Clackamas County voters will decide on a somewhat obscure but very important question on the Nov. 8 ballot: should voters have a say in the expenditure of urban renewal dollars?
Currently, local elected officials control the process of establishing urban renewal districts—Portland has eleven of them—and then diverting future property tax revenues generated within those districts for specific projects.
The project that caused Clackamas County citizens to put the question on the ballot is the $1.5 billion, 7.3 mile Milwaukie to Portland light rail line currently under construction. Critics consider the project boondoggle that will consume urban renewal money at the expense of education, public safety and other services. If their measure wins--it's competing against another that would preserve the current system--the message could be chilling for Oregon's powerful urban renewal constituency.
Urban renewal has lots of friends: developers, construction companies, trade unions, engineers and others who make money from projects such as Milwaukie light rail. The critics, in contrast, have few natural deep-pocketed funders.
On Friday, however, Loren Parks, the reclusive Nevada medical products tycoon who regularly bankrolls conservative-leaning ballot measures in Oregon, where his company is located, gave urban renewal opponents $10,000. Proponents of the status quo have still raised nearly twice as much—about $76,000—as those who want citizens to vote on urban renewal.