Both relate to Bednarz' failure to declare a conflict of interest when he voted on motions before the City Council that would financially benefit members of his family.
After a preliminary review of the first complaint, it was considered serious enough by Commission staff to warrant an investigation by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.
...The second ethics complaint is still under review. It seems more serious than the first complaint, since it involved the Bednarz family actually getting money from the City of Salem, $13,000 for property needed to construct street improvements at the Commercial and Kuebler intersection.
Even before I learned of the ethics complaints, I felt that residents of Ward 7 would be much better served by Sally Cook, who is running against Bednarz in the May election.
Now I'm even more convinced that Bednarz should be retired by voters.
Salem needs fresh, energetic, creative city councilors like Cook who understand that livability is something different from mindless adherence to whatever the Powers That Be in this town want.
One brief near-encounter with a clueless driver spoke volumes to me about what needs to change if downtown Salem -- and the rest of this town -- is to become friendly to walkers and cyclists.
I'd left my Tai Chi class at Pacific Martial Arts, above Court Street's Dairy Lunch restaurant. Heading to my parked car, I stepped onto the clearly-marked mid-block crossing that connects two alleys.
Court Street has three lanes.
Stepping into the crosswalk near the left side of the street, I had to stop suddenly when a driver zoomed by close to me, heedless of the fact that he/she should stop for pedestrian me.
After that car went by, I resumed my crosswalk journey.
I'd gotten to middle lane territory when I glanced to my left and saw a fast-moving car in the far lane. The driver didn't slow down. I'm pretty sure he didn't even see me. His eyes were focused straight ahead. I stood still in the clearly marked crosswalk as he sped by, missing me by a few feet.
I raised both my hands in a WTF! gesture, more for the benefit of other drivers approaching me than the jerk who was now turning left onto Commercial Street.
What's the big deal? some people who read this might be thinking. Well, this struck me as one of those "universe in a grain of sand" moments. It said a lot about what the Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger likes to call the culture of Hydraulic Autoism in Salem.
These are some of its characteristics, according to the above-linked post:
Modern analytics based on "Level of Service" count delay, congestion, meanders, anything that impedes powerful free-flow for cars, as problems or noise to be engineered out of the system.
People on foot are "pedestrian impedance"; they are noise in the system that cause delay. Other non-car users of the road are also noise. The roads aren't true public space for everybody, but are primarily for cars and their drivers.
Road "design speed" should be much higher than posted speed limits. It should be possible for drivers to exceed posted speeds routinely and safely. Not to do this is to engineer a "dangerous" road. Roads should "forgive" a range of driver error. (Consistent with theories of pedestrian impedance, roads do not need to forgive a range of errors by people on foot or on bike.)
Salem is scary for people walking and on bikes because our streets have been purposely designed to make them dangerous for anyone not driving a vehicle.
Past urban design mistakes continue to be made by the City of Salem Public Works Department, which puts very little effort into building state-of-the-art bike paths and multi-use paths.
Some white lines painted on the pavement aren't nearly enough. Nor are green lines. This photo on a Breakfast on Bikes post about "autoist spin" shows the dreadful newly-built intersection of Glen Creek and Wallace Roads in West Salem.
Would a parent feel that it is safe to let their eight year old child bike down this road? Would an 80 year old out for some exercise feel that it is safe to bike to the Starbucks in the Roth's shopping center?
A "no" answer, which is almost certain, shows that Salem is failing at making our streets live up to the "8-80" standard that many other more with-it cities are actively implementing.
Too often, people in Salem feel that pedestrians are to blame when a driver hits them. That's bullshit. The blame almost always rests on people driving vehicles, and on the City officials who allow streets to be built in an unsafe fashion for walkers and cyclists.
Today I was wearing a red shirt. I was slowly walking across a well-marked mid-block crosswalk. But two drivers failed to stop or even slow down after I'd entered the crosswalk.
By contrast, whenever I walk around Portland, I'm struck by how different drivers behave there. I'll be standing on the sidewalk, wary of crossing the street because I'm used to how people in Salem drive. A car will stop before I've even stepped off the curb. The driver will give a friendly wave, inviting me to cross.
Over on my Strange Up Salem Facebook page, frequently when I praise something about Portland I'll get comments along the lines of "We don't want Salem to be like Portland!"
I always think, Huh, what are you talking about? Actually we want Salem to keep on being Salem, while embracing the best practices of other cities that make them more vibrant and livable than Salem is now.
I look forward to the day when someone, anyone, a young child or an elderly adult, steps into a Salem street crossing and drivers promptly and eagerly stop, maybe even acknowledging the person on foot with a friendly gesture.
And when that person also is able to ride a bicycle all over town on family-friendly bike paths, with many miles of them dedicated solely to walkers and cyclists. Such is the goal of Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates.
Gosh, maybe this is too radical an idea for Salem's Mayor and City Council, but it sure seems like a "Public Safety" bond voters will be asked to approve in the November election should actually keep the public safe -- rather than being a massive waste of taxpayer money to build an overpriced Police Palace.
A few years ago our sometimes-wise City officials recognized a scary truth: City Hall and the Library are almost surely going to collapse when the next massive Cascadia subduction zone earthquake, a.k.a. the Big One, strikes.
It's enjoyable, getting in touch with my Inner Snark. My first Salem Political Snark post was appropriately criticized by a few people as not being sufficiently snarky.
I have to agree. I'm such a laid-back, gentle, thoughtful, kind-hearted person (oh, forgot to mention "humble"), it's going to take a little while to get in touch with the snarkness that lies mostly dormant within me.
But with the grace of The Great Snark -- may She be forever ridiculed -- I shall rise to the snarky occasion.
I'm not doing this just because it is election season. Local politicians and public officials are always doing sleazy stuff, so I'm not worrying about running out of blog post material.
Head to the Why This Blog page to learn why I started the Salem Political Snark blog. This is my favorite reason:
(3) Satire and Sarcasm is Freaking Fun. My wife and I are longtime lovers of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, Bill Maher, and others who poke fun at political shenanigans. This blog ain't them. But they inspire Salem Political Snark. And you can read this blog for free. With no ads!
Because Bennett is running for Mayor, and I want voters to know the role he played in the shady backroom deal-making that led to five beautiful trees being cut down for no good reason. I'll never forget this 2013 debacle, which has lessons for Salem citizens in 2016.
Next up... a Snark about a City Council member running for re-election.
I'm a proud member of Progressive Salem, an organization out to get progressive candidates elected to local offices. But I disagree with the board of directors' decision to stay neutral in the upcoming Mayor's race.
Of the two candidates, Carole Smith and Chuck Bennett, Smith clearly seems to be the most progressive. (I couldn't find a web site for Bennett.)
I say this for some good reasons.
(1) Tom Andersen being on the short side of 8-1 votes. Chuck Bennett currently is a Salem City Council member who represents Ward 1, the downtown area. Tom Andersen was elected to the City Council in 2014 with strong Progressive Salem support. For good reason Andersen is featured on the home page of Progressive Salem.
Numerous times I've heard Andersen speak about the frustration of being on the short side of important 8-1 votes in City Council meetings. Naturally Bennett was one of the eight who opposed progressive policies.
For example, ending the push for an unneeded billion dollar Third Bridge that would require $1.50 tolls each way on it and the current two bridges, along with decimating homes and businesses in the path of this freeway'ish monstrosity.
Andersen can rattle off various other issues where Bennett and seven other City Council members stood in the way of progressive policies.
(2) Bennett's Chamber of Commerce endorsement. When Chuck Bennett announced he was running for Mayor, and an explicit Chamber candidate didn't emerge, it seemed obvious that Bennett was the Chamber's guy.
Now this is definitive. On March 21 the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce endorsed Bennett. Here's how the endorsement was prefaced.
Salem’s City Council is the single most impactful decision making body as it relates to economic growth and prosperity in our community, and is responsible for the governance that determines the rate at which Salem will flourish.
With a sound process that is inclusive to all candidates, the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce reached out to all candidates that filed to seek election to these offices as of late January to answer a questionnaire for endorsement by our organization. This endorsement process also included an interview with our Public Policy Committee, and a vetting by our Board of Directors.
The core of these endorsements surrounds job creation and economic growth, and it is our pleasure to offer endorsements to the following candidates:
Mayor: Chuck Bennett (current Ward 1 Councilor)
The Chamber of Commerce and progressive policies are like matter and anti-matter. They are unable to coexist. If the Chamber likes Bennett, it is because he has voted their way in the past, and they're confident he'll vote for conservative, pro-big business Chamber priorities in the future.
(3) What Bennett said on his Chamber of Commerce questionnaire. This was put on the Chamber's website. To an environmentalist progressive like me, it's ghastly.
Bennett opposes business taxes, such as a payroll tax for mass transit that other cities have successfully used to improve livability and economic vitality. Yet Salem suffers from no weekend or evening bus service, a major embarrassment for Oregon's capital. Bennett said:
The city has successfully avoided any new business specific taxes or cost increases other than the growth of the property tax or costs that are worked out with all interested parties.
Bennett favors the above-mentioned billion dollar Third Bridge and, one must assume, the local taxes and tolling needed to pay for this boondoggle.
It’s clear the city needs to continue to be a major driver in completing the EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] for the third river crossing. That process is near completion with land use decisions planned for this summer but it must be followed as quickly as possible with a design and cost planning program that allows the regional, state and federal partners an opportunity to engage the community on this issue.
The structure needs to be large enough to meet the city’s needs over the next 30 to 40 years and that appears to be about 150,000 square feet if it also includes the 911 center. I am concerned that we not make the same mistakes made at City Hall where the Police Department was already looking for space eight years after it was built.
Also, I know Carole Smith quite well.
I've socialized with her. I've worked with her on various community issues, including trying to save the U.S. Bank trees from being needlessly killed in 2013 after a backroom deal was made between Peter Fernandez, the City of Salem Public Works Director, and Ryan Allbritton, the bank president and incoming Chamber of Commerce president.
Chuck Bennett supported that backroom deal and the removal of the beautiful, large, healthy trees on downtown's State Street for no good reason. To me, this alone is plenty of reason to not support Bennett for Mayor.
I'm trying to learn more about why Progressive Salem is sitting on the fence when it comes to the Mayor's race, which will be decided in the May 17 primary election. Hopefully they'll decide to jump onto the side where Carole Smith is waging a vigorous battle to be a genuinely progressive Mayor.
Ah, George Orwell would be so happy with T.J. Sullivan, a Chamber of Commerce mouthpiece who was selected in 2014 by Mayor Anna Peterson to chair the Blue Ribbon (is there any other color?) Task Force on the Police Facility.
"Doublespeak," says Wikipedia, is a close relative of Orwell's "doublethink," a central concept in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four book.
Doublespeak is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g., "downsizing" for layoffs, "servicing the target" for bombing), in which case it is primarily meant to make the truth sound more palatable. It may also refer to intentional ambiguity in language or to actual inversions of meaning (for example, naming a state of war "peace"). In such cases, doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth. Doublespeak is most closely associated with political language.
Salem Community Vision recently posted a video of Sullivan complaining at a City Council meeting about "misinformation" being pumped out about updated plans for a vastly over-priced/over-sized new police facility: $80 million and 148,000 square feet, double the cost and size of what City officials were saying was needed not long ago.
I testified at the meeting on the same subject. When I heard Sullivan speak about "misinformation," I was mystified. I've followed the police facility planning saga closely. I wasn't aware of anyone spreading false facts.
Citizens, including me, had different opinions about the size, cost, and location of a new police facility. But we were familiar with the facts of the situation. We just used those facts to come to different conclusions. Sullivan, though, seemed to confuse facts and values. Or in philosophical terms, the True and the Good.
If someone openly disagreed with the City of Salem's plan for the police facility, Sullivan appeared to call this "misinformation," whereas actually it is just a different opinion based on different values.
So soon after the City Council meeting, I emailed T.J. Sullivan, asking about this supposed "misinformation." I never heard back from him. When the Salem Community Vision video and post was published on Facebook, I decided to share my email message to Sullivan in a comment.
Which led to an interesting comment conversation.
I ended up doing most of the talking, because Sullivan didn't want to address his misinformation about supposed police facility misinformation. This is typical of how the Powers That Be operate here in Salem: they like backroom deals and closed-door decision-making, but not open community discussion of important policy issues.
Here's our exchange.
My opening comment gambit
T.J. Sullivan talks big, but acts small. Right after the February 29 public hearing I emailed him the message below. After three weeks, I haven't gotten a response. I guess his accusations of "misinformation" can't be backed up. Kind of disturbing when a central mouthpiece for the Chamber of Commerce, and Chair of the Police Facility Task Force, says stuff that apparently isn't true. But, hey, maybe T.J. will read this comment and decide to respond to me. Here's what I said to him: -----------------
T.J., at last night’s City Council hearing I heard you speak about “misinformation” being spread about the new police facility. This concerns me. Like you, I’m a big believer in focusing on facts and reason when discussing public policy issues.
So please let me know the details about what misinformation you were referring to. Who is doing this? What specific falsities are they spreading?
We need to stop these people, whoever they are. If you can give me their names, and the untruths they’re trying to foist on Salem’s citizens, I’ll call them out on my blog and Strange Up Salem page. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sullivan responds with this comment
Hi Brian, I am happy to meet with you and talk through the issues. Lunch this week?
Not taking the bait, I make a challenge
T.J., I'd enjoy talking with you in person. But let's start off our communication by publicly discussing here on Facebook the question at hand.
Do you stand by your assertion that some people in Salem are spreading "disinformation" about plans for a new police facility? If so, please share details of what those falsities are. If not, just say you take back those words, and we can move on to talking about other things.
By "disinformation" I assume that you're not talking about policy disagreements -- like how much the police facility should cost, how large it should be, and whether seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library should be part of a Public Safety bond. These are matters of opinion, as evidenced by the fact that City of Salem officials have embraced different costs, sizes, and locations for the police facility in just the past few years.
In this video you claimed in your testimony that disinformation can be knocked off by logic and facts. OK. Give me just one example of this. That's all I"m asking for. In a comment give me some bit of factual disinformation (which likely you are attributing to Salem Community Vision) that you can "knock off" with your own logic and facts.
To repeat, because this is important, I don't consider a debate over value-laded public policy issues to involve "misinformation." There are facts, like that human-caused global warming is happening, and then there are values, like whether humanity should do something about global warming. I'm looking for a factual bit of "disinformation" that you think is being spread around.
It bothers me when people like you accuse other people, like me and others involved with Salem Community Vision, of spreading disinformation. Some City Council members have accused me of this. But when I asked them to give me some specific examples, they couldn't. So they were just making stuff up.
So far, it seems to me that you are doing the same thing. You're saying stuff that isn't true. But I could be wrong about this. Thus I think our face-to-face conversation will go better after I'm convinced that either you do have evidence of disinformation being spread about the police facility, or you admit that you don't have this evidence.
A cogent comment is left by Tamra Heathershaw-Hart
I personally feel that one of Salem's biggest problems is that the "let's do lunch and talk" method of politics/business is the way things are done, rather than sharing information widely and openly on an internet forum.
A big reason Bernie Sanders is doing so well in the primaries is that he is appealing to people who have grown up distrusting private meetings and closed doors -- these people want politics to be "open source" instead.
T.J., if you (and the rest of the council) want to appeal to anyone other than conservative senior citizens and lobbyists then you need to start having open and productive "meetings" about important topics in internet groups, where what you say is viewed and commented on by all and sundry and not just your lunch date. Just my $.02.
I further explain to Sullivan why I'm bothered by what he said
I'll be more explicit about what I'm asking you to do on the "misinformation" front. On behalf of Salem Community Vision I wrote the Feb. 8 position paper on the new police facility. After six weeks since its release date, I'm not aware that anyone has pointed out factual errors in the paper.
As noted before, I consider "misinformation" to be spreading factually false information, as if someone said "There is no scientific consensus that the Earth is warming, and humans are responsible." Words to that effect would be misinformation because they are factually untrue.
During the week it took to write the position paper, I took pains to check facts. For example, I spent a lot of time locating reports on the City of Salem web site. But it's possible that you're aware of some errors in the report's factual information. If so, let me know what they are. If not, please stop your "misinformation" talk -- unless you are referring to something/someone other than the position paper and Salem Community Vision.
If this sounds like a "put up or shut up" challenge, I guess it is.
Anyway, let's get this challenge over, then have a pleasant face to face conversation about the police facility, seismic upgrades to the Civic Center, and whatever else we might want to talk about. I don't take challenges of this sort personally -- they happen all the time on my two blogs -- and I hope you won't either.
We're just trying to better understand the contours of a public policy discussion/debate regarding a new Salem police facility. Here's a link to the position paper.
I am sad to report that Monday night, Governor Kate Brown signed HB 4040. This bill shielded the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from public scrutiny and judicial review of their decision to strip endangered species protections from Oregon’s gray wolves.
There was no signing ceremony. There were no smiling politicians or stakeholders standing behind the Governor as she ratified the bill. There was no press conference. In fact, the bill was signed at night, and a simple statement was emailed by her staff the following day.
If that is not evidence that the Governor is ashamed of this bill, I don’t know what is. But she put her name on it.
My wife and I are long-time advocates for top predators such as wolves and cougars. We're familiar with the solid research regarding their benefits to ecosystems through a trophic cascade.
In the years since the wolf reintroduction, Yellowstone has become a premiere scientific laboratory for wilderness observation and ecosystem recovery. Scientists have come from around the world to watch the effect wild wolves have on the park. We have discovered that an ecological effect called the “trophic cascade” has taken over Yellowstone, with the wolves initiating a more natural ecosystem balance than has been seen in over 65 years.
With only 5% of our nation’s wilderness left, people are recognizing the important roles complete ecosystems play in keeping all of us healthy. With new knowledge of the trophic cascade, we can now begin to focus wilderness recovery efforts on a wider variety of ecosystems. Using Yellowstone as an example, we can teach the world about the wolf’s positive and vital role in the wild.
Science. Facts. Reason. These are wonderful things. Until you signed HB 4040, I thought you believed in them.
So it's pretty damn obvious that some sort of backroom deal was reached between the R's and D's at the legislature to approve the bill with sufficient Democratic votes for passage, given that Dems control both the House and Senate, plus the Governor's Office.
HB 4040 is an outrageous affront to Oregon's separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Almost certainly it prevents a court's review of the questionable evidence that led the Fish and Wildlife Commission to decide that having about 100 wolves in this state means they no longer are endangered.
In doing so, the legislation apparently would block a lawsuit that conservationists have filed to overturn the commission’s decision.
So here we have the legislative branch of government lining up with the executive branch — the state Fish and Wildlife Commission — to preempt the third branch of government, the courts, from doing its job.
That seems like a blatant violation of the constitution’s separation of powers.
So now the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, which considers that the only good wolf is a dead wolf (I know this, because my wife has testified at numerous legislative hearings where ignorant ranchers in cowboy hats have said as much), is thrilled with your signing HB 4040, while environmentalists like me are outraged.
Well, Ms. Brown, I hope your campaign for another four years as a Democratic governor of this state gets lots of money from the Oregon Cattlemen's Association and their Republican friends, because I don't feel like giving you a dime.
When you signed HB 4040, this was an insult to sound science, transparency in public policy-making, your progressive supporters, and this state's environmental community.
You chose political expediency over doing the right thing. Sure, I understand this is the way governing works, but I don't have to like it, or approve of it. I often don't agree with Statesman Journal editorials, but in this case I do.
Are the skybridges good or bad for downtown? That's a simplistic question. Like most things in life, the answer is, "They're both good and bad."
But streetscaping Salem's Historic District -- making the streets and sidewalks much more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly -- that's pretty much an All Good in my opinion.
The Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog has an interesting post, "Skybridges as Pedestrian Displacement Systems: Shelter, but anti-Sidewalk."
But another ingredient in the lack of foot traffic is the way the skybridges here suck people, energy, and life off of the street-level sidewalks and reinforce the blank walls and boxy forms of Liberty Plaza, Penny's, and the Mall - especially the blank brick of the mall walls.
The contrast with the more vital street activity at Liberty and Court is strong.
I believe our skybridges harm downtown vitality, and that we should consider getting rid of them - or at least spending more energy and resources designing our streets and sidewalks to compensate for their siphoning action.
Reading the post reminded me that I had photos from a February 21 visit to the Salem Center mall where I got there and back via skybridges.
(Rather weirdly, I was stopped by a security guard while standing on a skybridge. She asked what I was doing. I told her I had a blog and was taking photos because I wanted to show what downtown Salem was like on a Sunday afternoon. She told me not to do this, as this was private property and taking photos was a security risk. Hopefully this blog post will reassure Salem Center that the old gray-haired white guy with an iPhone 6s wasn't an agent of ISIL or a domestic terrorist.)
After I walked around Salem Center and the skybridges, I snapped this shot from the sidewalk outside of JCPenney. Look, the sky is partly blue! It isn't raining! But very few people are out and about. Outside, at least.
A view from the skybridge between JCPenney and Salem Center gives the same impression. On a nice February Sunday afternoon, downtown appears to be pretty much deserted.
But inside the mall... people!
It had been quite a while since I'd last set foot inside Salem Center. I've got nothing against the mall. There just isn't anything that draws me there. My main downtown hangout is the Court Street area: Venti's, Great Harvest, Pacific Martial Arts, Beanery, Starbucks, Governor's Cup, Book Bin, etc.
So I was sort of surprised to see so many people inside Salem Center, when there were so few people visible on the sidewalks. Like the Breakfast on Bikes post says, the skybridges must be a big part of the reason.
Yes, the skybridges offer a climate-controlled way to get between parking garages and some major downtown shopping buildings. They offer an elevated view of downtown, including this blossoming tree.
But they do detract from street-level vitality. And that's a big drawback. People are attracted to people. We enjoy seeing our fellow humans. Public spaces are way more vibrant and interesting when the public is using them.
I got to thinking about Bridgeport Village in Tualatin. This is a pleasant, successful shopping center that skillfully mimics an "oldstyle" downtown. Everybody walks outside, on streets and sidewalks. Parking is relegated to the outskirts, so cars don't dominate the shopping experience.
When it rains, you get wet walking around. When it is sunny, you may get hot. Yet for me, and obviously many others, this adds to the Bridgeport Village vibe. It is way more fun to be outside with other people, than stuck in a sterile indoor mall.
Well, here in Salem we have what the Bridgeport Village designers replicated: a Historic District with charming shops and buildings. So why don't we make downtown more pedestrian-friendly and get more people out on the streets/sidewalks?
I was pleased to see a mention in the Breakfast on Bikes post about a project that would get downtown Salem further along in this regard.
The Downtown Advisory Board met yesterday, and in the minutes for the February 11th meeting are notes that they are allocating $1.2 million in urban renewal funds to a "downtown streetscape" project. A subcommittee of four DAB members has been working to define a scope of work to give to a consultant for the project.
The dollar amount is too small to fund removal of the skybridges, but maybe folks can think about this more and more.
The plan looks good, though not ideal. Unless I'm missing something, I don't see bike lanes in the diagram. And the parallel parking next to the median seems problematic. Why not use that space for a dedicated bike lane(s) separated from traffic?
Sure, this is just one downtown block. But it could serve as a model for future streetscaping.
About $30 million in urban renewal funds will be available soon for this purpose, unless the Mayor and City Council fritter it away on an over-priced police facility that will do next-to-nothing to revitalize downtown.
The title of this post captures a core theme of the conversation I had yesterday with John Southgate, a Portland consultant highly knowledgeable about downtown revitalization.
Along with Public Affairs Counsel staff, Southgate did most of the writing and research for the Salem 2025 report that I blogged about recently. I've since learned, by the way, that Salem businessman Larry Tokarski commissioned the Salem 2025 study, a fact not mentioned in the report.
Why can't Salem get its act together?
The Salem 2025 report points to the same question in various ways. Here's some quotes:
-- ...it is clear that Salem is under-performing. This concerns anyone who cares about the health of Salem for one simple reason: A strong Downtown is a necessary ingredient, and driver, of a healthy city and region.
-- Even in the case of a strong decisive Mayor who can garner the votes – too often decisions have been ad hoc, and not clearly based on an over-arching vision.
-- In light of the ad hoc nature of decision making, there is a serious risk that when the Convention Center bonds are paid off (2018), the City will fritter away its resources rather than being strategic in how it uses this debt capacity.
-- Instead, it is the people making the decisions, and the absence of a coherent and strategic vision that Salem needs. Bottom line: The problem is leadership and vision.
I reached out to Southgate because I thought the Salem 2025 report was right-on in many regards. So I was curious to speak with him to get some additional insights into how he saw downtown Salem.
We talked while Southgate was getting an oil change for his car. His cell phone reception broke up a few times. Hopefully I didn't miss any gems of wisdom from a guy who has both walked the walk, and talked the talk, when it comes to improving urban areas.
Downtown revitalization program Main Street Oregon City hired John Southgate as interim director to lead the nonprofit during its search for a full-time director to replace founding director Lloyd Purdy.
Purdy began a new job as the economic development manager for the city of Tigard on Aug. 5.
Southgate is a native Oregonian, and has spent decades in the Portland region, with a strong focus on urban revitalization. He worked with the Portland Bureau of Planning, the Portland Development Commission, and the cities of Gresham and Hillsboro. He was the project manager for the Interstate Corridor and Lents Town Center urban-renewal areas; he also oversaw the formation of the Downtown Hillsboro Urban Renewal Area.
And he has managed several noteworthy public-private redevelopment projects in Portland and Hillsboro, including the Venetian Theater and the Fourth/Main project (under construction in Hillsboro’s downtown) which is the first mixed-use infill development in Hillsboro.
“I have a passion for downtown revitalization and the Main Street program; it’s a great model for bringing historic downtowns back to life,” Southgate said.
John (I'll start using his first name, given how friendly and informal he was during our conversation) echoed themes in the Salem 2025 report: The potential of downtown is real. Most people in Salem, maybe 85%, want downtown to be walkable with cool shops, restaurants, brewpubs, and such.
That's the good news. And it isn't new news for those who are familiar with Salem.
I moved here in 1977. So for 39 years I've been feeling like downtown is on the brink of becoming a cool, people-friendly, vibrant place. But there's never been a sustained productive effort to get the Historic District and surrounding area over the hump of good, but not great.
Salem lacks a compelling vision. A public-private partnership is needed to vitalize downtown. The City of Salem needs to lead. Downtown should have two way, two lane streets.
John spoke about how Mayor Neil Goldschmidt turned Portland around in the 1970s. By the time Goldschmidt left office, a consensus vision for downtown had taken hold that couldn't be overturned by succeeding politicians.
The Salem 2025 report talks about this:
A brief diversion to Portland is instructive. Downtown Portland in the 1960s was struggling. Lloyd Center opened in 1960, Washington Square was in the wings. Downtown was losing its “market share”, and the City looked shabby. There were some new office towers, but whole sections of downtown were underperforming.
In response to this challenge, the City’s decision makers – elected officials, the banks, the department stores, key property owners – came together to craft a plan – the 1972 Downtown Plan. That plan became the template for what ensued. It incorporated some very bold moves – the closure of an urban expressway (Harbor Drive) to be replaced by Waterfront Park; diversion of funds for the Mt. Hood Freeway to the region’s first light rail line; Pioneer Square; the Government Center; the high density office spine along a new Transit Mall; the list goes on and on.
Reading this, I couldn't help but think of parallels to Salem today.
Our current leaders at City Hall have approved a large suburban shopping development on Kuebler Boulevard near I-5 (shades of Washington Square). They are going ahead with plans for a billion dollar freeway'ish Third Bridge (shades of the Mt. Hood Freeway). Virtually all of them stood by as the Chamber of Commerce worked to defeat improvements to Salem's mass transit bus system, which currently lacks evening and weekend service.
This isn't smart. Not according to every expert in downtown revitalization I'm aware of. For example, "The Smart Growth Manual" says:
Smart growth directs both public infrastructure funding and private development where they will have the greatest economic, environmental, and social benefit. This approach requires a clear prioritization of growth alternatives, from smartest to "dumbest," as follows:
(1) Urban revitalization (2) Urban infill (3) Urban extension (4) Suburban retrofit (5) Suburban extension (6) New neighborhoods on existing infrastructure (7) New neighborhoods requiring new infrastructure (8) New neighborhoods in environmentally sensitive areas
Here's another passage from The Smart Growth Manual:
One-way streets ease traffic flow at the expense of pedestrian safety and comfort. ...One-way streets along commuting routes can also damage retail activity by providing merchants with either morning or evening trade, but not both. Finally, they limit the effectiveness of the street network, increase travel distances with around-the-block maneuvers, and can make navigation frustrating... Cities with multilane one-way systems should consider reverting to two-way travel, as it tends to help revitalize struggling areas.
Like, downtown Salem. Which suffers from major streets in the Historic District being one-way and three lanes -- a major obstacle to revitalization.
The Salem 2025 report, as noted above, points out that around $30 million of downtown urban renewal funds are going to be available soon, after bonds for the Conference Center are paid off. These could be used for some visionary Smart Growth projects.
(Note: all references to "dumb" in this blog post emanate from me, not John Southgate. He didn't talk about Salem politics at all, just how to make downtown better no matter who is running City Hall.)
I'll end by sharing a video I found when I was looking for information on what John did prior to his current consulting work. When he was Hillsboro's Economic Development Director, a Hillsboro 2020 Vision plan was set in motion.
Since, it has evolved into a Hillsboro 2035 Community Plan. I watched a video about it and got all inspired. Why can't Salem do something like this? Heck, something exactly like this.
For me, the video pretty much answered the question, "Why can't Salem get its act together?"
Answer: because nobody in this town -- no public leader, no private leader -- has stepped forward to engage all of Salem's citizens, ALL of them, in a broad-based community-wide effort to come up with a long-range vision of what people want this town to become.
Hopefully the May 2016 election for Mayor and four City Council seats will stimulate some fresh thinking and energy about how to vitalize downtown. Here's how Hillsboro is looking ahead.
It is REALLY important that as many people as possible take the survey. Two questions are especially crucial.
Here's my highly informed opinion about how you should answer them. I've followed the New Police Facility Saga closely for several years.
Question 4 asks if you would vote "yes" on a $81 million bond measure. Say NO, because this is more than double what a properly-sized and properly-priced Salem police facility should cost. A Salem Community Vision position paper, "Salem's New Police Facility: The Best Way To Achieve It," backs this assertion up.
Question 15 asks if you'd be more or less likely to vote for the bond measure if you knew that purported savings from the $81 million construction cost would go for earthquake safety upgrades to the Civic Center and Library. Either say LESS LIKELY or NO DIFFERENCE.
This is a deeply irritating question to the many people, including me, who feel strongly about making seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library in order to save lives when the Big One earthquake hits, which was the original plan of City officials before the cost of a new police facility doubled.
To put it bluntly, it is complete bullshit to suggest that the $15-20 million cost of those seismic upgrades can be paid for out of cost savings from a $81 million construction budget. That's a 25% cost under-run!
Yet the top Chicago consultant hired to plan the now vastly oversized/overpriced police facility recently told the Mayor and city councilors that construction costs are rising 6-7% a year in this economy. So is it really likely that $20 million can be saved from the $81 million budget?
Much better would be to markedly reduce the size and cost of the new police facility so the seismic upgrades can be paid for directly by the bond measure. Don't be tricked by this question. It is just a way to fool citizens into believing City officials have a plan to make the seismic upgrades.
Take the survey. Answer the questions however you want. I just feel a duty to say how I feel what the answers to these two questions should be.
Final gripe: I noted two typos in the survey. One is in question 4 above, two "new's."
Look: typos happen. Heck, I might have made some in this blog post, though I do my best to proofread what I write before I publish something. But come on; this is an important survey. Reading it through several times before making it live on Survey Monkey wouldn't have been a big deal.
So, fellow citizens of Salem, do you agree with me about this?
Making downtown more attractive, people-friendly, and economically vibrant is a way better use for $20 million in urban renewal funds than using that money to subsidize a supersized, overly expensive new police facility.
Most people in this town would emphatically answer "Yes!"
On the positive side (the rest of what I'm going to say will be negative), kudos to Retherford for being open and transparent about this plan. Too often in the past City officials have sprung bad ideas on citizens late in the policy-making game, knowing there will be opposition to them.
Now, let's look at why this proposal to spend up to $20 million in urban renewal money on a new police facility deserves to die a quick death.
(1) City officials have said only about $1 million in urban renewal money would be used. Here's part of a March 1 City of Salem press release issued after the City Council chose the O'Brien site as the location for a new police facility.
The total development cost at the O'Brien site is estimated at $81.4 million, with a property tax impact of $9.08 per month for the same valued home. Leveraging urban renewal resources for required traffic circulation improvements in the area could reduce the cost by over a million dollars, resulting in a savings of about 12 cents per month to an average home owner.
This is the information that was presented to the public, Mayor, and city councilors prior to the City Council meeting where vigorous opposition to the block south of the Library led to the O'Brien site being chosen as the preferred location for a new police facility.
Yet now we're being told that up to $20 million in urban renewal funds may be used to pay for its construction.
Ideally, no urban renewal money at all should go for this purpose. But $1 million for street improvements in the vicinity of the police facility perhaps could be justified; $20 million, mostly for construction, can't be. Because...
(2) A police facility doesn't fit into the City's own Downtown Urban Renewal Plan. That plan, which was last updated in 2014, includes no mention of an objective anywhere akin to building a 148,000 square foot, $80 million police facility on the O'Brien site. Take a look on pages 3-4. Download Downtown Urban Renewal Plan
By contrast, the Urban Renewal Plan does talk about objectives that would truly make the downtown area more vibrant and, to not-coin-a-term, renewed. For example:
To beautify and enhance the streetscape by participating in projects involving public art, landscaping, sidewalk surfacing, signing, street furniture, intersection corner bulbs, weather protection, and related improvements.
Recognize Mill Creek as a community asset by providing open space and good pedestrian access to and along the Creek, by acquisition of property and construction of pedestrian/bicycle ways along the Creek and potentially grade separated paths at major barriers such as streets.
To participate in the development of the Willamette Riverfront in a way that provides an opportunity for a mixture of commercial, residential, public, and other uses compatible with the Riverfront, and facilitates safe pedestrian and bicycle movement along the Riverfront with linkages to adjoining areas.
Our concern is that the City of Salem may use urban renewal funds to reduce the cost of a police facility bond that will be presented to voters in November 2016. This would take money away from more worthy projects aimed at vitalizing the downtown area. After all, few people say, “What I really want to visit in Salem is the police facility.”
So whatever the cost of building a new police facility is, along with seismic retrofitting of the Civic Center, citizens should be asked to pay that amount directly through a bond that increases their property taxes. This is honest. Paying for much of the cost through urban renewal funds disguises the amount of public money going into these projects, and prevents limited downtown urban renewal funds from being used in better ways.
(3) There are indeed many better ways to use downtown urban renewal money. Urban renewal funds are property taxes from a defined area that are intended to vitalize the area. A good description of how urban renewal works is in this 2014 Oregonian story.
Urban renewal is a way for a city to finance improvement projects or bolster private investments within an area considered “blighted.” That includes developing vacant properties and providing adequate utilities or street improvements. The program aims to increase property values, and thus generate higher tax revenues, to offset the costs of the city's investment.
Well, until 2015 the O'Brien location was occupied by three auto dealerships. A Statesman Journal story written at the time the dealerships moved said:
“With Lithia Motors's recent relocation to a new facility on Salem Parkway, a space that's ripe with opportunity has opened in downtown."
Thus it is difficult to view this property as blighted.
Further, a police facility will not pay any property taxes (unless the land is kept in private hands and leased to the City of Salem, which is unlikely). As noted above, the City's own Downtown Urban Renewal plan has many objectives, none of which call for using up to $20 million in urban renewal money to build a tax-exempt government building.
A few days ago I blogged about a Salem 2025 report that looked at the future of downtown. There are a lot of good ideas in the report, along with a few bad ones.
Today Urban Development Director Retherford told people at the Salem City Watch meeting that local businessman Larry Tokarski, president of Mountain West Development Corporation, had commissioned the Salem 2025 study -- a fact that wasn't mentioned in the report.
Here's some excerpts from the Salem 2025 report pertaining to the use of downtown urban renewal funds.
Approximately $30M in urban renewal bonding authority will be available in the next three years (as the bond for the Convention Center is paid down). This is a tremendous asset that, if leveraged and steered properly, will be a game changer in the emergence of downtown Salem as a successful urban place.
...Based on this assessment of assets and challenges, we believe that the stars are aligned for Salem to make an ambitious move to make its downtown a major success story. Key pieces are in place (see the “assets” above”), and most if not all of the challenges can be overcome with sufficient political will. Salem has the resources – or will have, in the near future – to use urban renewal funds in a strategic way, to leverage major private investment.
...The last section of the report proposes a process to determine what the strategy ought to contain, who needs to be at the table, and how the decisions are made. In anticipation of such an effort, we surmise that there will be strong support for the following investments which will have the capacity to re-energize downtown Salem:
• Promotion of high density mixed use development – this means dollars for public/private deals, for land acquisition of strategic properties, and for predevelopment work
• Rehabilitation of Salem’s fine stock of historic buildings, including development of housing or high tech office uses on upper floors
• Access to waterfront
• Streets to serve all modes, not solely the auto. Fewer lanes, attractive lighting and pedestrian furnishings, curb extensions, bike lanes, and ample sidewalks.
• Tools to incentivize the sorts of places that energize a district – brewpubs, wine bars, etc.
Hard to see -- no, impossible to see -- how spending $20 million of downtown urban renewal money on a new police facility furthers these strategic goals.
An $80 million police facility on the O'Brien site isn't going to leverage major private investment. It isn't going to energize downtown. It isn't part of the City's Downtown Urban Renewal Plan. It isn't part of the Salem 2025 vision for downtown that calls for a bold, creative, collaborative vision of what Salem's urban core can become.
So why is spending $20 million of urban renewal funds on a new police facility being considered by City officials? Us citizens await the answer.
My suspicion is that the folks at City Hall are so attached to their over-priced, supersized $80 million plan for a 150,000 square foot police facility, while recognizing that it will look really bad if seismic upgrades aren't made to the Library and City Hall as part of a Public Safety bond to be voted on in November 2016 as was previously planned, they want to use the $20 million as a way to do this.
Meaning, this would allow the $80 million bond request to include $20 million for the seismic upgrades, along with $60 million for the police facility. The remaining $20 million to build the police facility would come from urban renewal funds that can be tapped by the Urban Renewal Agency Board.
Which, conveniently, consists of the Mayor and City Council.
In this depressing scenario, vitalizing downtown would be sacrificed for a wasteful Police Palace. Downtown property taxes would be used for a government building that will do nothing to stimulate private investment in the area, a core goal of urban renewal.
Hopefully this bad idea soon will die a well-deserved death.
What needs to be done to make downtown Salem (Oregon) more vibrant? Great question.
Yesterday I learned about a rather mysterious "Salem 2025" report prepared by John Southgate Consulting and Public Affairs Counsel, a Salem-based government affairs firm headed by Mark Nelson, described as "Oregon’s leading business lobbyist and political strategist."
I call the Salem 2025 report mysterious because it is dated December 2015, yet when I queried the Great God Google there was no online mention of it. Also, Salem 2025 doesn't indicate who initiated and paid for the report.
This morning I phoned the Public Affairs Counsel office and asked to speak to someone about the report. The person who answered said that tomorrow I should get a callback.
Regardless of why Salem 2025 was produced, it contains a lot of wise analysis about the pluses and minuses of downtown Salem, along with generally good ideas about how the urban core can be vitalized.
Here's the Executive Summary:
Downtown Salem, Oregon, is a City that has not fulfilled its potential. It boasts a number of key assets – location immediately adjacent to a beautiful waterfront; a great stock of historic buildings; a healthy economy; and financial capacity in the near term that would be the envy of many larger cities. And yet it has not deployed these assets as effectively as it should, and it also faces some challenges that have prevented Salem from reaching its potential.
Some challenges are physical (difficult access to the waterfront; too many properties that are under-performing; and streets that dominate the urbanscape rather than accommodating pedestrian activity). Other challenges include difficult development economics; a bureaucracy that too often gets in the way of good development; and a tendency over the years to make ad hoc decisions, rather than strategically.
This situation is far from hopeless, if the City leadership (including elected officials, key staff, as well as major players in the private sector) will work together to craft a strategy to guide future investments, a strategy that targets public/urban renewal investments intelligently and in a manner that will catalyze major private investment.
To do this, it will be important for the key private sector players to contribute towards an effort to (1) develop a coherent strategy for downtown focused on how to deploy approximately $30M in urban renewal funds when the Convention Center bonds are paid off in 2018; a strategy incorporating bold moves that dramatically change development dynamics in Salem; (2) build consensus from the constituencies that need to support this strategy, to counter the naysayers and to assure that future elected officials won’t deviate from the strategy with ad hoc/ non-strategic projects and investments; and (3) oversee the implementation of the strategy.
The main negative I found in Salem 2025 was undue confidence in the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce to oversee the 1-2-3 effort outlined in the last paragraph of the Executive Summary. I think this would be a mistake.
To its credit, the report accurately notes that the Chamber isn't viewed positively by much of the community, especially after its strong effort to defeat a payroll tax that would have funded improvements to the Cherriots bus system, including weekend and evening service.
A better approach would be to start fresh with an inclusive, creative, energetic group that brings in people who aren't part of the existing Salem Power Structure.
This is in tune with some parts of the report that I heartily agree with:
-- "Our interviews and analysis of other cities draws us to the conclusion that the decision making/ urban renewal authority structure is not a notable factor in the health of Downtown. Instead, it is the people making the decisions, and the absence of a coherent and strategic vision that Salem needs. Bottom line: The problem is leadership and vision."
-- "What Salem does need to do is be thoughtful and strategic about how to capitalize on its assets – in particular its urban renewal bonding authority. Perhaps the biggest challenge that Salem faces is a mindset. Cities that do great things, that change the economic dynamic of their downtowns, require bold and even courageous visionary leadership."
-- "Salem has tremendous assets. And there are some positive early signs that things are changing very much for the better. There is also talent and passion. It’s time to mix those ingredients and DO IT."
-- "It is essential to ensure that there is a broad base of support for the strategy. This work shouldn’t be done in isolation, but rather the strategy should be generated in consultation with the various constituencies that are essential to success, in part to defuse the opposition of any naysayers; in part so that no elected official can deviate from the blueprint."
-- "The greatest challenge will probably not be money, or figuring out the most strategic way to spend it (though this will take some work). Rather, the biggest challenge will be coming up with a way to get buy-in, to counter the negatives, to bypass the benchwarmers, and to garner significant community support. A vision that captures the imagination, and attracts investor confidence."
Here are some of the report's Key Challenges facing downtown (pp. 5-7) which point to ways the area can be made way more attractive.
-- "Lack of energy – a fair amount of negativity, with a few naysayers having an outsize influence; conflicts among and within advocacy groups; pattern of groups starting out with good intentions but disbanding over conflicts, frustration, cynicism. Does Salem really want to grow, become more urban, dense, 'cool'? Put another way, do those who want to see positive change have the fortitude to counter the naysayers, to build coalitions that drive a positive agenda?"
-- "Difficult access to waterfront – you can get there, but the highway and rail line create an obstacle course, especially in north stretch."
-- "Lack of housing choices; dearth of housing (which is essential to sustain an '18 hour city')."
-- "Identity crisis. What is Salem’s brand? Not enough to say 'Oregon’s Capitol' – that doesn’t get the juices flowing. Ashland is Shakespeare. Cannon Beach is cool arts community. Eugene is hip college town. Hillsboro is high tech. What is Salem? Or does the 'brand' really matter?"
I stronglyresonate with that last observation. I believe Salem's "brand" does really matter.
I've often thought that Portland Without the Problems is a starting point for creative thinking in this regard, but this too doesn't get the juices flowing, being negative rather than positive.
Intuitively, it seems to me that Salem should build on Marion County's agricultural eminence. We are a city surrounded by beautiful productive farmland. Let's leverage this.
Streetscape downtown by losing lanes and making the Historic District much more pedestrian and cyclist friendly. Plantings, art, exhibits, water features and such could showcase local agriculture, food, and flora.
Create a covered year-round Farmer's Market. Attract more wine and beer businesses. Do away with the ban on downtown breweries. Talk up the Minto Brown Island pedestrian bridge that leads to over a thousand natural acres. Offer bicycle and kayak rentals on the riverfront to give visitors and residents fun outdoor stuff to do.
The ideas are endless. Hopefully the Salem 2025 report will get this town moving in productive directions for downtown.
A lot of Democrats/progressives in Oregon consider the just-completed 2016 legislative session to have been a success.
But in my view the passage of HB 4040, which aligns our state with science-denying, anti-environment right-wing extremism that I'd hoped would be confined to Congressional craziness, is a huge negative that takes away from the positive steps taken: increasing Oregon's minimum wage, eliminating coal as an energy source, promoting more affordable housing.
Here's how the Center for Biological Diversity describes the bill, which awaits Governor Brown's signature.
The Oregon Legislature passed a bill tonight ratifying the delisting of wolves in Oregon and effectively preempting the right to any legal challenge. The 17-11 Senate vote to pass HB 4040 follows the bill’s passage in the House two weeks ago. The bill was introduced by Republican proponents of delisting on behalf of the livestock and sports-hunting industries seeking to block judicial review of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s illegal wolf-delisting decision last November.
There's so much not to like here.
(1) Ratifying the delisting of wolves in Oregon. This was a highly controversial action by the Fish and Wildlife Commission -- taking wolves off the list of endangered species in Oregon. As the Center for Biological Diversity points out:
In November 2015 the Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4 to 2 to strip gray wolves of state endangered species act protections, despite having received comment letters from 25 leading scientists noting significant disagreement with delisting, and 10,000 public comments, 96 percent of which opposed the delisting.
(2) Preempting the right to any legal challenge. HB 4040 fulfills the dream of irrational wolf haters. It made wolf management in Oregon a political matter, rather than a policy issue founded on solid scientific facts and judicial review.
In December the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild filed a legal challenge to the commission’s decision. Shortly after the 2016 session of the Oregon Legislature convened earlier this month, bills were introduced by Senate and House Republicans to ratify the commission’s decision in order to block judicial review of the delisting decision.
(3) The 17-11 Senate vote...introduced by Republican proponents. Oregonians have elected Democrats to lead our state and reflect our values. So how did an anti-wolf bill pass, given the strong support for environmental protections in Oregon?
Because HB 4040 was a legislative "bone" thrown out to Republicans as part of session deal-making. Meaning, Democrats knew it was substantively a bad bill, but politically some D's felt inclined to vote for it.
In the end, the bill passed with about two-thirds Republican votes, even though Democrats have majorities in both houses of the legislature. In the Senate, 11 R's and 6 D's voted yes; in the House, 23 R's and 10 D's voted yes.
Republicans showed they had the parliamentary wits to tie the Senate in knots. R's saw themselves as stacking against the D's hijacking of the legislative session. D's see the R's as hijacking the legislative process. Finally, both sides agreed to session-ending compromise.
Then came the wolf bill... the political symbolism was huge, which is why the Democratic leadership provided sufficient votes for the minority Republicans to pass House Bill 4040. The wolf bill was a chance to give Republicans a bone after they had been run over by high-profile Democratic legislation.
...HB 4040 is not good policy. But signing it would be good politics for Oregon.
Well, I disagree with Hughes (as I usually do). HB 4040 establishes a horrible precedent for this state.
If this bill becomes law, legislators can point to it as justification for ignoring facts/science when making other environmental decisions, and denying opponents of those decisions a right to challenge them judicially.
What if -- scary thought coming -- Republicans took over the Governorship along with both the state House and Senate? Then they pass a bill saying it is the official policy of the State of Oregon that human-caused global warming does not exist, and this (erroneous) conclusion can't be challenged in court.
They can point to HB 4040, should it be signed by Governor Brown, as a precedent that supports politicians making final decisions that, up to now, have been challengeable through our judicial system.
The wolf bill is bad for Oregon in many ways. Please urge Governor Brown to veto it.
Phone her at 503-378-4582. Email her via the Governor's web site.
Tell Brown you are opposed to HB 4040 both because it enshrines ill-considered wolf policy, and sets a dangerous precedent for ignoring science and cutting off the right of citizens to challenge state agency decisions in court.
Put simply, if Oregon wants to maintain its national leadership role in wolf conservation, Gov. Brown must veto this anti-wolf bill. She must show her constituents that Oregon's imperiled wildlife are not political bargaining chips and that decisions about wildlife management should be based on the best available science, not politics or the wishes of powerful special interests. A veto of this bill will allow Oregon's wildlife officials to get back to the real task at hand: ensuring robust protections are maintained for Oregon's fragile population as the wolf plan is updated.
When I started to get involved in City of Salem issues back in 2013, I was immediately struck by how top City officials didn't care about what citizens had to say. Their disdain for public participation in policy-making was obvious.
Since, I've heard lots of people express the same frustration: during the reign of Queen Mayor Anna Peterson (2011-2016), City Hall has been run in a highly top-down fashion. Decisions are made behind closed doors, then attempts are made to foist a fait accompli onto citizens by their so-called "public servants."
Not surprisingly, this results in a lot of controversy rather than collaboration.
People don't like to be ordered around by politicians -- especially when what's being proposed doesn't make sense and is at odds with community values.
During Peterson's terms as Mayor, a lot of citizen activism energy has been used to stop bad ideas coming from City Hall rather than helping to implement good ideas. Salem suffers as a result.
Needlessly. Because Salem is filled with people who are eager to make this town a better place. Creativity abounds. Expertise overflows.
Unfortunately, Mayor Peterson and her right-wing City Council majority have squandered the opportunity to work openly, honestly, and collaboratively with the people they claim to represent. Too often the general public interest has been sacrificed for a narrow special interest.
Recently the Salem Statesman Journal ran an editorial called "Salem mayor: Your city government at work." It included a statement about the current leadership at City Hall that struck me as obviously untrue.
After I read the editorial, I wrote an online comment.
Here it is, with added links to blog posts that I've written about controversies Mayor Peterson has been involved in from 2013-2016. (As noted above, I wasn't paying close attention to City of Salem goings-on in 2011-2012.)
I've also added another controversy/conflict that came to mind in the course of composing this post, fixed a few typos, and corrected the name of Mountain West Investment.
Wow, I couldn't disagree more with the ending of this editorial: "Such is life in a well-run city. Salem city hall is not constantly engulfed in controversy, and that speaks volumes about the city’s leadership..."
Does the Statesman Journal editorial board pay any attention to what ACTUALLY goes on at City Hall? Here's a sampling of the Mayor Anna Peterson-era controversies I recall from just the past few years.
-- The Public Works Director, Peter Fernandez, makes a backroom deal with the US Bank President, Ryan Allbritton, to have five large beautiful trees on State Street cut down for no good reason. Community outrage results.
-- The recommendation of the Historic Landmarks Commission to save Howard Hall is ignored, allowing Salem Hospital to tear the building down and replace it with a parking lot that, it turns out, was illegally approved by City officals. Community outrage results.
-- The Mayor tries to push through a plan to put a new police facility on the Civic Center campus next to (and over) Mirror Pond without ever holding a public hearing. Community outrage results.
-- The Mayor adds the block south of the Library to a list of top possible sites for a new police facility after her Civic Center site was shot down. When a public hearing is held, this idea also is shot down by fervent opposition from citizens. Community outrage results.
-- The City's attempt to build a freeway'ish unneeded Third Bridge is derailed by facts and community opposition. A billion dollar "Salem Alternative" is put forth that isn't much, if any, better. Community outrage results.
-- The City tries to use bond funds to buy up properties in the Highland neighborhood for a Third Bridge bridgehead, even though this goes against federal rules for that sort of property acquisition. Community outrage results.
-- The City does such a bad job handling downtown Economic Improvement District funds, the businesses who pay the money vote to do away with the EID district, leaving downtown without an ability to pay for First Wednesday and other promotions.
Lacking coffee in my system this morning, this is the list I've come up with so far. I'll probably be able to add to it when propertly caffeinated.
[Update: Yeah, I can... The City tries to put in parking meters downtown without ever involving downtown businesses or residents in the deliberations of a Downtown Parking Task Force. Community outrage results.]
Anyway, Mayor Peterson has presided over a City Hall administration that has been divisive, closed, and uncaring of citizen participation. Long time watchers of Salem politics say that things are the worst they've ever been at City Hall.
So this editorial gets it wrong. Truth must be told.
Doing everything I can, from now until it happens, to convince Salem's Mayor, City Manager, city councilors, and general citizenry that making the Civic Center buildings earthquake-ready is a moral necessity.
For several years I and others have been advocating this. See:
But today I went over an earthquake-readiness tipping point after looking over a terrifying, moving, and utterly persuasive Vice piece -- the 5-part After The Big One -- An immersive, reported science fiction saga about surviving the coming mega-quake
Here's how After the Big One is introduced.
This week's Terraform is something special: It's a hybrid format, what we've taken to calling "reported science fiction"—a deeply researched, exhaustively detailed story about what will happen when the so-called "Really Big One" (a 9.0 magnitude earthquake) hits Portland, as scientists expect it will in coming decades. (Hint: Read the footnotes!) But I'll let writer and archivist Adam Rothstein explain his creation, "After the Big One," below. Trust me, this one, an epic, 5-part feat of speculation—and the most immersive fact-based fiction you'll probably ever read—is worth diving in deep. -Brian Merchant, Terraform editor
Rothstein did an amazing job with this piece. I only had time to read through it quickly after I heard about After The Big One today via Willamette Week. Still, the emotional impact was intense.
The Big One will be the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. Salem, along with Portland, will be devastated. The mega-quake is coming. It is a matter of when, not if.
Soon after reading After The Big One, I sent this email message to Salem's Mayor, city councilors, and other City officials via [email protected]
I challenge any City of Salem official to look over this amazing well-researched 5-part piece about what will happen after the Big One earthquake hits Portland and then say “We don’t need seismic upgrades for City Hall and the Library.”
Like I said in a post on my Strange Up Salem page where I shared this link, I am now TOTALLY committed to pressing for these seismic upgrades as part of a November 2016 Public Safety bond. Totally. This can’t be put off. Lives are at stake.
You guys/gals have to make your own decisions about what is presented to voters. You have to live with yourselves.
Me, I have to live with myself. Being the father of a daughter who grew up in Salem and went to the Library a lot, and being the grandfather of an 8 year old granddaughter who lives in Orange County earthquake country, I feel like going to the citizen activism mat on this one.
At last Monday’s City Council meeting I heard quite a few people say, “Do the seismic upgrades.” So far I haven’t heard of anyone lobbying for letting people die at City Hall and the Library. As I said in my testimony, it is an no-brainer to commit to the $20 million (or so) cost of seismic retrofitting as part of funding for a new police facility.
The longer City of Salem officials dither on this, the more outcry there will be to Save The Children — along with others who work at and visit the Civic Center. I and others have been testifying about the need for seismic upgrades to the Library and City Hall for several years now, at City Council and Blue Ribbon Task Force meetings.
Now it is time to commit to DO IT. Not someday. Now. Read "After The Big One.” You’ll be convinced.
Since, Bassett has done the Cosmic Tripster thing seven more times, I believe. He's accumulated a lot of McMenamins swag from repeatedly going on the Grand McMenamins Tour.
It was put to good use tonight.
Kaser would draw a slip of paper from a bag that had a phrase like "Library," "caring for the homeless," "downtown," or such on it. The person who had a matching slip then would get to pick a Bassett-provided door prize while Kaser thought about what she wanted to say about the subject.
I enjoyed the short mini-speeches Cara gave during the get-together in a back meeting room. And not only because a Cosmic Tripster t-shirt in my size was still available by the time my slip was drawn.
After I grabbed the t-shirt Kaser riffed on "Union Street Bridge," the words on my slip.
She said this is one of the best things that has happened in Salem recently. Creating the pedestrian bridge between downtown and West Salem showed the power of people coming together to make this town more livable, fun, and economically vibrant.
A resident of the Grant neighborhood, Kaser bikes or walks across the Union Street Bridge to shop in West Salem.
In another mini-speech, she talked about the need to make Salem way more cyclist and pedestrian-friendly. Painting white lines on a busy street and calling it a bike lane doesn't make most people feel safe on a bicycle.
I also liked what Kaser had to say about consensus building. The outcome isn't as important as the process, she told us. Meaning, often people focus on the endpoint of getting everybody to agree on what to do.
However, this will happen naturally if everybody feels like they are being respected, listened to, and taken seriously.
(One of my criticisms of our current Mayor, Anna Peterson, is that she is more concerned with getting unanimous votes in the City Council, than on fostering a climate where both citizens and city councilors discuss issues in an open-minded, transparent fashion.)