Friday, June 09, 2006

Picking at the PDC Scab Again--And it Feels Soooo Good

As a related followup to Portland City Council moving forward on "living wages" for PGE Park workers last week, The O has been keeping one eye open on the latest renewal of Council's long running play, "It's all Your Fault, PDC." It got blog treatment earlier in the week, and blossomed into full-fledged story by Wednesday:
In a rare public rebuke -- even for him -- Commissioner Randy Leonard invited the state labor commissioner to confront the Portland Development Commission during a council meeting.

The so-called prevailing wages are required on all government construction projects. Gardner and the PDC disagree on how much government control and subsidy tips a private construction project into a public one. Gardner lost one court battle this year when the PDC -- seeking to keep taxpayers' costs down -- sued to prevent the prevailing wages from applying to a renovation project in Northeast Portland.

Leonard, Gardner's friend and former union leader, is angry the development commission fought the requirement without consulting him first. "It appears PDC aligned itself with narrow interests to subvert paying family-wage jobs," Leonard said.
There's something very intentional about the way Ryan Frank wrote his piece, concentrating very closely on the relationship between Leonard and Gardner--to the point where he comments on Leonard's literal pat on the back as Gardner left the chamber. They're friends; we get it. If Frank is trying to make the point that Gardner is leaning on his old union buddy to get special treatment, I don't see it. And Frank doesn't even mention that it was Adams who called the hearing, not Leonard (who simply took advantage of the moment and brought in his ringer). Forcing PDC to pay prevailing wage isn't an exception; it's the rule. If anything, Gardner is trying to get Leonard (and by extension the other four) to make good on the City's committment to paying workers fairly. Where's the old-boy network scandal in that?

Today's Trib notes the pressure that union leaders are putting on Council regarding the wage issue; their primary concern stems from the entrance into the marketplace by Vancouver, BC developer ITC:
[Union leaders like Bob Shiprack, executive secretary of the Oregon State Building Trades Council] believe that ITC’s presence in the market will drive down the wages on all major construction projects, including those that employ union workers.
“We’re very concerned about ITC coming into Portland,” Shiprack said. “We think it would be bad for working people.”
Although unions could not stop ITC from working on the Benson Tower, they are trying to prevent the company from employing nonunion subcontractors in the South Waterfront urban renewal district, which is managed by the PDC.
While the Trib piece does a thorough job recapping the issues on prevailing wage, the blog reports get down to brass tacks and handicap the vote outlook for the central issue: oversight of PDC. And I can't help but flashing back to the strange moves and reactions by Tom Potter over the last few weeks. Here again, he seems a little staggered by the unusual intrusion of Gardner into the process. Leonard has created a moment for himself and his views, and Potter sits back and watches. Then he tries to put off the whole issue for the large-picture charter review committee, but Leonard pushes back for a Council-owned resolution. Potter does get credit for asking harder questions of the PDC (part of the reported high tensions during the unusually early meeting).

So Leonard represents one vote for making some serious decisions about PDC, Potter assumedly one vote against doing that. Saltzman is quiet, Adams--while supporting prevailing wage and sounding concerned--remains noncommittal. That leaves Sten, who opens the door wide to being vote #2 for reigning PDC in. And I think Sten is prepared to walk through it. Here's what he said in May before the election:
I'm going through a lot of intellectual and political thinking about PDC right now. I'm starting to believe some of the problems in PDC are actually apparent to the structure as opposed to the people. We've had a clean sweep at PDC, and not enough is changing. I would've ascribed more of the problems with the Burnside Bridgehead to the way that Don Mazzioti and Hennessey were running the operation.
Coupled with his comments this week, I'm going on a limb and predicting vote #2. Saltzman is a cipher, but he's not usually one to pick fights either way; he's more of a dissembler. So I'm putting him in Potter's column.

Adams admits he is running out of patience. But I don't see why this isn't a slam dunk 5-0 vote to reconsider PDC autonomy, at least from the perspective of the council members. If I were they, I'd be a little ticked at the cloudbursts that keep popping up around PDC projects. The Burnside Bridgehead battle was an ugly look at cozy PDC politics. Fire Station One's new station is now firmly back on hold; costs have gone up yet again. SoWa could be great or could be a nightmare of epic proportions. Either way it's going to soak up a lot of money, and the City is going to have to deal with the results--traffic, parking, fire and police service, tax revenue, etc. And either way it's been a font of material for the local papers and Portland squawkers.

There are a lot of successes and improvements going on that the Council could be pointing to as a sign of goal achievement--overtaking San Fran as the nation's most sustainable city this year being a fine example--but they continually find themselves in a media cycle of project rollouts amid visionary fanfare, followed by the implied scandal that costs are skyrocketing, followed by handwringing as to whether it's not better just to go ahead and swallow the increase to have the item they wanted. But all Portland residents see is that the City tried to build some new fancy thing, and couldn't even get it started before it became too expensive to do. And THEN they do it anyway (although in the case of Fire One that won't happen unless PDC or a benefactor coughs up the difference; the Bureau refuses to look for more money on their end.)

If Sten and Adams side with Leonard on this one, there could be a fairly radical change in what happens with City development. It will be interesting to find out.