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Friday, January 21, 2005

When to say when

In the continuing war of the South Waterfront Developers vs. The World (score so far: Developers 110, World 0), another battle is nigh.

It's bad enough that the builders are getting a ludicrous, ugly aerial tram from OHSU over the homes and backyards of a very unhappy neighborhood below. But now they want to make their luxury skyscrapers taller and wider than they originally promised they would be, thus obliterating even more of the public view and making even more money from selling the heart of Portland to the highest-bidding empty nesters they can suck north from L.A. and Marin County. They've got the proposal all the way through the prevailing city bureaucracy, and now all that stands in the way is a City Council vote.

So far, they've had no problem getting the council to vote their way. And I mean none, not even from Everyman Leonard. "You can't stop change," he said last time, or something like that.

The neighbors are back up in arms, but you can't fault them from being bone-weary of all this. They're beaten down. When you're up against the city's favored developers, you can never win. Even after you lose once, the real estate welfare recipients keep coming at you again and again. Unlike neighborhood activists, they make lots of money hanging in there on issue after issue. You wind up losing a dozen times before they get everything they originally wanted, and more. All the stuff they give up along the way in supposed concessions to get the city's o.k. for one feature or another somehow never comes to pass.

I don't know how short a memory these folks think we all have. One of the ways they sold the questionable esthetics of the original project was to give assurances that the towers wouldn't go too high, and that they would be slender and graceful and unobtrusive. "Needle-nose" buildings, somebody called the drawings. Sort of like in Vancouver, B.C., they said. Oooh! Vancouver, B.C.! That sounded so wonderful that Vera cooed, and the Scone gave that pained expression, and they answered, yes, yes, what a wonderful compromise. Meanwhile, backstage, the developers' fixer, You-Know-Who, the Great Vi$ionary, put their checks in his bank account. (Hey, the guy had a lot of bills to pay.)

So out flow the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars for the infrastructure, the tram, the whole works. Vera, Teddy, Wyden, Hatfield, they all show up for the groundbreaking with Homer and the Usual Suspects. Send in the cranes. Let's get rich. You would think that would be enough.

Not for these guys. They never let up.

And you know who's making the call on the tower heights so far? I'd be shocked if you did. One of the heavy hitters is an architect on an unelected something-or-other called the Design Commission. Some guy named Mark McCulloch. He was in the paper yesterday allowing as how, yes, we should let them tack on another 50 or 70 feet on the top of those condo towers, and make them standard fat apartment buildings to boot -- so long as they're "creative" and "good." This is the same guy who was recently quoted as saying he was ready to waive all kinds of height restrictions on buildings, so long as they were "cool."

Pardon me if those aren't criteria that I'm comfortable with.

Portland is being irreparably marred by all these towers. The Terwilliger Path used to be a revered place, where all Portlanders could go to share a sumptuous view not only of the mountains, but also of the east side of the city. That's going to be seriously impacted even under the existing plan. Someone from the "Planning" Bureau (I think they mostly plan the developers' retirements) said the original layout will be like looking through half-opened blinds. Thanks, but that's bad enough.

There was a time when many a west side commuter got a beautiful Mount Hood view every morning that the mountain was out, as he or she emerged from the Vista Tunnel on the way into downtown. It was a true treat, absolutely free, and it really lifted the spirits. One of those many little things that made the city great. Then came the KOIN Tower, right smack in the way. Now only a few dozen rich folks get that view. The unwashed thousands on their way to work get to see only the building in which their boss lives. And we're about to do the same for the commoners who like to contemplate Hood and the city from up on the hill. Let 'em look at apartments. Maybe they'll get to see William Hurt out on his deck.

The city has already given the condo-izers more than their share of the public's resources. We shouldn't start the Potter era off by giving away a single cubic inch more. We'll be watching the vote on this on Wednesday. The roll call will be front and center on this blog the next morning. And if it's in favor, we'll know that the Goldschmidt-Katz era isn't over yet.

Comments (14)

I find it amusing (in a heretofore unused meaning of the word) that the "Discovery Center" (you know, the gala-event place where you can sign up to make huge down-payments on condos that don't exist yet) (and, you know, has street signs all over the place directing folks on how to get there, and did I help pay for those or something?) model mock-up for the area around the end of the streetcar line (cool, it stops right next to the Spaghetti Factory, which makes it a mere few minutes' walk from work!) shows a high-rise building right where my workplace stands. Gee, I hope that's just a mock-up. I mean, dammit, we just finished moving IN to the damned place...


"thus obliterating even more of the public view and making even more money from selling the heart of Portland to the highest-bidding empty nesters they can suck north from L.A. and Marin County."

Very well put.

Jack, where did you get your illustration? It looks like it was conjured up on SimCity.

And what's so overrated about Vancouver BC anyway?

And most of the view from the Terwilliger Curves is now obscured by all those darned trees anyway.

"Vancouver BC" -- it's clearly what Vera wanted Portland to be. And to get there, all we need to add is big, bulky condo towers. We already have everything else.

If I wanted to live in Vancouver, BC, I would move there. Likely better economic opportunities for most folks there than here.

I thought Vera was more after the Prague look. You know, a quaint little apartment above every boutique and restaurant.

I will never agree with Jack 100% on this issue. But I tend to think he makes a good point regarding how much influence developers have over Portland's elected politicians. Most of the major decisions coming out of the City Council are revolved around making it easier to build in the City of Portland.

I also agree that Portland should stop trying to be Vancouver or San Fransisco, and instead should just focus on being the Best Portland possible. (Suck it Maine and Texas)

That said, Portland can't remain a small city forever. You have to grow somewhere and I prefer up and dense as opposed to out and sprawl. Neither solution is perfect, I just prefer density.

And, the next step in the analysis, Justin, assuming you aren't an Alternatives to Growth Oregon zealot, is WHERE should that new density be? Should it be in an underutilized "brownfield" site like the South Waterfront, or a derelict fading warehouse area like the Pearl District was, or should it be in thriving, stable existing neighborhoods like, say, Irvington?

"I also agree that Portland should stop trying to be Vancouver or San Fransisco, and instead should just focus on being the Best Portland possible. (Suck it Maine and Texas)"

Too late.

As Jack so deliciously said, those who run it have long been "selling the heart of Portland to the highest-bidding empty nesters they can suck north from L.A. and Marin County."

If that were a bon bon, it would be one from La Maison du Chocolate. Perfect.

There is, of course, a difference to preferring density over sprawl (as I do also), and dropping an entirely new "neighborhood" into South Waterfront with utter disdain for the architectural or design context of the rest of the City. I mean, we're not even arguing about whether or not some sort of weird Vancouver-Lite approachs hould be takena ll over the City... we're dealing with a single enclave -- what Vera called a "second downtown" -- that's going to have no visual connection to the actual downtown.

(FYI, that graphic is from the official documents for South Waterfront. It was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, publicly-available artists rendering of the area.)

If anyobody's got a more recent artist's rendering of how this deveolopment will look, particularly its height and density, I haven't seen it.

Couple a thoughts:

A) usually when i read these posts, i think curmudgeon, but this last one had a different spin, it was more fact than feeling, so well done.

B) you take your shots at the developers and PDC, what is your take on PDC's Family Funds branch which is supposed to be investing in "economic zones" instead of it's new offices in the koin tower.


"Branch"? As I understand it, after PDC has spent tons of tax dollars on its subsidiary, the "Family of Funds," it's about to "spin" it "off" (translation: give it away) to a certain group of well-connected people as a private, for-profit company. The City Club, the city attorney and others are looking at that one, which stinks to high heaven. I'll let them figure it out.

Hey, maybe the Oregon attorney general will investigate it, and clean it up! Sure, in your dreams.

It's hard to sort the foul odor of Family of Funds from the other peculiar smells coming out of the PDC.

The central problem with all things central planing these days in Oregon is there is not really any genuine quantifying or qualifying of the public cost or benefit.
Even Robert Landauer questions the legitimacy of Urban Renewal inmany cases. Or at least he suggests we do a better job of legitimizing the many incentives and investments given to the chosen developers.
The frenzy of public officials playing make-believe developers by gambling with other people's money (taxpayers) is unchecked and reckless by any objective observation. The detrimental effects on basic services funding alone has been staggering. Yet that outcome, along with many others, has not slowed the pace of public "investment" one iota.
So what's up?

Good-bye Mt. Hood

A television presentation of Portland's South Waterfront Project

What will it really mean to Portland taxpayers, the local neighborhoods, the environment, traffic, the economy and livability?

Wednesday, January 26th at 8:00PM

Tualatin Valley Television, Live-Link, cable channel 11

The "Education and Politics" broadcast will include many photos, drawings and a thorough discussion of the entire South Waterfront Project.

Special guest, long time Portland democrat and citizen activist Jerry Ward.

Jerry's experiences with the City of Portland, Portland Development Commission, neighborhood groups and Urban Renewal Advisory Committee for South Waterfront make this show a must see.

The show will be a live-link, call-in show on Wednesday with numerous re-broadcasts during the following month.

Please tune in and call in with a short comment or question.

Steve Schopp
"Education and Politics" host


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference When to say when:

» Jack Bog and his articles about the Portland Development Commission from
Jack Bog has a series of posts exposing the shenanigans of the Portland Development Commission. You can some of them here and [Read More]

» North Macadam Urban Renewal from BlueOregon
B!x has done the community a service with this excellent explanation of Urban Renewal Districts. Urban Renewal is very arcane stuff and his explanations are good. I was in the State Senate in 1996 when Measure 47 passed, the [Read More]


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