This month's election is a big one for Portlanders. Voters will decide whether to approve a change in the city charter that would hand control of bureaus (planning, parks, fire) from commissioners to the mayor. Understandably, that's received a lot of attention. But equally important is Measure 26-92, which proposes that the City Council assume control of the Portland Development Commission's budget.
It's easy to see why this measure was put on the ballot, for PDC has experienced a lot of controversy and trouble in the last couple years over the way it has run itself, both in terms of employees and projects. Giving elected officials more oversight seems to indicate a greater degree of checks and balances.
I would welcome the comments of those in favor of Measure 26-92, but I plan to vote against it.
The City Council already approves PDC's urban renewal districts and appoints volunteer citizens to oversee expenditures. PDC has been independent since its creation in 1958, and as former mayor Vera Katz writes in the Multnomah County voter's pamphlet, "has been the envy of cities worldwide."
Although many such as Mayor Potter favor 26-92, the editorial board of The Oregonian also argued against ending PDC's relative independence, saying it would be "...a terrible mistake. Name something you like about Portland, from Pioneer Courthouse Square to the Classical Chinese Garden, RiverPlace to the South Waterfront, and the PDC made it happen."
I worry that if the City Council gained oversight of PDC, urban renewal in Portland would fall victim to politicians' pet projects and electoral concerns. Moreover, as Katz writes, 26-92 would "...give City of Portland politicians control over money that isn't even theirs to spend. Most urban renewal money is not City of Portland tax money. More than 60% would otherwise go to Multnomah County."
By no means is PDC above reproach - a lot of mistakes have been made by the agency. But since I've been borrowing already from other people's words in this post, I'd like to quote hear from Bill Clinton's words while president, referring to Republican efforts to end affirmative action, another imperfect but very necessary endeavor: "Mend it, don't end it."