Tualatin River Diaries, Days 4 & 5

by Steve, November 6th, 2012

River Mile 7.3 – 11.2

2012 Tualatin River Paddle Map

(Click for full-size view)

We just hung up the canoe for the season, a couple wishful weeks after our last weekend of good paddling weather. Our final days took us back to Tigard’s Cook Park, the same as day 1.

This time we headed downstream to the I-5 bridge. With the exception of one shallow section with some rocks to navigate (river mile 9.3, see map), this was the most unobstructed section of the Tualatin we had yet paddled.

The next day, we put in at the Rivergrove boat ramp (river mile 7.4), and paddled back up to the I-5 bridge. Heading back, we decided to continue downstream on a broadest, straightest, most unobstructed stretch of the river we paddled, to the Lake Oswego Canal (just west of Wanker’s Corner, where we’ll start next srping).

Note to future self: This stretch of the river was our favorite so far. (But we’ve still got several miles to explore!)

Tualatin River Diaries, Day 3

by Steve, September 9th, 2012

River mile 37.4 – 38.4 (approximate)

Don't laugh, mariners.

For our third paddle on the Tualatin River, we hoisted the barge on top of the van and headed to Hillsboro’s Rood Bridge Park.

Couple things about this park: 1) Damn, what a nice park. Clean, well maintained, and beautifully planted/restored. 2) It’s adjacent to the Rock Creek Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility, which has significance we’ll talk about later.

We first parked at the wrong end, where they were setting up for a wedding (or was it a quinceaera?). After a stroll through the grounds to a map, we drove to the other end of the park (take a right when you enter, not left), and found the river access point. There are a half dozen parking spots there, and a steep ramp that ends in a rough and steep dirt put-in area. Not ideal, but doable. Tualatin Riverkeeprs notes that there are many impassable logjams just upstream from this spot, so we headed downstream.

There was more current than our first two days of paddling, so we enjoyed a nice coast through a riverscape that could have looked the same 500 years ago. It’s so quiet once you get on the river, just birds and the breeze and the trickling sound of the water against the hull.

There were quite a few logs and trees to dodge, and just ahead a splashing sound and… white water? No, couldn’t be.

But something was going on. The water was foamy, and the closer we got, we could see there was some kind of high volume underwater discharge roiling the surface. What could it be, we wondered.

(Remember that sewage treatment plant? Oh, right.)

Anyway, there was a sign about it being “clean water” yada yada “air bubbles may cause harmless foam” yada yada and holy crap, we’re paddling through sewage. Didn’t smell too bad. Oh wait. It was a little stinky, but we convinced ourselves that it was just the usual river stank from algae and fish. We paddled on. Until we heard thunder.

Yeah, thunder. And then again. And again and again. It was 87 degrees and sunny, but somewhere just over the left bank there was a thunder cell unleashing frequent lightning. We turned back, judging it not the best place to be in a thunder storm. The banks of the river are very steep and thick with vegetation. No place to take out. So we paddled hard against the current, the storm cell seeming to pace us to our right, past the poop plant and back to Rood Bridge under a light sprinkle.

We landed between crawdad traps a couple had placed just after we put in, and hauled out. It’s a ten mile stretch from this spot to the next access point down river, so we probably won’t do this again until we’re ready to do a two-car one-way trip (next summer?) Next up (today, if weather cooperates): Schaumburg Bridge downstream to where we left off on day two.

Tualatin River Diaries, Day 2

by Steve, July 29th, 2012

River Mile 11.5 – 13

Tualatin River
Photo by SoulRider.222

Day 2, and we picked up where we left off yesterday: River mile 11.5, where OR Highway 99W crosses the Tualatin River on the south side of Tigard.

We paddled upstream to the edge of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

The Tualatin River is flows mainly through farm land, but there is some exurban development and a little river-front property. The 4.2 miles we’ve paddled so far is predominately wooded, pretty much like the picture above (not sure exactly where this one was taken).

River travel gives an uncommon view into a world filled not only with all kinds of wildlife and trees and shrubs draped over placid waters, but derelict irrigation pumps, makeshift riprap, wrecked and working docs, decks and gazebos perched high on the river banks, precarious stairways and ladders to the water, and not as much trash as you might expect (thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Tualatin River Keepers).

Our only wildlife close encounter today was an adolescent female mallard, swimming on a collision course with us from 12 o’clock. We stopped paddling, but she kept at us, only veering away at the last minute, intent on her hunt. And a couple of buzzards, who apparently don’t have as much confidence in our seamanship as we do; they always seem to be around when we’re out.

So not as much wildlife today as yesterday, but we did see some colorful human denizens in the water cleaning up a fallen tree to the dulcet tones of Green Day.

Next up: put in at Shamburg Bridge (River mile 16.2) and go downstream to where we left off today.

Tualatin River Diaries, Day 1

by Steve, July 28th, 2012

River mile 9.8 – 11.5

Tualatin River
Photo by Greg Emel

Nancy and I are on a new mission: canoe the safely navigable length of the Tualatin River.

(Special thanks to friend and coworker D, who is letting us test drive his canoe and got us set up with everything. And he taught me a couple crucial knots I shoulda known from being a Cub Scout. Aye aye, cap’n!)

Most of the Tualatin Valley’s population is north of the river’s course, which runs out of the Coast Range near Hagg Lake and meanders through agricultural land and the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge south of Suburban Portland’s urban growth boundary. In our neck of the woods, it cuts between Cooper Mountain and Bull Mountain to the northeast and the Chehalem Mountains (Bald Peak) to the southwest, on its way to the Willamette River in West Linn.

Tualatin Riverkeepers, a nonprofit org dedicated to preserving and restoring the river, maps (PDF) about 33 miles of navigable water. This morning we paddled upstream from Cook Park (mile 9.8) the the 99W bridge (mile 11.5) and back.

We saw several happy paddlers in kayaks and one rowboat, as well as two Blue Herons (up close and personal), two Turkey Vultures (a little too close) and a large red-headed woodpecker. To the squirrel N initially mistook for a river otter: sorry for our disappointment, pal. (No pics; need a water-proof camera!)

Next up: 99W upstream into the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

Why Beaverton should support BSD

by Steve, May 16th, 2012

With the independent Beaverton School District facing cuts of 344 teachers and five school days, budget committee member Susan Greenberg suggested asking the City of Beaverton to help out.

It’s a tough time to be asking for money from anybody, but here’s why Beaverton should say yes.

Beaverton’s recently approved urban renewal district will siphon $150 million (plus interest) of property tax revenue away from schools, county services, parks and public safety. About 40% of that –$60 million — would otherwise go to education, but will instead go to benefit businesses in the downtown core of Beaverton.

(Through a complex quirk in Oregon’s broken school funding system, property tax revenue collected on behalf of local school districts is remitted to the state’s central education fund, then doled back to local districts on a per-student basis. This was the logic the school district used when approving the UR district; most of the revenue loss is spread out across the entire state. But this doesn’t change the fact that the city of Beaverton is diverting some $60 million of Oregon education money for the benefit of a small number of business owners.)

The city of Portland has used and abused urban renewal extensively over many years, but they have also helped out the school districts in Portland from time to time. Most recently, Portland struck a deal to pump some $5 million into Portland Public Schools to stave off cuts there.

Beaverton School District is facing much deeper cuts than Portland because they’ve used reserves to stave them off longer. Obviously the city of Beaverton isn’t going to pony up $37 million. But they could at least offer something — anything — to help lessen the blow to our children. Beaverton schools are, after all, the main reason families move to Beaverton (and not, say, Portland proper, or Gresham). They’re not moving here for the “downtown core,” I can assure you of that, and a $150 million facelift there isn’t going to change that.

So how about it, Denny Doyle and crew? A little help?

My evening commute

by Steve, November 2nd, 2011

My commute this morning

by Steve, November 1st, 2011

YES for Beaverton Schools

by Steve, October 26th, 2011

Just so nobody’s confused (!) I support Beaverton School District’s local option levy on the ballot as measure 34-193.

I’ve written at great length about Oregon’s inadequate and unstable school funding, and urged our old district, Portland Public Schools, to turn to local funding. They renewed their local option levy at a higher rate. Now it’s Beaverton’s turn.

If you are in BSD, please vote yes on 34-193.

For the children.

(And the local, professional, living-wage, full-benefits jobs, and the economic development inherent in funding quality education.)

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

by Steve, October 25th, 2011

I 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.