As the elected representatives of the Friends of Lents Park, a citizen group with a mission to preserve, maintain and enhance Lents Park, we must protest the shockingly undemocratic processes proposed to be used in the Beavers baseball stadium siting and funding decisions.
Since the Lents Park stadium option was placed back on the table, Lents residents have been told – by our neighborhood association, our urban renewal advisory committee, and the city – that the public involvement process would begin once a “final deal” was reached between the city and Portland Beavers owner Merritt Paulson. A June 1, 2009 e-mail which our group received from Amy Ruiz of the mayor's office quotes Mayor Adams as saying “only if we can come to terms with Merritt on a stadium deal in Lents will we approach the issue with the Lents community.”
Frustrating as the lack of any officially-sanctioned public involvement process has been to date, Lents residents have looked forward to the point when the city/Beavers plan would be finalized, its details disclosed to us, and the public involvement process would begin.
That time is now. We understand that the city has concluded its negotiations with Peregrine LLC, Merritt Paulson's company, and as of last Friday have received a city/Peregrine “Term Sheet.” However, the public involvement process we were promised is nowhere to be found. Instead, both the city and our URAC seem determined to fast-track the stadium siting and funding decisions, by processes that appear designed to exclude public input.
On less than a week's notice, we have learned that our URAC intends to hold an “open house” at 4:00 p.m. Thursday, June 18 at the Mt. Scott Center, at which the final city/Beavers plan will be presented to the public, along with URAC's own “counteroffer” (which we understand may include scenarios for allocation of less than the full requested $42.3 million). At 6:00 p.m. that same evening, the URAC will then hold a hearing at which they discuss and vote on the funding scenarios.
This is an outrageously undemocratic process, which our members intend to protest with a 5:00 p.m. rally outside the meeting site. Lents is a working-class neighborhood, most of whose residents cannot reasonably make it to a 4:00 p.m. “open house.” Those few who can will then need to digest what they learn in time to prepare testimony for a hearing just two hours later – assuming that URAC Chairwoman Cora Potter allows public testimony. Those who cannot physically make it to this event on such short notice will have no opportunity to testify at all.
Even worse is the lack of notice to the entire Lents Town Center Urban Renewal area, which includes significant parts of several neighborhoods, including Lents, Powellhurst-Gilbert, Brentwood-Darlington, Mt. Scott-Arleta, Foster-Powell and Creston-Kenilworth. The Friends of Lents Park will go “all out” to inform our own neighborhood of this meeting, but residents of the other five neighborhoods will likely not even know the meeting is happening – although virtually all urban renewal projects for this URA for the next five years are at stake.
Once the funding decision is railroaded through our URAC, the city council then proposes to “take direction from URAC.” An undemocratic URAC decision, reached without meaningful public involvement, cannot be the basis for the city's stadium siting decision. We urge all city commissioners to attend Thursday night's “open house” and URAC meeting, to see for themselves what kind of process they are proposing to rely on as representing the will of the citizens of Lents and the Lents Town Center URA.
We are also outraged by intimations that the city council intends to fast-track its own siting decision. The June 1 Amy Ruiz e-mail goes on to say that if URAC approves the money, “the council would also consider a plan for further public involvement and process on everything from the design of the stadium, to parking, replacement of park space, and a Good Neighbor Agreement.”
“Everything,” that is, except the critical question of whether or not to build a professional baseball stadium in our public park. The mayor apparently intends to allow the Lents community a voice in the “how” of stadium construction but not the “if.” This is completely unacceptable.
ON BEHALF OF THE FRIENDS OF LENTS PARK, WE DEMAND:
- That the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Advisory Committee postpone any vote on stadium construction funding until a full and fair public involvement process is conducted with all affected constituencies, including but not limited to the residents of the Lents neighborhood. We call upon any URAC members who disagree with the undemocratic process proposed by Chairwoman Cora Potter to make whatever motions are required to postpone this vote.
- That the Portland City Council postpone any vote on siting a Beavers baseball stadium in Lents Park, until a full and fair public involvement process can be conducted with the residents of the Lents neighborhood and other park users.
- That prior to any voting meeting of URAC or city council, the Lents Neighborhood Association conduct a special membership meeting, at which votes will be taken on stadium siting and the allocation of URA funds. If the leadership of URAC refuses to postpone the June 18 vote, we demand that LNA schedule an emergency membership meeting prior to that date.
- As regards the Lents neighborhood, our expectations for a full and fair public involvement process are as follows:
- Multiple community open houses will be conducted, at which the details of the final city/Beavers plan will be disclosed and principal players will be available to answer questions. At least three open houses will be scheduled to accommodate neighborhood residents' differing work schedules: one on a weekday night, one on a weekday, and one on a weekend.
- The open houses will be facilitated by a trained, neutral facilitator. “Pro” and “con” presenters (including the Friends of Lents Park) will be given equal time. Translation services will be provided in the principal languages spoken in our neighborhood, including Spanish, Vietnamese and Russian.
- Besides question-and-answer sessions, the open houses will include time for attendees to voice comments/concerns about the stadium project. City commissioners will send staff members to each open house to hear these comments.
- The full schedule of open houses will be adequately noticed to the neighborhood via a mailing to all households, in all principal languages spoken by the neighborhood. The mailed notice will include contact information by which more information can be obtained and by which testimony can be submitted by those unable to attend the open houses. The language of the mailed notice will be neutral as to the “pros” and “cons” of stadium construction.
- All votes then scheduled by the URAC and by city council will be on adequate notice to the neighborhood and will include opportunity for public testimony, with translation services available in the principal language spoken by the neighborhood.
City officials should keep in mind that a fast-tracked decision to site the stadium in Lents is guaranteed to lead to legal appeals from neighborhood residents, which will likely tie up the MLS/baseball deal even longer than an extended public involvement process.
We are equally unimpressed by arguments that no funds are available for public involvement. In the midst of the worst recession of our lifetimes, our city council is considering spending $88 million in taxpayer money for the combined MLS/baseball deal. Are we really supposed to believe that a few thousand cannot be found for adequate public involvement? And given the generosity about to be shown to him from the public coffers, millionaire Beavers owner Paulson should be expected to pay his fair share of the public involvement costs.
We demand that all decision-makers in the stadium siting and funding processes keep their promises to Lents residents and fairly fulfill their duty to represent us in these decisions. Don't short-change public involvement for the sake of Merritt Paulson's profits. The Lents neighborhood, and the taxpayers of the entire city, deserve better.
- The Friends of Lents Park Steering Committee