Carole Smith is a downtown property owner and resident who sent me the following argument against restaurants being allowed to use downtown parking spaces for outdoor seating during the Covid pandemic.
A May 27 Salem Reporter story says this program is going to be permanent, with design standards for structures in parking spaces that could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Smith makes some good points about whether this is fair to the downtown businesses who pay a parking tax, since restaurants are being allowed to use parking spaces that are supposed to benefit all businesses in the area, not just one industry.
Here's what Smith has to say. I made some edits to her piece to improve its readability. I'm pretty sure I preserved her meaning.
As I was watching the news last night I watched a segment on “Salem Removes Homeless from City Parks." The reporter stated the "City Council decided the pandemic was over and the homeless no longer needed to social distance so they were being removed from city parks.”
Well, if that is true, the pandemic is over, then why do we still have 20% of our parking spaces downtown full of empty tents? I have been watching the tents empty out for two months now. No one is using them. They sit empty. Why are they still allowed to block parking spaces?
Many folks do not realize the downtown businesses (except non-profits) pay a parking tax each year to the city to effectively “rent” the parking spaces downtown for their customers' free use. This tax normally totals around $500,000 annually. There are typically 500 businesses downtown with the vast majority located on the upper floors downtown.
Last year the City gave grants to restaurants throughout Salem for free tents, tables, chairs, and heaters, and provided the use of the downtown parking spaces free of charge to the restaurants. Yes, the same parking spaces the city demands we pay $500,000 a year to save for our customers' use.
Recently I did a Public Records Request for all business addresses in the parking district. Last year there were only 450 businesses. Nordstroms and Penneys are gone because City Council is clueless, so parking tax revenues will be considerably down this year.
If you take the annual sales volume of the two large department stores in the downtown area (estimated at $20 million a year each) and add in all the small businesses averaged at $400,000 annual sales each, you have an annual gross sales in downtown of about $220 million.
Divide $220 million by 1,100 parking spaces and you get $160,000 value per parking space. Assume 20% of downtown visitors use parking garages, and the value still is a hefty $128,000 per parking space. This shows the value of each parking space to the businesses who pay the tax.
Now, realize that the City of Salem has given restaurants the right to block parking spaces for their free tents. That is equivalent to taking away thousands of dollars of sales for all neighboring businesses who are going through the exact same pandemic pain.
Even if you don’t care about the fairness of this land grab to benefit just one industry at the expense of damaging all its neighbors, I have seen literally no evidence that restaurants spread Covid, none. Why did our city council jump on an unproven rumor instead of thinking this through?
Well, it feeds into their desire for parking meters. For decades (I found staff reports on how much more income the city would collect as far back as 1980) the City staff and City Council have wanted to end the free parking in downtown to increase city income.
It is still their desire for downtown. They don’t see struggling stores or opportunity for our community. They just see money that isn’t yet corralled in their coffers. Anything they can do to weaken businesses downtown they can hardly wait to implement.
Despite the Downtown Parking Tax being voted in by the full voting population of Salem for two purposes only -- a program of public parking and a program of downtown promotions (funding for a downtown organization to protect us from City staff and Council) -- the City has been systematically withdrawing any funds for downtown promotion, Christmas decorations, summer flower baskets, events, sidewalk sales, etc.
They have been taking funds for years to fund the Police Department budget shortfalls as downtown continues to pay the tax and gets nothing for their contribution.
If the pandemic is over for the homeless population, City Council should do the right thing and ask all restaurants to remove their tents (and other obstructions) from parking spaces and allow their neighbors to survive.
I have asked City Council several times to have the tents removed, but not one city councilor responded to any of my emails. Crickets, nothing. They don’t care about downtown or the citizens.
Let's be clear.
We want all downtown businesses to survive and thrive, not one industry surviving at the expense of their neighbors' failure. If the pandemic is over for the homeless, it should be over for the free tents downtown also. You cannot have it both ways, City Council.
Before we dive deeper into this messy move, let's agree on this: the current trash receptacles are ugly, hard to use, and deserve to be featured in The Museum of Dysfunctional Trash Receptacles -- which I dearly hope exists.
Carole Smith, a downtown resident and property owner, brought my attention to what Smith considers a trash travesty. Never one to mince words, here's how she described this issue to me in an email.
I was looking through the DAB [Downtown Advisory Board] agenda and found a staff report that they want to remove 44 of our 61 downtown garbage cans to save money. More trash on the sidewalk will not save downtown money, it will just make it look worse. No word on other cost savings they can make - like letting staff go. We don’t need all those garbage cans but WE DO need all those staff.
If restaurants customers are the main trash can users, why don’t they increase Parking Tax on restaurants with take out? This just seems like another bone they are throwing to restaurants.
Janet Taylor hated that merchants refused to maintain the city’s plants in the city’s planters so she had the City give away all our planters (planted and blooming) to Keizer. She replaced them with the most hideous garbage cans and planters she could find. She took away over 80 planters and replaced them with 20 planters.
Now staff wants to do the same with garbage cans. Why should downtown be punished because Janet Taylor picked a dumb, dysfunctional design?
Ugh, this just feels like another nail in downtowns mostly-built coffin. One more nail amongst several. Staff still get their paychecks but what about services for the public who pay their wages, don’t we count? Why do we need so many staff when they continually cut programs?
To add insult to injury, I told Chuck Bennett years ago that most cities negotiate free downtown garbage pick-up with their haulers when they renew their contract. They get their downtown garbage picked up free. Our city just charges the Parking District.
Hope this riles you up like it did me.
Well, I'm always eager to get riled up by stupid stuff done by the City of Salem. I wouldn't have called this blog Salem Political Snark if I'd wanted it to be a warm and fuzzy paean to what city staff are doing right.
I agree with Smith that removing almost 3/4 of downtown trash receptacles doesn't mesh with what I've observed about human behavior. Namely, that most people want to do the right thing, but only if it isn't too difficult.
Having several trash receptacles on every block makes it more likely that someone with something that needs to be thrown away will hang onto it for the short distance to a receptacle. This is the current downtown Salem trash receptacle status, as shown in the staff report.
By contrast, this is the proposed layout.
The map above seems trash receptacle-skimpy, but since this is my first foray into trash receptacle analysis of a downtown, I will admit that my intuitive impression of skimpiness may not reflect the intensive quantitative and qualitative assessment that a problem of this importance deserves.
I have, however, just devoted five minutes of my steadily declining remaining life time to a Google Images search of "downtown trash receptacles" in hopes this will bolster my campaign for an investigative blogging award.
Bottom line: the more trash receptacles you provide, the less trash you will encounter.
Wow. That makes so much sense. As does the following pieces of advice.
Planning trash collection might not be your favorite topic, but proper organization can make your community clean and safe, leaving a positive first impression on guests. Facilitate successful trash collection with: - Placing the right amount of commercial trash receptacles strategically - Installing eye-catching, colorful decorative trash cans that guests can easily find - Encouraging green habits with recycling receptacles that sort recyclable materials
Eye-catching. Colorful. Decorative. Three words that definitely don't describe the trash receptacles currently in downtown. But it does describe the trash receptacles in Washington D.C.'s Chinatown.
Not surprisingly, we (well, I) here at Salem Political Snark adore snarkishness.
That's why I'm eager to share every new issue of Salem Cherry Pits when it hits my email inbox, sent to me by downtown resident and property owner Carole Smith -- the creator, publisher, and distributor of this marvelous mixture of biting satire and solid information about downtown goings-on.
Below I've shared screenshots of the first two pages of the Spring 2020 issue, which deal with a novel approach to homelessness and a heretofore unrecognized way the coronavirus can be transmitted: farts. You can read the whole issue by clicking on these PDF files.
The first is the entire issue minus the centerfold (which, sadly, isn't a provocative unclothed image of a city councilor). The second is a rotated page 4, so you don't get a crick in your neck from perusing details of where downtown urban renewal money comes from. And the third is the oversized centerfold, "Proposed 2021 Downtown Urban Renewal Budget."
We've got to get over a reluctance to talk honestly about downtown's homeless problem. It's possible to both (1) feel compassion toward homeless people and (2) feel bad about how homeless people are making downtown Salem less pleasant for visitors, residents, and business owners.
Downtown Court Street in the morning
Yesterday Carole Smith, who lives downtown and owns property there, sent me the message I've shared below.
In an email to the Salem City Council, Smith describes how a prospective tenant backed out of signing a lease because of the homeless problem; how a friend views downtown; and shares her view that downtown businesses are suffering due to a lack of attention to homelessness by city officials.
Then Smith shares a response she got from City Manager Powers. No member of the City Council replied to her email message. Lastly, you can read Smith's reply to Powers. Here's her message:
Brian, along with several other business and property owners from downtown and businesses north of downtown, I sent an email to the City Council about the problems we have had to address on our own downtown. Here is my email:
After our downtown antique store tenant lost thousands of dollars, was physically assaulted, then died of a stress heart attack -- all as a result of your lack of policy on homeless downtown, we thought we had found the perfect long term tenant for his space. Today he was supposed to come walk through the space. Instead, this is the text we received:
“Carole, I’m hearing from some of my staff that they are not comfortable with being on the street level; safety concerns with homeless at the doorstep. Go ahead and put your for-lease sign up”
The same day I received this email from a friend who normally doesn’t come downtown until later in the day:
This morning I was in Downtown Salem at around 8am - usually it's later in the day when I'm down here, but I was so surprised by the number of people either sleeping on sidewalks, (2 people within 30ft of the Gov Cup) or people with mental health issues wandering around the core downtown area.
Not a welcoming environment. Just four or five years ago it did not look like that down here. I realize the city leaders can't fix this issue overnight, but I'm wondering if the issue is more about not taking the problem seriously, or not knowing what to do, or worse, not caring enough.
Also seems to be more empty storefronts than normal, at least on the corner of Chemeketa and Liberty, on the west side of the street. On the east side, the bank that had been vacant for ages has been torn down, but now it's just an empty lot full of water.
Even the Beanery (Allan Bros) has shuttered. Is the old Brick restaurant location still in remodeling? The old beauty school building on Court and Commercial is still vacant, and has been for a long time.
Is it because business happens at a pedestrian pace in Salem? Why are so many storefronts empty for extended periods of time?"
Everyone downtown is tired to death of your inaction. If you don’t start solving this problem you won’t have a downtown. The last time I contacted you about this problem, not one of you responded to my email. Have you forgotten you REPRESENT US?
Why are you not helping solve this problem before it kills every business downtown? How many more merchants have to die of stress heart attacks, how many more businesses have to move out of downtown, and how many more possible tenants are going to pass on leasing space downtown before you realize it's your job to help us solve these problems?
Carole Smith ---------------------------
Not one city councilor responded but the City Manager sent this email:
Thank you for contacting the City with your concerns regarding the state of the downtown. Any incident that causes someone concern is unfortunate. The Salem Police Downtown Enforcement Team is dedicated to keeping the downtown area safe. The Urban Renewal Agency provides grants to downtown property owners for security and safety improvements. The City is continuing partnerships to help and house the homeless.
Please be assured the City is committed to a vibrant, growing downtown. New businesses continue to come downtown. Businesses are leaving spaces to expand and grow into larger spaces downtown rather than choosing to leave downtown. Existing businesses are opening new businesses and investing even more in our downtown. Downtown is attracting major investment from large developers from outside the city. There are many recent examples of businesses and property owners investing in the downtown.
o Two new women’s clothing boutiques have opened. One is on Center Street between Liberty and Commercial, and the other is on Liberty Street in the Metropolitan Building. The latter opened just in the last few months.
o The Gray Building (former Brick restaurant) – The entire second story, previously undeveloped and vacant, has been leased with multiple (3-4) new business. Bigwig donuts has opened on the first floor in a portion of the former Brick space.
o This week the Noble Wave brewpub is opening on Liberty in the Reed Opera House taking the space that Brown’s Towne Lounge vacated when they moved further down the street to expand.
o Perle Holistic Skincare opened in a ground-floor space at 170 Liberty St.
o Issacs and Valley Dance Academy moved into downtown in the last year at Commercial and Court.
o 195 Commercial Street was purchased by LMC Construction and Sturgeon Development Partners for the development of a $43 million dollar, 123 room hotel and they are preparing for design review by Historic Landmarks Commission.
o 440 State Street is nearing completion of its buildout and will operate multiple eateries similar to the Pine Street Market in Old Town in Portland.
o Koz Development is going through land use approval to develop 146 residential units at the corner of Commercial and State.
o Rudy’s has leased the space on the corner of Chemeketa and Commercial and will be opening another business in this location.
o The site where the former Wells Fargo building was demolished is in due diligence for a purchase and a pre-application meeting has been held for a potential mixed use project with retail and housing.
o The Nordstrom’s building is under contract and in its due diligence phase. This is the second prospective buyer for this property, which has been under contract for about 9 out of the 12 months it has been on the market for sale.
o The tanning salon in Liberty Plaza has moved to another location downtown. They did not leave downtown.
Most of these new businesses have been the beneficiaries of new construction or renovations that have received support from the Riverfront-Downtown URA grant program.
Thank you for your interest and contributions to a prosperous downtown.
Reading your reply was like going to the doctor to discuss cancer and all the doctor can talk about is all the healthy patients he saw that day. It doesn’t matter about the healthy patients, your downtown has cancer - mostly caused by the refusal of the city to address problems that only government can solve.
When people ask for help solving problems in the City of Salem, it is offensive to receive a reply pointing out how many new businesses are coming downtown.
Don’t you realize they will soon see the corpse of downtown that we all have to live with? I guess you are okay as long as there is a fresh batch of dupes coming along each year. You don’t care to communicate and solve the cancer you are letting infiltrate almost all businesses downtown .
For decades, downtown has hosted the lowest rents and the highest vacancy. And that makes you proud that new businesses are drawn to cheap and vacant. Great job.
Can you please furnish an equally researched list of businesses who have left downtown over the past 2 years? I think you will find they are NOT leaving downtown to expand, they have lost all their money and they closed. Long established businesses have not been able to find buyers when retirement looms.
Our neighbors' building value was lowered from $380,000 value in 2017 to $280,000 in 2018. Marion County lowered their building value by $100,000. What does that say about the health of downtown? Please supply the proof for your statement that businesses are leaving to expand outside of downtown.
You have abandoned the historic business and property owners downtown and are now only interested in hearing or helping the younger business/property owners. Look at your advisory boards like DAB [Downtown Advisory Board]. Do you really feel the age group reflects the downtown community or just the part of downtown your staff want to listen to and control?
My email was intended for the City Council. They represent the citizens, not the City Manager.
This is obvious to anyone who visits the area. I go to a Tai Chi class on Court Street three days a week around 4 to 7 pm. I'm bothered by the trash, people curled up in sleeping bags, shopping carts filled to overflowing with people's possessions.
Along with feeling bad about the plight of the homeless, I also don't like what homeless people are doing to downtown Salem. It isn't pleasant to see shopping carts on the sidewalk. Nor is it pleasant to park in the Chemeketa Parkade and walk down stairs reeking of urine.
Recently I parked in that garage on the second floor. A homeless person was sitting on the stairs leading down to ground level, talking on his phone, with stuff spread over the full width of several stair steps. He had to move some things aside so I could get by.
An hour and a half later, after my Tai Chi class, he was in the same spot, but standing up talking on his phone. A woman walked up the stairs just ahead of me. I thought, “If I find it disturbing to encounter a homeless person on the stairs, I wonder how a woman walking up the stairs by herself feels."
We've got to get over a reluctance to talk honestly about downtown's homeless problem. It's possible to both (1) feel compassion toward homeless people and (2) feel bad about how homeless people are making downtown Salem less pleasant for visitors, residents, and business owners.
Screenshot from video shared in the blog post linked to below
Last month I shared an opinion piece by Carole Smith, who lives downtown and also leases space to several downtown businesses: "Downtown Salem's homeless problem is hurting businesses." Below are further thoughts that Smith emailed to me, along with information she's received from several downtown business owners about how the homeless are affecting them.
I'm planning to write another blog post about what the business owners said -- keeping their names confidential given how strong feelings run when there's any talk about restricting homeless people in downtown Salem.
Which is what Carole Smith suggests below: a ban on lying on sidewalks between 8 am and 11 pm, along with some other ideas. These proposals deserve serious consideration, even though a similar "sit-lie" proposal was rejected by the City Council in 2017. Some business owners tried to resurrect the idea in 2018, but it wasn't recommended by a Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force.
UPDATE: Someone drew my attention to the Ninth Circuit ruling regarding homeless people sleeping in public places, like sidewalks. After looking at the ruling, and some news stories about it, it seems that the City of Salem could justify an ordinance that prohibits lying on sidewalks during a specific time period, like 8 am to 11 pm, since the ruling says:
Our holding is a narrow one. Like the Jones panel, “we in no way dictate to the City that it must provide sufficient shelter for the homeless, or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets . . . at any time and at any place.
... [footnote] Naturally, our holding does not cover individuals who do have access to adequate temporary shelter, whether because they have the means to pay for it or because it is realistically available to them for free, but who choose not to use it. Nor do we suggest that a jurisdiction with insufficient shelter can never criminalize the act of sleeping outside. Even where shelter is unavailable, an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible.
Anyway, here's part of what Carole Smith said in her email to me. You'll see that she balances compassion for homeless people with concern for their impact on downtown businesses.
I have been thinking a lot about homelessness, what causes it, what might be done about it, and hopefully how to relieve innocent citizens from having to deal with a national crisis on their own.
Addiction and mental illness are both diseases. No one choses to be mentally ill or addicted. It happens to people just like cancer or many other diseases just happen to people. Why do we treat people with these two diseases differently than people with cancer, lupus, pneumonia, ringworm, etc?
Both behaviors are classified as a “disease” in the United States, yet we continue to treat the victims of these diseases as if continuing on with their disease is a choice. It isn’t. They can’t help being mentally ill or addicted to alcohol or drugs. It's a disease they have little or no ability to control.
So, how do we help people with diseases?
When you frame the question that way people have to acknowledge that diseases can, and should be, treated. How is it in the best interest of a citizen to sleep on sidewalks in freezing weather? If a child did this they would be in protective custody immediately. Why not adults who cannot take care of themselves? Why are they allowed to live in dangerous conditions?
Where has our sense of humanity and compassion gone?
The homeless need services. They need a home where they feel safe and are protected while they work on controlling their disease, if they have one. A home where they can be monitored to take their medications and counseling to help them cope with their problems more successfully. The same for addiction treatment.
These are solvable problems but government doesn’t want to be bogged down by illnesses that are lifelong. Public officials prefer that citizens deal with the fall out from mental illness and addiction. We have to sweep up trash everyday, wash sidewalks, destroy needles and other drug paraphernalia, recycle the cardboard, hose out urine and feces from our doorways.
And the homeless come back every night and begin the cycle all over again.
One solution to the homeless problem is to provide police services downtown at 8 AM each morning to wake the homeless and ask them to pack up for the day. Then at 9 AM, the Downtown Clean Team comes through downtown hosing sidewalks and picking up garbage from homeless campers.
The city budgeted $90,000 this year for “Clean Team” and $60,000 in next year's budget. Why do they clean in the afternoon instead of before the shops open each morning? It wouldn’t cost any more, just change the time they clean.
We need a city ordinance that no one can be prone on public property between 8 AM and 11 PM.
Homeless citizens would be welcome to sit on benches but not to lay down, same for sidewalks. We have had homeless citizens sleeping until 3 in the afternoon in front of our building for weeks. Also, all shopping carts would have to be off sidewalks by 10 AM and moved into a designated area in a public park or parking garage.
Last week one of my tenants told me she made $22 of sales the day before. No one can stay in business when sales are hurt that badly. Another tenant sold $1,500 in November but his rent is $2,400 a month. Other businesses are choosing to move out of downtown and our customers are gone.
Another fact many people are unaware of is that the type of homeless has changed dramatically.
In the past we had homeless people who had worked jobs, had families but had lost a job, had a medical emergency, or other bad luck. They mostly camped along the river away from the public. Today, the homeless population is much older and sicker. They have problems that prohibit them from using the services of the Union Gospel Mission.
To enter the UGM, you have to be alcohol and drug free. To avail yourself of the beds in the UGM, you have to submit to chapel and religious teaching.
The addicts cannot enter the UGM because of their addiction, and the mentally ill people simply cannot sleep with 200 other men in a room. They get claustrophobic. Their illness makes it more comfortable for them to sleep outside so they can breathe. And certainly their needs are far beyond anything the downtown business community can help with.
It appears to me that Americans are more compassionate about their pets than their fellow humans.
When a pet is homeless, it is rounded up, gets free medical attention, sheltered, fed, and is adopted to a new home. We don’t treat our homeless human neighbors half that well. It is shameful that we pay our taxes but the government we are funding has washed its hands of its responsibility to provide services.
Anyway, we are struggling for our very survival downtown.
Businesses are being damaged everyday, customers are being driven off, businesses are checking their leases for expiration dates so they can move out of downtown, and the homeless are provided no services or help.
UPDATE: Carole Smith just sent me this.
If you want a bit of good news in your article, the City of Salem has $2.5 million in their proposed budget for NEXT year [2019-20] to fund the Homelss Task Force recommendations. I assume it will pay for storage for their shopping carts, 24/7 restroom availability, garbage and laundry facilities AND the purchase and renovation of the Arches building north of downtown.
They are using Urban Renewal funds for that purchase. You should also note they are taking $5 million of Urban Renewal for Police Station improvements when they said they WOULD NOT. So, the public is getting the police station they voted down.
Great news for humor lovers in Salem! We now have a local version of Silverton's Silvertongue Apple-Peal. Carole Smith has fashioned Downtown Cherry Pits -- Exclusive to the Slutsman Journal as our town's satirical newsletter.
After Carole told me that some copies were available at Lullu's (357 Court Street), I stopped by yesterday and scored the debut issue. It's more fun to read on paper, but here's a PDF file for general online consumption. Download Downtown Cherry Pits Dec. 2018 newsletter
The newsletter also can be read in bite-size bits via the posts on the Downtown Cherry Pits Facebook page. Be sure to give that page a "Like" so you keep in touch with the newsletter, which hopefully will live long and prosper.
Like I said in my post about the Silvertongue satire, humor is deeply subversive, being one of the best ways to get under the skin of the Powers That Be.
Aside from being a way to express her sense of humor, Carole Smith is using Downtown Cherry Pits to take some shots at programs and policies that deserve to be filled full of holes. Here's a few screenshot examples:
I think Downtown Cherry Pits is off to a great start. I'm looking forward to additional issues. Salem needs this sort of biting satirical humor, since it is a good way to look at life less seriously, while also taking jabs at what needs some poking.
A few people have criticized this blog for not living up to its name. Meaning, I haven't been snarky enough. Downtown Cherry Pits helps fill the snarky void in Salem's soul, for which I'm grateful. And Carole Smith's newsletter has impelled me to resolve to try to put more humor in my own writing.
Lastly, I've got to give Carole a shout-out for outdoing the Silvertongue Apple-Peal on the financial front. Gus Frederick has been selling his Silverton newsletter for $1 at a downtown store. But Carole told me that the people who pick up the first 30 copies of Downtown Cherry Pits will be given $1.
I'm sharing an email message that Carole Smith, a downtown business owner and resident, sent to me recently. She isn't happy with how the City of Salem streetscape project is being conducted, to put it mildly.
The whole emphasis is on sidewalks. As shown above, "alleys and roads not part of [project] scope." So they really should have called this a Sidewalkscape project, which is much more limited than a true Streetscape plan -- such as the one proposed for Salem several years ago.
This is disappointing.
Someone I talked with at the open house put it nicely: "City of Salem staff like to decide on their own what the scope of a project should be, then tell citizens that nothing outside of the bounds of what has already been decided can be talked about."
That someone wasn't Carole Smith, by the way. But the quote above echoes what Smith says below.
I asked Carole if it'd be OK with her to share the message. Sure, she said.
I was glad to hear that, because she was one of the originators of a downtown streetscape planning project that generated a lot of enthusiasm. I made an Adobe Spark web page describing this effort that has gotten over 8,500 views -- which shows that many people in Salem are interested in streetscaping the downtown area.
Unfortunately, the bold vision of the initial streetscape project has fallen by the wayside, as you'll read in Carole Smith's critique of the current effort. I admire how frankly Smith lays out her concerns. You may disagree with her, but for sure you will know where she stands.
Well, its been 30 hours since the last meeting of the Streetscape Work Group. We met yesterday to tour the downtown with the new consultants to talk about what ideas we have for streetscape.
Lets start at the beginning:
At the first meeting of the Streetscape Work Group we were told the following about Streetscape.
1. These streets are off-limits: Liberty, Commercial, Front, High, Center, Marion, Trade, Ferry. That only leaves State, Court and Chemeketa Streets.
2. We will build this project in phases that might take 15 years to complete.
At the second meeting we were told:
1. Riverfront Park is NOT part of our program. 2. Alleyways are NOT part of our program. 3. Any new sidewalks in the past 10 years are off limits. 4. All bulbed-out sidewalk corners are off limits. 5. Connecting Riverfront Park to the Willamette University campus and the Capitol building via streetscaping is not happening.
Yesterday I found out the City did not include any reduction of any traffic lanes downtown.
When I asked the consultants about it, they responded with “Well, maybe you should do this project first, then later, when you change the Traffic Study you can take away lanes of traffic and fix the rest of the the plan." WHAT? We don’t want to do this project twice. That doubles the cost and doubles the interference with downtown businesses.
So everything the citizens wanted to do downtown is dead. The City staff decreased the project to the point they are only “redecorating” downtown, not changing how it is used as a strategy to entice new businesses into our community. This is like “redecorating” a slum in hopes no one notices it is a slum.
The retail rental rates downtown are the lowest in all of Salem. That means only weak businesses locate here because they cannot afford market rate rents that are changed everywhere else in Salem. We have all the money we need to do a major project and change how Salem uses its downtown and how it functions as an economic driver in our community.
The streetscape project the citizens have visualized over the past five years included reducing lanes of traffic, possibly removing traffic signals (and installing stop signs), and connecting Riverfront Park, the downtown, State Capitol, and Willamette University to encourage more foot traffic downtown for our businesses.
In the past, a former manager of Salem Center told me the hardest problem to overcome when chain stores visit Salem to decide whether they want to open a store in Salem Center is the negative condition of our downtown. The chain store representatives love the neighborhoods, the schools, and the community, but they baik at the condition of downtown and the number of vacant spaces there. Our downtown is dirtier and more vacant than ever today.
Will the streetscape project the city is envisioning help downtown? Probably, for awhile. But we are missing the bigger opportunity to really make our downtown reflect who we are as a unique community. We could be on the cover of magazines and be a Mecca for other cities wanting to do what we did. Now we will just have a mediocre downtown again.
And, 15 years to complete the project?
We know from past experiences that when we phase projects in downtown they never get past the first or second year. In the streetscape we did in the early 1990’s we did one project, then the next year we hired consultants to design “stage 2” but it was never constructed. That was the end. Once the City Council changes and priorities change, streetscape will fall by the wayside and never be completed.
So who made the decisions to exclude so many items from citizen discussion?
Why are we allowing city staff who don’t live here or pay any property tax here to dictate to our citizens what they can dream about for our downtown? Why can’t we make our downtown unique by making it reflect us? The City of Salem only wants to copy what other cities have done. That will not make us unique. When we have the ideas and money to be great, why should the citizens settle for mediocre just because City staff have no imagination or courage?
During the Streetscape Work Group meetings we were not allowed to talk among ourselves, and even when we emailed each other outside the meetings we were required to "cc" City staff. We were not privy to any communications between City staff, but they could spy on our discussions outside the meetings. This is supposed to be a democracy, not a dictatorship. If one group has to share their communications, why aren’t all communications shared?
How did the City staff get so much power? Where are the City councilors? Why are they allowing staff to limit our dreaming and the expenditure of our funds?
Our accountant told me, “All the assets and funds the city has are OWNED by the citizens, held in trust through the City of Salem, for the CITIZENS' BENEFIT." To understand how we want to “benefit” the City staff need to hear from us on what WE want. If that is true, what right do the city staff have to tell us what we can and cannot talk about? It is our money, so we should be allowed to talk about anything we want.
Yesterday one of the consultants asked me what the City could do to get my support.
Without thinking I replied, “Respect, the city could show us respect." That would change everything. Respect not to force a non-functioning downtown assocation down our throats, respect to listen to what we want for streetscape, respect to listen to us and work WITH us, all of us, not just the “young people” downtown.
Every time I attend a City of Salem meeting I feel like we are told what we will get, instead of being asked what we want. That is a huge difference. It is our money, this is our city, why can’t we get what WE want?
I don’t understand.
If the City would sit back and let the citizens design this project, Salem would benefit by building a unique streetscape that would give us national attention and could show other communities how to design a similar streetscape that reflects them, the way our streetscape reflects us, our culture, our unique history, and how we want to guide our future.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Who doesn’t want to be successful and attract positive attention and accolades? Why do we strive for and feel comfortable with mediocrity? We have great people here with great ideas for free. Yet we continually hire people and staff from Portland to come tell us what we can have, supported by City staff with no vision, voted on by a City Council that doesn’t understand.
It is a sad state of affairs. Is it too late to change this trajectory? What if people stood up in the upcoming Streetscape meetings and said they support what we want? Would it mean anything? Is it too late?
Salem no longer has a downtown association. We need one. What happened at last night's City Council meeting is only one of many reasons why.
But before I explain what transpired at the meeting, a bit of relevant history about how downtown lost its downtown association is in order. I wrote about this in a couple of blog posts.
My November 2013 post "Should Salem City Manager be known as Exalted Emperor Linda Norris?" explained how the existing downtown association, Salem Downtown Partnership, had its contract terminated by the City Council after Chuck Bennett (then a city councilor, now Mayor) made a motion to allow the City of Salem to take control of Economic Improvement District money that had been funding Salem Downtown Partnership.
The City Manager, Norris, then essentially acted like a one-person downtown association. A Statesman Journal story quoted in the blog post said:
Business booster groups for merchants have a rocky history in this city, but Salem City Manager Linda Norris has personally taken on the task of marketing downtown.
For about nine months, Norris has overseen marketing and beautification plans with advice from her hand-picked City Manager Downtown Steering Committee. The 16-member group, includes Norris, Urban Development Department Director John Wales and representatives of business interests.
Norris, with her advisory group, determines the use of about $313,000 in funds collected from property owners in downtown’s Economic Improvement District.
A few days ago I talked with someone in-the-know about how the Salem (Oregon) City Manager, Linda Norris, ended up controlling on her own $215,000 in Economic Improvement District funds paid by downtown businesses.
It was a lengthy conversation. This person asked to talk with me because he/she was so disturbed about how the EID was handled, and liked my blog-reporting on other downtown issues.
I was on the phone with this person for about 90 minutes. I learned a lot about how the City of Salem ended up cancelling the contract Salem Downtown Partnership had to administer the Economic Improvement District (EID) money.
The headline, so to speak, is this:
Norris and other City of Salem staff set up Salem Downtown Partnership to fail. Instead of working cooperatively and collaboratively with this duly-selected organization that represented downtown businesses, the City undermined its efforts in various ways.
After describing a lot of details about how City staff orchestrated the failure of the downtown association, I said:
Rather, the real concern is with how the City of Salem, in the person of Linda Norris, is mismanaging the EID funds contributed by businesses. She is treating the money as her own private fiefdom. But what downtown really needs is an independent organization that decides how to promote the area and is an autonomous voice for downtown interests.
Thus frustration is high.
So much so, there is an effort to grab the City's attention to how badly it has screwed up the EID via a remonstrance process where the Economic Improvement District would be dissolved if, as the newspaper story says, "the city receives written objections from downtown property owners on which more than 33 percent of the assessment is levied."
That process succeeded, and the Economic Improvement District was dissolved, thanks to a campaign led by Carole Smith. Smith and her husband were the key businesspeople who got Salem Downtown Partnership up and running. Smith also ran against Chuck Bennett in the 2016 Mayoral race.
Rather, it is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization with a self-selected board of directors. Meaning, the board established by the founders chooses new board members. Since there aren't any members -- such as downtown business owners -- Salem Main Street Association isn't at all like a real downtown association.
A Salem Weekly cover story made this clear.
SMSA will have no members, meaning that all significant decisions will be made exclusively by its board. The board is self-selecting, itself appointing and replacing board members. Bylaws say that only “owners, employees, partners or associates of businesses and residents living downtown” may serve on the board.
None the less, they asked for $32,000 from Parking District funds. And last night the City Council passed an ordinance that allows the City Manager to give grants that "further economic promotion activity." Download Resolution Economic Promotion
Interestingly, the resolution doesn't mention the Salem Main Street Association. I have to assume that a separate budget document authorizes the $32,000 to go to that group, rather than being available to other organizations that might want to engage in downtown economic promotions.
I watched last night's City Council meeting via CCTV. What bothers me is the resemblance of what transpired yesterday with what happened back in 2013, when the City Manager started acting as a downtown association. Once again, funds to promote downtown are being doled out by the City Manager.
And City Council members asked very few questions about the $32,000 that's been earmarked for Salem Main Street Association. Guest councilor Mark Wigg (substituting for Tom Andersen) couldn't vote, but he did ask about a letter from Carole Smith that was critical of that money being awarded to the group.
Here's a video I made of the rubber stamping by the Council of the $32,000. Kristin Retherford, Urban Development Director, is first seen, then Mark Wigg. He can't even fully say Carole Smith's name before he is interrupted by Mayor Bennett (Bennett and Smith have a tangled history, to put it mildly).
The upshot of all this is that it points to the need for a genuine Salem downtown association. Once again, City of Salem political games are being played with Parking District money, just as happened before with Economic Improvement District funds.
The City Manager shouldn't be controlling how funds contributed by downtown businesses are spent.
This should be the responsibility of a genuine downtown association that is broadly representative of not only downtown businesses, but also people who live downtown, and maybe also people like me who patronize downtown businesses and care about the success of the Historic District area.
I get the impression that Salem Main Street Association is angling to be treated like a downtown association without actually being one. I also have a suspicion that Mayor Bennett and other City officials want to have parking meters installed downtown, and they see the Salem Main Street Association as a willing accomplice in helping to make that happen.
Lastly, below is what Carole Smith said in a letter that was included in last night's agenda, being advance public testimony on the ordinance that allows the City Manager to make economic promotion grants from Parking District money. I wish members of the City Council had discussed her concerns before approving the ordinance.
And it is indeed weird that, as Smith notes, some six months after its public kickoff, Salem Main Street Association just has a blank "under construction" web site nor any other online presence other than a Facebook page with no postings since April 12. This isn't a sign of a vibrant group that is reaching out to Salem citizens and the downtown community.
Yet it just got $32,000 from the City of Salem. I agree with Carole Smith. Something feels wrong here. Read on for Carole's critique.
Honorable City Council,
Sorry to write to you again. I notice the award of the Parking District funds may be awarded to the new Mainstreet Organization
I want you all to know, this organization has not made any attempt to communicate with the business and property owners downtown. The board has not committed any of their own funds to communication with downtown business/property owners. They were created in secret and they have refused to name their board of directors. This board discriminates against the majority of downtown and property/business owners downtown by not allowing them on their board.
Patricia at 1895 Cider Shop, a board member of the Mainstreet Organization, told me the present board did not ask any "'old people' downtown to join the board." This is clear discrimination.
The organization is a 503.C.3 Charitable Organization instead of a 501.C.6 like other downtown organizations. A charitable organization is not the correct structure for a downtown organization.
The Mainstreet Organization elected to have "no members". This means they do not represent anyone but themselves. When new board members are elected they can only be elected by the present board member, not the downtown community. They DO NOT REPRESENT the downtown community.
The Mainstreet program has existed now for over a year and never once have they communicated with the downtown business and property owners. They do not communicate when their board meetings are, they do not have a website, they do not email us, they do not represent us and they have had over a year to do so. This show they have no intention of working with us, or listen to us. If they are unwilling to use their own funds to create this organization then they don't have much invested and you should not fund them until they show they are personally financially committed to the downtown community.
Please do not award this organization the Parking District funds. We desperately need a downtown organization that represents us, formed by us, supporting programs and projects we want and run by us. This is NOT that organization. They do not deserve funding until they show they stop discriminating against us, start representing us, are willing to work with us, and LISTEN to what we want done downtown. Until then, no funds.
Both candidates in the recent race for Salem Mayor -- winner Chuck Bennett and loser Carole Smith -- had letters in the Statesman Journal this week, a day apart.
Not too much should be made of them. But also, not too little. So I'll try to strike a middle ground in my profoundly wise Salem Political Snark analysis of what the letters mean for this town.
Serious, yet not too serious.
My basic reaction is that the letters from Smith and Bennett had sort of a "ships that pass in the night" feel to them. Given that the mayoral candidates ran on very different platforms, this isn't terribly surprising.
But I hold out hope that goings-on at City Hall can be less divisive and more collaborative, less closed and more open.
If such is to happen during the Mayor Bennett era that begins in 2017, the differences evident in the Smith and Bennett letters will have to be addressed, since they represent divergent political attitudes and constituencies in Salem.
Smith: Election is over; let’s work together for a bright future
The election of mayor is over and Chuck Bennett has won. I encourage my supporters to join me in congratulating Chuck and pledge to work together. When Chuck and I arrived early for our Statesman Journal endorsement interview, I asked Chuck, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could be co-mayors?” He agreed.
Now we go forward to work to build a better, more livable city for all our citizens. There will be opportunities to attract new, family-wage jobs to our community and lift many out of poverty. There will be opportunities to deal with homelessness and give people hope and help to regain what they have lost.
Bennett and city council give us hope we will see Downtown Urban Renewal funds used to create a downtown that will impress company CEOs looking to expand in, or move their companies to, Salem. Businesses want to locate in a city where they feel their employees will want to be.
So, here we are — an election behind us, and a new future ahead of us. I encourage all citizens to work together with our new mayor and city councilors to make our future bright and our city more livable.
Carole Smith Salem
A central Smith campaign issue was more citizen participation in City of Salem policy-making. Since she is a citizen, the call for her and Bennett to work together on Salem's livability makes sense.
Back in 2010, when City Councilor Bennett unsuccessfully ran for Mayor, a post on his "Chuck Bennett for Mayor" Facebook page about his return from a vacation has a positive glad you're back; don't leave us again comment from Carole Smith. Kind of poignant, since they've clearly grown apart during the past six years.
It's encouraging that Smith's letter starts off with the “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could be co-mayors?” anecdote. Question is, how sincere was Bennett's agreement? I can imagine a subtly sarcastic, "Oh, yeah, super fun" response that belies the outward words.
Or, perhaps Bennett responded as a candidate who wants to appear willing to collaborate with Smith after the election, but really isn't interested in this.
Issue-wise, Smith mentioned family wage jobs, homelessness, and downtown vitalization through Urban Renewal funds. Let's see what issues appeared in Chuck Bennett's letter.
Bennett grateful for opportunity to serve as Salem mayor
The work ahead for our community is exciting and will require a willingness to work together on issues as diverse as economic development and jobs, homelessness, building a new police station, repairing streets and sidewalks and completing the study of another bridge across the Willamette River. And the list goes on.
None of this will occur without extensive, sometimes intense, public discussion and debate. Part of my job will be to lead the discussions and encourage both civility and progress on these and other issues we face.
I intend to conduct the office of mayor in a spirit of openness and willingness to listen to diverse opinions. I also plan to work closely with the City Council to make decisions that need to be made.
Salem is blessed with a spirit of volunteerism second to none. We also are served by a professional, dedicated city staff that provides outstanding management, public safety and a myriad of other services that make our community work so well. It is an honor to be part of this team and to serve our community.
Chuck Bennett Salem
Hey, the ships came together on a few things! Jobs and homelessness.
In addition, Bennett mentioned building a new police station, repairing streets and sidewalks, and moving forward with the required Third Bridge EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). Here Bennett and Smith take markedly different courses.
It will be interesting to see if Councilor Bennett supports the City's ill-considered current plan to build a $70-80 million over-priced and over-sized police facility on the old O'Brien auto dealership site just north of downtown. Smith is a proponent of a $50 million alternative: $30 million for the police facility, $20 million to make the Library and City Hall earthquake-safe, which was part of the City's "public safety" proposal until the size and price of the police facility doubled after out-of-town consultants were hired.
Bennett's responses to questions posted by the Salem Chamber of Commerce before he got their endorsement implies that he favors the $70-80 million plan. Bennett also expressed support for an unneeded billion-dollar Third Bridge across the Willamette, which must have been music to Chamber ears. Smith opposes the bridge.
I've heard Bennett say that he supports the downtown "streetscape" plan alluded to by Smith, which would transform the Historic District into a much more walkable and bikeable area, thereby attracting more visitors, residents, and businesses. This is from his campaign web site:
Downtown vitality depends in part on keeping the character of the core with appropriate redevelopment of historic buildings; more housing opportunities; an entertainment district; better traffic pattern with a two-way grid, and improved streetscape to encourage more pedestrian and bicycle use there. The city has a role in all these elements.
So as I said in a post about Salem becoming a true Collaboration Capital, hopefully Bennett will make use of Smith's downtown knowledge that she's gained from thirty years of being a business owner and resident there. Smith worked with some other people on a Historic District streetscape plan that was met with a yawn by folks at City Hall during the Mayor Peterson reign.
Bennett said in his letter that he wants "extensive, sometimes intense, public discussion and debate."
Great. Bring it on in 2017, soon-to-be Mayor Bennett.
I'd love to see you and Carole Smith engage each other, along with the entire Salem citizenry, in that sort of energetic public discussion/debate about what sort of city we want Salem to become.
This is SO beautiful for a snarky blogger such as moi: discovering that the source of a Big Political Lie railed against in several Statesman Journal stories came from... (drum roll, please)
A story in the freaking Statesman Journal itself!
This fills me with so much pleasure, because there's nothing I enjoy more -- well, actually this isn't true, but let's pretend it is -- than criticizing our town's pitiful excuse for a community newspaper. So if you sense joy oozing from the words you're reading, you're correct!
If you followed goings-on in the recent race for Salem Mayor between Chuck Bennett and Carole Smith closely, you probably noticed a frenzy in the Statesman Journal about a "mysterious mailer" sent out a few days before the election.
An unsigned campaign flier criticizing a Salem mayoral candidate has appeared in Salem residents mailboxes, and its anonymity is within state election laws.
The red, white and blue flier is worded as if candidate Chuck Bennett wrote it himself, yet includes a list of "accomplishments" phrased unflatteringly. Nowhere on the flier does it say who paid for or sent it.
...Bennett said the flier is full of lies. For example, it says he's a member of Creekside Golf Course, but Bennett says he doesn't even know how to golf.
When asked whether her campaign or supporters sent the flier, mayoral candidate Carole Smith said she had "no comment on that."
Molly Woon, communications director for the secretary of state, said there is nothing illegal about the flier, including its anonymity. Satire is protected free speech.
But in the first Statesman Journal story, Bennett was complaining about something on the other side of the mailer, which I later learned said (again, crucial part in boldface):
HERE IS HOW I HAVE HELPED THE COMMUNITY IN THE RECENT PAST:
I made the motion and voted to give a Chamber developer a $3 million tax abatement and a $749,999 grant.
I serve on the Water/Sewer Rate Committee, and I am a member of Creekside Golf Club (owned by the same Chamber member), so I can coach them on what to say to get their water bill lowered.
I made the motion and voted to approve the lowest Streetlight fees for the Chamber’s largest businesses and the highest pro-rated fee for homeowners.
Did you know your home’s Storm Water fee includes run-off from the city owned street in front of your property?
So far the Chamber, Chamber PACs, and Chamber members have donated $20,000 to my campaign. This has paid for 60% of my campaign costs.
I am endorsed and financed by the Salem Chamber of Commerce so they will be a high priority when I am Mayor.
Well, gosh, I wonder where the idea that Chuck Bennett is a member of the Creekside Golf Club came from? Could it have been a front page story in the April 16, 2016 print edition of the Statesman Journal? Why, sure.
So the lie Chuck Bennett complained about in a Statesman Journal story regarding the mailer came from the very same Statesman Journal.
What's perplexing to me is that Statesman Journal staff knew that the online version of the April 16 Creekside Golf Club story was corrected the next day, omitting the mention of Bennett being a club member. And Statesman Journal "Content Coach" Don Currie (that's the sort of job titles they have these days) told me that a correction in the print paper also appeared on April 17.
But I didn't notice the correction. Nor, I'm sure, did most other readers. Thus it is completely understandable why whoever wrote the satirical anonymous mailer would say that Chuck Bennett was a Creekside Golf Club member.
Here's another perplexing thought that came to me: Chuck Bennett seemingly would have read the April 16 Creekside Golf Club story, since as a city councilor he was quoted in it. It makes sense that Bennett would have been the one who told the Statesman Journal that he wasn't actually a member of the club.
Yet the Statesman Journal and Bennett both condemned the supposed lies and "scurrilous statements in the mailer" even though newspaper staff definitely knew that the paper itself was the source of the only lie that I can detect in the mailer: that Bennett was a Creekside Golf Club member. Bennett likely also knew this.
A few days ago I sent Chuck Bennett and three Statesman Journal staff (Dick Hughes, Michael Davis, and Tracy Loew) an email asking them to comment on what I'd call MailerGate if I wanted to be dramatic, which I do, so I will call it that.
Bennett didn't respond. As noted above, Don Currie did respond on behalf of the Statesman Journal.
Bottom line: so far as I can tell, nothing in the mailer was untruthful, aside from the mention that Bennett was a member of the Creekside Golf Club. And whoever composed the mailer had good reason to believe this was the truth, because a Statesman Journal story said so.
In my view, the Carole Smith for Mayor campaign definitely should get an apology from the Statesman Journal, and perhaps also one from Chuck Bennett.
Yeah, the election is done and gone. Bennett won.
But MailerGate cast some underserved aspersions on the Carole Smith for Mayor campaign. I'm pleased to set the record straight on the Creekside Golf Club aspect of the controversy.