Downtown Eugene

Friday, July 27, 2007

Real costs

The nightmare project the City staff continues to push for West Broadway, is so lavishly disjoint from reality, that Staff can make expensive promises, that they do not intend to keep, just to keep the project "on track".

The most recent example was during the vote to use HUD money for buying both unoccupied and occupied buildings on West Broadway. The buildings, in fine condition, have been labeled "blighted", and the proposed nightmare "will create hundreds of low-income jobs".

This empty prose, intended to fulfill fig-leaf rhetorical requirements of our insanely corrupt federal government, was questioned by several city councilors. One question was "how about jobs lost through the destruction of businesses and non-profits? are those accounted for in these job-creation figures?"

Denny Braud, Staff point-man for the nightmare, began to make promises, essentially by referring to law he was subject to, that "ummm ... no, I think no jobs will be lost" during the cataclysm of dislocation, destruction, etc. of dozens of businesses and non-profits. Of course, he is not accountable for his words, and knows that. He also knows, as an administer of urban redevelopment loans, that the definition of "jobs" can be dodged in any way he sees fit.

Well, the West Broadway tenants certainly don't want to be dislocated. But if the City is going to seriously consider this crazy and destructive project, they should put the weight of law behind Braud's promises. Maybe then they'll begin to see how expensive, inefficient, insensitive, and ultimately ineffective this project is.

I wrote to the two most sensible members of the City Coucil:

Betty, Bonny,

At last night's meeting, Denny Braud emphatically guaranteed that no businesses, non-profits nor jobs would be lost in the staff's West Broadway neighborhood demolition plan. Of course, with the council majority behind him, he is perfectly aware that he is not accountable for his statements, freeing him to rely upon a list of existing statutes which, hypothetically, would take care of the tenants.

If he is so confident, perhaps the majority of the council could confidently pass a bill, which, in this given footprint, in the event any action under the current West Broadway initiative is taken, guarantees the recovery-of-investment, full-relocation and return-to-sustainability-and-mission, of every business and non-profit in the footprint, as of today. This means tenants, lease-holders, sub-lessees and anyone else dependent upon these organizations or their facilities. We have been under threat by the City for too long, and want these guarantees, which have now been explicitly promised. The advisory committee has been charged to do this, but without the resources to do so -- a situation that makes the chances of relocation funding seem even more remote.

If you could kindly introduce a bill to that effect, it would be most helpful to all of us.

With many thanks!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Taking from the poor, giving to the rich

US Federal HUD (Housing and Urban Development) grants are intended to create jobs and housing for low-income people.

The city is using this money to do more than finance the projects of developers. It is using that money to guarantee profit of wealthy developers. A 13% profit, on a project which could grow to be as large as $100 million.

All this, to destroy a downtown that is revitalizing itself, and rebuild it, speculatively, for the wealthy. Who don't exist in Eugene in large numbers.

Perhaps we need an initiative petition, with a very basic message -- public money cannot be spent to guarantee profits.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Amused staff

There's a very common behavior, among bureaucrats disdainful of the public (you can fill in your own opinion regarding the percentage). When no citizens reply to their obscure required public legal notices and announcements, they smirk. As if to say "there's nothing wrong with what we're doing: no one complained." Or perhaps to say "people are so dumb and lazy, they don't even want to be heard". In anycase, there's no good reason for the grin. It is in fact the exact grin of a criminal who's just pulled a fast one.

I don't know why they call these people "public servants". Well, actually, I do. It is intended to mislead. Like the "Department of Defense", which is obviously focussed entirely upon aggression. Not unlike most public servants.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The West Broadway Citizens' Advisory Committee Process

A letter to Rob Handy, CPA representative on the committee

The whole process is, of course, framed to create "standard development projects" more than to actually add vitality to West Broadway.

For example, the developers want a guaranteed profit, to produce something ("a nightlife") which is completely speculative. The actual tenants on West Broadway, on the other hand, have created the best nightlife in Eugene, already, and the city hasn't given us a penny -- nothing to even help us break-even, let alone profit.

The positive thing that should be emphasized is efficiency in public expenditure, and a genuine track record in the neighborhood. In that case, the existing tenants have already done a far better job than the developers propose to do in the future -- by several orders of magnitude! Compare their vague predictions and projections with our actual numbers -- which can be observed after 8pm, any day.

Also, the notion that West Broadway is moribund is massively overstated. Compare it, even during the day, with 90% of downtown, and it will be found to have more people.

In any case, since the existing tenants are the most efficient at revitalization, they should be given a chance to buy their own buildings. The primary reason for the appearance of desertion on West Broadway, because of unrented space, is the existence of powerful landowners (the City, in the case of the Sears building, and Conner & Woolley in the rest of the cases) who have little incentive to improve their property. Give West Broadway businesses and non-profits an opportunity to buy their buildings from these owners, and you can be certain that they will be filled to the brim with activity. Small owners are far more likely, and more efficient, at making the incremental green changes people would like to see in any buildings. We want to buy our building, for example, restore the original facade, improve the passive heating and cooling throughout the building, incorporate more community projects, etc. No out-of-town developer could possibly do this efficiently.

I worry about the fact that no one, on the committee, actually is resident on the threatened footprint of West Broadway. People may make suggestions like "the farmer's market building should become a farmer's market again", without understanding that this entire process has been hurting the existing lane county farmer's market -- which is a very fragile, unsupported organization, with storage in my building and important street offices, that the city wants to tear down! That's just one example. If the developers need an advisory committee, then the advisory committee needs one of their own. Perhaps this could be proposed?

Of course I'm very worried by the proposal of "charettes", which have been used as PR cover to destroy neighborhoods in the last two decades or so. I was told by a City Planner, for example, that I should be relocated because "the downtown plan calls for it". As if the community members on that committee would have said "yes, let's destroy community projects in order to build community".

This "destroy the village to save it" mentality is everywhere in Urban Renewal, and modern urban planning -- just an extension of the profit-taking colonization this country is built on. The best parts of cities around the world are destroyed every day by this sort of process.

And, of course, we don't want to be relocated. Actually, it would simply destroy us. And anyone else who is "relocated". It is a human rights violation, a small-scale version of the relocation of native americans from their lands. We've done a very good job of revitalizing our place, and don't want to be destroyed. Thousands have been part of our work, and $1 million in sweat equity has been poured into the place. Any form of good-intentioned relocation, if that was possible, would be very expensive for the city -- of course, if we are just ignored, and kicked out, we will sue, which will also be expensive for them. We've already been put in an impossibly precarious situation just because of the City's "purchase options" -- our leases aren't being renewed!

I believe if money is allowed to enter into the Advisory Committee discussion, the destructive part of the process will be derailed. There is nothing efficient about buying an occupied building, relocating businesses, tearing it all down, and building new, with guaranteed profit, and high rents. If the City waives its hands around and says "oh, let's just do what the people want. Don't worry about the money." -- reply with "we don't want to waste our time. We'd like to come up with a plan that doesn't cost much, and achieves a great deal, so that it has a hope of being accepted by the entire community." Consensus is key -- the small projects (filling the holes, not tearing down buildings, arranging financing to sell to tenants) are quite efficient, and will have no dissent. Anyone who wants more, at the cost of sacrificing such agreement, is simply not being cooperative. The entire City staff can be accused of this, as they keep pushing for maximum destruction, when their record for efficiency is non-existent.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Power fantasy vs. helpful reality

The reason power corrupts is simple: when your actions are amplified, it's very easy to think that your opinions are more important than other people's lives -- because, in effect, they are. The fundamental problem, is the existence of systems that allow such amplification -- it's obviously immoral, promoting destruction and murder as a matter of policy.

Since every fantasy is destructive, they must be eliminated from government.

Instead, government should simply help things that already exist -- things that people have invested their labor in.

But this must be done in an equitable fashion. Powerful people should not have more access to government than any other person. Only in this way, will government be transformed from a power-wielding monstrosity, to something collective, which genuinely nurtures the world it is part of.