some other money sloshing around -- a ticket tax, profits on concessions, shirt sponsorships, possible television deals, rents from some other events at the stadium, etc. But would those other sources of money be enough to make up the rest of the annual payments on the bonds, plus pay all the payroll, benefits, travel, promotion, and other expenses of the team, plus return a profit to Paulson and his big daddy on the $40 million they would burn for the soccer franchise? It is extraordinarily unlikely.
But wait, you say. Isn't the state talking about throwing in the income tax on players' salaries toward bond repayment? Yes, but that ain't much dough. "Major league" soccer teams operate under a salary cap of $2 million a year. At 9%, the Oregon income tax would raise a mere $180,000 a year, or $12,000 a game. That won't make much of a dent in the $411,677 per game needed to pay off the bonds. (Not to mention that the taxes the state currently collects on the incomes of the players on the current Portland Timbers soccer team would dry up, because the Timbers as we know them would no longer exist.)
What about the Beavers -- the minor league baseball team that would play in one of the new stadiums? I wouldn't count them in these equations at all, because don't forget, the city still owes $27.2 million on the previous stadium renovation conducted for the Beavers' benefit, which is bearing interest at well over 6%. Those bonds are being paid off, slowly but surely, by rents on the stadium, a hotel tax, and a rental car tax. There are still 14 more years of payments due on those bonds, with big balloon payments due in 12 and 14 years. Suffice it to say that anything the Beavers can afford to pay the city is already spoken for. Only the new team's revenue will be around to pay for the new bonds.
Unless you are a rabid soccer fan or work at the big local construction company that has no doubt already been unofficially identified as the contractor, there's nothing here but future tax liabilities for you and your kids. As with the prior PGE Park deal, the financial side of this is doomed to failure.
There's talk of soccer tourism, but where are these tourists all supposed to come from? There are already "major league" soccer teams in Seattle and San Jose, and so don't expect fútbol fans to come flocking in from those quarters. Maybe Emilie Boyles will organize a bus ride from Glendive, Montana.
It's time to kill this deal, but of course, that would make too much sense for the city commissioners. And so, like the Convention Center hotel, this one will hang around in hopes that at some point, the public will be sufficiently distracted to let the Usual Suspects sneak it through. Let's hope not.
Which has me thinking: Can you Tweet from jail?
Toward the end of the Worst Presidency Ever, the tighty righties kept quite busy spouting off Limblather like "You can't name one civil liberty that you've lost under George Bush."
Well, gee, guys, here's Exhibit A:
The Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent further terrorist attacks... First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.Nothing to worry about, right?
Thank heaven these atrocities are over now. May they never return.
Whatever President Obama does and doesn't get done, if he puts a stop to this sort of shameful behavior, he will be a winner in my book.
I don't know what to make of this. Even a cranky curmudgeon like myself isn't that down on the place. But the statistics are pretty telling.
The City of Portland's official PortlandMaps website caused quite a stir a while back when it started listing the names and addresses of any given property's owners. And so one can only imagine what kind of uproar will arise with the latest "improvement" to the site: It enables you to find all businesses located within a quarter mile of any given address.
A reader explains the privacy problem:
This isn't just businesses that are normally open to the public; it appears to capture everyone that has filed for any kind of business license. And the address is apparently whatever the proprietor listed on the application, so that people who operate out of their home are now exposed. This appears to be the majority of the listings, in fact.The reader's right, of course. Here's a sample, using a famous address just up the street from us a ways. Lots of people's homes on that report. Can't imagine they'll be too pleased at having people see their addresses, and what kind of business they have going on in there. What good public purpose does this serve?
As we said about this the last time around, these sorts of changes need to be discussed in public before they take effect. Maybe when the City Hall minions take a break from giving standing ovations to Mayor Creepy, they could start up a little of that ballyhooed Portland public inolvement on the subject.
My congressman, Earl Blumenauer, has unveiled his Christmas tree, full of bright, shiny stimulus baubles. They include $81 million for the light rail line to the Clackamas Mall, $45 million for the eastside Portland streetcar, $34 million for the Port of Portland to dredge the Columbia, and miscellaneous cats and dogs. Interestingly, there are quite a few hundreds of thousands on his list for vague-sounding stuff at Oregon State, like this one:
Agriculture - Multi-Commodity Research, OR - Oregon State University - $244,000Forgive me, I'm not sure what that's all about. "Outreach... in marketing"? Hey, wait a minute. Is this what's paying for the samples at Whole Foods?
This project enhances Oregon’s competitiveness and expands the economic value-added component in Oregon agricultural products through research and outreach in food processing, product development, business strategy, marketing, and consumer testing.
Meanwhile, Earl's proposing a gas tax increase, an excise tax on oil, and an eventual shift of the transportation tax structure so that individuals and businesses will pay based on miles driven, rather than gas consumed. He also is advocating that 10 percent of the money that the feds raise from the upcoming cap-and-trade carbon emissions program be dedicated for transportation infrastructure. Of course, to him that includes "supporting development around transit stops." Let's not limit the junk-condo joy to Portland -- let's have it sweep the nation. It's why the developers and construction companies always show the love for him.
Being that he's on the House Ways and Means Committee, Earl can't resist a catchy acronym for his tax bill. This one's called the "Clean Low-Emissions Affordable New Transportation Equity Act," or "CLEAN-TEA." Isn't that precious? Anyway, he launched his campaign for the bill at a National Press Club shindig last Friday morning. Unfortunately, he got a lot less media exposure there than he got the night before.
A national conservative group calling itself the Sam Adams Alliance.
Today, the 96th anniversary of the effective date of the federal income tax, is as appropriate a time as any to reflect on the many tax scandals of the rich and famous.
Harry Belafonte is 82 today.
A reader sends along a link to an interesting take on comments in the blogosphere (among other things):
There are two main kinds of badness in comments: meanness and stupidity. There is a lot of overlap between the two—mean comments are disproportionately likely also to be dumb—but the strategies for dealing with them are different. Meanness is easier to control. You can have rules saying one shouldn't be mean, and if you enforce them it seems possible to keep a lid on meanness.The whole thing is here.
Keeping a lid on stupidity is harder, perhaps because stupidity is not so easily distinguishable. Mean people are more likely to know they're being mean than stupid people are to know they're being stupid.
The most dangerous form of stupid comment is not the long but mistaken argument, but the dumb joke. Long but mistaken arguments are actually quite rare. There is a strong correlation between comment quality and length; if you wanted to compare the quality of comments on community sites, average length would be a good predictor. Probably the cause is human nature rather than anything specific to comment threads. Probably it's simply that stupidity more often takes the form of having few ideas than wrong ones.
Whatever the cause, stupid comments tend to be short. And since it's hard to write a short comment that's distinguished for the amount of information it conveys, people try to distinguish them instead by being funny. The most tempting format for stupid comments is the supposedly witty put-down, probably because put-downs are the easiest form of humor. So one advantage of forbidding meanness is that it also cuts down on these.
Bad comments are like kudzu: they take over rapidly. Comments have much more effect on new comments than submissions have on new submissions. If someone submits a lame article, the other submissions don't all become lame. But if someone posts a stupid comment on a thread, that sets the tone for the region around it. People reply to dumb jokes with dumb jokes.
Maybe the solution is to add a delay before people can respond to a comment, and make the length of the delay inversely proportional to some prediction of its quality. Then dumb threads would grow slower.
Roger Daltrey turns 65 today.