It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.
The O fails to connect any dots but does bring up a point it has most assiduously ignored for years, how come the same developers get the city gigs? How come programs go wanting but spending on new bells and whistles for Portland continue unabated? Aren’t these the same folks who are also in favor of investigating the Bush administration’s ties to Halliburton because it gets great government gigs?
“Since 2004, Portland’s city center has been abuzz with new landmarks: a Pearl District theater, a renovated 1920s-era building topped by a day spa and the hip Jupiter Hotel. Up next, The Nines luxury hotel in 2008.
“In some instances, this program — though well-intentioned — has actually ended up lining developers’ pockets for development they were already planning . . . rather than encouraging them to develop in low-income areas,” said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group in Washington, D.C.”
Here’s a piece by Randal O’Toole of the Thoreau Institute , a transportation and planning think-tank in Oregon, on the political and other kinds of bargains the city–and region–makes when doing these kinds of deals. Here are a few of the details (and all of it here).
” On September 17, 2006, developer Homer Williams sat down to dinner at the Bluehour, “the premier modern restaurant in the Pearl District” (see http://tinyurl.com/yzvaxc). From his perch on the Bluehour’s patio, Williams could look with satisfaction at the condos, lofts, restaurants, and shops in the Pearl District, Portland’s trendy
near-downtown neighborhood. After all, Williams had built most of
Of course, Williams did not develop the Pearl District by himself. He
had a lot of help from his friend Neil Goldschmidt, now disgraced as
a child molester but once the most powerful man in Oregon (see
http://ti.org/vaupdate60.html). Soon after Goldschmidt retired as
Oregon’s governor in 1991, he started working as a political
consultant and Williams hired him to help with various developments.
Goldschmidt used his contacts as former Portland mayor, Oregon
governor, and U.S. Secretary of Transportation to funnel millions of
dollars of public subsidies to Williams’ developments.
Prodded by Goldschmidt, the city of Portland has given ten years of
property tax waivers to some $100 million of developments in the
downtown area, including many of the developments in the Pearl
District. Other developments receive subsidies through tax-increment
financing, which means that the property taxes they pay go to
directly subsidize the development.
These developments all impose costs on Portland police, fire, and
other services, but since they pay so little taxes someone else has
to pay those costs. As Portland cannot raise taxes without voter
approval, these costs are often covered by cutting the budgets of
As Williams ate his dinner, one thing in his view was not so pleasant. On the sidewalk outside the restaurant, police had a man in custody (see http://tinyurl.com/y988ex). The man was on the ground with his hands and feet restrained, surrounded by police. It struck Williams as strange only because everything was so “casual” (see http://tinyurl.com/y2vbtu).
But it wasn’t casual for the 42-year-old man on the ground, Jim
Chasse. Known to his friends as Jim Jim, Chasse was a talented
musician and had been lead singer in a punk-rock band. But then he
mysteriously came down with schizophrenia. As long as he took his
medicines, he was fine, but sometimes he forgot.
On September 15, two days before Williams saw Chasse in custody, an overworked mental health worker named Ela Howard received a report that Chasse was not eating and probably not taking his medicines. Howard works for Project Respond, a Portland non-profit that works with homeless people and relies heavily on private contributions. Accompanied by a police officer, Howard went to Chasse’s low-rent apartment a few blocks outside of the Pearl District (see http://tinyurl.com/y5oeu6)…
In 2004, Portland dedicated a new $59-million jail, including
$600,000 for art works in the jail. But the region doesn’t have the
funds to open it, so the jail remains empty. Crime rates are
increasing and the county sheriff has had to release inmates early,
at least one of whom murdered someone a few days after being let out (see http://tinyurl.com/ykehso).
Although budgets for police, jails, mental health, and other programs
have all been cut, Portland continues to approve heavy subsidies for
high-density developments like the Pearl District. When he wasn’t
distracted by law enforcement or Bluehour’s menu, Homer Williams
probably gave some thought to the South Waterfront development, which Williams is currently building with hundreds of millions of dollars of public subsidies (see http://bojack.org/images/sowhatdebtsvc.pdf)…
Mayor Potter says the problem is lack of funding for mental health,
and he wants to spend $500,000 to train police to better deal with
the mentally ill. But Portland law professor Jack Bogdanski (see
http://bojack.org) suggests that the real question is: why does
Portland continue to subsidize Homer Williams’ high-density
developments when funding is so short for police, mental health,
fire, and other critical programs?“