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Front Page > Issues > 2003> July

A few words from the Editor July 2003

“It’s going to happen. It’s a brown field that’s going to be turned into a green field. It’s going to be looking at a jewel called Ross Island and giving us a quick connection to OHSU. It will really be another little city.”

—Mayor Vera Katz waxing poetic about the South Waterfront Project

The Oregonian June 19, 2003

Those effusive words from our mayor describe the latest effort to expand Portland’s economy by throwing money at powerful, wealthy corporations. Vera believes this strategy will make Portland a contender in the biotech world. She’s willing to gamble with $72 million of scarce tax dollars to create a brave new quarter of glistening glass highrises, retail complexes and research laboratories south of downtown to make it happen.

Last year the Alliance looked at the mayor’s South Waterfront Project and found it unlikely to bear fruit, particularly the bumper crop she was promising. There’s been no change in the biotech world to suggest that those cities that now dominate the market will be losing their grip anytime soon, no matter how nifty those skinny glass towers are going to look.

But that’s really beside the point. Like “Prosperous Portland,” the “River Renaissance” and the other big-picture plans Vera has trotted out during her administration, the South Waterfront Project is an act of faith. It is predicated not on empirical evidence but rather the belief that if we make enough sacrifices — meaning those of us without wealth, power or political influence — we can compete and eventually beat other cities in capitalism’s global arena.

The problem with that, as Lily Tomlin once observed, is that even though you may win the rat race, you’re still a rat. I don’t know about you, but I’ll pass on the mayor’s offer of more stale cheese.
But we have to do more than just say “no thanks” on July 10 when the City Council will consider adopting the project. We need to offer concrete alternatives to low-wage service jobs, the transformation of real neighborhoods into boutique districts, the influx of new professionals to fill the new professional jobs created by the project, and the outflow of local dollars into corporate coffers.

We could, for example, take advantage of another important development taking place over the next several months — the possible creation of a public utility district to replace the mismanagement of our energy resources by Enron/PGE — to turn the South Waterfront into a center for alternative energy and energy efficiency resources. With local leadership from a PUD board and local investment in local talent, we could build something far grander than the mayor’s vision and far more likely to keep the wealth it creates within the community.

Making that happen won’t be easy. It will take a lot more than writing a letter to the editor or standing outside City Hall for a few hours with a picket sign.If progressives are serious about making Portland something different than the corporate cookie cutter design the mayor is offering us, we need to get moving now. We need to carry out a full court press this month to delay, if not actually stop, adoption of the South Waterfront Project by the City Council. We need to get out into the community — and I’m not talking about a Saturday afternoon “workshop” at Portland State University attended by 20 people but actually going into neighborhoods door-to-door — and talk to people about why such a local alternative is in their interest and why they need to make their voices heard. We need to reach out to local businesses — many of whom are tired of seeing the corporate big dogs get the subsidies — and win their support. We need to get behind the Oregon Public Power Coalition’s efforts to win the election that will both create a PUD and elect its board members.

Challenging the South Waterfront Project as currently proposed as well as getting a progressive PUD is a tall order, but the energy expended and risks taken are well worth it.

• • •

Anyone who has been active in Portland’s progressive community will most likely have encountered Rich Lochner. Rich was a tireless advocate for social justice for over two decades. His loss will be sorely felt. We must remember that the rotten system against which we struggle inflicts the deepest of wounds. We must ensure that as we build this movement that we also care for our wounded. Outlasting the wealthy bastards, after all, is one of the highest forms of resistance we can offer.

—Dave Mazza



The Portland Alliance 2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
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Last Updated: September 4, 2003