PORTLAND CITY COUNCIL has been shaping up for a fight this week over a controversial proposal by City Commissioner Randy Leonard to take control of the historic Made in Oregon sign.
The city's Historic Landmarks Commission is due to decide on April 6 whether the University of Oregon can put its name on the sign it has maintained for current owner Ramsay Signs since moving into Portland last spring ["Signs They Are a Changin'," News, March 12]. But in a council resolution filed on Thursday, March 26, Leonard proposed an effective end run around that process: Using the city's condemnation process to take control of the sign from Ramsay Signs, at a cost to taxpayers of $500,000.
"The decision to pursue condemnation is not one I arrive at lightly," wrote Leonard on his new blog last week, in a post titled "A Line in the Sand." Leonard also alleges that his efforts to persuade University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer to choose a different path at a meeting last October resulted in Frohnmayer becoming "hostile" and "profane." Frohnmayer could not be reached for comment by press time.
City Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz have been outspoken critics of the proposal to condemn the sign.
"I think this is basically absurd," says Saltzman. "And it's a textbook example of Randy Leonard trying to bully a process. He couldn't get what he wanted from his own appointed Historic Landmarks Commission, so he's chosen the most draconian tack available.
"This is an institution that's invested millions of dollars in the toughest part of downtown," Saltzman continues. "This isn't how a city should reward somebody who spends millions of dollars and creates jobs and higher education opportunities for students."
Fritz says the move "might be illegal," because the condemnation of property is supposed to be for "public purposes." She says, "Regardless, spending time and money on this at a time when we have so many other things to do is of concern to me."
The resolution will have a first reading and discussion at council on Wednesday, April 1, and Leonard has support from Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Nick Fish—enough to pass it with a three to two vote at a likely second reading next week. But Adams is out of town this week at a conference of mayors in Washington, DC, so he won't be around for the initial council discussion. Meanwhile, Fish's office declined comment on the commissioner's co-sponsorship of the ordinance.
Leonard was on vacation until Wednesday and unavailable to respond to Fritz and Saltzman by press time. Check blogtown.portlandmercury.com for updates.