Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick have been holding high-profile public meetings to talk with residents and businesses about reworking their plan for a "street fee" to fund transportation projects.
This morning, however, Hales met privately with some of the business lobbyists who first raised the specter of placing the street fee on the ballot, forcing City Council to delay passing the plan.
Hales and Portland Bureau of Transportation officials met in City Hall with representatives of gas stations, restaurants, convenience stores, and groceries.
"We had a very pleasant conversation," says Paul Romain, a lobbyist for the Oregon Petroleum Association. "Nobody tried to kill each other."
Today's meeting comes after a new round of public hearings last week, where Hales and Novick again started trying to build public support for a street fee that would raise about $50 million a year for street projects.
A Hales aide described today's meeting as a more detailed presentation on the PBOT budget.
"It was an effort to ground everybody in the details of the budget—going through the minutiae of every dollar that comes in and goes out for transportation," says Josh Alpert, policy director for Hales. "From our perspective, we're on firm footing to roll up our sleeves and get into the nitty-gritty of how to make this work."
Within hours of Hales and Novick's May 22 announcement they would try to pass a fee without taking it to voters, business groups started organizing opposition. Later, Romain told city commissioners in a public hearing that opponents would refer the proposed fee to voters themselves.
Romain says this meeting marked a better approach.
"If this were the first meeting you ever had on this thing, people would be looking at it a little differently," he says. "You didn't feel like people were sitting there with their arms crossed, saying 'hell, no.'
"We still may have a 'hell, no,'" Romain adds. "My clients always reserve the right to say, 'hell, no.'"