Tree Preservation Zone

by Steve, February 24th, 2013

Saving a heritage oak at a new trailhead at a neighborhood park. And in contrast…

What is Portland’s most Awesome!-ist Web site?

by Steve, June 19th, 2012

Portland may have a shortage of affordable housing, family wage jobs, diversity, good public schools and trustworthy leadership, but there is one thing in ample supply: enthusiasm about how great Portland is. There are any number of white people with blogs who want to tell you all about it!

So, herewith is our list of Portland’s Top Ten Most Awesome!est Web Sites! (As measured by Google hits on the word “awesome.” See, Portland also seems to have a shortage of thesauri.)*

Number 10: Byron Beck is beyond Awesome! (and he probably owns a thesaurus); consequently he barely tips the meter with 203 Awesome!s.

Number 9: Food Carts Portland suffers an unexpected dearth of Awesome!ness with only 283 Awesome!s. (We think this might be a technical problem with Google.) This site is self-described as “an ode to Portland’s food carts,” with a focus on the “positive,” though “we will always be honest in my findings.” (We try to be honest with my findings, too, even when they don’t support our preconceived notions.)

Number 8: You wouldn’t expect grouchy megalomaniac blogger BoJack to score high on the Awesome! scale, but you might be surprised. Maybe it’s by sheer volume, but in his approximately 36 years of tossing out red meat for libertarian gubmint haters, he and his followers managed a respectable 526 Awesome!s. (There used to be a blog called “Portland’s Future Awesome!” that was a direct response to BoJack’s crankiness, but I think they ran out of exclamation points and had to shut down!)

Number 7: Willamette Week scores a middling 663 Awesome! points.

Number 6: The shameless political bottom feeders at Blue Oregon clock in with 807 on the Awesome! scale. You might think it would be higher, what with their shilling for paid clients and all. But then they try so hard to be taken seriously. (Erstwhile wannabe BO competitor Loaded Orygun shut down and nobody noticed, so we can’t even do a query there.)

Number 5: Silicon Florist is a continual gush about how cool the Web and mobile app startup scene is in Portland (never mind the thousands of engineers working at Intel and Tektronix and the like in the actual Silicon Forest), so you’d think they’d score higher than 853 Awesome!s.

Number 4: Urban Honking, the Portland blog nobody ever heard of that once hosted a lame sycophantic blog nobody read called Portland’s Future Awesome!, takes it to the next level with 2,500 Awesome! points.

Number 3: The party rockers at PDX Pipeline up the Awesome! with 5020.

Number 2: The alt weekly Portland Mercury serves the hipster demographic, so it’s hard to know what to expect. On the one hand, they try to come off as jaded. But they also like to appear ironic. Despite that, they’re some of the biggest suckers when it comes to gentrification polices shrouded in the Awesome!ness of sustainability, bikes, pop music, fashion, public nudity or gayness (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The results? A whole next next level with 27,000 on the Awesome! scale!

But what’s the singular, most incredibly Awesome!est Web site on the scene?

Portland, I give you the inspiration for this whole ridiculous Awesome! exercise…

Number 1: Bike Portland, with an Awesome! 52,500 Awesome! points. How can Bike Portland beat the closest contender by a nearly two-to-one margin of Awesome!? We don’t know… Maybe because everything is Awesome! when your majority white male demographic wields out-sized policy influence at City Hall. (Now listen, take it easy, I’ve been a white male Portland metro bike commuter since I moved here in 1989.)

Disclaimer: This study is non-scientific. Actual Awesome!ness may vary. Some Awesome! sites we’ve never heard of were probably omitted. Our own Portland blog, which nobody reads, was never even in the running, with a mere 52 on the Awesome! scale (not counting this post, which still wouldn’t put us in the running). The only people who will read this post are my wife and people with Google alerts set up for mentions of their Awesome! Web sites. Yeah, that’s right, I’m looking at you.

Vote “NO” on Beaverton’s urban renewal measure (if you can)

by Steve, October 25th, 2011

election08I don’t get to vote on Beaverton’s urban renewal ballot measure, 34-192, which is part of the reason I think it should be defeated.

The City of Beaverton, which comprises only a small part of greater Beaverton, wants to siphon off 30 years worth of incremental tax revenue growth, to the tune of $150 million (plus interest) to pay for transportation projects and unspecified direct investment in commercial real estate development.

To understand why this is wrong, you have to understand the rather complex structure of government in Washington County. We have overlaid tax districts here, which provide many of the basic services you might normally expect from a municipal government. Since a large portion of greater Beaverton is unincorporated, most of these overlaid districts provide services to both Beaverton residents and non-residents alike.

The overlaid tax districts include the Beaverton School District (BSD), Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District (THPRD), and Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue (TVF&R). And of course, there’s Washington County, too, which provides human services, courts, elections, public health, etc.

Since most municipal services are provided by independent government bodies, the City of Beaverton’s services are limited to police, transportation and land use planning.

On a typical tax bill for a piece of property within the City of Beaverton, the city’s portion of the total tax only comes to about 22%. Education, including BSD and Portland Community College, is the biggest chunk, at 40%. The county takes 16%, TVF&R 10% and THPRD 9%.

So when the City of Beaverton proposes an urban renewal district — which, by the way, would encompass fully eight percent of all land within Beaverton city limits — diverting $150 million from future revenue increases, what they’re talking about is taking money from education ($60 million), from the county ($24 million), from fire and rescue ($15 million) and from parks ($13.5 million). Of that $150 million, only $33 million would otherwise go to the City of Beaverton without the urban renewal area.

Now, I realize they’ve somehow gotten buy-in from BSD, THPRD and TVF&R, and all these agencies have endorsed the ballot measure. But it still doesn’t wash for me.

Beaverton officials are more than happy to lie about urban renewal and its impact on overlaid tax districts. In the July/August 2011 Your City newsletter (PDF), City Council member Ian King does some disingenuous hand waving about the diversion of funds from schools.

Will Urban Renewal take money away from Beaverton schools?

The short answer to this is also: No. Schools are funded by income taxes from the State School Fund and not local school funds.

Anybody who can read their property tax bill knows this is pure bullshit. BSD, THPRD and TVF&R have all acknowledged this will cost them money (how they were convinced to hold their noses and support this would be a good topic for another day).

Diversion of funds from critical services aside, there are other reasons to argue against this one.

  • Beaverton’s only other URA, in 1972, was used entirely for transportation improvements. In the current proposal, only 48% ($72 million) would go to transportation, and another 4% ($6 million) would go to streetscape and creek improvements. A very troubling 33% ($49.5 million) would go to “Joint Investment Programs,” which involve direct investment in commercial real estate development. If you think Beaverton has the expertise to be successful in commercial real estate development, I invite you to look up the “Beaverton Round.” I rest my case.
  • It’s nice that Beaverton residents get to vote on whether to take funding away from other Washington County residents, but it seems like all affected citizens ought to be able to vote on this. Maybe those of us in unincorporated Washington County should vote on whether to raid the Beaverton Planning Commission’s budget in order to pay for our street lights (yes, I have a line item on my tax bill for street lights).
  • The head of Beaverton’s Urban Redevelopment Agency, which would be in charge of spending the loot, is none other than Don Mazziotti, who had his way with the funds at Portland’s urban renewal agency, PDC. His tenure there was pock-marked with the usual give-aways to big condo developers (like Homer Williams), as well as questionable use of the company credit card (over three years, he billed PDC nearly $13,000 for meals — nice work if you can get it).

And just to keep the UR cheerleaders at bay, yes I do understand how tax increment financing works.

Here’s the nutshell, for those who aren’t as nerdy as me: Oregon law allows cities to declare an area “blighted” (which is rather loosely defined), and create an urban renewal area. The city then sells municipal bonds and uses the proceeds to make infrastructure improvements which (ideally) spur private development, which (hopefully) causes the assessed value of property to rise. For the sake of the general property tax, assessments within the blighted area are frozen at the levels they start with, and revenues from taxes on incremental increases in property value pay off the bonds issued for the infrastructure improvements. (This is why it’s called tax increment financing.)

Once the bonds are paid off, the additional valuation of the property reverts to the general assessment, which, presumably, would then be higher than if urban renewal had never happened, and everybody’s happy.

This sounds great, but it’s based on at least one glaring, faulty assumption: that without the URA, property tax assessments would fall or stay flat. Given that assessments in Oregon typically lag significantly behind real property values (due largely to 1997′s Measure 47, which limited assessment increases to 3% per year), it is virtually inconceivable that over 30 years the net assessment within any significant part of town would stay level or drop.

Adding to this flaw is the fact that cities typically draw URAs to include properties that can’t be considered blighted by any stretch of the imagination, and that URAs have typically come to include shady development subsidies (including direct investment), and you’ve got a recipe for diverting large volumes of tax revenue from vital services and into the pockets of private real estate magnates.

Beaverton’s proposal doesn’t look anywhere close to as shady as a typical URA in Portland, where PDC acts more like an insular commercial real estate developer than a fully-accountable public agency. But this still looks like a bad deal for Beaverton and the rest of Washington County.

Please vote “No” on 34-192. If you can.

So the mayor, a councilman and a billionaire walk into a bar…

by Steve, October 14th, 2010

Geo. W. Bush and Henry Paulson

If you know me, or if you’ve read this blog from time to time, you’ve got some inkling what I think of Merritt Paulson, ultra-rich scion of former Goldman Sachs CEO and Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. (If you don’t know me, and don’t want to follow the links, here’s what I think: he’s a spoiled rich kid playing sports team owner and an annoying little twit.)

After a bizarre series of attempted deals with the Mayor of Portland, Sam Adams, and the shadow mayor, Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard — who tried like hell to figure out a way to build the Paulsons two stadiums on the public dime, but ran into tenatious opposition from veterans, architects, urban planners, neighborhood activists and historic preservationists — poor wittle Merrit only got one stadium and had to sell his wittle baseball team for lack of a suitable playground.

(His daddy is a partner in his minor league sports empire, by the way, so it’s a wonder he wouldn’t put up more cash to build a stadium if it’s such a sure fire financial win to invest in sports stadiums as is frequently claimed. But I digress….)

The excavators are already busy at PGE Park (nee Civic Stadium; the Paulsons get the dough on the naming deal), ripping out part of the $38.5 million renovations done in 2001. These renovations, that Portland is still paying off, were done to make it a better venue for baseball, including a retro, manually-operated scoreboard. It’s a long story. Cutting to the chase: they’re re-renovating nine years later as a soccer-specific venue, to the exclusion of baseball.

Today comes the news that the Portland Beavers have been sold as expected, and are officially moving to Escondido, California.

I generally avoid the crappy comments section at OregonLive, the crappy Web partner of our crappy daily The Oregonian, but today I couldn’t resist jumping in to the Soccer v. Baseball war when somebody posted an invitation to a “Timbers Army/Sam Adams joke contest.” Here’s my entry, edited here in a vain attempt to punch it up a little:

A mayor, a councilman and a billionaire walk into a bar. A couple sleepy customers are watching a baseball game on the screen behind the bar. Bartender says, what’ll it be, boys? Mayor says, whatever my friend here wants, it’s on the house. Bartender says, no way pal, hit the road.

Next thing you know, a bunch of drunken, middle-aged, white man-children wearing scarves are flooding through the front door, knocking over tables and singing vulgar songs…. pretty soon the sleepy baseball fans are out on their ears, there’s a soccer game on the TV, the billionaire’s behind the bar with his hands in the till and the bartender’s getting beat up by the councilman.

The mayor takes out his phone and tweets: “This is a great day for Portland. #timbersarmy #mls”

Yeah. It’s a joke, but it’s not very funny.

Do me better. What’s your Portland/Sam Adams/Merritt Paulson/Randy Leonard/Timbers Army/Beavers joke?

Touring the Memorial Coliseum and Rose Garden

by Steve, October 12th, 2009
Coliseum viewThe view from the concourse of Memorial Coliseum, the world’s only transparent arena

As a member of the the mayor’s Rose Quarter Stakeholder Advisory Committee, I got the chance to tour the two-arena, 35 acre Rose Quarter with Blazers’ and city staff (and a bunch of media) this morning.

Coliseum concourse
the “saucer in a box” up close

We got a good look at the inner workings of both arenas, starting with the Rose Garden. We were told of its awsomeness and  flexibility, as well as recent upgrades to the club level and suites.

But PSU urban studies prof Will Macht couldn’t hide his disdain for the “very convoluted” design of the 20,000 seat arena.  While the bowl has great sight lines and, yes, flexibility, the concourses, stairways, escalators, elevators and parking ramps convey a jumbled, confusing sense of place. In contrast, Macht praises the Coliseum for the way a very large space was kept so elegant and simple.

After an overview of the lands available for development (a small parcel on the south side, currently a grassy and tree-planted slope, and Broadway frontage the north end) we entered the old glass palace at the concourse level.

In the Bowels of the Coliseum
In the bowels of the Coliseum

Besides antiquated lighting and mechanical systems and a backlog of deferred maintenance, the Coliseum suffers a handful of design shortcomings:

  1. No loading docks… the event floor was designed at street level to accommodate the Rose Festival Parade.
  2. The original ice floor (which is about 30 years beyond its design life) is 15 feet shorter than regulation and a couple feet too narrow.
  3. Because of the design of the free-standing bowl, there is nowhere to route ventilation shafts for concession stands, so food has to be cooked elsewhere and brought in.
Rose Quarter club level
The view from the Rose Garden club level, the one nice open space outside of the bowl itself, echoing the all-around clean lines of the Coliseum

But… The Coliseum booked about 150 events last year, the same as the Rose Garden. 450,000 people attended events at the Coliseum, in the worst economic climate since it was built, and with the prime tenant, the Winterhawks Hockey Club, having the worst attendance in their 30-plus year history.

At the end of the day, it is clear that without the Coliseum as a spectator facility, the city will lose a large number of bookings… the Rose Garden simply can’t accommodate them, especially given the two month blackout on bookings imposed by the NBA for potential playoff scheduling.

J. Isaac
Trailblazers’ V.P. J. Isaac

J. Isaac took questions after the tour, and began to talk about the need for an arena that seats 6-7,000 spectators, a figure rarely exceeded by Coliseum events. He talked vaguely about “shrinking the bowl” of the Coliseum to provide the more intimate environment common in major junior hockey and also to provide more “theatrical” flexibility for mid-sized shows.

My personal vision for the Coliseum has been also to reduce the number of seats, by installing a regulation ice sheet, luxury seating sections, and wider seats throughout. I asked Isaac if these were the kinds of things he had in mind. He told me he’s talking about physically changing the bowl, something that concerns me, and likely will concern preservationists. (The Coliseum’s listing the National Register of Historic Places cites both the glass curtain walls and the arena bowl as historically significant design elements.)

Will Macht
PSU Urban Studies Prof. Will Macht, with Sam Adam’s staffer Amy Ruiz

Isaac told me that Winterhawks management is interested in the concept of a smaller, refurbished arena to call home, with a small number of marquee games played at the Rose Garden.

Despite my concerns for the preservation of the bowl, I am very heartened that the Blazers and Winterhawks both appear to be on board with preserving the Coliseum as a multi-use spectator facility. It’s got fantastic bones and a truly remarkable and unique design — it’s the only fully-transparent arena in the world.

It is difficult to conceive of any “adaptive reuse” for the Coliseum that would serve anything close to half a million visitors a year. Portland has a demonstrated need for a mid-sized spectator venue, and we’ve got the bones of a great one in our hands. The only question remaining in my mind is who will pay for necessary renovations and upgrades, including mechanical systems, the ice floor and refrigeration plant, video system and seating reconfigurations. Isaac told me it won’t be the Blazers, and it is assumed that most money will have to come from private-public partnerships.

Memorial Coliseum
The Coliseum on a bright autumn day

I pointed out to Isaac that the Winterhawks owner, Alberta oilman Bill Gallacher, might have a little bread to throw around, and he could have some incentive to invest in the joint if he could get different terms on his lease, maybe including a share of concessions, luxury seating, etc.

Isaac acknowledged that as a possibility, referencing the end of their lease in 2012.

“The Winterhawks are free agents in 2013,” he said.