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Saltzman: Amendment would "jumpstart" bike plan funding -- UPDATED

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 9th, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Commissioner Saltzman and his chief of staff
Brendan Finn at tonight's BAC meeting.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman made a rare appearance at the City's Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting tonight in order to present his idea to raise up to $1 million per year to help pay for projects in the 2030 bicycle plan.

When the plan comes up for adoption by City Council this Thursday, Saltzman said he'll propose an amendment to use revenue from the City's Utility License Fee to pay for bike projects. The Utility License Fee is paid to the City by companies and agencies (like PGE, Comcast, Northwest Natural, and so on) that use the City's public right of way to perform a variety of services -- from telecommunications to natural gas and sewer line maintenance.

"[This amendment will] provide one small step toward really implementing this plan in a concrete fashion."
-- Commissioner Saltzman

Thanks to an ordinance passed by Mayor Sam Adams in 2008, the Bureau of Transportation currently receives $4.3 million per year in ULF revenue, an amount that is capped. Saltzman's amendment would allocate revenue beyond that $4.3 million cap -- if and when it goes beyond the cap and up to $1 million -- to bike infrastructure (instead of into the City's General Fund).

With utility rates and expected to grow in coming years, it is assumed that ULF revenue will breach that cap. "It's a relatively volatile source... But we think over the long term that it's something we can count on." Saltzman said the money could be put into a bike bond program or it could provide matching funds when federal funding opportunities arise.

At the meeting tonight, Saltzman referred to the bike plan as a "great plan" and said his amendment would "provide one small step toward really implementing this plan in a concrete fashion."

Why the sudden interest in raising money for the bike plan? (It's worth noting that Saltzman is currently in a re-election campaign.) When asked that question tonight, Saltzman said he's simply excited about the bike plan. Mentioning that his staffer Brendan Finn is an avid cyclist, he said, "Between the two of us, we thought, how do we make this unlike the many plans we adopt, that are hard to come up with resources for, and make it a reality."

Saltzman says he's likely to get support for his amendment from Mayor Sam Adams and feels the other Commissioners are likely to be supportive as well. The Bicycle Advisory Committee plans to write a formal letter of support.

Saltzman's amendment puts his Council colleagues in a tough position. While all five council members are supportive of the bike plan and of bicycling in general, taking money from the City's General Fund these days -- for any reason -- is not something they will take lightly. The timing of this amendment is also something other commissioners might be suspect of -- especially if they feel he's making a political play rather than a sincere gesture of support for the bike plan.

It's also not clear why Saltzman feels so much urgency to make this happen now -- besides the fact that he faces a very bike-friendly challenger, Jesse Cornett, in the race to retain his seat on Council. Saltzman said tonight that his amendment wouldn't bear funding fruit until at least 2012 or 2013 (not exactly a jumpstart). Also, the Bike Plan includes a mandate to form a funding task force where ideas like this could be fleshed out.

Portland Planning Commissioner, Bicycle Plan Steering Committee member, and supporter of Cornett Chris Smith, writes in a comment below,

"While I appreciate Commissioner Saltzman's suggestion, it was pretty clear that it was a surprise to his Council colleagues.

I'm interested in making sure that the plan starts out with good momentum, so on Thursday I only want to see 5-0 votes! If this idea can only get 3 or 4 votes, it will give the media the opportunity to write one more round of 'controversy' stories.

So if the Council is not unanimously behind this particular funding idea, I'd rather the funding task force that the plan creates vet this approach."

Michelle Poyourow, Advocacy Manager for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, says her organization supports the Saltzman amendment. "We support it because it would be a strong though financially modest gesture from Council showing how serious they are about the goals of the plan."

City Council will vote for the 2030 bike plan and the Saltzman amendment this Thursday.


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Comments
  • are February 9, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    i thought i heard saltzman say that under the existing arrangement PBoT would get the first 4.3 million of ULF revenue over some projected stream that was calculated several years ago, and then as you say this additional 1 million would be above that, but it was not at all clear to me that we have already reached the 4.3 million figure. brendan finn was talking about seeing some money in 2012 or 2013.

    but i could be mistaken.

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  • Joe Rowe February 9, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Any funding that is "taken out" of other funding will come back to the city because more bikes mean less wear on roads, and less pavement needed.

    Even people who don't ever plan to bike support the bike plan and fully funding it. Even people who don't live in your house support their neighbors who insulate their attics. If a significant group of people cut consumption, everyone saves.

    Who cares about motive if the move is right.

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  • t.a. barnhart February 9, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    thanks for covering the electoral aspect of this. to argue that it's "for Brendan" isn't really a winning campaign, either. i'm sure the coming weeks will find him discovering all kinds of things he can do -- at last.

    this is a cynical ploy on his part and won't distract people from his absence on the scene in so many ways.

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  • Flying Dutchman February 9, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    This is bullshit.

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  • ambrown February 9, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    I know that biking has been part of Portland's bike culture for at least a few of the last election cycles, but wow. Reading stories like this make me really proud of the urban bicycling movement we've grown here in Portland. So interesting to see Saltzman become a blatant fan of the MLS expansion and a sudden bicycling advocate in the weeks before an election, and to ponder what exactly that means about the political constituencies (for better and also perhaps for worse) that guide this city.

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  • pedicab February 9, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    From our experience as Pedicab operators, Saltzman was the only commissioner who was not absent from the pedicab debate at city hall. He was the only Commissioner to meet and listen to concerns about uninformed legislation that was about to be imposed on the pedicab industry. Adams, head of the council was absent for almost all of pedicab debate testimony, instead taking a phone call.

    Just saying, from the minimal experience with City Hall that the pedicab industry has had, Saltzman was the only one who listened to the entire presentation of City Staff, Taxi Companies, and testimony from pedicab drivers and proposed an amendment that created much better communication and representation for pedicab drivers and companies within the new rules.

    Saltzman was genuinely interested in our situation and was willing to not just rubber stamp new uniformed laws. He actually proposed relevant amendment to the new Private for Hire Vehicle Code.

    http://bikeportland.org/2009/05/13/saltzman-creates-new-pedicab-committee-to-oversee-policy-changes/

    For whatever reasons why he wants to offer this current bikey amendment, i am very thankful that it is also being proposed.

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  • BURR February 9, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    'rare' = first time ever

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  • BURR February 9, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    city should get some cojones and raise the gas tax

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  • Chris Smith February 10, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Let's be a little bit careful here. While I appreciate Commissioner Saltzman's suggestion, it was pretty clear that it was a surprise to his Council colleagues.

    I'm interested in making sure that the plan starts out with good momentum, so on Thursday I only want to see 5-0 votes! If this idea can only get 3 or 4 votes, it will give the media the opportunity to write one more round of 'controversy' stories.

    So if the Council is not unanimously behind this particular funding idea, I'd rather the funding task force that the plan creates vet this approach.

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  • brian February 10, 2010 at 2:00 am

    Uh-huh....."So interesting to see Saltzman become a blatant fan of the MLS expansion and a sudden bicycling advocate in the weeks before an election..."

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  • are February 10, 2010 at 7:18 am

    re comment 9, i did ask saltzman whether he anticipated any opposition, and in particular whether he thought his amendment might delay a final vote on the plan (which i guess it already has, once). he said he thought he had adams and i think leonard on board, was not sure about the others. also said since this was not an ordinance as such, the amendment would not delay a final vote. forgot to ask him whether he would favor the plan if his amendment failed.

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  • down the road February 10, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Appreciate the attempt to garner some electoral love from Portland's bike community... however, this has virtually no chance because its passage would require Saltzman to do what Saltzman is loathe to do: engage his colleagues, spend time working with them behind the scenes to put a concept together, etc.

    There's another commissioner running for reelection named Fish. And every cent that isn't already committed to some source is a cent he thinks should go to public housing, because - surprise! he's the housing commissioner.

    Between Saltzman's negotiation skill deficit and Fish's sense of entitlement, there's a 1 in 10 chance it passes.

    And then you have Fritz who confused the city commissioner job description with the city auditor job description and hasn't brought an original thought or a "yes, we can" attitude to council in more than a year into the job. She's the poster child for why Portlanders should toss public financing. She'll end up opposing this as well. You'll hear a "basic services/we can't afford to make this commitment now" sermon from her if it comes up.

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  • cyclist February 10, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Jonathan: I really wish you'd be a bit more consistent about the way you treat those running for office in the city. While in general it's good for you to be skeptical about what happens in city politics, the Mary Volm story (which was more of a PR story than an actual investigation into her views and motives) is a stark contrast to this one. Where was your skeptical eye then?

    down the road #12: I couldn't agree more with you about Fritz. She's been such an amazing disappointment since her election. She's essentially been a do-nothing commissioner and there's little doubt that will continue until the next election. I actually think I voted for her in the last campaign... ugh.

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  • cyclist February 10, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Jonathan:

    Chris Smith works for Jesse Cornett's campaign, updating this story with his criticism of Saltzman's actions and presenting them as if he's a non-biased observer is really poor form.

    I mean no offense to Chris, I know he's a tireless advocate for making the city a better place, I just don't think it's appropriate to use his analysis in your news story because of the conflict of interest.

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  • Joe Adamski February 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Salzmans plan would indeed be a jumpstart. Funding of projects usually comes after the planning process, and while many plans are already 'in the can',it typically takes years for a planned project to break ground. So a couple or three years is fast tracking it. Additionally, City money that is readily available can be used to leverage money from other sources. $50K from the City can turn into $200K from the Feds. I would like to see this source of funding occur and while,yes,its political, I am happy that the Pols at least briefly pay homage to improving cycling. For the long term is even better.

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  • Henefer Morgan February 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Wow. Kind of puts the City's Bike Advisory Committee in a jam. Of course they'd want to support funding generally. But if this is indeed a play by Saltzman, it could gunk up the great glorious moment of the Bike Master Plan with some unrelated politicking.

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  • Raleigh February 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    This is a tremendous opportunity. Saltzman is basically offering dedicated funds that will likely increase at a significant rate well into the future. I am surprised at the cynicism of so many readers. Who is offering it and why are very distant considerations compared with the reality of gaining a new funding source. The battle for any funding is fiercer than ever and here we have a politician courting us with a creative way to tap into actual dollars. We should take the money and run. I hope the BTA responds with an unequivocal "yes, and thank you for your support" to Mr. Saltzman. To those who suggest that this plan is not politically feasible I would say it can be if it receives the support it warrants. We can't afford to cherry pick our offers when the fruit tree is on fire.

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  • are February 10, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    re comments 16 and 17, both BAC and BTA are already on board, as jonathan mentions in the story. interestingly, PBoT itself is not: http://blog.oregonlive.com/commuting/2010/02/portland_staffers_urge_passage.html
    and of course it remains to be seen how this amendment will affect proceedings on thursday . . .

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  • Hen Morgan February 10, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    #18 - word on the street is that support may be crumbling....

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  • spare_wheel February 10, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Even if Saltzman's proposal does not fly, the fact that its being considered is a positive sign IMO.

    "Wow. Kind of puts the City's Bike Advisory Committee in a jam."

    Please explain how a commissioner proposing a new source of funding puts the Bike Advisory Committee in a jam.

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  • wsbob February 10, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    It's only 'a million dollars' per year, so maybe there won't be a lot of public opposition to this funding strategy. Still, it seems like kind of a back door way to get the money.

    If bike advocates really seek to build public support for bike infrastructure, a more direct approach is likely to be better. I don't know what that approach might be.

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  • Hen Morgan February 10, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    spare_wheel:
    Jonathan spells some of it out in his post, but here's my quick take. And I'll warn you, I'm no poli-sci major. Saltzman's in a re-election campaign against a bike-friendly candidate. He proposes a rather modest funding measure that makes him look like a hero to the bike community. But he's doing it with a pot of money that his fellow commissioners have designs on or may be loathe to tap. So he gets the Bike Committee to champion his measure for him, perhaps hoping that they'll shame the Council into adopting it. The Bike Committee folks, though, are unused to politics, and may not realize that they'll be ticking off between 1 and 4 other commissioners (all of whom, it should be noted, are not up for re-election at present). So the Committee in theory should be catering to those 4 a bit, as the ones who may ultimately be in the best position to help them and their (our!) cause in the future. But to help the other four here means coming out against a funding measure for bikes. It also puts that Committee potentially near the center of an issue that could gunk up the passage of the Master Plan. I mean, we don't want it to look like the Council is divided at all on anything related to bike right now, right? I mean, what if Saltzman's amendment causes someone(s) to vote against the plan - not on the plan's merit, but because of this weird funding grab. I may be totally off-base here, and I'm a spectator, not an insider, but it sounds like a pickle.

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  • Hen Morgan February 10, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Sorry - I meant three not up for reelection.

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  • spare_wheel February 10, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    "The Bike Committee folks, though, are unused to politics, and may not realize that they'll be ticking off between 1 and 4 other commissioners (all of whom, it should be noted, are not up for re-election at present)."

    Thanks for explaining, but I disagree with this logic. The other commissioners are political animals and are well aware of Saltzman's electoral status. I sincerely doubt that any of them would vote against the bike plan merely to spite Saltzman. I am also fairly certain that generating bike plan strife is the *last* thing that Saltzman wants.

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  • [...] proposal, which he pitched in person to the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee on Tuesday night, seeks to raise money for projects in the bike plan by tapping into revenue that comes to PBOT from [...]

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  • [...] BAC initially intended to draft a letter in support of Saltzman’s idea (after he pitched it to them in person at their monthly meeting on Tuesday), but now they have put some conditions on that [...]

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