I'M THE PROUD FATHER of a two-year-old. And if I've learned one thing about parenting since getting the job, it's this: Saying "no" is a good thing, even when it's a pain in the ass. The point? Don't reinforce the notion that snit-fits, no matter how histrionic, pay off.

Now, I realize I'm not in city government. I just get to watch it up close. But that parenting lesson? It totally applies. And here's a case in point: the continued kvetching by big business over Portland's River Plan—a contentious effort meant to undo decades of environmental damage in the dirty Willamette River.

Under the plan, approved provisionally in April, businesses that profit most from the river would ideally be required to funnel some of that cash back into work that makes the river a decent place for the rest of us to enjoy.

But after a series of compromises with deep-pocketed, politically influential businesses, following a decade of tantrum threats over job cuts and relocations, some are asking whether the River Plan's real vision will ever be realized.

Advocates say a fee that would have done more to improve the river—not just offset current damage—was dropped early on in the process. Some permitting rules have been streamlined. And parts of the river outside its northern tip have been peeled off. All to appease industry, still kicking and screaming after all these years.

The latest concession? On December 1, city council will decide whether to subsidize half the cost of fees that businesses would pay if they don't want to do the work of river rehabilitation themselves—the main funding mechanism for the River Plan.

Moreover, that subsidy could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars—at the expense of other city projects.

"Death by a thousand cuts," says Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland. "The council's never going to get what they're after, which is approval of industry."

Mayor Sam Adams supports the subsidy, noting the council routinely soft- launches new regulations. And he defended the process, promising a favorite solution: a committee to balance the economic against the environmental.

"If ever there was a city that can do this," he says, "this is it."

Maybe. But sometimes, to get what you want, you have to say "no." And stick to it.