Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 6th, 2008 at 10:12 am
[Updated: I’ve added full text of the statements made by Commissioner Adams, Mayor Potter, and the BTA’s Scott Bricker.]
morning. Read the text of his
(Photo © Jonathan Maus)
Commissioner Adams’ $464 million dollar “Safe, Sound, and Green” street maintenance and safety funding initiative went before Portland City Council this morning.
The big news is that Adams has decided to change course. He made a recommendation to put the proposal in front of voters in November’s general election. Also newsworthy was that Mayor Potter remained in favor of sending it to the May ballot.
Potter initially voted to enact the plan, but as the political gamesmanship has heated up in recent days and weeks, Potter has clearly become less supportive of Adams and less committed to the proposal.
This is not what Adams preferred, but given Mayor Potter’s lack of support for Council enacting the plan immediately (without a vote) Adams told news cameras after the meeting that this is “plan b”.
Adams’ recommendation for council to put the issue on the ballot, as opposed to having oil industry lobbyists attempt to do it, might be a way to take some of the fuel from their fire. By having Council voluntarily make this move, anti-fee groups won’t be able to use the, “they’re trying everything they can to keep it from a vote” line.
Another consideration is that if the initiative was to be repealed by an opposition group, they would then be able to revise the proposal themselves. Adams wants the vote to happen when a large turnout is likely and he’d like to have as much time as possible to educate voters.
When asked by TV news reporters outside council chambers today if his pending bid for mayor has played into his recent decisions, he said, “No”.
Adams’ initial hope was that his stellar public process — a seven month effort that built broad support from the media, the public, and his Council colleagues — would help him enact the plan with a Council vote. Adams and his advisors were concerned that, if put to a public vote, a plan to create a new transportation-related fee would bring out the deep-pocketed Big Oil interests.
They were right.
An opposition group led by oil lobbyist Paul Romain threw a major wrench in the plans. First, he testified against the plan. Then, after Adams revised it based on those concerns and it unanimously passed Council, Romain decided to begin a referral process even after he’d promised to not do so.
And now, with Mayor Potter clearly not on his side, and with his mayoral race challenger Sho Dozono also calling for a May vote, Adams realizes he has no choice but to change course.
Here’s the statement Adams’ made this morning:
“I believe that an enactment of a fee like this, the city needs unanimous support by City Council. [He then lists all the broad support the proposal has gotten.]
But the corrosive influence of special interest lobbyists have taken their toll on this issue. I still have four votes in support of enactment, but I no longer have unanimous support. So I propose that Council refer the Safe Sound and Green Streets (SSG) initiative to the November general election ballot.
It will be subjected to monumental misinformation by the Big Oil petroleum industry…but I trust voters to see through this and make the right choice to save lives, save money, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A November election will allow for a full debate on the SSGS initiative. Anyone who thinks that this can get done in any way that is fair and objective in May, simply is saying they oppose safer streets in Portland.”
And then Mayor Potter said, since he’s the “fifth vote”, he’d like to make a statement:
“I support this fee. I think it’s important for our community. I think it’s important how it’s presented to the community. I feel this is something that should be voted on by the voters and I also recommend it be voted on in May, because of other important initiatives that will be on the November ballot… it (the SSGS plan) and a number of the other issues on the ballot will be in jeapordy, and I believe that’s important…but there will be time for that discussion.”
Next to make a statement was Commissioner Randy Leonard. His speech was moving and serious. I will share more soon, but he basically went back to explaining the roots of democracy in Greece and in America. He said referral and repeal efforts are “a perversion of democracy”. At one point he reminded the audience that when we do the Pledge of Allegiance we say “to the Republic” not “to the Democracy”.
His point was that the “passions of the public” instigated by folks like Paul Romain, Big Oil, and Big Tobacco, should “never marginalize the interests of the whole”. He directly blamed efforts by well-funded, out-of-state corporate interests as the reasons behind Oregon’s lack of children’s health care, a lack of school funding, “crumbling infrastructure” etc… He said, “It is not appropriate to subject issues that have to do with public safety, welfare and interests to be subjected to millions of out of state oil interest dollars.”
Leonard concluded with, “I won’t sit up here and pretend like I’m defending democracy by going along with this. This is not one of the highest and brightest days since I’ve been on the city council.”
After Leonard, the floor was opened to public testimony. Of note was the testimony of BTA Executive Director Scott Bricker. Here it is:
“I’ve been involved with the Safe Sound and Green (SSG) process since close to its inception. I’m going to be more blunt than I should about this issue…this has turned into a good-government/bad-government issue. Over the last nine months I have participated in good government. I’ve sat on an executive committee, a steering committee, and me and my staff and the people who I work to represent have attended over 20 public meetings and town halls.
Through that process we have built community support. Yes there have been changes, yes there have been things that have had to be tweaked. That is part of the process. To come out at the end with support from every member of an 89 member group [referring to the steering committee] is monumental. That is good government. That is inclusive government.
What is poor government to me?
Poor government is having an organization and its affiliates not participate in the process even though they were invited, not seeing them at any of the meetings, come in at the end of the day, demanding things…and then, saying, ‘well, we don’t want to participate but we’re just going to bomb this whole thing’.
The discussion over the last two weeks has been framed almost exclusively by the lobbyists of these big specials interests. I’d love to say that the bicycle industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. We are the less expensive alternative, we require donuts instead of petroleum and we don’t have the big money but we have community support. There is a wide range of community support on this, but this discussion has continued because of special interests.
This program is about the fact that our roof is leaking, our roads are falling apart, our children are dying, our families are getting killed and injured and can’t walk to school. If your roof is leaking in your house, you don’t really have a choice; if you don’t fix that, two years later it’s going to cost 10 times as much to fix. We are in that situation now.
I urge you to unanimously pass this measure. I urge you to get behind the process that has been developed and I really hope that this can be done with the the people who we’ve so strongly elected, the five of you unanimously, as opposed to going to a special interest battle and referendum. Thank you.”
So there you have it folks. Whether the vote happens in May or November, this is going to be a big one. Adams said he expects “the largest turnout” Portland has ever seen. At the meeting today, Adams said that Council will hear more about this issue on February 27th. Lots more curves in the road ahead. Stay tuned…
One last thing: Amy Ruiz of the Portland Mercury is covering the story very closely over on the Mercury’s Blog.