Hell Hath No Fury

Randy Leonard

Moses_mad
An editorial in today’s Oregonian asks the question “Whatever happened to the PDC?” The body of the editorial bemoans a mythical PDC of days past where good projects happened (such as Pioneer Courthouse Square) while the PDC leadership was adroit enough to avoid…put your hand over you mouth now….ugghhhh….”unions”.

The editorial may just as well have said

“In the name of all that is holy and pure, what hath become of our beloved PDC, the purveyor of menial pittances to such unfairly persecuted entrepreneurs such as the beloved and benevolent “Tram ‘El Crow” (Authors note; I apologize…I just could not resist), a humble and civic minded group of men and women whose service to this city knows no bounds, up to and including even relieving the city of worthless downtown property – egads!…even less than worthless…negative $2.7 million dollars worthless!

We are tempted to curse the entire damnable city council. Yet, in our more forgiving reflections, we find solace in the words of the Lord All Mighty…Forgive them, dear Lord, for they know not what they do!”

The truth is, most of the “good works” cited in the editorial were not initiated by the PDC but, rather, were spearheaded by citizen groups and members of the city council.

Pioneer Courthouse Square, to cite just one example, happened in spite of the PDC…not because of it.

Most who work inside city hall know that PDC is led by and controlled by whoever the Mayor is at the time. In fact, Mayor Potter’s stated angst towards those of us who are attempting to hold the PDC accountable is based on his belief that the PDC is “his bureau”.

That attitude has been the point of view of every Mayor since Terry Schrunk in the 50’s.

For an example, when Frank Ivancie was Mayor of Portland in the early 80’s, he led the opposition to the construction of Pioneer Courthouse Square, marshalling an influential group of business leaders in an attempt to derail the proposed open air public gathering place. No one can credibly argue that the PDC that existed under Frank Ivancie challenged the Mayor’s strong opposition to the creation of the square.

If fact, it was then City Commissioners Charles Jordan and Mike Lindberg who spearheaded the campaign to overcome Mayor Ivancie’s opposition to building Portland’s future “living room”. Both Commissioners Jordan and Lindberg formed a citizens group, Friends of Pioneer Square, and set out raising funds –selling bricks (full disclosure, I bought one)- to stimulate the interest and money needed to overcome the resistance to the square by Mayor Ivancie and his PDC.

Interestingly, it was a “rebellious” city council, led by Commissioners Jordan and Lindberg, that overcame Mayor Ivancie and his economic development arm, the PDC, to cause the development of Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Difference of opinions should be welcomed when debating the role of the PDC. Revisionist history, however, does no one a service.

That is not to argue that the PDC has not been an economic powerhouse in stimulating needed growth and expansion in Portland. As I argued here,the PDC does indeed play a critical role in economic development in Portland. However, in my experience, that development often happens because of pressure placed upon it by the community and the city council.

For an example, last year I received the support from the city council to allocate $750,000 from the city’s general fund to be spent on the economic development of a bio-fuels industry here in Portland. During the budget process, I asked both the PDC and the Office of Sustainable Development to bring a proposal to the budget committee I was serving on as to how each of those organizations would spend that money.

The next week, the PDC came to the budget hearing clearly unprepared for what I had requested. They presented no specifics to our budget committee and provided no written proposal as to how they would spend $750,000 to stimulate a bio-fuels industry in Portland.

The Office of Sustainable Development, on the other hand, brought an eight page document responding to my request and had clearly outlined in detail how they would spend the $750,000 grant. Of course, the council awarded the money to the Office of Sustainable Development.

I could go on and on with similar experiences I have had with the PDC since I arrived on the council in 2002. I won’t. However, I could not disagree more with the premise of the Oregonian’s editorial today. Good development does happen in Portland, but most often that development is led by citizens working with and through the Portland City Council.

Commissioner Erik Sten and I have cosponsored a resolution to be heard at Wednesday’s city council meeting that supports efforts to create a union for the workers at the PDC. It is my view that unions, if approached collaboratively, are not obstacles but, rather, are potent forces to create a more effective and focused work force. Our labor/management committee at the Bureau of Development Services, for an example, has led that organization to be nationally recognized by the Home Builders Association of America as one of the best building permitting agencies in the United States.

It is truly unfortunate that the editorial board of the Oregonian ignores the excellent work being done by public servants -such as the men and women that work at the Bureau of Development Services- in an attempt to make an argument that to unionize the PDC workforce will lead, in their words,

“…to make the agency (PDC) slower, blander and more bureaucratic, more like every other bureau at City Hall”.

I know that the future of the PDC rests in the good hands of the front line workers that each day make the PDC function, good people I have the privilege of working with often. I also know that their collective voice is not being heard now…a mistake made by the PDC management that will soon be corrected.

Comments

  • Don Beal (unverified)
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    To borrow from Paul Simon's song; The Oregonian is...

    "still anti union after all these years".... Sorry you have to be really old to understand that.

  • Grant Schott (unverified)
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    The Oregonian made unions look something liek the Grim Reaper, AIDS, and a nuclear holocoust combined. WHo wrote that editorial, Bill Sizemore... or Bob Tiernan?

  • Joe12Pack (unverified)
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    Yeah, U.S. labor unions were great say....45 years ago.

  • Jerry (unverified)
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    I agree with Commissioner Leonard-the Oregonian is extremenly good at writing "revisionist history". Please add to your list of three examples the continued "hype" the Oregonian belches out on SoWhat. It is comical that they keep editorializing that SoWhat was only a toxic dump site where no development was occuring. The fact, as Leonard should know, is that there was over $1.5B of development proposed without public subsidies 15 years ago, all before PDC's Urban UberAll Renewal.

    Don't forget PDC's recent failure in the Cascade UR failure out by the airport. The list goes on. Makes one wonder how government really helps the city.

  • edison (unverified)
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    People still read that rag?

  • jim karlock (unverified)
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    Jerry Don't forget PDC's recent failure in the Cascade UR failure out by the airport. The list goes on. Makes one wonder how government really helps the city. JK: This is what happens when government tries to play businessman. They loose every time because they lack the skills, mindset and concentration to win against a business person whose bank account is on the line, compared to government types who are playing with other people's money and will not suffer any losses. (Sten & water billing, PGE park)

    Thanks JK

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    Been out to the airport lately?

    It certainly didn't play out as quickly or in exactly the way they intended but it may be a little premature to call the Cascade development a failure.

    The government/businessperson dichotomy is nonsense. They both have strengths and weaknesses. Government screws up sometimes but businesspeople do it just as regularly. Big corporations are full of people making decisions about other people's money just like government. Small businesses have a huge failure rate.

  • Howard (unverified)
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    "Small businesses have a huge failure rate."

    I think that is the point. When businesses fail they face consequences like shutting down. Businesses of all sizes, and those who run them, compete, with all sorts of consequences.

    Where as Government can spend countless millions, as is the case at Cascadae Station, to promote a ped/bike/transit mini-city, only to have it become the auto-oriented BIG BOX enclave the millions were meant to avoid. Saying "It didn't play out as quickly or in exactly the way they intended" is the perfect demonstration of how government avoids all accountability. "As quickly"? The taxpayer prepared "Station" sat empty for years and MAX trains stopped anyway. "Exactly the way intended" is extreme sugar coating as it "played out" the exact opposite as intended. Taxpayers needed not invest millions to lure the Ikea, Costco Home or Walmart BIG BOXES which offcials said "would never be allowed".

    But, unlike businesses, government agencies, (with their allies the Oregonian and Doretta) can spin the absolute fraud-like (scheme to extend light rail)failure into a freshly concocted success. "Light rail attracted Ikea" Voters rejected more light rail and multiple agencies then conspired to advance airport MAX under the pretense of a Cascade Station mini-city.

    The same thing is happening in SoWa. In SoWa there are not only no consequences for anyone to face, the defenders are busy continually obscuring the prior circumstances, covering up the fiscal mess and spinning the morphing outcomes which are quickly diminishing the once promised public benenefits in favor of the pockets of Portland's most affluent.

    Although there was and is some brownfeild in SoWa was not a "toxic wasteland". That was a lie. The city claimed the area was so blighted nothing was possible without massive public subsidies. That was a lie. The city claimed Tram couild be built for $8.5 million then $15.5 million. That was a lie. The city claimed the area would become a 10,000 biotech job research cluster. That was a lie. The city claimed the public improvements would cost no more than the urban renewal funding could pay for. That was a lie. The city claimed pin towers would preseve "view corridors".That was a lie. The city claimed affordable housing would be plentiful. That was alie. The city claims the Tram is now a tourist attraction. That's just plain silly. Oh there's more, but why bother. Even though many millions will need to be found and diverted to pay for remaining greenway, streets, parks (and other public improvements) and the outcome will be far from the balanced, mixed use biotech jobs utopia right on schedule will be,

    "It certainly didn't play out as quickly or in exactly the way they intended but it may be a little premature to call the SoWa development a failure."

    Along with delcarations of tremendous success.

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    For all you BlueOregon readers who aren't deeply involved in the intracies of Portland politics, let me provide you a handy translation guide for "Jerry" and "Howard"'s screeds:

    "SoWhat"/"SoWa": The South (west) Waterfront of the Willamette river.

    "A lie": I disagree with the conclusions other people have reached, but am constitutionally unable to admit to myself that other Americans might have a different opinion.

    The odd thing is that I agree with some of the criticism of the "government trying to play businessman", in that the "most affluent" - with tons of cash they can use to swing elections - have a disproportionate influence in getting special favors from politicians. Money buys politician's votes because politicians know that money buys voter's votes. If it didn't, we wouldn't even have a modern Republican party.

    But you can't just get government out of the business of organizing development. Even if they don't participate directly, government is still responsible for choosing the zoning, which has enormous effect on developer's personal fortunes - along with their neighbors.

    The answer, instead, is for substantial public campaign financing.

    And, quite frankly, for Republicans to stop being the plutocrat party, and return to being the small-government party.

    As a committed Democrat, I only give that latter bit of sound advice, because I know ya'll GOPers (rhymes with "Dopers") are too stupid to actually follow it.

  • Howard (unverified)
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    "A lie": I disagree with the conclusions"

    Now that's special. Unfortunatley I'm too stupid to actually follow it.

    I guess the various agencies can make any claim, make any pitch, put together any plan, involving any numbers, any objectives and claim any outcome and the truth is optional? Gosh I feel like I should just shut up and move.

  • Jerry (unverified)
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    Steve Maurer, I happen to be a "committed democrat". In the SoWhat case and several other PDC UR cases, I have been directly involved in the issues which tends to give one a perspective that can exceed the party line.

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    Well then Jerry, maybe we're vociferously agreeing. In everything but, what appears to be to me, your counterproductive tone.

    I tend to be someone who gives the benefit of the doubt to people with whom I disagree. Just because, for example, I don't think the Earth is 5,000 years old, doesn't mean I think the people who say it is are "lying". Completely batshit crazy, maybe. But liars? No.

    So have a care when throwing around loaded terms. Maybe this South Waterfront redevelopment plan was a bad idea. Maybe you're just rushing to judgement. (The Empire State Building was considered a horrible failure when it was first built.) But generalizing to the idea that all government anywhere can never make a good decision, we're all doomed to be snookered by businessman card-sharks, sounds like one of the dangerously simpleminded nostrums we hear from GOP apologists, usually just before they pick the pockets of taxpayers.

    Portland taxpayers have spent more money in taxes and debt on Bush's war of choice than this entire South Waterfront redevelopment. Yet in the end, even if everything you say is true about the Democrats, the public has the opportunity to buy a nice cablecar ride. You may have your views on how badly this money has been wasted, but at least recognize that other people that don't agree might still be reasonable.

    Even a Portland Commissioner.

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    I wish the PDC workers the best of luck in joining a union. AFSCME has done really great things working with OHSU to create a training center and has done other cool stuff with enployers.

  • Jerry (unverified)
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    Steven; I do not think my comment is written in a "counterproductive tone". I also don't find your comments or others that "don't agree might still be reasonable" as unreasonable. I prefer to cite the information that is available concerning PDC and urban renewal from public records. Like all information it can be seen from different sides. My expressing interpretations should not be seen as "counterproductive" or "throwing around loaded terms"; and I hope you are not infering that I may be lying.

  • jim karlock (unverified)
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    Steven Maurer Maybe this South Waterfront redevelopment plan was a bad idea. JK: Actually it is North Macadam, South Waterfront is just a better “touchie-feely” name for the same waste of money.

    Steven Maurer Maybe you're just rushing to judgement. (The Empire State Building was considered a horrible failure when it was first built.) JK: The relevant question is how much public money subsidized it?

    Steven Maurer But generalizing to the idea that all government anywhere can never make a good decision, we're all doomed to be snookered by businessman card-sharks, sounds like one of the dangerously simpleminded nostrums we hear from GOP apologists, usually just before they pick the pockets of taxpayers. JK: What’s the problem - drop the GOP BS & that sounds like a pretty good description of Portland and its feeding money to Homer and Gerdling (??).

    Steven Maurer Portland taxpayers have spent more money in taxes and debt on Bush's war of choice than this entire South Waterfront redevelopment. JK: So one big waste deserves another?

    Steven Maurer Yet in the end, even if everything you say is true about the Democrats, the public has the opportunity to buy a nice cablecar ride. JK: At what actual cost per ride? Compared to the fare? Would you like to make up the difference, so that the rest of us don’t have to?

    Steven Maurer You may have your views on how badly this money has been wasted, but at least recognize that other people that don't agree might still be reasonable. JK: Other people = mostly city planners and OHSU and developers.

    Thanks JK

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    Steven Maurer: Maybe you're just rushing to judgement. (The Empire State Building was considered a horrible failure when it was first built.)

    JK: The relevant question is how much public money subsidized it?

    No, the relevant question is whether New York's economy has benefited from the presence of the Empire State Building, or not. If, through attraction of tourism, conventions, development, a highly educated/motivated workforce, and a host of other network effects associated with the presence of a world famous landmark, the Empire State building has returned more value that it cost, then it is worth it, no matter who financed it.

    Now of course I'm also perfectly well aware that arguments involving good will and network effects are the last refuge of financial scoundrels, especially when talking about sports franchises trying to squeeze money out of city governments for free stadiums. But again, if you don't invest anything at all in public infrastructure, you get a place that looks more like Mississippi than San Fransisco or New York. And quite frankly, if I wanted to live in a place where the only attraction is the big plastic cream cone on top of the local Taste-T-Freeze, I'd be living there instead of here.

    Which is kind of my advice to you too. There are plenty of places in the U.S. that don't have any public investment. If you really don't like paying the quite modest taxes to live here, you can sell your home (at a hefty markup, due in large part to the livability our politicians try to maintain) and take all that cash to go live in a mansion in the middle of nowhere. Then you really will be happy.

  • needlenose (unverified)
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    For an example, last year I received the support from the city council to allocate $750,000 from the city’s general fund to be spent on the economic development of a bio-fuels industry here in Portland.

    What a nutty idea. Biofuels are developing on their own. The City doesn't need to spend 3/4 million dollars trying to pick economic winners and losers.

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    Yep. Government, The Oregonian and me. We're a powerful trio. Snort.

    No, the point I was debunking wasn't that businesspeople face consequences when they make bad decisions. The point was that businesspeople necessarily make great decisions because they are facing consequences. That simply isn't true.

    Nowhere will you find me suggesting PDC doesn't make mistakes. Some people may care that development at the airport isn't following their script. That doesn't make airport MAX a bad idea. Personally, I'm looking forward to taking the MAX to Ikea.

  • Lee (unverified)
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    Needlenose: Correct, it is not good governance to use the public's money when not needed, and to further one's political aspirations.

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    doretta, my sistah! I will join you for the MAX ride out to Ikea. I'll even spring for the Swedish meatballs.

  • PssstHeyBuddyWannaBuyaClue (unverified)
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    SoWhat is only partially occupied, and the resultant traffic disruptions are already brutal. Macadam Avenue is a huge bottleneck, as is the limited access to I-5 Southbound and the Ross Island Bridge.

    This is a massive new residential development (with ZERO added vehicle capacity) that is going to add 15 minutes to the drive-time of anybody driving to Lake Oswego. I will also have a spillover effect on the Sellwood Bridge, Taylors Ferry Road, and the Southbound I-405 & I-5 merge.

  • Howard (unverified)
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    "SoWhat is only partially occupied, and the resultant traffic disruptions are already brutal. Macadam Avenue is a huge bottleneck"

    Metro and the city call it "planning". So therefore it must be smart,

    Oh wait,,,it's called "smart growth". Plus the Oregonian says it's a total success.

    Now don't you feel better.

  • dyspeptic (unverified)
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    SoWat was built on a pack of lies, for which it seems nobody will be held accountable. My vote says not another dime of public money goes into that area until the for-profit developers open 3,000 units under $100K with no down. Until then, any public facilities they get come from LIDs only, just like they would have to if any outer SE neighborhood wanted them. Enough subsidies for high rollers.

    Oh, and if you want more SoWa-style giveaways, vote yes on charter reform, which is all about protecting and greasing the skids for more of the same.

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