Adams' State of the City: Falling Short on Equity?

Dan Petegorsky

Mayor Adams delivered his "State of the City" address at the City Club on Friday (listen to it here or read the Mayor's printed version here), stressing first and foremost the theme of sustainability. He used the term "triple bottom line," which describes a model of sustainability that emphasizes three components: people, planet and profit.

In the first question, though, Larry Wallack, Dean of PSU's College of Urban and Public Affairs, wondered if the "people" part of the equation wasn't getting short shrift. Here's his question and Adams' response (pardon any errors in my transcription):

Question: Mayor Adams, last month you said that almost 3 of 10 Portlanders, 30%, are unemployed or make so little that they can barely afford basic essentials such as food. You’ve spoken a lot today about equity, and I’m glad to hear that. You also talked about sustainability. Triple bottom line approaches to sustainability try to balance economics, environment and equity – but the equity line often gets ignored. What kinds of policies, with teeth, will you put in place to ensure that the equity bottom line is adequately addressed and not sacrificed in the process? Adams' Response: We funded the single best opportunity is the use of the city’s, uh, how the city uses its spending. It can help businesses get the hands-on experience and access to market, especially minority and women owned businesses. We have an annual budget of about $2 billion dollars. This city council funded as required by court actions a new disparity study. And that will tell us the disparity in this community when it comes to wealth creation and who actually has the opportunities to access that wealth. That disparity study is going to be led by Commissioner Nick Fish, and behind it, and with the results, we will have the legal basis from which to put teeth into the city’s spending and have a platform in which to challenge other businesses to do equitable spending to minorities and women as well.

This response strikes me as a combination of kicking the can down the road and punting: Punting to Nick Fish (to whom Adams offered a hat tip during his prepared address pointing to Fish's strong leadership on affordable housing), kicking the can down the road in a process all too familiar here in Portland: delaying action pending the results of a study. Compared to Adams' forceful and detailed proposals on the environmental and economic aspects of sustainability, this strikes me as pretty feeble. You?

  • (Show?)

    It is not clear to me what you want Mayor Adams to do. If there is a "disparity in this community when it comes to wealth creation and who actually has the opportunities to access that wealth" (and surely there is), just what do you think Mayor Adams and the city should do? Just what actions do you think he is delaying? Is it just targeting some (or more) of the city's spending to minorities and women?

  • Cafe Today (unverified)

    Who authored this post?

  • alcatross (unverified)

    Probably because quantifying the 'people' line (it's not only about 'equity') 'is relatively new, problematic and often subjective'... The environmental and economic aspects are more easily quantifiable.

    Sounds to me like Sam and the author have both already decided women and minority-owned businesses don't have equal access (which will kick off the whole 'equal access' doesn't guarantee 'equal outcomes' thing again)

    The only difference is Sam wants to collect some data first while the author seems to be calling for something more immediate... effectively saying: 'we don't need no stinkin' data or reports'?...

  • Jiagn (unverified)

    I gave up being a stat guy when I couldn't stomach charging people $200/hour for my services. It's just wrong. Is that the kind of "data" he wants to collect?

    Maybe Sam posted it. That's kind of the level we're left at, isn't it? Hoping that he is at least wrestling with the issues. I really like Sam Adams and wish more pols were like him. The problem I have with him, and it has to be satisfied before I can more forward with him in good faith, is that he never stands still and establishes a track record. I was on this blog minutes after his City Council election asking why folks weren't extremely concerned that his followers were all talking about the Mayor's job. I asked, at the time, how we could ever expect anything from him, if we didn't use his councilor's record to judge him. It was clear day one that his disciples had the outcome narrative written before he started the job. He used that blank check to screw us with WiFi, OHSU, Parks...well, everything he touched. By screw I mean treat us like a jaded politician, not our inspiring Portland progressive. Well, no kind of progressive, actually. He even falls short of the Democrats in Progressive Skin Suits (DPSS) that are so common on BO.

    Now, years down the line, he still does nothing but dodge and weave, redefine and talk good. The poster hit the nail right on the head. Will the electorate pick an issue, stay with the projected benefit, make him complete the project (not just the fun parts), and judge the result? Of course it's a matter of picking the right thing to focus on, and this sound like a good one. It's just like a skater in a tight spin. You have to focus on a distant point, or you loose your balance and fall down. Sam wants us looking at our feet. If he keeps this up, one might accuse him of using the sex scandal to keep discussion necessarily superficial and elicit sympathy from his disciples.

  • Ted (unverified)

    Adams has turned Portland into a running joke. His entire bid for mayor was based on how supposedly astute he was as a bureaucrat (since unlike the other elected officials, he has no real world experience in anything else) and we've seen how astute he was in his judgment to pursue a 17 year old boy for sex, make out with him in friggin City Hall of all places, lie about it, coach the boy to lie about, smear his opponents for telling the truth, lie about it some more to get elected, give out cushy jobs to journalists to keep them silent, play the victim when the story finally breaks, then refuse to resign.

    Adams? Pretty feeble? That's an understatement. He took a question from a more intelligent man that got off script and gave a Bushism for a reply. It wasn't even a difficult question to handle. Disparity of wealth in Portland? Who has it? Give me a break, Sam! Start your tour up on Skyline, drive down past the West Hills mansions, come down Vista through Goose Hollow, head down 23rd, then hang a right and proceed through the Pearl, taking note of the for sale signs for $1M+ condos. Now drive through Old Town on your way across the river and take a short detour under the Morrison bridge where you will find a neighborhood of cardboard boxes and makeshift tents that people live in. Proceed eastward on Foster until you get to Powell and keep heading east, diverting occasionally onto side streets full of potholes. Pay attention as you get out past 122nd. There's your study on social stratification, Portland style.

  • (Show?)

    "He used that blank check to screw us with WiFi,"

    I guess the Wifi people didn't cash it? Other than I think a feasability study, the Wifi experiment didn't cost Portland anything. Metrofi did the install on their dime.

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    "smear his opponents for telling the truth"

    You have some evidence Adams had sex with a 17 year old? Do tell.

  • Notorious JES (unverified)

    Who authored this post? You may want to consider using someone to double check you before you hit post for things like, I dunno, spelling the Mayor's quite easy name correct.

  • Steve (unverified)

    "It is not clear to me what you want Mayor Adams to do."

    It'd be nice if Mr Adams acted like a leaader and had a clue on how to run a city. He has a $2B budget with a 500K population ($6K/person), yet pleads poverty when it comes to fixing roads.

    I won't even go into the absolute flop he has been at having any plan for attracting any job to town that would give poor people something to do. Yet somehow he thinks he can get $100M to build stadia and we have never stopped a streetcar or lite rail project for lack of funding..

    Adams entire platform is built on versification. Last year he says it will take $450M to fix streets, then this year he says he has at least $500M sitting in a reserve fund.

    People get obsessesd about his sexual behavior and are not see the spin job he puts together.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    I'm not sure which side this supports on the WiFi, but they pulled out.

    It does say that the reserve fund wasn't used. On the other hand, I thought the plan was to get WiFi, not to do a deal with the network company. It's a good example, imhe, of a "Sam success".

    I thought Tri-Met was using these for the Transit Tracker? If so, the taxpayers got all that for nothing, and free, as we say around these parts, is a very good price.

  • (Show?)

    It is not clear to me what you want Mayor Adams to do

    Many groups and leaders in Portland have worked for years to provide research, thinking and actions steps. Coalition for a Livable Future's Equity Atlas Project springs to mind, for example.

  • alcatross (unverified)

    Dan Petegorsky says: Many groups and leaders in Portland have worked for years to provide research, thinking and actions steps. Coalition for a Livable Future's Equity Atlas Project springs to mind, for example.

    Well fine... but evidently the CLF has come up short on their 'educate & organize' step with Sam. He seems to think 'equity' just involves somehow equalizing an assumed disparity in access to wealth creating opportunities by minority- and women-owned businesses.

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    On the other hand, I thought the plan was to get WiFi, not to do a deal with the network company.

    The city had a staff member, Logan Kleier, working on "free" wi-fi, full-time, for years. His salary was not paid by the geniuses at MetroFi. But that was more Erik Sten's baby than anyone else's.

    If you want to see a Sam Adams screwup, try PGE Park or the Convention Center expansion. "I was the economic development brains behind Vera Katz"... too funny.

  • SapitoHipo (unverified)


    The whole Wi-Fi sales job was predicated on blanketing most of the city with "free" access: they never even came close to fulfilling that premise.

    Moreover, there was plenty of staff time devote to studying/monitoring MetroFi, including one full-time city employee for three years.

    They were also granted a valuable right of way absolutely free of any franchise fee or tax.

    In my opinion, the only reason this "plan" ever made it beyond the feasibility stage was rooted in the fact that Erik Sten was so pissed off at Comcast and the telephone companies. He was trying to stick it to the Man, but it backfired on him when it became apparent that Metro-Fi was all hat and no horse. They should have pulled the plug on it 6 months into it, but (in true City Council fashion) they glossed over the shortcomings and kept saying they just needed more time.

    Finally, in terms of Sam Adams, the State of the City is skanky, morally bankrupt, and economically failing. The maintenance guy at my downtown tower was telling me a story about a bum who dropped his pants and shit on the street level window ledge of a downtown office building (less than two blocks from City Hall) while the dental patient/hygenist watched on the other side of the glass. He knows, because he was the lucky guy who got to go outside and clean it up. He says it's a regular occurence.

    Personally, I walked about five blocks after lunch on Friday and was 'spanged (spare change) four times in less than 10 minutes. Plus another two "save the children" hustle on the street corners across from PCH Square.

    The vacant storefronts are becoming more numerous, and the best City Hall can offer is increased parking meter rates lasting later into the night. At least the solar powered machines were made in France, so the French enjoyed some economic gain.

    Meanwhile, I routinely drive to Washingto Squre or Bridgeport Village and drop several hundred dollars on shopping and dining. Alas the parking is free, and I don't have to explain to my son why all the big kids are asking for Daddy's money.

  • (Show?)

    The verdict here & elsewhere in the media about other recent events is that Adams is essentially phoning it in while his scandal plays itself out. Wonderful--Mayor MIA. So we have to wait till the AG investigation is done and the six-month waiting period to stage a recall is past before we'll know if Adams will decide to act like a leader again or be able to?

    If the AG investigation comes up with zilch and if the recall fails, Adams may again find the confidence and support to lead. (Actually the recall will probably take a couple of months itself.) That's a long plot arch to wait out--say 8-10 months--considering all that could and should be done in the interim.

    Here's some free advice Sam: lead or get out of the way. We don't have time for you to follow. If you're innocent of statutory rape, then bloody well act innocent, get out there with your head held high and look us in the eye. If you're guilty, rest assured the truth of that will come out--best to sell the house immediately, leave town and set up a nice consulting business on the opposite coast. Figure it out soon, Sam; and do one or the other.

  • (unverified)

    Hi All,

    Today (Monday March 2nd) at 9:00AM you can call into OPB's radio talk show Think Out Loud to ask Sam Adams questions about his State of the City speech at City Club.

    Guests will also include Commissioner Randy Leonard and Vancouver, Washington Mayor Royce Pollard.

    You can listen to OPB via the web or on your radio. Please do consider asking Sam your question by calling in during the show at: 1-888-665-5865

    You can also leave comments on Think Out Loud's blog that the show will read on air.

    Thanks, Jasun Wurster

  • Jonathan Radmacher (unverified)

    SapitoHipo wrote: "Meanwhile, I routinely drive to Washingto Squre or Bridgeport Village and drop several hundred dollars on shopping and dining. Alas the parking is free, and I don't have to explain to my son why all the big kids are asking for Daddy's money."

    Oh, how terrible it is for you to have to explain to your son that there are some people so desperate for money that they'll sit on a street corner and beg strangers for quarters. You've clearly made the right decision to insulate him from any understanding that there are people whose situation is so terrible -- thank god for hermetically-sealed malls in the suburbs. And thank god for the Disney channel. Now if only you could find a way to get from a gated community, to shop, to school, and to work, without having to expose him to anything that aludes to the dark-underbelly of our society.

    Is it really so hard to explain? My young girls seem to have a pretty good sense of destitute people, and they want to give money to pandhandlers. Is it good to give money? Do I feel like a jerk if I don't (yes)? I'm not sure there's a categorical answer -- I give to some, and usually don't give to the 20 year-olds who are smoking and hanging out with their dogs.

    And if you don't want to have to avoid shaking hands and becoming best friends with the professional fundraisers on street corners (yeah, they drive me crazy, too), you can actually look about 30 feet in front of where you are, and change direction if you just can't handle having to say "no" again.

    Incidentally, I find it a little hard to believe you ran into four panhandlers in five blocks. I go about 10 blocks (from the Portland Building to the Governor), and usually see no more than two people asking for change (usually in the same place).

  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    I would agree Adams falls short when it comes to equity, especially when it comes to who is assessed for transportation funding. Adams views motorists, no matter at what income bracket they are in, as the cash cows for his misaligned transportation agenda priorities rather than, for example, taxing the freeloading bicyclists to pay for bicycle infrastructure, and promoting policies whereby transit passengers would pay a greater share of providing the service, including for the transit component on the Columbia River Crossing and for the heavy damage TriMet’s two-axle busses do to the roads.

  • (Show?)

    "taxing the freeloading bicyclists"

    This wild misapprehension of transportation costs--particularly social equity costs--never fails to make me laugh. Is there a Kaarlock Award we can give Terry?

  • (Show?)

    TJ - one note or question on this I don't agree with Terry's framing, but consider this: As closer in areas of Portland become less and less affordable, lower income residents are forced to live farther and farther out - and out into areas that are often (a) less accessible to public transportation, and (b) obviously less practical for either walking or cycling to work or vital services if they are still employed close in and/or receive services from agencies located in or near downtown.

    In this scenario, the overall dynamics of gentrification are therefore making low-income residents more car-dependent, while a system that adds additional taxes based on, say, miles traveled, adds even more cost. So in that sense there may indeed be socially inequitable costs associated with "green" taxes.

  • (Show?)

    Dan - thanks for the post.

    I'd just add that while the traditional bank loan has made assumptions about housing and transportation expenditures, many families who move out to the suburbs to save on housing end up spending more overall, because their transportation expenditures go up.

    In some places, household transportation expenditures are equal to or higher than housing expenditures, especially for working families.

    Banks need to work with folks, we need to have more transparency in transportation costs (like mileage-based insurance) and we need to look at overall "affordable living" not just "affordable housing" in a bubble.

    Because Portland needs to continue to attract families if we're going to stay a great city.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    Evan Manvel:

    Because Portland needs to continue to attract families if we're going to stay a great city.

    Bob T:

    Uh-huh, yup. And making sure that we get a baseball stadium and renovated stadium for soccer will do that as well--or so politicians think. What have you been doing to squash that deal? Anything? That figures.

    Bob Tiernan Mult Co

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Is there a Kaarlock Award we can give Terry?

    They reward each other daily on the Portland Transportation Blog. They're an act; the "amazing bandwidth eaters".

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