Tuesday, March 17, 2009

So Now What Happens

I couldn't think of a better title after last week's events, but it is a question I've been asked by a lot of my friends. Especially since the City Council voted 3 to 2 to the agreement to work on an agreement, so what's the next step?

Well, I could write it all down, or just link you to Mark Larrabee's last article about it, which really does a good job of explaining the next steps. There's still a lot of work to do, but what this does do is allow Merritt Paulson to start talking more to MLS, and allows more concrete work to be done in firming up the financing. There's still the $15 million dollar question to be figured out, plus there's also the question of where do the Trail Blazers stand on all of this?

As you may know from reading this blog or the newspaper, the Trail Blazers made a last ditch attempt to submarine the MLS deal. I did get a very nice email from the team about it, saying it was miscommunication on their part, but they want to make sure their vision matches the vision for the area. With all due respect to the team, the Coliseum isn't theirs to decide what to do, and the fact that this tidbit of information is even under contention makes me more angry at the team. They've finally got things going the right way on the court, but instead of making smart business decisions, they make short sighted decisions without gaging the impact. A large portion of the team's fan base still can't see the games on cable because Comcast Sports Net isn't on most satellite systems, the team is raising ticket prices in most parts of the arena, and then this. Seriously, are you just trying to kill any good will the town has for this team? I know it's hard to separate the team from the business end, but for me, that's really what I will need to do over the next few weeks. It's sad because I am happy they are making a playoff run, but at the same time, the greed and lack of forethought lately makes me wonder about the culture of the team.

The schools are also ramping up for any fight about the potential of an urban renewal district, courtesy of the commissioner of the county, Ted Wheeler. One organization, Stand for Children, was so proud of their efforts to get this removed, they celebrated the decision with a congratulatory email, which some of the Timbers Army received. I can understand wanting to protect your domain, but as has been pointed out, it's not as if the city was the only group to profit from these districts, as schools and other public services have benefited from these. I wonder what will happen now if schools try these type of bonds to finance their expansion, and how some people might react to it? What frustrated me about their conduct during the hearing and afterwards is that Portland Public Schools was the only group with their hands out so to speak, saying the idea would harm them, yet other school districts would be affected as well. Plus, this idea had been on the table for months, and instead of being constructive and helping the process along, you wait for an last minute tactic to attempt to destroy it. Wow, that's thinking about the city as a whole.

I get that educating kids is expensive and schools need attention, but I also have an educator in my family and a relative that works for a school as a secretary, and I get to see the other side of the equation. Teachers working long hours with little direction, trying to manage the testing needs with actual learning, while the districts continue to throw money at the situation and the results are average at best. Two issues that I see with the schools is the budgeting process itself and the influx of new students. Oregon's budget process doesn't allow districts to keep any funds they don't spend, so agencies need to spend it in order to prove it was a need, and if you don't spend it, it may or may not be added in future budgets. So instead of spending wisely and trying to save, it's a matter of spend it or else, so many decisions may not be the wisest. And when you are trying to educate a vastly changing populace about here, I know it's a challenge, but is it the right choice to try and educate kids in Spanish, hoping they will be able to catch up with the rest of the class? Not that I want to pile on complaints I hear about all the time, but it is frustrating to hear about children who either can't learn English or don't want to, so it's a matter of the districts to meet the need, even if that slows down everybody else. I get that for many people that move here, it's comfortable to speak in your native tongue, but at the same time, say I moved to Italy, I wouldn't expect the Italians to all speak English for me, I'd learn the language.

And I never want to short change the schools, because I understand education is important, but at the same time, is that the only thing that should even benefit from state budgets, city budgets or windfalls? I remember being told that school districts would fail if they didn't get more money, and that conversation was when I was in 7th grade, which is almost 30 years ago. I kept hearing it during my school days there, while in Spokane at college, and during the nearly 20 years I've lived in Oregon. At some point, you have to ask yourself when is it enough? The gloom and doom message is great every now and then, and it's easy to say it's about the kids and their future, but at what point do you have to start asking yourself is it time to look elsewhere? I'm not advocating pulling massive amounts of money out of schools, but rather look at the financing angle and see if there's a better way to do this. The tax structure in Oregon is already wacky, and subject to the volatility of the housing markets, since property tax remains a key funding source, and the ups and down of employment. If people are losing homes and jobs, that does impact us greatly as a state, but when things are good in those areas, we are fine. Maybe it's time to find something more stable.

But at this point, those discussions are long off, and probably won't happen for a while. For now, the focus is on contacting MLS to alert them to what Portland can bring, and providing grass roots support when Merritt does make his MLS pitch. He will be in Seattle this Thursday to start the MLS season, and while I don't expect an announcement for us there, I would expect it soon. Vancouver has already been linked as a near definite choice, and I'm glad they got chosen. They are a smart soccer market, have great fans, and it's a beautiful city to visit, and I look forward to many trips up there over the years. And the Timbers actually started their season last week in San Jose, and play at the University of Portland on Friday versus New York Red Bull. Showing support of the current USL team helps the overall MLS effort, so if you can come, please do, and if not, find another game soon to attend and bring a friend. There's still a lot to do, and many questions to answer. But one thing is not in dispute. Portland is Soccer City USA, and the MLS is coming, whether the naysayers like it or not.

I'll provide my thoughts about Friday over the weekend, stay dry out there everybody.

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