Portland’s broken: PGE edition

On Monday, PGE’s CEO shares the stage with Governor Kate Brown to talk about how much the regulated monopoly cares about it’s customers:

“As Oregonians we share a long history of caring about our environment and about the communities we serve,” said Maria Pope, president and CEO of Portland General Electric.

On Wednesday, a glitch in PGE’s billing system threatens thousands of members of that community with service disconnection.

Portland’s broken: Aerial Tram edition

From boondoggle to nuisance. Vera Katz said the Aerial Tram would be Portland’s postcard … more like poster child for a city adrift.

A 35-square-foot metal panel fell an estimated 130 feet from the Portland Aerial Tram, hitting a 21-year-old woman in the head as she walked down the stairway of a Southwest Portland pedestrian bridge Tuesday morning.

35 square feet = 7 feet by 5 feet. Looks like PBOT’s going to be writing a six figure check to the PSU student who was hit.

Audit challenges Portland’s “green streets” hype

Portland thinks bioswales are cool, but the city doesn’t know if they’re needed, according to a recent audit, as reported in the Mercury:

[T]he audit finds that some 36 percent of the city’s over 2,000 green streets might not have been necessary to create in the first place.

Even worse, the city doesn’t know whether the bioswales work:

Auditors found that Portland does not have a comprehensive plan to identify areas that are prone to flooding and pollution, fails to consistently report on project results, and does not regularly maintain and inspect its many projects. The bureau spent $13 million on these projects this year alone.


More new taxes: This time on Airbnb

Last week, Portland, Oregon’s city council voted to adopt an ordinance amendment to collect two new fees on short-term rentals in the city: a 2 percent fee on hosts who use booking agents to advertise or accept reservations, and a $4-per-night fee assessed on booking agents and transient lodging intermediaries “for the privilege of facilitating a short-term rental occupancy.” It is expected that guests will have to pay both fees.

Congestion’s up, TriMet ridership is down, City Hall blames Uber and Lyft

The Cold War between City Hall and ridesharing companies (and the people who use them), is beginning to heat up.

PBOT, enlisted the City Council last month to authorize an $80,000 to $130,000 consultants’ study of how Uber, Lyft and taxis are affecting Portland’s traffic congestion.

That’s a lot of money for one study. When Portland city government pays that much money for a study, then you know the conclusions have already been written.download

The cost of the city’s failed homeless strategy: A 30% hike in trash fees for business

The Oregonian reports Portland businesses will soon pay more to have trash collected and hauled away. The extra $1 million the city will take in annually will be used to clean up debris left on public property by homeless people.

The City Council on Thursday raised the per-ton fee businesses pay to have their garbage hauled from $9.60 to $12.60. Increased costs take effect July 1.

Taking the Development out of the Portland Development Commission

Now we know why PDC became Prosper Portland. The Portland Business Journal reports:

In a surprise turn of events on one of the city’s most prominent development opportunities, ZRZ Realty — the real estate arm of the Zidell family business — and the city of Portland have terminated a development agreement that would have paved the way for a massive amount of development in the South Waterfront.

There’s more:

ZRZ and Prosper Portland, the city’s economic development arm, had entered into a development agreement in 2015 which called for Prosper Portland — then known as the Portland Development Commission — to invest an estimated $23.7 million for infrastructure, transportation, economic development, greenway and open space improvements at the site.

March for Our Lives and a hunt for rare art


Today, we’re taking the kids down to the March for Our Lives, which kicks of in the North Park Blocks. While we’re there, we hope to take in one of Portland’s most obscure pieces of public art … if we can find it.

The Oregonian’s Randy Gragg describes, the easy-to-miss sculpture in a 2002 review:

Wegman’s “Portland Dog Bowl” is composed of nothing more than a checkerboard pattern of granite pavers topped by a large, bronze dog bowl, a takeoff on the standard-issue, kitchen-floor, dog-watering spot that Wegman intends to echo Portland’s iconic Benson Bubblers.

Barely the size of a grave plot, the fountain, as a work of art, is pretty meager, to say the least. But as a symbol of its times it gains a richer patina of irony.

“Portland Dog Bowl” is the first permanent sculpture to be placed on the North Park Blocks. As a study of patronage, it offers a fascinating counterpoint to its southern cousins — the bronzes of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and the bird fountain, “Rebecca at the Well” — standing on the South Park Blocks between the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon History Center and the Arlington Club. Those sculptures arrived, courtesy of ’20s-era civic patrons, fulfilling a plea by the Portland Planning Commission to beautify the city.

By contrast, the funding of “Portland Dog Bowl” was offered as salve to the neighborhood wounds. Nearly 90 percent of the funding for “Portland Dog Bowl” arrived from Fowler Flanagan Technology Partners. The company ponied up the money after winning a fight for a project the Pearl District Neighborhood loathed: remodeling the historic Meier & Frank warehouse at Northwest Irving Street and 14th Avenue as a giant telecommunications switching center with a generator farm next door.

That Meier & Frank warehouse at Northwest Irving Street?

It’s now home to Vestas, with Gerding Edlen and Urban Airship subleasing space. The building was sold earlier this year to Deutsche Asset Management for about $70 million.

Keep Portland Weird: No money for parks, but plenty for new streetcars

In the face of budget pressures that could close four popular community centers, this week Portland city council found enough money to approve a $10 million plan to buy two streetcars from a Pennsylvania-based company. The deal provides an option for the city to buy additional vehicles at some point in the future. There’s always plenty of money for streetcars.

Other cities, like Washington, DC, are taking a different approach: They’re considering ditching their failing streetcar fleets. Funny thing about DC … three of the streetcars they’re abandoning are identical to the Portland streetcars made by the now-defunct Oregon boondoggle known as United Streetcar. (Maybe Portland could buy those streetcars for something way less than $10 million …)

But wait, there’s more. Dan Bower, Portland Streetcar Inc.’s executive director said the company is in the preliminary planning stages for a potential 2.4-mile, $80 million extension of its Northwest Portland streetcar toward Montgomery Park. There’s always more money for streetcars.

Recent streetcar ridership numbers are down about 3 percent from the same time last year. But even those numbers should be viewed skeptically, as Portland Streetcar has a history of significantly inflating it’s ridership numbers, as shown in the figure below from an city auditor’s report.

Cause and effect: Portland Parks can’t find money to pay for 2016 unionization

Then …

In 2016, the city commissioner in charge of parks–Amanda Fritz–pushed to unionize Portland Parks employees at a cost of $4.4 million a year. The city council unanimously agreed.

The Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to unionize additional positions in the Portland Parks Bureau — and ensure a $15 minimum wage for those employees — in a move that may cost the city $4.4 million for the next fiscal year.

The agreement was lauded by both labor and politicians but its full impact isn’t yet known.

Now …

This year, the Parks Bureau–under Amanda Fritz–submitted a proposal to shut down four community centers: WoodstockSellwood, Fulton and Hillside.

The mayor’s proposed budget will be finalized on April 30. There are two public forums where people can share their opinions, on April 3 and April 17 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The location has yet to be decided, but it won’t be convenient.