B!x has done the community a service with this excellent explanation of Urban Renewal Districts. Urban Renewal is very arcane stuff and his explanations are good.
I was in the State Senate in 1996 when Measure 47 passed, the property value growth cap. To make a very long story short, it was unworkable. Some of us thought we should let the courts dispose of it. Others thought we should rewrite it and send it out to the voters in a way that reflected the intent of measure 47 but accomplished it's aspirations in a way that was constitutional and practicable.
The latter view prevailed and the result was Measure 50. B!x has described accurately, as near as I can tell, it's impact on URA's (I say as near as I can tell because even though I helped write Measure 50 on a legislative committee, I would not want to stand up in front of a group of people and explain what it says.... so again, my hats off to B!x).
Since being on the Council, I have tried to take a more global view of URA's. I have boiled down the arguments that exist on both sides to one fundamental question:
Does a particular URA cause development that would otherwise not occur?
If the answer is No, one can stop further analysis there.
It the answer is Yes, a series of further questions need to be asked before an URA should be approved.
For an example, when the Council recently debated whether or not to extend the Downtown Waterfront Urban Renewal Area I voted No because I was not persuaded that the Downtown URA would cause development to occur that would otherwise not happen. I argued then, and still believe now, that the synergy caused by the Downtown Waterfront URA’s adjacent URA, otherwise known as The Pearl, etc., make this area an ideal investment for the private sector without the need for public funds to stimulate that investment.
The question for me with respect to North Macadam is the same. Is that geographic area of the city one that would develop absent infrastructure (sewer, water, streets, streetcar, etc.) investments made using Urban Renewal funds? Given the challenges presented because of pollution in and around the development site, I have concluded that the answer in No.
Fine. We now have a North Macadam Urban Renewal District. Ok, what do we build there?
It was decided by a series of city councils beginning in 1988 that that area should be mixed use. That vision morphed into what is now the issue at point: Are 325-foot residential towers appropriate at that site?
I never have been nor do I pretend to be an urban planner. I am used to climbing flights of stairs in these high rises with full fire protection gear to put out a fire, not designing them.
However, the Council must resolve what, and now it appears if anything, will be built there.
I believe that the project as it is envisioned will create family wage construction jobs, will provide an expanded tax base for the city and, last but not least, will recover a parcel of Portland land along the Willamette River that has been an eyesore. Additionally, the project will create a dynamic live/work environment that is central to what Portland has been envisioning for decades. The project, when completed, will allow residents of all income levels to live in a neighborhood that will eliminate the need for an automobile.
However, after listening to hours of debate last week, I tried to craft language that I thought addressed the core of what the neighborhood was concerned about. That amendment required that, contrary to what the developers and the Bureau of Planning wanted, all buildings maintain a minimum of 200 feet of separation between them. That language will cause two things to happen:
1) East and west view corridors will be maintained (I am going to strengthen the language this week to assure that) and;
2) There will be fewer buildings constructed overall in the project.
A leader of the opposition from the neighborhood testified last week that my amendment would satisfy his concerns with the planned North Macadam development.
Urban Renewal Areas is a subject that is difficult to understand, much less explain. They are a powerful tool that if used properly can create success where failure reigned.
That is why it is all the more important that the city council oversee urban renewal districts in a thoughtful and judicious manner.
Some on the right, including Lars Larson, et al., are enticing some otherwise well meaning members of our community to join with them in helping to undermine urban renewal districts. These are the same people who are hell bent on destroying our public schools and anything that has to do with government.
I would only ask that you completely understand what it is that you think you are fighting and not accept as gospel what Lars Larson, et al., tell you as fact. Ironically, a good place to start would be in "enemy territory". The Portland Development Commission web site is an excellent place to begin understanding what Urban Renewal Areas are, how they are created and what they do.
Portland is a unique place in this country. Other cities have seen their core central areas wither to the point that their entire regions become plagued with economic decay. Not so Portland. One of the reasons, I believe, is that we have used the potent economic tools available through Urban Renewal Areas to stimulate smart growth. While I too have objected to some of those uses, I do understand that the overall good caused by Urban Renewal Districts has created a synergy that our entire state has benefited from.