This page contains all entries posted to Jack Bog's Blog in February 2010. They are listed from newest to oldest.
January 2010 is the previous archive.
March 2010 is the next archive.
Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.
Our faithful reader Ben stopped by blog headquarters today to drop off more than 20 years' worth of pennies that he's been throwing into a change bucket every evening. After we blogged about basking in the glow of finding a "wheat" penny in our own change last week, he's offered to let us dig through his huge pile of cents just for the thrill of the hunt.
It's a heavy bucket -- nearly 60 pounds -- with about four inches of pennies and a diameter of 12 inches. We've got the whole family started on sorting through the massive stash. So far, we've decided we'll break them down into decades, and keep wayward dimes and Canadian pennies off to one side. Obviously, we'll be looking for the oldest pennies, but also the newest, the most beat up, the best preserved, and any other features that knowledgeable readers tell us to be watching out for.
Early returns show that the 1980s was a heck of a decade for pennies. Maybe it had to do with Reagan, but we've got more pennies from that era than from any of the other decades. Maybe it's because Ben started this load in the late '80s. The '60s are surprisingly well represented, and already we've got more than a half dozen 1959s. Two "wheaties" so far -- a '44 and a '52.
What's the point of this nerdy exercise? We're not entirely sure, but sifting through all this chump change is cathartic. It's like archeology in a way. If these bones could talk.
While its fatal shooting of an unarmed man in the back has dominated the local headlines, the Portland police bureau has also been generating tension with street people and their advocates in other ways. Lately police have been hassling Sisters of the Road, a recognized charity that is trying its best to help with the city's chronic homelessness and mental illness problems. Complete lack of trust between the sworn officers and the citizenry is fast becoming a Portland trademark.
What the signs really mean: Save Grant High School
So far we've stayed out of the big flap over the planned "realignment" of Portland's public high schools. We're on the list for rosy e-mail messages from the schools superintendent about how wonderful the planning process for this "boundary change" is going, and we see the protest lawn signs that have sprung up around the neighborhood about it. "Close the Gap -- Not the Schools." What an awkward slogan, we've thought, as we drove on to wherever we're going. But we haven't blogged a word about it.
Last night a couple of folks who are involved in the process bent our ear over cocktails. With all the buzzwords stripped away, they said, the school district is going to close Grant High School as we know it, turn it into some sort of magnet school (like Benson), and send the high schoolers from the Grant district to either Jefferson or Madison, both of which are currently perceived as lesser schools. And anyone who says "I'm not sending my kid to Jefferson" is labeled a racist.
I'm sure this one's got many other classic Portland features. I'll bet there are bureaucrats who tell you "No decision has been made yet," when of course the fix has been in from the start. There's probably a lot of "Thank you for your valuable input" from people who are going to keep holding meetings until you get tired of coming to them, and then tell you you missed the key moment. People saying "It's the principle of the thing" when they mean "It's what I want."
And there has got to be a developer weasel in the wings who winds up getting a deal out of this. Already we know they want the Lincoln High site for a tower or two, which means Lincoln will get moved to under the Fremont Bridge somewhere. Maybe that's part of why they're killing off Grant.
Luxury condos on SE Belmont Street in Portland, just up the street from the methadone clinic? It's hardly a surprise that that particular Homer Williams pipedream didn't pan out. Then they tried to get outrageous rents for the units, which seemed an equally doomed enterprise. Now the other shoe has fallen, and the joint is in foreclosure. Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch.
Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing Wu can do
One of Portland's congresspeople, David Wu, is fighting the Obama administration's plan to privatize a lot of the national space program and get the government out of (the largely pointless exercise of) sending human beings back to the moon.
''I was against privatization in the Bush administration,'' Representative David Wu, Democrat of Oregon, said at Thursday's session. ''I am against privatization in the Obama administration.''
Mr. Wu told General Bolden that he doubted there was much profit for commercial companies beyond the NASA business. ''I would encourage the administration and your agency to consider whether this is premature, whether this is wise and whether this dooms us to a future where there are no Americans in space, or at least the dominant language in space is not English,'' Mr. Wu said.
Who cares which language the humans are speaking up in their stinky tin cans? All the interesting work can be done by robots, speaking the universal language, 01010101.
Although I do support sending Wu into orbit, indefinitely.
An alert reader in the southwest part of Portland reported yesterday as follows:
Two clowns from Portland Parks showed up at the Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. meeting last night to push a proposed Parks bond measure to the tune of 200 million bucks, to build new parks pretties and deal with parts of what they estimated was a $500 million parks maintenance backlog.
Their reception by the usually Kumbaya-chanting SWNI Board was not pretty.
The proposed project list reads like a park planner's full employment act, and the bond issue is transparent in its design to keep Parks' top-heavy office administration employed.
Two of the big selling points advanced by the Parks folks were that it would only cost $8 a month for the average Portland homeowner, and that interest rates have never been so low, so it has never been a better time to borrow.
Someone pointed out that Parks budget was not zero, so the "only $8 a month" was bulls***, that it was actually $8 a month *more*; further, that the actual handouts that the Parks folks had brought quoted $15 a month. Much sputtering ensued from the presenter, Chris somebody, who had this real neat PowerPoint and script, when the difference between his spiffy PowerPoint and the written documents was pointed out.
The funniest question came from one fellow (not me) who asked the clowns how much in bond debt the city was retiring in 2011, when this bond was supposed to be issued if the suckers approve it at the polls; what the projected interest rate was; and what the ratio of supervisors to workers at Parks was. (He had data, 86 managers/supervisors in a total labor pool of less than 500 bureau employees.)
Not surprisingly, the Parks clowns had no idea of answers to any of the questions.
As much as I love Portland's parks, I wouldn't hand another $100 a year from our house to Zsa Zsa to run them. The last time the voters gave Parks a bond for maintenance, they broke the law by using the maintenance money for capital projects. Between the leadership over there and the fact that Portland is already overdosing on debt to the point at which its financial future is in serious doubt -- management layoffs are probably a better solution than another bond.
One of the selling points of Portland's absurd South Waterfront district, back in the days when Vera and Opie and Homer roamed City Hall with Fireman Randy and Sam the Tram, was that a goodly amount of the housing built down there was going to be "affordable." Skeptics suspected that the real agenda was a bunch of high-rise condo towers, and that all the other promises that were being made about a diverse neighborhood (and a biotech center) were a snow job.
Guess who was right.
Millions upon millions of public money has been spent toward developing low-income and middle-class housing down in SoWhat, but those units seem less likely to be built today than they were even back before the industrial jobs in the district were run out for the condo clowns.
The League of Women Voters has got it exactly right. Like quite a few astute observers, they've been watching the SoWhat debacle from the beginning, and now they'd like some proof that what was promised when this area was cleared out for ugly high-rises wasn't just a straight-out lie. Such a showing is not likely to be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, some of the same culprits who led the city down the destructive path of SoWhat are now salivating over county property near the Morrison Bridge, which they're saying they want to develop into a Pike Place-type public market, with commercial offices or high-end apartments up above. Just what Portland needs -- more downtown retail, empty offices, and vacant apartments! Of all the delusional communities on our planet, some days this one takes the cake.
I see that the "major" (by U.S. standards) soccer league will have no contract with its players union as of midnight tonight. But don't worry, MLS players -- once your league comes to Portland, if Little Lord Paulson refuses to pay you a decent wage, the Portland City Council will probably make up the difference, just as it does with the hot dog vendors.
Would it surprise you if by the time the city finished ripping up PGE Park yet again and dedicating it to "major league" soccer, "major league" soccer had ceased to exist?
Oregon's senior senator -- these days, he's also the darling of New York society -- has introduced a tax reform bill with a Republican co-sponsor. And the two of them are crowing about it loud and long. Finally, they tell us, the two parties are coming together with a tax plan that solves everybody's problems.
It's a big bill, and it covers a lot of ground, which makes a some journalists' eyes glaze over when they start to look at it. For convenience, the two sponsors have come up with a handy dandy two-page summary touting all the wonderful benefits of their plan, and that's as far as a lot of commentators have gotten so far. But it behooves us as constituents of one of the proponents of this plan to take a closer look.
Probably the first thing that jumps out of the Wyden-Gregg bill is the massive tax cut that it bestows on corporations. Instead of a top corporate tax rate of 35%, it installs a flat rate of 24%. In other words, if a corporation has been paying $7 million in taxes, it would now pay only $4.8 million. Math majors out there can see that it's a 31.4% tax cut for a highly profitable corporation.
Not to say that that's necessarily a bad thing, if you believe that corporate tax savings will trickle down to workers and consumers. But it's truly ironic that Oregon, which just stuck it to corporations on their state income taxes under Measure 67, would have a senator in Washington who's advocating giving them back way, way more than the extra they'll ever have to pay out here.
The treatment of capital gains -- gains on sales of business and investment assets -- would get tougher. Rather than the 15% top rate under current law, regular rates would apply, but there would be 35% exclusion of the gain. If I'm doing the math right, that works out to a top rate of 22.75%. Dividends on stocks would continue to qualify for capital gain rates, however -- a Bush Jr. innovation that the bill would make permanent. The bill would also expand to a small degree people's ability to put money aside into retirement and savings accounts and have the earnings on those investments in those accounts not be taxed at all.
On the other end of the spectrum, the bill would eliminate the 10% bracket currently applicable to low-income individuals. The Wyden plan would have three individual tax rates: 15%, 25%, and 35%.
Probably next in importance is what the bill does to individual deductions. It jacks up the standard deduction substantially, which means that low- and lower-middle-income folks will probably have lower taxable incomes. But it also means that fewer people will be deducting things like home mortgage interest and property taxes, which in turn diminishes the tax advantages of home ownership. For a country that's currently inflating housing prices by handing out four-figure tax credits to people just for buying a home, that seems like an odd move to make.
The next thing that catches our eye is the repeal of popular exclusions for all sorts of benefits that people currently receive tax-free in their workplaces. Under Wyden-Gregg, employees will pay tax on many nickel-and-dime items, and some bigger ones, that they are allowed to ignore for tax purposes under current law. For example:
* Employer premium payments on group term life insurance.
* Discounts that employers offer employees, such as in the retail business.
* Coffee and donuts in the work room.
* Free meals for on-call employees at such places as hospitals.
* Retirement planning advice supplied by the employer.
* Stuff employees take out of the supply closet at work to use on the job.
* Company-supplied uniforms and special gear.
* Gold watches and Cross pens presented on retirement.
The bill would also nix deductions for union dues, fees paid to tax professionals in connection with personal taxes, and employee business expenses that cheapskate employers don't reimburse. Not everybody gets to deduct these under current law, but under the bill, no one would. Job-related moving expenses would also not be deductible, and if your employer paid to move you to a new duty station, that would be taxable income to you.
The Wyden plan would also get rid of the ubiquitous "personal choice" and "flexible spending" accounts (technically known as "cafeteria plans"), whereby working folks currently get to pay for things like health care and child care out of pre-tax dollars. All those dollars would become taxable.
The bill would repeal the alternative minimum tax, and that would be a great relief for many folks who grapple with it and really shouldn't have to. The AMT was designed to make sure truly rich folks didn't load up on too many tax deductions, but nowadays it's penalizing middle-class people who merely make a decent living, live in a high-tax state, and have kids.
Wildest of all, the Wyden bill would legalize, regulate, and tax internet gambling. Perhaps that's thrown in there as a signal not to take any of this too seriously. You could spend a year monkeying around with that feature of the bill alone -- and with this Congress, make it three or four years.
When considering the chances of this package passing in its current form, the phrase "snowball in hell" comes to mind. But it is a pretty telling statement. As soon as the Democrats finally got control over the tax system, Ron Wyden picked that time to get all friendly with the Republicans and cut corporate taxes by 31%.
Here's a disturbing statewide story. Oregon prosecutors say they're afraid to speak out on pending bills affecting the criminal justice system, because the meanies in the Legislature have already cut the prosecutors' salaries and might do so again if they express doubt about the legislators' pet bills.
There ought to be a law against reducing salaries of prosecutors, shouldn't there? What if a district attorney were investigating a corrupt legislative leader? The prosecutor shouldn't have to choose between doing his or her job or being forced to default on his or her mortgage.
I guess it would take a constitutional amendment, though, to make sure that never happened. Add it to the list of petitions I'd like to see, I guess.
"Attention -- this is Fireman Randy -- this is an emergency"
The City of Portland conveniently used last Thanksgiving weekend's "boil your drinking water" E. coli scare as an excuse to go out immediately for bid on a massive money outlay (one would guess eight figures) to hire out an emergency call system that would alert the public of crises and disasters by telephone and text message. Apparently TV, radio, and the city's embarrassing army of paid official bloggers and Tweeters isn't enough. In order to be sure that the city reaches the 73 little old ladies who aren't reachable by such means, we will now call everybody's cell phone, too.
Is this project really necessary? And this is the City of Portland buying computers -- is there any chance that the system would actually work? Please, comrades, when Great Leader and Dear Father Randy is speaking, do not ask those questions. Or any questions, for that matter.
Anyway, 14 firms have lined up, licking their chops to sell the city their spendy wares on this one. None of them are local. Here is the complete list. Details on what they're offering and how much it will cost are not yet available. And as always, the question how on earth we can realistically expect to pay for their product will probably never be asked, much less answered. It builds the Sam-Rand Empire, and that's all that counts any more. Throw another 20 on your water bill! And go by streetcar!
Many people are unaware that the City of Portland is the only city in the United States to require that all diesel sold in the city limits contain a minimum blend of 5% biodiesel, which is commonly referred to as "B5." Commissioner Leonard authored and passed this law in 2006, and in July of 2007, the law went into effect and all diesel fuel pumps in the city began dispensing biodiesel.
The City of Portland reports that it has received a dozen bids to remove the leftover "free" municipal wi-fi equipment from poles around town. The city estimated that the cost of the project could run as high as $200,000, and two of the bids were even higher than that. but one bidder -- EC Company -- bid $36,700.
The complete list of bid results is here. There is no word yet on when a final decision will be announced.
Oregon tax amnesty: 60% of the money was from corporations
We asked the other day if anyone had any data about who showed up and came clean under the Oregon tax amnesty program that was conducted last fall. Today, a kindly spokesperson at the state Department of Revenue obliged with some facts and figures about the program:
Amnesty applications approved: 8,350
Total amount of taxes and interest paid so far under amnesty program: $33 million (60 percent of this amount was paid by corporate filers)
Number of tax returns received: 16,500
* Personal income tax: 13,500
* Corporate: 1,400
* Transit: 1,400
* Estate, trust, and inheritance: 200
Payment plans: 721
Amount of taxes and interest expected to be collected through payment plans: $3 million
Legislative Revenue Office projected the state would collect $16.7 million under amnesty.
Fascinating stuff, at least for some of us.
What's impossible to keep statistics on, of course, is how the existence of the program might affect taxpayer behavior in the future. Will people and businesses cut corners on their Oregon taxes and wait it out until the next amnesty, when penalties will again be waived and interest rates on back taxes will again be slashed? Of course, there's no guarantee that there will ever be another amnesty, but it's not like people don't take chances when it comes to tax compliance.
Meh. Here are some causes that are far more worthy of backers' money and signature gatherers' fervor:
1. Placing the City of Portland's water assets under the control of a separate, elected board whose power to spend water bill revenues is strictly limited to matters relating directly to water collection and distribution. No neon signs, no Rose Festival landlord trip, no "green" house demonstrations, no bike paths, no PCC scholarships. Oh, and one public relations staffer max.
2. Ditto, for the city's sewer system.
3. Police brutality reform, including an independent prosecutor in all grand jury proceedings in which Portland police officers have used deadly force on civilians, and a civilian review board with powers to discipline officers and their commanders for clear lapses of existing regulations that result in serious bodily harm, or death, to civilians; and to change the regulations where necessary to prevent unjustified homicides at the hands of police.
4. An overall cap on long-term debt of all kinds for the city, of $10,000 per resident.
I won't be holding my breath on any of these, however. But hey, look -- it's Beau Breedlove!
Reader poll: Where will Governor Ted's next paycheck come from?
From a fun little piece in Jeff Mapes's blog at the O (scary countdown to new reporter layoffs: any moment now), we learn that Governor Ted isn't going to retire after leaving office. He says his PERS pension isn't big enough, and so he'll continue to work even though he's pushing 70.
We all know that Goldschmidt lieutenants like Ted have many, many options when it comes to warming an Aeron chair at a public agency or big business here in Oregon. Which one do you think will wind up taking Ted?
The progressive side of me is sorely disappointed in what has finally emerged as the White House version of health care legislation. Sorry, lefties, there will be no single-payer program -- heck, not even a public option. Under the Obama plan, the average guy and gal probably won't gain all that much, and the insurance companies definitely will laugh all the way to the bank.
Most people would be required by law to buy health insurance -- with federal handout money if they're really poor. And there'll be no one to buy it from other than the private insurance companies who are already raking in the dough from the current system. Oh, there'll be some goofball state-run "exchanges" that are supposed to create competition among these companies, but let's face it, they already technically compete against each other now, and look at how much profit they're making.
Apparently there will have to be some "nonprofit" companies added to the mix, but that's kind of a joke. Nonprofit -- like the hospitals? As if nobody's getting rich at the hospitals. The nonprofits' top honchos make seven figures a year these days, if not eight, all at the expense of the average worker. For example, OHSU is a "nonprofit charity" -- but check out the doctors' parking lot some weekday morning to see how "charitable" it is.
The tradeoffs that are being proposed for the insurance companies' huge financial windfall are that they will have their rates federally regulated (no doubt by a panel of friendly faces with weak standards), and that they'll have to stop playing their "pre-existing condition" games when they decide to pull the rug out from under people. That's a trade they'll take, especially since sooner or later they'll be prohibited from continuing their more egregious Scrooge moves, in any event.
The President's bill looks a lot like the plan put forth by Sen. Ron Wyden (R-N.Y.), who snuffed out hopes for real health care reform last summer with his hemming and hawing. Senators like Wyden, and Rockefeller, and Dodd, who parade around under the aegis of the Democratic Party but always answer to the big corporations when the chips are down, are the biggest problem in American government right now. If I wanted Republican policies, I'd vote for a Republican. Maybe this fall I will, rather than vote to re-elect the incumbent.
The height of cynicism in the President's bill is how it handles its proposed new income taxes on high-end health care plans furnished by employers to employees. I oppose such taxes generally, but if you're going to impose them, then at least have the guts to do it immediately. Instead, the White House plan says that these taxes won't start until 2018. Whenever politicians tell me what the tax system is going to be like eight years from now, I feel as if I'm about to vomit. These jokers can't even tell us what the tax law was two months ago -- maybe they'll retroactively raise people's taxes back to January 1, maybe not. Why should I pay the least bit of attention to what they pass today with respect to eight years from now? By 2018, or sooner, we may very well have somebody like Mitt Romney in the White House, in which case income taxes on "Cadillac" health plans will likely never come to pass. Some days all I wish is that our elected officials would stop jerking us all around.
They're also going to extend Medicare taxes (2.9%) for the first time to income from investments. That pretty much kills any chance at Republican support, and it's likely to get the AARP types howling as well. At the moment, this new tax would apply only to high-income folks, which makes it progressive enough, but it's a brand new wrinkle that's going to take months for people to process. And the closer we get to the November elections, the harder that processing is going to get.
To many of us who felt profound hope and accomplishment on Inauguration Day 2009, the White House health plan feels like one of the last embers going out. Ralph Nader was guilty of vast overstatement when he said that there are no differences between the two major parties. But on health care reform, he was 100% right. I'd be less depressed if Congress simply let health care reform die than if it passes the weak, empty Obama plan and acts as if it were actually achieving something that was promised in the last campaign.
And whatever they do, I wish the people under the toupees would get the health care agony over with. It's been 13 months now in which they've dealt with this and pretty much nothing else. The historic Democratic Party primacy is being squandered. We won't get fooled again.
Here Facebook tries to open a facility in Prineville, and of course it routinely signs up for power from the local electric utility company, Pacific Power. Suddenly it's an ecological pariah because Pacific Power has coal-fired power plants. I'm as "green" as the next guy, but there comes a point at which you want to tell the kids at Greenpeace to grow the heck up.
We blogged yesterday about the bill in the Oregon legislature removing the ban on public school teachers' wearing religious dress in class. We noted that the local ACLU affiliate is opposed to lifting the ban. An alert reader points us to this statement, in which that organization says it's open to further discussion on the issue, but not for action in the current "special" session of the legislature.
UPDATE, 5:39 p.m.: The bill passed the Senate easily today, and assuming that a couple of differences in House and Senate versions can be ironed out, it will soon be on the governor's desk.
It seems to me that Sam Adams, Dan Saltzman and even Roser Sizer are afraid of the police union. They are very reluctant to say anything of substance about the Aaron Campbell shooting and are not proposing any changes that would help prevent another such shooting from occurring in the future.
Do you know why this is? By itself, the police union is not very large. How can roughly 1,300 people wield so much clout over Commissioners who represent over 500,000 people? Is it because the police union has the implied ability to get the other city unions to support it if necessary? Is it due to the amount of money the police union can contribute in elections? If you could shed some light on this issue, I'd appreciate it. I suspect some of your other readers may be wondering about the source of the police union's unusual level of clout in this town as well.
It's a legitimate question -- not just a rhetorical one -- and I don't have the answer.
Obviously, any union is going to have the ear of Fireman Randy and Nurse Amanda, who were union bosses themselves. And after the mayor's "Jantzen Beach unplugged" incident, perhaps there's an implied bargain of silence there. Back when Tom Potter was mayor, it was said that the union knew unsavory facts from his past that it could make public if he made trouble. But regardless of those factors, city politicians have always bowed down to the blue brotherhood -- and written check after check to clean up after their meaner and less competent members. Are the commissioners afraid of work stoppages or other job actions? Or is it just, as the reader suggested, the union's power at the polls?
This is not an invitation to continue the justified wailing over the situation. Accepting that the police union's power is what it is -- why?
The water in Laurelhurst Park in Southeast Portland has gotten a bit... well, yucky. And so the city's park barons are going out to bid to have somebody come in and straighten things out, to the tune of up to $775,000. The work is described as follows:
The project includes all materilas [sic], labor, permits, and other requrements [sic] outlined in the Contract Documents or inferred by the Contract Documents, necessary for dredging of Laurelhurst Pond to a water depth of 8-feet. Work will include pre and post-dredging hydrosurveys of the pond, the removal of approximately 11,574 cubic yards (CY) of clean sediments and approximately 2,480 CY of contaminated material, construction of planting benches, planting of aquatic plants in planting benches within pond, hauling of material to an appropriate disposal site, disposal of the material at the site, including any applied dumping fees, construction of a stormwater bioswale, and any necessary park or street restoration needed to return the park and Oak Street to its original condition prior to the work.
What's with the "contaminated material"? Anybody know? Duck doo?
And where will the ducks go while the pond is drained? Perhaps there's a reservoir cover contractor out there who will escort them to Mount Tabor Park.
Panel blasts using Portland water revenue for bikes and streetcars
Here's an interesting document, generated last week by the water standing committee (not the standing water committee) of the Portland Utility Review Board. It complains (as we have recently in connection with sewers) that the city's water bureau is spending customers' quarterly bill payments for stuff that has little or nothing to do with delivering water to those customers. The committee also questions whether the water bureau is using industry best practices to keep costs in line. And it criticizes the way water rates are set, in that there are no checks and balances to insure that water revenues are spent only on essential water-related projects.
Among the highlights of the report:
• The Portland Water Bureau (PWB) is proposing a 12.9% rate increase for FY '11 and a 13.5% rate increase for each subsequent year in the Five Year Financial Plan
• The annual bill for a typical PWB residential customer is expected to more than double by FY 2015...
• Ratepayers have a right to expect that current revenues are being used to fund operations that are competitive with industry best work practices...
Diversion of rate revenue for projects that are unrelated to the delivery of utility services has been a long term concern of the PURB. See the attached 2006 recommendation from the PURB on this topic.
Some recent examples of PWB spending rate revenue for projects that are unrelated to the delivery of utility services:
• $500K+ each year for maintenance of park fountains & downtown bubblers.
• Over $15M in bond funded work for PDOT projects involving MAX and the Streetcar over the last decade.
• Excessive (7.5%) license fee. Now gradually being lowered to 5%. But why is any license fee fair when the revenue is being used for unrelated city spending?
Some recent examples of media reports on proposals from city commissioners to spend rate revenue for projects that are unrelated to the delivery of utility services:
• Using utility rate revenue to fund the Bicycle Master Plan.
• Using utility rate revenue to fund college scholarships for impoverished youth.
The current system for setting water & sewer budgets and rates has the systemic problem that it lacks effective checks and balances. This situation is made even worse by Portland’s commission form of government where each commissioner directly oversees a portfolio of city bureaus....
In our opinion this is a severe shortcoming when considering the utility bureaus because the commissioners have unlimited authority to raise rates to match spending for those bureaus. After noting that the PURB has unsuccessfully tried to deal with this issue in the past, we are now convinced that the current system cannot ensure that water services are provided to consumers at just and reasonable rates....
For these reasons we are recommending taking steps to move toward a new process, with substantial checks and balances, for establishing budgets and setting rates for PWB and BES.
Of course, no recommendation for change would be complete without plenty of pork for consultants, and this committee wants the city to spend $600,000 hiring outsiders to come in and cover the same ground as in the free report the committee just wrote. But the fact that the utility board is objecting to diverting the obscene water (and sewer) rate increases for bicycles, streetcars, and community college scholarships is pretty telling.
The brisk sweeping of these recommendations under the large City Hall rug will also make for fascinating viewing, no doubt.
As we've said here before, we need something like a Measure 5 for water and sewer bills. With property taxes strictly capped by law, and pension and other debt about to clamp down on their play money, the Sam-Rand Twins and their City Council colleagues are going to start sucking the life out of water and sewer customers, just as they're doing with parking meters and every other shakedown vehicle they can find.
Yesterday, Sunday, two guys from [the Portland Bureau of] Transportation removed, from the poles nearest the parking meters, the solicitations to use city-issued credit cards. So the good news is that the bursting of the bubble has had the beneficial effect of reducing somewhat the visual blight on the streets of our broke city; never mind that such is probably an unintended consequence of complying with the new credit card restrictions. Too bad they had to do it on overtime, but at least they took the junked metal with them, rather than leaving them in the gutter like they did the little nails from fasteners on the new labels on the light poles.
Overtime -- for this? Say it ain't so, Transportation Sue!
Maxine Bernstein of the O had a fascinating story over the weekend (once again, buried by her editors on a Friday night) about how the grand jury in the police shooting of Aaron Campbell were shown a police training video that hammers home the point that "by the time you see the gun, you're dead." This has become the mantra of apologists for the police when they shoot and kill unarmed people based on their alleged, subjective impression that the victim is reaching for a deadly weapon.
In the James Jahar Perez case a few years back, the district attorney went even further, bringing in a live expert to testify before the grand jury to the same effect. Nowadays the D.A. calls in a local cop, and they show the video. Not surprisingly, the grand jury never indicts the police officer who did the killing.
To us, the story reveals a couple of important things. One is that in police killing cases, an independent prosecutor is needed to run the grand jury. The county D.A.'s office, which works with the police 24-7-365, has a horrible conflict of interest, and when it runs its unilateral grand jury proceedings in a police killing case, it presents the police officer's side of the case more forcefully than it does the victim's, or the public's.
If the shoe had been on the other foot -- if the case involved, say, a civilian shooting an undercover police officer -- do you think the D.A.'s office would show a video that establishes that "by the time you see the gun, you're dead"? Of course not. Before the grand jury, the D.A. is supposed to be the prosecutor. But in cases involving trigger-happy police, the D.A. seems to prefer to serve as exonerator.
The other truth that emerges from the Bernstein story is that no police officer will ever be indicted for killing a civilian, because all he or she has to say is "I thought he was reaching for a gun." If they are trained to shoot before they actually see a weapon, with no requirement of any cause other than their own subjective perceptions, then every time they kill, they're essentially just following orders.
If you want to see the Portland police stop shooting unarmed people in the back, you have to change the content of that training. It's not a question of spending more tens of millions on a training center. It's a question of changing the mantra from "by the time you see the gun, you're dead" to something else. Without that change, "Legend" Saltzman's dry cleaner is going to be kept pretty busy pressing that funeral suit.
When it comes to religion, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution really places the government on a tightrope. It's not allowed to prohibit free exercise of religion, but it's not allowed to make laws respecting establishment of religion, either. Try to regulate religious practices, and you violate the free exercise clause; get too cozy with religion, and you violate the establishment clause.
The Oregon legislature's on the tightrope right now with a bill that would repeal the state's existing prohibition on the wearing of religious garb by public school teachers. The state House passed the bill last week, and it's on to the Senate. Since the proposed change is in favor of religion, it's almost automatic that it will raise establishment clause issues.
Sure enough, there's opposition, but perhaps surprisingly, the ACLU is among those opposed to the bill. One of my colleagues, Tung Yin, calls the ACLU out on that position on the O today. His op-ed piece is here, and if you wish you can comment on his blog, here.
Remember last fall's Oregon tax amnesty? Under this program, for a month and half or so, people who hadn't filed their state income tax returns, or who had filed such returns with erroneous items in their favor, could come clean without penalty. Not only would the state waive any penalties, but it would also cut the usual interest rate on the delinquent taxes (6% at the time) in half. The amnesty was the brainchild of the legislature (Ginny Burdick presiding), midwifed by Sallie Mae (which is now a private firm whose debt collection subsidiary administered it).
One of the features of amnesty that we blogged about was a wicked 25% penalty that was going to apply to those who could have taken advantage of amnesty, but didn't. That was the "stick" that was supposed to go along with the "carrot" of amnesty.
The new penalty isn't absolute, though -- there are still circumstances in which the state Department of Revenue can waive it. And that bureau has now published proposed rules explaining when it might show some mercy. The rules are here, and according to that draft, they're holding a hearing on them today.
The escape hatch for those who failed to play along with amnesty seems pretty narrow: The penalty will be waived "if the taxpayer demonstrates, to the department’s satisfaction, that the failure to participate in the amnesty program was due to circumstances beyond their control." If the Oregon tax debt arises out of a federal tax audit, in some cases the 25% state penalty won't apply unless the IRS also asserts penalties.
More important than the penalty waiver point, though, are the overall results of the program. According to reports out of Salem last week, it raised $32 million, which was twice what was budgeted. Was that in cash, or promises to make installment payments in the future? And how many deadbeat taxpayers did it flush out of the bushes? Which types of taxpayers benefited most from the forgiveness of penalties and half the interest?
It would be interesting to see whether the beneficiaries were really the hapless moms and pops shown in the TV commercials touting the plan. Based on the harsh comments I received for even questioning the wisdom of amnesty back in September, I got the strong impression that the taxpayers who would really save the most dough from it were big corporations.
The Blazers blew a 25-point lead in the third quarter and lost in overtime to the Utah Jazz last night. The Blazers' interior defense has improved somewhat with the arrival of Marcus Camby, but the rest of the team seems to be doing less, not more, on defense than before he got here. That being said, it would all have been forgiven if the offense had held up; instead, Portland scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. I think they made two field goals in that whole period.
Brandon Roy's playing through pain, doesn't look like he really wants to be out there, may be pouting over the Blake and Outlaw trades, and for whatever reasons failed to provide his regular one-man show at the end. He also missed some key foul shots late in the game.
Martell Webster has disappeared. He isn't playing much, and he isn't producing. Last night he had 2 points in 14 minutes on the floor. He scored only 4 against Boston on Friday. Joining him in mediocrity last night, Rudy Fernandez shot 4 of 11 in 29 minutes.
Andre Miller, who can score 50 points in a game when he gets hot, tried to pick up the slack by firing up his knuckleball jump shots, but they didn't fall in the hoop. He wound up shooting 5 for 18. I guess that when there's no other option available, Miller has to chuck up his line drives. But that's where the problem lies. Why the Blazers' young players aren't moving furiously without the ball and executing well crafted plays is an unhappy mystery. Maybe Dre and Coach Nate need to bury the hatchet and add a few pages to the playbook, and quickly. Especially something for Batum, who was a bright spot against the Jazz. Otherwise, Portland's about to roll off the cliff and out of playoff contention.
The Blazers have a road trip now against some of the dogs of the Eastern Conference, and so they will post a few wins. But when they get back out west and have to face serious competition in a tight race for post-season berths, they're going to have a really hard time.
Several years back, when we had the electrical service to our house redone, the electrician put in a whole-house surge protector. We've got a bunch of little ones between the outlets and our computers, but they look kind of chintzy, and we felt better that there was now a global one for the whole service.
Of course, knowing little about electricity, including being ignorant about how the protection systems work, there was little real basis for our warm and fuzzy feeling. Now an e-mail message from a reader gives us some second thoughts.
The reader recently purchased a surge protector (not the same kind as ours) from her local electricity monopoly, Portland General Electric. And now, she relates, PGE's telling her that the thing might not work. It's giving her a choice between returning it for a refund or waiving any right to complain about it if it fails and stuff inside the house gets fried. She sends along a copy of the letter she received:
The reader's a little peeved that she's being limited to those two options: refund or waiver. She'd rather just have a surge protector that was guaranteed to work. She also complains that she's been asking PGE for the particulars of what has failed and under what circumstances, and getting nonanswers. One thing seems certain -- she won't be signing this thing:
If she does nothing, the letter from PGE suggests that she is canceling whatever warranty rights she might previously have enjoyed. Can they do that?
Meanwhile, without stepping any further into the middle of that particular business-customer relationship, I'm giving the evil eye to the unit that we bought from our electrician several years ago. Will it really work if we need it to?
Last weekend, we asked readers whether they'd eat a Trader Joe's granola bar that was of the type subject to a recall, even though it wasn't labeled as being from the specific batch that was being recalled. The clear majority of those who responded said no, and we took their advice and threw the suspect snack away.
Today we read that the bar we declined has now itself been recalled, along with the others:
Trader Joe's Company of Monrovia, Calif., is voluntarily expanding the recall of the Trader Joe's Chocolate Chip Chewy Coated Granola Bars (SKU 82818) to include all code dates, manufactured by Bloomfield Bakery, a subsidiary of Ralcorp Holdings, Inc., because it has the potential to be contaminated with salmonella, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Customers with questions may contact customer relations Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST at 1-626-599-3817.
The one we pitched was the last of a box. As far as we can tell, nobody got sick from the ones we did eat.
A couple of alert readers have pointed us to this story, which makes some wild claims that are news to those of us who actually live in Portland:
with more than 20,000 clean-energy jobs created in 2007 alone--the most in the nation--it's clear that sustainable Portland is the place to be. The city gets half of its power from renewable energy sources, 35 percent of its buildings have been certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, and a quarter of the workforce commutes to work by bike, carpool, or public transportation. The city's $50 million "Grey to Green" initiative, which began in July 2008, aims to add 43 acres of ecoroofs, plant 33,000 yard trees and 50,000 street trees, and restore native vegetation while halting the spread of invasive plants to better manage stormwater--all of which will help create a green-collar workforce for Portland's already green economy.
That Northeast Portland neighborhood group that isn't so sure that living next to cell antennas is good for your health is showing a documentary movie outlining the concerns tomorrow afternoon. The film is called "Full Signal," and its director, Talal Jabari, is scheduled to be on hand afterward. The show starts at 4 at the Hollywood Theater.
There will probably be a cell antenna in your neighborhood pretty soon, if there isn't one there already, and if you're like me, the whole thing can give you the willies. Call me a tinfoil helmet guy -- I've been called worse -- but I don't like being too close to those things. And I don't trust the cell phone companies, who have all the politicians in their fur-lined pockets, as far as I can throw them.
Even the empire builders at the Port of Portland have to concede that their grandiose plans of a couple of years ago to expand the Portland airport are now dead in the water. But that doesn't stop the planning, people. Oh, no. We plan and plan and plan. Right now the oh-so-sustainable ones are developing three new planning "products" in eager preparation for the next comprehensive master planning neighborhood resident involvement process. The full, breathtaking story is here.
Let's see... We can watch the Blazers on ESPN with national announcers, or we can watch it on local cable with a 10-second delay and listen to homers recite statistics and question every officials' call...
It's time to wrap up our latest edition of Rate-a-Nate, in which readers rate the performance of Blazers' head coach Nate McMillan. This time around, he's way ahead of where he stood back when the team's roster wasn't riddled with injuries:
I just finished up a 28-minute [telephone] survey that certainly was sponsored by the Oregonian. The charming college student surveyor... asked a lot of questions about where I get my news -- print media, TV, or radio, but they did not ask the right questions at all about my internet habits. They left a huge hole....
The big news is that the Oregonian is considering going to a tabloid format. The interviewer did not use that term but she asked if I read the paper on a table or by holding it in front of me. She also asked me to rate how well I liked:
-- smaller easier to hold format;
-- same or more pages;
-- pull out sections on sports, entertainment, business, local news -- depending on the day;
-- the sections being shaped like a magazine and stapled together;
-- color printing on nearly every page.
She also asked about my commuting habits regarding the various TriMet modes.
Based on this interview, I think that the Oregonian is going to soon change from full sheets to smaller pages, perhaps like Willie Week.
Lastly, the survey was conducted by [Ipsos] MORI who my interviewer said was headquartered in Salt Lake City. She hinted that her office was "down the Valley" -- I got her to reveal that they were in Eugene....
It all sounds plausible -- and like news -- to us.
A concerned reader down in the Emerald City reports:
I know you've occasionally made posts about some of the "Portland-esque" schemes that pop up from time to time down here in Eugene, and the unfortunate news is that it's getting considerably worse here. As such, I thought I'd pass on the latest disaster "down south."
I live not far from the university and the commercial district that lies along East 13th and Alder, on the west side of the UO campus and just east of Sacred Heart hospital, which is made up of predominantly small one-story buildings, the majority of which are occupied by locally-owned businesses. Anyways, I wound up waking up this past Saturday morning to the sound of backhoes, and upon going outside, found that the building that had housed Lazar's Tobacco on 13th (and apparently had been used for a time by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight when they were just starting out, way back when) was completely gone. Just a big gap between Cafe Roma and McKenzie Outfitters.
A couple days later, a sign was erected in the spot showing what was intended for the site: a monstrous 4-story condo bunker known as "The Gopuran Building". Smack dab in the university district. Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb.
They've been throwing in these giant monstrosities full of overpriced 3-and-4-bedroom apartments like crazy all over the West University District--heaven knows why, but it's a distressing to see. Between this stuff and the Walnut Station plan along Franklin Boulevard, it seems like it's only a matter of time before Eugene is filled with the same kind of Fake New York nonsense that's taking over Portland.
The media's making a big deal out of the fact that the grand jury minutes have been made public in the case of the killing of Aaron Campbell at the hands of Portland police. They're picking the transcript of those proceedings apart as if it's some special window on the truth.
The media seem to have forgotten (if they ever understood) the obvious fact that the grand jury is run entirely by the district attorney's office. The rules of evidence don't apply, and nobody's there to represent the victim. The grand jury sees and hears exactly what the DA's office wants it to hear -- nothing more and nothing less. And the DA's office has a strong allegiance to the police force, with which it works 24-7-365.
Here in Multnomah County, the grand jury has never, in recent memory, seen evidence to warrant indicting a police officer for killing someone in the line of duty. But that is not to say that such evidence has never existed.
As a practical matter, it would take what they call a "runaway grand jury" to indict a police officer in Portland. That's a once-per-century phenomenon.
It was amusing to see our fearless DA on TV last night. He told KGW that, harumph harumph, it wasn't always appropriate to make the grand jury's minutes public, but it was in this case. Sure, Mike. It's appropriate except in cases in which somebody blurts out the actual truth as opposed to the police union version.
To read grand jury proceedings is to read an expanded version of the official account of the killing. Anyone who gets all excited over the release of those minutes doesn't understand what a grand jury is.
Holy moley. Houston gave up The Contract Formerly Known as Tracy McGrady and Carl Landry, the Kings gave away Kevin Martin, the Knicks swapped Nate Robinson out and picked up Eddie House from Boston plus Sergio... It's all supposedly over the Lebron sweepstakes, but these are moves that will have implications for the rest of this season as well.
It looks as though David Lee will be back on the block this summer. Maybe the Blazers will take an interest if Camby retires, either of the Kneecap Twins doesn't return, or all of the above.
The fellow who sells us the oats for our oatmeal has made a big splash by turning his company, Bob's Red Mill, over to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) on his 81st birthday. The move has drawn quite the national spotlight. I keep thinking, "There must be a catch," but maybe there isn't. Maybe Bob is just a cool guy.
A most interesting piece of bulk mail got here this morning:
Included was a letter from Avel Gordly, chief petitioner for the Sam Adams recall, urging us to collect a few signatures and mail back the signed petitions.
The package seems to have been produced by the same folks who sent out the Tillamook dairy farmer letter opposing Measure 66 and 67. It certainly has the same feel.
It will be fascinating to see how this goes, but the chances of actually recalling Mayor Creepy at this point seem hopelessly slim. The campaign money should have been gathered a year ago, and these petitions should have been mailed out last Fourth of July. Even if proponents force the election, the recall vote will fail, and that will only make him look stronger.
It's time to check up on the local economy again by taking a look at the latest financial statements filed by OnPoint Community Credit Union, our barometer of how things are going on the ground in Portland. The latest filings show that the bad news of 2008 and 2009 slowed down a bit toward the end of 2009, with a decent showing in the last quarter. Here are the categories of data that we've been following at OnPoint:
Quarterly increase (decrease)
12-month increase (decrease)
Federal agency securities
Total reportable delinquency - total delinquent loans
Total reportable delinquency - indirect lending
Total outstanding loan balances subject to bankruptcies
Ratio of delinquent loans to total loans (percent)
Ratio of total delinquent loans to net worth (percent)
Delinquent loans are those delinquent for two months or more.
Investments are up, delinquent loans are down, but loans in bankruptcy are climbing steeply. Also, it's curious that there are more than $29.5 million of loans subject to bankruptcies, but only $22.6 million or so in delinquent loans. I figured that bankrupt debtors would also be delinquents, but I guess I am mistaken about that.
Over on the profit and loss side, OnPoint's net income for the year 2009 was $28,419,382, compared to a loss of $2,872,665 in 2008 (the latter having been created by a big hit to earnings for losses in the credit union insurance pool). For the fourth quarter of 2009 alone, net income was $6,454,363, as compared to a loss of $19,201,131 in the fourth quarter of 2008. In the fourth quarter of 2009, deposits increased slightly, from $2,373,916,394 to $2,381,752,154 -- a second consecutive quarterly increase, but just barely (0.33%). Deposits a year earlier were $2,191,035,640, and thus for the year, deposits were up 8.70%.
As we did last quarter, we'll compare some of OnPoint's financial data with that of three other Oregon-based credit unions that readers have mentioned: Unitus here in Portland, First Tech in Beaverton, and Oregon Community down in Eugene.
One number that we've been tracking for the group has been the ratio of delinquent loans (two months or more) to total loans -- the higher the number, the worse the portfolio from a delinquency standpoint. Here are the percentages for all four of the credit unions in that department. All showed improvement in the fourth quarter:
Another ratio that we've been watching is delinquent loans to net worth. Here are the percentages for the whole group on that score, again showing that they are bouncing back:
Finally, the year-to-date net income (loss) figures for the group. Although given their varying sizes, we're likely talking apples and oranges, the trends are probably worth comparing:
Only Unitus lost money in the fourth quarter of 2009, finishing the year well in the hole.
On into the fog of the recession we continue to stumble, but seemingly avoiding the steep downward slopes of late '08 and early '09. At least for now.
So, what's it going to take to clean up the Portland police? We all know it's a task that's long overdue.
Forget about the City Council doing it. They won't. They're institutionally incapable. If the council could do it, the council would have done it by now.
Forget about Fireman Randy doing it. Oh, he'd like control over the police bureau, all right. He'd like control over everything. But once he was put in charge of the bureau, he wouldn't stand up to the police union. Remember where he came from. He's the biggest public safety union cheerleader you could imagine.
Forget about the county D.A. doing it. Police who kill while on duty have never been prosecuted in Portland, and they never will be so long as Mike Schrunk is the D.A. And even after he lets go of his job, it's about a 1 in 100 chance that his successor will be any different.
Forget about the state attorney general doing it. He wants to be governor, and rocking this particular boat wouldn't help get him that job. In case you haven't noticed, he's not been real big on the boat-rocking in his first 14 months in office.
Forget about the U.S. attorney doing it. Right now, there's a caretaker in that position (a good buddy of the state attorney general, coincidentally), and the top item on the job description of the U.S. attorney from Oregon has always been not to make waves.
Forget about the state legislature doing anything. And if they did, they'd probably get it backward.
No, from our vantage point, it's crystal clear that this is going to take the majority of the voters in Portland, and some brave, energetic souls among the citizenry who are willing to give a year or two of their lives to a serious effort to reform the city code, and probably the charter, as regards the police. There needs to be serious civilian oversight over the police -- not the muddled mess we have now. And that means crafting a package of new rules that the average person in the city will embrace. It entails collecting the thousands of signatures it will take to force these measures onto a citywide ballot. It includes hiring smart lawyers to make sure that what gets passed stays passed. And like everything in politics, it's going to take some fairly serious money.
Most of all, there will need to be endless patience and resolve among city residents as the police union stages job actions, throws other tantrums, and takes its vicious swipes at the people who spearhead real reform.
One thing is certain: If the police bureau is going to get fixed -- and that's a big "if" -- it is not going to be by government, from the inside out.
If you followed the "Bong Hits for Jesus" case, in which a high school wisecrack artist tested the limits of the First Amendment (unsuccessfully for him), you might want to pick up on this one, in which a high schooler got in trouble for setting up a Facebook page to blast "the worst teacher I've ever met." So far, she's winning her court battle.
Is the fix in for Moyer in the PDC headquarters move?
A reader has reacted to our post of earlier today about the PDC's planned headquarters move with these observations:
You might want to direct some of your ire at the Mayor's office on this one. Word is, he's forcing PDC's hand on this, and is virtually insisting a deal with TMT get done. Even committing to much more space than PDC needs to get the deal done (apparently promises to relo other city bureau(s) to absorb the additional square footage). Galleria and Waterfront options are red herrings.
A federal judge has ruled that the civil trial in the killing of James Chasse by the Portland police won't be moved to a faraway city unless and until it's proven that an impartial jury can't be found here in the Rose City.
In other police brutality news, the police chief, the police commissioner, and the mayor are all digging in their heels to insist that everything's basically fine -- all that's needed is more training and equipment. Apparently, the meanness and anger issues of members of the police force, and the arrogance of their police union, are just something we have to live with.
Budget stuff is pretty boring, but the latest summaries of this year's money requests at the Portland City Council contain some interesting reading. Here are what the city commissioners' offices are asking for, compared to last year:
The mayor's big increase stems mainly from three big-ticket items: $106,000 "to fund security services for the mayor" (a new bodyguard, perhaps?); $100,000 for a director for the mayor's various education initiatives; and $741,750 for new education programs. The latter consist of "SUN Service System Expansion/Enhancement to develop a core set of services for academic-priority SUN high school students" ($100,000); "Summer Youth Connect to continue funding of interventions to increase graduation and post-secondary access through career planning and work experience" ($325,000); "Education Strategy Support to provide general support for the Education Cabinet and Annual Education Summit" ($115,000); "Youth Engagement to continue the Multnomah Youth Commission and expand youth program aides beyond the Youth Planner Program" ($33,750); and "Future Connect Scholarship program to provide scholarship grants for the first two years of study at Portland or Mt. Hood Community Colleges" ($168,000). Our mayor sure has a fondness for those teenagers.
The big cut in Saltzman's budget is pretty mysterious. It does not appear that the inner workings of his office are changing in any way. There was a one-time $1.32 million capital expense of some kind booked to Saltzman last year, and it won't be repeated this year. It probably had to do with the "children's investment fund," whereby city tax dollars are spent on education-related programs without running the money through the school district budget (and its property tax limitations). "Legend" Saltzman is very much for the children, and he cuts an appropriately somber figure at young people's funerals.
Meanwhile, Fish is getting a new administrative assistant in his office as he coasts to re-election:
This add package requests a new Commissioner's Administrative Support Specialist position. The package is funded through salary savings gained from reducing one current position from full-time to part-time combined with interagency funding from the Portland
The Portland Development Commission is a funny outfit, most days. One way the PDC stimulates real estate development -- about the only way that's working lately -- is to build up its own huge bureaucracy and then move it into a new headquarters, built by, or leased from, one of its pet developer tycoons. They're at it again this year, with two different doomed office towers angling for the handout.
No word on what will happen to the old headquarters, which itself was the result of a failed PDC "creative class" boondoggle from many years ago. When the foolhardy new "sustainability center" down by Portland State Realty Trust (and University) eventually flops, I suspect the PDC will have to think about moving into that one. But in the meantime, it's don't spare the linchpins, full catalysts ahead, with another office tower that this town needs like a hole in the head.
At 185 employees, the PDC is far too big a bureaucracy for what it accomplishes. Before moving it, the city should cut it by between a quarter and a half.
We've been looking through the term sheet that Bank of America has presented and the City of Portland has selected for the "interim" (up-to-five-year) loan of $12 million for the re-renovation of PGE Park. It appears that the city will be able to get some remarkably low interest rates for that bridge loan.
As we read the term sheet (with a somewhat untrained eye), the bank is offering the city four alternatives to pick from: two 3-year plans and two 5-year plans. All of these set interest rates based on something called LIBOR, a rate set daily by British banks, for U.S. dollar deposits. In the three-year scenario, the city can choose either a rate that floats daily at the LIBOR one-month rate plus 1.1%; or rates that lock in for periods of 1 to 12 months, at the corresponding LIBOR term rate plus 1.1%. The five-year options call for a daily floating rate of one-month LIBOR plus 1.2%, or 1-to-12-month locks at the corresponding LIBOR term rate plus 1.2%. If the city takes the full $12 million loan in a single draw at the closing (at last report, scheduled for March 10), the rate would drop by 0.1%.
That's cheap money. As of the latest figures we could find, 1-month LIBOR is 0.22875%; 6-month LIBOR is 0.38813%; and 1-year LIBOR is 0.85125%. If the city draws the whole loan at closing and chooses the five-year term and a daily floating rate, today the interest rate would start out at 1.32875% per year, or $159,450 a year on a $12 million balance. That interest would be fully taxable to the B of A, according to the city's request for proposals.
Of course, this loan will turn into a pumpkin at the end of three or five years, at which point the city says it is going to go out and secure long-term financing for its share of the stadium re-do. If it can't, or doesn't, get a permanent loan at that time, it will have to pay B of A back out of its general funds, as the deal is to be financed with a "Pledge of [the city's] full faith and credit, not subject to appropriation," according to the term sheet.
One interesting wrinkle comes in B of A's stipulation that the city covenant "to issue debt obligations in an amount sufficient to generate net proceeds, together with other resources of Borrower, to payoff the Credit facility in full." State law restricts the City Council, at least somewhat, from binding future City Councils, and one has to wonder whether any such covenant by the current commissioners would actually be enforceable. All matters for the lawyers to hash out between now and the closing, one would guess.
As for the other proposals that the city received and rejected, Chase presented only a three-year deal; Umpqua Bank was asking for a minimum interest rate of 3.5%; and Wells Fargo had slightly higher interest rates than B of A, with interest rate increases built in if the city's credit rating deteriorated.
Remember Robin Grimwade, the guy who was going to preside over the commercializing of Portland's slowly crumbling park system, in order to make the parks "pay for themselves"? He had been imported from his native Australia by then-parks commisioner Dan "Legend" Saltzman. Down under, Grimwad had reportedly peeled off part of a local park and handed it over to Fox Studios, and there was another controversial deal with McDonald's that apparently got nipped in the bud. Here in Portland, he hovered close to the sneaky deal to sell off part of Mount Tabor Park to Warner Pacific College -- a deal that failed once the public found out about it. (A deal that Saltzman incredibly denied knowing about.)
Anyway, somebody at City Hall (let's hope it was the current parks commissioner, Nick Fish) eventually showed Grimwad the door a while back, and he was up for a gig in the 'Couv, which he didn't get.
So where did he go next? Think about it -- his specialty is greasing the skids for corporations to get at taxpayer assets, and making it look like it's all for the public good. He's a fixer and a bit of a scoundrel. Who around here would bring somebody like that on board?
"If your kid comes downtown to party, we may arrest her"
While Jesse Jackson shines his glaring light on the Portland police roach motel tomorrow night, the men and women in blue are already warning suburban school districts that they may have to lock up some teenagers downtown over Fat Tuesday. Should be a heckuva night all over town.
I don't know if you saw this story, but one quote in it sticks out for me:
House Speaker Dave Hunt: "I have a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old, so I know what whining is."
Can you imagine being one of Mr. Hunt's kids and reading this in the newspaper? It's degrading and in poor taste. If Mr. Hunt is representative of the character of our legislative leadership, it's no wonder that they accomplish so little year after year.
Rumor has it it's forward Tyrus Thomas of the Bulls. The Blazers drafted Thomas four years ago and immediately traded him to the Bulls for LaMarcus Aldridge. Thomas missed nearly two months of this season with a broken arm. [Photo courtesy Keith Allison.]
Portland infrastructure: Deteriorating, with no hope in sight
This report by Portland city bureaucrats concludes that the city needs $183 million a year more than it currently gets to "develop needed capacity, maintain existing facilities, address regulatory requirements, and/or meet service levels." And that annual number, which does not take street paving issues into account, is expected to grow over the next 10 years. Go by streetcar!
Jesse Jackson on his way to Portland in latest cop killing
If this is true, we've got some serious drama ahead:
Portland OR,--Rev. Jesse Jackson will be in Portland on Tuesday, February 16 in response to the shooting death of Aaron Campbell on January 29th. Rev. Jackson will participate in a news conference at 6 PM at the Maranatha Church Fellowship Hall, entrance on NE Skidmore between NE 12th and 13th Aves. Following the news conference, Rev. Jackson will also speak at a public rally organized by the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, in the Maranatha Church sanctuary (12th Avenue side at Skidmore) at 6:30 PM.
Aaron Campbell, an unarmed African American man, was shot and killed by a Portland police assault rifle on January 29. On February 10 a Multnomah County Grand Jury found no criminal wrongdoing by the Portland officer who shot and killed Campbell.
AMA Coalition for Justice and Police Reform is urging community members to attend the rally.
For more information, call Dr. T Allen Bethel at 503-288-7241.
About Albina Ministerial Alliance
The AMA took the lead in organizing protests after the killings of Kendra James (2003) and James Jahar Perez (2004), and the tasering of 15-year-old Sir Millage (2006), and more recently in the "beanbag" shooting of a 12-year-old girl at a MAX platform (2009). They have also stood shoulder to shoulder with the Justice for Jose Mejia Poot Justice Committee (2001) and the Mental Health Association of Portland in efforts on the James Chasse case.
We're looking for some free advice on this one. Trader Joe's has recalled a bunch of its chocolate chip chewy coated granola bars:
Trader Joe's Company of Monrovia, California is voluntarily recalling Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chip Chewy Coated Granola Bars, UPC 82818, Use by Dates/Lot Codes 16JUL10H2 and 17JUL10H1, manufactured by Bloomfield Bakery, a subsidiary of Ralcorp Holdings, Inc. because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems....
The product involved in this recall was distributed at Trader Joe’s stores nationally and comes in a 7.4 oz box marked with Use by/Lot Codes 16JUL10H2 and 17JUL10H1 on the top of the box and stamped individually on the side of each granola bar. Production of the product has been suspended while FDA and Bloomfield Bakery continue their investigation.
In our cupboard, we find:
Turning it over and looking on the back, we find:
Now, ours doesn't have the same date and markings on it as the recalled lots do, but it's close. Which leads us to the question:
Here's an interesting type of real estate offer I haven't seen before. I stumbled on this one as I left the excellent bagel place across the street on SE 11th Avenue yesterday:
My cell phone camera skills aren't quite up to the task, but the sign is advertising a "pre-approved apartment project" for $450,000:
This could be your chance to become a real estate tycoon, I guess. But I'd be a little careful about the location. Although proximity to some cool bars and coffee joints is a plus, it's on a block that's sandwiched between two one-way streets in a high-speed "couplet," and the cars get going at a pretty good clip in both directions. Anyway, don't say I didn't share this wonderful opportunity with you.
It's time for another Rate-a-Nate, in which our readers grade the performance of the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. We've run two of these so far this season -- one at the start, and the other just as the Blazers' string of major injuries was unfolding. In the first poll, Nate drew a 5.4 rating on a scale of 1 to 10; in the second, he had slipped to a 4.9.
Here's your chance to weigh in again on Mr. Sonic's Portland performance. We'll post the results in our left sidebar when he have a decent number of responses:
UPDATE, 12:01 p.m.: With 37 votes cast, Nate's averaging a 6.6 -- quite an improvement over his earlier numbers. Fans must like him better when he's guiding less talent to a respectable performance than when he's coaching an overly deep roster and getting less-than-championship-caliber play.
We're watching the Olympics, and up pops a Mattress World commercial. It's the Mattress World lady, Sherri Hiner, who used to appear on camera with her then-husband Jon, before he disappeared a couple of years ago. For a long time now, she's been promising the lowest prices strictly on a solo basis. And she's doing theme commercials these days -- there's a Blazer theme one, and not surprisingly, here's an Olympics version. Bronze is 10% off, silver is 20% off, gold 30%, yada yada yada.
But OMG! In the closing shot, where you get to see her MW-ness and check out what she's got going on these days... there's a NEW DUDE! Kind of a hipster-looking guy. And he gets a speaking part! Don't tell me -- is he the new Mattress Mate?
UPDATE, 8:45 p.m.: And I'm not the only one who noticed. Already we're getting hits via Google from people who are dying to know: Who is the new guy?
We have finally managed to wrest from the City of Portland the proposals that it has received for "temporary" (up-to-five-year) financing of the city's $12 million share of the upcoming re-renovation of PGE Park. The proposal that the city has selected, from Bank of America, is here. The proposals that were rejected were from JPMorgan Chase, Umpqua Bank, and Wells Fargo. As noted yesterday, the scheduled closing date for this borrowing has been pushed back from February 5 to March 10.
We'll add these documents to our weekend light reading list, but given that the city's been guarding them closely, we thought just having them was news enough for a Friday afternoon post.
The collective nervous breakdown known as Mayor Sam Adams has entered its 14th month here in Portland, and the patient is now foaming at the mouth. The latest news is that His Creepiness is going to skim $20 million off the Bureau of Environmental Services budget -- much, if not most, of which comes from city residents' sewer bills -- to pay for bicycle lanes and other two-wheeled goodies.
The outrage over this is going to be big, people. Portland's sewer bills are already nuts -- something like $50 a month per household on average -- and the BES is supposedly so hard up for cash that the city's planning to borrow nearly a half-billion dollars over the next few months for more sewer renovations. In this climate, how the city can divert $20 million out of the sewer bureau's budget to pander to the bicycle vote is beyond all comprehension.
It's pretty obvious that to get around the legal restrictions on increasing property taxes for junky pet projects, our elected officials are now jacking up and raiding every user fee in sight for the same crazy purposes. We're going to need a Measure 5 for sewer and water bills pretty soon.
At some point, civil disobedience may become ratepayers' only option. Maybe we need to hold back a few dollars each out of our next sewer bill to show our displeasure. Or something.
Here's a funny one. First the state government twisted everybody's arms to vote yes for tax and fee increases on corporations. Now they're encouraging the corporations to file their documents before the effective date of the fee increases, so that they can pay at the old rate one last time.
"The new fees go into effect on Feb. 27, so this is a way for some Oregon businesses to save a little money."
As if they cared. As if they cared.
BTW, while we track the press release output of Kroger and Westlund, we note that Secretary of State Kate Brown is no slouch in that department. With this latest missive, she's up to at least 10 for the year -- tied with Westlund.
That "temporary" (up-to-five-year) $12 million loan that the City of Portland plans to take out from Bank of America to pay the city's share of the construction costs in the wacky re-renovation of PGE Park isn't proceeding according to the previously announced plan. You may recall that the request for proposals for the loan specified that the deal would close last Friday. Now it appears that's no longer so. According to Laurel Butman of the city's finance office, the loan is now not set to be finalized until March 10, when other documents relating to the stadium deal are expected to be signed.
Butman and her boss, city debt manager Erik Johansen, still refuse to reveal the interest rate that will be charged or any other terms of the Bank of America line of credit. Nor will they disclose any of the terms of the three competing proposals that were rejected, other than that they came from Chase, Umpqua Bank, and Wells Fargo. It appears that all of that information is to remain secret until the loan finally closes, a month from now.
The smoke in that back room has grown awfully thick.
I think Saltzman missed a memo. Sizer is going to retire after the big civil judgment comes back against the police in the Chasse case. Then the city can act as though it finally did something about that senseless homicide. Now that we hear that she's leaving no matter what because her pension is vesting, well, it makes that touching scene a lot less convincing.
The infamous $200,000 tort liability cap that the troubled medical school thought it was enjoying for many years has once again been struck down by a state court -- this time, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals. OHSU bigwig Steve Stadum says the school will appeal to the state Supreme Court, but given that the legislature has recently raised the cap and likely fixed the legal problem, maybe Pill Hill ought to shut up and pay the $1.4 million.
We blogged a few weeks ago about how removing the dopey "free" wi-fi equipment from public utility poles was going to cost the City of Portland $60,000 -- this after we were all originally assured that the ill-fated experiment "wouldn't cost the taxpayers a dime." We had a contract with a fly-by-night outfit called MetroFi, and they were taking all the risk.
Until they went under, that is.
And now the cost of this foolish game keeps going up. Here's a city bid request that sets a new price tag for taking down the unwanted antennas: $200,000! Details of this mess are here.
The planner types in Portland city government are always telling us which other place we should be more like. Barcelona! Copenhagen! Vancouver, B.C.!
Well, the tables are turned now, as Vancouver, B.C. planning types come on down to Clinton Street in Portland to get the skinny on a matter most fowl.
This is pretty profound stuff, as it reminds us on a deep level of the Portland City Council -- as one observer put it, "lots of chickens**t spread all around and a group of six bird-brains squabbling over who gets the latest tasty treat."
The Port has way too much money to play with. It may take changes in state law to do it, but we need to take some of it away and use it pay for the rest of the things that are falling apart around here.
The hipsters in the Portland mayor's office have come up with an iPhone app that allows users to report situations they encounter in town that need City Hall attention. It's a pretty slick application, allowing folks to send in their precise location along with a photo of the condition in question.
I'm a little concerned about some of the categories, though:
I don't know why they even bother to report something this obvious. The Portland cop who shot an unarmed man in the back as he was running away from police isn't going to be indicted by anyone who works for Mike Schrunk. But the grand jury has some concerns they'd like to relay to the police bureau, there'll be an internal investigation, blah de blah de blah farookin' blah.
Oh, and Dan Saltzman's acting busy all of a sudden. How many unarmed people have the police killed since he joined the City Council in 1998? Now he's got questions. Maybe by 2022 he'll actually call somebody on the carpet.
What if they rebuilt a transit mall and the bus system collapsed?
While they make busy work laying dopey new streetcar lines to nowhere, the wheels are coming off Portland's bus system. How the people who manage Tri-Met still have jobs after all their missteps is a testament to how awful our state government can be when it's at its worst. If Chris Dudley promises to clean out the Goldschmidt chaff, I might actually be tempted to vote for him.
The red tape-meisters in the City of Portland's land use bureaucracy have declared that they do "not yet recommend approval" of the Paulson family's design for the re-renovation of PGE Park. The staff report is here. The scorecard of trouble areas is a fairly long one:
• Lack of incorporation of local identity (Tanner Creek, water features, art, etc.)
• Reservations about the notion that the project may not meet design guidelines because there is a reliance on “public art” being a mitigating effect. The RACC “public art” process is separate from the Design Review process.
• Consideration of the termination of SW Yamhill Street – alternate ideas include: a more deliberate design element or leaving the view shed open.
• With regard to these design guidelines, the kiosks do not improve public open space, are not vibrant and lack activity for the SW 18th Avenue public streetscape. The uses within are inappropriate for a street frontage and they are not flexible. The streetscape should either (1) be interesting, active and lively more than on just game days, or (2) remain open with unobstructed views of the stadium, being successful and responsive to the purpose of the OS zone.
• Condition of Approval to limit # of kiosks, wall length at SW 18th, etc.?
• Little information on the materiality and detail of the kiosk elevations.
• Reservations about feasibility, enforcement and longevity to keep gates open on nongame days at the Entry Terrace. Instead of imposing an operational Condition of Approval that is difficult to enforce and challenging for the Stadium’s operators, this Design Review should require a more permanent design solution that resolves the kiosk challenges. However, if accepted by the Commission as a viable idea, a Condition of Approval must be crafted.
• Lack of information on signage, awnings/canopies, lighting, mechanical, service areas.
• Consideration of a Condition of Approval to require the main lighting and signage package to be subject as a future Type III Design Review. (More detailed information on awnings/canopies, mechanical, service areas should be submitted and reviewed under this current Type III Design Review.)
• Consideration of improvements to SW 18th Avenue frontage.
• With regard to these specific design guidelines, the kiosks disrupt views and also lack a connection with adjacent public spaces.
• Views of blank walls from within the Stadium – interest/activity/liveliness (1) spectators/visitors looking east, and (2) spectators/visitors walking and gathering along the new buildings and kiosks.
• Kiosks disrupting views into this public facility from SW 18th Avenue.
• Kiosks disrupting of the new canopy from SW 18th Avenue.
• Importance of quality materials and quality details. Little information submitted thus far (need materials and details of: wood, concrete, glazing, doors, surfaces, mesh, gates, finishes, colors, awnings, canopy roof, etc.
• Canopy design – should it go further as encouraged in previous DAR’s?
• Design relationship between this proposal and existing. Should they be integrated, or contrast? How is the identity of one informing the other?
• Alterations to SW 18th and Morrison ticket booths?
I wonder if they put in the potential sewer collapse as a "water feature."
From a Seattle soccer fan site, we get this projection:
Portland have sold 5,000 season ticket deposits and but there is little doubt they will be able to fill every seat of PGE’s intended 24,000 capacity when MLS kicks off in Oregon in 2011.
I'll bet that when it comes time to talk to the PGE Park neighbors about parking, the numbers won't be quite so big.
Meanwhile, Little Lord Paulson offers this refreshing sip of Kool-Aid:
"This is bigger than the Pacific Northwest being the hub of soccer in North America," Paulson said. "This is about soccer finally taking hold in the country. You know, for years people have asked, 'When will the world’s biggest sport finally matter in America? When will all those kids who play soccer actually watch soccer?' And I tell you that that time is now. Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot of work to do on and off the field. But we’ve hit that tipping point."
Linchpin City! I have no doubt that he'll sell lots of tickets for his "major league" (by U.S. standards) team. But they'll have to have a league to play in, and as a long-term proposition that's quite shaky.
I can't quite make it out, but I think this says that the close-in east side of Portland is about to get parking meters and Greg Goodman parking garages. Not to mention apartment towers and national chain retail storefronts. Out go those dirty, unwanted industrial payrolls! Good times in our multi-modal Mecca.
The Goldschmidt lieutenants at the Port of Portland sure know how to ladle it out to those guys. I can't believe we're building a new headquarters for the Port -- its second in 11 years -- in the midst of a recession teetering on the edge of a depression. What a waste of money.
A friend of ours whose son attends Tulane University forwards this message that students received this morning from the president of the university, Scott Cowen:
February 8, 2010
There are certain moments in life that are transcendent and
transformative and are too wonderful for words. Sunday's Super Bowl
victory was such a moment. It was a victory that went far beyond
football, highlights, statistics or trophies. This world championship,
coupled with the election of a new mayor by an overwhelming majority,
is about the progress and future of our beloved city.
This was a moment for all New Orleanians. The way this city
and this team, our team, have embraced one another is unique in all
the world. While most professional athletes discuss themselves and
their gifts at post-game press conferences, our Saints invariably talk
about their city and what its recovery has meant to them and to the
This is what I believe we will be celebrating when we welcome
our hometown heroes at tomorrow's parade. In addition, we will be
congratulating our new mayor, Mitch Landrieu, as he leads us into the
future. So in recognition of New Orleans, our recovery, our revival
and the unity we displayed in one incredible weekend at the polls and
on the national stage, I am going to close the university (uptown,
downtown and primate center) tomorrow at 1 p.m.
This will allow all New Orleans-area Tulanians time to gather
with family, friends and neighbors (are there any other categories of
people in New Orleans?) and celebrate what is truly a historic moment
in the long life and new life of our city. Enjoy the parade but most
of all enjoy the moment. It truly is our time!
Here's an interesting one -- the grooming code for uniformed Portland firefighters. "Cosmetics, if worn, must be conservative and in good taste." Who gets to enforce that one -- the commissioner-in-charge?
The City of Portland sold around $73 million of bonds last week to raise money for use by its water bureau. The winning bidder in the competitive sale was Banc of America Merrill Lynch. The city sure is into borrowing money from Bank of America these days; it was also groveling before that institution last week for a short-term loan of the $12 million it needs for the senseless re-renovation of PGE Park for major league (by U.S. standards) soccer. Pretty soon, it seems, the city will officially be a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of America.
The total interest cost on the water bonds was 3.9322% a year, and a good chunk of the money is due in a final balloon payment in 25 years. Given that interest on the bonds is exempt from both federal and Oregon income taxes, 3.9322% is a great return on investment for B of A, or whoever ultimately buys the bonds from B of A. Assuming a 35% combined state and federal tax rate, that is the equivalent of better than 6% interest on a taxable deal. And the city's promised to raise water rates as necessary to cover the mortgage payments. The authorizing City Council ordinance declares:
Rate Covenant. The City covenants for the benefit of the owners of all First Lien Bonds that are sold under the authority of this ordinance that the City shall, when the First Lien Bonds are issued, charge rates and fees in connection with the operation of the Water System which, when combined with other Gross Revenues, are adequate to generate Net Revenues at least equal to one hundred twenty five percent (125.00%) of Annual Debt Service due in that Fiscal Year, with the Additional Bonds treated as Outstanding....
Whatever the wisdom of the massive, expensive borrowing may be -- a topic worthy of a post of its own -- an important question is whether the city followed proper procedures in issuing the bonds. Looking over the transaction, an argument can be made that it didn't -- that the process by which the bonds were authorized and issued violated state law. And it wouldn't be the first time that the city pulled such a stunt in connection with water bureau borrowing.
The ordinance authorizing the latest water bonds was passed back in December. It described the purpose of the bonds -- what the proceeds of the borrowing would be used for -- as follows:
The City now finds it financially feasible and in the best interests of the City to authorize the issuance and sale of revenue bonds under ORS 287A.150 to finance the additions and improvements to the water system that are described in this paragraph. The additions and improvements that may be financed with revenue bonds authorized by this ordinance (the "Capital Improvements") include additions, improvements, and capital equipment that facilitate supply, treatment, transmission, storage, pumping, distribution, regulatory compliance, customer service and support.
That was it. The purposes of the bonds for the water system "include... additions, improvements, and capital equipment that facilitate supply, treatment, transmission, storage, pumping, distribution, regulatory compliance, customer service and support." That could mean just about any building, installation, or piece of equipment imaginable, couldn't it? It could be a new reservoir, a dump truck, squirting gargoyles, a target range for the bureau's soon-to-be-armed guards, or a stuffed moose head for the wall of the bureau chief's office. The City Council supplied an awfully vague description of the proposed use of the borrowed money; it encompassed virtually everything that the water bureau does, and virtually any kind of asset that the bureau could buy to do its job. And they even threw in the word "include," which opens things up even further.
That vagueness is where the legal question comes in. Back in the fall of 2003, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge enjoined the city from selling bonds under a bond authorization ordinance that said merely that the city would be using the money "to finance facilities improvements, property acquisition and other public purposes." A troublemaking citizens' group known as Friends of the Reservoirs complained that this ordinance and its vague description deprived city residents of their right to petition for a referendum, which would have subjected the bonds to a popular vote. The judge agreed, on two grounds: (1) that the City Council abused its power by passing the ordinance as an "emergency" measure, taking effect without waiting for the referendum period (nowadays opponents have 30 days to collect signatures) to pass; and (2) that the description of the purposes for which the bonds were to be issued was too vague to give reasonable notice of what was going to be done with the borrowed bond funds.
Now, in the present case, the City Council did not use an emergency ordinance, and its description was arguably a bit less amorphous than the one stricken down in 2003. Moreover, since then the state law on cities' issuing revenue bonds has been rewritten. But the extreme vagueness of the latest description -- "for the water bureau to buy whatever assets it wants," more or less -- does not appear to provide the level of detail in the notice to the public that the judge demanded in the earlier case. It's still pretty much a blank check, albeit for a single city bureau. And if that's all the city has to say before it issues bonds, the citizenry's referendum rights are meaningless.
It would be awfully hard for someone seeking signatures on a referendum petition to tell from the Portland ordinance just what he or she was asking people to protest. Indeed, it would be awfully hard for anyone even to figure out that he or she wanted to start a referendum drive, since the ordinance gave no clue as to what type of "additions and improvements" the water bureau planned to undertake with the bond proceeds. Reservoir covers? A new dam? Solar-powered water meters? Neon signs? It could be almost anything.
If the public didn't get legally sufficient notice of the bonds' purposes back in December, what can be done about it now? It's not entirely clear, but the question seems to be an academic one, as neither Friends of the Reservoirs nor anyone else seems interested in going to see the judge again about this issue. One thing's for sure: There's too much gamesmanship going on with the City of Portland's bonds, and City Council members (on whom we all get to vote every fourth year) should cut it out.
As a guy who grew up rooting for the New York Football Giants of Sam Huff, Andy Robustelli, Jim Katcavage, Alex Webster, and so many more, I find that there's something in the sight of a smart, durable, experienced quarterback in a Colts uniform that makes me need to root for the other side. Just as we respected Unitas but cheered our lungs out for Tittle, I'm respecting Peyton but pulling for Brees. Go Saints!
Here's a hysterical "only in Portland" moment. Some guy is out there convincing people to invest $250 in "a profitable and vibrant vermicomposting collective" that he hopes will make money selling worms for composting and worm poop for fertilizer.
Among the investors? The city's creepy mayor, who not so long ago couldn't come up with $250 to pay his own mortgage. Now he's reportedly plunked down that amount and signed up to become a worm tycoon.
You have to wonder whether a hippie enterprise such as this has complied with the state and federal securities laws, which require that quite a bit of red tape be processed before shares can be sold to investors. Maybe the fearless state attorney general can get on the case. He already knows where to send the subpoenas.
Don't get me wrong -- the Mrs. and I have been avid worm composters for more than 15 years -- but the investment aspect of this is a classic Rose City delusion of grandeur. And wouldn't you know it, the Spendthrift-in-Chief is right there with check in hand. At least this time he isn't playing with our money -- I say that hopefully.
Portland city commissioner Dan "Legend" Saltzman did what he does best today -- he showed up and sat there. It was at the funeral of the unarmed man who was shot in the back and killed by Portland police last week. Saltzman's appearance was a nice gesture, to be sure -- better than you'd get in similar circumstances from Katz, Adams, Leonard, or Potter -- but as the farcical grand jury proceedings and three-year fake internal "investigation" into the shooting proceed, don't expect any actual action from the guy.
It will be interesting to see what "Legend" does when the federal civil jury comes in with a big verdict in the Chasse case. He'll probably say something deep like, "I wasn't the police commissioner when this tragedy occurred."
We've known for years that when somebody steals a vehicle in Portland, the city authorities don't seem to care much. How about 30 vehicles? I'll bet they still won't lift a finger. Maybe the state will figure it out.
Now we've got Fred Meyer stores on TV telling us to use reusable bags for our groceries, because "it's the right thing to do." It is the exact same slogan that we get in stickers on our recycling and yard debris bins from the City of Portland: "It's the right thing to do."
This particular saying is starting to stick in my craw. At our house we recycle, compost, and do everything we can to respect the planet. If you'd like to remind me of the ecological pro's and con's of various consumer choices, that's grand. But when you tell me what "the right thing to do" is, I very much feel like doing the opposite, just to spite your pompous asininity.
You went to an Al Gore movie, and now all of a sudden you're the Pope? If I made the Kroger grocery store chain or the city government of Portland my moral compass, I would burn in hell for all eternity.
It's Snowpocalypse 2010 on the East Coast, but here in El Niñoland it's nice enough to get out and do something about the yard. We've got a big climbing rose bush that makes our Mays spectacular, and it's gotten too big for its britches. When it's all leaves and thorns, it's a lethal opponent, but it's not too bad when it's asleep for the winter. And so out there we go.
Friday night is Out-of-Control-Cops Night at the O
It's getting to be a weekly ritual. Maxine Bernstein of the Oregonian writes an important story about alleged police misconduct in Portland, and rather than run it on a weekday when more readers will see it, her editors post it to the web on Friday night, at the weekly ebb of internet readership. It's on the front page of the print edition, but on Saturday, when readership is not so hot.
But this one ain't going away any time soon. The son of former police chief Derrick "Let Me Rub You Down with Hot Oils" Foxworth is involved in the latest atrocity! And he and his partner misjudged the gender of the victim. Let the games begin.
A paragraph in this story in today's Times is intriguing:
Becknell remembered the first time the Saints flew into the local airport after a game in their first season. They traveled all night from Portland, Ore., and when they arrived, thousands of fans lined the nearest ramp. Fans today do exactly the same thing, tradition in both winning and losing seasons, loyalty passed from one generation to the next.
Any old-timers out there know what that was all about?
Having sopped up some votes last week by pandering to the soccer children, this week Dan "Legend" Saltzman seeks to shore up his Portland City Council re-election bid by worshipping at the altar of the bicycle. He's actually proposing that the city pay for more bike lanes out of what it collects from residents from their already sky-high water and sewer bills.
I wish the grownups with jobs and lives would take this town back. Instead they're all tuning out or leaving, and the hipsters, construction goons, and condo weasels have their run of City Hall. Their harebrained ideas will all come crashing down at some point, and probably the sooner the better. It's sad to watch.
If, like me, you're in charge of waste management at your place, prepare yourself for this. At our place, we already compost everything but grains, meat, and dairy. And cutting the landfill pickup to every two weeks is going to take some getting used to. But I'll bet we can do it. We're going to have to.
The City of Portland made official today what's been known around town for several days: City Council candidate Jason Renaud didn't get enough qualifying signatures to get "clean money" -- taxpayer financing of his challenge to incumbent Commissioner Dan "Legend" Saltzman. Reportedly one of Renaud's signature gatherers helpfully filled in signers' addresses for them, which is a violation. And so only Jesse Cornett, darling of the latter-day Stennies, will get $145,000 of tax money for his quixotic run against Saltzman. Let the flow of junk mail and bad TV commercials begin!
That which we call WES by any other name would still smell
They're holding another poetry contest to see whose verse should be posted on Tri-Met. They're asking for our votes here, but I think we owe our local transit system more than just that. How about we offer some of our own poetry about Tri-Met, rather than on Tri-Met?
I'll try to get the ball rolling here:
I think that I shall never wax
Poetic on the bus or MAX.
A fleet that belches smoke all day,
From biofuel the sour bouquet;
With tax whose hungry mouth is prest
Against our payroll's flowing breast;
A trolley that in summer bears
A flock of hipsters without fares;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
The slightest flurry halts the train.
Poems are made by gods, I guess,
But only fools can make a WES.
Or how about some haiku?
Hard to get downtown Once I rode the 33 Now I drive my car
I'm just warming up. Help us out on this, readers, with your own poem about Tri-Met.
We blogged a while back about how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was going to start experimenting (ever so modestly) with cameras in federal trial courtrooms, and how the U.S. Supreme Court blocked that effort in the California gay marriage case. But now, get this -- a couple of filmmakers are re-enacting the court proceedings of that trial. Since the court banned video, the transcripts of the case are being used to produce YouTube videos played by professional actors.
There are stories about it here and here. The videos can be viewed here. But don't expect fireworks. A reader who's been following this reports, "I watched a couple of minutes of both hour-long videos. They amazed me, since this seem to be the real trial (i.e., mostly boring)." And it seems they've only got the first day digested so far, whereas the trial went on for 12 days.
Better sleep with one eye open. The folks in the 'Couv are finding that out. Here's a piece of a transcript of a story yesterday on OPB:
[Y]ou remember a week ago Friday, when the mayors of Portland and Vancouver sat down with Clark County and Metro, the regional tri-county government got together – calling themselves the L4? They signed a letter indicating they wanted to move forward together?
It’s been just over a week, for cracks to show in that agreement. The Columbian newspaper published a story Monday that mentioned Portland planners were working on a re-visioning of the bridge.
The bridge is frequently understood as 10 or 12 lanes – but this plan has it as a six-lane structure. Not exactly what Commissioner Steve Stuart of Clark County has in mind.
Steve Stuart: "We’d just got done working as local elected officials on a project to move forward together. So, us finding out there’d be work done individually by the city of Portland cut across the grain of what we’d already talked about. And we didn’t know about it."
Stuart says this was no deal-breaker. But he did call Portland Mayor Sam Adams to ask what was going on.
I'm surprised Portland doesn't have some of this. The closest thing I've seen to it was the window paintings and posters that the Greek Cusina guy put up the day he vacated his building. It took Fireman Warmth a couple of hours before he and his troops had it all torn down.
"Why can't Alameda be more like the Pearl District?"
Here's an alarming editorial on the very front page of the new issue of the Alameda neighborhood newspaper:
It appears that the neighborhood association has been infiltrated by one of the developer weasels or one of said weasels' cheerleading contingent in the city planning bureaucracy. The tranquility of the neighborhood is a liability, and the quality of the homes is discriminatory. There's only one answer: More ugly infill!
Alameda neighbors, if you would like to preserve the neighborhood character that you paid so much for and that you and your families enjoy, you had better not sleep through this. You should probably write a letter to the editor and sound off. I believe you can e-mail it here.
Interestingly, in the masthead of that newspaper, there is no one on the contact list next to "Land Use." Scary stuff, people.
Portland city commissioner Nick Fish is formally announcing this week that he's running for re-election, but already he's been hitting up folks who have given him campaign money in the past, asking them to do it again:
It ought to be a fairly easy race for Nick, and we're glad he isn't making us taxpayers pay for it. If only he had beaten Sam Adams years ago and kept the latter off the council -- what a better city we would have had.
Just a bit of bookkeeping about our charity pro football underdog pool, just concluded. Genop's mom told us to send her third prize bucks ($45) to the other winners' no. 1 charity, which was Mercy Corps, and off it went yesterday. Congratulations to her, and we hope that all the pro football fans out there who followed our pool have a great Super Bowl Sunday.
The City of Portland has disclosed that they're negotiating behind closed doors this week with Bank of America for the $12 million line of credit to pay the taxpayers' up-front share of the costs for the re-renovation of PGE Park for "major league" (by U.S. standards) soccer. The "interim" line of credit, scheduled to close this Friday, is expected to remain open for as long as three to five years, after which permanent long-term bonds will be needed. By the time those bonds are issued, of course, the construction will be finished.
Last summer, reports were that the final I.O.U.s for the stadium debt would be subprime, "zero coupon" bonds, meaning that the city will make little or no payments until one or more large balloon payments at the end of their term. Under current market conditions, the mayor said at that time, the bonds couldn't be sold in the open market at all. Which means that the city is apparently gambling that the municipal bond market is going to improve dramatically between now and the time that payoff of the interim line of credit is due. Even in an improved market, the interest rate on the debt is likely to be high.
Also back in the summer, there was much discussion about the fact that the Paulson family was undertaking to assist the city with selling the bonds. On a quick look through the daunting pile of documents that the city is now planning to enter into with the Paulsons and their business entities, we can't find any mention of that assistance in the deal that the City Council will be approving on second reading tomorrow. If by some chance the city couldn't sell the new bonds, then the city's general fund would be at risk to repay the line of credit.
We've written about the city's affection for "interim" borrowings here before. Portland employs them regularly with its "urban renewal" projects. There are a couple of hundred million dollars' worth of these debts outstanding, much of them with Bank of America. The details of the deals are not publicized, and even the fact that they are being negotiated is not posted anywhere on the city's website.
In this case, a quiet request for proposals was mailed to a secret list of banks and posted in the city's financial press, and four banks submitted proposals last Wednesday. The unsuccessful proposals came from Chase, Umpqua Bank, and Wells Fargo. We've asked to see the four proposals but have been told we will have to wait until the city checks with the banks to see if there was any "proprietary information" in their proposals that the banks don't want the public to see. No word on when we might have answers to that question.
PORTLAND, OREGON - CITY HALL – City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade launched the Fraud Alert line today. The Auditor’s Fraud Alert allows the public and City of Portland employees to report concerns about suspected fraud, waste or misuse of City resources, and abuse of position to a 24/7, centralized tip line. "The Fraud Alert line is one more mechanism for enhancing accountability to the public," Auditor Griffin-Valade said.
"Waste... of City resources"? Sheesh, what's the reward for turning in the whole Portland Development Commission?
Back when Vera Katz, the developer weasels, and the OHSU bigwigs were selling Portland's misguided South Waterfront (SoWhat) district to the public, we were all assured that building an aerial tram [rim shot] from the top of Pill Hill to down by the river wasn't about alleviating the university's campus parking woes.
Funny thing, though. Now that it's built, that's just what they're using the tram for. An alert reader who works up there copied us on an e-mail message that employees received over the holidays:
Starting next week—when everyone returns from the holidays, and with the Auditorium lot under construction—parking demand on Marquam Hill is expected to exceed normal capacity. To help accommodate everyone instead of diverting folks to South Waterfront:
# Valet service may resume for 1-Diamond lots. (If you buy a 1-Diamond day permit, please be prepared to use valet service in the Dotter lot from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
# 2- and 3-Diamond day permits will be limited.
# Schnitzer lot parking (South Waterfront, with shuttle service to the Tram) will still be available at $4 per day—a sizable discount.
For more details about valet service, see the Transportation & Parking pages on O-Zone. T&P appreciates your cooperation. If you have questions or concerns, please contact T&P at email@example.com.
The message linked to a few web pages that only OHSU workers get to see -- the rest of us don't have permission to look at them. Which is in itself pretty interesting, since they're talking about employee parking, which doesn't seem like sensitive information at all.
In addition to encouraging use of the tram as a parking shuttle, it's revealing that they're also running "valet parking" up on the hill. For what the taxpayers spent on the tram, we could have had a fleet of limos and valets bringing people up and down the hill in style, with money left over, instead of flipping the bird to the Lair Hill neighborhood. Can anybody out there describe what the current "valet" accommodations at OHSU look like these days?
And it gets another weekend burial from her editors. Posted on late Friday afternoon, and left to languish into Saturday -- the lowest internet readership of the week. Yeah, they ran it on the bottom of the front page, but on a Saturday, when it would have gotten a much greater readership on Sunday, or even Monday.
Anyway, now it's Monday morning, and you should read it, here. It may help you get ready to process the saga of the latest fatal shooting by the Portland police.
Another half-billion-plus in debt for the City of Portland
In addition to the $12 million line of credit that the City of Portland's planning to sign up for this week for the Paulson stadium affair, they're borrowing $72.7 million in the next few days for water projects; $430 million over the next few months for more sewer projects; and $30 million sometime this spring for "urban renewal" noodling in the Lents neighborhood. That's $544.7 million.
With a population currently sitting at about 586,500, we are talking about another $929 in debt for every man, woman, and child who lives in the city -- and if you count unfunded pension and retiree health care liabilities, the total city debt will balloon to well over $6 billion by this summer. Back in September 2007, when we first started studying the city's finances, it was about $2 billion less than that.
Lugana, San Benedetto 2013
Canoe Ridge, Cabernet, Horse Heaven Hills 2011
Arcangelo, Negroamaro Rosato
Vale do Bomfim, Douro 2012
Portuga, Branco 2013
Taylor Fladgate, Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2009
Pete's Mountain, Pinot Noir, Kristina's Reserve 2010
Rodney Strong, Cabernet, Sonoma 2012
Bookwalter, Subplot No. 28, 2012
Coppola, Sofia, Rose 2014
Kirkland, Napa Cabernet 2012
Trader Joe's Grand Reserve, Napa Meritage 2011
Kramer, Chardonnay Estate 2012
Forlorn Hope, Que Saudade 2013
Ramos, Premium Tinto, Alentejano 2012
Trader Joe's Grand Reserve, Rutherford Cabernet 2012
Bottego Vinaia, Pinot Grigio Trentino 2013
Villa Antinori, Toscana 2011
Pete's Mountain, Elijah's Reserve Cabernet, 2007
Beaulieu, George Latour Cabernet 1998
Januik, Merlot 2011
Torricino, Campania Falanghina 2013
Edmunds St. John, Heart of Gold 2012
Chloe, Pinot Grigio, Valdadige 2013
Edmunds St. John, Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir 2013
Kirkland, Pinot Grigio, Friuli 2013
St. Francis, Red Splash 2011
Rodney Strong, Canernet, Alexander Valley 2011
Erath, Pinot Blanc 2013
Taylor Fladgate, Porto 2007
Portuga, Rose 2013
Domaine Digioia-Royer, Chambolle-Musigny, Vielles Vignes Les Premieres 2008
Locations, F Red Blend
El Perro Verde, Rueda 2013
Chateau Ste. Michelle, Indian Wells Red 2010
Chloe, Pinot Grigio, Valdadige 2013
Edmunds St. John, Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir 2013
Kirkland, Pinot Grigio, Friuli 2013
St. Francis, Red Splash 2011
Rodney Strong, Canernet, Alexander Valley 2011
Erath, Pinot Blanc 2013
Taylor Fladgate, Porto 2007
Portuga, Rose 2013
Domaine Digioia-Royer, Chambolle-Musigny, Vielles Vignes Les Premieres 2008
Locations, F Red Blend
El Perro Verde, Rueda 2013
Chateau Ste. Michelle, Indian Wells Red 2
If You See Kay, Red 2011
Turnbull, Old Bull Red 2010
Cherry Tart, Cherry Pie Pinot Noir 2012
Trader Joe's Grand Reserve Cabernet, Oakville 2012
Benton Lane, Pinot Gris 2012
Campo Viejo, Rioja, Reserva 2008
Haden Fig, Pinot Noir 2012
Pendulum Red 2011
Vina Real, Plata, Crianza Rioja 2009
Edmunds St. John, Bone/Jolly, Gamay Noir Rose 2013
Bookwalter, Subplot No. 26
Ayna, Tempranillo 2011
Pete's Mountain, Pinot Noir, Haley's Block 2010
Apaltagua, Reserva Camenere 2012
Lugana, San Benedetto 2012
Argyle Brut 2007
Wildewood Pinot Gris 2012
Anciano, Tempranillo Reserva 2007
Santa Rita, Reserva Cabernet 2009
Casone, Toscana 2008
Fonseca Porto, Bin No. 27
Louis Jadot, Pouilly-Fuissé 2011
Trader Joe's, Grower's Reserve Pinot Noir 2012
Zenato, Lugana San Benedetto 2012
Vintjs, Cabernet 2010
14 Hands, Hot to Trot White 2012
Rainstorm, Oregon Pinot Gris 2012
Silver Palm, North Coast Cabernet 2011
Andrew Rich, Gewurtztraminer 2008
Rodney Strong, Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Canoe Ridge, Pinot Gris, Expedition 2012
Edmunds St. John, Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir Rose 2012
Dark Horse, Big Red Blend No. 01A
Elk Cove, Pinot Noir Rose 2012
Fletcher, Shiraz 2010
Picollo, Gavi 2011
Domaine Eugene Carrel, Jongieux 2012
Eyrie, Pinot Blanc 2010
Atticus, Pinot Noir 2010
Walter Scott, Pinot Noir, Holstein 2011
Shingleback, Cabernet, Davey Estate 2010
Coppola, Sofia Rose 2012
Joel Gott, 851 Cabernet 2010
Pol Roget Reserve Sparkling Wine
Mount Eden Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains 2009
Rombauer Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2011
Beringer, Chardonnay, Napa Reserve 2011
Kim Crawford, Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Schloss Vollrads, Spaetlese Rheingau 2010
Belle Glos, Pinot Noir, Clark & Telephone 2010
WillaKenzie, Pinot Noir, Estate Cuvee 2010
Blackbird Vineyards, Arise, Red 2010
Chauteau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2005
Northstar, Merlot 2008
Feather, Cabernet 2007
Silver Oak, Cabernet, Alexander Valley 2002
Silver Oak, Cabernet, Napa Valley 2002
Trader Joe's, Chardonnay, Grower's Reserve 2012
Silver Palm, Cabernet, North Coast 2010
Shingleback, Cabernet, Davey Estate 2010
E. Guigal, Cotes du Rhone 2009
Santa Margherita, Pinot Grigio 2011
Alamos, Cabernet 2011
Cousino Macul, Cabernet, Anitguas Reservas 2009
Dreaming Tree Cabernet 2010
1967, Toscana 2009
Charamba, Douro 2008
Horse Heaven Hills, Cabernet 2010
Lorelle, Horse Heaven Hills Pinot Grigio 2011
Avignonesi, Montepulciano 2004
Lorelle, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2011
Villa Antinori, Toscana 2007
Mercedes Eguren, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Lorelle, Columbia Valley Cabernet 2011
Purple Moon, Merlot 2011
Purple Moon, Chardonnnay 2011
The Occasional Book
Cheryl Strayed - Torch
William Golding - Lord of the Flies
Saul Bellow - Mister Sammler's Planet
Phil Stanford - White House Call Girl
John Kaplan & Jon R. Waltz - The Trial of Jack Ruby
Kent Haruf - Eventide
David Halberstam - Summer of '49
Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead
Maria Dermoȗt - The Ten Thousand Things
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
Markus Zusak - The Book Thief
Christopher Buckley - Thank You for Smoking
William Shakespeare - Othello
Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness
Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything
Cheryl Strayed - Tiny Beautiful Things
Sara Varon - Bake Sale
Stephen King - 11/22/63
Paul Goldstein - Errors and Omissions
Mark Twain - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Steve Martin - Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Beverly Cleary - A Girl from Yamhill, a Memoir
Kent Haruf - Plainsong
Hope Larson - A Wrinkle in Time, the Graphic Novel
Rudyard Kipling - Kim
Peter Ames Carlin - Bruce
Fran Cannon Slayton - When the Whistle Blows
Neil Young - Waging Heavy Peace
Mark Bego - Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (2012 ed.)
Jenny Lawson - Let's Pretend This Never Happened
J.D. Salinger - Franny and Zooey
Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol
Timothy Egan - The Big Burn
Deborah Eisenberg - Transactions in a Foreign Currency
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - Slaughterhouse Five
Kathryn Lance - Pandora's Genes
Cheryl Strayed - Wild
Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov
Jack London - The House of Pride, and Other Tales of Hawaii
Jack Walker - The Extraordinary Rendition of Vincent Dellamaria
Colum McCann - Let the Great World Spin
Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince
Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus - The Nanny Diaries
Brian Selznick - The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sharon Creech - Walk Two Moons
Keith Richards - Life
F. Sionil Jose - Dusk
Natalie Babbitt - Tuck Everlasting
Justin Halpern - S#*t My Dad Says
Mark Herrmann - The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law
Barry Glassner - The Gospel of Food
Phil Stanford - The Peyton-Allan Files
Jesse Katz - The Opposite Field
Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
David Sedaris - Holidays on Ice
Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith
C.S. Lewis - The Magician's Nephew
F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt
Miles run year to date: 110
At this date last year: 153
Total run in 2014: 401
In 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269