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Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's the same old song

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.

Comments (19)

No one would die? Hahahahaaa.

No one would even blink if we didn't build any new housing for a while.

It would be great for the area if they just stopped building housing for about a year.

Could you explain this thing called METRO to me? I looked at their website very briefly but still can't quite wrap my head around what they do.
It seems like they are a governmentally chartered non government entity? Whatever that means...
But I do see they are funded with my property tax dollars.

Make that, . . . another million WEALTHY people are going to show up. No one else can afford these condos, luxury apartments and "The Nines" style luxury hotel rooms.

"Could you explain this thing called METRO to me?"

About 40 years ago they needed someone to run the Zoo, garbage franchises and ExpoCenter. No one else wanted to do it, so they created METRO.

Now they get $400M/yr and thru mission creep have deisgnated themselves as THE planning people for the tri-county area.

In reality, they basically pimp for more money for the Convention Center and sit around and think about the future a lot.

Metro took upon itself the function of doing regional planning for things like sewer, water, garbage, and transportation (excepting public transit, which is TriMet's province). Metro is the logical agency to fund and build the replacement Sellwood Bridge.

"We can accommodate projected growth within the current UGB and achieve what we want for our communities if we plan carefully and invest wisely," Hosticka said in a news release.

Is that what they do? "Plan carefully and invest wisely"?

And they "find a way to pay for the infrastructure to make expansions work."?

This is insulting. Metro's track record in "planning" and "investing" could not be worse.
They suck at both. And it could be deliberately so.

Metro UGB expansions going back ten years to 1998 are still stuck in planning bureaucracy gridlock. Both their residential and industrial lands selection process was nothing but chaos which seemingly selected parcels least likely to accommodate growth.
They selected residential land in Damascus and residential land in Hillsboro.
They've mandated housing be crammed next to busy thoroughfares, next to noisy train horns, next to rock quarries with blasting and areas without any infrastructure at all. All while other areas more suitable remain prohibited.
Their infill agenda has fed the abuse of Urban Renewal and other public
funding of one planning comedy after another.
Gresham Station soaked up many millions and created no more than a typical auto oriented So Cal post card, Beaverton Round with multiple failures is getting millions more from Metro, Cascade Station is a BIG BOX strip mall, SoWa a money pit boondoggle, Rockwood riddled with crime and blight needs millions more, Gateway a hilarious rat race with a new light rail addition, Villebois needed $100 million in Urban Renewal funding to place it too far from commuter rail-without any traffic plan at all and the Washington Regional Center has not even past the fantasy stage.

There's not a single sustained planning or spending success that Metro can point to.
They suck up massive public dollars while paying staff to ponder our existence 20, 30 and 50 years out.

They've perpetrated money laundering and tax evasion at the Zoo, conspired with TriMet to manipulate the public policy process and conducted campaigns of misinformation for their self interests, ulterior motives and obscured agenda.
In doing so they have persuaded the public to hand over additional 100s of millions to buy 1000s of acres of land while providing a scant amount of facilities for families to actually use.

The idea that Metro is orchestrating a better approach to growth is both insane and a product of corrupted and incompetent public officials.

Of course I could be wrong and I'm missing all of the wonderful things they do.
But then I watch their Metro council clone meetings on cable access and see them in action.
It's all a very painful comedy.

Metro's growth forecast is fundamentally flawed because it doesn't take basic economics into account.

Suppose that we build no more housing units for the next 20 years. What will happen? Rents and housing prices would rise at abnormally high rates, and at some point, people would stop moving here because they couldn't afford the housing. They'd move somewhere else that has cheaper housing. And some of the people already here would move out. Our population wouldn't grow by a million people.

Thus, the only way that Metro's forecast could come up with an additional million people is if the forecast itself assumes that 300,000 to 500,000 housing units are going to be built. In essence, Metro is going to create that population increase by allowing a lot more housing units to be built. And since all the Metro Councilors are opposed to expanding the UGB and are enamored with Soviet-style apartment living, nearly all those new housing units are going to be high density condos and apartments. When built, they will further erode the character of our existing neighborhoods and diminish Portland's livability.

Another problem is that Metro's planning doesn't take personal preference into account. Lots of people, ironically including condo developers like Mark Edlen, prefer to live in single family houses with land around them. If those people can't find a single family house to buy here, or if they can't afford the price, will they move here? Not likely. Portland will become a city where the only people who will remain will be those who want to live packed on top of each other, like sardines in a tin.

I don't know about houses, but we DO need more apartments. Not because of future growth, but because we need them now.

The only apartments built in the past 10-15 years in Portland have been at the extremes... expensive condo-converts or income-restricted units. But there's a lot of us in limbo somewhere in the middle. And there's very little vacancy in that middle, even before the housing crash.

The problem is everyone gets NIMBY when anything is proposed. That's why they build those sprawling apartment complexes out on the metro fringes, usually on some fertile farmland where very few will complain. Until something changes, there's going to be plenty of demand in Portland.

Someone needs to rein Metro in and cut back some of their mission creep--namely take away all their planning powers.

I was actually looking over their website and some of their legal documentation--their mission is pretty much controlled by a Charter Code, which, according to Chapter VI, Section 34, "The Council may refer, and voters of Metro may initiate, amendments to this charter."

The part of the Charter that seems to allow them the planning capacity is Chapter II, Section 5.

So, if a charter amendment were to be placed on the ballot which basically struck out Section 5, Metro would pretty much go back to being what they were originally intended to be.

As I read the article, it was about the urban growth boundary, not about shilling for apartments and condos. Note that someone representing the homebuilders' association was quoted at some length in this article criticizing not any sort of population projections but rather at policy (infill rather than expanding the UGB). Whether or not the article represented good journalism may certainly be debated, but again, it hardly seemed as though The O was shilling for anyone.

Alex, Metro's original purpose was regional planning. All of its other responsibilities, such as coordinating the waste disposal system and running the zoo, were added later. Thus, the "mission creep" that you allude to actually occurred when Metro took on those on those other responsibilities.

Metro started out life as the Columbia Region Association of Governments. All of the region's local governments participated in CRAG, but it had no enforcement powers. Metro is CRAG on steroids.

My recollection is different from The Crank's: I thought that Metro started out as the Metropolitan Service District, called "MSD," with two responsibilities: solid waste management and the zoo. It got solid waste management because no jurisdiction wanted to site a landfill within its own borders, and it got the zoo so that it would have some responsibility that the voters would impose taxes to support. (Can you imagine a campaign "Vote YES for landfills"?) As time went on, Metro found more things to do, including regional planning.

"Metro is the logical agency to fund and build the replacement Sellwood Bridge."

I agree with you on everything else, but I think they would say Mult Co is responsible for bridge maint, so it would be their responsibility.

At least when they ask CoP to help pay for it (lets ignore that they take the lead on the 1-5 bridge, bike/lightrail bridges), Sam will throw it back in Wheeler's lap.

Metro's history is complex. Go to for a comprehensive description of how it evolved.

TKrueg: Maybe you should get out more on the far eastside of Portland. There are loads of apartments for rent out there and even more in Gresham. Most have a "vacancy" or "for rent" signs as well - a pretty clear indication that at least in that part of Portland there is no shortage of apartments at all.

Well, regardless of whether or not Metro started out as a planning agency, I still want to see it no longer serve in that capacity.

It's jumped the shark big time and needs a reality check.

The thing the developers themselves are NIMBY about is what they call workforce housing. They don't want it anywhere near their condo towers because it brings down rents. For those unfamiliar, "workforce housing" is the minute little windowless cubes they put them in at the end of the day when they are done with their shift in the little windowless cube downtown, or in a "town center". But, don't worry, their personal needs will be met, because there will be a Sawbucks coffee and a Ferd Meyer cafe for their "third places".

Crank is correct, CRAG was the impetus that became METRO. I served on one the first three county committees of CRAG back in the early 70's representing Clackamas Co. Back then it was a good way for each county to discuss regional matters and develop some consensus. For me, that was enough. But then "enforcement" and "taxation" always become the politicians dream.

There are plenty of vacancies in my part of NW as well but they aren't renting because the property managers aren't willing to reduce the high rents they're asking and they demand so much in fees, deposits and require the applicant to make so many times the monthly rent that low-mid and low income renters don't qualify.

The city needs to stop enabling and supporting the construction, conversion and renovation of luxury apartments. There IS a huge market but it isn't for this sort of rental. We have more than enough luxury apartments and condos.

We need affordable housing and not what the city calls "affordable" (in some cases $900/month for a small 1-bedroom or a purchase price of $280,000).


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