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Monday, April 5, 2010

Tualatin cans "urban renewal" -- report

Down in Tualatin, the city held an open house on Thursday night to discuss whether it wanted to continue the "urban renewal" juggernaut -- funneling tax revenues to infrastructure projects and other frills that make developers wealthy but starve essential-service agencies. There was a lot of opposition expressed to renewing the "urban renewal" district, and the massive municipal government borrowing that comes with it, and according to one report we received on Friday, the city's decided not to go forward with the renewal -- at least not anywhere near along the lines of the current arrangement:

Last night I attended and contributed to Tualatin's open house/town hall regarding what was an imminent amendment to renew their 35 year old Urban Renewal district with a new $120 million plan.

It was to be a typical mixed-use vision for the city center and be funded with the current Urban Renewal proceeds due to expire June 30th. The huge increment created with over 35 years of a frozen base for basic services and diverting the other 35 years of property tax increases to retiring their old debt is currently generating $2.2 million annually.

On June 30th the prior debt will be retired, the district will expire and the $2.2 million/year will now return to fund the full spectrum basic services. Along with the average 4% increases every year to come.

It's obvious the feedback from citizenry at last night's lengthy open house/town hall (7 pm - 11 pm) turned around the decision to extend the district.

Today Mayor [Lou] Ogden discussed the issue with council members and they made the decision to let the district expire and the debt retire.

Congratulations to them all.

To have a place like Tualatin involved in "urban renewal" is a farce. There's never been any "urb" down there to begin with. It's a nice little town with some nice farmland nearby. It needs new apartment bunkers and plastic coffee shops like a hole in the head. Especially when these boxes come at the cost of services like fire protection. Bully for the firefighters down that way for standing up to real estate sharpies.

When "urban renewal" and "tax excrement increment financing" is sold to the taxpayers, the explicit promise is that some day, after all the debt is paid off, the increased property taxes generated by development will be available to pay for basic services. But in places like Portland, the city just extends the district, confirming that the original promises were lies.

Apparently Tualatin is going to show some decency and live up to the original commitment. We hope not only that this report is true, but that folks like the Multnomah County commissioners will also see how it's possible to face fiscal reality. Just say no to wasteful, ineffective "urban renewal"! Let's fix what we have -- it's falling apart -- before slapping up more Starbucks and building more apartment schlock.

Comments (13)

That is what Portland should do to PDC!

That is what Portland should do to PDC!

Agreed, but the PDC is about to deploy another round of developer welfare with the Bridgehead site. PDC bought this property, at a cost of well over $25 million, under the guise of "urban renewal". If you've been following the situation as many of us Central Eastsiders have, PDC is letting Beam (Malsin) master plan the site at a much lower density that was originally promised (which is not necessarily a bad thing). In exchange for Malsin's efforts...he "has the right" to develop up to 20% of the site, and the rest of the site will be sold to other developers.

Here's the rub: There's no way in hell that PDC will ever, ever, ever recoup the taxpayers investment that went in to that site, and they'll be FORCED to sell at a loss just to get out of the deal. While PDC taking losses after they play developer is nothing new, I don't think we have seen the failure and waste on such a scale as the Bridgehead.

What every taxpayer in Portland needs to understand is that after the Bridgehead is done, PDC will have paid an outrageously high price to assemble 4 acres of property, only to sell smaller "shovel-ready" parcels to developers like Malsin at a substantial loss. PDC needs to be held accountable, and explain to the taxpaying public exactly why it is necessary to spend (waste) tens of millions of dollars just to create opportunities for developers under this myth of "urban renewal".

I have no problem with developers that take risks and function within the private market mechanism, even if they create "apartment schlock", but the minute they start sucking on the teat of the PDC, it simply isn't fair to the public as a whole, especially when services are being cut and infrastructure needs improving.

For one, I would join in a class action suit to try to get some of those MILLIONS of tax dollars back that PDC has incinerated over the years; it's disgusting and makes me ashamed to be a Portlander.

The state should set a limit on Urban Renewal (say 20 years), and not allow any extensions.

If you haven't gotten it done in 35 years, what's an extension going to do for you anyway?

If you haven't gotten it done in 35 years, what's an extension going to do for you anyway?

It allows you to continue to load up the credit card while sidestepping both Measure 5 and taxpayers. A city (actually the county) can't raise taxes beyond a certain amount, and voters may balk at spending money through a bond levy on whatever the city wants to do. So just find an established urban renewal zone and extend its life so it can issue more bonds. No muss, no fuss, and free money, baby!

Urban renewal can be useful, and in theory an extension should mean a doubling down on a city's investment in "blighted" areas. But it's clear from Portland's example how addicted local leaders can get to it and how willing they are to violate the spirit if not the letter of the urban renewal laws. From the laughable (continuing to call the Pearl "blighted") to the infuriating (Randy trying to strong-arm the good folks in Lents to spend their UR funds on a baseball stadium for Little Lord Paulson) to the illegal (Erik Sten trying to siphon westside UR funds to a "satellite site" in the David Douglas school system), Portland's leaders are clearly abusing the system to fund pet projects of dubious merit they can't get funded through the normal methods.

Good for Tualatin for refusing to import our insanity to their peaceful little burg.

I feel for you PD. There is a strange belief in this city that you can literally "revitalize" every neighborhood at once, and that one "hot district" doesn't cannibalize the others.

I think if you look at what's happened to the Pioneer Place area since the build out of the Pearl, you'll see there's only so many shoppers and restaurant-goers to go around.

And yet they're discussing: some sort of public market at the old mill site in NW, AND a new public market at the west end of the Morrison Bridge, AND the Burnside Bridgehead area, AND "Jumptown", AND the huge Post Office site, AND finally getting South Waterfront to click. All while keeping support for Pioneer Place, Lloyd Center, NW 23rd, and countless neighborhood shopping districts on the east side.

It's insanity. The inconvenient fact is that a city needs close-in areas that aren't "renewed". Rundown areas are where people of modest means can afford to live. Instead of building brand new "affordable housing" projects in the nicest neighborhoods, we could just leave poorer areas alone.

You want to help the people of Lents? Take care of the basic infrastructure needs (sidewalks, lighting, sewers, parks) and then leave them alone.

What would happen if we put PDC on the shelf for 5 years?

What would happen if we put PDC on the shelf for 5 years?

Hmmm...let's see...Moyer's building wouldn't gut built if PDC decided not to sign that lease.

I hope the good news about Tualatin is correct. Maybe people are coming to their senses like what may be happening in Tucson.

Today it's reported that several Tucson city council members (probably a majority) will vote to put on hold financing for a Convention Center Hotel and other improvements in an urban renewal district. The agency running the scheming of the past few years are also being questioned extensively about the dollars already spent and how things aren't adding up. They don't, and Council wants answers. We need this kind of scrutiny in Portland. I'm sure Amanda, Fish and Saltzman are on it. Sam and Randy are out making more scandalous videos.

It's becoming clear that cities won't be able to absorb the coming decade of PERS increases and continue to play Sim City with reckless abandon.

This is what happens when the public employee unions start getting scared about cashflow. They'll shank their private sector union "brothers" if they think it will keep their Money Match intact.

If it takes a full decade for PERS to go banko, it may help phase out a lot of URD's in the process.

If you look at the debt sucking the life out of Portland, the two main culprits are government employee pensions and "urban renewal."

Wow, that's an incredible way to handle debt. How's that going to fix anything? Good luck Portland! And thanks for bringing this to light!

Hey, Tualatin already did "urban renewal" by taking out the dog food factory (smelly) and redeveloping it into strip malls and a hotel with a pond. That's "downtown" Tualatin. Don't blink when you drive by, it's just west of Fred Meyer

I thought downtown Tualatin was Fred Meyer. Thanks for the clarification.


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