Sunday, March 9, 2014

City Council March 10th - Pilot Neighborhood Heritage Program

Real light Council agenda for tomorrow night.

A new program for Historic Neighborhoods and a proposed grant for crosswalk safety enforcement are among the topics.

Grant Neighbhorhood in Transition:
The lawn and fountain at Broadway Commons;
across the street on Broadway, a renovated four-square house
Probably the most interesting items touch on historic preservation. There's a new appointment to the Historic Landmarks Commission, and a brief report on a pilot program in the Grant Neighborhood.

Do you remember before Broadway Commons?
You might have noticed change in the Grant neighborhood in the last half-decade.  It's a neighborhood in transition.  There are great things about this and there are downsides. (You know, that whole "change" thing.)

One of the tools in balancing the old and the new has been historic districts.  Lately, though, they have seemed less popular because in return for tax breaks, they do impose on home and building owners additional fees and regulatory burdens.  Both the Fairmount and Grant neighborhoods have said "No" to their creation recently. On the other hand, the Court-Chemeketa Historic District has stopped deterioration in the neighborhood and in many ways the restoration of the Buchner House is the poster for its success.

At the same time, historic districts have been used as one of the chief tools in support of NIMBYism and in foiling redevelopment all in the name of protecting against "commercial encroachment."  Behind historic districts have also often lurked faultlines on class, ethicity, and all that the word "gentrification" implies. (Here's a very nice piece on a debate in Brooklyn over a predominantly African-American neighborhood with gorgeous brownstones.)

And of course, the issues are magnified over at the North Campus of the State Hospital, which has its own Historic District.

Somewhere there's a balance between the wanton destruction or "demolition by neglect" of old homes, houses, and buildings, and the creation of (and in many cases reversion to) more walkable forms of commercial development; a balance between desired redevelopment and enhanced property values, and pricing residents out of a neighborhood; a balance between retaining old beauty and creating new beauty. Even if one generation finds the right balance, changing conditions in a new generation may require new tools.

So the City of Salem is trying something new:
The Salem Neighborhood Heritage Program is proposed by the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) as part of their public outreach and education program. This program is intended to encourage Salem neighborhoods to celebrate their history and provide an opportunity for them to engage in a positive way with the City's Historic Preservation Program. The HLC will begin the program with a pilot project in the Grant neighborhood that will be funded with Certified Local Government (CLG) grant funds.
At Council there's also an application for a pedestrian safety grant. It'll fund the overtime for police to conduct a safety education and enforcement action at intersections to be determined. You know the drill: The police announce an action and even specify the location, and they still ticket folks! (Pedestrian impedance all the way around.)

Police conducting crosswalk safety enforcement at 17th and Nebraska
And on both the Urban Renewal Agency side and the Council proper side, there's some administrative detail on urban renewal funding for the Minto Bridge and some other smaller projects. (Here and here.)


Jim Scheppke said...

The reason the Council had such a light agenda tonight is because 1/3 of them are at the National League of Cities meeting in Washington DC (and another was absent). The five day conference is costing us $9,000 ($3,000 for each Councilor). One of the Councilors attending is not running for reelection and one is running for another office, so it's highly unlikely that we will get our money's worth for their attendance. The State of Oregon (last I checked) has a general policy of only allowing one person to attend out of state conferences. The City should adopt a similar policy.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I don't know...How big a problem is this really? An observer or critic doesn't want to be cavalier about it, but what seems like a big amount from the perspective of a home budget is tiny compared to the total city budget and to the budget of infrastructure projects.

$3,000 = overtime + other costs for 1 crosswalk enforcement campaign
$3,000 = 1/5th of an automated bike/ped counter
$3,000 = less than 1/10th of a pedestrian median
$3,000 = about 1/100th of the cost of the median at Fairgrounds and Hood
$3,000 = less than 1/1000th of both the widening at Wallace and Glen Creek, as well as the total spent on the Salem River Crossing so far.

On the positive side, DC's way ahead of Salem on transportation. In DC Councilors can see Capital Bikeshare and even just the paint on the asphalt for bike lanes that are totally superior to anything in Salem!

If just one Councilor is inspired to accelerate funding and constructing better facilities in Salem for people on bike - a lot of it just that paint! - that alone could be worth the whole $9,000 investment per Councilor! (Really, see the pix here if you haven't.) Second-hand reports don't generate the same kind of enthusiasm that in-person encounters can generate. If $9,000 helped to create leadership for changing our still meagre approach to non-auto transportation funding, wouldn't that be an ok trade-off?

Additionally there are workshops on things like "Building Resilient Communities in the Face of Climate Change." Councilor Dickey in fact tweeted earlier on Monday that she attended one of the workshops on climate change. Maybe that's where the investment will be most effective.

It is, as you point out, unfortunate that the timing is at the end of terms rather than the beginning. It is certainly unfortunate that the City is not positioning itself to benefit fully from the trips. That's something they should consider - though perhaps experienced Councilors also have the context and accumulated experience to make better sense of the presentations and conversations. (But we consistently focus on the technical details of a message instead of the social status or nature or relationship of the messenger. As Dick Hughes' recent column points out, messengers are important! Moreover, no amount of truth and technical detail has been persuasive on the Salem River Crossing. Hearing things from peers in other cities may have a greater impact than hearing things from the same usual suspects inside the Salem bubble.)

In the total picture of problems with Salem government and policy, is the occasional junket a significant drain on the city budget and on tax dollars? I suspect this is an instance where the allure of small thrift might make us more provincial, not less.

Or look at it via opportunity cost. If we changed that policy, what would be the total savings and, aside from symbolism, what would be able to afford that we currently have to give up?

I'm not convinced this is a BIG problem. Small problem, maybe, but in the big picture, aren't there other, more urgent fish to fry?

Since this might become an issue in the Council campaign, it will be interesting to hear what others have to say about it.