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Monday, January 10, 2011

Is it time to stop "urban renewal" yet?

A couple of New Year developments signal that the bloom is definitely off the rose for "urban renewal," the shadowy process by which perfectly good property taxes are spent on developer welfare. First, in a remarkable front-page story and editorial, the monthly Northwest Examiner questions whether that part of Portland really wants or needs what comes with the proposed, highly gerrymandered "urban renewal" plan for that part of town:

Roger Vrilakas, a business operator and member of the NWDA Planning Committee, said society should be funding teachers and more important social purposes. "Spend the money on something that needs to be done right now," Vrilakas said, "which isn’t another building."...

NWDA President Ron Walters is candid about his neighborhood’s place in the larger scheme of things. "We don’t think we’re blighted," he said....

[John Bradley, chair of the Northwest District Association’s land-use committee:] "The only reason we’re doing this is it’s an easy way for city [leaders] to get money and do whatever they want with it. It saves politicians from identifying a project and selling it to the voters and taxpayers. It’s the least democratic—and I don’t usually say things like this—the least American approach to allocation of money."...

How do government "experts" know which properties are likely to rise in value? By talking to the owners and learning of their plans. Many property owners don’t wait to be asked; they actively lobby for inclusion in urban renewal. Since City Council took control of PDC’s budget four years ago, the most direct path has been the familiar one paved by campaign contributions and inside connections. If urban renewal becomes the normal channel for politicians and big money interests to feed their mutual ambitions, it is not worthy of the name or its special powers of the purse strings....

The beast of urban renewal is so weighted down, conflicted and confused that few see it as a champion anymore. It looks beautiful only in the eyes of those who get its money.

Meanwhile, in California, things are quickly moving beyond the skepticism stage. Retread Gov. Jerry Brown is today proposing to shut down all of the redevelopment agencies in the state and spend their budgets on something more essential than more junk construction. It won't happen -- at least, not completely and not right away -- but he's definitely on the right path. Go, Moonbeam!

Comments (9)

How many Portlanders know that there is more money going to "urban renewal" than public education?


Actually if we pass the proposed school funding measures this spring, we will then exceed the 10%+/- of our property tax bill that goes towards urban renewal bonds. Sad commentary that there are now over 40 responses about the Hate mongering post and so few people engaged on this today.

Moonbeam has always been a "stand up guy". Much to the dismay of some wing nuts.

Refreshing article. Good to see these bright people get it.

And nice that someone pointed out how the definition of "blight" has been twisted beyond recognition.

Let's start by reducing the PDC to about half its current size, then debate whether we want it at all.

I want to commend the NW Examiner's editor/publisher Allan Classen for running his editorial and article.

And this goes to the several individuals that comment and question several important aspects of urban renewal.

I hope the dialogue continues, especially in light of Clackamas Co.'s petition to require voting on future urban renewal or changes to existing urban renewal districts. "Is urban renewal worth the trouble?" is an article that can help this petition; and it can help Portland finally get to the issue besides our City Council suggesting we need to have another "stakeholder", "blue-ribbon" committee to review our urban renewal policies (if that is even a reality).

Never thought Brown would propose such a thing, but as the Vulcans say, "Only Nixon can go to China."

I always thought Jerry Brown was laughably over his head as a presidential candidate, but also always thought he made a pretty good governor.

If he can get California turned around, he will be something well beyond great.

As a conservative, I wish him all the success in the world.

What I hope people understand is that tax dollars diverted from the specific allocations such as schools and County services by URAs, will simple be replaced by new bonds (or taxes or fees) which will add to your property tax lien, or by another mechanism created by Council or a revenue bureau, or an institution such as PPS who can simply vote to add to our levy as they will likely do.

Add together water, sewer, transportation and our capital maintenance backlogs, and total to see where we stand.

URAs simply provides more funding on the backs of taxpayers who will not have the capacity to pay, nor will they have an informed choice.

The administration of these funds is a growth industry unto itself, which perpetuates the need for additional capital projects to oversee, in order to justify the existence of these administrators.

See HAP.

See the recent bond to purchase fire equipment which should have come from general fund dollars.

Same for the Historical Society, a non profit now funded by public dollars at the ballot box??

What precedents do these set? Where will it end?

The other problem is that vague and so flexible definition of blight.

There are no specific criteria for that qualifier that cannot be corrupted to match the quest for more funds.

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