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Monday, August 30, 2010

Metro chief peddling tax subsidies for you-know-who

One of things that the Portland region's "unique" Metro government has going for it is its primary role as keeper of the area's land use laws and regulations. As we understand it, many years ago, before there was a Metro, the lawmakers in Salem correctly figured out that city, county, and town politicians couldn't be trusted to apply land use rules honestly and wisely. But rather than have the state run the show, the legislature created a new level of bureaucracy, between the state and the county, to coordinate land use policy.

The wisdom of that move could be debated, we suppose, but if you ask Portlanders what they think of having Metro as the area's land use barons, most would probably say they like it. Metro has a reputation as the folks responsible for keeping urban sprawl contained, and stopping developers from paving over the Willamette Valley all the way down to Salem and all the way out to the coast.

But is that reputation well deserved? Is Metro's heart really in the right place?

Lately we've been having our doubts. A few weeks ago, we noted that the chief operating officer of Metro, a guy named Michael Jordan, had issued a bunch of documents that suggested that the region's smaller governments weren't doing enough to make more tax money available for development scams.

Now he's making speeches about it:

Jordan noted that there have been some challenges in implementing the 2040 Growth Concept, the region’s growth management plan adopted in 1995 that focuses population and employment growth in designated town centers, regional centers, transportation corridors and employment areas. He noted that having the plan is not sufficient and that there have been significant challenges to achieving new development, much of which is due to insufficient or poorly coordinated public funding to pay for the sewers, roads, sidewalks and other public structures that are essential for development to occur.
Translation: "We're not handing out tax dollars to the development crowd fast enough. We need more 'urban renewal.' The public pays for the infrastructure, our real estate buddies make a bunch of money selling apartments, and the construction boys down at the Arlington Club cash in on building all of it."

He sure doesn't sound to us like a watchdog for the earth. More like a salesman for the guys with the bulldozers.

Comments (10)

Sounds like he's also building a pitch to have Metro take over regional infrastructure planning and financing. The sad thing is, many municipalities would be more than happy to hand off building roads and sewers in their jurisdiction.

Why do we need Urban Renewal to build infrastructure? Bring the bonds and interest back on the books instead of hiding in PDC and TIF. I want legislators that will either kill UR or not allow them to last longer than 20 years.

"....that focuses population and employment growth in designated town centers, regional centers, transportation corridors and employment areas."

Portlanders need to understand that this is the trade-off with our UGB system. State law requires that growth be planned for, so if we aren't going to build out, we must build up.

Right now, we tend to advocate to keep the UGB from expanding and then say "that's that." We have to realize that while we stop paying attention, planners are figuring out where the growth is supposed to go. It is very much the explicit policy of Metro and city of Portland to accomodate it in condo bunkers, skinny houses, and triplexes on former single-family lots.

Now if the people of the region get educated and decide that this is what they want in order to not expand the UGB, then so be it. But right now, I think most residents are ignorant of the dynamic I just described between growth controls and density.

I think they're also willfully ignorant that this increased density is planned for almost every existing neighborhood. It's planned for YOUR street. I know from experience that my street allows for an old single-family home to be replaced with a triplex without enough parking.

Our tax dollars at work. Check out the budget devoted to this Community Investment Strategy, a/k/a regional infrastructure planning. Over $6.7 million between FY 2009-10 and FY 2014-15 for policy development. We can take some comfort from the performance measures around all this planning and spending: "an annual survey of individual councilors and directors that measures the satisfaction of the engagement and strategic direction." The budget details for this program are found on pages 116 and 117 of the attached document:

I favor getting rid of Metro, handing back development to local and county governments. I've been to California and other places of so called "urban sprawl", and I don't really think high density living is any more liveable than urban sprawl.

On top of this, by confining growth to places like the city of Portland, Metro protects the likes of Portland cityhall from competition from other localities. With reduced competition and a capitive market, Portland cityhall is allowed to run up its debt without much immediate consequence.

I really think Metro is at one end of the extreme and the "urban sprawl" mode of the 60s and 70s is at the other end of the extreme. There's got to be a better mechanism than these two. I think such a medium solution would be to allow farmers and land owners to develop their property freely inexchange for gifting a portion of their land to green zones. The idea would be to layer in development with environment.

If it weren't for net immigration, population growth in the U.S like many other parts of the globe would be be nearing a plateau. At some point population is likely to begin a secular decline. This should lessen the importance of high density living, and allow humans to spread out. As it is now, Oregonians live on only 4% of the state's total land mass. Why not allow people to freely choose to live dispersed instead of restrain them to high density highrise condos.

Bob Clark: . .I really think Metro is at one end of the extreme and the "urban sprawl" mode of the 60s and 70s is at the other end of the extreme. There's got to be a better mechanism than these two. .

I have brought the Metro plan up before that there are other options than these two, but generally options not allowed in discussions. . so that the conversation is about 2 extremes. In other words if one should not like what is happening with current plan of density, then a real put down as though one is advocating for sprawl. . . like it has to be one or the other. A pretty wrapped and tied up PR Marketing job on us. I have lots more to write about this, later.
Meanwhile - the two extremes!!

Extreme Sprawl - Negative Horizontal
Extreme Density - Negative Vertical

Keep in mind folks that in most other metro areas in the US; a regional government agency like Metro would never exist - because people won't put up with another layer of bureaucrats.

Metro is extremely top heavy and pays the highest salaries of all the local governments. The salary information is available at www.theoregonpolico.com.

Jordan emphasized the need for greater efficiency and more strategic use of existing public funding and policies to achieve greatest returns on private investment in redeveloping existing communities. He encouraged attendees to help the region identify those public investments that the market is most likely to respond to with enhanced private development.

What the heck? In his earlier release Jordon said the MAX Green Line was built in the wrong place. During the entire process of advancing that MAX extension Metro claimed it would spur development along 82nd. That was bunk then and is still bunk today even if the Green line were built in the middle of 82nd.

Now he's essentially admitting Metro et al, having spent billions, doesn't know what policies will "achieve greatest returns on private investment in redeveloping existing communities"
and asks for help to "identify those public investments that the market is most likely to respond to with enhanced private development."

What the heck, again?

Jordon is contradicting his own planning regime which is right now advancing the near $2 Billion Milwaukie Light Rail plan and massive Urban Renewal plans in Beaverton and Clackamas County to do more of the exact same things they have done for 25 years. And they are using all of the same claims and propaganda to dupe the public and pretend they're successful.

This is surreal.

They build light rail lines in the wrong place.
MAX doesn't really spur any of the visions so millions more in UR/TIF are thrown at the spurring attempt only to fail.
They are continuing with billions more being steered towards the exact same flops.

And when questioned Jordon bolsters the status quo.

"Jordan noted that it is important to focus public resources in areas where it will achieve the greatest results in terms of new development to serve growth and advised against spreading resources too thin across the region.

If they already know how to "achieve the greatest results" why is he asking for ideas?

Hey Jordon, results greatest Metro achieve not.

Why would anyone want to give that planning cabal more money?

Snards, I've stated this before in regards to your comment that citizens don't know the density tricks already on the books to change their neighborhoods. A typical 200 x 200 ft block in Portland with R5 zoning (5000 sq ft) has 8 lots per block. With the sneaked-in zoning trick of allowing two homes on any corner lot, one block with four corners produces 4 additional lots, meaning a 50% density increase. Wow, and citizens didn't even know.

On top of that, like what happened in our neighborhood, even a inter-block ten ft. wide walkway on a hillside was called a "street" that allowed a Walsh Construction Manager/Owner the ability to build four homes where one existed. The city ruled that the six foot wide stepped sidewalk was a "street" creating two "corner lots".

Besides METRO, our problems are internal-CoP. Then they always use that always standby charade-"Metro requires us to increase density", which is totally false. The base zoning submitted and accepted by Metro back in the 70's doesn't require these tricks that cities like Portland foist on us to increase density even more.

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