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Monday, January 16, 2006

Guess who's to blame for the tram

What a place Portland is. Among the scapegoats that they've found for the ludicrous OHSU Medical Group aerial tram [rim shot] are -- get ready, hold onto your seat, I am not making this up -- the people who opposed it!

The finger has been pointed at the opponents from two different directions. The first source was Commissioner Randy Leonard, who was among those who voted to require the city to build the tram, even though nobody on the City Council had bothered to check out how much it would really cost. In comments on this blog, he said:

It sure would have been helpful to me if a member of the planning commission would have talked with me, either in private or during testimony in front of the council, about specific objections they may have had with the project. I would have listened and, if they were legitimate issues, most probably would have voted against the project.

But no one from the planning commission, including Amanda Fritz, has raised those concerns with me privately or publicly...ever....

Again, if Amana was in fact leading the opposition to the Tram as a member of the Planning Commission, a better question from you would be to ask her why she did not make sure I knew she was opposing the Tram and why.

Meanwhile, The Oregonian had this to say in a Sunday editorial:

All who suspected the number was faulty should have spoken up, repeatedly if necessary, and ensured that a more accurate number was put before the public. The problem, unfortunately, is that people wanted to believe this estimate.
So there, you see, Lair Hill neighbors and others who fought this monstrosity? It's really your fault. You didn't speak up loudly and repeatedly enough.

Portland is truly living up to its name as The City That Works You Over. You bitterly oppose a project -- spend weeks of your life fighting it. Then after you're overruled by the West Hills moneybags, and you turn out to have been right that it's a horrible mistake, it's your fault.

Mayor Potter wants hundreds of thousands of us to kill some substantial time over the next year on his city "visioning" process. Given the way the tram opponents have been treated, I doubt any of them would give it 30 seconds. They'll be damned if they do, and damned if they don't.

Comments (50)

My appoligies to the person who sent me the joke about the woman in the hot air balloon asking the boatman for advice.

A Councilman riding the in a Tram with his planners realized he was stalled and lost.
He yelled down to and a man in the neighborhood below.

He shouted to him, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised Neil and Pete we would meet them on the hill an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man below consulted his GPS and replied, "You're in a Tram, approximately 30 feet above a ground elevation of 2346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.

The Councilman rolled his eyes and yelled down, "You must be a Lair Hill resident."

"I am," replied the man on the ground. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the Tramsters, "everything you told us is technically correct, but I have no idea what to do with your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've been no help to us."

The neighbor smiled and responded, "Then you must be visionary and be a politicians or planners."

"I am," replied the Tramsters in unison. "How did you know?"

"Well," said the neighbor below, "you don't know where you are or where you're going. You've risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but, somehow, now it's my fault."

Earlier a commentor asked Then, I have a couple of questions that no one has adequately answered yet...Who will operate the tram? How much will it cost to operate annually?...

"New Development" is the mantra driving this transportation funding decision. I'm reminded of when the City years ago funded the building of the Performing Arts Center, with no operations budget. Build it and they will come. It will all work out. (Well, it did and it didn't.)

Just as when Parks buys land for a park in Sowa it has no funds to build or operate, its all about getting that initial committment to promote development. And selling a hot tub to the family with a leaking roof, you're not going to talk about the cost of heating water.

With early Tram promoters fudging the numbers on capital construction...do we really think we've had a comprehensive discussion about all the operation costs of the tram?

Portland's Office of Transportation "Strategic Plan" strongly recommends against adding "new assets" when they're struggling to maintain the ones we have. As with Parks funding decisions, transportation funding decisions are no longer just about transportation...its about the higher calling of promoting development (and with the usual cast of characters). So the Pearl, SoWa skip to the head of the line when it comes to funding infrastructure. In the meantime, existing neighborhoods wait...

But before the Oregonian blames us for not questioning operating costs...it's a good question to put out there up front, right now.

Leonard: Again, if Amana was in fact leading the opposition to the Tram as a member of the Planning Commission, a better question from you would be to ask her why she did not make sure I knew she was opposing the Tram and why.

JK: Isn't it your job to learn about this stuff before you vote? (I know that, as a voter, my duty is to investigate before I vote.)

Do you just sit around and wait for someone (ie:lobbysts & PDC hacks) to lay info in your lap and go with it? Somehow I expected more from you.


"If the tram is the linchpin of the South Waterfront project, a city government that is both a good steward of public money and a trustworthy business partner is the linchpin of the community's future." Oregonian Editorial,1/15/06.

We are so screwed.

The Sleeping O writes:

Without the tram, this area would still be a rusted-out riverfront, considered prime real estate only by nutria.

Perhaps the O should be reminded that between 1995 and 1998, at least six property owners and/or developers had unsuccessfully attempted to develop properties in the North Macadam area. By 1998, two of the largest property owners in the North Macadam area had completed their own framework plan for development that would have included 235 residential units, up to 120,000 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail space, a 150-room hotel, a neighborhood recreation center, and included OHSU for a second phase of development.

In 1995, Pegasus Development purchased 10 acres in the area to develop upscale apartments. In 1998, Sienna Architecture proposed a development with 25,000 square feet of retail space and 66 flats and townhouses.

The Pegasus development was thwarted by City demands that two of the nine acres be set aside for streets, pedestrian access, and a greenway. The City also demanded a street grid pattern for the site that would have divided one large parcel into four smaller ones, rendering private development of the project unprofitable. The Sienna project would have exceeded maximum permissible height for buildings in 1998 and the City refused to accommodate the development.

At the time, Erik Sten was quoted by the Business Journal as saying: "I’m less worried about North Macadam [than other developments] because I don’t believe they can go forward without the council signing off because they need some kind of public help. We have the power to slow this down." (Emphasis added.)

I heard a term this weekend that is appropriate here - "blamestorm." It's a modification of the term "brainstorm" and refers to the process at post-crisis meetings of pegging blame for the crisis on people who are not at the meeting.

Blogs do it.
The next thing they'll be blaming the public for is the impact on basic services.
The PDC violates State law requiring yearly impact reports, but
"No one brought it up" ?????

Right here.
An open letter to Bruce Warner

""""""That was a shrewd decision that the
Portland Development Commission made to obtain an independent review of the aerial tram project."""""""""

It's so late in coming it falls well short of being "shrewd"

"""""""Someday, the tram will be regarded a farsighted investment that leveraged a relatively small amount in urban renewal funds to trigger a $1.9 billion extension of the downtown. """""""

The Tram leveraged? No, the baseless promise of 10,000 well paying biotech jobs falsely justified the Tram as necessary and worthwhile.

The fix was in from the beginning as city staff and their bosses
ambushed every fatal flaw raised by the citizenry.

It continues today with help from the Oregonian. Especially this editorial which
calls the massive SOWa tax expenditure a """relatively small amount in urban renewal funds""""

Apparently the editorial board has not read the PDC budget for SoWa, Urban Renewal spending. The 20 year budget calls for $448 million in projects and debt service with many millions in subsequent years to pay off the spending. All of which are property tax dollars.
The budget;
"""The total maximum indebtedness which may be incurred to complete the Plan is $288,562,000.""""

Plus another $160 million in debt. service during the first 20 years with millions more to finish paying off the debt during additional years.

Basically it's half a billion, or more, in property taxes along with sweeping zoning changes which is driving this high density private development on prime river front property.

Tram/biotech/toxic wasteland snow job was used to justify the massive spending in order to promote high density at ALL costs.

So far the Tram cost and first OHSU building have been fully exposed for the deception they are.

No matter how hard the city and Oregonian try to neutralize the rest of the story I have a feeling we'll be reading all about it right here on bojack.org.

Imho, it is really about lack of respect. "Insiders" don't listen to those outside of their cliques, even if they come armed with facts, figures and the best arguments. What RL is saying to Amanda Fritz, I think, is "Why didn't you act like an isider(actually I think it is a legitimate question given local politics).But It seems to happen over and over again at all manner of neighborhood meetings: Citizens are seen as loonies that need to vent, not people who deserve actually to be heard. The crowd at the O-as well as the politicos-need a trip to the audiologist.

Excuse me, but I have been telling anyone who will listen, up to and including each and every council member (which did not include Tom Potter at the time) within the past four years that the budgeted cost on the project would be way too low. I emailed each council member to that effect. I pointed out what I perceived to be inherent misconceptions in the original vision which made it more of a hallucination...and a bad one, at that.

Back then, it was being touted as "a signature project"...a "draw card"...a future point of interest for visitors. Yeah... I could envision that. Rubberneckers paying $5 a ride to go on the tram. A tram jammed with health professionals who ride at no personal cost to them. Up one of the most unstable surfaces in the city. OHSU itself is built in an exceedingly unwise location. The face of the Tualatin Hills, AKA "the West Hills", is vegetatively covered loess. The wetter it becomes, the more unstable it becomes. I invite readers to search back in the O files for the earthquake damage expections in the event of a +7 earthquake along the fault that runs underneath OHSU. If you find it, you'll note that the focal point of greatest damage in directly underneath the university/hospital.

Then, as a "signal project", that necessarily meant "high profile". I didn't think that was a particularly enticing benefit. In fact, when I thought of the day and age we live in, "signature project" began sounding more like "target". That, in turn brought to mind (with the help of a dear friend) the cost of assembling and training the emergency personnel to effect rescuses, if necessary.

Also, considering the level of expertise in the operation of aerial trams involved in the design, I would fully expect a considerable number of technological SNAFUs (with increased costs of considerable sum) to be worked out after operation begins.

I was also vaguely aware that there was in existance, years before this gleam in the eye of Peter Kohler sparkled, a neighborhood improvement plan for the west end of the Ross Island Bridge. Nothing was happening with it, until somebody got a bug in their ear about SoWhat.

Curious, that.

I pointed out these concerns at least three, if not four, years back.

Of course, I'm just an ordinary citizen. Not a paid professional staff person or consultant.

RE: prior developers.There is an article somewhere about the problems potential developers encountered prior to the current fiasco..It may be in Brainstorm...any one know what I am talking about.

Come to think of it, I wrote down all my concerns on a questionaire handed out at the first showing of the competing designs for the tram and the neighborhood process.

I was convinced then that the cost was going to raise at least once, if not twice, more before the project was completed. We are now at that point, and there are concerns as yet unaddressed that have not been costed. There must be additional costs above the existing budgeted amount.

Randy... I say stand by your guns. It is not the place of the taxpayers of this city to cover the miscalculations of the promoters of this project. It should be scrapped now, given the breach of the original budgeted cost of over 200%. This project is obscene. At minimum, the city should be able to extract itself with no penalty. In entirety.

Now, everybody write your state legislator, because the taxpayers of the state of Oregon should not pay for this folly, either. That's where they will go next, y'know.

I think it's unfair to say they're blaming this on the Lair Hill detractors. I think it's pretty obvious they're saying "We didn't know there would be budget overruns. If someone had a good reason to think there would be, we didn't hear it."

I think this is a fair response, don't you think?

Jack, I'd agree with you that it's silly for the powers-that-be to suggest that it's the citizen opponents who should have been louder in their objections. They've always seemed plenty loud to me.

But, when it comes to people with official capacity and official expertise, they certainly should have made their objections known.

If it is true that planning commissioner Amanda Fritz was opposed from the beginning, and if it is true that she never spoke with Commissioner Leonard about her objections, then that is a significant failure on her part.

I find it compelling that Randy Leonard says that "no one from the planning commission" has "ever" spoken to him about their concerns -- not even now.

"Not enough" is one thing. "Never" is another.

What is the working life of a tram?

What is the depreciation schedule on an aerial tram?

Did anybody ever consider a series of funiculars?

I'm rather intrigued by Jack's streach limo suggestion. I noted that the O used stretch Hummers in their example. Couldn't we cut the acquisition cost and the maintenance and operating costs considerably by using Caddy stretch limos? They couldn't have alcohol (except as prescribed), so I'd think that a lucrative coffee/espresso contract servicing the limos would be a nice revenue point. The Latte Limos.

"But, when it comes to people with official capacity and official expertise, they certainly should have made their objections known."

Oh please. If that's the case, then there's no need for a city council. They're supposed to be stewards of the city. The city commissioners are supposed to scrutinize projects and make sure they're feasible. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to suggest an independent investigation on a $15 million tram proposal. You can bet that if there was even one, true fiscal conservative on the council, an independent audit would have been suggested and voted upon.

The blame for this entire fiasco can be placed squarely on the the Portland City Council.

The city has never completed a full and genuine life cycle cost for the Tram.

Neighbors regroup as tram plan keeps flying

""",,,neighbors have filed lawsuits, pounded “No tram to OHSU” signs into their lawns and done everything they can to oppose the $28.5 million aerial tram """"
""",,,neighbors continue to protest the escalating cost of the project, its design and function,""""
""" City officials disagree, arguing that the tram and other improvements on the 120 acres of South Waterfront property will bring thousands of jobs, stimulate the economy and be a symbol for the city just as Mount Hood is.

""""City Commissioner Jim Francesconi went so far last week to compare the tram to the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle."""

"""" During a City Council review of the tram plans on June 10, Mayor Vera Katz said it will be the mark of a “great city.”"""""

SoWa is 120 acres. The Urban Renewal District is 409 acres.
For 30 or more years all property tax increases from all 409 acres will go to development within the 120 acres.
OHSU owns in excess of 20 acres of the 120. They pay no property taxes.
The first OHSU building is NOT a research building. It will be a clinic, doctor's offices and health club and will pay no property taxes, business taxes or TriMet taxes.

"What is the working life of a tram?"

Jack blogged on this subject last year. The one at Jackson Hole didn't make it to 40 years. See http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06009/632463.stm

If it is true that planning commissioner Amanda Fritz was opposed from the beginning, and if it is true that she never spoke with Commissioner Leonard about her objections, then that is a significant failure on her part.

Kari, don't tell me -- you're either working for Saltzman or trying to get his business.

Over recent years, Oregon has provided America with two genuine comedy legends: Tonya Harding and Bob Packwood. Not every state has offered the late night talk shows this level of material. Today I now believe we are on the doorsteps of a new national-level comedy topic. I mean it. This aerial tram thing is that good.
Let’s be realistic. There will never be another Tonya Harding. When it comes to making Oregon look ridiculous, she was the gold standard. Bob Packwood was also very effective, but he didn’t last. Bob fled the stage before he achieved his full comedic promise, so it is not fair to judge what might have been.
But this aerial tram! It’s so visible and it’s so ridiculous. As a professional comedy writer I sense national potential here. So carry on. This is going to be good. ---Bill McDonald, the Portland Freelancer.

It will be great fun when Kitzhaber tries to convince the feds and the nation to change Medicaid because we're so strapped for public health care money in Oregon that the needy are dying. Geez, how many lives could you have saved with that $50 million, Doc?

TK: was your post for real or a joke?

"I think this a fair response, don't you think?" regarding that Council didn't hear enough objections about the tram.

I believe all the posts, and other evidence we can generate for you, demonstrate that council and staff, PDC, Planning Commission, etc,. was given an ear full. I know my spending 10 years plus on NM and the Tram issues, that the issues were brought up so many times you would be sick of them.

Jack: Kari is Dan Saltzman.
The "O" should be blamed as much as the Council. They heard/saw wevidence about these NM issues and Tram for over the past 10 years.

Godfry: funiculars were suggested, and analysis for such were mentioned many times in the process; such as the Quebec City's newly rebuilt furnicular costing a little over $1M for a plus 1500ft. length that I visited last year serving more people than the trams 1800 per day capacity with over 3000 ft length.

Regarding Amanda Fritz: she was just one of many people and over 20 neighborhoods that voiced their concerns about NM and the tram. When many of us appeared before the Planning Commission, it was mostly Amanda and Ernie Bonner that asked some hard questions and expressed their concerns about the Tram and NM as a whole. She did speak before Council and some of the issues as I recall.

Kari, you might be right... but I doubt it.

If I recall the descriptions correctly, the planning commission (of which Ms. Fritz was a member) delivered its report to the city council. The city council then declined to follow many of the recommendations of the report, and apparently failed to request the planning commission's input on the changes coucil made.

The individual members of the planning commission are unlikely to be encouraged or empowered to discuss things individually with the council. (That's called "going over your boss's head" and is usually painful.) It might have been a good idea for Ms. Fritz to be a whistleblower on this occasion, it may have been expedient, and it may even have saved millions of dollars... but she had no duty to do so and it's unreasonable to think that she was wrong for working within channels. Besides, neither she nor any other member of the planning commission had any reason to believe that council would listen to a lone member of the commission working outside channels, when council had just overridden a significant part of the official report.

Regular readers may know that I'm usually supportive of Mr. Leonard, but I think he's wrong to accuse Ms. Fritz of not doing enough. The members of the planning commision did their part, and the council or its staff dropped the ball... at the very least by failing to get the commission's input on the changes council made to the plan.

Mr. Leonard, if you made a mistake, admit it. There's no shame in that. (But keep in mind that you may have made a $15 million mistake, but you're actively avoiding a $45 million one. It coulda been worse, eh?) If you got bad information, find out where it came from and do what's necessary to get better performance. If council staff "lied" to you, then it's time for some heads to roll. Publically.

Finally, if the developer unethically manipulated staff into giving council bogus data, then I think y'all should seriously consider pulling the plug out of pure spite. Damn the lawsuits.


No, not a joke at all. Maybe I didn't make it clear that I was referring to detractors who actually know what building the tram would cost... say, Project Managers, Engineers, etc. The neighborhoods can complain about aesthetics, but I'm sure they weren't in Randy's ear complaining about potential engineering and materials overruns. Do you not agree?

Concerning Amanda Fritz's role in the anti-tram movement, I am suspicious and skeptical of someone who is not exactly a disinterested citizen. I doubt very much that she was either as opposed to or as vocal in her opposition as she currently leads on.

In other words, I believe she is leveraging people’s discontent with the tram for her own political motives. There is nothing wrong with this per se as it is what every politician does in an election cycle. Yet, she had better be careful how she plays her cards because I seriously doubt she has the “I told you so” ace in her hand. Randy’s comments seem to me more of an attempt to force her into putting-up or shutting-up.

If we read the excerpts she quoted in context of the entire PC report, I suspect that we would find a lot of bureaucrat double-speak and CYA hedging that is well short of any substantive warnings of costs and use.

I did not say nor do I think Amanda Fritz did not do enough to stop the Tram.

I only responded to the following statement by her as she wrote it on this Blog:

"I not only wasn't in on the approval of the tram, Jack, I was one of the leaders of the opposition."

Amanda Fritz never communicated to me publicly, privately or by any other means that she was opposed to the Tram.

If she was a leader in opposing the Tram, I would have thought that, especially as a member of the Planning Commission, she would have communicated to me somehow that she was opposed to the Tram and why.

For her to boldly state that she lead the opposition to the Tram while suggesting I and others were under the spell of OHSU and the developers was just a bit much for me to silently swallow.

As a brand new member of the council, I would have valued highly her insight and it could have given me some information I was absolutely not being given by the then Mayor and the city staff who were working with Mayor Katz on the Tram.

Amanda has certainly not been shy to let me know what her views were on a number of other issues. However, as far as the Tram is concerned, I would not have thought of her name if asked who the leaders were that opposed the Tram, some of whom are currently engaged in the discussion on this Blog.

I never said or implied that the neighbors did not contact me or should have told me something they did not...they did and I was able to make changes to the development agreement as a direct result of their concerns. Suggestions that I blame the CTLH neighbors for not doing enough are flat false.

I do not make excuses for mistakes I make. As I have stated on this Blog repeatedly, I have made no mistake in not anticipating the increased costs of the Tram because I am not agreeing to increase the city’s contribution for the construction of the Tram under any circumstances.

As far as I am concerned the ultimate cost of the Tram can balloon to $100 billion and I will still not agree to give any more money than when I was lied to by city staff and told the Tram will only cost $15 million.

Finally -and I do mean finally- I am deeply disappointed at the language and tone of the Tram posts and some of the comments that amount to nothing more than ad hominem attacks against my wife and me as a result of me engaging in this discussion.

I expected more.

The Planning Commission made their recommendations and issued them in the form of written matter -- I know, I know, council members are busy people, and they don't always have time to read everything that comes before them. I'm ok if they don't read the entire Living section of every Oregonian. I don't. I'm busy, too.

I do expect them to read more important documents such as Planning Commission Reports/Recommendations -- to read them thoroughly before they take any action on the issue in question, and to pursue any questions those recommendations raise -- vigorously and proactively.

I don't expect to hear that Councilors will not take information seriously if it's not delivered in a private meeting, behind closed doors.

I have a great deal of respect for your work on the council, but isn't it your job to research this stuff - even if no citizen speaks up?

I have been told by one engineer in government, that staff routinely lies to elected officials. Although, this person in NOT in City government, it appears to me tht lots of city agencies have problems of promoting their agenda instead of having the best interest of the taxpayer at heart. Recent staff moves from PDC to developer, suggests that this may be a big problem. Look at the SoWhat cash flow projections - they make every optomistic assumption with little talk of the downside.

Face it, the developers have taken over (with the aid of the smart growth promoters.) Neither of which have the best interest of the taxpayer at heart.


TK: I do not agree. First, we are not "detractors". Poor choice of words.

Citizens as well as neighborhood assns, etc. questioned the budgets (all the escalating budgets). I and others questioned that no life-cycle-costing was ever performed, that even the staff time (PDC, PDOT, city bureaus, Council staff)costs, design competition, engineering&architectual costs, and increasing material costs (concrete, steel, etc. were exceeding inflation costs) were never included. Then we even commented on City's history of budgeting on previous projects ( I won't go through the long list).

Our PDC URAC ( I'm a member) has information on most of the above items and made comments. Matt Brown of PDOT gave reports on the engineering problems of securing the top terminal to a 45 degree slope with poor, fractured rock base. But like he always told us; " we can do it all in the $15M budget, don't worry". These issues were brought up before and after the Council's Agreement vote.

Travis: you are right, Amanda was not "The leader" of the tram opposition. It was a smorgas board. There were many in the NA's and others. But Amanda was a leader with Ernie Bonner on the Planning Commission that asked the questions on NM and the Tram. She followed up attending many meetings with Mayor Potter and staff on NM meetings with CTLH, Homestead, SWNI and east side neighborhoods (that now physically see how they are impacted) I respect her that she is now trying to provide the facts about the tram, NM issues. You will have to analyse her political motives with her.

Conflict of interest with the big "O" and Caldwell and his wife w/OHSU. That says it all on how the "O" can't critically look at the tram and OHSU issue, especially in the past. And the editorial in the Sunday paper-missed many facts.
Am I now banned from ever writing or being interviewed by the O?

Randy: I posted before that the city's (tax payers) portion of the Tram costs have gone up since your vote on the Agreement eight months after you took office. That means from your posts that you will now "pull the plug on the tram". Thank you for supporting the efforts, at least delay it.

I am deeply disappointed at the language and tone of the Tram posts and some of the comments that amount to nothing more than ad hominem attacks against my wife and me as a result of me engaging in this discussion.

Randy, you should have stayed out of this thread entirely. You and your pals on the Council screwed this one up royally. It was in broad daylight, and you disappointed many people. Coming on here to throw shots at Amanda Fritz was not a good move. You should have let Saltzman take his lumps, and you take yours.

"... I was lied to by city staff and told the Tram will only cost $15 million."

I'm willing to take you at your word, Mr. Leonard. You seem to be saying that you thought the tram was worth $15 mil of the city's money and you stand by that. Fair enough. As I have said elsewhere, I'm not exactly an interested party here, just a curious bystander from up the valley. I'm not trying to make you look bad (or good) and I do appreciate your openness.

That said, if you and the rest of the city council were really lied to by your own staff, I'd expect some fairly drastic personnel actions to result now that the excrement has hit the fan. Maybe not outright firings given the difficulties of contracts and employment law, but certainly some reassignments and reorginization to ensure that no single corrupted staffer can misinform the council.

I'm a little unclear on just how much of staff was in on this (um, alleged) lie, how many of those still have their jobs with the city, how many of staff dissented, and how many of the dissenters have been promoted. (Because there's always an ignored dissenter or two buried in the ranks somewhere. Find 'em.)

I understand if you feel a need to challenge Ms. Fritz's assertion that she was a leader in the anti-tram movement. She is running for office after all, and so her assertions should be taken with the same dose of salt that any candidate's statements have. (Although she seems to have some interesting documentation. RNs and their chart notes, ya know.) But that's election politics, and not really what interests me. What I'm trying to get at is a failure analysis.

Clearly something went wrong with the cost estimate. Where? How? How can similar errors be prevented in the future? Who on the council is addressing this?

Ms. Fritz asserts (I think?) that something also went wrong in the communication loop between the planning commission and the city council. (Or if she doesn't assert it, then please allow me to assert it.) Why did council's changes to the plan not go back to the planning commission for review? Or did they?

What I recommend to you, Mr. Leonard, is that you adopt Truman's old maxim. The problems may not be your fault, but you are one of the few people in a position to help fix 'em. Unless you actively help shine the light of day on this debacle by doing a public failure analysis, your reputation is inevitably going to get tainted by it. You seem to be the sort of guy I'd hate to see that happen to.

Hiho Jack, dont chastise the big players for showing up ...its gettin interesting ... shows the credibility of your blog

Here's from an O story on March 27, '03:

Los Angeles and Zurich, Switzerland-based Angelil/Graham/Pfenninger/Scholl will design Portland's future calling card and innovative people mover, the aerial tram.

The announcement, made yesterday at city hall, was the culmination of an international design competition sponsored by the city and Portland Aerial Transportation Inc. -- PATI -- a private, nonprofit organization overseeing the tram's design and construction.


Angelil/Graham/Pfenninger/Scholl was overwhelmingly recommended by the competition's six-member jury, composed of three local and three national jurors, who met late into the night Monday discussing each team's proposal.

The purpose of the competition was to select a team, not the final design. Still, each firm was required to present schematics for the proposed tram to the jury.

Portland native Sarah Graham and her husband/partner Marc Angelil took a minimalist approach.


Both Graham and Angelil said getting development going in the South Waterfront area is critical to the success of the tram.

"It must be a destination," Graham said. "The tram depends on it."

Until then, they proposed planting thousands of trees that could be relocated or used for construction, as needed.

According to the firm, the basic mechanisms for the tram, its terminals, tower, cars and bridge would be covered in the city's suggested $15 million budget. Extras like the greenway, public space and trees would require additional funds.

Diana Goldschmidt, one of the jury's local members, said the team's understanding of the site's history as well as the technical issues involved helped put them over the top.

"Each member of the jury believes that this firm's understated approach, appreciation for the local landscape and open communications style will earn the respect of community stakeholders and result in a final design that's both beautiful and functional," she said.

And in an accompanying piece by the Graggmeister:

Adhering to the rigorously minimalist, environmentally sensitive approach that has won them numerous pages in the world's architecture magazines, the duo delivered their proposal as a series of surprises. Their towers were designed as delicate, toothpick-like structures. The upper station was merely a platform shaded by photovoltaic cells, and the lower station, simply a large roof structure covered in grass.

By minimizing all the other elements, Graham said she and her team were able to apply more of the $15.5 million budget to the actual cars. Their design would turn them into seamless orbs clad in shiny aluminum and glass to reflect the sky and therefore disappear when seen from the ground no matter what the weather.

PATI, the private group that's spearheading the tram scam, went along for the ride. From the Daily Journal of Commerce, Jan. 28, '03:

Patrick LaCrosse, PATI's president, stressed the competition is to choose a team, not the design itself. Once a team is chosen, the design process will begin, he said.

"The design will be chosen by the fall of this year. Construction is projected to start in the spring of '04 so it can be done in time for the opening of the first South Waterfront development in '05," LaCrosse said.


LaCrosse said he thinks relations with residents living near the path of the proposed tram are improving.

"While there are issues of disagreement still, I think there has been considerable progress made to clear the air with the neighborhoods," he said. "They're not pleased or happy with the tram, but they're willing to work through the process."


The tram's total cost - estimated between $15 million and $17 million - would most likely be part of a $60-$70 million package of Macadam corridor improvements which would include traffic configuration changes and other road improvements.

The package, which would include public and private funds, must be in place and approved by the city council before the tram's design is finalized, LaCrosse said.

By December 2003, we were up to $30 million. From the Tribune:

At a Dec. 21 meeting on the tram's design, Graham urged the use of steel to build the tower's base rather than the Northwest staple, wood, which had been one of the distinguishing features of her winning design. She held aloft balsa-wood models FedEx-ed from California to make her point.

"The struggle is between material, practicality and best design," said Pat LaCrosse, who was chairman of Portland Aerial Transportation Inc. when Graham was selected and now is a board member of that group. "We have to be cognizant of that, don't we?"

Half of the tram's estimated $20 million to $30 million tab will be picked up by OHSU; the rest will come from private developers and taxes raised in a local improvement district.

"The initial numbers were not based on reality, but political," Graham said of the cost. "It's simply a surprise to people who were believing the political numbers."

Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill neighborhood representative Jerry Ward called Graham "gutsy" for pointing out the disparity in the tram cost.

"When PATI first came to our neighborhood association, they gave us numbers of $8 million and $10 million, and now it's tripled," he said. "It's a misleading process that is harmful to neighbors. I'm not faulting her or her firm; I fault the city."

The countdown has begun on Graham's final designs, due to the Portland Aerial Transportation board by Jan. 17. The City Council will consider the tram project in March, with operations scheduled to start in 2006.

On Jan. 9, 2004, the O reported:

Commissioner Dan Saltzman said he wants to see the tram built for the original estimate of $15.5 million, although tram planners now say that figure left out design and engineering costs. The latest estimate is $24 million to $29 million.

The 3,300-foot tram would ferry passengers between Oregon Health & Science University on Marquam Hill and the South Waterfront area where the university is building offices, laboratories and out-patient facilities.

"I'm still holding out for the $15.5 million," Saltzman said.

Commissioner Jim Francesconi, said $15.5 million would buy a bare bones "ski-lift variety" tram. He said Portland wants a tram that moves people effectively and will be attractive at both terminals.

"Nobody told me I was authorizing only a ski lift," Saltzman replied.

In February 2004, the O had this little memorable gem:

Mike Lindberg, a former Portland City Council member who serves on the nonprofit board, recalled earlier instances when the city faced shortages for Pioneer Courthouse Square and the Performing Arts Center. Instead of cutting important details, the city found additional money, he said.

Greg Baldwin, an architect, said the tram project still "looks like a good deal" as a transit project even at the higher cost.

A City Council vote was taken on June 9, 2004, in which the tram's construction was unanimously approved. At that point, the budget that was being discussed was $30 million, nearly twice the original estimate.

dont chastise the big players for showing up

I love Randy's showing up. But he might have said "I realize now that I made a big mistake. The neighbors were right -- this thing stinks. No more money for it." Instead, he went with "I was in the right. Amanda should have met with me and told me personally what her objections were." That's malarkey.

Cost To Operate the Aerial Tram (rimshot*)

Well, Matt Brown( once with PDOT-PDC but now with Homer) hasn't decided yet. He's has stated at different times and venues, between $1M and $2M per year. (remember that doesn't include maintenance). If its Homer Williams paying part of the bill it is about $1M. If the taxpayers(city) that will be paying a higher portion of the bill, it is $2M. Precise figures are not important to city staff or the City Council. Gee, a million could hire a few teachers, could'nt it, since the City is now in the public education business?

Sorry for my late contribution to this thread. I think useful information is being shared here, so we might learn from past mistakes and move on to better resolution of the real issue.

Clarification : what routinely happens after the Planning Commission votes on a Recommendation on a project, is that the Bureau of Planning is responsible for transmitting the Planning Commission's advice to Council. The staff is assigned to take on the Planning Commission's position, own it, and advocate for it. Planning Commissioners rarely appear at the Council hearing to press for their recommendation to be adopted, and when the Commission feels a representative voice is needed, one of the three officers (President and two Vice Presidents) is almost always assigned. I was not an officer.

The neighborhood advocates had made a compelling case to the Planning Commission and prevailed. I believed they would achieve the same results at Council, since the evidence available to Council was the same as or better than that presented to the Planning Commission. Ernie and I had been able to persuade even the developers on the Planning Commission to agree with the neighbors that the tram was neither necessary nor sufficiently defined for approval, so I felt optimistic that reason and the skilled testimony of neighbors would prevail at Council. Obviously, that's not what happened.

It's important to note that this project was the only one in my seven years on the Planning Commission where I believe in retrospect that the decision had already been made, behind closed doors. It really does matter that neighbors show up and testify, most of the time, so don't stop doing it or extrapolate that the entire system is corrupt, folks.

The question now, is as Jerry stated it in the last thread.
It's the tram. Who's at fault doesn't make any difference, except if the same powers who put the tram through attempt to pin the blame on lesser players like Matt Brown or the Planning Commission. Now, the public policy question is, is it still worth paying for the tram at $45m + $1m/year in operating costs, or would it be cheaper and wiser to pay the penalties and not build it? I didn't see the need for it in 2002, with a price tag of $9m when it was at the Planning Commission. I believe the Council should hold a public hearing now, to review whether to build it or bag it.

$1 MM a year operating costs? I'll bet the overall costs will be more than double that. But the city's piece will be around $1 MM -- that sounds right.

Why isn't Saint Gil Kelley's name being mentioned as part of the blame game? If anyone deserves some tough questioning on this (besides Don Mazziotti, who's toast now), you would think it would be the planning director.

This thing was planned the way Michael Brown saved New Orleans.

Jack said, "Randy, you should have stayed out of this thread entirely. You and your pals on the Council screwed this one up royally. It was in broad daylight, and you disappointed many people. Coming on here to throw shots at Amanda Fritz was not a good move. You should have let Saltzman take his lumps, and you take yours."

Jack's right on this one. The city really effed this up. They should apologize, admit their mistakes and move on, by either scrapping the tram completely or trying their best to reduce costs.

Mr. Leonard-
"...I am not agreeing to increase the city’s contribution for the construction of the Tram under any circumstances."

Oh...we gotta make sure we hold on to that one for safe keeping.

I got a feeling it will come in handy.

Will the City Attorney prepare a public memorandum advocating the existence of liability in the event of termination. But wait, isn't that supposed to be advocating the non-existence of liability? I'm confused, which is it?

I really liked this thread; I found it informative and provocative. I am glad RL showed up,although I think he ought to admit the decision to go with the tram on such information was a bad one; but if Amanda truly believes the tram decision is the only one to have been made behind closed doors, she is too naive for my vote. Being a friend of Liz Callison's and having watched SW politics through her two runs for City Council, I see Amanda as someone jockeying for position and still playing community activists for fools. Systemic problems are for real and Portland has a long history of being dysfunctional.

This taxpayer funded "now you don't see it- now you do" garbage seems to happen everywhere. Check out my Troutdale blog, troutdale.blogspot.com to see how the small town version is done.

I will give Randy Leonard one thing, refusing to authorize more money for the tram is the right approach. This is turning into a classic business school lesson on escalation of commitment. The $15M is now a sunk cost and should not be taken into consideration until a complete and highly accurate accounting of what it will cost to restart the project is presented.

Furthermore, I don't accept that the the 3 minute tram ride is so damn critical to OHSU's success on the South Waterfront. Freightliner is one company in Portland that has facilities (Montgomery Park and Swan Island) separated and requiring staff to commute back and forth across the Willamette River. It may not be optimal, but it hasn't proven detrimental to operations. Intel actually has a private jet make daily flights from Hillsboro airport to San Jose to support it's West Coast operations between HQ and it's largest manufacturing facility.

Regardless, I don't think there are any excuses for the lack of due diligence that went into the tram vote. Does anybody think Erik Sten, Vera Katz, etc., would have gambled their own money so frivolously?

"Mr. Leonard-
'...I am not agreeing to increase the city’s contribution for the construction of the Tram under any circumstances.'

Oh...we gotta make sure we hold on to that one for safe keeping.

I got a feeling it will come in handy."

Maybe, but the magic number is five.

Presumably, Gramps is in the boat on this. But this leaves three other commissioners who are out on the line on this, having been complicit in the first faux pas.

My latest question is: Was there not a renegotiation of the burden of the project costs following the increase from $15 million to, what, $32 million?


The magic number is three of five.

No one has discussed publicly the legal analysis of the applicable contracts, which I'm sure has been prepared by the city attorney. Either the city is already obligated to build the tram, and absorb all present and future cost overruns; or perhaps the cost overruns must be agreed upon by the city and OHSU in order for the city to have to go forward. If the latter is the case, then Fireman Randy's "no more city money" threat is realistic; but there's a good possibility that the former is the situation, in which case the reality is "no more OHSU money unless it volunteers."

Maybe Caldwell can ask his wife which it is, since nobody at City Hall wants to show us the answer.

Jack, from your last post, the question might become:

What kind of a city attorney department do we have, if it would enter into a contract so loose that "costs overruns" are not considered in this 80 some page Agreement? Or a City Council with attorneys (like Jim F.) that reviewed the Agreement with over 60 council staff members working for the Council; I'm sure, with a few attorneys.

Maybe a city attorney who was told by the mayor (who was told by Neil Goldschmidt) to shut up and do as he was told. The same thing Homer Williams is telling us all now.

From the Trib article Jack's Homer Williams link goes to:

“The two buildings are designed to be able to move patients back and forth quickly on the tram,” [Mr. Pearce] said. “If the doctors can’t use their offices as designed, there’s the possibility of suing for damages.”

Buildings specially-designed to take advantage of the tram connection. Okay, I'll buy that. There could be a bunch of wasted money there if the tram is cancelled or late. (Probably not $30 mil, but still a fair bit.) The physicians may be right to sue for a breach of contract in that case.

But while I'm not a medical person, I think I know enough to be skeptical of some of the implications here. Are the services provided at the base of the tram going to be hospital inpatient services? Or are they all outpatient or ambulatory diagnostics?

If they're seriously planning to use the tram to extend the hospital to the waterfront, in the sense that fragile patients will be routinely moved down there and back, then I guess the tram is really necessary. But if this is just a matter of having more convenient outpatient services, then Mr. Pearce is repeating a strawman argument that tries to imply lives will be lost if the tram is not built.

(I'm not sure of the truth here, but I think I smell damp straw.)

To find out, I think we just need to answer one question: What sort of time-critical inpatient services are going to be located at the bottom end of the tram?

The sixteen story building will house, administrative offices, doctors offices, an outpatient women's clinic and a health club. Sounds nice.

Of course the doctors WANT what was agreed to
and the easy Tram sashay up or down the hill.

But just like the property taxes and TriMet taxes they won't be paying they want help from the taxpayers to pay for the Tram and it's operation and maintenance.

And they promise it's good for all of Oregon.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Guess who's to blame for the tram:

» The tram: no mas for NoMa from Isaac Laquedem
Two lively debates (here and here) are raging on Jack Bog's Blog about the tram that's being built to connect OHSU with the South Waterfront (or, if you're an old-timer, the North Macadam) area that's being turned from an industrial [Read More]

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