A Matter of Principle
Why I’m voting no on 20-134
BY PAUL NICHOLSON
The controversy swirling around the Eugene development department’s downtown urban renewal district scheme has centered on two issues: 1) the appropriateness of spending tens of millions on an approach that differs little from the strategy that has damaged downtown Eugene so profoundly during the 40 years of the downtown urban renewal district’s existence; and 2) a public process that ignores all of the big issues but is, nevertheless, toothless with respect to the small issues. The ethical and aesthetic issues, however, are still larger.
Don’t be so distracted by the hard sell that you don’t notice who really benefits and what’s in it for us, the ordinary citizens: higher rents, higher taxes, more bland chain box stores, more empty parking structures and less of what makes Eugene interesting, unique and authentic.
Urban renewal diverts money from every ordinary public service. Have we reached the point where providing downtown shopping is a higher public purpose than education, street maintenance, affordable housing and social services? For example, nothing in this process guarantees that the housing we subsidize will be affordable housing. Should Eugene taxpayers promote above-market housing to attract the richer, more desirable new residents that developers prefer to the current citizenry?
What kind of partnership is it when the public is required to “invest” $40 million or more in the project and does not share in profits, but must guarantee the developers a 13 percent return?. Clearly, our city manager form of government has given us a bureaucracy that is unaccountable. We paid 46 percent of project costs of the very disappointing Broadway Plaza. Did we get our money’s worth? Apparently the lesson the development bureaucracy learned is to do it again at four times the scale.
Should we poke our local merchants in the eye with a sharp stick by privileging corporate box stores? Study after study has shown that national chains produce fewer and poorer jobs than the jobs they destroy by undermining local businesses. Are we going to have two classes of citizenship for businesses — with our local merchants, who have been here for years paying taxes, the only passengers going economy class?
Are there bigger issues than shopping? Shame on us if we endorse the city’s plan to misuse CDBG Brownfield grants. Brownfield grants are meant to remedy “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance or pollutant.” Redirecting this money to subsidize downtown shopping is an absurd abuse of this program that ought to be dedicated to addressing the real pollution problems in the Trainsong neighborhood.
Our downtown bureaucrats have destroyed the historic center of Eugene. Now, after squandering $100 million obliterating most of our architectural heritage, the city should not spend another $50 million or more to tear down the few remaining historic buildings and to replace our 1960s architecture with equally undistinguished multi-use architecture. West Eugene historic neighborhoods will be their next target.
The developers figure that 1) after five years, we will always have forgotten the last fiasco, and 2) if they throw enough dust in the air we will believe that we will get something new and interesting for free. You can put lipstick on that pig, but it is still a pig.
In truth, we will not get the downtown paradise that we are being promised but just another boring cookie cutter commercial development, half- full of second tier box stores, paid for with our taxes. We can have a plan, we can do it better and we can do it in a more principled and ethical manner.
Paul Nicholson is a Eugene business owner and former city councilor.