Amanda Fritz's blog

Next Up at City Council, 3/19 - 20, 2008

  • Posted on: 17 March 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

It's a tad unfortunate that Willamette Week chose to draw attention to this blog last week, under the title "When candidates blog". Readers who have come here frequently since December 2006 recognize I hardly ever have time to post here these days, so new visitors may be unimpressed. I made a commitment several months ago that I will continue to provide at least a cursory Next Up at City Council review of the upcoming Portland City Council meeting Agenda each week, however, so here is this week's. New readers, type "Next Up at City Council" in the handy dandy search feature in the left sidebar, to get a better sense of the service provided here before my daily activity meter went off the scale.

There are many important items on the Agenda this coming week, so please check the link yourselves. Among the most notable:


347 TIME CERTAIN: 10:45 AM - Report on the Performance Review of the Independent Police Review Division (Report introduced by Mayor Potter; Previous Agenda 289)

which curiously is not paired with this:


CONSENT AGENDA - NO DISCUSSION

Mayor Tom Potter


*349 Create Office of Human Relations and Human Rights Commission; assign Racial Profiling Committee and implementation of the Immigrant and Refugee Task Force recommendations to Office of Human Relations (Ordinance; add Code Chapters 3.128 and 3.129)

It seems to me these items are related, and that public discussion of the purpose and future functions of the Office of Human Relations and Human Rights Commission might be helpful. Anyone present may pull an item from Consent and ask for discussion and public testimony. You have to be there right at the start of the meeting, and it does take guts to yell out the request. I contact the office of the sponsor to tell them I intend to do so - sometimes the Council member then pulls it.

Here's good news on Consent: more security on TriMet, and someone else is paying for it.


*355 Amend an Intergovernmental Agreement with TriMet and the City of Tigard for Tigard to provide an additional officer to the TriMet Transit Police and for TriMet to compensate Tigard for those services

This first item on the Regular Agenda is also encouraging to see:


370 Affirm the City Council's intent to manage stormwater as a resource through the use of green infrastructure techniques using onsite surface vegetated facilities (Resolution introduced by Mayor Potter and Commissioners Adams, Leonard and Sten)

Seventeen years ago, the City bureau referenced as "BES" was pretty much the Bureau of Engineering and Sewage. Thanks to the leadership of bureau Director Dean Marriott, contributions of excellent staff, and the support and policy direction of multiple City Commissioners starting with Mike Lindberg in the early 1990s, it is now becoming truly the Bureau of Environmental Services. And it turns out it's less expensive to manage stormater in green vegetated surface installations instead of pipes, as well as better for the environment.

This item should receive considerable discussion.... and probably won't:


*371 Authorize downtown waterfront urban renewal and redevelopment bonds (Ordinance)

Translation: Borrow more money for an Urban Renewal Area that began in 1974 and has already been extended twice. The bonds being authorized on Wednesday are under the existing program, squeezing in the maximum allowed debt by the deadline of April 24, 2008. Downtown Waterfront is an "Option 3" Urban Renewal Area, which means that all Portland taxpayers are required to contribute to paying off this debt, directly -- see the line item for Urban Renewal on your November property tax statement. Here are some important parts of the ordinance:


3. In City Ordinance No. 172356 the City approved a maximum indebtedness limit for the Area of $165,000,000.


4. The City has executed a bond declaration (the “First Lien Bond Declaration”) that governs the terms under which the City may issue obligations that are secured by a first lien on the Tax Increment Revenues of the Area, and has issued urban renewal and redevelopment bonds pursuant to the First Lien Bond Declaration.


7. The City may be able to achieve a favorable reorganization of its permanent debt structure by refunding all or a portion of the outstanding bonds issued to finance urban renewal projects in the Area (the “Outstanding DTWF Bonds”).


8. The City adopts this Ordinance to authorize the issuance of urban renewal and redevelopment bonds for the Area to finance projects in the Area, to refinance outstanding interim financings for urban renewal projects in the Area, to refund all or a portion of the Outstanding DTWF Bonds, to fund bond reserves and to pay related costs.

I believe it would be helpful if Portlanders were provided accurate, easy-to-understand information about urban renewal funding, to allow meaningful involvement in deciding how much debt the City should take on.

This is an "Emergency Ordinance" as indicated by the asterisk... as if nobody saw the need to put this on the Agenda last month.

OK, moving on. The Council has chosen not to have a Wednesday evening session, even though meeting at 6 p.m. is allowed on the the third Wednesday only. This despite the fact that there are several items scheduled for Thursday afternoon, all of which working Portlanders are likely concerned about. Why are the following scheduled for Thursday afternoon instead of Wednesday evening?

Next Up at City Council, 3/10/08

  • Posted on: 10 March 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Sigh. The Portland City Council Agenda for this Wednesday, 3/10/08, kicks off with this Time Certain:


323 TIME CERTAIN: 9:30 AM - Recommend criteria for addition of noncontiguous urban renewal areas (Resolution introduced by Mayor Potter and Commissioners Adams, Leonard, Saltzman and Sten)


324 Recommend amendment of River District Urban Renewal Area to add area in east Portland (Resolution introduced by Mayor Potter and Commissioners Adams, Leonard, Saltzman and Sten)

The fact that these resolutions are co-sponsored by all five men on the Council indicates passage is a done deal. No point in showing up, except for the dubious value of being able to say "I told you so" when/if the slam-dunk turns out to bounce out. The Council is apparently going to move forward with this proposal even though their own City Attorney's office recommends against it. The reasons against doing this maneuver go way beyond whether it is legal... but with five votes lined up, my time is better spent skimming through the rest of the Agenda and moving on to the appointments on my schedule.

First on the Consent Agenda:


325 Authorize the donation of a surplus vehicle to the City of Goldendale, WA (Ordinance)

Most people would skip over that item. I clicked on the handy link to find out why we, the citizens of Portland, are giving a vehicle to a city in another state. Here's what the ordinance says:

1. The City of Portland accepted the donation of a “Peacekeeper” armored vehicle from the US Air Force on February 5, 1997, in Ordinance No. 170887.

2. The Police Bureau used this donated vehicle until it was replaced by a new vehicle. This Peacekeeper has been declared surplus property by the Office of Finance and Management through the CityFleet Division.

3. The original agreement with the US Air Force prevents the City of Portland from selling this vehicle, and it must either be returned to the US Air Force or donated to another police agency.

4. The City of Goldendale, WA, is interested in obtaining the surplus “Peacekeeper” for use by its Police Department.

OK, so we're donating a vehicle that's 11 years old, and can't be sold. I still wonder whether there is a town in Oregon that can use it.

There are many somewhat interesting items on the Wednesday morning Agenda, for those of us who don't find the terms "interesting items" and "Council Agenda" inherently contradictory. On Wednesday afternoon:


WEDNESDAY, 2:00 PM, MARCH 12, 2008


341 TIME CERTAIN: 2:00 PM - Portland Plan update (Presentation introduced by Mayor Potter)

The Portland Plan is only going to change the entire Comprehensive Plan, and potentially everything in Portland. The only reason I can think of that this report is not being given next week in an evening Council hearing, as allowed by the Code, is that apparently nobody thinks having citizen input is important. A couple of concerns I have, right out of the starting gate:

* The kick-off event is being held Friday, June 6, from 8 - 6 p.m.

Gee, how many Portlanders can attend an all-day meeting during the work week, while school is in session? I am angry that a weekday was chosen for this opening gala. Is anyone advocating for working citizens on the Planning Commission, in the Planning Bureau, or on the City Council?

* The Planning Commission is proposing to serve as the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Portland Plan.

Usually, a large, representative assembly of stakeholder experts and concerned citizens from all over Portland makes preliminary recommendations to the Planning Commission. Public hearings are held and the Planning Commission amends the proposal before sending it to the City Council. In this, the most important policy project this decade, the nine people appointed to the Planning Commission will provide both proposal and review. How does this make sense? How is it even possible, given that Planning Commissioners are volunteers who have to review many other policies and programs, as well as working on the Portland Plan?

Second on the Wednesday afternoon Agenda:


342 TIME CERTAIN: 2:30 PM - Prohibit marking public property or right-of-way using paint, tape, other methods or objects to reserve viewing space for a parade event (Ordinance introduced by Commissioner Leonard; add Code Chapter 14A.55)

I am proud to have served on the "Parade Access Committee", aka the Duct Tape advisory group, with other "dignitaries" hehehe. I am especially happy that Commissioner Leonard took my advice, and delayed this public hearing to give time for neighborhood and business groups to review the proposal and comment after the committee finished our work. It's a good plan with many factors considered, thanks in part to input from this blog's readers (search for Duct Tape in the left sidebar to review previous entries on this topic). I hope it will be the focus of a warm fuzzy hearing and a 5-0 vote on Wednesday afternoon.

Next Up at City Council, 3/5/08 - Enterprise Zones

  • Posted on: 2 March 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

I worked from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. yesterday. This morning, my first coherent thought after the first mug of coffee was, "Hey, I get to write Next Up at City Council this morning!", with a rush of enthusiasm rather than tired resignation. Then when I read the first item on the Portland City Council Agenda for March 5, my reaction was, "Cool! The report on Enterprise Zones is done!"

I am clearly not the average Portlander. Each to their own, huh?

The Council meets Wednesday morning and afternoon this coming week. On Wednesday morning:


292 TIME CERTAIN: 9:30 AM - Approve the Enterprise Zone Policy and authorize the Portland Development Commission, on behalf of the City, to act as the E-Zone manager and apply for a 10 year E-Zone designation from the State of Oregon

Enterprise Zones are the lesser-known cousin of Urban Renewal Areas. They promote job creation on industrial sites. From the Report: "The Oregon Enterprise Zone program is a State of Oregon economic development program, as provided by the Act, that allows for property tax exemptions designed to encourage existing and new firms to invest in new capital outlays in certain designated areas. In exchange for receiving the property tax exemptions, participating firms are required to meet certain program requirements as described in the Act and any additional requirements as set by local jurisdictions."

Portland's Enterprise Zone program gives a five year 100% property tax abatement, managed by the Portland Development Commission. The boundaries are mostly along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, west of I-205, east of Forest Park, and north of I-84. Most of the proposed area carries industrial zoning and is contiguous, although there are a few detatched slivers running along specific arterials in North/Northeast Portland.

In the version of the program that ran from 2000 to 2007, thirty-five companies invested $437 million and created or retained 4,300 jobs, in return for a total property tax abatement of about $26 million. Companies receiving the benefit include the Banfield Pet Hospital headquarters on NE 82nd with $22 million investment, $1.57 million tax abatement; and Solaicx solar panels, $57 million expenditure, $3.5 million rebate. I am very pleased that the evaluation study was done, and that it supports continuing the program. This is a Portland Development Commission project that helps neighborhoods outside of Urban Renewal Areas.

From the Resolution:

"The Oregon Enterprise Zone Act, ORS 285C.050 – 285C.250, authorizes the designation of Enterprise Zones in urban and non-urban areas and provides that property tax abatement, job creation, and local municipal incentives are desirable to stimulate economic development in economically depressed areas.

The Portland City Council sponsors the Portland E-Zone program to facilitate investment by predominantly industrial-based businesses in Portland in order to create or retain quality jobs while maximizing the economic benefits for residents of Portland who are currently earning at or below 80% Median Family Income"

The proposed Enterprise Zone is located entirely in a “Distressed Area” as defined by the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department. The unemployment rate within the Enterprise Zone is 10.3% compared with the State wide unemployment rate of 7.9%, and the percentage living below poverty is 16.2% compared with the statewide average at 11.5%.

Two of the goals of the program:

* Ensure that the jobs being created meet basic job quality and retention requirements per the E-Zone Policy and State requirements, and

* Ensure that participating firms are increasing overall employment by at least ten percent (10%) during the first year the firm receives abatement.

The Agreement includes standards that must be met, as well as aspirational goals and specific requirements on child care, transit use, and more. Among them is that companies must provide levels of pay above minimum wage, as well as benefits including health care insurance. Companies receiving the tax abatement are required to contribute to the cost of "the City's basic services such as police and fire" coverage for new facilities. Both a Board and a Technical Advisory Committee are established to oversee implementation. It looks like a good, well-rounded, thoughtful program to me - evidence-based, with appropriate oversight and consequences for success and failure.

Ok, back to the rest of the Portland City Council Agenda:

Drama at Wilson High School

  • Posted on: 29 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Jessica Hillenbrand as Lady MacBeth

Wilson High School's drama department was saved from extinction three years ago, by parents fundraising to pay for a teacher. Anyone watching the WHS production of MacBeth this week would surely agree it was well worth it. In addition to Jessica Hillenbrand's inspired performance, Greg Lanton in the title role and Alex Swalwell as MacDuff are outstanding. Director/drama teacher Jamie Miller's casting the witches as sirens rather than crones is delightfully interesting, and the entire performance is amazing. Steve and my only regret is that Bill S. failed to develop the character of Lady Lennox to its fullest potential - the scene with our daughter center stage was entirely too short.

Performances continue tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m., with a matinee tomorrow at 2 p.m. Patrons will be impressed to see what today's teenagers and public schools can do.

Next Up at City Council 2/27-28, 2008

  • Posted on: 24 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

As time goes by and May 20 draws closer, I have less and less time to do a thorough (or even cursory) review of the Portland City Council Agenda each week. Please click on the link and post in the comments to alert your fellow AmandaFritz.com readers of important issues. I don't know of any other blogger or official source highlighting the Council agenda, and few people remember to go to the Auditor's web site each weekend to check on it.

There are three Time Certain hearings on Wednesday morning that sound interesting:


258 TIME CERTAIN: 9:30 AM - Accept the Portland City-Wide Drug Strategy Report (Report introduced by Mayor Potter)

A citywide strategy is definitely needed. Leaving aside the civil rights issue of imposing a penalty before trial and conviction, "Drug Free Zones" greatly reduce problems in one neighborhood but just shift them elsewhere. I'll be interested to hear if anyone has comments on the report.


*259 TIME CERTAIN: 10:15 AM - Extend the effective date of a Comprehensive Plan Map and Zoning Map Amendment previously approved by Ordinance Nos. 180713, 180749 and 181175 for property located at 5828 N. Van Houten Place at the request of the University of Portland and Triangle Park LLC (Ordinance introduced by Commissioner Leonard; LU 06-132925 CP ZC)

A third extension for this land use issue. I covered the issue in January 2007 and July. I wonder what the holdup is.


*260 TIME CERTAIN: 10:30 AM - Amend and clarify provisions of the Campaign Finance Fund (Ordinance introduced by Auditor Blackmer; amend Code Chapter 2.10)

Well, that one I have to check, of course. The link to the ordinance includes all the code rules for the system, in case you've been wondering but haven't had time to find them. The new rules seem to be mostly on matching funds for independent expenditures. Plus a few minor corrections, including noting that each Certified Campaign Finance Fund candidate receives a different amount from the Auditor's Office, depending on how much was raised in five dollarses and seed money contributions in the Qualifying Period. The code language is changed to reflect the intent that all certified candidates work with the same amount of money.

At least, that's what I think it says. I will be checking with my trusty treasurer and with the Auditor's Office to make sure I understand the changes. This is one instance where it is entirely appropriate to see the asterisk indicating an emergency ordinance, taking effect immediately.

On the Consent Agenda,


268 Direct the Portland Office of Transportation to develop a Parking Management Plan for the Lloyd and Central Eastside Districts (Resolution)

The Streetcar along the Central Eastside Industrial District is expected to create parking problems for businesses.

Interesting stuff on Wednesday afternoon:

More funding needs in Jefferson area schools

  • Posted on: 22 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Guest Post by Nicole Breedlove
Jefferson cluster parent

Recently, I posted a message from the GetInvolvedWithJeffSchools listserve regarding urgent funding needs. This is a follow up, again from that listserve and posted with permission. Using the Donors Choose web site is a great way to ensure your donation goes straight to the children you want to help, minimizing administrative overhead and avoiding making teachers jump through hoops to get resources their students need. ~ Amanda

**************************

Nicole writes:

A couple of weeks ago, we raised over $500 in less than one day to help Jefferson teacher Dan Coffey purchase new books for the students in his senior literature class. Thank you for the amazing support of this project!

Mr. Coffey wrote:

"I appreciate your generous contribution to the learning, and the lives of my students. Every book we read is falling apart, and you could not imagine the effect this has on the kids' perception of their education and the material. These new books will provide our book room with a much needed upgrade of a timeless classic, and help to raise the self-esteem and self-image of the students at our school. Thank you!"

Dan Coffey, Jefferson High School Portland, Oregon

Since Mr. Coffey's project was funded so quickly, some people who wanted to contribute to the project may have found that it was already closed to donations when they visited the Donors Choose website. I searched the site for all the Jefferson community schools and found that the following schools have projects that are still accepting donations through the site:


Boise-Eliot (2 projects)
Humboldt (1 project)
Ockley Green (1 project)
Woodlawn (1 project)
Tubman YWA (1 project)

To help fund any of these projects, donors can visit www.donorschoose.org, select Oregon, then enter a search for the school name.

The Adopt-a-Classroom website also has classrooms from following Jefferson community schools registered and ready to accept online donations for classroom supplies and special projects:


Beach (13 classrooms)
Humboldt (2 classrooms)
King (6 classrooms)
Woodlawn (10 classrooms)
Tubman YWA (1 classroom)

For example, Tubman Young Women's Academy teacher Jennifer Coomes is seeking support for her art classes including funding toward a kiln and supplies for an 8' x 40' mural depicting women leaders. People can make donations to support this classroom, or other Portland classrooms, by scrolling through the list of schools here.

Moon Aura

  • Posted on: 21 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Taken during the lunar eclipse yesterday evening. Steve took some lovely shots around Portland, including a beautiful one of the moon over the Fremont Bridge, and some interesting compositions with the St Johns Bridge. Coming here soon.

Next Up at City Council, 2/20/08 - Note: Another property tax levy coming your way

  • Posted on: 17 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

The Portland City Council Agenda shows a rare evening hearing:


WEDNESDAY, 6:00 PM, FEBRUARY 20, 2008


257 TIME CERTAIN: 6:00 PM - Refer renewal of Children's Levy to City voters as a local option levy for five years commencing in fiscal year 2009-10 (Resolution introduced by Commissioner Saltzman)

I'm glad to see this being scheduled when more people can attend... even though it means I personally can't, because I am already committed to a Coalition for a Livable Future meeting on the I-5 Columbia River bridge that evening. Dang.

The Children's Levy isn't as simple as it seems. Of course, most people support helping impoverished children. The Children’s Investment Fund (CHIF) supports many vital programs, which provide cost-effective returns on investment and huge benefits to children and families. Without renewal of CHIF, these programs may go unfunded.

Let me be very clear:


* I support funding early childhood, preschool, and after school programs.
Even if you don't care about the people they serve, these programs are cost-effective in producing later savings, by helping children before they slip behind academically and socially. Helping a child to learn to read and write in first grade is much easier and cheaper than helping that child catch up in middle school after years of not being able to keep up with the rest of the class. Certainly, much less expensive than putting young people in prison under Measure 11, after failing in the educational system.


* I find it hard to justify why the City of Portland is the appropriate jurisdiction to propose the levy and manage the fund.
Why not the County? Why not the State? It may have been necessary for Portland to take a stand, providing these programs, in 2002 when state revenues were still strapped and the Legislature wasn't controlled by leaders elected on platforms of getting services to people in need. Portland took the lead to make sure the money for the varied programs assisted by CHIF was raised for six years. Is it still Portland's responsibility today?


* I question asking Portlanders to pay for these services via another property tax levy.
Because of Measure 5, residential property owners pay a disproportionate share of property taxes. Businesses need educated workers. More than two thirds of Oregon corporations pay the minimum tax, which is $10 per year. Before Portland property tax payers are asked to pony up for these worthy programs again, other mechanisms and sources for the money to pay for them should be reviewed in public hearings. How about ending successful Urban Renewal Areas, so Multnomah County has more money to pay for these programs out of its own budget?

Children and families need Head Start and after school support in Portland, and also in Beaverton, Medford, and Pendleton. I want Portlanders to discuss whether renewing the Children's Fund levy in Portland diminishes the potential for permanent statewide funding of these crucial services for all Oregon’s children. Perhaps a better approach would be for the entire Portland City Council to pressure the 2009 Legislative session in Salem to push for statewide funding of early childhood programs, in all 36 counties.

I also want to know the numbers on compression under the Measure 50 cap with regard to operating expenses, if the Children's Fund is renewed in Portland. Measure 50 limits the total amount allowed to be raised by property tax levies. The number for that cap is up for debate because it depends on many factors in the insanely complicated rules of the property tax rules in Measures 7, 47, and 50. It is further complicated by Portland's obligation under the Charter to pay for the Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund (FPDR) as an operating expense.

Essentially, the Measure 50 cap works like this (numbers for example only):

You're a kid in a candy store. You have a five dollar bill. You want to buy a pound of lemon drops, a pound of mints, and a pound of licorice. You really really like lemon drops, mints, and licorice. Each pound of candy costs $2. You can't buy three pounds of candy - your spending limit is five bucks. The licorice only comes in one pound packages, so you spend $2 on that- that's the FPDR allocation in Portland, which gets priority. You only have $3 left in your allowance, so you can buy just three quarters of a pound of lemon drops, three quarters of a pound of mints. Your inability to buy a full pound of lemon drops and a full pound of mints is due to "compression", in Measure 50 language.

Put another way: operating expenses are a pie. When you vote on levies, you can't increase the size of the pie, you determine how it is sliced.

What happened when the 2002 Children's Fund levy was approved by voters was that not as much money was raised for the Parks levy running concurrently, because of Measure 50 compression. And since voters knew what was promised in the Parks levy, they were outraged when there wasn't enough money to fund specific improvements. Buckman Pool repairs, for example. "Parks didn't do what they promised, I'm not voting for another Parks levy!", people said. In fact, one reason the Parks levy couldn't finish its To Do list was that because when voters also passed the Children's levy, the Parks levy didn't bring in as much as expected.

Note: capital expenses funded with bonds don't fall under the Measure 50 cap on operating levies. Voting for buying real estate or buildings will increase your property tax bill, but capital improvements don't compete with each other other than for voter approval. The proposed school construction bonds and zoo renovations, and the approved Metro Greenspaces bond to buy land, are where governments get approval from voters to increase their spending, rather than dividing up a pie of set size in different slices.

Politicians should be honest with voters as to the total amount of operating levies that are allowed under Measure 50. Portland is a progressive city and our voters have proved willing to fund many worthy causes, but the reality of Measure 50 means we can’t buy them all. I believe the citizens of Portland will make the right decisions when leaders give accurate information about the choices. Measure 50 considerations should be on the table and dealt with openly, when various jurisdictions are deciding which operating levies to put on the November 2008 ballot. Voters approved Charter changes that continue to use pay-as-we-go to fund FPDR. We may well be asked to vote for a Multnomah County public safety operating levy. I want to know how much we have in our pocket to spend in the operating levy store.

Elected officials and City/County financial experts should sit down in the same room, and figure it out, before putting measures on the November 2008 ballot. The responsible approach would be for those leaders and numbers experts to say to voters: "You can spend x dollars on all operating levies on the November ballot. We've set it up so that we're asking you to approve this percentage of x going to public safety, that percentage going to children's programs. This percentage goes to Police/Fire pensions/disability, and you have y percentage left over in case you want to buy something else in 2010." If we are allowed to fund them all, in the amounts promised, the questions voters will be asked in November are different from if we are really being asked how many slices we want the pie to be cut into. These issues should be part of the debate at the Council hearing on Wednesday evening.

There are other important items on the Portland City Council Agenda on Wednesday morning. The one that most caught my attention is:


245 TIME CERTAIN: 9:30 AM - Adopt the recommendations in the 82nd Avenue of Roses High Crash Safety Corridor Safety Action Plan Report (Resolution introduced by Commissioner Adams)

I attended an Open House on the proposal at the Central Northeast Neighbors facility. Neighbors participating seemed generally pleased. The Report is linked with the ordinance on the Agenda, which is nice. And "staff is directed to engage in activities to implement the improvements described in the 82nd Avenue of Roses High Crash Corridor Safety Action Plan report". The big question, of course, is funding. Too often, citizens and staff put years of work into such reports, then the City funds new studies instead of paying for the infrastructure identified in the Action Plans. I hope the items in the 82nd Avenue of Roses report are included for consideration in the Budget being reviewed in public meetings next week.

A biofuels fact

  • Posted on: 15 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

At least, I consider it a fact unless someone has evidence to the contrary. I heard it from Erwin Bergman, a retired engineer and Cully Association of Neighbors volunteer, who over several years has earned my respect as someone who does the homework and states facts more often than not. I will tell you up front that I have not had time to check on this one.

I attended the Columbia Slough Watershed Council annual dinner a couple of weeks ago. It's one of my favorite fundraiser events - fun and light-hearted, while recognizing extraordinary volunteers and staff. This year, my friends Richard Towle and Gyrid Hyde Towle were honored with Leadership Awards for their work in the Children's Arboretum in East Columbia, along with Erwin. So after the event, I hung around chatting like you do, and snagged a moment with Erwin to congratulate him. Except Erwin being Erwin, and me being me, my follow-up question wasn't "Got any big vacation plans this year?" but "How is the Colwood Golf Course rezoning process going?".

And that led to a discussion about our shared recognition of the need for high speed rail from Vancouver BC to San Diego, and then on to biofuels. From Erwin:

It takes 57,200 gallons of fuel to fill the tank of a Boeing 747 airplane once. Rapeseed or canola provides 50 gallons of biofuel per acre. So it would take the annual production from 1,144 acres to fill a Boeing 747 one time.

It doesn't seem quite so feasible to use biofuels to grow our way out of oil dependency, in light of that example, does it?

Another call to rethink biofuels

  • Posted on: 12 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

A message from Mike Houck, Director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute here in Portland, posted with permission:

Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat

I know Tim Searchinger well. We worked together in D. C. on national
floodplain management and wetlands issues for many years. I respect his
intellect and scientific background. His research echoes concerns I've had
for a long time with biofuels and the negative environmental impacts of
rushing to alternative fuels that result in potentially massive conversion
of natural vegetation to crops for biofuel.

Houck

*******************

My highlights from the article by Elisabeth Rosenthal, published in the New York Times February 8, 2008:

* "Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded."

* "Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces."

* "“When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially,” said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton University. “Previously there’s been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior analysis.”"

* "In the wake of the new studies, a group of 10 of the United States’s most eminent ecologists and environmental biologists today sent a letter to President Bush and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, urging a reform of biofuels policies. “We write to call your attention to recent research indicating that many anticipated biofuels will actually exacerbate global warming,” the letter said."

* "The European Union and a number of European countries have recently tried to address the land use issue with proposals stipulating that imported biofuels cannot come from land that was previously rain forest. But even with such restrictions in place, Dr. Searchinger’s study shows, the purchase of biofuels in Europe and the United States leads indirectly to the destruction of natural habitats far afield. For instance, if vegetable oil prices go up globally, as they have because of increased demand for biofuel crops, more new land is inevitably cleared as farmers in developing countries try to get in on the profits. So crops from old plantations go to Europe for biofuels, while new fields are cleared to feed people at home."

* "Likewise, Dr. Fargione said that the dedication of so much cropland in the United States to growing corn for bioethanol had caused indirect land use changes far away. Previously, Midwestern farmers had alternated corn with soy in their fields, one year to the next. Now many grow only corn, meaning that soy has to be grown elsewhere.

* "Increasingly, that elsewhere, Dr. Fargione said, is Brazil, on land that was previously forest or savanna. “Brazilian farmers are planting more of the world’s soybeans — and they’re deforesting the Amazon to do it,” he said."

Public Process Problems - Block 25 and Beyond

  • Posted on: 11 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

As noted in Next Up at City Council, 2/13/08, below, the City Council is making some highly suspect decisions in siting the Resource Access Center for homeless people in Old Town/Chinatown.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the pros and cons of two potential locations for this particular facility, let me tell you why I am steamed.

The Council is making the same process mistakes they showcased in the Chávez street renaming fiasco:

* Not following the process in the Code

* Making deals and promises to some stakeholders

* Not allowing adequate time for transparent, accountable public process in open meetings

Neighbors have been told that if they agree to the siting of the Access Center on Block 25, the neighborhood will receive $200 million in urban renewal money. But that money does not yet exist.

In order to generate the funds being promised, all three of the Portland Development Commission, the Planning Commission, and the City Council must vote to allow the River District Urban Renewal Area to borrow more money, AND change the boundaries of that URA to include parts of Old Town/Chinatown. EVERYONE IN PORTLAND HAS TO RECEIVE WRITTEN NOTICE BEFORE ANY OF THAT HAPPENS. Council members are promising neighbors that all these changes will surely happen, before public hearings and votes have been held.

City Council members are talking as if $311 million in new debt for the River District is a done deal. The Portland Development Commission should at least do the same analysis they do before creating an urban renewal area in the first place, before approving this increase in debt. They are required to have an analysis done that shows financial feasibility and how the district could be expected to perform with and without tax increment financing. This is especially important because it makes absolutely no sense to increase debt on a district that is such a success. Doing the homework would be the responsible thing to do when the increase ($300+ million) is well above the original district debt limit of $225 million. Why isn't this analysis happening? Why isn't Council waiting for it before charging ahead with spending the new (borrowed) money?

This is a huge public process problem.

Ok, now to the particular issue of siting the Resource Access Center:

Next Up at City Council, 2/13/08

  • Posted on: 10 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

First on the Agenda on Wednesday morning at the Portland City Council this coming week are five citizens using the Citizen Communications slots to talk with Council about potential siting of a Resource Access Center for homeless people on Block 25 in Old Town/Chinatown.

I attended the Old Town/Chinatown Neighborhood Association meeeting last Tuesday. I was very impressed with the turnout and with the thoughtful process and debate there. I was dismayed that neighbors are being asked to "give input" on the siting of the center at such a pace that the Land Use Committee had to hold ten meetings in the past two months. And I was utterly disgusted to hear that City Commissioners are making decisions and giving promises outside of proper public process. It takes affirmative votes of the majority of both the Portland Development Commission and the Portland City Council to increase the indebtedness of an Urban Renewal Area, or to change the boundaries of one. Yet apparently Old Town/Chinatown neighbors are being promised a jackpot of new urban renewal money, on the assurance that those changes are a Done Deal. Sickening. And enough to make me believe that siting the Resource Access Center on Block 25 is A Bad Thing. Otherwise, why not give adequate time for review, and let the proposal stand on its own merits instead of dangling $200 million (of our money, City and County money) in front of the neighborhood?

Oh, this agenda is making me grumpy. Or grumpier. Here we have a nice "emergency ordinance":

*229 Authorize acquisition of vehicles for use by City Bureaus (Ordinance)

It's on the Consent Agenda, but I'm curious. What are we buying, and why is it an emergency? The ordinance language doesn't say much more than "we're supposed to come to Council get authorization to buy vehicles, so here we are and we want them now". But then there is a table showing all the purchases. Some seem legitimate, like replacing undercover agents' cars annually so they don't become recognizable (although I think I would notice more if one of my neighbors got a brand new car every year). But some make me sigh. We're buying a new hybrid sedan because "The Bureau would like to upgrade a general purpose sedan replacement to a hybrid sedan in order to drive a more environmentally friendly vehicle. These vehicles initially cost more to purchase. There will be some savings achieved through greater fuel efficiency, as well as significant benefit to the environment by purchasing this vehicle." Shouldn't the report detail how much more fuel efficient it is, and whether the benefit to the environment includes the cost of making and shipping the new car compared with using the one they already have? Here's another one: For the Water Bureau, four big SUVs because "The Bureau requires diesel engines in order to use bio-diesel fuel. The larger configuration is the only SUV available in the 2008 model." So in order to use bio-diesel, we have to buy the larger truck that uses more fuel. Where is the analysis of whether or not it would be more environmentally friendly to use the smaller truck with regular gas?

Ok, this cheers me up. The pedestrian bridge over I-5 under the tram on SW Gibbs Street is happening - long awaited by the Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill neighborhood, now joined with South Waterfront and named South Portland. And the City is settling for $1.14 million in a franchise payment from a now-bankrupt cable company. That's $1.14 million we didn't have last week. Hey, let's put it towards fixing streets, the way Mayor Bud Clark determined chunks of franchise fees should be used.

There are other interesting items on the Agenda. The City is moving forward with a $103,425 consulting contract, looking at a "district energy system" for the North Pearl District. That's the idea of using the Willamette as a heat pump. Bet the fish won't mind. Apparently the Council believes the rest of Portland's residents and businesses are fine with using General Fund money (via the "Clean Energy Initiative Fund in the Office of Sustainable Development) to make sure the utility bills in the Pearl are as low as the tax-abated rents.

Told you I'd be grumpier by the end of the Agenda. But wait, there's more. Wednesday afternoon:


243 TIME CERTAIN: 2:00 PM - Appeal of George Trinkaus against Design Commission's decision to approve with conditions the application of TMT Development Company and Fox Tower LLC for a new 33-story mixed-use tower, Park Avenue West, at the site known as South Park Block 4 (Hearing; LU 07-140633 MS DZM AD)

I find land use cases fascinating. Unfortunately, I don't have time to look into this one. But you could, and tell me about it in the comments.

Donors Choose

  • Posted on: 6 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Guest Post by Kris Murray
Deputy Director, DonorsChoose.org

Thanks for using your blog to promote the Jefferson High School project on DonorsChoose.org. I’m thrilled that it was fully funded! We are new to Portland, and Oregon in general, having just opened our website to teachers across the nation in September 2007. In that short time, we have channeled more than $36,000 in resources to Oregon classrooms, from donors in 31 states.

Since our founding by a teacher in the Bronx in April 2000, and operating in selected regions of the country, we’ve helped teachers from New York to LA get more than $19 Million in resources. And the super-cool thing is that donors to these projects receive a thank-you package from “their” classrooms, each of which includes student thank-you notes, a letter from the teacher, photos of the students using the materials, and a project cost report, showing where every dollar was spent. For more than 75% of our donors, ours is their first-ever donation to public education. And their donation gives them a window into the amazing work going on in our schools. So, we really are bringing the public to public education and bringing public education to the public!

We would love to see more Portland teachers utilizing our website to get the resources they need for their students to learn, and we sincerely appreciate you and other bloggers in the Portland area that are helping us “get the word out.” Although we have a good number of Portland teachers using our website already, we won’t be satisfied until we have ALL of them doing so.


Kris Murray
Deputy Director, DonorsChoose.org

Next Up at City Council, 2/6/08

  • Posted on: 2 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

The Agenda for the Portland City Council this coming week shows only a Wednesday morning session. Remember, the following is a skimming of the Agenda, in the short time available to me in reviewing it. Read it yourself, and please post in the comments if there's something that interests you that I don't highlight.

Here's a contract authorization I find intruiging. I clicked the link to see the ordinance from this item on the Consent Agenda:


194 Authorize a contract and provide for payment for the construction of Transit Mall Sewer Rehabilitation Project No. 8620 (Ordinance)

Why did I click that particular link? Because I wanted to know how much the contract is for. Answer: $5 million. And, because I wanted to know where the money is coming from.

Here's the entire ordinance:


The City of Portland ordains:

Section 1. The Council finds:


1. There are numerous open joints, dropped joints, root problems, longitudinal and radial cracks, missing pipes, collapsed sections, and cavities in the existing sewer lines between SW 4th and 6th Ave. from SW Oak Street to SW Mill Street.
2. The Bureau of Environmental Services has prepared plans and specifications for rehabilitating and replacing the existing sewer main and service laterals.
3. The Bureau of Environmental Services requires the furnishing of materials and labor for this project.
4. The established cost is $5,000,000. The level of confidence for this project is high. Funds are available in the Sewer System Operating Fund, FY 2007-08 Budget, Bureau of Environmental Services, Center Code 145-22-110, Project Number 8620, Account No. 567000

NOW, THEREFORE, the Council directs:


a. The Commissioner of Public Utilities and Auditor are authorized to execute a contract with the lowest responsible bidder for the purpose described in Section 1.
b. The Mayor and Auditor are hereby authorized to draw and deliver warrants chargeable to the Sewer System Operating Fund Budget when demand is presented and approved by the proper authority.

Quick conclusion: I'm glad to see the funds are already budgeted in existing funds.

Ongoing question: What factors are considered in the "responsible" part of the "lowest responsible bidder" language?

The current answer is "not sufficient", in my opinion. In addition to the price of the bid, the City should consider whether contractors provide health care insurance for their workers, to give just one example. If they don't, taxpayers and people with health insurance will pick up the tab for working families whose employer doesn't provide that benefit, so the "lowest bid" may not turn out to be the lowest cost to the city's economy. It's estimated workers with health insurance pay an extra $100 per month in premiums to cover unfunded emergency health care for those without insurance. I'm hoping to be appointed to join a committee led by Commissioner Sam Adams, addressing this issue.

I also wonder about the relationship and timing of this project with consideration of SW 6th being torn up for the light rail line installation.

Here's another contract I'd like to know more about:

Snowier now

  • Posted on: 2 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Vista House, in the Columbia River Gorge, taken a couple of weeks ago.

The snow today is beautiful, here at my house at about 650' on the north slope of Mt. Sylvania. It's currently close to 35 degrees outside, but the precipitation is still coming down white, and most surfaces are covered.

And it's so quiet. Usually, we hear a constant dull roar of the sound of traffic on I-5. I rather like it - when I stop to notice it. It reminds me of people and goods going up to Vancouver BC or down to San Diego, and of friends zipping around the Metro area. Most of the time, the traffic noise is like the waves at the ocean - after a while, it is part of the background to our lives.

Today, when I stop to listen, I hear the whirr of the computer fan, and occasionally a child's voice playing outside. No cars have traveled up the hill for maybe an hour. Our daughter Ali bundled up and headed out to walk to the library. She invited me to go along, but sadly I have too much to finish here at home before going to work this afternoon. I'm greatly looking forward to driving Terwilliger, if the snow hasn't melted by then.

Gender bias in the O

  • Posted on: 1 February 2008
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Melody Rose, a professor at Portland State University, gave a fascinating talk last weekend at a training I attended. She is researching for a book on media coverage of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign for President. She said that while major newspapers refer to her as "Senator Clinton" the first time her name is mentioned in articles, per journalism protocol, thereafter she is very often referenced as "Mrs. Clinton". Not even "Ms. Clinton", let alone continuing to be "Senator Clinton" as often as other candidates are called "Senator Obama" or "Senator Edwards" throughout the articles. The subconscious message sent is "this woman is somebody's wife" rather than "this person is an elected Senator". Whoever you support for President, I hope you agree that is not fair.

The Oregonian takes diminishment of a female politician one step further, in the article printed today reviewing Multnomah County's Audit of tax breaks given by the Portland Development Commission. I don't want to distract attention from the meat of the audit - I suggest you read this article in today's Tribune for some good information. But when you read this article in today's Oregonian, I want you to notice something.

The name of the Multnomah County Auditor, whose office investigated and wrote the report, is not mentioned.

Anywhere in the article.

Two (male) County Commissioners are quoted. The article even ends with naming the (male) City Auditor, who didn't write the report covered in the article, and attributes to him a quotation that might be taken as a put-down of the County Audit:

"The scrutiny on the programs will continue as City Auditor Gary Blackmer conducts a second audit. "We're going a little more in depth," Blackmer said.".

OK, pop quiz: Who is the Multnomah County Auditor? And since she's an elected official, don't you think she deserves some name recognition for having completed this report?

It's LaVonne Griffin-Valade, if you're wondering. Thank you for a good analysis, Auditor Griffin-Valade.

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