Friday, November 20, 2020

City Council, November 23rd - Affordable Homes and German Baptist Church Project

Council convenes on Monday the 23rd, and on appeal from Grant Neighborhood Association they'll be reviewing the Planning Commission's approval to redevelop the First German Baptist Church of 1928 into 19 affordable homes.

First German Baptist Church of 1928
Recently, Evergreen Presbyterian Church (2014)

That will need to be argued on the merits, but former Councilor Kaser's resignation and agreement with the State Ethics Commission does in fact cast a shadow on the review: Council's decision to accede to the Grant Neighborhood Association's request to deny funds in an earlier proceeding appears to have been conducted in some degree of bad faith.

A finding of one violation
of ORS 244.120(2)(a)

Even though in a preliminary consultation the City Attorney may have suggested she was in the clear, it was obviously a questionable situation, which is why she requested guidance from the City Attorney in the first place. She could have invoked the proverbial "abundance of caution" and declared a potential conflict even if she did not believe there was one in fact. She could have covered her bases. But instead of choosing the spirit of disclosure, she chose the spirit of non-disclosure and secrecy.

It is the Neighborhood Association and the City, not the developer, who has left evidence for bad faith. Until someone turns up evidence that is more than merely conjecture and hypothetical, the developer here deserves the benefit of any doubt or uncertainty.

On the merits, the Staff Report identifies problems with the appeal. One element was new to me. Several times this year representatives from Grant have said they would be ok with RM2, but not RH, zoning. Staff reply that a typical RM2 project would be even bigger!

The applicant’s proposal is for nineteen one-bedroom or studio units. The subject properties, under the RM-II zone, would be allowed a maximum of nine dwelling units. However, the RM-II zone does not have limitations or standards regarding the number of bedrooms within a dwelling unit. The majority of the multi-family projects developed within the City of Salem have two and three bedroom dwelling units. Therefore, a typical multifamily nine-unit development would include between 18 to 27 bedrooms on the subject properties, greatly exceeding the number of rooms and residents on the property [in] the proposal.

This is the grasping-at-straws characteristic of Neighborhood Association's whole set of objections to the project. They have not identified any actual problems, only theoretical and hypothetical ones. On balance, there is no good reason to oppose the project, and there are many good reasons to want to see it succeed. Council should affirm the Planning Commission's decision.

See previously:

Watergate trickster and disgraced President
presiding at the New Police Station?

On the agenda also is an amendment to the construction agreement for the Gerry Frank Amphitheater at Riverfront Park. The terms of that agreement seem reasonable and do not seem very remarkable, but the honoree was in the news this week, and it may be that we need to give more critical thought to the way we honor his legacy. A new Amphitheater is one thing, the new Police Station another.

Part of an April 2018 opinion

You've probably seen the photo taken at Bentley's a couple years ago of a different person, a notorious political figure, after speaking at an important statewide political conference. He was flanked by a kind of gang, and flashing a new sign for white supremacy. The gang has been in the news here recently and it sounds like they might be assembling again for a demonstration this weekend. 

That speaker had been around. He was first active on Richard Nixon's 1972 campaign, had a shadowy, uncertain involvement in Watergate, and became known as a master of "dirty tricks." The speaker was also involved in tricks for the 2016 campaign, later arrested by the FBI, and subsequently convicted and sent to prison.

Wednesday, front page

Back to Frank, yesterday on the front page was a story about a donation of memorabilia for the new Police Station. It featured a photo with Nixon, dated well after his presidency - in 1987 or 1989, it's hard to tell. The headline on the story, "At 97, this Salem celebrity is downsizing," and its tone throughout, elided the more consequential portion of a life in politics. Frank is significant not because of chocolate celebrity, but because he was long-time Chief of Staff for one of Oregon's most important politicians, Mark Hatfield. That's how he got the pictures.

And it's a reasonable question to ask whether Tricky Dick and the spirit of his associates best exemplify the spirit of Justice we want to see at the new Police Station and over the Community Room.

The photo also suggests the post-Goldwater dance between moderate Republicans and the extreme right, sometimes drawn in closely, other times pushed away for plausible deniability.

Sen. Hatfield on the far right - twitter

In 1968 Senator Hatfield wrote an introduction to The American Far Right: A Case Study of Billy James Hargis and Christian Crusade and he was clearly aware of the proto-fascist element in the far right and in his party. We are struggling mightily with these forces today, and the nature of policing is one of the specially contested sites in that struggle. (The full thread and others by our local twitterstorian are worth a read!)

On the one hand, a set of photos at the Police station is just background, hardly important. Few are really going to notice. But on the other hand, there is a very real politics encoded in the set, and it is symbolic. For some it could operate as a kind of dog whistle. From the piece:

Just outside the community room at the new Salem Police a collage of 10 frames, including letters from Mother Theresa and autographed photographs...with Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush Sr.

Even apart from Nixon, the whole if it is partisan, just not neutral at all, and there is reason to think it does not express the values and inclusiveness we currently want to instantiate at the new station. In accepting the donation as they did, the City may not have "read the room" adequately. The donor is hard to say no to, but maybe there was more judgement to have been exercised. If the City is going to take the Performance Audit and any reform seriously, and is going to think through questions of systems and culture and training, it should also have thought more about the optics here in the donation and display of photos.

The amphitheater is consistent with a post-politics career in travel and entertainment and it is a fitting way to recognize an important career and person. The photos testify to a partisan politics and may not be suitable for an inclusive community room that should express an impartial commitment to Justice for all.


Sarah Owens said...

This ------> "In accepting the donation as they did, the City may not have "read the room" adequately. The donor is hard to say no to, but maybe there was more judgement to have been exercised. If the City is going to take the Performance Audit and any reform seriously, and is going to think through questions of systems and culture and training, it should also have thought more about the optics here in the donation and display of photos."

Sarah Owens said...

A majority of Council (everyone except Mayor Bennett) voted to approve staff recommendation to affirm Planning Commission decision with one amendment to lower max height from 50 to 40 ft. Grant could appeal the decision, however.

Salem Reporter on Kaser ethics violation:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

This quote from Mayor Bennett really exemplifies how we have normalized exclusionary ideology in the preservationist mode. From Salem Reporter:

"Mayor Chuck Bennett was the only vote against the change, lamenting the loss of historic homes in Salem’s neighborhoods to development.

'I continue to believe that our affordable close-in neighborhoods that are devoted to families is something we need in Salem. It’s a kind of housing that if we need housing for a variety of needs, neighborhoods like NEN and Grant and Highland, CANDO, even parts of SCAN, are really what we need to keep preserving,' he said.

These close-in neighborhoods will be easiest for low-car and car-free living, and we should want to make that easier as we move to reduce emissions citywide. They are also closer to the kinds of urban amenities that we should want to share rather than hoard restrictively.

Additionally, if we increase the supply of housing in them, they will be better positioned to maintain "affordability" in the non-subsidized sense. Maintaining scarcity under the guise of "preservationism" will drive up prices. (Of course that is a feature for many rather than a bug.)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

CANDO has an important footnote on the December 14th meeting of the Housing Authority.

"Council was again asked to approve HOME funding for the DevNW project....It did so by a vote of six (Andersen, Ausec, Bennett, Hoy, Lewis, Nordyke) to one (Nanke -- no reason given), with zero remarks from Mayor Bennett."

This unwinds the sneaky denial of funding from last summer on the church project.