|Adams street improvement tax gets east Portland reaction
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
Commissioner Sam Adams Safe, Sound and Green Street improvement program received praise and criticism from 29 people, including several from Mid-county, at a three-hour City Council hearing last month.
Adams proposal calls for raising $422 million in local business and residential property assessments for road projects. Improvements would include work on intersections with a large number of crashes, expanding the citys bike route system, paving substandard streets or those in disrepair, expanding the Safe Routes to School program, and creating or upgrading pedestrian facilities on major traffic routes. Each of the citys seven district neighborhood coalitions, including Southwest Neighborhoods Inc., would be allotted $50,000 a year for transportation projects and would have input into the selection of projects in other categories.
To pay for this, the city would assess each dwelling $4.54 per month. For 83 percent of businesses, the average monthly assessment would be $33 per month, based on the amount of vehicle traffic the business is deemed likely to generate, Adams, a mayoral candidate this year, told council. Residents would get discounts if they didnt own a car, owned a fuel-efficient car, purchased bus passes, or qualified as low income. Businesses could get discounts for subsidizing employee transit passes. In addition, businesses that consider their bills to be unfair would be entitled to free appeals.
The program is necessary, Adams said, because the legislature has failed to raise the statewide gas tax from its current 24 cents per gallon, the lowest rate in the west, since 1993. As a result, the backlog of substandard streets has reached 221 miles, and is growing every year. More significantly, 378 people were killed and 2,662 were injured last year in traffic or pedestrian accidents due to a lack of funding for obvious safety measures, he said.
The heaviest concentration of spending will be in east Portland, followed by southwest. We could spend the whole budget in one area of the city and still not fund all of the potential projects, Adams said. This is for the worst of the worst, the most unsafe.
In addition to 20 public open houses, an 89-member Stakeholder Committee reviewed the program. One committee member, Russell Neighborhood Association Chair Bonny McKnight, had fought hard for the neighborhood coalition allocation and a neighborhood association role in decision-making on other budget items despite neighborhood associations historic low numbers and the fact theyre participatory, not representative. At a meeting at the Southeast Uplift Neighborhood program she acknowledged that the coalition budget was only a token amount. (One person present said that a single project could consume the entire amount, and another called it laughable.) However, she said, I wanted to ensure that coalitions were at least part of the process. Everyone speaks about neighborhood associations, but theyre never a part of any bureaus process. Currently theres no money available from any source for local streets. At the council hearing McKnight said, Commissioner Adams has consistently shown a willingness to use the neighborhood association system...Its the most basic, open system (for public involvement) the city has, and its geographically based.
Adams said McKnights work was invaluable.
Another stakeholder, Sandra McDonough of the Portland Business Alliance, said, Its not often the alliance backs a fee increase, but its critical that we address our most pressing needs after years of disinvestment. This is not a complete solution, and we need to recognize that. McDonough urged council to direct additional General Fund and licensing fees to the problem. I urge you not to wait until the potholes get big enough to swallow a Smart Car, she said.
Police Chief Rosie Sizer, County Commission Chair Ted Wheeler and Sen. Rick Metzger, among others, added their support. Metzger pledged to seek a statewide gas tax increase and noted, There is some inherent unfairness when local jurisdictions raise taxes. However, he said he understood Adams efforts in view of the legislatures failure to act.
Another supporter was Jess Lavenfall, a Lents resident and representative of the Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee, who said, Contrary to popular belief, pedestrians are willing to pay their fair share for traffic improvements. The program would allow the city to address such issues as arterial street improvements, high-crash intersections, sidewalk construction and an expanded Safe Routes to School program. Lets make this city a great place to walk in, he said.
Another Lents resident, David Anderson, who both drives and bikes, said, We need more transportation funding, and Im willing to pay a couple of extra dollars a month.
Jefferson Smith, a candidate Oregon house District 47 candidate said, We need more resources east of 82nd Avenue.
Critics of the proposal said they recognized the need for more funding for transportation, but disagreed with the proposed method.
Paul Romain, lobbyist for the Oregon Petroleum Association, noted that this year the city had a $34 million budget surplus. Why not just allocate more money from the General Fund, he asked. If you think this is a good thing, send it out for a vote of the people. He also said that the proper route was an increased statewide gas tax. This caused Commissioner Randy Leonard, a former legislator, to remind Romain that his organization had opposed such increases in the past. Romain replied that it hadnt happened since 2001, when he went to work for them.
Transit critic Terry Parker complained about money being spent on pedestrian and bicycle improvements. He charged that the Stakeholder Committee was stacked in favor of special interests. Providing bicycle infrastructure is not a right and needs to be paid for by the users, he said. The proposed fees would increase housing costs and run counter to the citys efforts to provide affordable housing, he said. Another speaker said that the business fees, added to others already in place, could cause businesses not to locate in Portland.
Kathy Leathers, owner of Leathers Fuel, said she would support a statewide gas tax increase, but not a street fee that doesnt treat all people fairly. If I own a business and live in the city, Im being taxed twice. Service stations are a very competitive business, she said, with a thin profit margin. Lets look at a tax thats really equitable to all.
Corky Collier of the Columbia Corridor Association said he strongly supports the proposal and praised Adams as bold and responsive, but said he thought the discount packages were misguided. Noting that there is a higher charge for businesses such as restaurants that are high trip generators, Collier said, I am a trip generator. Lets change the perception of who is responsible for trips. He also opposed the continued nonsensical application of the utility license fee.
The most moving testimony came from Dr. Susan Komoda, aunt of slain cyclist Tracey Sparling. She attacked police and media suggestions that Sparrling contributed to her own death by not being more careful when passing a truck that was turning right across her path. Law enforcements inability to protect this beautiful young woman should alarm every member of this community, she said. We need action, not just a warning to pedestrians and bicyclists to be more careful.
At a subsequent hearing, Adams added an amendment that would end the program in the event the legislature passed a gas tax increase. A final vote on the measure was scheduled for Jan. 23 and, based on comments made at the previous two sessions; Adams appeared to have the votes.
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