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Monday, May 2, 2005

Paging Mayor Potter

Lots of colorful language was being flung around over the weekend concerning the Portland Development Commission's outrageous selection of a developer for the east side of the Burnside Bridge. B!X is calling it a "rogue decision," and The O says the neighbors are "sulking" (a choice of verb which reportedly is ticking off the neighbors no end).

I did my best last week with "cancerous cyst," but let me add some more fuel to the rhetorical fire: The PDC is utterly out of control.

Once again, they screwed up the p.r. big time. Never has the "us and them" attitude that the PDC adopts toward the taxpayers of the city been more apparent. PDC chair Matt Hennessee (right) told The Oregonian on Thursday: "At the end of the day, if it fails, guess who people would look at? It's not the neighborhoods." That's the cooperative spirit, Matt!

Of course, on one level he's certainly right. For example, blame for the continuing, now breathtaking, failure of the Vanport Square project on MLK Boulevard is falling squarely on Hennessee and the other commissioners -- where it belongs.

But the Burnside deal is a lot worse than just a public relations fiasco. It would have been impossible to have any good p.r. on this decision, because the substance of it is so wrong. As my litigator friends are fond of saying, You can't polish a turd.

Even Randy Gragg, The O's resident apologist for all Pearlite scams, got part of this one right. The PDC ripped off local developer Brad Malsin's idea, delayed the decision in the name of "public process," and then in effect fed Malsin's superior plan to its favored developer, Opus, so that it could get the deal. Then the overwhelming public input that the added process produced was conveniently discarded:

The PDC put out a request for proposals, suggesting a big-box retailer such as Home Depot would be a good anchor for a housing and office development. Opus and another developer, Gerding/Edlen, responded in kind. But Malsin, a developer from the neighborhood, opted for a different scheme: flex work space, local retail, artists' lofts and condos. Neighborhood advocates and eastside businesses rose up against the big box and embraced Malsin as their visionary.

Hennessee stepped in and lengthened the public process, allowing more public input but also giving the other developers the chance to shift to more Malsin-like, big-box-free proposals.

If Malsin was actually wronged in any way, it wasn't because he lost. Rather, it's because he spent $200,000, in essence creating the PDC's new request for proposals.

The rest of Gragg's spin (which was duplicated in an O editorial on Saturday) is bunk -- Opus was a sounder bet financially, we can't take chances with public money (*cough!*) -- but even he in all his soul-patched folly discerned the smell of this particular brand of rat.

Heaven forbid that, when the PDC is doling out the Real Estate Welfare, it might actually favor a bright local guy. it's a nice message to the "creative class": Move to Portland, where we'll immediately slop our inferiority complex over onto you. Fat cats like Opus get the real work -- you wait tables.

So, where is Mayor Tom Potter, at whose pleasure all of the PDC luminaries are currently serving? He was quoted last week as saying he'll take up his reaction with Hennessee privately. As soon as he gets done addressing that well-tailored Lake Oswego suit, I hope the mayor will clue us taxpayers -- who are going to pay yet another developer to build us some more condo towers -- in on what he thinks of the decision.

As bad as the Rope-a-Dope-Opus caper is, it doesn't worry me nearly as much as the selection process for a new CEO for the PDC. For some reason, the mayor is insisting that a replacement for Don "the Don" Mazziotti be found and sworn in by July 1. But all that does is give the existing PDC commissioners the right to pick Mazziotti's successor. Already the search committee is lined with the usual suspects from the Hennessee-Goldschmidt web -- the same place that the current majority of commissioners, and Mazziotti, came from.

Mayor Potter, if you really want change at the PDC, don't let this band of rogues name the next chief! Insist that your newly appointed commissioners, and not the current gang that couldn't shoot straight, make that call. What's the rush? Either get the decision put off until after July 1, or take Matt Hennessee and Janice Wilson to breakfast at the Fat City Cafe, and ask them to read your lips, if you know what I mean.

Comments (20)

Jack, you're at your best when you're ripping on the PDC. And if you and Gragg agree on something, then either the NHL has re-scheduled its season in Hell or the PDC really screwed up this time.

I don't think picking OPUS was such a horrible decision. But it does reveal a certain level of arrogance among the PDC board members.

If you're going through a PR crisis, and the entire neighborhood wants a certain developer, either give them that developer, or explain REALLY REALLY WELL, why you didn't.

Of course, the PDC didn't do either of these things. They think they are smarter then the citizens of Portland. And that's a good way to get fired around here.

Thanks, but it's too easy. I wish these guys would let me get on to something else, but they never stop.

Great comments. Golly, it's fun having blogs nowadays. I remember making these kinds of insider claims even five years ago and I had to pay a ton of money to get word out. And even then it was not as effective as you are being with your blog.... Kudos.

Yet... Can I start a wild idea? How about a move to put Portland government into the two party system. At least then you will have a little more opportunity to provide some political tension. Leading the policy commentators such as yourself to play one party against the other.

However as it stands the insider trading is likely to tough to break through.... heavy sigh...

Jack, you used the term: "the Hennessee-Goldschmidt web."

How are Hennessee and Goldschmidth connected?

By the City Charter of 1958, the Mayor doesn't have the authority to fire PDC commissioners. They can only be replaced for failure to attend meetings, or if they resign (according to a presentation to the League of Women Voters Action Committee by PDC attorney Chip Lazenby, who ought to know). So a trip to Fat City might only result in "Read my lips - I'll have the cinnamon roll".

Gordo, here.

Amanda, o.k., he can say, "Read my lips. Resign." Better now?

The most distressing part for me about the Commissioners not bothering to each look the audience in the eye and make their own statement before voting was that even the new one, Bertha Ferran, went along with the consensus to take coward's way out and simply let Hennessee read a prepared group statement on everyones behalf.

Not a stellar debut for Potter's first appointment to PDC.

I know. And that search committee scares the heck out of me.

And if after, "Read my lips. Resign.", the response is, "Read mine. No. Please pass the butter."..... then what?

Then I guess if I were Potter, I'd say, "Matt, you spent too many years on the public payroll. You'll never get elected to anything with your know-it-all attitude." Which are words that perhaps others might take to heart as well.

I wish Potter would act on the City Club report- and GET RID OF THE PDC. At the PDC meeting last Wednesday, Bruce Wods claimed that the BEAM proposal wasn't any good because "it leaned too heavily on office spaces and everyone knows the office rental market is soft" YET in the Whoregonian last week there was an article about Woods working as a consultant and his next project...... three guesses now.... You got it- office spaces!! What utter hypocrisy.

The ultimate fate of PDC will be part of the eventual Charter review which Potter will call at some point, since PDC's authority is established in the Charter and not just through City Code.

If the Council is worried enough about possible corruption to propose "clean money," it ought to do something drastic to restore oversight over this particular appendage.

I call it the Goldschmidt gang, or Le Machine. As for turd polishing, I think the Oregonian is pretty good at it when it comes to this crowd. The editorialists have to be pushed into a corner before they will do critical analysis of that bunch. My prediction is that the corruption stories will break somewhere else because the coucil and the O are too entrenched in the game to be effective to uncover it.

Then afterwards, Cynthia, the Big O can call it a relationship and not a rape. LOL.

Yes and the PDC is "investing" our tax dollars.

I wish I could give them some of my SS to invest.

How's that for multi-messaging?

Grandma used to say "two wrongs don't make a right" and I think this old adage couldn't be a better fit as it applies to the PDC Opus decision. The current PDC office and PDC Vanport Square project are just two of many examples of the "two wrongs" part and making a "safe" decision with Opus takes them out of harms way in their eyes. The PDC decision was based on fear of ridcule because of the afore mentioned "two wrongs". Unfortunately, too many people (Central Eastside Community) have assumed that all of the public input actually mattered and that the process was legitimate. Obviously, making two wrong headed PDC decisions doesn't justify making another one, even if it's out of fear. Will they ever learn?

Actually, if memory serves, the Fat City quote from Mayor Bud Clark was:

"Read my lips. You're fired."

No request to "resign." It was an outright firing. If Mayor Potter is going to rehearse the line, he might as well get it right.

WWP, I was told he couldn't fire them. So I adapted the line.

Speaking of which, how about Bud Clark as the new executive director of the PDC?

b!x -- doesn't the city have to pick up the tab for the PDC obligations, if any, if the PDC is terminated?

If, post-South Waterfront completion, the city electors dissolve the city, even if just for a day (or a minute), can't we get a nice clean slate . . . but for a five year prohibition on financial institutions accepting new bonds from the city? I would suppose that dissolving the city would include declaring a default on all existing bonds and other forward obligations for all urban renewal districts (disparate tax treatment) etc.

If I were a developer (or anyone else) that was dependent upon long term benefits, direct from the city, beyond one election cycle I would be concerned. If I were a lender to an ultimate buyer I too would be concerned when determining the ability of a buyer to cover payments, if those payments may increase later.

Section 15-106 Issuance of Revenue Bonds.

the Commission, with the concurrence of the Council, may, to the extent permitted or to be permitted by law, pledge such tax revenues or other revenues as hereinbefore mentioned. [emphasis added]

I don't see any provision to limit the power of the electors to dissolve the city, as this is a genuinely inalienable right.

The lenders might try negotiating directly with the project developers rather than the city. How novel would that be? Otherwise they would have one big pile of money at stake in doing nothing but preventing the electors from cleaning the slate of past graft with a prospective cost. Now that is really clean money, and lots of it.

Section 15-107 Continuing Special Tax Levy. If the "City Council and the Commission both determine" that revenue bonds are not enough to cover the wish list then they can tax everybody more.

Tom can help cut off the money flow. Plain and simple. But he will have to take up the matter with the city council, I suppose, with no more power than anyone else that gets their three minutes.

[If an elected city attorney could threaten jail time, then we might get some real fireworks going. We might need such an attorney just to keep the elections clean when trying to purge the past graft with a prospective cost. This does isolate the bonding folks, and their special local beneficiaries.]

If we would have to take a bond rating hit for any default then it seems only sensible to default on all . . . all at once, doesn't it? It is comforting to know that we have this option.

Perhaps a tactical move would be to encourage wild excess so that the voters would be more inclined to do a clean sweep, in their own financial self-interest. Should we cap I-405, and get the improvements on the East Bank too? Can we suck in the bond buyers then smack-em? They can always go be real capitalists instead and place their bets on some enterprise that is dependent solely upon consumer sovereignty for rewards; where they can do some real good as measured by those consumers.

[This is just a dream scenario, but hey that is OK in Oregon.]

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