From The Editor

Fast track slows a bit on big new city tax

In early June, as it had promised, the Portland City Council met to consider imposing a proposed new “Street User Fee” on homeowners and businesses without a vote of the people.

The streets of the city certainly need work – not least, the 60+ miles of the Rose City’s streets which are unpaved – although there really is no indication PBOT ever plans to pave them, without neighbors’ stepping up and paying for it (IN ADDITION to any fee or tax they may have to pay for city road repair).

Portland Commissioner Steve Novick is credited with having come up with this “Street User Fee”, and Mayor Charlie Hales is on board, apparently because one of his campaign promises was to try to get the often rutty and potholed streets fixed. Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman, however, are on record as favoring a vote of the people on it.

That leaves Commissioner Amanda Fritz as the swing vote, and apparently she has not yet made up her mind. We infer that from the reports of those who attended that early-June City Council meeting. They told us that, in the face of considerable opposition to the plan – particularly from the business community, which appears to be expected to carry the largest part of the burden, the City Commissioners punted – and put off the vote until November 19th

Commissioner Novick takes exception to the calling of this “Street User Fee” a tax. He offers a technical reason for naming it a fee, and then says fees can be and often are imposed without any public input. That’s a useful reason for calling it a fee, no doubt about that.

However, let’s get real here. In practice, a fee is an amount paid, in return for which something is received. If you park your car, you pay a fee and it isn’t ticketed or towed. If you reserve a government campground for your vacation, you pay a fee and it is yours for the dates you specified. Even the unpopular “leaf removal fee” charged in specific neighborhoods every fall carries the guarantee that the street in front of your house will be swept. Right? That is, in practice, what a fee does.

On the other hand, a tax is something everyone has to pay, with no specific expectation of getting anything back for it. A tax finances government and its services. And, in this case, everyone would have to pay that tax – including those living on streets which may never get repairs, and especially those on unpaved streets who are unlikely ever to get ANYTHING for the “street tax” they would be paying.

To be clear, in the public forums leading up to this plan, Commissioner Novick has conceded that the worst streets will get the most attention, and there is no guarantee that any street a given taxpayer lives or works on might ever get repairs. Everybody pays; the worst streets get most of the attention.

There is nothing specifically wrong with that, of course – prioritizing the worst streets for repair does make sense – except that, in practice, this makes it a tax, rather than a fee. You pay it with no specific expectation of getting anything back for it.

Commissioners Fish and Saltzman may agree with this reasoning of ours, or they may not; but in any event they evidently concur with our position that this fee/tax needs a vote of the people. 

And, we add, it probably needs a bit more fairness, too. Can it possibly be that our city has no money at all to fix the streets, if this is not enacted? Or can some funds be redirected to this essential budget item, reducing the amount homeowners and businesses will need to contribute? 

We remind you that the last version of this plan we heard of (and it has been changing regularly in the public discussions) starts with a $12 charge for households to pay – PER MONTH. On a per-month basis, that adds up to $144 a year – per household! (For households designated “low income” there is a 30% discount, which still adds up to $100.80 per year.)

But, to keep this fee/tax this “low” for homeowners, the city plans to charge much more to many businesses, using “averages”, determined elsewhere, to charge for presumed “customer miles”. A business which has mostly foot and bicycle traffic will still get taxed based on these average “customer miles”. 

We can’t help but reflect that Portland currently allows developers to build apartment houses with NO parking, on the assumption that somehow people will not have, or drive, cars, if they rent there.

That expectation is even more unrealistic than this plan to charge businesses for assumed customer miles – particularly if the customers behave as the city expects these apartment dwellers to do, and walk or bike in! One of those two assumptions is very wrong. Probably, both of them.

We repeat the conclusion with which we ended our editorial on this subject a month ago: This plan needs rethinking, and should, when honed and made much fairer, then go onto the ballot for taxpayer approval before being imposed on us all.

Whether you agree with us or not, you might want to put November 19th on your calendar, and plan to be at City Hall that day, to again make yourself heard on all this.

In the meantime, on June 16 the city announced there would be two Town Halls to get more public input. Both occurred the following week – too soon for us to alert you to them. The Town Hall on the Business and Non-Residential “fee” was Tuesday morning, June 24, at Venture Portland, downtown on S.E. Madison Street; the Town Hall on the Residential “fee” was 6:30-8 pm on Wednesday, June 25, at Kaiser Permanente’s Town Hall on North Interstate Avenue. The Venture Portland meeting was then hastily moved to the Portland Convention Center to accommodate the huge crowds of businesspeople who announced their intention to be there.

A feisty Commissioner Novick says, “I understand that some business owners want to adjust the transportation fee to better protect small businesses. If we can’t find a way to improve it, Mayor Hales and I are prepared to move forward this fall with the proposal on the table.”

There is still time for you to be heard on this directly to the City Council, whatever your position.  We’ll start:

  • Does the city have NO budget at all for street repair?  If not, why not?  If so, how about making it nontransferable in the budget – limiting it to street repair – and making that part of this street repair equation? (If there IS a budget item, we suspect, perhaps unfairly, that the city plans to shift it to other purposes, if this fee/tax goes through.)
  • The city has the capability to add a city gas tax to all gasoline sold in the city, and other cities have already taken advantage of this. The gas tax is far from perfect, but it could certainly contribute to the “$50 million” Mayor Hales says the city needs to spend on its streets and roads, and thus reduce proportionately what the fee/tax has to be for residents and businesses.
  • It would be good for the huge “fees” planned to be exacted from businesses be reduced by increasing what residential taxpayers have to pay. We understand this increases the likelihood of a widespread public backlash, but it would be fairer. And it leads us to this conclusion:
  • Had Mayor Hales and Commissioner Novick started out by making a clear and detailed case for this fee/tax, and worked collaboratively with the people of Portland to come up with a solution, rather than presenting the solution and then fending off the protests, it would have been easier to get public support behind this plan.

Letters to the Editor

Lethal dangers of acetaminophen


I just finished reading the letter written by Dr. Kristine Simmons and her dismissal of the danger of Tylenol (acetaminophen) overdosage. I’m disappointed. As a retired intensive care nurse with experience in taking care of those who died of fulminant hepatic failure resulting from a Tylenol OD, I think the doctor is doing the community a disservice in her casual attitude toward the dangers of Tylenol.

The first likely symptom of Tylenol toxicity is abdominal pain, occurring 3 days after the event, and by then it is often too late. Children who find these colorful blue and red caps (the color of M&M’s) will likely think they’re candy, and will likely not say anything until the abdominal pain starts. Now, as for the question of what destruction of the liver means, the doctor knows well that her obtuse comment regarding the “spectrum of insult and injury” is entirely missing the point.

Liver failure brought on in a child by Tylenol OD is horrifying, with extensive bleeding and consequent whole body failure. There is no treatment after a certain point; by the time parents discover what happened, it could be too late. The most terrible part is that it could have been easily prevented with better education and parental vigilance over this med. Instead, Tylenol continues to produce the med in kid-friendly colors and ambiguous warnings, backed up by dangerous dismissals like the one from this doctor.

Mike Rodrigues, CCRN (Ret.)

20’s Bikeway Project is coming


There is an important project underway that some residents in the Woodstock and Eastmoreland neighborhoods may not know about – the “20s Bikeway Project”, developed by Portland Bureau of Transportation. This is a proposed North/South bike route from N. Lombard to SE 45th/SE Crystal Springs Blvd that is funded through a $2.4 million federal grant.

The design of the bike route is to provide connectivity between neighborhoods, schools, and parks, with an emphasis on interested riders with safety concerns. The southeast portion of the route moves south through the Eastmoreland neighborhood along S.E. 28th, then turns east on Woodstock Boulevard, south on S.E. 32nd to Crystal Springs Boulevard, where it turns east and enters the Woodstock neighborhood at S.E. 39th (Cesar Chavez), and continues to S.E. 45th. This route will include bike lanes, sharrows (shared lane markings), emergency vehicle speed humps (approved by Portland Fire Bureau), and reduced speed, depending on the nature of the street along each segment of the bikeway route.

Through door-to-door contacts, we have found that nearly all of the residents who live along the segment of the proposed route through the Woodstock neighborhood welcome this bike route. Neighbors see it as providing safety for commuting cyclists as well as for recreational cyclists and families who live on this segment of Crystal Springs Boulevard. The speed humps and lowered speed will provide the much-needed safety elements for everyone – motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists. These features will also have the complimentary benefit of providing traffic-calming in the neighborhoods through which the bikeway will pass, and will enhance the overall livability of these neighborhoods.

We very much appreciate the hard work and responsiveness of the Portland Bureau of Transportation employees, Fire Bureau employees, and other City of Portland employees working on this project, who have spent long hours conducting open houses, answering questions, and working with neighborhood associations. 

Annette and Dave Armstrong
Gloria and Richard Gedrose
S.E. Crystal Springs Blvd.

Frozen desserts returning to Sellwood, says actor


My wife and I (and daughter) have lived in Sellwood for more than four years. And we were sad to see “Staccato Gelato” close shop in Westmoreland two years ago. After some consideration and planning, we're happy to announce that we're bringing Staccato's Gelato back to our little village under our own business, “Atlas Scoops”. We're opening early July and will be located on the grassy area behind Sock Dreams at Nehalem and 13th Avenue, across from Grand Central Bakery, in a quaint trailer (see photo) that I’m hauling back from British Columbia.

As a working TV and film actor in Portland (most recently playing Freddy Calvert, owner of the famous Spice Shop on “Grimm” – and Vince, Reese Witherspoon's therapist in the upcoming movie “Wild” based on Cheryl Strayed's novel), I'm grateful for the opportunities this city has given us. Atlas Scoops is another adventure for our family, and we hope you celebrate Summer with us and experience some Yummy Joy! We're creating a simple, outdoor atmosphere – and who knows, maybe we'll even project Silent Movies!

Randy Schulman

It’s a matter of fairness


In 2010, my husband and I worked with a contractor to convert an under-utilized two-car garage, on the site of our existing single-family residence, into an Accessory Dwelling Unit. The result was a sustainably focused urban cottage. In 2011, we decided to turn our modern, roomy self-contained “accessory dwelling” into a Bed & Breakfast rental that would sleep up to four.

We checked the laws online. We contacted city and county agencies to determine how we should proceed. We played by the rules. To open our business, one that has since contributed both money and a unique popular amenity to the community, we were required to:

  • Complete a comprehensive application for a Type II Conditional Use of Approval to the City of Portland Bureau of Development Services,
  • Pay the City of Portland nearly $4,000.00 just for consideration of our request to open a Bed & Breakfast rental. (Either outcome, our money would be kept by the City of Portland – and it was),
  • Research the number of other comparable enterprises within our neighborhood and submit the specific written information to our case manager (BDS).
  • Conduct at least seven parking impact studies under direction of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (varied days of week and times).

In time, the City of Portland Bureau of Development approved our business. And the City representatives from both the BDS and the Bureau of Transportation were helpful and fair throughout the arduous process.

However, a few neighbors opposed our bed and breakfast. So we were required to:

  • Outline why our enterprise should be considered for a hearing.
  • Submit written testimony and rebuttals to a Land Use Hearings Officer,
  • Attend a Land Use Appeal Hearing,
  • Present oral testimony and written packets verifying our information.
  • Submit a follow-up letter to the Hearings Officer.

 The process was stressful, expensive, time-consuming and emotional, but we now have a very successful Bed & Breakfast rental cottage. Our guests have ALL been exemplary renters, and thoughtful temporary neighbors to everyone in our neighborhood.

I’ve looked over “RICAP 6” proposed regulations and believe licensed, established, and reputable, Bed & Breakfast rentals should be immune from any new fees or charges imposed upon new (or previously illegal) enterprises. If implemented, “Use By Right” should be extended only to licensed, established, reputable Bed & Breakfast rentals, including Type A rentals.

The Conditional Use process is certainly due for changes and should be simplified for the benefit of entrepreneurs and neighborhoods alike. But why should those who’ve run their rentals under the radar be excused from past responsibility?

It would do well to lift some of the extensive constraints, but changes should not be at the expense of those who’ve licensed and run their Bed & Breakfast rentals within the constraints of the law. And changes shouldn’t reward those who haven’t.

Judith Berman-Yamada, owner
Portland Urban Cottage, LLC

[EDITOR’S NOTE: “RICAP 6” is a process by which Portland seeks to quickly make minor changes to its rules. In this case, the city proposed some quite substantial changes to its rules applying to temporary home rentals – changes which would cause considerable impact on neighbors while easing the way for homeowners to casually rent “bed and breakfast” type rooms. SMILE’s Board voted to protest to the city that the changes suggested were so substantial that they were inappropriate for the “RICAP 6” process and needed public input and discussion. And as this writer observes, there is also an element of fairness to consider – fairness to those who followed the rules and paid a lot of money to the city for the privilege of operating such a service. Perhaps a refund of all the money Judith paid the city in seeking her permit might be in order, if the changes proposed in “RICAP 6” do take place!]

Political “solicitors”


The letter [writer] last month who had a “no solicitors” sign, and who feels that “this sign means political solicitors too”, is disturbing. The writer is really saying, “no democracy”. As someone who has run for office and walked, plus has walked for other candidates, this is fundamental democracy in action. What could be more meaningful than walking in support of candidates or causes. If you want to isolate yourself from those who would seek to represent you, I suggest you put a sign up that says, “alien, cannot vote”. You will be left alone.

Chuck Martin

Teach new CPR in high school


Nearly 383,000 people have cardiac arrest outside of a hospital every year, and only 11% survive, most likely because of a lack of receiving CPR in a timely matter. The American Heart Association has recognized an easily learned and very efficient method of CPR called “Hands-Only CPR” that requires nothing but your hands to perform, and the courage to step up. By taking steps to ensure that high school students in the state of Oregon learn Hands-Only CPR before graduating, we could put 45,000 additional lifesavers every year in our communities. I applaud Portland Mayor Charlie Hales for declaring the first week in June as CPR Awareness Week – and I urge Oregon State Legislators to take a step in the right direction, like Washington, Idaho and 14 other states, and require Hands Only CPR to be taught in all high schools by 2015.

Cameron Croonquist
Southeast Portland
via e-mail

“Woodstock Park is going to the dogs”


I am about fed up with loose, large, boisterous dogs in Woodstock Park. Yesterday (June 19) two big boxers charged at me and my dog Zita, and although they weren't vicious they were very pushy and scary.  I had to scream at the top of my lungs to get the owner to deal with it and she was in no hurry to do so.  Then, this morning, it was a big golden retriever – again, not aggressive – but ready to jump on me, knock me over, and terrify Zita. There were loose large dogs all over the park, including on the athletic field, which is not part of the off-leash area.  I had to avoid the park entirely going home.  I live a block from the park but am afraid to walk through it.

I have had it!  Part of my taxes goes to fund Animal Control and it's about time they did something about this.  My efforts to contact them have been in vain; I cannot call them when the dogs are loose because their call hours don't begin until hours later. Help!

Paula Chernoff
via e-mail 

Needed: More service involvement


I am a 17-year-old senior at La Salle Catholic College Preparatory in Milwaukie. I am writing you to show my concern on the community’s lack of service involvement. You may or may not know that 17.2% of Portland’s population is under the federal poverty line, and [statewide,] 15.5% of Oregon’s population is in poverty. It is a growing concern in our community and in the world as a whole.

As a community, there are many opportunities to help people break the poverty cycle. I am writing in hopes people will see this and be inspired to go out and make a change.  Places where we can volunteer surround us in our day-to-day lives. Some examples include the Boys and Girls Club, the Blanchet House, the Salvation Army, and St. Vincent de Paul. To BEE readers: Please consider this, and plan to make a difference. I myself expect to help out whenever and wherever possible.

Matalyn McCarthy

Letters to the Editor may be submitted via e-mail by clicking HERE.

All letters to the editor are subject to editing for clarity and available space, and all letters become property of THE BEE.


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