Central City 2035 plan moves toward adoption – in spite of apparent conflicts of interest

But at least global capital will have a place to invest!

Portland’s Central City 2035 plan includes increased building heights designed to encourage a wave of new tall buildings. Critics say they will fuel demolitions of historic assets, further drive up prices, negatively impact livability, and cause other problems.

On Thursday, September 7, the Portland City Council will hear testimony from citizens on the adoption of the Central City 2035 plan, which was approved previously by the Planning Commission.

That happened in spite of a finding by the City Auditor’s office that the Stakeholder Advisory Committee for the West Quadrant Plan – a key part of the CC2035 plan — did not properly disclose potential conflicts of interest. The finding by the Auditor’s Office, and specifically by Ombudsman Margie Sollinger, also included a requirement that the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability secure disclosures after the fact by members of the SAC.

The Ombudsman found that the SAC members are “public officials” under Oregon law, and therefore must not enrich themselves in the course of their conduct. In five cases, SAC members refused to comply with the disclosure requirement, and at least two of those members had major real estate holdings in the West Quadrant Plan that likely increased significantly in value as the result of their votes.

Many of us (including the two bloggers for Livable Portland) believe it is urgent that we restore the integrity of the planning process, in perception and in reality. We believe this will require, at a minimum, a re-convening of a new stakeholder committee charged with re-assessing the heights and FARs of the West Quadrant, comprising a, quote, “broadly representative… cross-section of affected citizens.” This is the requirement of Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goal One – and a basic principle of public involvement, and transparent, accountable government.

Perhaps a new SAC will be convinced on the evidence that building heights of no more than 100 feet will be fully adequate to accommodate a more benign, diverse, diffuse form of urban growth, and to preserve Portland’s priceless livability and heritage.  In any case, we believe a proper review is essential to the integrity of the process.

If you would like to testify at Thursday’s hearing, you are advised to arrive by 1:30 to sign up at Council Chambers, 1221 SW 4th Avenue.

8 Replies to “Central City 2035 plan moves toward adoption – in spite of apparent conflicts of interest”

  1. In line with your concern about conflicts of interest, I assume that you’ll make sure everyone on the Goose Hollow Board of Directors declares to City Council what property they own in the neighborhood (and how much it’s worth) before they provide any testimony?

  2. Hello Iain – As a matter of fact, GHFL has one of the most aggressive policies of conflict of interest disclosure of any NA in the city. We have also campaigned for stronger COI disclosure as well as greater transparency and accountability across the city, including within NAs. If I am not mistaken, four GHFL board members own their own homes in the neighborhood, with fairly typical values for the area. Another six are renters (including myself). No one that I know of owns other properties, or has other development interests in the area. We take transparency and accountability seriously.

    1. Fantastic! Because testimony submitted in 2016, from people currently serving on the board of GHFL, didn’t declare that they own homes worth up to seven figures (and therefore have a financial interest in ensuring that views from their homes aren’t blocked). I’m glad too hear that this won’t be the case in the future, and that everyone will be careful to mention this to city council in written and oral testimony.

  3. Sorry, speaking as a renter on the GHFL board, I can’t buy the false (and malicious) equivalency that you insinuate about owner colleagues. You’re equating residents whose addresses are on the record to non-residents whose financial interests are often extensive and obscure (as was documented for the WQP-SAC). It is self-evident that residents and stakeholders in a NA will represent other similar residents and stakeholders who are also likely to be concerned about the potential for financial as well as other impacts from development. That’s part of the job description. It was not self-evident that SAC members owned properties on which they voted to increase heights. But it was plenty shocking, and disappointing.

    1. If you think it’s a conflict of interest for someone to advocate for raising allowable heights on property that they own (or, as is the case for most of Goose Hollow and the West End, advocating for heights to remain at the same limit that they’ve been for decades), then why don’t you think it’s a conflict to advocate for lowering heights adjacent to ones property? As an example outside of GHFL, could there be _any_ ulterior motive for someone who owns two condos on the 10th floor of the Eliot Tower to be advocating for heights to be limited to 100′ in the west end? Do you honestly think there shouldn’t be any disclosure required there?

  4. The issue is transparency. You prove my point: you obviously know exactly who owns what, where they live, and what their financial (as well as other) concerns might be. That was far from the case for the SAC. So yes, I think the SAC member properties constitute (undisclosed potential) conflicts of interest. The SAC members should have declared them, and should have abstained from voting on them – as the Auditor’s Office found. This is a world of difference from citizens speaking out on impacts (financial or otherwise) to their own homes and neighborhoods. Ethics 101.

    1. If the “issue is transparency”, then why not disclosure ownership when submitting testimony? Yes, it’s possible for me to work out who owns what property, but I bet the volunteer members of the Planning and Sustainability Commission or the members of the City Council don’t have the time to do so.

  5. I am not sure what the issues, submerged and otherwise, may be with the conduct of the GHFL Board around conflicts of interest, but I would be quite certain that they are not of the same significance as the actual conflicts of interest acted upon during the WQP process.

    As a member of the WQP SAC, I will relay that the issue was not simply SAC members voting in their own undisclosed interests, but actively advocating in their own interest for increases in height on properties that they controlled, without any disclosure, either before or after the fact.

    Nothing new I suppose, but the time for this sort of naked self-interest to masquerade as enlightened self-interest on the public’s behalf in the City of Portland has long passed, and our city and its streets and public spaces will be worse off for the next generation or so for not having called these conflicts into account.

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