Hey Randy! Isn't picking pockets a crime?


I know Randy Leonard started life as a fireman rather than a policeman, but you'd think he'd understand that taking money out of someone else's pocket isn't nice. Last week the commissioner not only announced once again his intent to pick Multnomah County's pocket - the polite term the city council uses is urban renewal - but publicly took Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler to task for protesting about it.

At the March 12 council meeting, Leonard was joined by Mayor Adams and Commissioner Dan Saltzman in voting to move forward with reaching a deal to bring major league soccer to Portland. Merritt Paulson has persuaded Leonard and company that for a mere $20 million - give or take $10 million - Portland can reap all the benefits of having its own major league soccer team. Besides creating some more minimumw age food vendor jobs and increased sales of oversized foam rubber pointing hands, would someone remind me what those benefits might be?

Now to be fair to the council, if the deal goes through, a significant piece of that estimated $20 million would come from recreation franchise fees the city collects and which must be spent on recreation-relation activities. While some would say that investing in soccer clubs for local residents would bring soccer to Portland while improving the overal physical health of participating Portlanders, that simply proves the decision is foolish, not in violation of the law. Violation of the law comes in with the proposal to use urban renewal district funding to come up with the rest of the public dollars for the deal. Leonard is the cheerleader for this approach, suggesting the creation of an uber-URD covering a large swath of the west side.

For those of you who haven't kept up on fun with URD dollars, the creation of a URD freezes the amount of property taxes the county can collect within the district's boundary. As property values - and consequently property tax rates - rise as a result of urban renewal improvements, the city collects the any tax dollars above the level frozen when the district was formed. The improvements are paid for by the city issuing bonds against those anticipated tax dollars. It means the city can bankroll all sorts of things it would like to have without tapping into its general fund. Unfortunately, it also means the city is sucking up tax dollars that would normally go to the county's general fund. The URD system in Portland, unlike other areas, does not give county government a voice in the URD decision-making process.

Where the law may come in is the intent of urban renewal district creation which is to eliminate urban blight. The deal Leonard is trying to kick for a goal would use URD dollars to improve PGE park and environs in order to attract a major league soccer team. How "blighted" is that area? Well, let's see. The Multnomah Athletic Club is a few blocks away. That's always a heartrending place to drive past (don't give those folks in jogging shorts a handout - they'll only use it on pilates sessions). There's Northwest 23rd Avenue a few blocks away with all those blighted boutiques and bistros. And, of course, there's Goose Hollow, a Dickensian blighted area if I've ever seen one.

Leonard, of course, has suggested an expanded boundary in part, I would suppose, to lasso some blight, albeit quite a few steps removed from where the dollars will actually go (besides inside Merritt Paulson's bank account). Apparently Leonard has forgotten the last effort to leapfrog URDs, an experience that did create economic activity in the form of attorney's litigating against it.

There's a good likelihood that this new idea for URD funding may attract another lawyer feeding frenzy that will kill the deal. There's also rumblings from Salem where a number of bills have appeared that would clamp down on Portland's URD spree, among them Rep. Nick Kahl's bill that would give Multnomah County a voice in Portland URD proposals as well as allow URD dollars to be spent on funding things like social services - which actually generate more real dollars in the local community than the record on sports stadiums do.

Leonard has accomplished many things while on the city council, but of late he is definitely off his game and showing little inclination to listen to those suggesting he might be wrong. And suggesting that we should be shaking down Multnomah County at a time when they are having to cut staff and reduce services to county residents - and Portlanders - most in need so the city can bankroll a son of a millionaire's sports fantasy is about as wrong as it gets. 

-Dave Mazza


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