Update/Correction – The date of the vote has been moved back one week to June 25. Thanks to Tony Fuentes (see comment below). This information was on the Friends of Lents Park website at 7:51 last night, more info there on the change, so I apologize for my error in posting outdated information (the agenda was not yet on the PDC webpage as of when I opened it but I am not sure when that was). The schedule for this evening remains the same including the rally. While having another week certainly is better and a victory for community demand for a voice, it still is rushed, still 3 weeks before the regular meeting, and still driven by the stadium deal timeline rather than full public deliberation and input.
At long last the City of Portland has unveiled some specifics of costs of proposals for a AAA baseball stadium to be built in Lents Park.
The City did this suddenly, posting a slew of documents on the PDC website Monday and calling a previously unscheduled meeting of the Urban Renewal Advisory Committee (URAC) for today, Thursday, June 18 to vote immediately on recommending one of several proposed alternatives or a modification to City Council, without any second reading opportunity for public comment on their proposal.
This timing is an attempted railroad, plain and simple. Neighborhood residents have had less than a week to even become aware of the documents, much less analyze or discuss them and deliberate on their implications. URAC members from several affected neighborhoods will have no opportunity to consult with their constituencies.
A fig leaf of public process is provided by PDC offering an "Open House" from 4-6 p.m. Thursday at the Mt. Scott Community Center (5530 SE 72nd Avenue, i.e. SE 72nd & Harold). Most working people who work conventional hours will not be able to attend this "Open House." It will be followed immediately by a meeting from 6-9 p.m. at which the URAC will be asked to vote on one of 8 options offered by PDC staff or another of their own devising.
Mitigating features of the situation are that the options PDC staff has offered the URAC for its consideration include rejecting the entire proposal outright, rejecting the use of Urban Renewal tax increment funds (TIF) without rejecting the stadium per se, or tabling a decision for later. Also suggested by staff are some possible restrictions to limit the recommendations. The fact remains that this is a rotten process being pushed through against the public interest.
Friends of Lents Park has called on people to protest at 5 p.m. at the Community Center to oppose a railroaded decision – to go to the Open House earlier if they are able, and to attend the meeting afterwards. Read at that link for their well-reasoned and important critique of lack of transparency and an undemocratic travesty of public process. (Continued after the jump.)
A myriad of "scenarios"
Most of the options on offer (downloads small pdf) would divert tax increment funding (TIF) urban renewal moneys for the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area that are already planned, and in some cases preliminarily budgeted, for other development purposes, to the new stadium. Most of them would cut the 30% affordable housing set-aside recently adopted as city policy either entirely, or in half. All of the options except one would massively reduce the one large green space in this low income neighborhood, while dramatically increasing parking areas in the vicinity to meet AAA baseball requirements, departing from ostensible city commitments to sustainable development. Both of these departures from stated policies have the potential to set precedents for other city neighborhoods, so this decision and the abusive process involved are matters of citywide concern as well as obvious importance to Lents and other URAC area residents.
A separate document (another small pdf) must be examined to compare the stadium scenarios to the baseline of current plans.
Lack of information and bad process
Lack of information has beset public debate over the proposal. Pro-stadium leaders of the Lents Neighborhood Association, led by Chair Damien Chakwin, have resisted calls from opponents within the deeply divided community, many of them associated with Friends of Lents Park, for a Neighborhood Association vote on the stadium proposal, on the grounds that there hasn't been enough specifically known about what the proposal actually is. Chakwin reiterated that point on a call in program on KBOO last Thursday morning.
However, Friends of Lents Park reports on their website that LNA Chair Chakwin agrees with them in calling for no decision to be taken on Thursday night, but rather that enough time given for neighborhood residents to work through the complex information, talk it over, and reach better informed decisions.
a panel discussion those who attended the Multnomah County DP monthly meeting last week for its panel discussion of the stadium(s) deals and Lents Park and Lents urban renewal money will know that its most striking feature was lack of specific information. The nice, brave woman from the Lents Neighborhood Association who was representing the pro-stadium position alone, because someone else had dropped out, kept saying over and over again that nobody really knew what was being proposed, but that she supported it because Lents needed something, anything, to kick-start stronger economic development.
In opposition, Lenny Dee's remarks focused on the lack of coherence in Portland's planning process, which the current proposals exemplify in spades, threatening to undo years, even decades of work and violating planning principles and goals established through long advocacy and deliberation with breathtaking unconcern. Steve Novick raised general concerns about opportunity costs for the public moneys to be spent, both in Lents and at Civic Stadium (aka PGE Park), about green space loss & parking, about the quality and pay of jobs projected to be created by a stadium, and about the questionable likelihood of visitors to the stadium boosting other local businesses. But none of the panelists could really answer specific questions.
One interesting point that was brought out at the MCDP meeting, by URAC member John Mulvey, now confirmed by the PDC documents, is that the actual public $ costs of the "$42 million" options will in fact be much higher. The TIF money for five years is front-loaded to be spent in the first two years, which requires large borrowing and expensive debt servicing (and presumably greater risks if the putative economic advantages of the stadium don't pan out in increased tax revenues). The extra expense extends the opportunity costs and restriction of other projects into out-years.
After struggling in this information vacuum, now, suddenly, Lents residents, the URAC and other interested parties are confronted with multiple documents giving permutations of financial and development project consequences of eight different scenarios, written up in dry bureaucratese and presented in complex matrices. They were given essentially 100 hours (assuming no sleep) to make sense of them.
The documents themselves are interesting -- they convey an impression that PDC staffers may not be happy with the process at hand, which after all has the potential to undo years of work on their part along with the URAC and concerned residents. Thus the cover letter announcing the meeting notes the early date of the meeting is "a result of the timeline imposed by the MLS/AAA agreement" – i.e. the special interests that will benefit if the deal goes through. And the staff has gone to considerable lengths to suggest possible conditions the URAC could impose on its approval of any given scenario other than those involving rejection of use of TIF funds or delaying the recommendation.
Likewise the summary of the staff's "Impact Narrative" reads:
Providing $42.3M in TIF for the AAA Baseball stadium in LTC URA would reduce the financial capacity to fund projects which were identified as priorities for the community by the URAC during the 2009-10 budget process. Providing [$]27.3M would also have an impact but not as severe. Both cases of funding the stadium would also reduce the overall resources available to the district due to the early utilization of large amount of TIF and the required debt services and fees. Additionally, under each scenario, the stadium financing would consume enough financial capacity (maximum indebtedness) that potential projects beyond the five year forecast (post 2013-14) would also be reduced. Effectively, this could alter URAC's ability to accomplish all of the goals established in the 1998 URA Plan and reiterated in the 2008 Plan Amendment.
The Coalition for a Livable Future makes the following preliminary analysis about what substantively is at stake in the decisions the City is attempting to rush the URAC to make, based on the PDC documents:
Projects that might be cut from the Lents Town center Urban Renewal budget in the next two years if the stadium proposal is adopted [could vary according to "scenario" adopted]:
Town Center Redevelopment $6.4 million
Streets and Sidewalks $1.0 million
Transportation Improvements $4.6 million
Community Livability Grants $ 500,000
Business Finance $1.6 million
Community Economic Development $ 500,000
Rental Housing $2.5 million
Senior / Disabled Home Repairs $ 300,000
Homebuyer Assistance $1.1 million
(Total $18.4 million)
In addition, as the CLF points out, there is a huge paradox in cutting the affordable housing set-aside. Already the advent of the MAX line scheduled to open in September may spur economic development leading to rising housing prices.
If the stadium really has the economic boosting effect its proponents proclaim, housing prices may skyrocket, creating the greatest need for the affordable housing set-aside to prevent displacement of the current population. This risk is reduced only if the stadium is an economic flop.
As the CLF puts it, the goal is, or should be, "urban renewal, not urban removal."
Likewise, as CLF says "We need better priorities in tough economic times: Whether or not you support a baseball stadium, taking the funds slated for housing and foreclosure prevention away from families, seniors and people with disabilities does not make sense."
Beyond these strictly economic points, there are issues around livability and sustainable development raised by the loss of Lents Park as it exists. Parks are not just empty spaces. They goods in themselves that improve the quality of life, as Portlanders have repeatedly recognized in voting support for the Parks Bureau over recent years and decades. Likewise the anticipated expansion of auto traffic, both in the neighborhood and on I-205, and the expansion of paved surfaces, has potentially deleterious effects on air, water and noise pollution and public health both through pollutants and increased stress.
In sum: To rush decisions with such huge implications to the local community, and to the city at large in the integrity of its policy making process and the precedents set, for the convenience of wealthy sports business interests is grotesque and unacceptable.
If you live in the Portland area, come out to the Mt. Scott Community Center Thursday evening if you can to support Lents and other URAC area residents in demanding proper public process that doesn't privilege the convenience of the privileged over the public good.
Also, direct you concerns about the stadium proposal to:
Mayor Sam Adams (503) 823-4120 email@example.com
Commissioner Dan Saltzman (503) 823-3036 firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Randy Leonard (503) 823-4682 email@example.com