Lars Larson on Urban Renewal

Well, yesterday we talked about urban renewal in Oregon. What a waste of tax dollars it can be.

You hear it all the time””urban renewal this and urban renewal that. Let’s get to the bottom line. It’s a way for politicians to take property tax dollars from communities throughout the state and spend them with their favorite local developer. You know that developers can be awfully generous when it comes time to call them up and ask them for campaign donations.

So, let me give you the latest bad example. In Oregon City, the city decided it needed restaurant to spruce up one corner of Oregon City. It’s actually a pretty nice corner of the city. They put $200,000 behind the idea. The problem is, the restaurant business is a place where it is easy to make a million if you start with two. In this case, Oregon City put in $200,000 and ended up with nothing””just one end of a bankruptcy.

That’s urban renewal for you, a waste of property tax dollars. A real hit to the local schools and law enforcement.

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Posted by at 09:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 23 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • just some facts

    Most of downtown Portland is in a urban renewal area.
    Here is a the map:
    http://www.saveportland.com/por/About_UR.htm

    $53 million in Portland tax money goes to Urban Renewal in 2002-03
    http://www.saveportland.com/por/UR/UR_Taxes.htm

    SUMMARY OF URBAN RENEWAL REVENUE FROM SPECIAL LEVIES AND DIVISION OF TAX IN THE COUNTY, BY PLAN AND AGENCY
    http://www.saveportland.com/por/UR/Urban_Renewal.htm

    These developments pay LITTLE or NO TAX for TEN YEARS (typical in City of Portland). but still use city services.
    http://www.saveportland.com/por/Examples/Exemption.htm

    If development paid its fair share, your property tax bill would be 10% lower
    http://www.saveportland.com/por/what_it_means.htm

  • Jerry

    Government’s primary responsibility is safety. Nothing else is more important. Government does not exist to develop things nor run businesses. It is hard enough to do the safety stuff.
    When will they ever learn?
    When will they ever learn??

  • Steve

    Check this out. Seems the PDC has it’s own lawyers who block the city auditor and any other outside scrutiny.

    Leonard deserves support for his effort.

    http://wweek.com/editorial/3417/10484/
    Hostile Takeover
    Randy Leonard wants City Hall control of PDC’s legal department.

    BY NIGEL JAQUISS | [email protected]
    [March 5th, 2008]

    If City Commissioner Randy Leonard gets his way, Portland’s urban renewal agency will soon lose its eight-person legal department.

    “We [city commissioners] are responsible for everything PDC does, but currently we don’t have authority over their lawyers,” Leonard says of the Portland Development Commission. “Responsibility without authority makes no sense.”

    City officials are currently engaged in pulling together budget proposals for the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

    Leonard and City Commissioner Erik Sten, two of PDC’s strongest critics, are engaged in a review of the urban renewal commission’s budget, which was $316 million this fiscal year. But Leonard says saving money is not his motive for lopping off PDC’s legal department, which has traditionally been separate from the City Attorney’s Office.

    Instead, he points to two recent events driving his latest move to curtail PDC’s independence.

    The first instance, Leonard says, came two years ago when PDC pushed him to the verge of subpoenaing the commission’s documents relating to a controversial development at Southwest 3rd Avenue and Oak Street (see “A Suite Deal,” WW, June 14, 2006). In that transaction, PDC officials commissioned an appraisal that gave what Leonard and others considered an artificially low valuation to city-owned property that PDC transferred to developer Trammell Crow.

    The second flash point came, Leonard says, when PDC officials told City Auditor Gary Blackmer he lacked authority to audit PDC’s books.

    “Those two examples really stuck with me,” Leonard says.

    In each case, the city agency was—to Leonard’s way of thinking—thumbing its nose at City Hall based on advice from the PDC legal department.

  • question

    Wasn’t Randy Leonard a Senator when Bill Sizemore’s Measure 47 morphed into measure 50 and allowed Urban renewal (UR) districts to be formed .

    Without a vote of the taxpayers!

    It was the Legislature and the Measure 47 rewrite that gave all the UR Districts their power and Our Money.

    All UR Districts should be voted on.

  • Bill Sizemore

    The interesting thing about the Measure 50 rewrite of Measure 47 and its effect on urban renewal question is this: We were so concerned about the effect Measure 50 might have on urban renewal that we hired John Dilorenzo, one of the most expensive attorneys in Portland, to examine the language of Measure 50 for us. After much discussion with Rep. Tom Brian who was chair of the Revenue Committee at the time, we obtained a letter from Legislative Counsel, assuring everyone concerned that nothing in Measure 50 would lax the rules on urban renewal or allow expansion.

    The language was very technical and we may have been “had”, but if we were, it was only after we did everything we knew of to insure that Measure 50 would not lead to an expansion of urban renewal.

    I would support and work on a measure to end the program altogether or at least require that the creation of new urban renewal districts be subject to a vote of the affected taxpayers.

    • question

      Bill would you put a petition on the ballot to fix what Measure 50 did?

      Urban renewal is responsible for supporting Light Rail on Interstate Max line, Pdx Max, Gateway Max, Lents, Downtown, Clackamass and the money is used for Streeet car Lines.

      The PDC since the Measure 50 is the fastest growing Government agency in the state of Oregon thanks to Measure 50

      http://saveportland.org/por/UR/UR_Taxes.htm

      It is responsible for much of the subsidies given to the smart growth developers. http://saveportland.org/

      Before Measure 50 the PDC was nothing and had to go to the voters to do anything and the PDC knew the voters would say no.

      That all changed after the Measure 50 vote

  • Steve

    The answer is as clear as this story above.

    Get the PDC lawyers out of the way and audit the PDC top to bottom.

    Leonard is right on.

    A stark change from his earlier attitude that had him claiming
    “opponents to SoWa are mostly the Lars Larson types. The same people who are also trying to destroy our public school system”

    • Question

      The PDC doesn’t need a audit it needs to be abolished
      And no new urban renewal districts should be formed with out a vote.

  • Terry Parker

    City Commissioner Eric Sten wants to take urban renewal money away from an urban renewal district in the Northwest part Portland and give it to the David Douglas School District to build a new school. The urban renewal district is within the Portland Public Schools district boundary. With so many of the Portland Public Schools in need of repair and the school district looking to pass a bond measure, property taxpayers within the Portland Public School district are being robbed to pay for not only for the possibility of a new David Douglas School, but also by the urban renewal district itself since all urban renewal districts reduce the amount of property tax dollars going to schools.

    • dean

      David Douglas students are also Portland residents, and it is a quite poor district compared to Portland public school district.

      • just some facts

        DD was not a poor district until light rail and the planners changed it.

        Lets thank Metro and Portland Planners that added Density for changing David Douglas to what it is today.

        Maybe if Portland didn’t have so many Urban renewal districts the state would have more money for the rest of the state instead of back filling the Portland public schools after Urban Renewal transfered the school money to density developers.

        Most of downtown Portland is in a urban renewal area.
        Here is a the map:
        http://www.saveportland.com/por/About_UR.htm

        High density has made DD poor It was not befor

        • dean

          While that may be the case for David Douglas, there is no statistical correlation between density and wealth. You can as easily have a poor low density neighborhood (i.e. Errol Heights) and a wealthy high density one, like the Pearl.

          The question for urban renewal is always whether the added investment would or would not have happened otherwise, or would not have happened as quickly. It is not easy to answer this for any particular district.

          • CHris McMullen

            It’s pretty easy for the Pearl to be ritzy when occupants don’t have to pay property taxes for 15 years. Add subsidies and back room deals for developers and the Pearl has become a playground for the elite set. Too bad the whole area is upside-down and sucking money out of the general fund — but hey, it’s gold-plated!

            Moreover, DD is not part of Portland Public Schools. Why should one “poor” district (like Portland) pay for another? Should Tigard SD help pay for Newberg’s?

          • dean

            But my point is…density does not = poverty. Regardless of how the density got there or whether you like the way it was done. There just is no corelation between density and poverty. Its a myth that grew due to poor immigrants being packed into urban slums during industrialization.

            On school funding, my view is we should make a complete break from financing schools with local taxes, and probably centralize school administration at the state level.we could cut overhead adn administration costs way down and professionalize management.

          • Anonymous

            If you centralize our schools they will become more expensive and bureaucratic .

            If you want to fix the schools allow competition. Our schools are not underfunded they over regulated by the federal, state, county and city mandates.

            David Douglas was a very good school district before The Planners mandated the density. The density mandate along with the Max did turn David Douglas into a poor district.

          • dean

            In part, I agree, but parts of D Douglas were always poor (Lents.) It was a less dense community, but also had far fewer students for whom English is not a first language.

            I think what happened to the whole east end of Portland, west end of Gresham was a combination of poorer folks being gentrified out of inner Portland neighborhoods, combined with an influx of poor Latinos, Eastern Europeans, and other immigrants who could find relatively inexpensive housing convenient to public transit. This did change the demographics of the district.

            But…density alone is not the cause. If it was then inner Portland neighborhoods, which have also become more dense, would be poorer, but they are not.

          • jim

            If it were not for the density policies of Metro and the Density Mandates of Tri-met at and around the Light rail stations on Burnside David Douglas would not have gone down as fast as it did.

            Planners and Density is the Problem and it is time they take credit for it.

            In David Douglas’s case Density did cause their problems

  • Steve

    An audit will lead to shutting down the PDC.

    That’s why the PDC is blocking access.

  • Bmeier

    Lars,
    I’m surprised you’ve taken such a zero sum approach to urban renewal.  Sure, there are examples of abuse, but there are also many examples of success.  Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, why not take a more practical and reasonable approach to this topic?  Why paint yourself, and many good elected representatives and their communities, into a corner with such a unilaterally negative message about urban renewal? Properly applied, it can be a powerful tool for economic development for most municipalities.  How about taking a more fair and balanced approach on urban renewal?  Thanks, Lars.    

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