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Portland’s Mayor Definitely
Not the Katz Meow!

  By Fred Delkin - Editor, Oregon Magazine

 Life is decidedly unfair if you live in Oregon’s largest city.  Gotham has Giuliani, we’ve got Katz.  While New York’s mayor has demonstrated extraordinary leadership skills since September 11, Portland’s elected ‘leader’ continues to wallow in municipal fiscal problems while still espousing impractical use of taxpayer dollars. 

While the nation expresses deep gratitude for the heroic service of  New York fire and police departments, Mayor Vera Katz supports programs that drain dollars from the school, police and fire funding needed to build and maintain a solid city.  Under the Katz stewardship the decline of a once very progressive and effective Portland Development Commission is nearing rock bottom as an engine of economic growth.  Katz and cronies see PDC more as a tool for social engineering…using its auspices to rebuild districts for low income housing and brutally expensive light rail routing.

Katz takes personal responsibility for some glorious development ideas.  Tops on this list is her proposal to cover our downtown freeways to provide additional retail and housing space.  Dwell for a moment on the cost of that, and know that Vera still sees it as a part of the legacy she’d like to leave the Rose City.  An architectural model of this scheme is currently on display in City Hall. 

Another great idea

Katz can also take credit for one of the unsoundest civic reactions anywhere following September 11and ensuing events.  Her office issued an advisory to our citizens to seal at least one room in their home airtight with liberal use of plastic film, as a safeguard from bioterrorism.  This panicky nonsense could result in suffocation danger, and as one correspondent has pointed out: how will you know when to do this…and how will you know when to come out?

Katz’s concern for the well-being of our citizens obviously does not extend to the sporting arena.   Her actions in the refurbishing of Civic Stadium (now morphed into PGE Park) border on the impeachable.  Katz dragged her feet for several years on moving to replace or remodel a crumbling facility that was draining city dollars.  Not until a proposal was placed before the mayor by a group dubbed Portland Family Entertainment did the mayor’s office issue a formal ‘request for proposal’ with a very short deadline.

Rigging the deal

Only one entity, CS Group, chose to bid against PFE.  The contrast in credentials between the two groups was laughable.  The CS principals, led by major mover and shaker Bob Scanlan (managing director of SKB real estate investment firm, the leader in finding private funding for the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall and a man with major outside connections in sports and business circles).  Scanlan’s group financed a detailed architectural plan for a stadium rebuild that met the standards of current major league baseball parks, allowed for a variety of other uses and had a reasonable budget aimed at attracting at least a majority of private financing for the project.

The PFE Group, on the other hand, pointed to the now disgraced Andrew Wiederhorn as their primary financial resource.  Yet, in the same month (January 1999) that Vera pushed the PFE proposal past her City Council mates, Wiederhorn’s Wilshire Financial Services declared bankruptcy and federal officials are pursuing severe legal penalties for the
financial schemes Wiederhorn helped perpetrate with the now infamous Jeffrey Grayson of Capital Investments.  PFE’s credentials were also soiled by the questionable track record of the group’s co-leader, Marshall Glickman, when he managed Rose Garden affairs to a point of resignation.

Despite the obvious negatives involved, Vera defended the public interest with a secrecy agreement with PFE following that group’s selection, forbidding her City Council members from viewing PFE financial projections before approval of the company’s final contract with the city, a contract which shoveled $33 million city dollars into the stadium renovation.  Now, just because Marshall Glickman’s father Harry (a sharp and successful contrast to his son in sports promotion) is a close Katz friend should not lead one to jump to any conclusion that the ‘fix was on’ when Katz ordered proposals.  While the CS Group was forging a firm plan to bring big time sports operators to the nation’s 22nd largest market, the best that PFE could come up with was minor league baseball and soccer enterprises.

Vera’s results are in

Now we know the extent of the financial disaster Katz initiated.  In only a few months, PFE operated the stadium into an $8 million dollar plus deficit (those forecasts clad in secrecy budgeted $800,000 in revenue for the city in the first year’s operation).  The private investors that PFE convinced to believe their balance sheet have now thrown the prevaricators out, but they and the city face a gloomy future for a facility that could have brought Portland a new and profitable entertainment center that would spur major surrounding development in an underutilized swath of the inner city.

Katz  certainly has been no stranger to financial drain during her watch.  Consider the Water Bureau fiasco, initiated with a faulty computer system installed in 1997 at a cost of $6.6 million…a system that has cost some $10 million plus in lost collections, late fees and interest earnings for the city.  Now we learn that at least $15 million more must be spent to bring this billing system up to snuff.  Faulty computer installation also hit the Portland Development Commission recently.  PDC contracted a new software system that failed, yet paid the provider seven times the amount contracted, still has no solution and has hired another consulting firm to clean up the mess.

Vera’s term in city office has seen several costly police department problems.  Last March 30 Portland police officers were caught falsifying overtime pay claims to the tune of $160,000.  Adding insult to this injury was a disability claim turned in by one of the officers involved that is expected to result in thousands of dollars in benefits.  Then there’s the $458,000 taxpayers have forked out over 16 years on another disability claim the city finally determined was fraudulent.

The Portland 911 office has operated with an officer who ran a vacation cruise business out of the emergency office.  The director of this office was caught by city auditors for filing copious amounts of “vacation” and “sick” days falsely labeled “working from home.”

Railroading the taxpayer

Any and all of the allocations of taxpayer dollars during the Katz regime pale in comparison to what has, and is still being spent on light rail development.  Vera’s hero and role model, Neil Goldschmidt, rose to political stardom as Portland mayor and then federal transportation commissioner on the strength of spending Portland to prominence as America’s urban center of public transportation innovation.  Tri-Met became a dynasty that gets more fiscal support and positive media endorsement than any other political fiefdom in these parts.

Yet, statistics, the hard facts, do not justify this political preoccupation.  The eastside light rail connecting downtown Portland and Gresham has been running for years, yet it carries only 10% as many people as the same length of I-84 freeway and doesn’t, like other forms of ground transportation, deliver the rider directly, or adjacent, to a specific destination.  The new westside MAX rail has done nothing to reduce traffic congestion on the beleaguered Sunset highway.  The expense of installing light rail has swallowed most of the available state and federal transportation funds and our roads and bridges are neglected. 

Despite valiant propaganda efforts by Katz and associates, South/North light rail in Portland has been defeated twice by the voters, who seem to be hip to the fact that the proposed route between Clackamas and downtown is one of the least used corridors in the Portland area.  Voters seemed to be disturbed by the fact that this rail line would have cost $100 million per mile, and cost $15 million more per year than operating buses.

Another target chosen

Undeterred by voter disapproval, our mayor and others championed the MAX airport line which has just opened.  Funny they didn’t promote this route prior to building the east and west side lines, since experience elsewhere in the USA and Europe show that an airport connection is the most popular and effective use of light rail. 

The liberal mind set of Portland City Hall and tri-county Metro ruling bodies is epitomized by the spending focus on an ideal that has proven impractical wherever tried.  The spendthrift gang have published plans to create more rail connections to Oregon City, Tigard, Lake Oswego and along Highway 217 in Washington county.  The cost? Frightening!

We quote a study done by the Reason Public Policy Institute, a non-partisan group: “…no matter how dismally existing rail systems might perform, proponents have an argument for building more.  …this argument is grounded in blind faith and we cannot afford to build rail systems large enough to test it.  However…the best evidence available shows larger urban rail systems are not better rail systems; they are more expensive failures.”

Perhaps we should note that none of the negatives of light rail development affect Vera personally, since she lives downtown, doesn’t have a driver’s license and can be chauffered at your expense…or she can ride her new downtown trolley line, surely a champion boondoggle that has absorbed millions to create and operate on a route to nowhere moving at the pace of a motivated pedestrian.  Looks good, though!

For further documentation of rail impractibility, we urge readers to visit Oregon’sFuture.  This non-partisan, non-profit source is a wealth of factual information.  It provides a world view on transportation and its challenges.

Other Katz accomplishments

Katz has managed to stay on the sidelines during the ongoing muddle of who's in charge of the city's public school system.  The school board has now settled big bucks on two successive mistakes in naming a school superintendent.  Though the city's schools certainly fall within the mayor's purview, Katz has kept silent while things have deteriorated under the aegis of an ineffective, wrangling school board.

We cannot leave this study of mayoral goals and achievments without covering Vera’s avid support of the Business Income Tax which targets family-owned operations and doesn’t draw from businesses owned by corporations far removed from Oregon.  Her espousement of this city revenue source is undoubtedly a prominent reason why one of the megastars of local enterprise, Columbia Sportswear, has chosen to leave town.

Many commercial developers have focused their recent meaningful projects outside Portland city limits, in Washington and east Multnomah counties, because our City Hall has neglected to fix a building permit system that seems designed to defeat progress. 

However, contribution to the city economy is not a standard of the Katz camp.  Spending is Vera’s specialty and her very visible freewheeling fiscal adventures got the full attention of the hundreds of city employees who just threatened an ill-timed strike for greater benefits after watching Vera toss the green stuff around.

Vera and her sycophantic City Council certainly support the downtrodden, however.  Those scruffy May Day marchers that brought violence and police resistance to downtown streets two years ago were able to easily convince Katz and cohorts they would do no harm this year.  This riotous bunch refused to apply for a parade permit, but the Council waived this requirement, and luckily, no windows crashed, nor did blood flow this time around.  Then there’s Dignity Village, certainly threatening the record for the most generosity ever extended to bums anywhere in our land.  Locating this shiftless group beside our airport seems a bit risky in these perilous times, but hopefully Vera will find a soul mate to provide a location where national security is not an issue.  We can’t leave our Katz worship without citing her courageous defense of the rights of transvestites in the workplace, certainly a benefit to all mankind.

We witnessed the Katz commitment to minorities during her service in the Oregon legislature.  Testifying before her in support of increased funding for tourism promotion, we were told the state’s welfare recipients needed these dollars more.  She evidenced no consideration for our statistics showing that tourism-oriented businesses were a primary source of low income jobs that convert the needy into wage earners.

There’s no shortage of left thinkers in the Rose City, providing a comfortable home for Vera and her costly and misinformed antics.  Fortunately, a majority of Oregonians get out to breathe the fresh air of our wide open spaces and draw inspiration from a spectacular geography.  Maybe we could run light rail to Multnomah Falls and Mt. Hood  so the Katz crowd could see the light.  Unfortunately, we can’t afford it!

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