Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bits: More Demolition on 13th; Opacity in City Government

If there's a lot of skepticism here about the "sculpture garden" at the Conference Center, the painting program inside is pretty great. It's a free gallery for citizens - it highlights works in the City's collection - and the focus is strongly regional. It's worth checking out.

House II by Michael Brophy
Hallie Ford Museum of Art
And the paintings aren't all happy, anodyne things.They aren't going to go out of their way to offend or anything, but most of them aren't banal, soothing, decorative things, either. Sometimes they pose questions. It's real art!

One of the paintings is this demolished house by Michael Brophy.  He paints lots of forests, so this is in one sense a scene of a forest transformed, the end of a group of trees (maybe final, maybe not - maybe it's merely a moment in process and will be subject to still more transformation, become fuel or salvaged for example, but I read the ruin mainly as waste rather than as a site of creativity and potential).

Modest Four-Square demolished this week
This house on 13th street between Court and Chemeketa, the former office of a controversial developer, and recently purchased by the Oregon School Board Association, had fallen into disrepair, and the OSBA was issued a demolition permit last Monday. The roofline was sagging and it is possible it truly wasn't worth saving. This week, readers say, it was demolished.

As you can see it is surrounded by parking and presumably will become an extension of the existing parking lots.

In February according to the paper,
OSBA executive director Betsy Miller-Jones said the association wanted the 19-space parking lot, which is directly behind OSBA’s current office near the state Capitol. The association won’t use or rent out the building, she said.

“Particularly during legislative session, parking is in short supply,” Miller-Jones said.
This stretch of 13th is really getting hollowed out.  Last fall, a block to the north, a former medical clinic designed by Pietro Belluschi was also demolished.  The blocks between 12th/RR and 13th are an awkward buffer between the residential neighborhood and the insitutional uses of Willamette and the State of Oregon.

Belluschi clinic last year
And you might recall from a couple of days ago Ada Louise Huxtable's 1970 observation about parking:
Some day, some American city will discover the Malthusian truth that the greater number of automobiles, the less the city can accommodate them without destroying itself. The downtown that turns itself into a parking lot is spreading its own dissolution.
How is it that car storage offers greater value - economic and non-economic - than a building and all the exchange and trade and creativity that happens in it?

That is one messed-up Faustian bargain.

Second Story: Baby Doll Suite
by Randy Hayes, Hallie Ford Museum of Art
(Oil on photographs - worth a closer look!)
When the hearing notice for the Church Street Manor was published, it didn't seem all that interesting.

In the notice the applicant makes
A consolidated application for a proposed 28-unit room and board facility serving up to 75 persons that contains the following requests...change the Salem Area Comprehensive Plan Map designation from "Multiple Family Residential" to "Commercial" change the zone district from RM1 (Multiple Family Residential) to CO (Commercial Office)...[and a] Conditional Use Permit request to establish a 28-unit room and board facility...[italics added]
This is something new, right?  A "proposed" room and board facility - though it seemed strange a boarding house needs "commercial" zoning rather than "multiple family."  Whatever.  Zoning is strange and too often dumb or counter-intuitive. It didn't look very interesting.

Well.  Guess what!

According to the paper
in 2008, a new owner changed the name [of the nursing home] to Church Street Manor and began renting out the property's 28 rooms...
So it's not "proposed" at all! It's a going concern that has problems with crime and problems with not being an allowed use for the actual zoning. It just wants to go legit - at least as far as the zoning is concerned.

But you can't tell any of this from the hearing notice.

Too often the City satisfies the letter of the law in making information public, but to heck with the spirit!  The hearing notice was pretty much totally opaque, and unless to you have local, neighborhood knowledge, there was no way to know what was actually going on in the hearing.

I think that some critics of the City have gone overboard in accusing them of being "secretive" or of planning "in secret," but it's unquestionably true that the City is too often unhelpful, obfuscating, and not really interested in meaningful and effective outreach.

This is a perfect and absolutely clear example.

(Both paintings were just hung at the Conference Center.)


Jim Scheppke said...

I think what the "critics" are saying, if you listen carefully, is not about secrecy or "opacity" or outreach. It's about inclusion and participation. It's interesting to read today's SJ about Courthouse Square and the fact that it seems that the planning task force that was convened to decide what to do about it, after much thrashing about, arrived at the best solution. The City could learn from that. There are lots of smart, knowledgeable, caring people in Salem that would give of their time to help our City government make good decisions. They've seldom been called upon in recent years. Instead we have had a series of hand-picked rubber stamp committees. It doesn't work, as we've seen.

Walker said...

Telling that the city has NUMEROUS advisory boards, but as far as I know they never actually interact with any of the city council members whom, in theory, chartered these boards to advise them.

I sit on the Library Advisory Board; once they decided to launch the push for the new police palace they sent someone from staff to talk to us about it, but that was because at a 3-board meeting (Foundation Board, Library Advisory Board, and Friends of the Library Board) several of us made a stink about seismic at the library. So then the staffer floats over to tell us what they have decided to do with us and the bond . . . we were never invited to suggest, oh, you know, that maybe we might want to give the police an already existing building and move to a neighborhood based, decentralized library system. (You may disagree with that, Jim, but the point is that the idea should have been discussed publicly at length before the city locked down into their bond proposal outline -- participation and inclusion AT A TIME WHEN IT MATTERS is the issue). The City of Salem typically loves inclusion and participation of the "Salute when we tell you to, at what we tell you to salute" variety. Deciding what goes up the flagpole -- they use handpicked groups for that, pre-determined to attain the objective selected . . .Bridgeasaurus Boondogglus being the epitome example.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

@Jim: Well, blog posts like "How the City of Salem planned police facility in secretive manner" are confusing if what you say is true. In that same post another SCV member is cited as talking about a "secret process."

This may no longer represent an SCV position, but I don't think the inference was the result of not listening or not reading carefully. SCV rhetoric has featured claims about "secrecy" several times over the last few months.

Since we are talking matters of emphasis and not fundamental disagreement, it's not helpful to put too much weight on this, but perhaps it is time to dial back those claims about secrecy.

(As for Courthouse Square, unfortunately we will have to wait another decade or so to see if it is actually fixed. I have my doubts that the carbon fiber wraps - or whatever technology is the key - will endure and yield a safe building with a life of 50 years or more. It looks too much like the shiny new technology toy an engineer might find attractive and rush to embrace - only later to learn there were problems with it. But that's just speculation and there will be no way to know for several years.)

Anonymous said...

I love the Huxtable quote. I spent a weekend in downtown Eugene recently, and was surprised by the amount of prime real estate around the Hult Center dedicated to open air parking lots. Lends a sad and shabby air to what should be a cool and happening place.

Anonymous said...

And that Church Street Manor situation is infuriating. I don't live in the area, but anyone who thinks the sitting members of the Planning Commission would stand by while this kind of thing happened in their own neighborhoods is dead wrong. Makes me sick.

Curt said...

Jim opines that the way the City of Salem makes decision doesn't work. I think that would depend on what your idea of "work" is. If work means a healthy, happy, productive, and sustainable city; then it definitely does not work. If "work" means accurately representing the wishes of Salem citizens, then I think it has been very successful.

Look at our council races. We have two candidates, Scott Bassett and Tom Andersen, that are campaigning on a platform that includes protecting free parking. They are obviously doing this because parking is very popular and grass roots efforts to promote it have been very successful. They haven't been persuaded at all by Salem's history of demolishing building for car storage, the fact that Howard Hall sits in the crosshairs of the parking cancer, or the Malthusian consequences of parking sprawl for the bankrupt cities of Detroit, San Bernardino, Harrisburg, or Stockton.

Not even Oregon land use law is strong enough to prevent the City of Salem from delivering what the people have forcefully demanded. So when it comes to the hollowing out of our city, Salem citizens and voters get what they deserve.

Anonymous said...

Re: City Council races. Curt, don't you have to be a little pragmatic on this issue? It's hard to see how anyone could get elected on a "no free parking" platform right now. Hopefully candidates once elected will be able to "evolve" on parking policy. There's no guarantee that'll happen, but it's at least a possibility, isn't it?

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Another example of why there should still be a Land Use Network of Neighborhood Association members. From 1992 to 2012 the LUN worked with staff on land use issues. We were the 'go to' group for vetting land use ideas, codes and policies. LUN did not take positions on anything. It was a place where staff could come and get feedback, insights and support from NAs. But then administration decided it was too expensive. Apparently the cost of having one person stay 2 hours once a week was too much.

NA tried to keep the organization going on its own. Vickie Hardin Woods ( the past director of Planning) even came and tried to get something useful going, but then she retired and the whole thing fell apart.

Some of the SCV people are former LUN members. I can tell you that the policy of trying to hold back citizen involvement almost always comes round to bite you in the end.

I have said for decades that giving people a voice in the government keeps them from going to the streets.

The City leadership has no clue about what the citizens of Salem want, nor do they care. They have no clue how to connect with the public, and they have no desire to really be 'servants' of anyone. Dick Hughes says that their methods are antiquated. Well, that may be true, but more than that I think that this cluelessness is by design.

SCV is the tip of the iceberg in what Salem citizens think. Figuring out what they want is easy, because they have found a voice.

The real challenge is to figure out what the others who have not yet found their voice want. Because we aren't going to get anything but no voted out of those who feel left out. And interpreting a "no vote" is almost impossible.

I agree that we are not going to make progress until attitudes change. I would hope that the people who call themselves "community leaders" would extend the first offer.

A good place to begin would be by establishing a real representative committee of citizens to look at the Civic Center/Police facility bond.

The City Council is supposed to be working on their Council Goals soon. I urge people to contact them about ideas of what to include and I hope this will be one of those suggestions.

Jim Scheppke said...

Great discussion everyone! Thanks. This blog rocks!

Curt said...

Anon: Here's an example of how Pittsburg mayor Bill Peduto handled it in his campaign:

“We can utilize free-market-based pricing technologies to provide the parking spaces needed and incentivize behavioral changes that will benefit everyone.”

Effective leaders know how to win hearts and minds without pandering to the lowest common denominator. In the past Scott and Tom have been supportive of parking reform. So maybe a more pragmatic goal is to prevent more reform minded candidates from DE-volving their in their positions and fight for their values. Their flip-flopping may get them some campaign contributions and votes in the short term but it will set back my aspirations for a more vibrant Salem in the long term.

But one can always hope that, if they do get elected, they will be able to stand up to their supporters (many of whom have turned on Laura Tesler).

I am pragmatic enough to recognize that no candidate is going to vote the way I would like them to on every issue. But I do know that Sheronne Blasi is a rational, evidence-based decision maker with a great deal of intellectual integrity that is persuaded by facts and not politics. I don't know how she might vote on parking in the future, but I do know she will listen.

Curt said...

More on the Pittsburg/Detroit comparison:

Salem directly subsidizes parking with urban renewal taxes and fees. Detroit indirectly subsidizes parking with preferential tax treatment. While Detroit feel further and further into decline, Pittsburg implemented the one of the highest parking taxes in the country. Now Pittsburg's rust belt renaissance is being highlighted as a model for other cities to follow while Detroit is the largest municipal bankruptcy in history.

So you see (Walker), in Salem, as in Detroit, the highway to hell is always paved with good intentions.

Lee said...

I think this house close by is going bye bye too.,-123.024676,3a,75y,270h,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sgI5Zji4bCFtMh8-04JyhRw!2e0?hl=en

Lee said...

One good piece of news for the neighborhood though. Looks like there's a community garden going in here.,-123.02295,3a,75y,300.42h,82.89t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sFnMgDCL1hNmNAnST2Vn_0g!2e0?hl=en

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Lee, thanks for the tips!

There's no demolition permit on record for that house - a turn-of-the-century four-square - but there is a demolition permit issued just today a block away for 1309 Ferry Street, which appears to be a nice art-deco-y 1930s two-story warehouse. There are some nice details on it, and it would be terrible if it were to become another surface parking lot there. We'll watch for a demolition permit on that house.

On the garden, that's great to hear! I think Walker wrote about this earlier in the year, it's good to see that concept mature.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Correction! The tax lots are very funny here, and the house that looks like it should be about 190 14th Street SE is on the tax lot identified as 1309 Ferry. So the warehouse - 1310 Ferry Street - is not being demolished, but the permit that was issued is, as Lee suggests, for that four-square house.

Ann Williams Thomas said...

The 4-Square is owned by the school district, like the warehouse, and I believe it’s been sitting idle for several years, unlike the former sanitarium house across the street. I kept hoping they were going to do something with it rather than do demolition by neglect. Like the house on 13th, it may be beyond repair. Unfortunately "boarding house row" there on 14th and along State Street may have a dampening effect on any efforts at restoration?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Yeah, you're probably right, Ann, that the perceived value and shabbiness of the "boarding house row" may makes it more difficult to maintain and even spiff up. It will be interesting to see what the School District does with the land - hopefully not more car storage!