Victoria Taft: Portland Urban Renewal – Cash for Cronies

by Victoria Taft

Cash for Cronies: Portland’s New “Radical” Urban Renewal Program

The Professional Planner Class in Portland plans to declare seven areas of town “blighted” –including Portland State University– to set up seven new urban renewal zones, and hand over the money to government and non-profit cronies.

Call it “Cash for Cronies.”

It’s all in an effort to “create jobs” and “help business.”

How giving tax dollars that would ordinarily go to supporting police, fire and schools over to government and non-profit professional grievance groups will help create jobs is anybody’s guess. We saw this type of thinking in the President’s “stimulus” plan which used our tax dollars to “create” jobs that cost $278,000 apiece.

Oh, but this is so much more! In fact, it’s a plan a Multnomah County leader has admitted is, “radical.”

According to the new website set up to support the plan and a flyer giving a glowing description of the new urban renewal zones, this ain’t your mama’s urban renewal.

“…[I]it’s a use of urban renewal that is radically different than anything we’ve seen before.” Jeff Cogen, Multnomah County Commission Chair

What does it do? Well some very nice things in the areas of town which will now be taken off the tax rolls for the duration of the Urban Renewal Area. The money that would have been paid in increased taxes to support police, fire and schools will be skimmed off and given out to do these things (see the chart nearby on what Tax Increment Financing, TIF, does to the areas in which it’s used):

Source: Oregon Catalyst

…[I]mprovements to business exteriors and interiors, street furniture, trash cans, lighting, district signage, gateway markers, and other small-scale, permanent capital improvements.

If it seems these things are the City’s or County’s jobs or the job of the actual business owner–you’re right. But, now see, that wouldn’t be as much fun as the government creating a new pot of money from which apparatchiks can give out political favors. In fact, they will with impunity plunder the money to increase the profile of their buddies’ government programs and not-for-profit organizations which will ALSO see some of the money.

How will they do THAT? Easy. Bring on the Community Organizers.

…[T]he process starts with organizing a broad cross-section of people representing the area’s business community, residents, property owners, district organizations, and community groups…

Getting the City and County this pot of money to use for their future desires requires some finessing of the local yokels. “Neighborhood buy-in is critical, ” lectures the website. That’s why the process starts with organizing a broad cross-section of grievance groups that will be, sorry to be indelicate, but… paid off.

“This money will be used for scholarships so small business owners can get business development and business management classes at the college to help them in terms of mentoring, support, and learning how to deal with contracts, expanding their business; whatever we need to do to be more successful.” Preston Pulliams, President, Portland Community College

Isn’t that nice? We’re taking entire swaths of the community off the tax rolls for years in order to give the community college “scholarships.” Who gets to run that money? Government!

And see, this will help minorities, so it MUST be a worthy plan, right?

“The stress that we feel in the community I think begins to be remediated with projects like this. You have my complete support.” Native American Youth and Family Center, Rey Espana

And businesses will be able to avoid taxes as long as they get the money from the new pot of money and hire 10% more people. Multnomah County and the City of Portland could have removed their onerous business tax, business license fees, systems development charges and many other hammers they use to beat on business. But then they wouldn’t be able to control you and give out money FROM SEVEN NEW POTS OF MONEY to their cronies, now would they?

“The Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative represents a new way of working a neighborhood economic development because of working collaboratively with public and not-for-profit partners, like the county and the community based organizations that are already serving the local business community.” Patrick Quinton, Executive Director of the PDC

Taking your tax money to gain control of several new pots of money to use for political cronies.  Now THAT’S what I call government work! Or maybe it’s the mob. I get them mixed up sometimes.


For more Victoria Taft, visit Victoria’s blog and listen to Victoria on The Victoria Taft Show – weekdays 11am-3pm on AM860, KPAM

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Posted by at 05:16 | Posted in Portland Politics | 45 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Rupert in Springfield

    I always get worried when I hear government talking about “investment”. To make an investment, one has to be an investor, with both the incentives, profit, and consequences, loss, that go with being in such a position. Since government has neither of these, it can only spend money, it can neither make investments, nor be an investor.

    Your key to the rip off is contained in this line:

    “A job creation and equity lens will guide every action, investment and program.”

    In other words, we are giving ourselves an out if anyone asks where the return on the investment is – it went to an equity program (and no, that doesn’t mean the sort of equity you have in your house, thats an actual investment).

    In the era of Obama, it is astonishing how blatant this sort of rip off program has become. I mean there isn’t even the pretense of honesty here. I always thought the Ayn Rand types were a little wacko, but frankly in the last few years it has become uncanny how accurate she was on human behavior. 

  • Bob Clark

    My understanding is any new urban renewal taxes sprung on folks outside these “blight” areas would count towards the $10 per $1k limit provided in measures 5 and 47 property tax limits.  If so, many property taxpayers are nearing this limit.  It could be any subsequent urban renewal tax proposals may actually not be effective in raising new revenue for the city and county to replace the revenue lost from tax freezes in the “blighted” areas.  Instead, this new urban renewal proposal may likely result in actual other government service cuts.  Of course, such cuts will bring out the violin players and their cries for other forms of taxation or repeal of measures 5 and 47.  And one probably has to suspect what Adams is really up to is finding a way to squeeze money out of others to get the “lovely” Oregon Sustainability Center built, so as to move government employees around downtown.  I should think we could most appropriately rename Portland downtown as the Government money waste center.

    On the positive side, it looks like only one tax measure made the ballot for this May’s Multnomah County elections; and that would be renewal of the library levy.  It replaces the existing levy at the same property tax rate of 89 cents per $1k in tax assessed value.

    Portland Public Schools is considering this November for bringing back its construction bond/tax measure.  There is also a library district measure headed to the November ballot which would raise the library levy from 89 cents to $1.21 per $1k tax assessed value.  I’ve heard wind of a soda tax proposal, and Adams’ friends of arts (receivers of city hall monies) may conjure up another type tax measure to keep themselves happy and fat on the public’s dime.

  • valley person

     “What does it do? Well some very nice things in the areas of town which
    will now be taken off the tax rolls for the duration of the Urban
    Renewal Area.”

    Whoa there. Fact check time. These areas are not “taken off the tax rolls.” They will pay all the taxes they pay today. The additional taxes that are generated as a result of new development are also paid, but are targeted to local improvements instead of going to other entities.

    As for the rest, very snarky and par for the Catalyst course.

  • Greg Halvorson

    City Hall is a den of plundering thieves and shameless liars, who, in a sensible world, would be in handcuffs, not cufflinks.   

  • Tom Joad

    Whoa whoa whoa. Oregon Catalyst, edited by Dan and Rachel Lucas, is using Victoria Taft’s article against urban renewal after kicking one of her best blog contributors, Bruce McCain, off of Oregon Catalyst as a contributor … and showing Steve Schopp’s Urban Renewal graph, after the Lucases welcomed with open arms Don Mazziotti to a Washington County GOP meeting to pitch … Beaverton’s Urban Renewal bill.

    You can’t make this up.

  • Pacific Patriot

    Nothing promised by the govt. comes without strings, bribes, and regretful consequences.  They always use their best marketing skills to lure their victims into voluntary participation (aka slaves to the govt.).  Do you honestly think that those who are dangling these scholarships, promises of increased business, and utopian surroundings like red meat are not expecting compliance in return?  Do you think that a scholarship will be granted without some kind of govt. control over curriulum, more so than already exists, or pledging of freedoms to the govt. by the recipients of the funds?  Where the govt. grants you money, you are slaves to the govt.

    Let’s get to the root of it all.  This is purely a “Smart Growth” plan.  Does anybody know what “Smart Growth” is, or where the concept originated from? (Hint:  United Nations).  Does anybody know that Portland, OR was the first metro area in the U.S. to be used as the UN’s poster child for “Smart Growth”?  Does anybody know where in the metro area the first “Smart Growth” community exists?  (Hint:  Hillsboro).  Does anybody know why Smart Growth communities are being built, and why this Urban Renewal plan for downtown Portland is right out of the UN’s playbook?

    • valley person

       Dude, “smart growth” did not originate with the United Nations. It originated in the good ole USA, with a private sector development called Seaside Florida. “Smart growth”  is old fashioned conservatism, going back to the past for a better model of how communities are designed or re-designed. Think 1890s to 1920s neighborhoods like Ladds Additon or Laurelhurst in Portland and you have a picture of smart growth. Not exactly the Gulag.

  • Just doing the math

    Actually, Portland State University will be considered a
    “Education Urban Renewal Area” (URA) not an (NPI). The six
    NPI’S will have 1.25 million maximum indebtedness each and the 
    URA will have 169 million maximum indebtedness and all may impact 
    property tax rates. This is from the flier I received from the PDC.
    If approved by the city council (the ordinances) will be subject to
    referendum, which I assume means a vote by “we the people”?

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