What it would take to stop the Paulson stadiums caper
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.