Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The City Council Tram Vote: Feeling the Love

I just watched the City Council Tram Vote on TV and I began feeling irrational affection for the commissioners. If Stockholm didn’t exist we would now have the Portland Syndrome – a city held hostage to the bumbling shenanigans of its leaders. The gist of the “yes” voters is that this would cost too much to walk away from – always a ringing endorsement. Most annoying was hearing Dan Saltzman try and explain his “yes” vote in noble terms. The city council that got us into this mess, is a forgotten memory. Saltzman wants to do the right thing and protect us from 36 million in shutdown costs and future legal liabilities. He said we were “heading for a messy divorce”, and he had seen how badly little children can get hurt in a divorce. So we have to build the tram because children get hurt in a divorce? Got it.
Randy Leonard called in from Outer Mongolia and dubbed what has happened “an outrageous shell game.” Sam Adams chimed in to say that he had done a terrific job, and that he was even more wonderful today than ever before. He also praised Dan Saltzman for his cave-in on the tram saying, "That's what leadership is all about." Very, very moving.
Then came the moment that I suspect drives so many of these fancy projects, compared to say filling potholes. Sam had a word of caution for the citizens of Portland to steel our resolve through the trying months ahead: "This is an extremely complex unique project, never having been built before, ever, and there are thousands of parts, that have to be fabricated and fit together and work." Translation: We are magnificent people for even trying this! He also warned that the 95% "That's It" price, doesn't include design changes the city may have to make. Translation: The tram could cost a bundle more and the city is on the hook for that. Conclusion: We screwed this up badly but we can't get out of it, however we've made a deal that caps our costs, except nobody has ever built this sort of tram before so we will probably have more costs when the city has to redesign the damn thing. Oh, and by the way, Sam was extremely demanding in these "arduous negotiations" and has done a terrific job. He actually took the time to list several wonderful things he did for higher education in Portland years ago, even before he got to the wonderful things he's been doing lately. How did Erik Sten play it?
Erik Sten’s point was that the negotiations could have continued and that the city could have gotten a better result: “This is not an acceptable deal” adding that “affordable housing has been left by the wayside.” He talked fast and looked worried.
Everyone marveled at how the tram costs were now fixed. Not completely fixed, mind you, but 95% fixed. And joy of joys: More money has been set aside in case of contingency plans. I mentioned that the city can still "request" design changes but everyone else is locked in.
It was left to Mayor Potter to try and soothe the acrimonious feelings of these last few months. He asserted confidently that these bad moods will past and the aerial tram “will be a Portland icon.” Here’s the part where I got misty. He proclaimed that the moment the tram is finished he is ordering an investigation from Day One into what went wrong with this. Not to blame anybody, mind you – we’ve had enough of that. But to learn so that nothing like this ever happens again. Gosh, to have leaders this wonderful really makes a hostage feel proud.


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