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Friday, January 23, 2004

Tax a Roni, the Portland treat

Interesting news in The Oregonian yesterday that the Portland streetcar -- the public utility that shuttles Pearl District residents from Portland State University to Northwest Trendy-third Avenue -- is now costing city taxpayers $906,000 a year to operate. That's a 50 percent increase over three years, with no end in sight.

City Commissioner Randy Leonard, a regular reader of this blog, questioned whether the property owners who benefit from the streetcar (particularly in the Pearl District) shouldn't be paying more of the city subsidy. But that didn't stop Randy and the rest of their City Council from approving "a $9.9 million contract for a 0.6-mile line extension from Portland State to RiverPlace's cluster of housing and shops along the Willamette River." That will insure that the same guys who own the Pearl (which is largely exempt from property taxes) can also make more money from the tax-subsidized RiverPlace, where they also have properties.

It's the Joe Weston-Homer Williams private streetcar line, paid for by guys like me. I like to watch the streetcar go by when I'm downtown. I get to wave at my money.

I wish Randy would stop making speeches about boondoggles like this and start voting no.

In related news, the East Precinct of the Portland police bureau is hard up for money:

But years of budget cuts have led to a reduction in the number of officers, from 105 in 2001 to 92 today, said East Precinct Commander Cliff Jensen.

"We're on the edge, and I don't see it getting any better soon," Jensen said. "We don't have time for community outreach, or community policing -- which I believe in -- because we're running from call to call.

"It's hard to be 100 percent effective when you don't have enough resources."

Heaven forbid we should have enough cops when we can have streetcars.

Wait 'til we start paying the operating subsidy for the OHSU aerial tram (which will shuttle folks to and from yet another Homer Williams development). At that point, the East Precinct may have to close.

Comments (14)

I like the streetcar. However, since no hot chicks have been riding the rails recently, I’ve got to question Randy Leonard’s commitment to babe subsidy. You’ve got to wonder – is Randy Leonard doing everything possible to attract attractive ladies to Portland?

On a related note, is any of the Pearl tax exempt? Is it correct to say that, regarding the Pearl, abatement and exemption are the same until the abatement period expires? If the Pearl will ultimately pay its proportionate share of property tax, are streetcar expenses now justified by the promise of future revenue?

Once that cash starts rolling in, I expect Mayor Leonard to inject lots of money into the babe fund.

Abatement, exemption -- it all means that the middle-class homeowners of Portland pay for the toys, while the Pearlie developers who benefit from the toys (and their tenants, the DINKies in their black outfits) don't. Oh, maybe some day they'll pay taxes again -- maybe.

My objections were not to the street car or itself, but rather the operating budget of the street car. In fact, I made it clear to the council that when the operating budget for the street car comes to council I will in fact vote no on that if it still includes a subsidy.

I do think a light rail transportation system is not only important, but vital for our city. However, I think Tri-Met and/or the property owners that benefit directly from the street car should support it's on going operation and not the hard strapped Portland Department of Transportation that is short as it is to maintain all of Portland's city owned streets.
Randy Leonard

Light rail to the RiverPlace is "essential"? It looks as though those fellows have made loads of dough just fine without light rail.

"I do think a light rail transportation system is not only important, but vital for our city." More important than adequate funds for effective policing? The gang bangers in North and Northeast are killing each other in broad daylight again. When we've got an adequate response to that, it might be time for more trolleys. But not now.

Point well taken....Randy

I like the idea of 'streetcar'. I don't like the implementation. Though they are pretty. And I don't mind chipping in $2 a year on it, except that there are many many other things the I'd prefer my $2 to go to.

Without trying to beat a dead horse...there are different pots of money that the city has for distinctly different purposes.

The vote the council made last week was to approve dollars to construct the extension of the street car the use of which are not allowed for any purpose other than capital projects in the South waterfront urban renewal district.

The ongoing cost of operating the streetcar, however, we were told will require a $200,000 subsidy from funds that are available for street projects throughout Portland.

I will not vote to use those "discretionary" dollars to subsidize the existing or proposed street car.
Randy Leonard

Hi, Randy. The horse was almost dead, but you have revived it. 8c)

Please take the following in the constructive spirit in which it's offered. FWIW, I wouldn't waste this much time on most of your colleagues.

1. "There are different pots of money that the city has for distinctly different purposes." This is Vera-speak (or is it Serena-speak?). The city's arcane methods of bookkeeping are no excuse for poor spending choices and bad priorities. When I get my property tax bill, after my wife administers the smelling salts, I don't get to call the assessor and say, "Sorry, that money's in my kids' college pot." The city is spending my tax dollars on foolishness and neglecting the basics. All the "pots" are just a shell game that tries, but does not succeed, to obscure that fact.

2. If you're not comfortable with how we're funding the operations of the streetcar, why are you voting to expand it? You've just compounded the problem. You could have said, "Until we have the operating budget coming from the right sources, I'm not voting to expand the streetcar." But if you did that, maybe you wouldn't win prizes like...

3. National developers' pet politician of the year? Yuck. They're getting to you, Randy. Now you're into the Armory theater thing, the tram, the streetcar. Not what we were hoping for from an east side guy with the middle-class taxpayer in mind.

We love you on the problem taverns, support you on the mini-City Halls, and will give you a pass on some other things. But please don't fall any further in love with Neil and the Pearly Boys. Pretty please.

This is why I read your stuff, Jack. I appreciate your perspective more than you know.

As far as I can tell, Northeast Portland still has its share of gang-bangers, but it also has skyrocketing property values and rampant gentrification, as the Portland slums continue their inexorable march to the east side of I-205.

Why is this so, much more so in Portland than in many other U.S. cities? Two reasons: 1 - limitations on suburban sprawl, which in most U.S. metro areas is where the yuppies move, and 2 - active measures to add residential housing in or near downtown Portland, whether it be through new Pearl District and South Waterfront condo towers, or through encouraging accessory dwelling units (see the Metro section of Sunday's fishwrap). That inclues frills such as the streetcar instead of musty old buses.

In my opinion, the money spent on Homer Williams-land today makes for a top-notch city, both now and especially tomorrow.

Well, Gordo, then spend your own money on it. I don't want to spend mine, but you want to take mine away and spend it for me.

But Kris, if you don't spend this money now you'll be spending a lot more in the future (unless you want to live in a Third World city). Eventually those tax abatements are going to end and all those people will be paying property and income taxes (instead of you) so as to get quality services (for you too). Meanwhile, we won't need new freeways and arterial streets out in outer Sherwood, Banks, Canby, Sandy, etc. We won't need big new sewer plants and water intake facilities. We'll also have a much nicer environment around us (admittedly not a dollars and sense topic). So your money won't be needed for all of these facilities.

And the streetcar subsidy will go down once all of those people in the Pearl District and South Macadam slowly change their habits and use it more and more.

Mass transit does NOT become less of a financial drain when ridership increases. It is an unprofitable proposition at all ridership levels, and that is true worldwide.

Freeways are an unprofitable proposition, too, unless they're run as toll roads with no practical free alternative. But we need them.

Light rail as implemented in Portland has several problems:
1. It's slower than driving, most of the time.
2. It encourages suburban sprawl ("Huh?" say the transit mavens. But think about it: sprawl is when people can live on large lots far away from their work, which suburban transit encourages.)
3. The land within 200 feet of many of the stations is underdeveloped and does not generate customers. (Consider the stations in the middle of I-84 and I-205, the Beaverton Transit Center, and the Sunset Transit Center, and compare to the surface stations in New York, Tokyo, London, and Boston.)


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» Quotes of Note. from Parkway Rest Stop
“I like to watch the streetcar go by when I'm downtown. I get to wave at my money.” Cousin Jack complaining about a privately owned streetcar in Portland, which, in large part, is paid for by taxpayers. “I just can't... [Read More]

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