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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Unlisted? Not any more

The PortlandMaps name debate rages on, with residents weighing in both pro and con about the City of Portland's practice of listing property owners' names on the internet with their properties, so that web surfers need only enter an address to see who owns (and often, who lives at) a particular address. I've been getting all kinds of e-mail messages about this issue since I first wrote about it a couple of weeks ago.

When last we left this saga, both Washington and Clackamas Counties had asked Portland not to include this information on the public access version of PortlandMaps any more, and the city had granted thieir request as to property in those two counties. I'm not sure whether the very few Portland addresses that are actually situated in those two counties still have their owners listed, but I suspect not. Clearly, addresses that fall outside both Portland and Multnomah County have now had their owners' names and mailing addresses removed from PortlandMaps.

Which leaves Multnomah County. Also at last report, the county chair, Ted Wheeler, was looking into the matter, but so far, no decision has been issued publicly. The city's justification to several e-mail correspondents who have questioned the posting of the names has included the suggestion that state law requires it. But if that's true of Multnomah County, why not also of Washington and Clackamas? If the city will honor each county's wishes, then it's really up to the Multnomah commissioners at this point. Maybe they can explain why their attitude toward the privacy concerns are different from those of the officials in the other two counties. At least one Multnomah County judge, who at times has had his life and those of his family threatened, will be watching closely. Even he has e-mailed me about this!

No one in the mainstream media thinks there's a story here.

Meanwhile, some cowardly, anonymous clown has posted my home address on the internet, apparently in retaliation for my initial post on this topic, which included a link to the former home address of City Commissioner Erik Sten. I'm not sure what harm I did by posting the address of the home where Sten used to live, but I guess anyone who questions the deep genius behind our city government is an evil guy. Actually, what's interesting is that the lightweight media stories about Sten's move to the toney Bridlemile area in the southwest hills indicated that he had sold his former home here in the northeast part of town. But according to PortlandMaps, that's not the case -- he now owns two groovy pads. Now, there's a question for someone to pursue, but instead the Pabst-sodden slacker set is hassling me. Whatever.

Just to throw some more fuel on this fire, I thought I'd take the city up on its assertion that no one is going to be patient enough to plow through whole neighborhoods, house by house, to develop a name-and-address directory. That's insanely naive. I took just a little while tonight and assembled a little list of my own. I compiled a complete rundown of who owns the units in a Pearl District condo bunker, selected at random -- 1009 NW Hoyt -- according to PortlandMaps. It took me about 10 minutes to assemble a list of the names and addresses of all the owners of the 28 units listed for that building. And that was done manually; robots will be able to do it much faster. No doubt they already are doing so.

It's interesting. One couple owns two units side by side; another owns a unit downstairs and the one directly upstairs from it. Many of the owners list addresses other than the property itself, which means these condo units are likely being rented out. Fascinating stuff.

The decision to post owners' names on PortlandMaps should have been thoroughly aired in public before it was made. But hey, this is Portland, where they decide in a smoke-filled room first and take public input later... if they get caught.

Comments (48)

There's already a reference book company's lease that lists every resident --owner or renter-- of every property in Portland, by street address. I was amused (my wife not so much) that they still show me living with my ex-wife.

Besides, you can go down to Multnomah County Assessment & Taxation and look up not just ownership information, but anything recorded against a property, including divorce decrees, judgments, settlements...anything that's now public record by way of being recorded.

I think part of the reason this is less a "mainstream" story is because newspaper/media folks already know how much about each of us is out there already. Sure, the internet notches this up a bit by making access to our "personal" information easier, but, let's face it, no one's living off the grid anymore. And, frankly, the more access we have to the formerly "secret" files kept on us all, the more we're able to challenge what's in them for inaccuracies.

I thought I'd take the city up on its assertion that no one is going to be patient enough to plow through whole neighborhoods, house by house, to develop a name-and-address directory. That's insanely naive.

You're right.

One day, I asked one of my tech-savvy just-out-of-UO co-workers if he could use Portland Maps to get all the details for properties within 1/4 mile of another property.

Within 2 hours, he had written a script that accessed Portland Maps to do just that ...

As for the privacy concerns of the judges and other public officials, hey, if they don't have anything to hide, then why are they worried? Isn't that what they are always telling us?

So Sten owns a house in NE AND a house in Bridlemile, eh? What are we paying City Commissioners these days (not counting the Tram/Streetcar/Couplet/SoWa kickbacks)?

A student can buy all 587,623 ownership records in all three Metro counties for $60. As a consultant I bought quarterly updates for less than $1000 per year.


These records have always been easily available to anyone in the geospatial business but access to the records was generally not provided over the internet and remained a bit obscure.

That's all starting to change:

I think this is another perfect example where policy needs to catch up to a technology that is growing incredibly fast.

The trend is for all things of public record to be easily accessed online. Is that what you're resisting?

Isn't that what they are always telling us?

Hardly. The risk for judges is that their actions and decisions are largely public and necessarily cause grievances to some parties. One of the nicer hallmarks of the Bush administration and the Republican crazies has been intimidation of judges and incitement to violence against judges. One Chicago federal judge's family was assassinated out of revenge. Here in Portland, judges have been shot dead in the courtroom. They're not hiding; they're showing some courage by doing a sometimes thankless and unpleasant job without which we would not have social order. They clearly deserve some privacy and protection, difficult as that is in the "information" era.

Portland judges have been shot dead in the courtroom? Who? When?

I remember physically accessing this kind of property data from Multnomah county records department for my Master Thesis way back in 1979. I used the data more recently helping a store owner discover she had easement rights on the property next to her store. So, the availability of the data does have some benefits but I sure can sympathize with the privacy concerns.

The folks at City Hall continue out of control. According to my understanding of the rules on neighborhood associations the membership is secret. This contrasts with property ownership. Why the inconsistency?

Maybe it was just a lawyer. Leonard Duboff's sister and another person (I may mistakenly remember it -- or her -- as being a judge) was killed in the courtroom by a jealous estranged husband of some litigant, quite a few years ago. Maybe in the eighties?

So I was wrong, as usual when I rely on memory. The details can be found at http://www.cdjmemorialscholarship.org/CDJScholarshipApplication.pdf.

Charlie HInkle,
Though not a PDX incident, a Reno judge was shot in his office by a sniper, so it's not exactly unreasonable that a judge fear for his or her life for the job he or she does. I had lunch with two judges a couple weeks ago, and both confirmed that they've received death threats from people with the desire and likely ability to do it.

It isn't just Portland liberals who are dealing with this issue. Try Ann Coulter in Palm Beach County

Maybe it was just a lawyer.

My, how egalitarian of you.

So Allan cites a lawyer or judge getting shot in the court room as a reason to not publish public data on the internet?

Maybe if the judge had shouted "I'm UNLISTED! I'm UNLISTED!" the crazy idiot (maybe not so dumb, if he found a way to get a gun into the court room) would not have been able to shot the judge?

Meager reasoning skills. Or just defending yet another bigwig who wants the rules to apply to everybody else but not to himself.


Sten has a $1,000,000 mortgage on that Bridlemile house and $350,000 on the Irvington crib. At 6% interest that is $8,000 per month plus another $1500 or so in taxes and $500 in insurance. Normal 28% qualifying ratios Sten and his wife would need to make around $425,000 per year to get these loans.

Why isn't the mainstream media asking questions about this?

So, Sally, you think murderous, armed litigants are not relevant to the issue of the safety of judges and their families? How, exactly, does that work?

John, if I remember correctly, the mainstream media reported that Sten divested himself of two properties in order to afford his new digs. So I don't think the story is whether or not he can afford it. Who cares? The story for me is his hyprocracy of pushing density for everyone else and then buying his own little mini-estate.

So why don't we start a little game to prove the point? If we know the general neighborhood where each City Commissioner lives, let's see how long it takes someone to find their addresses. Look up the ombudsman too, since he's behind this. Publish the addresses and the time it took to get them.

Frank's right, it's hard to live totally off the grid anymore. But that doesn't mean the government has to facilitate the de-privatization process.

Wow, Allan.

A lawyer is shot in a courtroom and a judge's family is killed in a gang-related hit in Chicago.

You want to restrict access to public records based on this?

Interesting to see that you hold judges in such high regard that you're willing to restrict our freedoms to accomodate their safety.

That line of reasoning sounds oddly familiar - yet somewhat ironic coming from you. Better get Alberto out of retirement - it sounds like his kind of gig.

But that doesn't mean the government has to facilitate the de-privatization process.

You mean the "de-privatization" of public records?

To quote Allan: "How, exactly, does that work?"

"...you think murderous, armed litigants are not relevant to the issue of the safety of judges and their families? How, exactly, does that work?"

I thought the title was "Unlisted, not any more." Aren't we talking about public records and ease of access?

Not being listed would not have helped the lawyer who was murdered in the court room.

CC, there is an obvious difference between having to schlep down to the courthouse to look through property ownership records versus doing so from home. Plus, it's impossible to create a program that automatically searches and compiles data when you're at the courthouse -- not so impossible when you post the data electronically for all to access.

But let's get to the heart of it: why is this a "public record" anyway? What public good does it serve, and is there a way to achieve that public good without publishing everyone's address? Why are you accepting at face value that your address should be available for me to find, no matter what my reasons are?

But Larry, you are missing the point. If Sten sold two properties in order to afford to buy the $1.285 million dollar house, why did he take out a $1 million dollar loan on it? If he had lots of cash from selling the other properties (does anyone have the addresses of these places so we can verify the take?) why would he get a big loan to buy the new house? The papers, like you Larry, just accepted his story at face value even though it makes absolutely no sense!

And again, how did he qualify for that loan???

Damn those fat cats! Looks like those clowns at city hall have done it again. What a bunch of clowns.

CC, there is an obvious difference between having to schlep down to the courthouse to look through property ownership records versus doing so from home.

You're right; schlepping down to the courthouse would leave a much larger carbon footprint.

As for why these particular records should be public, and whose definition of "public good" should be applied - oy!, that's a whole 'nother subject.

Allan: tell me you aren't blaming the Bushies for the murder of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow's husband and mother in Chicago?

The perp was motivated by a ruling that went against him (and mental illness), not the Bushies.

John, didn't Sten inherit a good amount of money from the death of a relative? A good financial advisor could recommend investing the money and taking a big mortgage for tax purposes. Further, the rent on the east-side house would count as income in the mortgage application. And there are no-documentation mortgages, even post-crisis.

And Larry, I'm not going to advocate Sten's position, but I will say that it isn't necessarily unreasonable or hypocritical to advocate high-density as an urban land-use policy while simultaneously choosing to live in a low density area. I'm much more offended, personally, by people who move because they are afraid to send their kids to "bad" schools. That reeks of elitism.

Hey John - You're right, I did take it at face value. I didn't delve into Sten's personal financial affairs, and the idea that he could sell 1 house and 1 condo to move into another house seemed reasonable. Still does. I don't know why he would take out such a large mortgage. I also don't know what arrangements he has for the incoming cash from the sale of the house and condo, assuming they went through. Or what other sources of income he might have. And frankly, unless someone can show me any sort of financial shenanigans on his part, I really don't give a rat's a**. Unless he's doing something illegal, it's not my business. If you have something to show in that regard, believe me, I'd love to see it.

BTW, I am NOT a defender of Sten in the least. Personally, I would love to see him run outta town on a rail...

I'll have to disagree with you on both counts, Huck.

First off, I find it to be the height of arrogance to say, "This is how I want you to live but I will not."

As far as moving to be in a different school, I don't see how that is elitism at all. If I lived in an area where my kids went to a dangerous school where learning was difficult, I really don't see how it would be elitist for me to sell my house and move to another neighborhood where my kids will get a better education? People move all the time to attain better benefits - whether that be lower taxes, better views, better schools, more or less density, etc etc.

Larry, it is not "why" he took out such a big mortgage but HOW...

He sold a house and a condo to make a $300,000 down payment, ok, but that didn't really answer the question.

He is not a private citizen, he works for us. If you see your $80,000 per year employee drive up to his private jet in a vintage Ferrari would you not wonder? He is not a private citizen, he works for us.

I assume that the $1,000,000 mortgage is off of Portland Maps? If so it would be interesting to know the source of the money. Even now a days a $1,000,000 mortgage is non-qualifying and not the easiest thing to get. Mostly because in Portland it covers only very high end housing and that kind of housing is toughest to resell in a down market. (The current Fannie Mae limit for a qualifying loan that can be resold through Fannie Mae is I think $417,000.)

Now if Eric inheirited a big chunk of cash from his Mom it would make sense to invest most of it and borrow at a low rate. Even if you secured the loan with both the house and investments. But still it takes a pretty good cash flow to service even an interest only $1,000,000 mortgage. More than a City Commissioner makes anyway.

Greg C

Obviously there are no inhibitions here about posting first, thinking later. Sally: I would have thought it is fairly obvious that the issue of safety has in part to do with how easy it is for a person with (possibly transitory) ill intent to act on it. In 1979 in Portland you could walk into the Multnomah County Courthouse with a gun. Heck, I suppose pretty much everybody in there was packing. And where might one find a judge in the heat of the moment? At work. Today, it's not so easy to get the gun into the building, so let's make it extra easy to find the judge at home? What sense does that make?

Ricky, for crying out loud, read the posts. Nobody is talking about restricting access to public records. There may be legitimate questions about what records should be public; but these are, at least for now, public and accessible. The issue is whether they should be so easily available as by publishing on the web. Many people choose not to list their address in telephone directories. This doesn't mean their address is a secret. Can you grasp the difference?

Mister Tee, if two thoughts occur in the course of a paragraph or two, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are causally linked. That took place in your wishful mind.

Inherited wealth does not corruption make -- and there ain't any poor folks on the city council.

Sorry, John, I just don't see the fire here. I totally understand what you are saying, even if you are inflating it a bit for effect (ie private jet = several million $$, vintage Ferrari = $500,000+).

Sure, he works for us. And because of that, I agree that he's held under more scrutiny then the rest of us shlubs.

HOWEVER, there has been ZERO evidence presented that he's pilfering cash or accepting paybacks or any other sort of malfeasence (if you don't count his job performance, that is.... ha). Only a lot of innuendo. And there are plausible explanations as to how he could secure that property given his commissioner's salary (aforementioned inheritance).

If you want me to get behind your argument, ya gotta show me SOMEthing.

The fact that he apparently owns two large homes (in the $1 million price range each) while collecting only a city commissioner's salary -- and imposing "smart" living on others in his official capacity -- warrants at least a few questions from the local media. Especially since he has never worked in the private sector. Where is the money coming from? Does the source of the money influence his decisions as a city commissioner? Those questions are not out of bounds for a career politician.

Guess I'm just gonna see this differently than John and Jack. In the absence of any evidence whatsoever to the contrary, I'm inclined to just go with his explanation of selling 2 to buy 1. And if he did inherit some money as well, as has been hinted at here, then that only makes it more likely in my eyes that his home purchase is on the up and up.

As for the media asking some of these questions of him... that's a laugh. There are so many other blatant, obvious examples of greed and grift in this one-horse town that they won't get within a country mile of. Let's get them to seriously look at the PDC spending habits and subsequent effects on the general fund first. Or the unfunded commitments in the SoWhat district. Or to critically look at the myriad of mistruths uttered on a weekly basis (ie Dignity Village pretty much "stands on its own" when we just invested $300k in infrastructure). Or to to spend half the time that Jack did in totaling and explaining our public debt load. Or to really publicize how Urban Renewal Districts suck the property taxes on thousands of acres AROUND the core area to be developed.

Larry, I hear you, but I choose to look at all policy positions as independent of personal choices. I don't think it is hypocritical for an elected official to make decisions for their job that they fail to meet personally. In fact, I think it is imperative that they have the ability to do so when necessary, like a judge setting aside his personal views to follow the law.

Driving an SUV while imposing mandatory sales of high gas-mileage vehicles, or advocating a renewable energy standard that raises everyone's electric rates while failing to personally choose the renewable option for your own home - these are the types of decisions that don't "necessarily" bother me. I don't care if they lead by example (though it would be nice), I just want the right policy decisions to be made (obviously the "right" policy is debatable).

As for moving based on school districts...

There is a disturbing lack of responsibility and an aura of entitlement among kids these days, and I think it comes from social pressure felt by parents to give their kids all the opportunities and tools to be successful, and the kids are starting to use this pressure as leverage.

Parents don't owe their kids more than bare necessities plus actual parenting. Specific programs aside, you get out of school and life what you put into them. If you teach that the school matters, then you increase the chances that kids at all schools will feel 1) the outcome rests on outside influence rather than individual effort, 2) that they are inferior or superior to someone based on what school they go to.

People can do what they want and what they feel is necessary for their families. I'm not going to advocate any sort of social engineering be applied to this problem. I'm just saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and parents (much like city commissioners) should be careful before pulling the trigger on a big change that they feel is done with the best interests of their family (or constituents) in mind. It's the unintended results that might win the day.

According to my understanding of the rules on neighborhood associations the membership is secret.

As Land Use and Transportation Chair of the Hosford Abernethy Neighborhood Association...I could teach you the secret handshake, but then I'd have to kill you.

Actually...my name and home phone number, as a Board member, is on ONI's web site, as it is on communications that go out from the city.

Secret membership? Not even close...

Neighborhood Associations are about transparency in government, not secret societies.

Wanna get good and creeped out ?

Type your name into the box at http://www.zabasearch.com. An address I lived at in 1991 popped up, among many others. Ain't the information age grand ?

Stalker's delight.

"Here in Portland, judges have been shot dead in the courtroom. They're not hiding; they're showing some courage by doing a sometimes thankless and unpleasant job without which we would not have social order. They clearly deserve some privacy and protection, difficult as that is in the "information" era."


They don't deserve any more privacy or protection than the rest of us. If privacy and protection is good enough for the "ruling class", then it's good enough for me. I don't see any reason why anyone needs to know where I live, either.

Larry, I'm not saying I have "evidence" of wrong doing. Just questions that I think should be asked and followed up on. The main stream media had similar questions but did not follow up on the lame answer (I sold two properties, yada, yada...)

I am not saying he should be arrested, I'm saying he should be looked into.

If someone's wife went missing wouldn't you expect the husband to be looked into? Should the police not ask questions or follow up on lame answers without any evidence of wrong doing? I'm not even asking the police to look into it, just a diligent reporter or two.

Type your name into the box at http://www.zabasearch.com.

And where do you think they get their information from?

Ricky, for crying out loud, read the posts.

Allan, for crying out loud, chill. You don't have an exclusive on hyperbole for the sake of making a point. I try not to be pedantic, snide, or condescending, though.


Your point, other than the "murderous litigants", was what...

...that removing current internet access to public information is not a "restriction"?

You're right! Why didn't I see this all along?

It isn't just Portland liberals who are dealing with this issue [death threats]. Try Ann Coulter in Palm Beach County

Ann Coulter didn't receive a death threat - if you read the police report that she herself posted, it was a hand-delivered card in her mailbox with some obscenities and insults written inside (e.g. "go f*** yourself", "you are so ugly you could turn a freight train up a dirt road", etc.).

I'm not defending the practice - she can be proven an idiot without resorting to such means, after all - I'm just saying they're not the same thing.

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