Downtown Eugene

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Creepy Urban Renewal

At a public meeting, I was pulled aside by, it turns out, a publicist for power-and-money. She pretended to be many things, in order to get me to "open up", and reveal, I suppose, some fatal flaw in our "campaign strategy" to stop the destruction of the neighborhood. Then, after a bit of argument, I realized ... she knew my personal history, thoroughly. Perhaps this was an attempt to gain my confidence? I ended our conversation.

Creepy, yes. Luckily, the conversation revealed the paper-thin arguments of her well-funded camp.

"Urban Renewal" she boldly asserted "is what all the great cities do." "There's no viable alternative" she said. I guess only big cities function. A big surprise to those of us who don't live in them.

She even painted a pretty picture of the removal of "neighborhood blight" and "the homeless" in New York, asserting it was a "win-win" for everyone. Destroy communities, defund social services, and then kill the vermin. A kind of "get-tough-on-the-poor" jingoism.

"West Broadway needs a new start" she said. "It's unsafe, and a low-rent district, and that's inappropriate for our downtown". So, affordable housing is ok, but affordable commercial districts are not?

And then, of course, she called me a "vested interest". I'm in the neghborhood slated for demolition, a volunteer coordinator of a popular community non-profit, dedicated to revitalizing downtown, who's fighting against a big-money apocalypse -- and I'm a "special interest"? She, as a representative of developers who want to get rich from public funds, is of course not a vested interest?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tom Kemper's two conditions: $40 million + no community input

KWG's Tom Kemper is very clear that he will only produce the mega-project, if he gets the $40 million in subsidies, and if he can do what he needs to, to make his project "work". He is quite clearly not interested in the public input, which the City Council has deceptively collected, with the intention of ignoring it.

To quote Kemper in the Register-Guard (July 14, 2007):

"It's bold. It's ambitious. It's really upscale," he said. "It's also a big change (for Eugene), and it's expensive."

He needs to destroy the existing neighborhood, and all the existing businesses and non-profits, in order to create his high-rent district. He need to create it his way, or it won't work for him financially.

Who wants that? 1% of the population? In this political campaign for November, we must make it clear what the mega-project will be, must be, according to the economics of such a project.

It IS a subsidy

Incredibly, among the talking points of the pro-mega-development campaigners, is an assertive lie: 'this is not a subsidy, but a public investment.' Well, I'll quote wikipedia:

In economics, a subsidy is a kind of financial government assistance, such as a grant, tax break, or trade barrier, in order to encourage the production or purchase of a good. The term subsidy may also refer to assistance granted by others, such as individuals or non-government institutions, although this is more commonly described as charity.

KWG is asking for subsidies to produce the megaproject. Anyone who buys a chunk of the result, will be buying a 'house', if you will, constructed in part with public money, and which would have not been built without it. Any commercial entity, say 'The Gap', which rents in the mall, will be renting a space, indeed an entire neighborhood, created for their use, with public money. Their landlord, whatever corporate entity is created to do this, will have new property created for them with part public money.

Luckily, the voters will understand that $40 million of their tax money, is $40 million, no matter how you spin it. They will not give it to a developer of a downtown mall, just as they would not give it to the developer of a surburban mall.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Don't Trust City Hall. Cut its funding.

In Today's Register-Guard, an editorial excoriated the Eugene City Council's willingness to change the substance of the referendum on the Gas Tax.

But the wildly anti-democratic nature, of the Eugene City Staff and current council majority, runs far deeper. At its core, the City is not driven by the surveyed needs of the citizens. It's driven by the agendas of the most powerful businesses and institutions in town. These agendas are of course unrelated to Public Benefit. They tend towards projects that are massive, wasteful, anti-life, and enriching of the wealthy class.

How do we approach the reform of a fundamentally corrupted City Hall? Well, the right steps are already being taken: cut their funding. This is the subject of both referenda in November, and the message is clear: we don't trust you. The Gas Tax referendum is explicit -- people don't trust the City to spend a nickel, literally.

If we cut their funding enough, they won't even be able to spin the illusion that they are doing something for us. They will then start to work differently, in small, transparent increments, so the public can judge how effective their actions are.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Board Games vs. Life

Eugene's chief downtown planner, Mike Sullivan, once said to me "You know the Taekwondo business near Cafe Perugino? I think the Tango Center would be a much better fit there. We should try to do something about that." I couldn't believe my ears ... he was thinking of "swapping" two businesses from their locations, as if we were some kind of monopoly pieces? Does he have any idea of the pain associated with the "simple thought" he was considering forcing upon others?

"Easy for you to say" I said.

If he could descend from this sterile, rarified cognitive state, and begin to understand people's reality, there are ways he could present such suggestions, at the appropriate stage. If he's interested in influencing the location of things, he should form an incubator and support resources for new businesses downtown, and make such suggestions before people have created a functioning business in a particular physical/social context.

The planner's God-like Board Game mentality is the norm, not the exception. It stretches to politicians of course. Alan Zalenka, complaining that we were trying to stop his expensive, destructive, anti-democratic megaproject, whined: "I don't see what the fuss is about. The rents on West Broadway are too low. I don't think we want this neighborhood to be a low rent district." The fact that artificially raising the rents would destroy 25 businesses and non-profits, and one of the City's major civic spaces, not to mention the waste of City funds desperately needed for real problems, has no effect upon his thinking.

On the advisory committee there are two openly technocratic members, Mike Coughlin and Jean Tate, who are very happy to play the Board Game with people's lives. At a recent meeting Tate said that reparations for the destructive relocation of a non-profit were too high, even though it was a federally mandated amount. "$20,000 is a lot of money for moving a non-profit" she said -- even after she'd just heard that $1 million in sweat equity had gone into one. Coughlin wanted to disqualify as many of the threatened businesses as possible, to save money. Even though the federal law, as described to him already, said explicitly that everyone active on the date of the City's HUD application was eligible, period.

But even commmittee members with human-rights backgrounds can be entranced by the typical, technocratic, architect/planner mindset. It made Pastor Dan Bryant of the historic First Christian Church downtown, come out against Historic Preservation, and against Human Rights. Because the City presented a mock "report" to the committee, dismissing the historic value of Eugene's first brick building and it's Public Market building (which houses the Tango Center), he concluded the buildings should be torn down, and wrote:

I would also recommend that we follow Jessica's suggestion that the design of the new building "make reference to the old bank by differentiating the base from the upper stories and the use of a prominent corner design feature." Lastly, I would recommend that interpretive displays with photos of the original buildings be included in the new structures.

So, we should destroy the businesses, and the buildings they are in, and then create a memorial to the destruction? The only way a human-rights advocate could make this statement, is after he has been placed on a powerless planning committee, whose members have been hypnotized into thinking they have the power of life-and-death over others.

Now, the entire City council is focussed upon the destruction they want to see happen. They are purposefully blinding themselves to the value of people and places, that don't need their help, and focussing upon expensive mega-developments that the citizens have not asked for. And they are therefore expending energy better spent upon improving the city, and helping its citizens, not tearing it down.

All this inexcusable government-bullying in the liberal university town of Eugene. We must conclude, I believe, that even small governments naturally tend towards inhumanity. That means we must all work harder to push back, if we are to survive.

Disguised Partisanship in City Government

On Wednesday, August 22, from 6pm - 9pm, the City and its West Broadway advisory group will hold a Second public forum on West Broadway.

I hope the attendance is high, and diverse. However, the City picks the speakers at these meetings, framing the debate in an extremely partisan fashion. They have picked the facilitators and consultants for the advisory group from the beginning. They are trying very carefully to remove from the debate any criticism of the process itself. And, of course, it's the process itself that is the main problem. The City is spending rare public money on a parade of high-partisanship and disinformation, disguised as helpful non-partisan civic meetings.

Only massive participation by citizens will change the nature of this debate. And a "No" vote on money for destroying West Broadway in November, will stop the worst of the damage. That money is specifically intended for the anti-community, neighborhood-levelling developer from Portland, Tom Kemper. A "no" vote will prevent him from imposing his expensive, profit-driven apocalyse upon downtown Eugene.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"Urban Renewal": 0 ; Democracy: 1

Yesterday, a bunch of businesses, who don't want to see $40 million of City money wasted on a mega-project by an infamous Portland mega-developer, filed a petition to challenge the City's unchecked spending on this project. It was the last chance we had to insert real democracy into the process. Urban Renewal spending is generally protected from public "interference", and the City was hell-bent on leveling the West Broadway neighborhood, and paying to make it an expensive district, catering to maybe 10% of the population.

Today, the City council got the message !

They voted to put it on the November ballot !!!

The City has not helped a single business or non-profit, in the threatened West Broadway district. They haven't given us a dime. And yet they want to pay Portland's Thomas Kemper, who has said that community input "is a problem", $40 million in City money for his project. This is the same City money that would otherwise be spent in small increments for social projects ... including nearly $10 million in HUD money, which normally goes to childcare, at-risk youth, women's shelters, homeless bootstrap programs, opportunity centers, pollution clean-up, vocational training, rehabilitation programs etc. It's insane that the City thought they could get away with this. But now, everyone can vote on it.

Of course, the Tango Center is one of dozens of organizations slated to be destroyed by this money, in one fell swoop. No reparations were in the works, despite rhetoric to the contrary. Let your friends know that the City's plan for "revitalization" is simply to bulldoze, waste money, and raise rents. Let them know that denying the large sum of money, will make the process more community-oriented. Slower spending will make real revitalization, for people, possible.

You'll hear this all on the news after 5pm. KEZI may even use some footage of Tango, at the TC, if you'd like to watch.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Contacting community

When a business or non-profit is under threat from government aggression, it's important for them to contact their supporters.

The Bijou, Eugene's Art Cinema, is threatened by a random proposal in the City's development plan, calling for an Art cinema. So they handed out pamphlets, contacted their e-mail list, and plan to show slides before films, encouraging people to defend local business, and prevent the City from subsidizing their competition.

I sent something similar to Eugene's Tango Community, asking people to attend the City's "token democracy" events, and make the most of them:

If you want to take a short break from Friday@Five, August 3, wander down to the City Tent at the intersection of Willamette & Broadway, where you have a chance to give the City a piece of your mind, about:

1. The City paying millions for a guaranteed net profit to Portland developers.
2. The poverty of the ideas presented by those developers
3. The lack of local understanding demonstrated by those developers.
4. The suggestions by those developers that the city subsidize imported competitors to the Bijou and the Kiva.
5. The destruction of an entire nightlife district that serves a wide range of the Eugene population.
6. The construction of a sterile new neighborhood, at City expense, that is intended to serve the wealthiest 10% of the population.
7. The lack of guarantees of full reparations (despite claims to the contrary) to businesses and non-profits slated for destruction.
8. The destruction of perfectly sound buildings, in order to create more expensive buildings: subsidized gentrification.
9. The destruction of historic buildings, currently hiding behind the modern facades of DIVA, the Tango Center, and Taco Time.
10. The lack of a participatory public process for improving downtown.
11. The totally abstract, non-local, uninformed and speculative nature of the destructive redevelopment plan.
12. The use of HUD money, intended to help low-income people, to pay for a developer's bottom line.
13. The use of 10's of millions of dollars of public money, for an inefficient, wasteful, unimaginative project, when the neighborhood is already revitalizing without help.
14. Spending millions of City money on subsidies, when the most important public problems of our day are not addressed.
15. Importing businesses at public expense, instead of incubating new local businesses.

Anyway, take your pick: poor quality, wanton destruction, gentrification, unfair subsidization, anti-sustainability, anti-local-interest, human rights abuses (that's us!), anti-democratic civic process, massively wasteful spending ... etc.

The City staff will be listening to the public from 5:30pm - 8pm at a tent on the corner of Willamette and Broadway.

The City Advisory Committee will take public comment August 4, Saturday morning from 9am to noon in the Atrium, 10th and Olive.

Please give them an earful. Tell them to stop threatening us, to stop bombing our neighborhood -- we're surrounded by their failed projects -- to stop making plans for us, and help us to fix things those things we know how to fix! Help us fill the empty spaces with community-based projects and businesses, or create useable open spaces. Help us with investment to fill our own spaces with daytime activity to complement our nighttime successes. Build housing in the empty land where there are parking lots, not where there are buildings with tenants! Help us create space for the community to live, for people to learn, and gather -- not just more places to go shopping.

We can absolutely stop this disaster. All it takes -- is for us to all speak up!