Downtown Eugene

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Co-opting community

Just came back from a nicely-run Town Hall forum by a local progressive radio station, KOPT.

Eugene's supposedly "progressive" and "sustainable" Mayor Kitty Piercy, boldy advocated a plan to spend better than $40 million to displace an affordable arts, non-profit & commercial district, that serves thousands of people a week, with an upscale mall.

However, she hid her intentions, and the actual legislation she has backed, by stealing rhetoric from the grassroots community development phrasebook. When pressed for time, she even amusingly threw in a "neighborhood ice cream parlor" to justify her supposed change-of-mind regarding a public park in the project.

She even ended the event on an outright lie: that the $40 million will not raise taxes. The City has provided her a study showing that it will. And it's common sense: where on earth is that $40 million, to subsidize the developer's bottom line, suppose to come from? Of course it raises taxes, both directly and indirectly.

It's pretty amusing that the "yes" blog on measure 20-134 is written by a former producer of "Star Trek". Perhaps he believes the $40 million will just materialize out of thin air? Certainly, Star Trek was always the epitome of the Sterile Utopian vision ... these are the kinds of "visionaries" who want to mold the concrete-and-glass prison-cities of the future.

However the mayor, and her courtier Greg McLauchlan, didn't mention the Urban Renewal disasters ... they mentioned those in the 60's & 70's of course, because these are safely distant. They claimed that Urban Renewal has "changed" ... just like US Foreign Policy has "changed" ... well, as someone who's neighborhood is about to be torn down with public money, cash that is sorely needed elsewhere, I can say categorically that Urban Renewal has not changed significantly.

Painfully, these two newspoke their way through their presentations. They painted a joyful utopian picture, using lovely things they have actually voted against: parks, historic buildings, community services, affordable housing, local businesses ... exactly like all propaganda, they use community as rhetoric, when they are hell-bent on destroying it, for the profit of their powerful friends. They've done it before, they'll do it again ...

... don't be fooled. The more money we give the City, the more damage they'll do, the more local businesses they'll destroy, the more historic buildings they will destroy, and the more community services they will drain of money. They have already passed ordinances to that effect.

Vote No on Measure 20-134. Stop City Hall.


At 10:22 AM, Blogger Eric A. Stillwell said...

Dear Greg:

I'm disappointed that you've chosen to stoop to personal attacks. I have never publicly attacked you or your chosen vocation, career or personal interests.

I'm proud of my work on Star Trek. Last week, EW (Entertainment Weekly not Eugene Weekly) celebrated the 20th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation with their selection of Top 10 episodes. An episode which I co-wrote, "Yesterday's Enterprise," was chosen as the #1 episode of the entire series.

My episode was a story about the horrors and atrocities of war. Whoopi Goldberg played an alien who was an advocate for peace; set on correcting the mistakes of history. It was a story about the heroic personal sacrafice of individuals who give everything for the greater good of humanity -- to end an unjust war: A war that should never have occurred. It was about the good of the many outweighing the good of the few.

I wrote that story in 1989. And I hope & pray that doesn't sound too utopian or sterile to you. Especially in 2007.

I grew up in Eugene, graduated from the UO in 1985, and went to Hollywood to persue a personal dream. But when Star Trek producer Michael Piller (the producer I worked with for 15 years) died of cancer in 2005, Debra and I decided to move back to Eugene.

We love Eugene. We care about Eugene. Our friends and family love and care about Eugene.

I have always appreciated your opposition to the West Broadway urban renewal project. If I were in your shoes, I would share the same grave concerns about my livelihood.

As a member of the Mayor's Advisory Committee, I personally worked very hard to reach out to the West Broadway stakeholders and to listen to their concerns. I feel I reached out more than most. I listened. I cared. And I supported proposals that helped less the negative impacts on local businesses and non-profits.

You yourself told me that I had always been respectful during the long summer public input process.

Last week I sent emails to dozens of my friends, family and colleagues encouraging them to come down to Davis' Restaurant for the First Friday Art Opening that featured the Tango Center dancers. I attended myself. So did the Mayor.

The Mayor has worked hard to bring people together to support compromises in West Broadway that address the concerns of both sides. The developers are not happy about the requirements we've placed on them to meet LEED certification standards, the emphasis on local businesses, limiting the demand for parking, providing open space, opposing large grocey stores and multiplexes. We required compromise after compromise from the developers.

I understand your opposition.

I also believe that in a civilized community (part of my "utopian" ideals, I suppose) -- that we can agree to disagree without resorting to personal attacks.

I wish you only good will, Greg.

Live Long & Prosper!

~ Eric

Eric A. Stillwell

At 8:51 PM, Blogger Eric A. Stillwell said...

BTW -- I don't expect the U.S.S. Enterprise to swoop in and transport down $40 million in Federation credits!

Where will it come from?

It comes from the same revenue source that currently pays for the Eugene Public Library bond and the Downtown Urban Renewal District, which doesn't expire until the year 2024 -- even if Measure 20-134 fails.

The agency currently collects $3.8 million dollars per year for the Downtown URD -- less than 2% of property taxes collected citywide.

Stretched over 23 years, just half of that (or 1% of property taxes citywide) equals the $40 million dollars for urban renewal.

It's money we're already collecting and will continue to collect until the current URD sunsets in the year 2024 -- even if Measure 20-134 fails.

If the measure passes, the only thing that changes is the City's maximum indebtedness (or spending cap) -- and a 6 year extention of the URD from 2024 to 2030.

Voting "no" on 20-134 doesn't end the current URD. The $3.8 million will still be collected for the URD regardless. The City just won't have the legal authority to spend it (after it maxes out it's current spending authority).

For the record: Schools (4-J, LCC, Lane ESD) recieve $87 million dollars each year from local property taxes. That's $2 BILLION over the same 23 year period.

On top of that, the State allocates more than $6.2 BILLION to public schools EACH YEAR. And that was an 18% increase this year. Assuming that figure stayed static for the next 23 years (which it won't), that's a whopping $72 BILLION for public schools. When you include local property taxes collected statewide, that more than $103 BILLION for public schools -- and that doesn't include State funding for community colleges.

Local governement agencies (City of Eugene, Lane County, etc.) recieve $98 million each year from local property taxes. That's $2.2 BILLION over the next 23 years (which is an underestimate when you consider annual increases in property values over that same 23 year period).

The URD's $40 mil seems almost insignificant when put into proper perspective.

Beam me up, Scotty!

~ Eric

At 10:38 PM, Blogger Greg Bryant said...


I didn't attack you personally. And I'm sure your efforts for 'Star Trek' were first-rate.

'Star Trek' itself, however, is fair game.

It's not controversial to say that 'Star Trek' embodies the technocratic culture of the US elite. Having been part of that culture for over 40 years, I can state categorically that it holds no place for the lives of normal people -- they are 'unimportant', 'uneducated' and 'luddite'. Only 'heroes', trained representatives of the elite, unflinching conquerers with 'can do' attitudes, exist in these 'Star Trek'-related fables .. there is no sense of working people, people struggling to get by, or people tryng to escape the jaws of a rapacious system. There is not a hint, in the 'Star Trek'-view, of a simple reality for most of the world's population -- the position of the elite is maintained simply through exploitation of the majority.

The people who make egregious profits through Urban Renewal do it through a form of colonialism still present today throughout the world's economy. It is one in which those who, day-to-day, actually do things, for real people, are discounted. Only "leaders" do things, in the elite, indoctrinated view of history.

Well, neither the WBAC committee, nor the current vote, come from the efforts of "City leaders". Both were created as a result of pressure put on the Council, by threatened people such as myself, and by the council minority who you so glibly excoriate.

It's very tiring to listen to the hand-picked WBAC majority call their efforts "hard work in support of downtown". In fact, they were mostly working against downtown, as their kind, and City staff, have in the past.

The people who truly help downtown, are the workers and volunteers and small local merchants who tirelessly, day-in and day-out, make downtown a better place. You say that you tried to bring people to our unique Artwalk-Davis-Tango event Friday -- and yet you are unconcerned by the fact that DIVA, Davis and the Tango Center are not protected by any motion of the Council majority, and won't be.

We do this work under constant threat from the City, and with no help from government. The City is in the same role as colonial rulers of the past, who serve the interests of the powerful while pretending to do good for the majority.

You write: "I supported proposals that helped less the negative impacts on local businesses and non-profits."

So, even you admit that KWG's is a negative proposal. A truly postive development project would preserve good things, and fill in the empty places. It would harm nothing. It's easy enough to do -- I've proposed it to the City many times. They are just not interested.

Incremental improvements are what anyone would do, say, for their own home. It's only when you don't care about a place, that you think about dropping a bomb on it, as the KWG proposal does.

After years of struggling to revive West Broadway, why is the success we have achieved under threat? We've created the most popular nightlife in Eugene, without the City's assistance. Where was the City? They were uninterested in anything that didn't smell of cash.

The force of profit has created machinery like Urban Renewal, and professions like Urban Planning, whose primary achievments are to bring public subsidies to the benefit of the few whenever possible. The City planning staff is hardwired to serve powerful construction, development and professional interests in town. And technocratic cultural movements, from Bauhaus to 'Star Trek', have paved their way for decades.

To your other point: The developers have not been "required" to "compromise" on anything. They are interested in the City's proposal only if the subsidies are large and their requirements take precedence. This has not changed -- the City refuses to take any action that could chase the developers away -- and you know this.

All these recommendations are at the "discretion of council" -- that is, of a council majority that wants to see public money go into private pockets at the expense of "lesser folk", such as the poor (whose HUD money is being taken by the project), the social (who's nightlife will be dismantled) and the local merchants (who will simply be destroyed).

Probably, you believe that some "greater good" is served by such destruction. It makes way for "the future". Well, to me that's just Orwellian newspeak, justifying a harvesting of our blood, and of the Earth's resources, for the benefit of power and money.


At 9:55 AM, Blogger Eric A. Stillwell said...


You can couch your claim however you like, but when you associate me with Star Trek and then claim these are the kind of "visionaries" who want to build the glass and concrete prison-cities of the future, then I'll consider that an attack on my personal integrity and my personal vision for West Broadway.

Fortunately, you don't seem to have an accurate grasp of what Star Trek was all about. It wasn't about spaceships or fancy cities of the future. It was about humanity -- the human adventure -- the search for knowledge, equality, freedom, justice and peace.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek (a reknown Secular Humanist with Socialist economic views), envisioned a world in the 24th century when humanity would have overcome the social inequities that plague the world today. In Star Trek, technology only serves as the great equalizer of resources -- a massive redistribution of wealth -- putting all of humanity on an equal playing field -- free from wants or needs, and graced with the personal and economic freedom to do anything and be anything they want to be. The phenomenal success of Star Trek over the past 40 years has proven the power of this very idealist "utopian" vision.

As for the West Broadway redevelopment -- you and I view things differently. Simple as that. I'm not going to change your point of view. All I can do is share my own point of view.

My point about supporting efforts to mitigate negative impacts of development on existing downtown businesses and non-profit groups is not a suggestion that the development plan is wrong or negative. I prefer to see the glass half full, rather than half empty.

Being pragmatic, however, I do understand that there will be negative impacts as a result of development -- even the kind of incremental development that you prefer.

If the property owner decided to renovate the empty buildings adjacent or near the Tango Center -- or even just build and housing development over the Sears pit -- there would be some negative impact on existing businesses and adjacent tenants: noise, dust, possible interuptions in utility services, water, electricity, road detours, sidewalk access, etc.

But ultimately the changes would be an improvement to the entire area, despite the inconveniences.

In the case of West Broadway, I just don't buy the incremental approach -- especially when the actual property owners are not the moving force behind such an effort. There is only so much that non-owner tenants can do to improve the situation.

Admittedly, the West Broadway project is more like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition than just a modest home improvement. But in the case of that television analogy, those houses (like West Broadway) really do deserve to be torn to the ground and rebuilt from scratch. Does the process destroy the families who lived in those houses? No. It actually improves their situation. Their taxes might increase and their old mortgage may not be paid off, but that's when the community steps in and tries to help those families find solutions to their financil burdens -- the same way the federal government requires the city do help local businesses and nonprofits that are impacted by redevelopment.

The West Broadway Advisory Committee recommended similar transition and relocation options for existing businesses and non-profits in the West Broadway footprint -- along with numerous recommendations (approved by City Council) that would help those same stakeholders (as well as surrounding businesses such as Kiva or Bijou) have an opportunity to be part of the redeveloped space -- including potential public subsidies for rent, etc.

DIVA board members support Measure 20-134, and so does Tom Kamis.

Not everybody sees the glass half empty.

~ Eric

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