Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly." -- Touchstone
Complain as I do about the eccentricities of the Portland city council, they have been making the city a more desirable place to live, at least if housing prices are evidence. Now and then it's been reported that people who are priced out of the Portland housing market are finding less expensive housing -- even in Lake Oswego.
TriMet has sued Clackamas County and the North Clackamas Park and Recreation District (run by the county commissioners), alleging that the county and the district are breaking a promise to convey two parcels of land to TriMet for the Milwaukie light rail.
Whether or not TriMet is correctly suing the county, it's suing the district for a promise that the district didn't make. Here's what TriMet says in paragraph 42 of its complaint:
TriMet has requested that the District enter into an agreement to convey the Trolley Trail Property to TriMet for the [light rail] Project, consistently with the District's duties under the IGA [the Inter-Governmental Agreement among TriMet, the County, and the District] and Trolley Trail IGA [an agreement between TriMet and the district]. In exchange for the transfer, TriMet has offered to convey to the District an adjacent property, to construct a trail on that property at no cost to the District, and to provide the District with additional compensation. To date, the District has refused to enter into such an agreement.
In other words, TriMet is telling the court that the two inter-governmental agreements require the district to sell TriMet the Trolley Trail Property (a portion of the Trolley Trail that the park district owns and has been using for a bike and pedestrian trail).
TriMet and its lawyers are putting words in the district's mouth. The district didn't make that promise. Here's what the district actually promised in the inter-governmental agreement:
Section 1.5(b): "The Parties acknowledge and agree that all roadways, sidewalks, streets, and trails owned by or under the control of the County or District that are improved as part of the Project shall remain under control of the County or District with any ownership rights it has prior to construction of the Project, provided that the portion of the roadway on which trackwork is placed shall be subject to FTA's [the Federal Transportation Administration's] continuing control requirements and shall be operatied and maintained in perpetuity by TriMet as part of TriMet's system."
In other words, the park district's property remains the park district's property.
Section 6.1: "By execution of this Agreement, the Parties agree to negotiate in good faith the terms and conditions of all other agreements that may be reasonably required or desired to design, construct, and maintain the Project, which may include * * * right-of-way acquisition and permitting."
In other words, the county and the park district will negotiate in good faith other agreements that may be reasonably required to build the light rail line. That's as close as the district comes to promising to give TriMet any property.
What you won't find in the inter-governmental agreement is any promise by the district to sell or give TriMet the Trolley Trail Property.
You also won't find that promise in the other inter-governmental agreement, the one made by TriMet and the park district in April 2012. All you will find is the district agreeing to allow TriMet access onto the property to build the light rail line, and obligating TriMet to build the Trolley Trail on the property from Park Avenue to River Road. The district wouldn't need to give TriMet permission to build the trail if TriMet were to be the owner of the property.
In short, TriMet's suing the Park District to enforce a promise that the district didn't make. Let's hope that the district's lawyers read the contracts more carefully than TriMet did.
Much as I enjoy what Gizoogle does with my language, its words are not those of the languages that I usually speak. One tongue that I do speak fairly fluently is Plannerese, and it occurred to me that, had I the time, I might build an engine that could translate ordinary text into Plannerese, and specifically into the metropolitan dialect of Plannerese spoken in this area. I then read one of Metro's Opt-In surveys, and found to my delight that a ready stock of Plannerese phrases awaited me, vetted by the masters.
Until I build the translation engine (Planoogle? UGBoogle? Processpool?) I will have to translate by hand. Consider this recent passage from Professor Bogdanski:
It's time for a moratorium on all things streetcar in Portland. But given that the incoming mayor has been pimping streetcars for a living around the world, that isn't going to happen. And so onward toward bankruptcy we march. It's too bad that the voters don't get as worked up about gross financial incompetence as they do about fluoridated water.
The first sentence is hard to convert to local Plannerese, as it runs counter to the Received Plannerization, but the others are easier. I render it thus:
A pause in expanding the streetcar network is one of a number of options for the region to consider as we strive toward multi-modal connectivity. The incoming mayor has supported streetcars in the public and private sectors and construction should resume. The fiscal and qualitative practicability of an integrated streetcar-centric transit network is less well understood than the social and community benefits actualized by the network. As borne out by surveys, the community values streetcars and their attendant matrix of social, economic, and lifestyle availabilities almost as much as our region's historic commitment to clean, pure water.
Do these two paragraphs say the same thing? Of course not; that's one of the joys of this strange and wonderful tongue. Actually, I'm not sure that the second paragraph says anything, which means my translation might be pretty close to the mark.
The growing public backlash over the City of Portland's push to encourage developers to build dense housing without parking in single-family neighborhoods led me to do a little math.
First, some basic facts. A standard city block is 200 feet long from corner to corner. A 200-foot-long block face with parallel parking and without any fire hydrants, sidewalk extensions ("corner bumps", the little curved bits that project into the street at the corners), truck loading zones, and driveways will accommodate 10 parked cars. A block face with sidewalk extensions will hold 9 parked cars. A block face with sidewalk extensions and four houses with single-width driveways will hold 5 or 6 cars, depending on how the driveways are arranged.
Next, consider the proposed 50-unit project at 30th and SE Hawthorne. The story quotes the developer saying that at a similar project in Northeast Portland, "only 13 to 14 cars parked on the street were attributed to residents of the building." (I think he had in mind the Irvington Garden Apartments at NE 15th and Hancock Street, also a 50-unit project.) Taking that as fact, the Hawthorne Boulevard project's residents will bring 13 or 14 cars to the neighborhood to park on the street. This doesn't count visitors they might have.
How much curb space will the residents' cars require? Likely about 280 to 300 linear feet, or just under a block and a half.
The Hawthorne site itself, however, is only 100 feet square. Half of the Hawthorne frontage is taken up by a curb extension for a bus stop, so the site will contribute only 150 feet of curbfront toward the parking needs of its residents. (The fire hydrant is at the corner and doesn't reduce the available parking.) The project will require another 130 to 150 feet of curbfront for its residents beyond what's in front of the project itself, putting its residents into a parking competition with the condominium (four units) and two houses to the north.
This leads to the question: what is the available common parking supply, and who should get to claim it first? It's a question that the city planners should answer before they burden it with more than it can handle.
One of the unintended results of the recentparallelefforts of Local 8 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Local 48 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to drive commercial shipping away from the Port of Portland by fighting over which union's members get to plug and unplug refrigerated freight containers (two jobs total) is that the general public is going to become less inclined to support keeping the bridges on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers high enough to accommodate ocean-going trade -- an attitude, which, if it continues for a while, may make the whole union labor battle moot.
Voters in Clackamas County faced two competing urban renewal measures on today's ballot. Measure 3-386, proposed by citizen petitioners, would require a countywide vote before a new urban renewal area (URA) could be established or an existing URA significantly changed. Measure 3-388, proposed by the county commission, would also require a vote, but only from voters within the proposed URA. Both measures are passing; at this writing 3-386 is passing by a wider margin than 3-388 and will be the one to take effect.
The voters made the right decision. As I wrote on October 18, (and picked up by Professor Bogdanski the next day -- thank you, Jack) because a URA has the effect of transferring future property tax dollars from entire taxing districts to construct improvements in only a portion of those districts, it's fair to allow everyone who's being asked to subsidize the proposed URA to vote on it, as Measure 3-386 does. Allowing URAs to be formed with the approval of only the recipients(as Measure 3-388 would have allowed) without concern for the opinions of those who would have to bear the cost is, in a modest way, rather like allowing the price of military equipment to be set by a panel composed entirely of defense contractors.
Who knew? Multnomah County, implementing the state's land use goals to protect farmland, prohibits fire stations in its farm and agriculture zones. Apparently it's legal to protect farmland, but not farmers.
Pleased as I am that Home Forward (the new name of Housing Authority of Portland, though the name actually belongs to a Portland law firm) has cut the cost of replacing Hillsdale Terrace to just $337,000 per unit (which is about the median price of houses on the west side and noticeably higher than the median price of houses citywide), it could save even more. One way HF could save even more would be to send its agents to this upcoming auction of brand-new condominiums on Hayden Island. The units seem at least as attractive as what HF would like to build in Hillsdale. The location has bus service to Portland and is only a short walk to the employment opportunities in downtown Vancouver. The units are larger than the Hillsdale Terrace units -- each has 1900 or more square feet. Bidding starts at only $130,000. I'd be surprised if HF couldn't pick up 8 or 10 of the units for $200,000 or so each, for a savings of $1 million or more over the cost of building new at Hillsdale Terrace.
Whimsical as the idea might be of a government agency saving money by buying the mistakes of private developers instead of making its own, it does strike me as odd that HAP (or HF) doesn't think there's anything strange in building publicly-assisted housing that's more costly than the unsubsidized private homes that surround it.
The Housing Authority of Portland (now called Home Forward) proudly announced that it's been awarded $18.5 million toward demolishing Hillsdale Terrace, a dilapidated housing project near SW Capitol Highway and Vermont Street, and replacing it with 129 new units and a 6,000 square foot early education center (childcare facility). The Tribune article notes that the project is receiving $28.8 million of other money, making the total cost $46.5 million. This does not include the land value, which Home Forward already owns.
The cost to demolish the existing buildings shouldn't be more than $2 million. If the childcare facility costs $300/square foot to build and furnish, that's another $1.8 million. That leaves $43.5 million as the cost of the new units. That's $337,000/unit, well down from the $400,000/unit that the project was supposed to cost only a few months ago. Part of the decrease -- most of it, actually -- is because Home Forward is putting in 129 units instead of only 100.
To pay $337,000 per unit for new apartment construction seems high, particularly when the median price of houses in west Portland and eastern Washington County is only $340,000.
Let's check out the competition: here's a 35-year-old condominium for sale for $350,000 -- about the same price as the cost of the new units proposed by Home Forward -- with 2 bedrooms, a deck, and 1170 square feet. The picture at left shows the neighborhood, which looks at least as desirable as Hillsdale. And it's going to have great public transit: if you look closely, you'll see the track for the Portland-Lake Oswego streetcar.