Yesterday Salem's Mayor, Anna Peterson, gave a State of the City address. I didn't go.
I purposely planned my StreetStrider (outdoor elliptical bike) ride at Riverfront and Wallace Marine parks to coincide with Peterson's talk, figuring that it would be much healthier for me to exercise in nature than listen to some political posturing.
Great decision, after reading Mayor Peterson's prepared remarks. There are so many untruths and half-truths in her speech, if I'd been there in person I would have felt like standing up and screaming bullshit!
Download Text of the Salem State of the City speech
It'll be fairly easy for me to do a Fact Check thing, since I've been blogging about the issues where Peterson took the most liberties with the truth. Click on the links below if you want more information about what the Mayor got wrong.
After correcting her misstatements, I'll end with -- gasp! -- some praise for a portion of her speech.
Fact Check 1: Pringle Square will set a "new standard for urban design."
No, not even close. Peterson needs to get out more. Like, to Portland. Or countless other cities that have been embracing mixed-use development much more strongly than Salem has.
The City of Salem approved a dreadful Boise Cascade development plan that was much worse than the original plan. Thankfully, citizens rose up and stopped the attempted land grab of part of Riverfront Park, leading to a better proposal from Mountain West Investment.
This still isn't a cutting edge development on Salem's riverfront. Parking. Apartments. Office buildings. A nursing home. Whoopee. But it is a lot better than the first proposal, thanks to citizen activists telling the City "No way!"
Fact Check 2: "We have not forgotten Downtown. Former efforts to spur shopping and entertainment are now boosted by an advisory group that works with [the] City Manager's office to organize First Wednesday's, special promotions and events."
Wow. Mayor Peterson's City Manager, Linda Norris, terminated the City's contract with Salem Downtown Partnership with no warning, and no reason. Norris just took over the funds and equipment and set up her own hand-picked advisory committee.
The committee meets secretively. It doesn't publicize its meetings or release minutes. Downtown businesses weren't asked if they wanted to make a change to the Salem Downtown Partnership. Peterson and Norris just acted unilaterally.
So much for this being a "Collaboration Capitol," another untruth in Peterson's speech. This is the least collaborative administration in City Hall that long-time residents can remember.
Fact Check 3: Downtown parking problems "were not caused by the Parking Task Force that Councillor Bennett and I led. They were not caused by this Council that enacted an ordinance to allow 'park anywhere you like for as long as you like.'"
Huh? Of course those problems were caused by the Task Force and City Council.
That Parking Task Force was dedicated from the outset to installing parking meters in downtown Salem. It never asked downtown small businesses what they thought of the idea. It didn't allow citizens to speak or ask questions at its meetings.
So citizens stood up against this attempt to ramrod parking meters into downtown. Carole Smith explained why, then she and others involved with Stop Parking Meters Downtown got 9,000 people to sign a petition that would do just that.
The group urged the City Council to put the initiative petition on the ballot so Salemians could have a vigorous open debate about the pros and cons of downtown parking meters. But the City Council voted on its own to make the parking changes.
Now the City is trying to screw up downtown parking so they can go back to their parking meter plan. It isn't surprising that so far 75% of people responding to today's Statesman Journal online poll say the City Council/City are to blame for downtown parking problems.
Looks like they aren't buying Mayor Peterson's attempt to shirk reponsibility for the City's decision to end two hour limits, and not enforce the existing ban on downtown employees using onstreet parking while at work.
Fact Check 4: Seismic upgrades to the Civic Center and Library and a new police facility "is not an issue or plan that has been secret or under wraps at City Hall."
Actually, the City indeed has been planning this $80 million project ($128 million including financing costs) in a highly secretive manner. If you don't believe me, check out this reputable source who wrote "How City of Salem planned police facility in secretive manner."
Which happens to be me.
For a long time even the City Council was kept in the dark about what was going on. A Statesman Journal editorial said, “So far, one flaw is that officials, despite their good intentions, did not do enough to get the public involved from the outset.” Citizens were unable to get information about the police facility plan until it was revealed, full blown, in the fall of 2013.
Peterson also is wrong that building a new police facility at the Civic Center, with expensive underground parking "provides the best return on dollars spent." Salem Community Vision has demolished that untruth.
Now... to a part of Mayor Peterson's speech that I agreed with.
She is absolutely correct in saying that "corporations today, and the employees of tomorrow are looking for more -- they are looking for quality of life, new entertainment, and recreational opportunities right out their front door. In other words, they are looking for vibrancy."
But I didn't see a big City of Salem presence at last night's terrific talk by urban design expert Gil Penalosa. Penalosa said much the same thing: that many people nowadays can choose where they want to live, either because of the sort of career they have or other reasons.
Quality of life is very important to them. And a big part of that is how walkable and bikable a city is. Bluntly put, Salem sucks in this regard. We are way behind Portland, Corvallis, Eugene, and other Oregon cities.
The City is set on getting further behind, choosing to push for an unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid-for $400-700 million Third Bridge across the Willamette, instead of investing in improving and repairing the infrastructure we already have.
Beautifying and streetscaping downtown would cost a small fraction of that amount. It would vastly improve Salem's quality of life and be an economic stimulus.
Question is, will the Mayor and City Council back up Peterson's lofty quality of life words with concrete action?