Two stories from today's Oregonian point to battles over where to build, what funds to do it with, and by what standards they should be kept.
First, Mark Larabee reports that a pair of lawsuits against the city are freezing its ability to go forward with the Resource Access Center, the $48 million homeless shelter and day center designed by Holst Architecture of Portland, as well as redevelopment of the US Post Office building downtown by the city.
One suit is challenging the City Council's vote last summer to spend $19 million in urban renewal funds for the River District on building an elementary school in the David Douglas School District in outer, outer southeast Portland. The other suit is challenging the expansion of the River District approved by the council that increased tax revenue available for projects from $225 to $583 million.
Who is filing these suits? According to Larabee's article, it's an unnamed group of 10 people who call themselves Friends of Urban Renewal. Former Portland Development Commission general counsel Oliver Norville is one of them. He told Larabee the main concern is over the idea of David Douglas as satellite for the River District. But even if the city reverses course on the school, the increased River District funding is still a concern to the Friends group, who see the expansion there as "not proper expenditures of tax increment funds," in Norville's words.
Norville also says the city has been unwilling to negotiate with the Friends of Urban Renewal, and that's why the lawsuits have gone forward. Commissioner Nick Fish, however, had harsh words for the group, saying "they took the River District hostage and poor people are paying the price."
So, who is the good guy and who is the bad guy here? This is not a rhetorical question. I'm still trying to figure it out myself. I lean so far towards being against the lawsuit because of its effects but in at least partial agreement about some of the issues involved. There ought to be a better way to settle this.
The idea of these hardball legal tactics preventing the much-needed Resource Access Center for Portland's homeless from getting built is pretty stinky. So is the idea of freezing other River District renewal funds during this terrible economic downturn. We don't need delays on these project--we need them fast tracked.
Still, I personally agree that it's wrong to give River District urban renewal funds to David Douglas or any place outside the River District. And I at least can't disagree with the Friends' other assertion, that added urban renewal funds for the River District might be better spent elsewhere in the city. On that second point, I'm really still in deliberation mode. I also am still trying to decide if the Friends of Urban Renewal name is apt or if it's ironic.
Meanwhile, firebrand Commissioner Randy Leonard is at it again. As Lisa Grace Lednicer reported today, Leonard has helped create a code-enforcement task force that targets and actively goes after some of the city's worst code violators. Some are complaining because of the secrecy associated with the group, and others because the enforcers don't necessarily just target the worst code offenders uniformly - they pick and choose based in part on anecdotal evidence.
Even so, I had to laugh seeing that they'd put the kibosh on Greek Cusina, the rowdy downtown eatery that continually seems to flip its nose at anyone that would question their way of doing things. Leonard's team found some 50 code violations at Greek Cusina, yet its owner, Ted Pappas, still found the gumption to complain that he was being persecuted. This is the same Pappas who tried to organize a boycott of Willamette Week a few years ago when one of its writers, Caryn Brooks, had the audacity to write a particularly unfavorable review of another eatery.
If Pappas is complaining, others, like those living in fleabag residence hotels downtown, are thankful. (Such as George Rumbley of the Westwind Apartments, pictured above in a fine shot by The Oregonian's Fredrick Joe.) From cockroaches to broken boilers, chipping paint to carpet first lain in the Eisenhower administration, Leonard's bunch has succeeded in improving conditions for those living there, and they've been thankful. Nice work, fellas!