Yesterday we reported on an economic report showing baseball in Lents would create a "net job loss" in the neighborhood. Today City Commissioner Randy Leonard and his chief of staff, Ty Kovatch, have been on a public relations campaign to discredit the "net job loss" interpretation of the report, telling TV, radio and even Leonard's own blog readers that the report in fact shows a "gross job gain." True. It does: Gross gain of 453 jobs. Net loss of 182 jobs citywide. I don't know about you, but I always check the gross number on my pay check. No...wait...
But arguing selectively with the report's findings seems to me like distraction from the main question, yet to be answered by Leonard's office or convincingly by mayor Adams' office, which is: Why was the report rushed through in 24 hours, but then sat on for two weeks? Leonard's office says Adams' office didn't even tell them about the report until we sent a copy to Leonard, yesterday. Why was Leonard apparently left out of the loop, even though he has been leading negotiations with Beavers/Timbers owner Merritt Paulson? Wouldn't it have been helpful to him to have had this study throughout that process? How closely is Adams' office really working with Leonard on this deal?
The only answer I can come to is that the mayor's office didn't like the findings, and chose not to share the information with the public. We were told yesterday morning by the mayor's office that "the study was based on bad assumptions," but had previously been told the study had yet to be completed. It was only when we began probing this new position that we were told, yes, the study does in fact exist. Then the mayor's economic development policy adviser, Skip Newberry, told us
that the report existed but that he hadn't seen the results Newberry told Sarah that he had read the report, but didn't have time at the moment to discuss the report, nor did he have a copy of the report in front of him to refer to for questions, and referred us to the mayor's spokesman, Roy Kaufmann, who referred us, in turn, back to Newberry. We only got the information yesterday after Sarah talked to PDC, the mayor's office, and ECONorthwest, the report's authors. This process took two hours and it felt like we were being given the run-around.
There's also another important development in this story, which is that the Lents urban renewal advisory committee (URAC) is now the most powerful group of people in Portland, when it comes to this deal.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman bought the mayor his regular quadruple nonfat venti latte at Starbucks yesterday morning (Saltzman goes with the more conservative triple nonfat venti latte as a matter of course, Adams normally gets coffee at Posies in North Portland, where someone reportedly told him his regular drink is equivalent to eight shots of espresso...Adams had no defense or justification for his vast caffeine intake yesterday...still, I found it pretty impressive...sorry about this lengthy parenthetical digression, but I found it very interesting...) and the pair discussed the Lents panel's role in the negotiations.
"I think I'm speaking for all three of us [Saltzman, Leonard, Adams]," said Saltzman, "when I say that if the Lents urban renewal committee doesn't approve this deal, then it's probably not going to happen."
"They are legally only an advisory body," Adams confirmed, yesterday morning. "But their advice matters most in this matter, and if even if it's just by one vote, if there's not a majority of votes on the panel, then I'm not interested in moving this forward."
"It does put a great deal of pressure on the URAC," says its chair, Cora Potter. "We've basically been charged with making a choice between two uncertain paths that have different blind corners. One is staying with the status quo, and being subject to the whims of the unstable financial market to spur private development...the other is a project that will break ground within a year and shows potential, but in its current incarnation is an incomplete proposal that does not directly outline a strategy to encourage additional private investment to follow."
Potter says she rarely tries to guess at how the votes will fall on the URAC. And she's yet to respond with a comment on the jobs report—which she saw for the first time, like Leonard's office, yesterday afternoon. But we'll be following this process closely over the coming days.
City sources confirmed today that the financing of the deal has effectively been struck with Paulson, but that the numbers are being reviewed by independent consultancy firm HVS and the city's own Office of Management and Finance before it will be presented to the public, possibly as early as the end of this week.
"The sooner we can present this deal to the public, the better," says Kovatch, who seems optimistic that a thorough airing of the numbers will only serve to convince people of the merits of the idea.