Thursday, January 2, 2020

After Zoning Tax Fails at Ballot, Zoning Commission Quits in 1926

Before the City could be zoned in 1926, there was drama.

June 22nd, 1926
On June 21st in 1926, all of the Planning and Zoning Commission resigned:
the resignations declared that the "comprehensive bridge program," and activities formerly planned had become impossible following the refusing of the public on May 21 to grant $15,000 for expenses and expert engineer service.
In some of April and throughout May there had been lots of press and discussion about zoning and planning. In April Council had taken the Commission's request for funding and referred it to the voters. Some wanted a "do not pass" recommendation even. Passage was never a sure thing. A Letter to the Editor on May 19th explicitly talked about the values of a walkable neighborhood, the threat to the corner store, and the centralizing tendencies of zoning. (The writer also wanted a nearby garage and filling station. We may return to it, as an example of transition.)

The issue the previous day, on the 18th, had several articles in discussion.

May 18th, 1926
On the election of Friday, May 21st there were four funding items on the ballot:
  • A tax levy to provide $5000/year for three years to fund the Zoning Commission's work.
  • $30,000 in bonds for a fire truck and other fire equipment.
  • A tax levy to provide about $30,000/year for bridge construction and maintenance.
  • A tax levy to provide about $22,000/year for street work.
The Election season was strange by our modern standards. There had been a separate school election for the purchase of the future Leslie Junior High School just a couple of days earlier on Wednesday the 19th. Of the four on that Friday, only the fire department bond measure passed.

But less than the politics of the proposed tax levies themselves, it's the underlying planning matters that remain interesting today.

Transition from Streetcars to Buses

Back in January the bus company proposed to Council that they run more buses on longer routes at consistent 20 minute intervals, and to phase out the streetcars. And at a Council meeting not long after, 379 residents of Yew Park petitioned to revive the streetcar out 12th and do away with the new buses.

April 6th, 1926
The new thing of bus service was a big topic.

At Council on April 5th:
Street cars in Salem are to go the way of the buffalo and peon pants, it was indicated by T. L. Billingsley, manager of the Salem Street Railway company. Mr. Billingsley asks permission to banish street cars on the Commercial street and Fairgrounds road run and substitute street buses.

"This is the second of three units," Mr. Billingsley explained. The first was the Seventeenth street-Yew Park unit. The third will be the State street-Chemeketa street unit.
This is an interesting coincidence, then, that the development of a modern zoning scheme is concurrent with the transition from streetcar to bus.

A Citywide Bridge Program

At the same time in April, Council considered "the fill between Trade and Mill streets for the approach to the proposed Liberty street bridge." Liberty Street beween Trade and Bellevue, over Pringle Creek, was not open, and there was much talk about constructing a bridge and opening the full length of the street.

April 3rd, 1926
On the 3rd, our old friend Conde McCullough presented his concept for the bridge on Liberty Street.

The Planning and Zoning Commission were hoping to "draw up plans for a complete bridge schedule for Salem. This work on the Liberty street project is but the beginning in the drawing up of the schedule."
While plans have been getting underway, the fill between Trade and Mill streets has been going steadily on. It is the plan to fill up the street through this segment, so that the span will not have to be so large as to make the cost prohibitive. The chief supply of dirt for the fill at present is the quarter block on the southeast corner of High and State streets where Frank Bligh is excavating for his $250,000 theatre, store, and office building. [The Pacific Building where SKATS is today, and slightly later the Capitol Theater.]
McCullough and Modernization

In fact, Conde McCullough was doing a lot of public speaking and promotion of the bridge scheme and more general zoning and planning work. It may be that he was the one really leading the effort, that he was attempting to get the City to execute his own vision. There may be a good bit of personal ambition here. He had already argued in April for a $400,000 bond measure to fund the whole bridge program at once rather than dribbling it out over more than a decade with the $30,000/year levy. (The next day, the morning paper agreed in an editorial.)

To Rotarians, April 15th, 1926

Kiwanis Club: May 5th, 1926
To the Rotarians McCullough was reported as saying
Narrow streets are passe. In the days of Rome streets were narrow. Means of transportation did not require wide streets, and they built them narrow to save property. Methods of warfare were hand-to-hand, so they built the streets crookedly for military strategical purposes.

But now we build them wide and straight. Automobiles require wider streets and as warfare has graduated from the hand-to-hand class, we no longer need to build them crookedly. By making the streets straight we save miles and miles of our travel.
April 10th, 1926
To the Kiwanis, McCullough used the "cleaning" trope:
He likened city planning to house cleaning, declaring the only way to put a city in order is to make sure that buildings will not spring up promiscuously. For instance, there should be no stores in strictly residential districts. ...
The nascent autoism is clearly linked with ideas of purity, order, efficiency, and cleanliness.

And that word "promiscuous" keeps recurring.

Remonstrances and the rise of NIMBY

An example of the apparent disorder, and the way power was shifting to neighbors, is illustrated by a problem Adam Engel ran into in May.
A remonstrance, bearing the names of 12 property holders, was submitted voicing objection to the structure recently built by Adam Engel. Engel, when he took out his permit, stated that he planned to build a house and garage. The garages, according to the remonstrance, is being used for a warehouse in alleged violation...The commission will recommend to the council whatever action necessary to be taken to urge Engel either to tear down the structure or to cease using it for a warehouse.
This was a little before the Royal Court Apartments, and at the moment I have no idea where this was.

The popularity of formal remonstrances to Council, and the City's administrative response to them, appears to have shaped zoning and planning in response to the nascent NIMBYism and exclusionary aims. In this light, we might consider zoning as fundamentally a NIMBY tool.

Because of the election's results and the mass resignation, the zoning project was still unsettled, and next we will look at the second round of appointments to the Planning and Zoning Commission, meet another old friend, and see if we can discern any new patterns as they mapped.

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