Parks budget cuts loom over Gateway Green bike park

Posted by on April 10th, 2019 at 5:22 pm

(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

As you might have already heard, Portland Parks & Recreation is facing a budget gap of $6.3 million. To right the ship, the bureau has proposed eliminating over 50 full-time employees, reducing admin costs, closing community centers, and more.

One element of the Parks budget we’re watching closely is how operations and maintenance dollars will be allocated. Or whether they’ll be allocated at all.

Big crowds at inaugural Gateway Green MTB Festival in June 2018.

Parks has requested $891,694 in discretionary, General Fund revenue to pay for operations and maintenance of 38 assets that are either planned or under construction. The largest item on that list is $173,656 for the continued development of Gateway Green.

Gateway Green opened two years ago after its first phase — a bike park that includes trails, a pump track, and jumps — was completed.

Longtime east Portland parks advocate Linda Robinson spent over a decade to make that possible and now she’s concerned that vital funding for Gateway Green’s continued development will be cut. She testified in front Mayor Ted Wheeler and Parks Commissioner Nick Fish at the budget hearing held at David Douglas High School last night.

In her testimony, Robinson pointed out that in her three decades of parks advocacy, ongoing maintenance funding for newly opened parks facilities has always been somewhat assured. “While there may be some negotiation as to how much operations and maintenance is needed for each asset, the need for it has always been a given,” she said.

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Slide from Parks Bureau budget presentation showing current budget deficit and operations/maintenance needs.

While the Parks Bureau has requested money to maintain Gateway Green and 37 other assets, Robinson has flagged a recommendation by the City Budget Office to decline the request. In their response to the City’s budget, the CBO has recommended that Council allocates zero dollars to the operations and maintenance of new and partially built assets.

“I’ve spent the last decade or more advocating and raising money for this park,” Robinson added, “and I’m crushed by the prospect there might not be any money once it’s built.”

“Denying ongoing operations and maintenance requests for these new park assets is like building a Wapato Jail and never allocating any money to operate it.”
— Linda Robinson

While Gateway Green has been open for two years, it only has rudimentary facilities. There are no bathrooms, paved surfaces, or drinking fountains. As we reported back in September, City Council just approved another $1 million to further develop the site.

The CBO’s rationale for declining the City’s $891,694 funding request is that by automatically tacking on operations and maintenance costs to new assets, PP&R places undue pressure on City Council to absorb the costs when a budget deficit impacts other needy assets in the system.

Robinson strongly disagrees with the CBO’s decision. She wants more analysis and discussion before such a significant shift in policy is adopted. “If the policy [of not funding maintenance for new parks] is changed, it should be phased in, not suddenly changed for projects already completed or in the construction process.”

To put a finer point on her position, Robinson said, “Denying ongoing operations and maintenance requests for these new park assets is like building a Wapato Jail and never allocating any money to operate it. This results in great expense and virtually no benefit to taxpayers.” (Wapato is the infamous facility built in 2003 at great expense to taxpayers that has yet to be used for any purpose.)

“It would be unconscionable to make this sudden change just as the city is finally addressing park inequities in east Portland,” she added.

City Council is under no obligation to heed the CBO’s recommendation. Mayor Wheeler will release his budget in May and Council will adopt the 2019-202 budget in June.

You can submit a comment about the budget on the CBO’s website. If you’d like to learn more and support Gateway Green consider attending the Friends of Gateway Green 10th Anniversary fundraiser at Hopworks Urban Brewery (2944 SE Powell) next Tuesday April 16th.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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31 Comments
  • Avatar
    maxD April 10, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    With all the SDC’s the City should be collecting, and the new taxes from the new residents and businesses we are packing, it should be flush with cash. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the City’s budget, but if we can’t afford to maintain our parks during this economic climate, we are doing it wrong!

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      Mike Quigley April 10, 2019 at 6:21 pm

      Got multiple problems here all based on of lack of money. Nobody wants to pay taxes anymore. The poor can’t pay, what’s left of the middle class is tapped out, the rich refuse to pay. Then there’s the tax giveaways to corporations and other “job creators” that roll into town promising wonderful things. And then there’s PERS which sucks up so much of any public budget.

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        Chris I April 11, 2019 at 8:00 am

        I would imagine that PERS is the issue here. I also wonder how much money is being spent to move homeless off of parks land, and clean up their messes.

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          Middle of The Road Guy April 11, 2019 at 9:55 am

          Chris,

          the good thing is that once you move the homeless off the property and clean up the mess, you never have to do it again – like 3 weeks later.

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    • Jim Labbe
      Jim Labbe April 11, 2019 at 9:05 am

      “SDC’s the City should be collecting, and the new taxes”…. ” it should be flush with cash.”

      System Development Charges (SDCs) and funds from the November 2014 voter-approved Parks Capital Bond Measure (which even together don’t keep up with population growth) can only be used to capital improvements not for the “operations and maintenance” or “O&M” the horribly inadequate terms to describe the vital and valued work of stewarding our parks, trails and natural areas.

      Portlanders highly value the stewardship of their parks. The City Council should too and work to find ways to create programs that ensure these vital public works get done while creating needed jobs and work force development in our community.

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        Gary B April 11, 2019 at 10:07 am

        Of course you’re right: City Code section 17.13.110 provides” Money on deposit in the Parks and Recreation SDC Account shall not be used for any expenditure that would be classified as a maintenance or repair expense.”

        But that provision can be changed with the same majority vote that will approve the budget. I don’t enough to have an opinion on whether that’s a good idea, but we shouldn’t ignore that the current system isn’t the only way to do things.

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          JR April 11, 2019 at 1:36 pm

          System development charges are legally authorized separate from taxes by showing that the money will go specifically toward capital improvements proportional and related to the increased development occurring at a property. O&M expenses can’t be taken from SDCs. Even if the city could allocate SDCs toward O&M (reminder: they can’t), it would create a growing and unsustainable structural deficit. After the SDCs are paid and the development is completed, significantly higher property taxes are assessed. That’s the money that should be used for O&M of new and expanded park facilities. PERS may have something to do with the increasing costs of parks maintenance, but Parks bureau should also be looking at ways to do maintenance more efficiently…

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        • Jim Labbe
          Jim Labbe April 11, 2019 at 4:54 pm

          Actually the dedication of SDC funds only to capital improvements (not O&M) is proscribed in State law. The City Council can’t simply change its code to do otherwise.

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    maxD April 10, 2019 at 6:02 pm

    This is shameful behavior by the City! It is also a good time to start asking who will operating the proposed new “openspaces” that are being planned to be built on concrete lids over I-5 as part of the Rose Quarter expansion. These lids will be surrounded by busy, multi-lane roads and to save money on ventilation, they will not be connected. That means they will be hard to get to and will be subject to the highway noise and air pollution as well as the traffic noise and air pollution from the surrounding arterials and highway ramps. These openspaces will not be connected to any commercial, civic or residential buildings so they will be very hard to activate or program meaning they will likely be desolate. They are being shown as “parks” and as green, treed spaces, but who will operate them and who will pay for maintenance? In our climate with summers getting hotter, drier and longer, any soil placed over concrete will need permanent irrigation to support plant life. When soil is connected from the earth, it no longer get the benefit of small amounts of moisture reserves that migrate up through the soil through the dry period. Soils over structures dry out quickly and completely and plants cannot root deeply to compensate and they die. PP&R has to pay municipal water rates for irrigation, same as anyone in Portland. With their already stretched budget, is it prudent to ask them to take on a water bill in perpetuity for a poorly planned, underused and unpleasant openspace? On top of water fees, their will be fees for Ranger patrols, trash pickup, lighting, water and sewage for drinking fountains and restrooms (if included). and general maintenance like graffiti removal, leaf removal, etc. If the Rose Quarter Highway widening project continues, I urge people to demand answers to these questions so these new openspaces do sap funds from the already overburdened PP&R

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      mh April 11, 2019 at 10:27 am

      The lids are planned to be permanent construction debris.

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    David Hampsten April 10, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    There’s a general consensus among many city and state governments that there will another serious recession in 2020, so many are trying to build reserves “just in case.”

    Mind you, not every jurisdiction has bought into this, and the evidence of a coming recession in 2020 versus any other year (say 2021, 2022, or 2337) is pretty scant.

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      Chris I April 11, 2019 at 8:02 am

      Over 10 years since the last recession, and an inverted yield curve? My money is on 2020 or 2021. I would be amazed if we don’t have major contraction by then.

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    Granpa April 10, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    Well with the parks closing, I can always kill time tagging walls…

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    Cyclekrieg April 10, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    First, the reason many parks departments, including Portlands, are tapped out is combination of poor management and too many active recreational uses (ballfields, grass, etc.) and not enough passive recreational uses (natural vegetation with hiking/biking trails). Active uses are the most expensive ongoing budget items by far. An acre of grass costs just over $900 a year to care for, a sum that would support 2 miles of hiker/biker trails. As trails in cities are built at 1:10 to 1:20 ratios, that means 20 to 40 acres of area.

    Second, the ongoing funding issues with municipal entities is why a lot places (including my state) self-fund their mountain biking trail networks, i.e. “roll your own”. Hikers benefit from the expanded trail networks and cities get free (well, to them) maintenance of natural areas by mountain bikers, who are soon joined by hikers that enjoy the trails.

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      Chris I April 11, 2019 at 8:05 am

      No more bailouts or the golf fund! City golf courses should be revenue neutral or better. If they can’t pay their way, convert the space to open meadow with hiking/biking trails. Lower maintenance costs, and better ecology.

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    dwk April 10, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    More new high-rise structures than I can even comprehend riding around town.
    New construction everywhere, 3% unemployment…
    No money for police, No money for parks, No money for housing/drug addiction…
    We have complete city government disfunction, no other way to put it.

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    Bjorn April 10, 2019 at 8:49 pm

    I was quite worried when they decided to build the new Cully Park that it would quickly fall into disrepair and be worse than no park at all. This does not make me hopeful for the future of Cully Park.

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    Toby Keith April 10, 2019 at 9:07 pm

    Well this park’s fate is sealed. Expected garbage filled tent city soon. First the MUPS now this.

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      Middle of The Road Guy April 11, 2019 at 9:52 am

      Well the homeless certainly do have enough bicycles in their encampments to put this park to use in their spare time.

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    curly April 11, 2019 at 7:04 am

    With $millions being spent by PBOT and Tri-Met for better access to GG, the Gateway Regional center, the airport and the outer NE community with new Neighborhood Greenways, makes you wonder why they won’t fund park maintenance.
    Were I a business owner in Gateway, I’d be outraged!
    Another punch in the gut to east Portland…….

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    Jon April 11, 2019 at 7:52 am

    If you look at the adopted city budget for 2018-2019 there is net increase in spending city wide. It is just that Parks did not get much of those increased funds. https://www.portlandoregon.gov/cbo/article/687011
    Homeless and Public safety got the lions share of the budget increases ($25 million between both). “Homeless Services” got over half of that $25 million. Like it or not that is the focus of our city’s tax funds.

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    Middle of the Road Guy April 11, 2019 at 7:56 am

    I’d rather pay a Parks Tax than an Arts Tax.

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      Chris I April 11, 2019 at 8:06 am

      Arts in the Parks tax?

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    rachel April 11, 2019 at 8:40 am

    ..And this is why we need a separate entity to manage our parks–Similar to Tualatin Hills Park and Rec.

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    Joel April 11, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Friends of Gateway Green fundraiser link leads to the wrong website.

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    grannygear April 11, 2019 at 10:31 am

    The city can keep their money and use it to help those in need. I’ll continue to ride, maintain, kick out tweekers, and promote the great riding at gateway green year round.
    Stop being so entitled and start doing.

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    Skypilot April 11, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    It seems the great liberal project of west coast urbanization has finally reached its zenith and now is in sharp decline.

    Portland, Seattle, San Francisco: richer and more taxed than ever yet can’t maintain what they got let alone expand to meet demand.

    I fear for the future.

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    • Jim Labbe
      Jim Labbe April 11, 2019 at 5:02 pm

      If we taxed the wealth in our land, rather than letting it get siphoned off as unearned income to the wealthiest land owners, prosperity would be more equitable and we could make enormous progress building complete urban communities..

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    Skypilot April 11, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    I wonder what percent of parks budget is spent on biohazard cleanups.

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