Street Games 

In the week since Commissioner Sam Adams' $464 million street fee plan passed the city council, it's been subjected to a referral effort, objected to by another city commissioner, slated for a repeal, and will likely be replaced by a split-in-three street fee that (knock on wood) won't be kicked around so much.

Poor little street fee.

You could blame Paul Romain for the schoolyard fighting over the fee, which would pay for transportation infrastructure improvements like bike boulevards and street repaving. Romain, a lobbyist with the Oregon Petroleum Association (OPA), had objected to the fee last year, over what the OPA says are unfair costs to gas stations and convenience stores.

But Romain got an assist from Mayor Tom Potter, who had earlier criticized Adams for splitting the street fee into three parts. Adams said he'd consulted with city attorneys and was protecting the fee from a potential single-subject legal challenge. But Potter, in a January 18 memo, said the split made it look like the council was trying to "manipulate the outcome" and make it more difficult for folks like Romain to refer it to voters (never mind that the council manipulates the outcome by, uh, voting). Potter also undermined Adams' single-subject concerns, saying it wasn't "a strong legal reason" to split the ordinance.

Thanks to Potter's chastising, Romain had plenty of ammo to launch at Adams for putting the fee on the agenda in one piece, which the council passed on January 30. As he helped a fuel company owner file referral paperwork the next day, Romain cited the splitting and reassembling as the reason his group backtracked on an earlier pledge not to refer "the measures."

"They're just gaming the public, that's all that they're doing," Romain said. In a press release announcing the referral, chief petitioner Lila Leathers also alluded to Potter's memo, alleging that Adams' single-subject challenge concerns were "completely fabricated."

Hitting back, Adams points to Romain & Co.'s referral backflip as evidence that they'll do anything to stop the street fee, including a possible single-subject challenge that would—at a minimum—tie up the fee in court unnecessarily. "I have no doubt that I can't trust them now," he says.

And it appears Adams can't trust Potter, either. On February 5—a day before the council reconsiders the street fee—Potter sent out a memo staking his opposition to the triple ordinance. "We must place a single measure on the May ballot," Potter argued, superceding a referral and handing opponents yet another talking point: "It also removes any argument that the council has not allowed citizens to be heard directly on this issue."

amy@portlandmercury.com

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