Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What’s Really Happening With The Tram

At this point the tram debate is no longer about the tram. It is about a city council's power to call the shots, and an army of city planners who need a revenue stream to continue their existence. The tram came into being because some new project somewhere had to come into being, to keep these people moving forward. An efficient city government that concentrated on mundane matters like fire departments and schools would mean unemployment for these types and that’s what they’re fighting.
That’s why the tram must continue – not because it’s a good idea – but because it’s a validation of these city planners right to go on. To halt the tram project would mean that any idea they came up with could be halted in a similar way: By exposing the facts to the public and letting the resulting wrath have an impact on the political futures of those involved. They can’t let that happen, so the tram is a line in the sand.
The public has intruded in on the process and that is a no-no. The public must be there to provide the funds, but they are not to be involved in how those funds are dished out. That must be left to the commissioners and the developers and these city-business partnerships. That is how the process works. The public must be mislead, coddled, and then slapped back into place. Trying to prevent a project like the tram? Trying to stop an idea? It’s unacceptable. Who do these citizens think they are? That's why the commissioners have to come up with a deal - to reinforce the notion that they can always come up with more money if they want to, because they are running Portland, and therefore they are running us. If they can be stopped on this, they will no longer have that same power in the future. They'd rather have ten trams than give that power up.
Some members of the panel at the tram meeting last night have been working on this for 7 years. That’s actually a very positive aspect. The tram and related projects have kept a lot of these people occupied. They are not free to do additional damage. The trouble is this project will wind down eventually, and these city planners will have to move on to other projects. That is what they do.
Of course, one fine day, Portland could have been planned to death. Every conceivable square inch of the city will be tied up in some expensive city-business partnership that we couldn’t get out of if we tried. Maybe then these city planners will just fade away, and government will return to the real stuff we need. Maybe then we can explore a partnership between the city council and the voters. Who knows? Someday they might even go back to working for us.


At 1:42 PM, Blogger Jack Bog said...

Not in our lifetimes, Bill.

At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 4:52 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

what a hack job. You know as well as I do that participation in the tram or not has little to no effect on provision of the city services you speak of. You also know that part of the reason people have been working on it for seven years is the repeated number of hearings and sessions where complaints may be aired...and were.

I don't believe City planners designed the tram, so that's a big hole in your argument, isn't it?

Nice rant, but it's a fully non-substantive look at the tram process. Given the set of REAL issues that you could have discussed, it's disappointing you chose to lob silly firebombs instead.

At 8:24 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

I admit I sometimes do these things based on my gut sense of what is going on. That is often what analysts do. You can go to a tram meeting which was the oral version of a document dump or you can step back and ask yourself what’s really occurring here? The other day I walked by a fire station on Belmont that is now a museum. What does that mean? Are you suggesting these city planners are going to stop after this project? And if my analysis was a hack job what adjective would you use to describe the budgeting process on the tram? Would you call it “superb”? Would you say I did a worse job on this analysis than they did funding the tram?

At 10:09 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Calling the city and the hospital out on a poor budgetary process is a great idea, yes. You could have picked that. My point was that we both know your image of rapacious planners seeking nothing else but the insatiating lust of costly project design jobs, is just so much hyperbole. It's an extrapolation which tries to tar mistakes or poor ideas with a far broader brush that is possibly warranted.

I'm not sure I fully get where you're going on the Belmont Museum, but I can tell you this:

*It's not just a museum but also a learning center open on some Saturdays, for free. Kids and adults are welcome.

*Until its closure a couple of years ago, it was thought to be the oldest operating fire station west of the Mississippi. So if any station should be a museum, that's a good candidate.

*The creation of a new station 9 was approved and bonded in the late 90s. It didn't just happen suddenly, and it wasn't on a planning whim, believe me.

When I spar with the likes of Jack Bog and some of his minion (although his amazingly thin skin prevents that on his turf), what gets me is not strong, even aggressive criticism. It's the relentlessly negative outlook, presuming and fearing the worst entirely out of proportion with results. I'm sure it's earned me a reputation as somewhat of a pollyanna, but having lived in several other places before coming back home, I'm confident that ripping on the ineptness of this local government can only go so far before it becomes a distortion of reality. Maybe we should expect yet better, and oftentimes we do. But Portland is one of the best run cities in the country if not the world, and adopting a tone of absolute derision for everything they do, is neither accurate nor productive.

Sorry for the rant on your nickel, so to speak.

At 10:43 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

Go ahead, and rant away. You have a point, and I appreciate your reply. I know what we have here in Portland or I wouldn't be living here.
City planners explored the options and chose the tram. I believe that was a poor choice. The idea of suspending this many people from cables is not wise. That's the gist of my tram argument.
During the meeting last night, there was mention by one of the panelists of 11 different urban renewal districts each with three different forms of property taxes. I think the city planners are a little out of control
here. While "insatiable lust" is a little strong, I think the type of projects that are the most fun for the planners, avoid the mundane tasks of governing to concentrate on flashy items that redefine their role, not as governors, but as junior Donald Trumps with the city as their own personal casino. However, market forces do not apply to them, as they can move on the next project. When something like PGE Park goes down, they talk about how awful the deal turned out to be, and then proceed to the next one.
Maybe we need a law that says these fun deals can only happen if everything else is covered. Right now there is nothing to check them.


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