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November 7, 2007 03:17 AM

Urban Renewal Defeated
Local vote upsets scheme to divert taxes to developer subsidies

By Alan Pittman

The city of Eugene’s controversial urban renewal plan to subsidize downtown developers with parking garages and other handouts totaling more than $40 million was rejected overwhelmingly by voters on Nov. 6.

In unofficial final results, 64 percent voted no on Measure 20-134.

The defeat came despite proponents outspending opponents by more than a two-to-one margin. Much of the $49,085 proponents raised came from property owners that hoped to cash in on the city’s offers to buy downtown buildings for two to four times their assessed real market value and from construction companies that stood to get contracts for the project. Opponents raised only $20,452, much of it from local businesses threatened with displacement or subsidized chain store competition.

“We were completely outgunned,” said Councilor Bonny Bettman, a leader in the campaign against the measure.

The defeat also came despite strong backing of the measure by The Register-Guard in editorials and, critics say, slanted news stories.

“For this campaign they abandoned all semblance of objectivity,” Bettman said. “It was not just the editorial stance, it was the news stance,” she said. “They basically took the proponents' talking points and reiterated them.”

The R-G repeatedly stated without attribution in news stories that the measure would not raise taxes. But both city finance staff and the county tax assessor wrote that the measure could result in a small tax increase to make up for revenue needed to pay off some existing bonds and levies. Opponents also pointed out that the measure would likely result in larger tax increases as other government services sought to make up for revenue diverted to urban renewal.

The measure’s defeat also came despite the claims of proponents, including all the members of the Eugene 4J School Board, that it would not hurt schools. In fact, about 34 percent of the developer subsidies would be money diverted from state school tax revenue. Statewide, a total of about $165 million a year is diverted for urban renewal.

“I was very disappointed in the school board,” said Councilor Betty Taylor, a former teacher. School board members shouldn’t be arguing that it’s OK for developers to take money from state school funding, she said. “It’s terrible, it’s disgraceful.”

Bettman said it was “scandalous” for the school board members to push to give away school money. “If the school board members think the schools are so flush with money” that they can afford to give it to developers, Bettman said, “they sure shouldn’t have students out there hustling money with candy and wrapping paper” fundraisers.

Taylor said voters saw through the proponents' misleading claims. “It was deceptive, but I think Eugene voters are intelligent.”

The strong vote against tax diversion for developers here could change the future use of urban renewal in Eugene and statewide.

Bettman and Taylor said the city should sunset its existing urban renewal districts downtown and along the riverfront.

Gavin McComas, owner of Sundance Natural Foods and instigator of the 20-134 referral vote, said the city “absolutely” needs to have a vote whenever it expands its urban renewal plans. “I question whether we need to continue with our urban renewal districts.”

Ending the districts could throw a wrench into schemes by city, EWEB and UO staff to use urban renewal tax diversions to subsidize a new City Hall building and massive development of the riverfront and Franklin Boulevard.

Bettman said the city and school district should lobby for a state bill to allow schools and other impacted taxing districts to opt out of having their funding diverted by urban renewal.

“I wish urban renewal statewide could see the light of day,” Bettman said. Describing how the “smoke and mirrors” funding diversion is “bleeding money from schools and essential services,” Bettman said, “urban renewal does not stand up to scrutiny.”

State Rep. Paul Holvey wrote an email just before the election calling for legislative reform of urban renewal.

Lane County Commissioner Peter Sorenson said the county is working on a legislative proposal to allow counties, which lose money from diversion, to get a vote on urban renewal. “We’re optimistic we can get a bill,” Sorenson said.

As for what the city will do now after the defeat of 20-134, Bettman and Taylor said the council should immediately move to approve the Beam Development proposal for remodeling the Center Court with an addition in the adjacent pit and remodeling the Washburne building. The councilors said the city should also move on the T.K. development proposal for condos and retail across from the library and discuss adding a park adjacent to the project. The three projects “would have a big impact,” Taylor said.

The fight for the urban renewal measure has left some lasting damage. The city was “absolutely crazy” to spend $345,000 on now mostly useless options to buy property at unrealistic prices, Taylor said.

Bettman said proponents' false campaign rhetoric that downtown is unsafe will hurt efforts to bring more people downtown. They were “creating their own bad PR,” she said.

But McComas said proponents should “set aside their differences and come together” with opponents to create a “more locally oriented and fiscally responsible way” to improve downtown.

A version of this story was also posted on the Eugene Weekly website here and will appear in the printed paper on Thursday.

November 7, 2007 11:29 AM

The No on 49 campaign warned before the election that if the measure passed:

"If the government wants your property for open space, a scenic view, wildlife habitat, or some other government use, M49 allows them to take your property for free."

After the overwhelming vote for the measure, does this now mean that citizines can add the Wildish Land to Mt. Pisgah park for free? Can citizens now get a park in the Amazon headwaters for free? Can we now seize the timber baron and land speculators' mansions for homeless shelters?

Of course, the timber and land barons that funded the misleading No on 49 campaign may now want to point out the truth: the federal and Oregon Constitutions protect them from property seizure without just compensation.

November 7, 2007 10:42 AM

Disgusted that big tobacco bought the Measure 50 vote against kids' healthcare? Progressive author Frances Moore Lappe says money doesn't have to rule democracy. Check out her video on publicly financed "clean elections" in Maine, Arizona and Connecticut.

Watch more videos like this at www.quantumshift.tv

November 6, 2007 10:52 AM

I'm thoroughly convinced that the reason I'm not as productive as I ought to be is that my office makes me tired. I got up at 7:30 this morning (I am not. a. morning. person.) to finish the book I'm reviewing for this week and after my cuppa I was awake! Happily perched in a chair reading, with the cat on my lap! I walked to work and peered at a nutria that I really wished was a beaver! For no reason other than a beaver in the middle of an empty lot would be way cooler than a nutria in the middle of an empty lot!

And then I got here and immediately crashed. OK, so, yeah, I refuse to use the fluorescent overhead light, because yuck, so I just have a little lamp, so dark. Yeah. And my window is roughly the size of two pieces of regular notebook paper taped together along the short edge. But I've got to fix this.

Not to mention do something about the piles of books before they tumble over on me. The first review copy of something that doesn't come out until next year just arrived, which is kind of freaking me out.

More coffee.

November 5, 2007 01:39 PM

So, yeah. I dropped the ball on the Heroes recaps. In short: The show got really stupid. Then it got a lot better. Then it got stupid again. Now, lord knows what it'll do, as the Writers Guild of America strike will take its toll on this and every other show (note: I'm not complaining! I'm on the side of the writers, of course. But it's a fact that this is going to disrupt programming all the same). I've read — but can't currently find the link for the story — that an alternate ending to an upcoming episode was written in advance, and that if the strike can't be resolved, it'll be reshot and turned into a season finale. Which is pretty dire, really.

But shows are always a few weeks ahead, so we'll see a few new episodes, and I will — I swear — recap them. I'll make it a Tuesday morning, first-cup-of-coffee habit.

I tried to do this with Grey's, but I fell off the bandwagon. What is it with TV this season?

November 4, 2007 10:50 PM

The city of Eugene withheld the purchase options list for property downtown until after Eugene Weekly went to press with its last issue before the election on Measure 20-134. The list now shows that the city’s land purchase costs have increased from earlier estimates of about $16 million to about $19 million now. The purchase prices average about double the real market value the Lane County Tax assessor has set for the properties. The city has offered some owners up to four times the real market value. For the Bradfords building and adjacent one-eighth-block parking lot owned by Diamond Parking Inc., the city purchase option would trade a city parking lot at 12th and Oak that’s twice as large and pay $290,360 in cash.

For the complete updated Broadway options list, see the end of the updated news story here.

November 4, 2007 11:11 PM

Portland just got featured in the New York Times for cultivating a strong bike culture. Here's the story and here's the video.

Eugene has a higher percentage of bike commuters than Portland. But in Portland biking is dramatically increasing while its declining in Eugene. Maybe that's because we lack the strong bike advocate elected officials Portland has like Sam Adams.

November 2, 2007 10:03 AM

I'm pretty sure at some point or another, at least a few people I know have, in the throes of a bad day-after, claimed to need a new liver. Perhaps you, too, have friends who've made this somewhat exaggerated claim the day after New Year's Eve, or their birthday party, or, hey, maybe your birthday party.

Well, now you can get them one. And other plush, stuffed internal organs, too. Know someone who needs a heart? Besides the Tin Man and/or the Grinch, obvi.

October 29, 2007 07:33 PM

A few weeks ago — or maybe it was more like a month, but it's unimportant — I went to one of these lovely Music Industry of Eugene events, where writers, booking folks, venue owners, radio people, studio owners, PR folks and more (I'm sure I forgot something pretty key) get to meet face to face to chat and mingle and simply find out who we all are. I kind of love this; it just always helps to actually know who someone is. This time out, the first person I met was Thaddeus Moore, who runs Sprout City Studios (I suppose I'll forgive him for only linking to the R-G story about the studios' tenth anniversary, and not ours as well). As it turns out, he and his wife also run The Divine Cupcake, an organic, vegan, cupcakes-only bakery.

I put the business card for the bakery in my wallet and didn't think about it again, except to giggle at the straightfowardness of a friend who told Thaddeus she'd heard one person rave about the bakery's cupcakes — and one person rant about disliking them. (They'd been for sale at the Country Fair, apparently, so she'd heard about them from friends.)

Then I went to the library today for a cup of coffee, and there in the pastry case were these charming little things. Well, regular ones, little ones, all kinds of ones. I only had eyes for the green (green?) mini cupcake with a huge chunk of candied ginger on top; I've got a weakness for candied ginger.

Of course, it turned out these were Divine Cupcakes. And mine was, indeed, divine. It was light and fluffy and sweet and completely un-identifiable as vegan. The frosting tasted just like cream cheese frosting. The cake stood up on its own, with a slightly spicy flavor it might be hard to peg as green tea if you didn't know what you were looking for (and there's nothing wrong with that), but with the frosting it was luscious and decadent, and with the ginger? With the ginger I wanted to go back and buy another.

You need to try these things.

October 25, 2007 01:02 PM

And frankly, I'm afraid of my voicemail.

October 24, 2007 12:09 PM

What's all this about Ducks vs. Trojans?

We know what you're thinking. But Ducks clearly need Trojans, as seen here:

ducks vs. trojans

Okay, the WWII Australian army poster is old. But don't think that the Ducks' need for Trojans has diminished. Just a few months ago, UO student groups were handing out yellow and green Trojans. Go Ducks!

October 23, 2007 12:09 PM

Best. Movie. Ever.

That? IS TOTALLY MY CAT.

(By Simon Tofield, whose work you can see here.)

PS. Heroes sucked way less this week! More on that later.

October 16, 2007 01:02 PM

Dammit! I had a whole post written and then I ... um ... well, I blew it. Whoops. What it said, in essence, was that I read this neat story over on Pitchfork about the Glass Casters Union, which has collected artwork from a buncha indie rock bands (mmm, new Band of Horses) and created Christmas ornaments with it - and they're selling the ornaments for charity. Currently, their creations are only available through a handful of eBay auctions and via a few of the bands, but there will be more soon. And the really cool thing? The Glass Casters Union is here in Eugene! Those auctions benefit Aurora Glass, and the Union lists, as its interests, veggie burritos from the likes of Burrito Boy. Now how did a bunch of Eugeneans put this awesome plan into action? We'll have to find out.

October 11, 2007 12:46 PM

To those, what, two? maybe? people who check for Heroes posts: Sorry! It is still Beast of Eugene time. Blogging falls by the wayside. It's sad. I like blogging. But there it goes ...

You know what I don't like, though? Stupid things happening on my "favorite" show. (I keep forgetting to watch Grey's. I completely forgot to watch Private Practice and/or Pushing Daisies, both of which I also wanted to recap. Bionic Woman was silly; Reaper can't sustain the whole hour. Plz more America's Next Top Model now? Does that show even air at a regular time or am I just lucky whenever I stumble across it?) To this season of Heroes, I give a big W. T. F., for the most part. Shall we discuss?

Spoilers through episode three after the jump! So make with the clicky...

OK, so I read some spoilers beyong episode three, and they're so interesting I really want to talk about them, but I won't. Wait, come back! I won't! Promise!

ANYWAY (TM Klosterman), this show is disappointing me right and left, though my better half did wisely point out that it is not entirely women who have OMG UNCONTROLLABLE BAD POWERS, because Ted had that problem as well. However, I still find Maya a little too much like Niki, and I think it would have been far more interesting were her and Alejandro's powers reversed: he cries the black goo from The X-Files and she reverses it. But honestly? That wouldn't have helped much either. Their entire plot needs to connect to the bigger story and fast, because right now they are being written to do stupid and stupider things, and it's dull as a doorknob. The American kid they broke out of prison has Claire's car, so hopefully connection is imminent - though I can't help but think there's something loaded in the fact that her high school mascot, for which there was a sticker on the car bumper, is the conquistadores...

But let's get to this episode's biggest problem: Did they really let DL die offscreen? Really? REALLY? Because that would simply continue my main complaint about this season: They're showing the wrong things and relying far too heavily on what happened between Kirby Plaza and now, without showing the parts that are important for the narrative. Plus, nooo! Don't kill Shadowcat! Really, though, there's something fishy going on with this whole storyline, and beyond the question of DL, as numerous wise folks on various discussion boards have pointed out, they had best not have Nichelle Nichols, Micah's New Orleans-based grandma, playing a Wise Voodoo Lady stereotype, or they are going to get it from all sides, and it isn't going to be pretty.

Phew. Deep breath. Good things, this time: Stalker Boy revealing his powers and flying off with Claire in a very silly, very badly put together scene that nonetheless ended in their very charming beach banter. I loved this, because I thought it was totally in character for poor Claire, who's never met another teenager with powers. But then they go off the deep end with pushing her out of character: The girl knows her father worked for the Company. She knows he's done bad things. Why on EARTH would she flip out to find out he'd once nabbed Stalker Boy? Stalker Boy who she just met? And beyond that, why would Mr. Bennet move the family to a town with a kid he'd previously captured for the Company? Hello, illogical decision-making!

Even the good things wind up in bad things. Like Sylar and Candace. Candace was annoying, but I wanted to see her true form while she was still alive, thanks. And Sylar ... so, he's Spike, from Buffy, captured by the Initiative and rendered harmless (or mostly so?)? Clever. Or is he on the Lost island? Or is he just out of the way so they can play with the Hoodied Menace who obviously has something else going on as there was no Hoodied Menace in the room with Mama Petrelli last week?

Oh, Hiro. Oh, Kensei. Oh, plot, which keeps giving me hope and then taking it away again. And this part of the show is utterly impossible to talk about with the spoilery thing I've read in my brain, so I'll just say this: Please let the woman kick ass, thx.

I've saved the best/worst for last: Oh, Peter. Plenty of shirtlessness for us fangirls, but really, you're not going to open the box? With your life in it? And you're going to go all Angelus/dark side on us? (Someone theorized that by coming into proximity with Niki in last season's finale, he's acquired a dark side, but that didn't seem like her power; that seemed like an unfortunate psychological manifestation of her power. So who knows.) The bit with the tattoo, however, was kind of awesome.

So. Sorry this is half-assed. I shall try my best to post right after the show last week, before I have other people's theories in my head and before any clever observances slip out my ears. Sigh.