A proposal for a new 345-acre urban renewal district running through downtown, Northwest and Southwest Portland has opened another chapter in the ongoing Portland-Multnomah County budget drama.
In an email last week to city and county officials, Peter Englander, a Portland Development Commission manager, delivered a message that startled Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen
. That message had nothing to do with the Sellwood Bridge, and Cogen's recent deal with Mayor Sam Adams
to fund the bridge replacement. Instead Englander wrote that the PDC was nearing the end of its process to develop a new urban renewal district in Portland's central city. That lobsterlike district is pictured above.
In that same email Englander announced the cancelation of the meeting scheduled for this afternoon to discuss the potential district. "We are working with the Mayor to conclude the committee's work, with the objective of having only one or two more meetings in total," Englander wrote.
Cogen, in a widely circulated response, asked what amounts to this: Say what? For at least 19 months, county officials have asked Portland leaders to consider whether the city even needed a new urban renewal zone. The county is not a disinterested party. Urban renewal districts divert tax revenue from the coffers of the county and school districts by redirecting tax revenue to specific projects in the urban renewal district. Here's Cogen's response to PDC on Saturday Oct. 9:
At the last meeting you confirmed that the work to date in creating this 70 percent "straw dog" proposal was the precursor to the discussion of whether and when and according to what criteria the creation of a new urban renewal area should occur. That discussion has not yet even begun.
I am completely mystified about how the work of this committee could conclude in 1 or 2 more meetings when we haven't even analyzed or discussed these foundational questions.
It appears that this conversation is being short circuited. Am I missing something here?
Last year, it was former county Chairman Ted Wheeler who testily raised objections
about this proposed urban renewal district.
On March 11, 2009, Wheeler went before City Council and said no new urban renewal district should form without sufficient input from county and school-district leaders about the district's possible financial ramifications on the cash-strapped agencies. At that time last year the proposal was being talked about as a way to help pay for renovations at PGE Park for Major League Soccer.
City Commissioner Randy Leonard objected to Wheeler's objections, prompting the then-county chair to offer a memorable retort: “I'm new on the job, but I wasn't born yesterday.”
A spokesman for PDC was not immediately available for comment on the latest district.