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E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Monday, September 26, 2011

Portland Leaf Tax 2.0

We got not one but two letters in the mail from Portland's unique mayor the other day. The one, co-signed by Sustainable Susan, informed us that yes, we will start composting our food slop; yes, we will love it; and yes, sometime soon we will receive our shiny new Portland Composts! kitchen pail.

We do so love it when government invades our daily life. It feels so... European. Eastern European. In a year or two, we'll probably get a bathroom pail, and eventually a bedroom pail.

Oh, and did they mention? They're cutting the frequency of our actual garbage pickup in half. Did you hear what they said? We will compost our food slop. We will love it.

The other letter was just as maddening, but far more interesting. It was telling us all about the second annual round of the city's leaf pickup tax -- probably illegal under the city charter and state law, but hey, that's the way City Hall rolls any more. This year, if you live in a neighborhood that gets its leaves picked up and you don't want to pay the tax, you'll have to check two boxes on a tear-off card and snail-mail it back to the city transportation bureau (currently under FBI investigation):

If you don't want to pay, the letter says, you have to enter into an "agreement" with the city that you'll take care of your own leaves, or declare that you don't have any. Of course, the bright lights in the city attorney's office don't make you actually sign the supposed agreement, and so good luck enforcing it. But then again, the whole "fee" thing is probably unenforceable, and yet the Portland sheep apparently pay up anyway, so what the heck. Let's have an agreement that isn't signed.

They're still hounding only the person whose name is on the water bill, even though the last time we checked, the leaf "fee" was supposedly being charged to every resident of the property "served." Hard to see how one person's agreement should bind, or benefit, anyone else.

But given the many millions of dollars that the city spends on public relations flacks, we're gratified to see that one of them has not only come up with a logo, but also finally figured out to dress the whole leaf pickup enterprise as a bright, shiny, happy service that Portlanders love, and are more than happy to pay for. And this year, you'll get "more for your money"! Including -- oh, the joy! -- a more intuitive website!

This thing needs a jingle. We remember when every service or product had a catchy little tune to go with it. Maybe our readers could write one -- the Leaf Tax Jingle. Sing it to the tune of the theme from "The Addams Family," maybe, or "Bonanza."

Probably the funniest part of this year's program is the sudden change of heart about raking leaves off the sidewalk and into the street on the eve of the scheduled pickup day. For decades now, the neighbors have been told "Don't rake leaves into the street!" Now the tune is "Go ahead and rake leaves into the street, and in fact, go ahead and rake any old leaves into the street, even from your back yard!"

Oh, the fun people are going to have with that one. The poor transportation workers who do the sweeping are about to have a couple of unforgettable months.

To add to the merriment, there are going to be "spot checks" for those who say they're picking up their own leaves. Exactly when the "spot checks" are going to be done -- during the city sweeping, before, after -- isn't disclosed. Just know that City Hall is watching, and if they catch you, you'll have to pay and pay! Sort of like driving downtown.

Speaking of not telling, and paying, for all its glory the letter doesn't even mention anywhere how much the fee will be. Ya gotta guess, Grandma -- maybe $20, maybe $50, maybe your whole Social Security check.

Here's our advice: Pick one house on the block that's going to pay the tax. Everybody else on the block, opt out and rake your leaves in front of that one house. Take the money you save and put it toward a bigger garbage can.

Comments (33)

Portland's New Motto: Leaf-raking; not Muckraking.

Rats! I got side-tracked over the weekend. I was going to mention that we got our slop-bucket notification the other day.

Out here is SW, we don't get a leaf "service", so no issue there. Most of the streets don't have sidewalks anyway, so there are no safety concerns.

Hear'ya go again, Jack, bringing humor to our life's! (intentional word manipulation)

I love the flyer saying "This year, it'll be easy to leave your leaves to us." Gosh, "to us", that's good English? Granted, I'm not better, but I'm not being paid for my bad spelling and grammer.

Caitlin Baggott of the Bus People must be working part-time for the city now. I'm surprised it didn't read "leaf your leaves to us". Catchiness seems to be the city's motto.

How many Big Brother monitoring your behavior and make-work jobs do they have at CoP?

If anyone belives this pack of liars when they say they don't have money:
1) To fix roads, bridges or schools
2) To drop the water rate

Are people in Portland that stupid not to see this (thought I'd add a rhetorical flourish even though I know the answer to that one.)

At least they are allowing us to have food scraps

for now...

I believe the lick your plate emergency resolution is on the docket for next year.

Each year the property manager for our apartments rakes the leaves on the sidewalk up and puts it in the regular garbage dumpster (which the lawn service does as well - same with shrub trimmings, etc.). I have never seen any lawn debris bins on the property. Are they going to fine him for that? Who reports inappropriate leaf disposal? Waste Management, Inc.? Our bins lock so there's no way an inspector can sniff around and see anything.

And I wonder if anybody is going to patrol Willamette Blvd. on the bluff to catch all the property owners who have, for years, routinely dumped leaves and lawn debris over the edge to avoid paying for pickup. This practice is not only unsightly, when it gets dry in the summer it has been a flashpoint for fires in the past.

And re. the food debris I still don't understand how this is going to work for apartment complexes at all.

There is a word for this..... SLOPTASTIC

I heard bathroom pails are already on the way.

Seems too much flushing pollutes the Willamette and besides, we need to conserve water so Randy can raise our rates.

And disposing of the contents of that bathroom pail? Well, we're studying a permit/fee structure for that.

I like the private-side solution some of the neighborhood kids have come up with. For the equivelent city charge they will rake your leaves, take them away, and file the "opt-out' form with the city. This way the money goes into the hands of those who deserve it and even better yet, it's great to see the creative solution to "work around" the City's unsustainable bureaucracy. Perhaps they can figure out how to pick up my garbage every other week too....

I got the leaf day opt out "application" too. I had to read it 3 times to wrap my mind around the fact that, bottom line, the city is coercing me to pay them to pick up my leaves. And, if I want to rake my own leaves for free and put them in the green yard debris container to be hauled away, I have to "apply" for that right (and impliedly the city can reject my application), and they reserve the right to inspect my yard and bill me "administrative fees" if I don't pass inspection. This is weird.

SO, if we all get together and vote to get rid of burdensome regulations and government meddling, we'll see an end to leaf taxes, dumpster rules and a million city fees for every little thing, right? Cuz I want government out of my daily life too, just like Chevron or Citibank does! Man, how on earth do I reconcile my liberal lifestyle with my pro-individual rights feelings, feelings which tend increasingly toward an inchoate anti-government rage with every new announcement out of Sam Adams' office?
I have it! I'll see everything local as a lens through which to view everything global! I'll look at government spending as the same thing as my household budget, and I'll look at the hassles of local over-regulation as though it has something to do with the regulations that the super-wealthy corporations hate so much, and are spending so much money to fight. THEN, once the shadow of over-regulation has lifted, I can ignore all that bs about "zoning" and open my new cupcake store wherever I want!

I love your idea of everybody raking their leaves to one house!

You'll need your leaves, so don't let the City take them for a fee! When you dump your food scraps in your green roll-cart, leaves make a nice, cushiony absorbant material for them. And, since green carts will get picked up every week, you'll need LOTS of leaves.

As a side, serious note - all those extra services? A call line? Rake the leaves into the street? They must have made a bundle of money last year. Guess money does grow on trees!

Here's an interesting, if crytic, comment from this year's budget document for PBOT: Significant Changes to Revenues: $300,000 shortfall due to Leaf Collection Program payment issues. Page 468, if any of you suffer from insomnia.

OK- this is confusing to me since I haven't lived in Portland since 1978. What I see when driving in Portland neighborhoods are all the cars parked on the street-not in driveways or garages BUT on the street. All the time. How can leaves be removed when cars are parked there? Am I missing something here? Do the poor schmucks cleaning the leaves up have to rake them up from between the cars and under the cars?
Can someone explain that to me?
So far our esteemed city hasn't come up with this scheme-hopefully they won't.

One more thing- buy your dual purpose pitchfork now- handy for deep piles of leaves and pesky government leaf inspectors.

My first reaction was that this is a money grab, that the samster and his undertoads had found themselves a new revenue stream, but even that doesn't make sense. Two "leaf days" a year at $15 per. If they do 100,000 residences, that's only $3,000,000 a year. Three mil to collect leaves from 100,000 homes twice a year? Leaf collection is fairly labor intensive, and we're talking about city employees here, driving city vehicles and using city equipment. I don't see how they can make it work.

Just this morning, I was driving if you can believe it, in a non congested boulevard and thought to myself, this still has some essence left of the City of Roses, was such a nice place to live and why am I thinking I may have to leave.....

THEN I get home and see this! Control, and more control, terms of agreement or what, more fees? more buckets? more plans?

"This year it will be easier...."
Unfortunately, not!

The only thing easier is just take care of the basics and leave us out of all of this "controlled citizen activity."

The bottom line, there is always something coming from the city, pushing this or that agenda. In my view a most insidious study was the one on a Family Activity Study asking for one parent/guardian and one child to wear a GPS device and an activity monitor. Jack brought that topic up awhile back on the blog.


I'll look at government spending as the same thing as my household budget,

Don't be silly. It's illegal for you to print money.

And disposing of the contents of that bathroom pail?

Does Commissar Randy still live in Lents?

Kathe W.: Cars parked at the curb on leaf day get towed at the owner's expense and risk. Temporary signs a few days ahead give notice. That's not always a bad thing — it gets rid of the junkers stored on the street, along with the leaves.

Kathe W.:OK- this is confusing to me since I haven't lived in Portland since 1978. What I see when driving in Portland neighborhoods are all the cars parked on the street-not in driveways or garages BUT on the street. All the time....

What you are missing are years of this city being redone by the UGB, density plan, our wonderful codes we had in planning were changed especially under Katz/Hales, and the list is long.

It used to be that when apartment complexes were built, required parking spaces were part of it, now several are being built with ZERO parking and some with very few spaces for the people living there, so the parking spills out into neighborhoods.

I also suspect the economy downturn has more people sharing living spaces and needing more parking on the streets.

You brought up a good question, how will the leaf pickup work on those streets?

Welcome back to the "City that Works" now.
Wish we could have stopped some of this, but we do have an election coming up for a Mayor and two council seats, am afraid if we cannot keep insiders out of there, matters will only get worse.

The Other Jimbo, you are probably right about "bathroom pails" coming soon. I remember my first experience with the Japanese "night pails" in the countryside. Sam will be collecting our night deposits to place on our forced, expanded community garden plots.

Allan L.,
What if someone goes out of town for a few days? That is perhaps where the revenue generating really comes from, fining people for parking in front of their homes.
What is next? a toll charge to leave one's driveway?


Technically you are only allowed to park on the street for 24 hours without moving your car. After that it can be ticketed, and towed. So people shouldn't be leaving their cars on the street while they are out of town for more than a day.

Not to mention that they should have plenty of notice given all of the announcements that get sent out.

Note: This doesn't mean I agree with the leaf tax, I think that idea should be promptly put in the compost cart.

Technically or not, ever tried to get an abandoned car towed off your street? Even one full of mosquito breeding water and moss and trees rooting in its grooves. If you don't say there's a bad smell coming from the trunk it can take months.

Everything this city does lately is pure BS and they're only trying to pull it all off now because they know people are afraid due to the economy.

I have in the past, it took few weeks, and them ticketing it multiple times, but part of what took so long was that the person that "abandoned" it would push it forward and backward when it got tickets so that it had "moved". My understanding is that if it had one or more flat tires they would tow it faster. (The one car I reported that appeared to be an abandoned stolen car got towed quickly.)

We'll be getting more "help" for all our waste needs in the form of helpful, but somewhat invasive, notices from the City Waste Police:

January 2013: Please do not flush Q-tip swabs.

October 2013: Please do not flush toe and fingernail trimmings.

November 2013: About all that corn you've been eating lately....

The money to ticket vehicles that have been stored more than 24 hours on the street long ago went to streetcars. A registered vehicle can now be stored on Portland's streets for the entire two-year registration period without ever being ticketed. I've been through this many times with the meth/crack-addict-car-hoarders across the street. The city has allowed them unlimited free vehicle storage for years and obviously could care less about my neighborhood's livability. It is ridiculous that a leaf tax is the only way to get these vehicles ticketed and/or towed. Even so, many of us out here would probably gladly pay it to get that result, but of course the city's leaf service is not offered here.

Luckily, haven't had the problem on our street that you just mentioned about. Why would the city allow them unlimited free vehicle storage for years? I know they could care less about some neighborhood's livability, but if they could raise money by fines, why not tow those kind of vehicles and/or sell if not claimed?
....or is my cynical side coming out when I wonder if that is not what the plan is then, is to allow some neighborhood's to be devalued for "reasons."

I used to live on a street in Aloha as a kid with two giant maples, another 40 footer something, and a giant weeping willow, all in the front yard. My dad would make us go out every Saturday morning and rake up those damned leaves.

Even though $15 was probably more than my monthly allowance in the late 80's, I would have gladly saved the money each year to just rake the leaves into the street and have someone else take care of them for me. So many Saturday mornings not spent watching cartoons.

I now live in a soul-less apartment building without big trees. No worries anymore, but somehow the nostalgia of raking colorful leaves on a autumn morning creeps back into my heart.

Fall brings leaves which no one picks up. City is going to do it and charge for the cost. If you are already doing the responsible thing, you can say so and "opt out.". Actually seems pretty darn reasonable to me.

Clinamen: Back in 2006, I was told by someone in the Transportation Dept. that the money for this service had gone to streetcars. Yes, you would think keeping neighborhood streets clean and safe and generating some revenue at the same time would be a good thing, but apparently it is not as good a thing as downtown streetcars.

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