This Week in the Mercury

Annie Is Dead, Long Live Annie

Film

Annie Is Dead, Long Live Annie

Chill Out, Grownups—Annie's Not for You


Ruined Refuge

Visual Art

Ruined Refuge

Rose Bond Shines a Light on the Society Hotel



Thursday, May 29, 2014

LIVE BLOG: The Very Controversial Street Fee Comes to City Council

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, May 29, 2014 at 2:31 PM

1400689193-street_fee.jpg
  • illustration by shawn dicriscio
For the third time in 13 years, Portland City Council—this afternoon—is debating some form of a street fee—a way to raise millions meant to ease the city's nearly billion-dollar, 10-year backlog of road maintenance.

And for the third time in 13 years, Portlanders from all kinds of backgrounds and political stripes—business owners, lobbyists, social services advocates, etc.—seem to be decidedly angry about the prospect of having to cough up that money. Angry enough that this attempt could be doomed to the same fate as the other two, in 2001 and 2008.

Already, the plan put forward by Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick just a week ago—$11.56 a month for most families, potentially thousands of dollars a year for businesses, city agencies, nonprofits, churches, and schools—has been cleaved into two. As announced earlier this morning, the residential fee will go forward next month to a council vote. The nonresidential fee will wait until at least November to be further refined.

But that news doesn't seem to have immediately cooled hot feelings. The hearing started at 2, and the council chambers are packed.

"The hard truth is we've got to pay for our own stuff," Hales said in forceful remarks that kicked things off. "We've got to start now. And we've got to do that for a long time."

The mayor gave us a look back to 1993, the last time Congress raised the gas tax (without indexing to inflation)—the main mechanism, without a street fee, for funding the city's transportation needs. He listed the 28 other Oregon cities who've raised their own revenues. And he said he regrets the reason Portland is even having this conversation, and offered his sympathies.

"We all wish we weren't here today having this discussion," he said. "We don't like the idea of one more fee. We don't like the idea of raising the cost of living for families who've gotten through tis recession or who are in many cases still hurting."

Novick, the city's transportation commissioner, followed him, talking about the $91 million a year the city needs to spend just to catch up on its deferred maintenance. (That's up from $75 million, a number supplied n in a stinging city audit last year.) He said he worried none of the possible alternatives proposed would be any more popular.

"This is the kind of issue where politicians lose elections," Novick says. "I'd rather solve these problems and lose the next election than not solve them."

Then came Dan Saltzman, who supports the interest in solving the problem—just not the method. He wants to go to voters directly. He won applause.

"I do want to state unequivocally I can't support enactment of the street fee," he said. "I can only support a public vote for a street fee."

Stay tuned and hit the jump. PBOT director Leah Treat is up now.

Update 2:40: Treat started by recounting PBOT's starting point: the 2007-2008 effort for a street fee. Then she went into the work done this time to promote the fee: polls, town halls, more polls, more town halls. Neighborhood meetings. Sitdowns with lobbyists and special interest groups.

She acknowledged that the regressive nature of the fee—most homeowners will pay the same amount—was the gripe officials heard the most. But she said we can't afford to wait to start paying our way into better road health. The fee will raise up to $50 million a year. Ditching the streetcar, as Novick said some people have suggested, would only save $4 million a year, by way of example.

"Even though we will not be able to address all of our needs with the proposed fee," Treat says, "we must start chipping away at it."

Update 2:47: PBOT says only half of its revenue is "flexible"—most of it's tied to specific projects the bureau's committed to build. We've also been shown a pie chart showing where property tax revenue citywide goes: More than half goes to the cops and firefighters. Some 2.2 percent goes to PBOT, much of that for street lighting.

PBOT's also brought up something spearheaded by fired PBOT Director Tom Miller: The bureau's business-leader-filled Financial Task Force. As the Mercury first reported in 2012, that task force highlighted the shortfall and recommended very prominently not only a street fee, but also a local gas tax. That report was shelved in the waning days of Mayor Sam Adams' administration. This is the first time, interestingly, it's substantively come up in the Hales administration.

The 2012 Financial Task Force report recommendations.
  • The 2012 Financial Task Force report recommendations.

Update 2:55: We're hearing a lot, lot, lot about how the twinned message of safety and maintenance seemed to increase support for revenue in polling. Same with a sense that businesses would also pay, so this new revenue wouldn't unfairly come on the backs of the poor and homeowners.

Also reassuring for poll respondents? Some sense that the money would be dedicated. Hales has proposed a ballot measure in the fall that would bind the city's use of the fee—after the fee itself was approved by the council.

Some other sweeteners included after public clamor: an oversight committee, a delay in collection until 2015, a exemption for residential fees if a business owner runs a business in the cit and lives in the city, a discount for low-income Portlanders.

And then there's a slide showing how much people spend on their cars every month: hundreds of dollars, including $112 a month alone on vehicle maintenance. Novick chimed in to note that gas taxes paid now already amount to $49 a month, on average. So the new fee, if approved, would bring that up to $61 a month.

Without good roads, he says, "Your car isn't worth much."

Update 3:03: How's this thing going to work? It's based on trips using the road system. It's also built on the following mantra—unlike past efforts that took walking and transit and bicycling into account when calculating trips—"Everybody pays, everybody benefits."

While this is being explained, signs calling the fee "unfair" are being held up.

But so far, no one knows where the line will be for low-income residential discounts. There's also been some sense that apartments generate fewer trips.

As for businesses? How developed is your site? How big is it? What do you do—and how does that influence the number of trips you generate? For example: fast-food eateries generate more than sitdown joints. This stuff is the weeds that Novick and Hales need the next few months to figure out, lest this whole effort capsize in a wave of small-business-owner opprobrium.

We've also learned that the fee will be phased in over three years. That's not been mentioned. There's also talk of sample bills and the ability to appeal the number of trips your business is estimated to generate, something a traffic engineer will vet. And for universities, campus buildings that are mostly walked to and from would be treated differently.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz is making sure that a family with two houses, say they're selling one while living in the other, won't be charged twice. That's not been clarified yet.

Update 3:09: The things the transportation fee would buy are now being explained.

That information comes from this chart, which we posted last week:

Screen_shot_2014-05-29_at_3.08.10_PM.png

We've been told the school districts are bracing for big hits, in the six figures, because of this fee. But that they're also stoked about the improvements that would wash up on their doorsteps.

Update 3:21: Commissioner Nick Fish is asking about parking lots and an administrative cap for the fee. Novick says it won't be hard and fast like, say, 5 percent, like with the arts tax. (Novick says there's talk of going back to voters to raise the arts tax's percentage, oddly enough.) Up to 20 percent of revenues could go to other things besides maintenance and safety.

Lots initially weren't part of the fee calculations. Now they will be, to reflect their employees and the presence of things like food carts.

Fish also asked about whether money would be spent in less fortunate parts of the city by fiat. Novick says that's a practical reality instead of something that needs to be directed. Most bad intersections and roads are in East Portland.

Saltzman is not happy about the 20 percent option—which could, he worries, let regular employees start billing against the street fee. And PBOT employees are grumbling a bit as he presses this point with Treat and Hales and Novick.

PBOT assures him the fees oversight committee will be looking administrative functions in an annual report. "It's an extra layer," Hales says.

Saltzman's also pressing about whether there's a cap on overtime expenses that can be billed to the fee. He's worried about overtime eating up the fee, and he says he and Hales talked about that before the meeting. There isn't a cap. But OT is rare in PBOT compared to the police and fire bureaus. It comes up during snowstorms or landslides and other emergencies that wouldn't be funded through this fee.

Saltzman mentioned his children's levy for the third and fourth time today, talking about its 5 percent cap on admin costs and its annual outside audit.

Update 3:26: The phasing-in, which we mentioned above, is contained in an amendment just put forward by Novick. The first year would raise $8, then $10, then $12. But Fritz has come back with her own amendment, and it's going to trump Novick's. She'll start with $6, then $9, then $12.

Novick's also formally put forward the street fee's great cleaving—residential now, nonresidential later—and the November 14, 2014, deadline for passing both halves. If that doesn't happen, Novick's made clear, the whole thing will go away.

Update 3:33: Jonathan Ostar of transit riders organizing group OPAL is offering his support for the fee. It's a hit, he acknowledges. And he wants more details on how to blunt the pain for low-income families. But he says the benefits will flow in large part to Portlanders living in distressed and often-neglected areas. "For all to long, low-income people and people of color have been fighting for scraps."

Ostar also says he wished there was a "sunset clause." Maybe in 10 years, we'll have a "more creative solution." "I'd like to force us back to the table." Novick says he understands that need. But that he doesn't want to send a signal that problems with our roads will all be magically fixed in 10 years.

Ostar and his fellow panelists are among a handful of advocates invited up by Novick. It's been interesting over the past few days to note how relatively quiet transportation advocates have been compared with very vocal business critics.

Update 3:43: Steph Routh, formerly the executive director of Oregon Walks, is recounting the pain of "cutting into the marrow of the bureau" as a member of PBOT's budget advisory committee during the past few painful budget years.

She's also telling the room about her struggles to cross SE 82nd as a resident of Lents and how, in her work as an advocate, she's had to spend a dispiriting amount of time at vigils for people who've died while attempting to navigate roads lacking safety improvements.

Routh, however, makes a good point about the planned discounts for low-income payees. She says the city doesn't always do a good job advertising those opportunities in its housing programs and in its sewer and water bureaus. Maybe, she says, this will lead to a broader, citywide discussion about how to help low income Portlanders.

Her support also seems to be tempered with concerns over the plan to split the two types of fees—she doesn't want more of the money to come from residents than businesses.

"It's certainly not my intention to move away from a 50-50 split," Hales assured her. "It's part of the deal."

Another invited panelist owns a business with 11 employees on SE Foster, and he's bucking the loud current of complaints from his fellow entrepreneurs. He says he could easily shoulder the fee he's estimated to pay under the current calculator.

"It's a completely reasonable fee," he says. "It's a utility that's more important to me than my phone bill... Anything we do to address these issues is good for my business."

Novick followed by attempting to nod to some other groups. And all hell broke loose with accusations about running the clock out.

"This is a big deal," Hales said. "This is a deliberative body and we won't have shouting."

Update 3:48: Those other folks invited to come up? They're not there to toe the party lne.

Among them was David Leslie of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, someone who told Willamette Week that churches and nonprofits were concerned about the prospect of paying thousands of dollars.

He's neither in favor or opposed—just full of concern about both the problems the city's roads face and also the fees many poor Portlanders will face. He called them "egregious," seeing a lot of low-income residents already struggling to make it month to month.

Churches can't make up much of the new money paid out for a fee, he said. And they might have to charge more for the nonprofits and other groups who use their spaces. Leslie suggests another few dozen town hall meetings to work these details out.

"Let's take a little bit more time on this," he says.

Hales say he wants to find out if the other cities with a fee treat nonprofits differently. He notes, however, that churches still have to pay for their tap water and toilet flushes like everyone else.

Update 4:01: The head of Home Forward's board, David Widmark, also is fretting about the fee, over the potential harm to the agency's mission of providing public housing, particularly the impact on Section 8 residents. The dollar amount could be $700,000 to $1 million.

Home Forward's Section 8 manager joined him and said 4.300 residents on the program are living in buildings "not eligible" for the proposed discounted rate. Veterans and others who live in Home Forward properties and hold vouchers and don't have much income may not be able to afford the $96 to $138 a year extra for the fee.

"We urge you to slow this process," she said.

The overall hit could cost money that would instead be going to rent assistance meant to keep strugging people in their homes.

Meanwhile, Neil MacFarlane, executive director of TriMet, offered some pretty laudatory remarks—even though TriMet will have to pay out some significant money. He called it "well-considered" and "fair and equitable."

It's unsurprising: He's clearly interested in having better roads for buses and better sidewalks for transit riders. There's also a promise that if fixes come to roads like 122nd, they'll make it their 13th rapid transit corridor—something that can't happen without better access to the road for riders.

Novick got guffaws a little while later when he said exemptions for income raised a quandary with the city's lawyers. Because exemptions could mean the thing was actually a tax and not a fee. This is something that the next few months could be used to figure out.

Update 4:11: Novick's further annoyed the room by asking more people to speak. First among this new panel is Tom Chamberlain, head of the local AFL/CIO chapter, and someone who advocates for many of the workers who'd be doing the work the new fee would pay for.

He's talking, instead, about East Portland.

"Do not kick this down the road," he says.

Following him is Heather Hoell, who works with Venture Portland, the umbrella group that represents the city's local business districts. She's not a fan. And neither is her group.

She's complained the trip calculator doesn't reflect the local economy, because it's built on national data. She's also highlighted some flaws in the calculator: it's not user friendly, or clear, and treats small shops like Broadway Books the same as Powell's. She's got a point, and I hear knowing chuckles in the room. (Hales said he was very interested in refining the calculator to make it sensible.)

She says costs should ratchet up per trip, not down—essentially making it more progressive. That would mean a bigger hit for the businesses most responsible for generating trips, at the expense of easing the burden on smaller businesses. (Novick clarified that square footage matters—keeping those costs down in real terms.)

"I urge you to slow down," she said to applause, and "enable Portlanders to vote on issues" of great importance.

Another critic followed Hoell: Andy Frazier of the Portland Business Alliance's small business committee. "This should be one package," he says—urging the city not to move so fast.

"We still have more answers than we have questions," he says.

One such question: The exemption for business owners isn't as clear, he contends, as Novick has made it. It may only apply to businesses of a certain size or with a certain arrangement.

And maybe these other cities with fees didn't go to the public, he says. But how many of those, he asked, also have their residents pay arts taxes and their businesses providing paid sick leave?

Two hours and eight minutes in, the signup sheet is being tapped.

Update 4:20: Paul Romain, the lobbyist for the Oregon Petroleum Association, is first. He talked of the "unfortunate privilege" of enduring the 2007 and 2008 fee—and the games both sides played over whether to keep that fee from a public vote.

This time, he says, "you've been talking about the issues, which is a policy discussion." But it's one where he and Novick and Hales clearly lack agreement. A threat has emerged, of sorts.

"It will be on the ballot one way or the other," he's warned. "Either you delay it and work with us, or put it on the ballot yourselves and don't let us do it."

Romain claims he hates city politics, but that he hates the street fee bit even more. He's lecturing the city on the spending choices that helped put them in this hole: streetcar lines, studies for light rail lines to Tigard, police and fire and public safety.

"We had the money dedicated to a bigger purpose, and then it got moved," Romain says.

Hales asked him about what the city should do if a street fee fails. Gas tax? Income tax? Massive and impossible-seeming cuts to the fire and police bureaus?

"Maybe if the public understood that they'd vote for it," Romain says. "I'm not saying I wouldn't vote for it."

Update 4:27: Eric Fruits, an economist and Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association board member, said his neighbors feel shut out and won't support this. Outreach, he says, was lacking—and he railed against what's felt like some whipsaw changes in the fundamentals of the proposal within the past few days.

Novick asked him if he'd attended any of the town hall meetings where a potential $12 fee was discussed. Fruits acknowledged he hadn't. But then he pivoted to something more popular with the room: Why this is being split?

"The residential fee might not be popular but its simple," Hales answered.

Fruits called it a "divide and conquer" strategy and won huge applause. "Don't play games with us. We know how the world works."

Update 4:23: Paul Cone, representing City of Portland Professional Employees Association (COPPEA) Local 17, a union with many PBOT employees—engineers and technicians and others—says his organization is throwing its support behind the general proposal.

"We, your professional staff, have seen firsthand the impact that deferred maintenance has had," Cone says. Waiting won't make those costs any cheaper, he reminds the room.

A Parkrose resident following Cone says his neighborhood desperately needs the kinds of projects this fee would bring—even if he'd prefer a public vote instead of a council vote. He also asked why the city would be willing to split the fee revenue between safety projects and maintenance or why money would be spent on adequate to slightly bad streets.

Novick says sometimes it's more cost-effective to fix roads that aren't that bad, before they get bad. Sealing can cost several thousand dollars per lane mile. Digging up and rebuilding can cost $1 million per lane mile.

Update 4:38: Captain Kelli Sheffer of the police bureau's traffic division was called up out of order so she could head over to NE Alberta for Last Thursday. She's urging the council to back the fee because it will cut down on traffic fatalities.

It's a nice display of cross-bureau support.

Update 4:54: "The idea we should not put it to a vote because people don't want it seems anti-democratic to me," one speaker just said, to smatterings of "yeah!" from the crowd. He says PBOT and Novick should make the fee proposal more palatable—sounding like Paul Romain when he added that he's usually been willing to pass whatever kind of bond or levy or fee commissioners have put before voters in past years.

Joe Walsh, a frequent council gadfly and provocateur (earlier today, he dressed like Julius Caesar and kept shouting about Brutus), got up afterward and called the idea "stupid." He also noted that Novick had left the dais during his remarks. "Where is Steve Novick?" he bellowed. The crowd, moblike, jeered their approval of his question.

Walsh, though, did make one utterly unassailable point. Afternoon hearings where it takes a couple of hours for invited speakers to give remarks are easy for people like the head of the AFL/CIO to attend, Walsh points out. They're not easy for regular people—never mind how many still made it.

Walsh is right. It's been years—the downtown alcohol impact area vote in late 2010—since an important public meeting started at night, when people are off work.

Two speakers later, someone called the mayor a "dictator" and Saltzman a hero for democracy for insisting on a council vote.

And then came the Oregon Taxpayers Association. They don't know the word "fee." They know the word "tax." So this is a tax. But they might support it, if the amount was lowered and if it went to the voters. Fish asked and got that last answer.

Update 5:05: "Why can't a future council discontinue the tax?" Fish asks Hales—in part to answer critics who keep demanding a sunset.

That's an interesting question. Hales says a sunset isn't written in, but that a council shift is technically possible. He cites an incredibly wishful scenario. Say the federal government "came back to life" and increased the gas tax significantly? Or what if the feds and the state went for a vehicles traveled tax.

"If that actually happened," Hales said, "we wouldn't need this anymore."

Update 5:14: That exchange came before testimony from three seeming supporters: A representative from the Metro Council, Rob Sadowsky from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, and Aaron Brown, board president of Oregon Walks.

"We think it's appropriate for everyone to make contributions" to paying for roads, Sadowsky said before giving concerns that need solving before a "final" position on the issue. One is a real, robust discount for low-income residents. The second is an investment in changes that reduce car trips—meaning make sure to invest in things that help increase, among other things, bicycling.

"It's refreshing to see the city of Portland step up with a proactive solution," Sadowsky said.

Brown led off by talking about his work with SUN students in the David Douglas School District in East Portland. He's been a big advocate for "Vision Zero," a multiyear promise to end traffic fatalities. That effort was born and fueled by a spate of deaths in East Portland and the vigils he's had to attend.

"I know this is a difficult vote," Brown says. "But it's even more difficult to cross 135th and Stark. And it's even more difficult to know what to say at a these vigils."

Soon after he wrapped up, Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, walked over to tell me that 80 more people were still signed up to speak.

Update 5:24: Craig Beebe, chair of City Club of Portland's bicycling committee, says the club isn't endorsing the fee—because the club hasn't had time to fully study the proposal. But he harked back to the club's bike report last year and said some of its goals would be helped by the proposed fee.

"We would however like to see greater specificity," Beebe says.

City planning commissioner Chris Smith, a veteran of the 2007-2008 fight, has applauded Novick and Hals for their "courage."

But "this is only going to get us partway," Smith says, citing the $91 million a year PBOT says it will take to catch up on the paving backlog. "We're going to continue to have this conversation even if we succeed."

Novick took the opportunity to paint a "bleaker picture": That $91 million is only for paving maintenance. It doesn't account for maintaining streetlights and bridges and other crucial infrastructure under PBOT's aegis.

Update 5:31: "Portland's plan is not like Oregon City's," another woman says, sharing numbers I've seen on Facebook (or maybe online in the Oregonian: Businesses there pay much less, even though Oregon City's residential fee is the $11.56 a month initially proposed by Novick and Hales.

Citing a 90-minute conversation with some unspecified Oregon City bureaucrat, she said overall revenue from their street fee comes from residents mostly, some 70 percent.

She's also noting that Portland's transportation revenues, from the gas tax and parking, are both going up—citing an audit last year rapping PBOT and the city council's spending decisions. That's become a talking point to some degree. But that's not the issue. The issue is that the city's transportation revenues haven't increased as much as officials once predicted—meaning spending decisions have been made on flawed projections.

Update 5:39: Andre Baugh, chair of the city's Planning and Sustainability Commission, says the proposed fee is an essential part of realizing the Portland Plan—that thing that only the planning commission seems to talk much about.

"It advances our investment in equity and inclusion," Baugh says, noting the projects that would come to East Portland. He's the last before a five minute break. My ass needs one. Desperately.

Update 6:04 The first speaker after the break keeps intentionally saying "tax, I mean fee" in her remarks. Her best point addresses the plan to temporarily cleave the residential and nonresidential fees: It may pit people against one another. But it doesn't jibe with the reality of what's happening. \

Novick, as he's announced earlier today, has put forward a November 14 deadline for getting both halves of the fee passed. [GRANTED. THE COUNCIL COULD ALWAYS CHANGE THAT.] But If that deadline comes and goes without a nonresidential fee in place, both would go away.

Craig Miller of the grocers lobby came up after, and the Northwest Grocers Association will be a heavy hitter in the effort to fight this thing. He plainly said the current proposal "is not in the ballpark of being reasonable and affordable."

His beefs? The trips model treats grocery stores as destinations unto themselves. He claims stores are "ancillary" destinations between home and work—which might be true sometimes, but isn't always. Yes, there's an appeals process, but he worries that it will be "expensive." He also wants more details on which projects will be funded with the fee.

He cites Tigard's street fee, which his group helped shape, as a model. Novick pointed out that Tigard's fee is built on parking spaces owned by businesses, something far more sensible in a suburb than in a dense place like Portland.

Novick answered the concern about safety projects: "There wasn't much passion about maintenance" at town halls. And yet the city's still spending most of the new money, if it passes, on paving.

Fritz followed with questions about profits and margin. She said hearing from small businesses about how much they clear right now, and how much their estimated fee payment would eat into that profit, has been "helpful" for her.

Miller said the big stores still have just a 1 or 2 percent margin. In Tigard, the average payment is $250 a month. It's believed to be a bit higher for a large store here.

"Hopefully we can have a deep breath," Miller said.

Update 6:09: A neighborhood leader from Northwest, and a member of the city's pedestrian advisory council, offered an impassioned defense of the fee—and urged the council to pass the thing without asking voters first. She seemed on the verge of sobbing at one point.

If commissioners pass this "unpopular but deeply necessary measure," she says, "I believe you won't hear from heartbroken family and friends of a mother who lost a child crossing a city street."

Update 6:19 We're at the point in the hours-long public meeting where all the people who've signed up have gone home and we hear a lot of names being called, but not a lot of testimony.

But one of those people speaking is the president of 82nd Avenue's business association—and he says his board voted unanimously to slow the fee down, even though their area would benefit from much of the work the fee would fund. (Except not on 82nd Avenue itself, which is ODOT controlled...)

He says there's no sunset date for the fee, no limit on what someone can pay, and too much pain for businesses already in Portland, after things like sick leave.

"Only in the past few days have the true cost to the business community been disclosed," he says. "Many may not be able to survive this increase."

Update 6:32: A few other big names are still in the pile. Marion Haynes, the new top Portland lobbyist for the Portland Business Alliance, repeated the PBA's by now well-known calls to slow the fee down. Both pieces of it. (Bernie Bottomly has gone back to work for his old employer, TriMet.)

"The Alliance absolutely supports the goal of maintaining streets and improving safety," she said, reminding everyone that the PBA backed Sam Adams' attempt at a fee (about half the size of the current proposal) seven years ago.

But? "It feels like it's time to start that conversation instead of ending it," Haynes said.

Interestingly, she was thanked by Fritz for her "very constructive comments."

Update 6:42: A representative from the Pearl District Business Association asks a version of something that's usually come up in the context of drivers from Clackamas and other in-state-locales: How will the street fee account for Washington drivers? (Another speaker suggested a car-user fee, in which people who drive and operate their cars in Portland—commuters from Gresham and elsewhere, say—pay for stickers that would be affixed to each of their cars' windshields.)

In any case, the Pearl business district is opposed and thinks this public process is even worse than what they thought was a flawed process over paid sick leave.

Then, in a delightful display of ironic juxtaposition, a business owner from St. Johns—Olya Karkoshkina, proprietor of N Fessenden's Six Point Inn—came next. She mentioned the seething rage in St. Johns over the street fee as proposed (I live up there, and she's not far off). She also said she and others would probably say yes if it was refined and put on the ballot.

"Slow down," she said. And if it's better written, "I will gladly vote for this myself."

Update 7:07: Wonkiness alert! Fish, picking up from a speaker who raised something similar, asked why PBOT couldn't do what the sewer and water bureaus do: Charge a base fee for everyone—but come up with a mechanism for charging heavy road users more. Novick said that's not possible, not without affixing sensors to people.

Fish said finding some path to that kind of nuance might offer incentives to change behavior. That's when Hales spoke up. Unlike the Adams fee, which attempted to account for different transportation modes, this fee was structured simply on purpose.

"We're not trying to change behavior," the mayor said. "We're just trying to pay for our streets."

This debate broke out just before the final three speakers sat down. One was the head of the NE Broadway business district—complaining that the business fee makes up a larger part of net taxable income than the residential fee does for homeowners. (Novick took slight issue, saying businesses can deduct much of their expenses and bills, unlike a homeowner.)

The district rep also questioned the rumblings that the fee would be added to the water bill. "That's one way to do it," Hales made sure to point out—stressing that it wasn't a decided point, even if language in the ordinance pushing the fee seems to hint at it.

The penultimate speaker is another business owner who said she's worried about losing her living, the money that's left after supplies and payroll. (It's not much, she said.) She said she was trying to hire someone before news of the fee emerged. She's not sure if she can keep that employee.

"I don't believe the city owes me a living," she said. "But I don't understand why I get this fee that's so much disproportionate for me than you do living in your house and having the job you have."

And the last speaker? A retiree who doesn't want the fee to be paid by people on welfare—but does want the fee paid by people who live outside Portland but still drive and work here. He had trouble paying the arts tax already, just $35 a year. "It's tough."

Update 7:08: Scratch that. More people raised their hands and came forward.

Update 7:16: "I am the face of Portlanders stretched to the limit," one of those speakers says, making the point that $12 a month hurts the person making $25,000 a month way more than it hurts the person making $100,000.

She was joined by a founder of the Stop Portland Street Fee Facebook page, who's also a member of Woodstock's business district. She took umbrage with Novick's claim that the street fee was the most popular of several unpopular options for addressing our transportation funding issues.

"You've successfully made this the least popular option," she said, decrying especially the regressive nature of a flat street fee.

Last—for real this time—was a woman who saw the meeting on the news this afternoon and hustled over, happy to see this thing was still going, some five hours after it started. She confessed not paying her arts tax because she just didn't have the money.

"Where is there to stretch?" she asked. "It's unfair when taxes or fees, whichever, are placed upon people who worked all their lives."

But this isn't over. Fish has "500 questions" on procedural issues.

Update 7:30: THIS IS GETTING SUDDENLY HOT.

"Where are we going with it?" Fish asks.

Novick says there's a resolution on the cleaving: If there aren't two fees by November 14, both are dead. He says the residential fee will come to a vote next week. And there will be a separate vote on the mayor's charter amendment that binds the city's hands in spending the money.

Fish also asked about amendment procedure—and was told today was maybe the time to do that.

"I'm not even remotely prepared to offer amendments because I haven't had a chance to digest them," Fish says.

Fish is angry that there's no real chance, as he sees it, to improve this ordinance before a second reading next week. Second readings of ordinances don't get testimony. Hales and Novick are telling him there can be changes after next week's vote.

"There's an easy solution" to this, Fish says. "Bundle the two measures" and take them up "in November."

Novick pushed back, and so did Hales, reminding Fish that the idea was to avoid a low turnout ballot measure next spring.

"Why did we have a five and a half hour hearing?" Fish asked, implying minds were made up without listening to the testimony the council heard.

"Because it's an ordinance," Hales replied

"I have fie pages of questions and followup that I'd like to have answers on," Fish said.

That's when Fritz interjected and said there's still a chance to get information before next week's formal vote. She said emails she received, by the hundreds, were instrumental in shaping her thoughts. (Splitting the business side, she said, was "elegant.")

But she also said she couldn't escape the reality that we need to spend $91 million a year to catch up. Nor could she escape the impact that even the residential fee would have on Portlanders.

Fish admitted he couldn't stop a vote next week. And yet he gave a plea for resolving concerns from agencies like Home Forward.

"When do we resolve them?" Fish asked, furrowing his brow that "this isn't how we usually do things."

"Between now and next July," Hales said. "No one will pay anything until next July."

"If this is going to be referred to voters," Hales followed, "then the time this should be done is in a November general election."

Novick said he expects a referral, by critics, of the residential fee this fall. And he's content that the message will be sent—discounts, a phase-in, no business issues yet, etc.—will wind up being favorable.

Novick then reminded Fish that he didn't wait for testimony before announcing his stance on a public vote. (SALTZMAN, MEANWHILE, IS NOTABLY ABSENT FROM ALL OF THIS.)

Fish came back and said he's not even sure if he's ready to back the fee—no matter whether he decides to send the fee to the voters.

Update 7:35: "We have been talking about this for 14 years," Hales said.

"There is a problem, you have put a solution on the table," Fish said. "What is the value of that public process if we can't absorb" what the council has heard here.

Hales says, again, that more changes can come before the ordinance's effective date next year.

"I'm not at 7:30 trying to pick a fight on a minor procedural point," Fish says.

He relents after a fashion, saying he'll forward his questions and discuss it with PBOT, Hales, and Novick if some rise to the level of a major modification.

With that all done, Novick thanks his staff, and it's all over. Go look at your TV now.

FIN

Comments (36)

Showing 1-36 of 36

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-36 of 36

Comments are closed.

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC

115 SW Ash St. Suite 600
Portland, OR 97204

Contact Info | Privacy Policy | Production Guidelines | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy