Downtown Eugene

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Opportunity to speak your mind

At the last minute, the Mayor scheduled a public forum for tonight:

"Community Forum on West Broadway Advisory Committee (WBAC) Recommendations"
Wednesday, September 19 - 5:30 p.m.
City Hall, 777 Pearl Street, Council Chamber

The result of the "WBAC" meetings, were milquetoast recommendations, which hold the developer to no public standard whatsoever. Their recommendations certainly don't save the Tango Center, or anything else along West Broadway. The relocation compensation will not save us, or our affordable commercial neighborhood.

This was all expected. The WBAC was formed for PR purposes, and stacked with Urban Renewal boosters. If the KWG Urban Renewal spending Measure passes this November, we're doomed.

The press will be at tonight's meeting, so you could go and make your opinion heard, if you're concerned about any of these things:

1. Deceptive PR exercises to give the impression that the City responds to citizen input.
2. $40 million in City subsidies to develop expensive, upscale shopping malls
3. The destruction of an affordable commercial district
4. The destruction of a downtown district that is revitalizing already
5. The destruction of historic buildings (The Public Market and Bristow buildings) continuing the wasteful legacy of Urban Renewal.
6. The huge negative impact Urban Renewal districts in Oregon have on funding for Schools and Social Services.
7. The lack of an empowered, democratic planning process.
8. The lack of clarity, transparency and democracy in City spending.

I personally have found the City planning staff, supported by the Council majority and City staff management, to be very disrespectful of, and deceptive towards, local small business and non-profit activity. The planners are very indoctrinated -- they believe that creating high-rent districts is the best way to spend public money. Do you disagree? Please tell them so, publicly, so Eugene's citizens begin to realize that Urban Renewal is NOT a public-interest activity.

Here are the very abstract "recommendations" of the WBAC:

And here's the far more informative minority report, by one committee member:

Urban Renewal is a drain on all of us -- on our schools, our small businesses, our social services, and our wallets. Let's do what we can to stop this disaster!

Monday, September 17, 2007


Here are some excellent comments from Jon PIncus, advocate for historic preservation, regarding downtown Eugene:

... in order to even begin a discussion of the appropriate treatment of the historic properties at hand, we have to have an independent comprehensive study. That will lead us to the appropriate sections of the Secretary of Interior's Standards which have been developed over many decades in a collaborative effort between the Keeper of the National Register, The Secretary of the Interior and the National Trust for Historic Preservation using the nation's top experts in preservation, planning, architecture and history combined with the collected experience of thousands of communities as they have tried to deal with their historic properties throughout the entire 20th and early 21st cemtuies. The cavalier approach to historic resources and materials seemingly advocated by Mr. Wylie [in an article about superficial post-modern approaches to "making reference" to the past] is part and parcel of the legacy of the first Urban Renewal push in Eugene. This approach is illustrated in Otto Poticha's Aster building which incorporates three historic commercial buildings of dating approximately 1867-1890. Prior to construction of that building, these buildings were mostly intact including a virtually complete historic interior on one. They had false fronts on the Willamette Street side but were relatively intact on the Park St. side. In their incorporation into the Aster building Otto had everything demolished except the brick party walls, the alley exterior wall, one brick structure of one Park street facade minus the windows, most decorative elements and a few small bits and pieces. He added a few fake elements to "reflect" the historic material that would have been so easily restored and still incorporated into the larger building had he chosen to take that approach. The approach illustrated in the Aster Building is appropriate only when just traces of a building remains. When a complete building or large sections remain in a visible or obscured state this approach is a tragedy. We can't begin to have this discussion at all without the study occuring first. Mr. Wylie (he is still calling the bank an 1898 building) is wrong in saying that the debate has devolved to hardened positions on treatment. We may never even get the chance to have any discussion. The question now, is whether we will even get to know what historic resources we have.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Minority report from the WBAC

The West Broadway Advisory Committee (WBAC) was created by the City Council in response to public pressure against their hell-bent plans to destroy West Broadway. The point, from the City's point of view, was to imprint the rapacious developer, and the horrors of Urban Renewal, with a kind of public-looking stamp of approval. In the middle of the WBAC deliberations, the public forced the City Council to put the funding for the disaster in front of the voting public. Here's the report of a dissenting member of the WBAC committee, Citizens for Public Accountability (CPA)'s Rob Handy:

What went wrong? One member’s view:


When CPA was asked to participate on the Committee by several decision-makers, CPA made it clear that our issues and interest reside in discussing and considering the balance of public investment with demonstrable public benefit---how will the public money be spent and for what.

We were assured that though the Council motion was silent on the topic, it was inherently obvious that the Committee needed to address the Five Elements in a climate of fiscal discipline, with a goal to prioritize the ultimate recommendations to Council. Given this, CPA agreed to participate.

Once the Committee began to meet, support for the CPA perspective vanished. Our hard-working Co-Chairs and one City Councilor unilaterally decided on a narrow interpretation of the Council motion.


Many communities have successful downtowns by first having public charrettes that identify design principles and a community vision, before asking for bids and specific design proposals from the development community.

City of Eugene chose to skip engaging the public as an important first step. Instead, by issuing a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for West Broadway redevelopment, out of town developers essentially took the lead on designing our downtown.

Backfilling a public involvement process COULD have been successful, if the Committee had found balance in weighing the interest of the broader public with the interests of the developer.

Sadly, a majority of the Committee seemed content with one perspective voiced several times at different meetings:

“ Don’t upset the developer with ideas different than his.”
“ Don’t scare off the developer by including public input that varies from his plans.”
“ Keep our recommendations general, stay away from prescriptive specifics”


Successful majority rule involves compassion and understanding for different points of view and incorporating some of the views into the ruling framework. Ideally, diverse political and social groups coexist with respect. The result is good,balanced governance.

Disappointingly, many on the Committee failed to address the political realities before us: To gain the trust of the broader community for the Committee recommendations to Council, we needed to be inclusive, creative and very specific in our recommendations. The inability of Committee members to recognize the importance of public trust will most likely doom the success of the necessary funding measure on this November’s ballot.

The Committee majority’s indifference to broader community concerns makes Council’s job of finding a balance all that more difficult.


Overall, the Committee recommendations are broad, weak or so vague that they are open to multiple interpretations. The developers and City Council, for that matter, can interpret them in whatever way best supports their particular agenda.

The vague recommendations don’t provide much direction to the developers other than to encourage requests for more public subsidies. The Committee majority failed the community by remaining silent on providing a prioritization matrix for the recommendations to Council (save for a generic mix of uses). Many Committee members did not feel it was the charge from Council to make their recommendations in a context of fiscal discipline and prioritization.

With few specific recommendations and a lack of interest in setting priorities, the Committee has created a dilemma for the Council. They must be mindful of the public money funding any private development project. Therefore, it will be impossible for them to direct the developers to enact all of the recommendations. So how will the Council prioritize the recommendations when the Committee making them has provided no direction for doing so?

KWG”s guaranteed 13% return on investment is solidly set as backdrop in further negotiations with the City, while potential estimates for City expenditures of public dollars continue to climb.


By doing the public process first, we would be championing that which many in the public want:

* A true downtown park like many great cities and a magnet for development interest.

* Preserving more of the remaining historic buildings that define a downtown.

* Valuing local downtown businesses and non-profits with affordable rents.

* Transit-oriented development across from our EmX hub.

* Priority for public investment given to housing, parks/public open space and ped/ transit infrastructure improvements, NOT for parking nor to guarantee a return on an investment of a private developer.

And most importantly: showing our community that we can spend taxpayer money responsibly, with genuine public value for public subsidies.


Most Eugeneans share CPA’s excitement about downtown. We have varying perspectives about the value of an incremental approach that doesn’t displace successful businesses and non-profits, and the value of insuring little risk for the developer and significant risk for our community’s public dollars.

Some say: be careful with public money, accrue quantifiable public amenities as part of any public-private relationship. Some say: “just do something” downtown, let the developers design our downtown, and don’t do anything to scare them off.

Given the integrity and talent brought to the table, I believed the Committee could come to find balance with the specificity the public needs for a return on their tax dollars, and the flexibility a designer needs to mesh a myriad of values and design elements.

Sadly, our Committee collectively failed in this effort. We failed to address the concerns and values of the broader public, but instead adhered to the mantra “keep recommendations vague, don’t upset the developer”.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Incremental doesn't mean "consecutive"

There's some confusion about stepwise improvements to an urban fabric -- I've heard it expressed like this "Do we want to do it all at once or incrementally?"

The basic principle of urban revitalization, is to preserve the good, improve things with potential, and bring new things where nothing exists. Very rarely do you tear things down -- that's Urban Renewal, a destructive, discredited form of cronyism disguised as public good.

But in making incremental improvements to a large urban area, there is no reason that small changes cannot be made in several places at once. In a living organism, sensitive positive changes happen simulataneously. But they must be aware of each other. Two people shouldn't open the same kind of shop without knowing about each other, just as a human embryo, doing many things at once, shouldn't grow two spleens.

In the case of downtown Eugene, a project at Center Court/Aster's hole, another in the Sear's lake and it's parking lot (whether housing, or a park), and another in the former Bon Marche/Symantec building, would pretty much be all that's required to complete West Broadway's revitalization -- assuming that nothing existing is damaged.

Of course, these non-consecutive incremental changes, are still incremental, based on complete knowledge of the ground. You wouldn't clearcut a forest to build a sustainable culture there, and similarly, you can't destroy a neighborhood and expect to create a new one from scratch. These failed, sterile, all-at-once urban renewal projects litter downtowns around the country, and the victims of such schemes are perfectly aware of the horrors that were perpetrated with their tax dollars.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Volunteer bureaucrats

The chairs of the West Broadway Advisory Committee are of the volunteer breed of anti-democratic bureaucrat. They see public pressure as a nuisance in the face of their enlightened sense of "progress". They solicit public input all year 'round, and when the public IS interested, they become frightened of the rabble, and act as if they have some sort of lethal force at their disposal.

Only five people wanted to speak before the final committee meeting. A minimum of 10 minutes are usually allocated for this, and people have regularly been given 3 minutes to speak. The chair arbitrarily decided to make it 2 minutes each, and limit the total time to 8 minutes, and four speakers -- a procrustean assertion of their authority against the rabble. The public complained, and the massively corrupted City Staff issued disingenuous shrugs, claiming no influence over a process they normally controlled like an inanimate object. The speakers shared the time, but they'd lost all respect for the committee chairs -- who generally treat the public like crap, archiving input, but not looking beyond the research presented by City Staff -- and so some public speakers spoke the length they needed to, ignoring the weak cries of pseudo-authority from the chairs.

Sham public processes must be interrupted, whenever possible, so that the public-at-large takes a closer look at unaccountable government behaviour.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

City admits: it cannot tell the truth

The City of Eugene's thorough effort to lie to the public about every aspect of Urban Renewal, was amusingly revealed in court yesterday. I'll quote the article by the Register-Guard's Ed Russo:

Holland also asked Klein why his summary didn't explain how the change to the downtown urban renewal district would cause other local governments to forgo property tax revenue.

Klein's summary says the financing method, called tax increment financing, "reallocates" property tax dollars from other governments to the urban renewal district.

Klein responded that it is too difficult to provide a detailed explanation in 175 words or less, the allowed length of ballot summaries. "It's how much you can fit into 175 words," he said.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Urban Renewal Raises Taxes

For 50 years, Urban Renewal has been called by city officials as "just a tool". Entire wealthy districts, the recipients of the most Public Subsidy (watch out for the weasel-phrase "public investment"), can, with the always-willing approval of governmnet, apply their taxes directly to their own purposes.

The City wants to raise the spending for Urban Renewal by $40 million, to give it to a Portland developer. This is money that can be used for schools, public health, public safety, roads ... anything else.

City officials say "It won't raise your taxes". Of course it will: imagine that citizens could apply all current taxes to their own properties, which is what a fully-enabled Urban Renewal district does. Where would money for public services come from? Taxes would rise. Every specific act of spending taxes on something new, raises taxes.

In normal speech, the direct consequence of an action, are included in descriptions of an action. Urban Renewal boosters and City Planners have become so removed from reality, that they insist taxes only rise if they pass a "raise taxes" act. And yet, somehow, these acts are rarely passed, and our taxes keep raising, and services decline.

City officials are not only disconnected from reality. They are not only lying. They have destroyed their own ability to think and speak.