It was billed as a hearing to discuss the Bureau of Environmental Services' 2010-2011 budget,
but the talk at City Hall this afternoon quickly devolved into an episode reminiscent of a dysfunctional family meeting.
Topic No. 1: Mayor Sam Adams' decision to take $20 million from BES's budget to help fund the Bicycle Plan for 2030.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman,
who manages BES, opened the talk by pointing to a map just like the one here
that shows where his bureau would like to spend the $20 million Adams has set aside for "green streets" and bike boulevards. Previously, both Adams and his chief of staff, Tom Miller, have said they want the money spread somewhat equally around the five sections of the city. The map shows BES's priorities are in inner Northeast and Southeast Portland where there are frequent sewer backups. And Saltzman indicated that's where he wants bike boulevard projects to overlap with sewer system updates. "Bicycle safety is a secondary benefit," he said.
Several minutes later Tracy Marks, a volunteer member of the Portland Utility Review Board, complained that Adams' funding plan for bike boulevards didn't go before the PURB, which is supposed to act as an independent watchdog group protecting ratepayers' interests. (The PURB got its start under former Mayor Vera Katz, whose chief of staff at the time was Sam Adams.)
Adams responded to this point by telling Marks the entire "green streets" program went before PURB in 2007. But Marks was on the PURB then, and he says the "green streets" program wasn't billed three years ago as a way to help build more bicycle boulevards. Nonetheless Adams accused Marks of propagating a "misunderstanding."
Commissioner Randy Leonard
eventually chimed in with a monologue similar in substance and tone to another one he gave PURB back in October at another public work session. This afternoon Leonard said City Council didn't include PURB in discussions more because it was a dysfunctional group. He said he was willing to help change that.
Marks later took issue with that characterization. "If the PURB is not in complete agreement with all the various bureaus, somehow we're dysfunctional," Marks told WW
. "That's unfortunate."
Dave Johnson, another member of PURB, was disappointed with Saltzman's statement at the outset. "Saltzman is saying we're not going to do something that's brain-dead but that doesn't mean we're going to spend money on BES's top priorities," Johnson says.