Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Something I Never Expected To Deal With

I can remember the conversation as it was yesterday. It was some cloudy random morning in Boise, and I was getting ready for another school day at Fairmont Junior High school, ready to tackle the challenges that face any somewhat typical 8th grade student. Granted, I had just started school there a few months prior, so I was still known as the “new kid”, but my adventures there are for a different day. My mom happened to be up and reading the newspaper, when she scanned through the local headlines and read about a developmental home being suggested for a few blocks from my home. The home would help people in transition who where dealing with smaller mental issues or other developmental concerns, and the home would be a gateway for them to interact with people directly in ways that most of them probably hadn’t before. There would be complete supervision of them, but it would also help them gain some freedom that they'd been missing from being institutionalized for most of their lives.

It seemed like a good idea in my mind, especially to help others and help them become a part of a community, but instead, I got a venom filled speech how something like that doesn’t belong in my neighborhood at all, and how dare they put crazy people near our home, where kids live and go to school. I sheepishly kept my mouth shut, filling it with Lucky Charms rather than try and debate her that morning, mostly because I didn't feel confident that I could even talk about the issue with any authority. And besides, this was my parent, and there was a bit of respect due to them for the whole “bringing us into the world” thing that she would remind me of as I was being scolded for whatever random trouble I would get in.

Granted, it’s almost 30 years since that conversation, and I hadn’t really thought about it much until I started going to counseling again. Yes, I’m actually spending time rehashing the events in my life to try and make sense of the randomness and insanity that brought me to this point. Because my mom died in 2005, I’ll never get a chance to say a lot of things to her about my life now, and ask her about some of the most idiotic things she used to do. One thing I could never relate to was her almost irrational distaste of anything in her neighborhood that she didn’t want, be it a transitional home, neighbors of color, or something that would bring extra traffic through their street. She wanted to be in control of her surroundings as much as possible, even if there was no way to really do that unless you dealt with them in a completely passing aggressive way. Yes, there's passive aggressive, and then there's my mom's approach of swearing at it as she drove by, but being nice up close if she ever actually encountered the neighbors. While I inherited some things from her that I’m working on getting a handle on, I still love her immensely and I thank everything possible that I didn’t get her paranoia when it comes to her neighborhood. If you could think of the ultimate poster child of a NIMBY person (Not In My Back Yard for the abbeviationally challenged), it would probably be my mom. If it didn’t make sense, don’t bring it here and even if it made sense, let’s question it to no end before doing anything.

So it’s with a great deal of amusement that I read the latest bits of comments about the MLS to Portland bid, as we head into the final stretches of the review before the March 11the deadline for the city to say yes or no for Portland to pursue an MLS franchise. Every article posted recently one way or the other about the deal brings out the calls of “why are we doing this now?”, “why waste money on soccer of all things?”, “why do this when schools are closing, and the city is struggling?” or the ultimate question “why give money to a millionaire when he’s got the money to do it himself?” from the anonymous sludge of the Internet, basically repeating the mantra of many NIMBYs who either can’t figure out the idea so it must be bad or if the idea isn’t’ taking care of my single favorite issue that I care about over anything, it’s not worth doing. The latest posting on OregonLive asks the question about using urban renewal funds to update PGE Park versus using them for another purpose that they were supposedly intended on being used for. Many of the comments on the echo the questions above, and really don’t address the major point of using the funds in the first place.

I get that we are living in a rather unique time in our lives, where our unbridled consumerism has run head first into an economic slowdown that hasn’t been seen of this magnitude for years. Companies are cutting jobs and services, businesses are closing down, people are losing their homes and selling off any extra assets they can, while the news reports of more lost jobs, bad economic news, and governments struggling with budgets and stimulus packages to try and shake the doldrums. It seems like every industry is asking for some type of help from the government, while regular people are being left on the sidelines to struggle along and try and keep up. So there is reason to be scared, because there is a huge amount of uncertainty abound. I think that anyone that doesn’t understand that is either working in a business that isn’t affected or is not in tune with reality right now. But when you hit these points, you can either live in a paranoid state of affairs and wait for the other shoe to drop, or you can live your life as normally as possible, modifying things where needed but not living scared of the trauma outside. It’s the ultimate form of put up or shut up, and while I can relate to both sides of the coin, when it comes to MLS, I’m firmly in the camp of put up and make this happen.

Granted, PGE Park isn’t a blight, far from it. There’s plenty of businesses abound, new condos being built, and a MAX station right across the street. It doesn’t have dilapidated buildings, or abandoned cars strung about it, but I can’t think of a better renewal project than taking a baseball/soccer stadium that doesn’t really work for baseball and turn it into a soccer park that works and works well. You would have a world-class facility that would bring top-level soccer to Portland, in addition to other events, like soccer exhibitions, concerts, football games, and other events that wouldn’t come to Portland now. Anyone who watched the Women’s World Cup here realizes the magic in PGE when it’s full of 25,000 soccer fans and the place is buzzing. We could have that here again, but it’s not as easy as just saying “Ok, let’s build it”. You have to figure out what to do with the baseball team, you have to determine how to pay for the whole deal, and then hope the long-term prospects of each league give the best potential to pay back the bonds issued to pay for it all. And none of those questions come with easy answers.

But for me, it’s really easy, because I believe it’s a great investment for our future. And while I am a die-hard soccer fan, I’m also very pragmatic when it comes to what cities do to develop their core for their current and future residents. Not everybody loves sports, so cities need to invest in things that residents like to do so that they will be happy and remain residents of the area. That means investing in and supporting cultural events, like museums and the symphony, giving support to schools and other public services, taking care of roads and other transportation structures, and providing basic services that people need, like garbage and water. It’s all part of the bigger picture, and everything has its place in the grand scheme. And ignoring one part of the equation means throwing the entire equation out of whack. Portland has been amazing in supporting different events and groups for years, and I see that continuing for now and in the future, both from a city and from resident involvement. You can’t focus completely on the arts without addressing schools or sports, and vice versa. What makes the whole picture work is providing support for things that bring livability to the area, and even in the tough times we face now, it’s important to invest in things that keep people happy residents in an area and keep them from moving to other areas. It’s tough to stand up and say, “I know we’re short money, but building a stadium would help things a lot and here’s why.”, but at the same point, it’s tough not being scared when you are faced with the economics that are going on now.

The stadium deal would provide capital investment and jobs where they are needed, and could transform the area into something special, which could trigger other projects to start up. It could very well spur families to spend money to see what the fuss is about, and it could cause members of the Timbers Army like myself to spend more money to follow their beloved team without thinking about it. But doing nothing right now and acting scared in the face of the economic turmoil means that the fears win out and things don’t change at all. This could be good, or could be bad, we don’t know to be honest, but I have faith in the people calling the shots. It's as simple as being afraid of things like my mom was, or trusting in the folks in charge to realize that this just might work.

And that's a hard thing after reading headlines of corporations stealing money or going bankrupt, or seeing the sports headlines talk about cheaters or athletes with legal issues going on. A lot of sports people act rather spoiled and do things that they shouldn't, but is that really because of sport or is that just them being human? Nobody is perfect, and all we can do is our best and apologize for our mistakes and move on. And do it in a rather meaningful way, not an overly orchestrated apology that seemed canned. I don't know about you, but something about A-Rod's recent press release seems too convenient, too rehearsed, and not nearly as apologetic as I would expect.

But then again, we can't expect athletes to do anything more than do what they do, which can be superhuman at times or tragic like the rest of us. To expect perfection is to be let down when they fail, which happens more than even they would want to admit. That also goes with trust and moving forward, because it would be easy to sit back and be scared of things or not want to change anything because it's too scary or it might cost too much or it might affect my way of life, but life doesn't just sit still. And regret is something that we all deal with, sometimes not too well. It's a different feeling to try something and fail rather than not do anything and then just sit and wonder what might happen or what could have been. It's about putting trust in the people that we elect or are in the positions to do things, and working with them to make things happen. And right now, I trust the people involved with MLS to Portland.

Merritt Paulson has been a tremendous owner for the Beavers and Timbers, and he realizes what a special city we have here, and he’s willing to invest his time and money to bring MLS here. He’s been out talking with people about the project, but he’s also had his players out in the community, speaking to kids, serving the very area that they live in, be it at clinics or other appearances. He’s kept ticket prices reasonable over the years, and provided some top quality entertainment for sports fans to spend their lazy summer days at, and it’s been a great ride. The only thing he’s done wrong is share his last name with his dad, who happened to be the person on duty for the former administration when the financial crisis hit loud and center and his dad worked on a few ideas to try and stimulate business, mostly by perceived handouts. Hank Paulson didn’t create this mess, he was the person on duty when it exploded, and the mess was a combination of unbridled greed combined with a market that was humming along using some inflated expectations. Any economics person will tell you what goes up must come down, and sure enough, it came down hard last year. But what Merritt is asking for now is a combined investment of funds, with the city refurbishing an asset it owns, PGE Park, while building a new asset for the baseball team, while Paulson covers the team expenses, and it’s a plan that is solidly based. Per Randy Leonard, it would appear that both sides are very close to coming up with a long-term plan to make this happen, because the numbers make sense.

And so for us soccer fans, keep up the faith, because we are in the long-term stretch here and it’s very important to keep informed and involved as much as you can. And for the NIMBYs in the audience, the only thing I would ask is to keep an open mind and not immediately destroy an idea just because. Visit the MLS to Portland site, or visit your city commissioner’s web pages to learn more about the truth of MLS to Portland, and make up your mind based on the information there. We can do this without sacrificing the things that make this city great, but it’s up to all of us to realize the special opportunity we are being presented, and bring MLS to our back yard.

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