Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Footnotes: Nordstrom Project may Remove Anti-Pedestrian Skybridges, No Update on Union St at Council

Buried at the end of today's SJ piece on the Nordstrom redevelopment is a very interesting tidbit.

Maybe the skybridges will go away!

From the piece:

While the Salem Center is owned separately, [a developer representative] said developers will be working with the mall owners on demolition plans as it will require they remove the connecting sky bridges.

It's not clear whether this would be merely a temporary displacement, or whether the developers envision a more permanent removal.

But whatever it is, it bears watching!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Too much Acceptance for 117 Degree Heat

Remember the balmy, salad days when a high near 100 meant alarm and warning?

Seems quaint now
August 2018

Oh wait, that was just three years ago. 

The coverage of our intense heat wave suggests we have become too comfortable with rising temperatures. The focus consistently was on ways to find relief and opportunities for fun in the water. The imagery was all fun and games.

Front page today - fun!

In Seattle they found different ways to signify heat, relief, and its cost.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Aesthetics of Sustainability and the still-Missing Middle at Fairview

Not exactly buried, but not top-of-mind either because of the heat wave, on Council's agenda are a couple of information items about the Fairview redevelopment that deserve a little notice.

Changes to the Village Center concept

The more interesting item, if perhaps less consequential, is a minor amendment to the Fairview Refinement Plan for Pringle Creek Community.

It appears that there have been further sales, not just to home owners, but to developers, and the ownership is more fragmented, and some of the criticism of the plan may represent a subtext of conflict over this rather than debate on the substance of the plan itself. The thing is a little murky, but it does not seem essential to investigate more.

Substantively, the bulk of the criticism seems to be focused on changes to the Village Center concept.

The Village Center area - via FB

The Village Center area has some grassy commons, the Painters Hall, the Root Hall, a covered pavillion that was used for wood storage I believe, and a couple of other buildings. Non-residents will know it most for Painters Hall, which has operated a cafe some times.

Erasing Climate Impact in Heat Wave

Front page today, notes added

Is the paper even dependent on newsstand sales now? If the headline is "'oppressive' heat," why lead with an image of delighted kids at play?

Sunday front page

It was great to see a closer look at the incinerator and questions about the great scope of non-local hazardous waste being shipped to it for burning. The focus was on particulate emissions and hazardous material rather than on greenhouse gas emissions. This seems like the better angle for critique of the incinerator.

Transportation remains our great source of greenhouse gas pollution, and we should not be erasing it and erasing climate generally in our coverage of the heat wave.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

City Council, June 28th - the CIP

Also on Council's agenda for Monday is the Capital Improvement Plan for 2022-2026.

Eye of Salem Sauron

I will be ready for the City to move on to the next shiny, new public art. Hopefully the Library's new piece will be more engaging. I'm sure the artist sincerely thought this would be great, even healing, but can we put it somewhere else and find pubic art that is more meaningful for right there at the police station?

The diagnosis is right, not so much the treatment

It's hard to be optimistic this morning when it's already so warm, and the prospect for all-time record heat is nearly a certainty.

Our Congressman doesn't mention driving or transportation in his opinion piece today, and yesterday the State Legislature passed a bill for major highway expansion even as they trumpeted a clean energy bill and shut the door on expanding the Bike Bill.

The autoist blind spot on emissions is so glaring and our Legislators quietly flick matches behind them while they speechify and posture.

At some point we have to stop widening

Locally, we are still working on the course-correction. I look forward to the day when I see no projects that are widening for auto capacity.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Heat Wave Discussion Deserves Stronger Climate Context

The immediate public interest is health and safety, avoiding heat-related illness and sharing information about resources for keeping cool.

Front page today (notes added)

But it is interesting to see the limits on the way we frame up that "the air is expected to become unhealthy...over the next few days." There is an explicit suggestion to avoid driving and use of other small engines and sources of emissions.

Why can't we extend this, since we have a more general and global sense in which our air has become unhealthy and dangerous? This should be our baseline now.

And there should be a stronger through-line of climate context in our reporting on this heat wave, as it is certainly exacerbated by our rising greenhouse gas levels. Our emissions and its effects on climate increase the frequency and severity of these events.

Climate Action Plan update

Separately, the City's published some materials from the last Task Force meeting, but they are not very well explained, and seem to represent a moment in process rather than a report on a milestone. They are sprawling and unfocused. They do not seem at the moment to warrant drilling into too much detail.

So a general observation about ambition. One of the slide decks is more focused. It is a "cost benefit analysis update" - but there is nothing on cost or on benefit in it. Instead, it is a list of 10 strategies, four of them ditched and four new replacements, that are getting more study:

  1. Charge for Parking
  2. Support energy efficiency and weatherizion of existing buildings
  3. Energy Efficiency Benchmarking (municipal buildings)
  4. Implement a gas tax
  5. Connect bikeways
  6. Complete Salem's sidewalk network
  7. Create dedicated bus lanes
  8. Increase tree canopy
  9. Make home EV charging accessible to renters
  10. Solar-ready new construction

But there is still no clear sense that whatever it is we are considering, it will have anticipated results commensurate with our explicit goal to reduce emissions by 50% in 2035. Is it gonna work? We still seem to be selecting strategies by how easy or palatable they are, rather than how effective they will be.

We are starting this crazy heat wave. Are our Climate Plan actions proper to the magnitude of disruption?

Friday, June 25, 2021

Demolition for the Nordstrom Store Site Shows Limits for 1970s Style Urban Renewal - Updated

Though it may not yet quite be a done deal, the matter at Council suggests the end of the former Nordstrom store, distinct from the adjoining mall portion, is very close, and may have a definite form.

SW corner, shortly after completion, 1980
Salem Library Historic Photos

Demolition of the store would make for a lifespan of just over 40 years for that part of the structure. That is short.

The structure's blank walls and skybridges expressed a fundamental hostility to sidewalk life and walking, and contributed to the autoist erosion of downtown.

The block (north on right), 1950 Sanborn

The buildings it replaced may or may not have been viable individually, but collectively together they formed a much more interesting set of buildings, and a more diverse set of building uses. The mixed ecosystem over a longer term would have been healthier and more sustainable.

Church Demolition, SW corner, 1963
Salem Library Historic Photos

Demolition, NE corner, 1978
Salem Library Historic Photos

Site fully scraped, 1979 (same orientation as Sanborn)
Salem Library Historic Photos

As we consider the Saffron/UGM block for a new round of urban renewal, we should give careful thought to the last round of urban renewal and the ways it did not generate a sustainable revival.

Historic preservation in and of itself is not always the answer. It is too often itself a denial of historical processes and change, a nostalgic clinging to the past that has exclusionary functions. But our fad for monoculture and big box redevelopment in the last century was a mistake, and needs, as our current talk about mixed-use redevelopment in Our Salem suggests is happening, a course-correction.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Big Plans at Former Nordstom Site - City Council, June 28th - Updated

We may have an answer on the former "Nordstrom mall" and store! A new project for the footprint of the former store itself, and leaving the rest of the mall intact, is in the works.

Question from February 2018

As the Urban Renewal Agency, on Monday Council will consider "an exception to the maximum grant amount for the RDURA Capital Improvement Grant Program for a total grant award of $749,999 for a mixed-use housing project."

The redevelopment plan includes the demolition of the existing building, replacing it with new construction of a 5-story, urban mixed-use building consisting of 162 rental units, ground floor commercial space and approximately 32 on-site parking spaces.

We've seen plans stall and be abandoned before, so we'll have to wait and see for sure. But even so, as a serious proposal this is big news and exciting news for downtown.  This is the kind of thing we need, even if it is all just market-rate housing. And on the surface appears to be a strong candidate for this kind of grant. Probably they would apply for the MUHTIP property tax abatement as well. We need more downtown housing and we need to fill the slack spaces and outright voids.

Separately, it is worth noting that the Historic Landmarks Commission awarded the "Ben Maxwell Award for outstanding example of new construction in a historic district" to the micro-apartments at State and Commercial.

Maybe things are really going to start cooking downtown!

Other items on Council agenda will get a second note, in particular a look at the Capital Improvement Plan, but this was worth a separate, stand-alone mention.

Update, Saturday

Only the former store footprint is in play

The tax lot information suggests only the corner that Nordstrom occupied will be demolished. The rest of the immediately adjoining mall, addressed 480 rather than 420, has separate ownership and is not part of this proposal.

Second Update, Wednesday

They've published the Council meeting and in it was a conceptual site plan the developer presented.

Site plan concept, June 28th

Some brief notes:

  • A five story building, with zero or minimal setback
  • About 30 parking stalls tucked inside, accessed off Center Street
  • Only a small retail space on the ground floor, for a cafe or coffee shop. 
  • Downtown still needs more housing and more residents before the critical mass that will bring a grocery store
  • A rooftop deck - with a gas firepit
  • Council generally very appreciative, noting alignment with Climate Action Plan concepts, and approved the grant with a unanimous vote (2 absent)

1966: Automobile Explosion Must Stop

The other day long-time Portland journalist Jeff Mapes tweeted out a clipping from 1966, "Automobile Explosion Must Stop."


Earlier this month

via Twitter

From 1966:

Add to this [inconvenience from congestion] a most serious danger: the poison which the increasing numbers of cars spew into the air that is basic to life....The fact beyond dispute is - somehow and some time we have to stop building civilization for autos and start building ones for people.

The citation is more about particulate emissions than carbon pollution, but the point is the same. Cars produce many harms in the urban environment and more widely, and we need to take more drastic steps to reconfigure our mobility in cities.

There are several other interesting points Howard K. Smith makes in passing, and you can click through the tweet to a larger image in order to read the whole.

The sentiment is not unique. Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, Ada Louis Huxtable were all making similar cases about our autoism at the later mid-century.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Bush Park Cultural Landscape Plan out in Draft for Review

The City's announced a draft is out for review of the Cultural Landscape Management Plan for Bush Park and Deepwood.

Draft Plan out for review

From here, while the plan touches on the way the parks are embedded in the larger Gaiety Hill and Bush Park Historic District, the plan does not give sufficient attention to relations across the park edges, especially the question of how people travel to the park.

Strictly speaking, this is outside the scope of the plan, but when we talk about trip end facilities like better bike parking, or of "gateways" at park corners, we should give more thought to how people arrive at the bike parking or at the gateways. Instead, the plan assumes people have already arrived.

Yew Park and Corner at Mission & 12th

This is most apparent in the discussion of Yew Park. Yew Park at Mission and 12th really lacks its own identity as a thing separate from Bush Park and Deepwood, and it's also very disadvantaged by traffic. The draft plan specifically calls out "noise and auto pollution at this corner create an unwelcoming pedestrian environment." The Mission Street overpass, the 12th/13th couplet, the start of the Pringle Parkway, the railroad, and a wild spaghetti of multiuse paths together create a formidable barrier for people who might like to walk or bike. It's hard to reach the park area from the northeast, east, and southeast especially. This deserves more attention.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Policy Ideas on Transportation Likely too Weak still in Our Salem

The Zoning Subcommittee for Our Salem met yesterday the 21st. Aside from a bare bones agenda, there was no presentation or meeting packet published. Later there may be more to say.

Separately the City has published several documents related to the policy meetings in May at the parent Our Salem page.

Only carrots, never sticks

One of them is the summary presentation on all the policy concepts. In it we see one of the central problems. On transportation it's all about making small, non-specific changes to make it easier for those who would like not to drive. It's about incentives and making it a little easier. It's all carrot.

There is nothing about making driving more difficult or more expensive. Nothing about sticks. Nothing about ending all the ways we subsidize driving to make it the preferred choice.

Until we face squarely that we have to make real decreases in our driving, and that means for nearly everybody, not just those who already would like to walk, bike, or bus, but even for those who would prefer still to drive, we aren't going to succeed in our emissions goals.

Scary, but intuitive and direct: Hide, then scamper
City Traffic Camera, Commercial at Fairview

(It's telling, too, that the photo of the bike lane icon in the Policy slide deck is at a zoomy place where there is a lot of fast traffic, the bike lane on Liberty just ends, and proceeding on Commercial is very difficult. This is a Potemkin instance of bicycle connectivity! If the icon is meant as an example of a deficiency, it should be captioned.)

Monday, June 21, 2021

Focus in Front Page Piece on Crosswalk Safety too Narrow

On the one hand, it's great to see a piece on the front page today about our difficulties with crosswalks.

Churning a police press release

On the other hand, the piece is framed up as "police share results," and generally represents only one point of view, that of the annual or monthly police press releases. It is not critical enough about investigating that perspective and looking at the total system problem.

Back in 2016-17 when the paper moved from their downtown building to suburban-style mid-rise office building on Commercial and Vista, I wondered how they would view Commercial Street car traffic and foot traffic. Just one lot south of their office building, at the Fussy Duck the east side of Commercial Street is missing a sidewalk to the intersection at Ratcliff. We have seen in a speed study that over 4000 drivers per day speed at more than 10mph over the posted speed limit right here on Commercial.  The zoomy street seemed like a pretty good location for a close reading of traffic, safety, and comfort.

Crash into the Roth's parking lot

Indeed, they have observed a pattern of crashes at the intersection. Earlier this month there was one, sending a car into the swale at Roth's. You wouldn't want to have been on foot and waiting to use the crosswalk or in the crosswalk at that moment!

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Salemites Saw Negro League Star and Hall of Famer Bullet Rogan in 1921 at Long-gone Oxford Park

Back in 1921 Salemites got to see future Baseball Hall of Fame member Bullet Rogan as a member of a spring training barnstorming team, the New York Colored Giants.

Preview, April 14th, 1921

Game story, April 16th, 1921

Rogan played for the Kansas City Monarchs primarily. It appears this Giants team was organized for barnstorming and training during the spring before the season proper started, at which time the players would disperse to their regular teams. In a preview of a game in Portland the day after the Salem game, the Oregonian suggested they were substantially Monarchs:

These Colored Giants are great cards. In Currey and Rogan the club has a couple of pitchers who could hold their own with almost any big league outfit, and they have some mighty good players in several other positions. They are traveling under the name of the Colored Giants, though most of the members of the club belong to the Kansas City team of a colored league of 12 clubs which opens its season in another week or so.

They were also playing down to a lower level of competition. The Canadian team, also traveling, says up front, "we don't expect to win." In Eugene, Albany, and Portland, and presumably elsewhere, the Colored Giants played teams composed of local amateurs. The professional minor league Salem Senators date from 1940, and this Senators team of 1921 is an unaffiliated club team that appears to be semi-pro at best. Earlier, the Giants were training in southern California and played several games against the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League, who were also training in southern California. The PCL had AA teams, which at the time was the highest level of the minor leagues. Since there were no major league teams on the west coast, it offered a high level of play.

City Council, Jun 21st - Garbage and Middle Housing

Monday Council will hold formal work sessions on garbage and middle housing.

So far, garbage, its burning at the incinerator, and the associated fee structure has got lots of attention. Others will have, and have had, more to say.

So let's look a little at housing, whose details deserve at least as much attention, if not more, than garbage.

Staff Report: Expand MUHTIP
(yellow in original)

The Staff Report reads very much as something determined to "stay within the box." It identifies three options for improving the production of housing:

  • Waiving or deferring system development charges
  • Adopting or amending criteria for property tax exemptions
  • Assessing a construction excise tax

Are there more creative, "outside the box," options available? 

Monday, June 14, 2021

New Survey on Union Street and Project itself Suffers from Autoist Bias Still

While for Union Street the City says "The proposed project improvements will enhance the overall pedestrian, bike riding, and vehicular safety of this street," you might conclude something different from the survey they just published as well as from the recording of the videoconference presentation and discussion last week.

The survey leads with autoist framing that will bias the final survey results for preserving motor vehicle capacity and watering down any semblance of "family-friendly" standards. It almost looks like they are slow-walking the project, even trying to compromise it, by soliciting autoist opinion and not prioritizing the opinion, comfort, and safety of those who walk, bike, and roll.

Why are we soliciting motorist opinion?

Why is this the next question?

That this is by design is suggested by comments during the presentation about increasing the radius of corner turns to facilitate truck turning movements. Why are we prioritizing truck traffic on Union Street?!

On those curb returns, we are updating all the curb returns to current ADA standards and we are rebuilding them to the roadway classification...a lot of the radiuses are too small for truck turning...we're installing larger radius for the car and truck movements....

If we are going to make progress on increasing walking, biking, and rolling, and on decreasing vehicle miles traveled and emissions, we have to start putting people first and cars last. The needs of people on foot and on wheel should come first, and we should discourage through-travel by car on Union Street, let alone encouraging truck traffic and the higher-speed turns the larger radii induce.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

City Council, June 14th - Difficulties for Path Concept at IOOF Pioneer Cemetery

On Monday Council looks to approve and execute a Quitclaim Deed to a disputed alley segment adjacent to John Street and the northern border of the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery. That specific action is related to a more general status report on a path concept, and the tone is very pessimistic, accenting barriers more than anything. This time there is not much substantively to contest, as the facts seem pretty clear. The more general frame still seems muddled, however.

Apparently the City did not own any right-of-way

Behind the Quitclaim Deed, it turns out the "vacation" in 2012 of an alley segment was premised on errant information. Closer research on deeds and titles turned up that:

The area in question was never dedicated to the public as right-of-way and has remained unopened. Therefore, the City never obtained any legal or equitable property interest in the land.

That's got to be a little embarrassing.

See previously:

Additionally, in a separate and related Staff Report, the City turned up two additional hurdles.

The first is that any new path connection must be ADA compliant. This seems reasonable, and I do not have anything to add. It is disappointing to those who just asked for a small gate on the north side, but that might have made it too much a secret, private amenity for immediate neighbors. A connection should be more widely available.

The second is more complicated, and I am not sure that the way the City is invoking it is without some other subtext.

Under state law, an impacted Native American Tribe has the right to object to the work. If the objection cannot be resolved, the SHPO must deny the permit and work will not be allowed to proceed. Based on input from representatives of the region’s tribal nations, there are cultural, social, historical, traditional, and spiritual implications of a City project designed to facilitate people transiting through a cemetery. These implications are present regardless of whether excavation occurs.  The City must consult with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, and Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation prior to taking any further action on a path through Pioneer Cemetery. Depending on the tribe and the City’s proposal, one or more of the tribal nations may file an objection, effectively terminating any project.

I suppose as a straight-forward reading of State law, it might seem to be neutral. But it does not appear the City has actually asked if Tribal nations actually object to anything. As framed here, the Staff Report is a little fear-mongery, oriented to a hypothetical rather than to a known objection. Is the City using the prospect of Tribal objection as a way to duck a difficult problem?

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Downtown Alley Naming Project Misreads 1908 Ad

A couple years ago when people were evaluating and voting for the downtown alley naming project, a couple of the proposed names were real head-scratchers. "Fortune's Corner Alley" was one of them that didn't make much sense.

May 13th, 1908 - via Salem Reporter

Salem Reporter had another history column yesterday on two of the names, and it seems pretty clear that "Fortune's Corner Alley" is based on a misreading. And when the Main Street Association and then Historic Landmarks Commission rushed the public part of the process without publishing more of the underlying historical analysis, they made it impossible for the public to catch things like this.

The building wasn't up in 1908
January 1st, 1910

The Main Street Association cites the ad at top from 1908 "for the U.S. National Bank at 'Fortune's Corner' in downtown Salem," but the bank building didn't exist then. So it is very unlikely that the ad is referring to anything specifically on that corner. Could it refer to Ladd & Bush, on the kitty-corner? I suppose so, but pointing out a competitor seems unlikely in this context. The map the Main Street Association published with their proposal references Ladd & Bush does ambiguously include it in the yellow highlighting, but that really is an anachronism based on our modern knowledge of the bank locations.

Friday, June 11, 2021

New apartments for Fairview at Planning Commission Next Week

At the Planning Commission next week there is a major review for the second phase, for 183 new apartments, of The Grove at the Fairview site.

At Fairview, phase 2 of The Grove (yellow added)

Strangely, the City's list of Hearing Notices does not appear to show anything about this. So it snuck up.

On the morning of June 11th, no Hearing Notice

The first phase of The Grove was a large complex of three story walkup apartments set on a large parking lot. It's a standard cookie-cutter project in the suburban, car-dependent mode, not really very consistent with the original goals of the Fairview redevelopment.

The second phase continues the pattern, and I am not at all sure there is anything new or interesting to say about it.

Two of the adjustment requests may deserve more comment, and perhaps over the weekend there will be more to say:

  • Staff Report recommends denial of the request to cut down more trees.
  • Staff Report recommends approving increases in setbacks throughout the project area. This reduces the pedestrian and urban character of the whole. At the same time, it is consistent with the first phase of The Grove.

The Staff Report is large. And here is the meeting agenda. There are also some code amendments for a work session, but these do seem to be house-keeping and of only very specialist interest.

Previous notes on The Grove at Fairview here.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

History of Wine at the Mill Surfaces Hints of Pre-Prohibition Chasselas and Pinot Noir

Back in 2015 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the modern wine industry in the Willamette Valley. 

Compared to hops, which have a much longer and more celebrated history here, this wine industry is young, still within the span of a lifetime, and many older wineries are still figuring out generational transitions.

From 2015

Mostly when we talk about wine here we mean wine made from European wine grapes, our signature variety of which is Pinot Noir. There is no meaningful survival of any pre-Prohibition vineyards or wineries locally. There is The Pines Vineyard near the Dalles, and that's about it; by contrast, California has many more. There is nothing in the Willamette Valley we know of.

Zooming out a bit, there are other histories. Salem Reporter has a nice note about an exhibit on the local history of wine at the Mill. Since the Mill is just up the street from Honeywood, it might seem unneighborly to focus on just the European wine grapes, and the exhibit embraces wines from other fruit and from native or hybrid grapes. "Learn how the valley’s rich abundant fruit harvests have led to the over a century of fermenting," they say. Honeywood started, in fact, right after Prohibition, something they like to point out when we get caught up in the story of wine as if it meant only those European grapes. Don't forget about us, they rightly say.

Very briefly mentioned in the Salem Reporter story was a hitherto unknown name, August Aufrance (Aufranc, also, and he is buried at City View).

November 12th, 1904

This is great news, maybe even a new discovery! Certainly the name and the existence of this early winery is not widely known.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Updating the Public Participation Plan: At the MPO

The Technical Advisory Committee for our Metropolitan Planning Organization met yesterday, and they are starting up a review of the Public Participation Plan.

The plan is nearly certain to elide the most significant way the public is shut out. Last couple months the MPO was considering how to apportion COVID relief funds, and a chart on population might be the most interesting detail from that discussion.

Proposed distribution of COVID funds

The Policy Committee that governs the MPO has 8 voting positions, one each for the Cities of Salem, Keizer, and Turner (3 total); one each for Polk and Marion Counties (2 total); and one each for the School District, Cherriots, and ODOT (3 total). 

Even though Salem has 63% of the population in the area covered by the MPO, on the Policy Committee the City of Salem has 12.5% of the vote; even though Turner has less than 1% of the population, they have 12.5% of the vote.

There is a real disproportion and misalignment here! Unincorporated Polk County and the City of Turner are very overrepresented. It's harder to assess the School District, ODOT, and Cherriots, since they cover the whole MPO area.

But however you slice it, the City of Salem is badly underrepresented and Polk County and Turner badly overrepresented. The MPO is supposed to have a "metropolitan" focus, but the composition of the committee is weighted towards non-metropolitan interests.  This is an anti-urban bias, formally institutionalized in the composition and structure of the MPO.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Public Rental Bike System Ride Salem Relaunches

Over the weekend the public bike rental system, Ride Salem, went live again after the COVID hiatus.

Celebrating the relaunch - via FB

It looks like there is a new station in Riverfront Park, but according to the system map one in Bush Park is still in progress.

The system map in early June 2021

With ODOT and Forth/Cascadia Mobility involved statewide, we can hope for system expansion:

  • e-Bikes to make them attractive to an even greater range of bicycling skill and fitness
  • Trikes, hand-cycles, and more accessible bikes
  • More stations across a greater geographical reach in Salem so they are more usable for actual errands, not just cruising around in the parks
  • And above all, bike lanes in downtown so that ordinary people can bike from the transit station or train station to most destinations downtown

For previous notes on the rental bike system see here.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Yet Another Sticky Note Project for our Climate Action Plan Process

As yet without publishing a release, the City just put up a new sticky note exercise, soliciting comment on a selection of 35 climate actions, presumably ones that survived the previous sticky note comment project, or ones that were consolidated from overlapping candidates.

A lot of the concepts are still very ornamental, signalling lofty intent more than actually likely to reduce meaningful carbon pollution. (Too much of the vague "support," especially, like "Support native biodiversity," for example.) It just seems like we ought to have a better idea of actually effective actions and goals at this point, and could relegate feel-good, but ineffective, gestures to the dust bin or some secondary place. But for the moment they all have equal weight.

A new sticky note exercise

Separately, in the May 21st update, the City Manager writes:

Data-driven cost-benefit analysis is underway by the consultants for the ten strategies that will be most impactful and relevant for the City’s Climate Action Plan. The work is being guided by the three councilors from the Climate Action Task Force.

It's not at all clear what is the relation between the 35 concepts in this new sticky note exercise and 10 "strategies" referenced in the City Manager update.

Maybe once the City issues a release and public invitation to comment on this exercize its goals will be clearer, along with its place in the process, and there will be more to say.

But at this point in the process, in the fourth stage of six according to the Project Timeline sidebar, it is reasonable to want a much firmer and more focused sense of likely actions. We would have a clear connection between the 35 and the 10. And projects like the Geer Park Master Plan update, which shared a lead planner with the Climate Action Plan, would evince a stronger sense of coordination. The Timeline shows a final plan with adoption for the fall of this year, and it is very hard to see it all coming together strongly in six months or less.

The Climate Action Plan project remains very diffuse and unfocused, and it is hard not to conclude that the effort is in important ways unserious and the goal to have an ornamental and largely ineffective plan that dodges the prospect of real change and real emissions reductions.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

City to Hold Teleconference on Union Street Plans

The City just published a notice for a zoom meeting on designing the Union Street bikeway:

The City of Salem is seeking public comment on the Union Street Family Friendly Bikeway Project that seeks to add bike lanes to Union Street between Commercial Street NE and Summer Street NE.

The proposed project improvements will enhance the overall pedestrian, bike riding, and vehicular safety of this street. The project will provide separated bike lanes, road striping, improved crosswalks, and parking as required. When all segment pieces are complete this project will connect with the 134-mile Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway. Additionally, the intersection of Union Street NE and Liberty Street NE will be improved to include a traffic signal and bulb out corners to improve safety for both bicycles and pedestrians. Your input on design features including parking, landscaping, and bicycle lane configuration is necessary to a successful project.

Once complete, the bikepath will be an integral link in the bicycle system will be provided in downtown Salem. The project will connect directly to Wallace Marine Park, Riverfront Park, Minto-Brown Island Park, and the Capital Mall. The City of Salem is in the preliminary design phase of the project and construction is scheduled to begin in 2022.

Join us on June 8th, 2021 from 7:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. for a virtual open house to learn more about this project. Your input into this project will help designers build a bike path that will serve Salem residents for years to come.

Zoom link for virtual open house

This is a departure for "virtual open houses," which had been conducted with maps and survey components available in a standard web browser, and now will be in a video conference form.

The lack of information, without any maps or "design alternatives" to consider, the prospect they may be accessible only from the zoom meeting, as well as the tone of the release, which makes the bikeway itself sound more tentative than it had seemed to be over the last decade, might suggest the City is making every effort to protect on-street car parking at the expense of truly family-friendly standards for bicycling. I am a little suspicious.

At the same time, the project has undergone many changes in the last decade, including deleting a large section, and maybe it really does need a fresh round of assessment and public comment.

When the City put in the median and light at Commercial Street, the concept was for sharrows only and to retain the angle parking east of Commercial.

From 2016 or 2017:
Sharrows only between Commercial and High (right side)

But a much earlier version showed that landscaped median, parallel parking, and buffered bike lanes east of Commercial:

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

A Theory of Power for Salem: Business-controlled or Homevoter?

In his 1996 history of Salem Hospital, A Century of Service, former SJ editor John McMillan discussed the new board in 1947 for Deaconess Hospital and the subsequent debate about a merger with General Hospital:
Sociologists have theorized that cities like Salem are run by a business-controlled power structure whose members meet privately and make all important decisions. To the degree that Salem had a power structure, it clearly supported General, the hospital with "all the old school ties"....
McMillan's book gave greater weight to the "business-controlled power structure."

This belief is echoed in common sentiment about developers and the Chamber of Commerce.

The current expression might be most clear in the debate we had over Costco's proposal to relocate out south to Kuebler near I-5.

In a letter to the editor from 2018 a person argued the City works to favor the Developer and Chamber side of things:
My experience indicates that the city of Salem does not care or pay attention to local neighborhood concerns. All they care about is banking the new tax dollars that development brings.

A number of years ago my neighborhood protested a residential infill project. Sixty-five neighbors showed up at a public hearing. All were opposed to the project. We presented carefully thought out design and access alternatives.

Every suggestion we made was ignored.
Though it has not got much visibility in Salem on our local issues, there is a counter-argument.

Homevoter Hypothesis

Another theory is that homeowners seeking to maximize home value actually have more power. Two decades ago there was a book arguing this and called it the "homevoter hypothesis."* Over at City Observatory in 2015, they looked at its thesis and compared to the primary competitor, the Developer and Chamber thesis, that "urban elected officials and zoning boards are highly influenced by coalitions of business and civic leaders interested mainly in economic growth and maximizing the price of the land they own," and concluded "in every case where the evidence clearly points to one theory or the other, the winner is the homevoter hypothesis."

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Planning Commission to see Proposed Middle Housing Code

Tonight June 1st the Planning Commission will discuss the proposed HB 2001 compliance code amendments for middle housing.

Intro to Staff Report

The report is over 100 pages, mostly just code with additions and strikethrough. It's a bunch of technical blah-blah-blah.

The intro and summary is very minimal, and does not explain very much to anyone who doesn't already understand the technical details.

Lot sizes and setbacks

What are the practical effects of lot coverage requirements and setbacks? At some point they combine to make certain building configurations impossible or impractical, and it is at least theoretically possible to say "we have legalized fourplexes" at the same time as the lot coverage and setbacks make them very difficult.

And given all that we know about the deleterious effects of parking, why do we continue to insist on minimums?

Still mandating costly parking minimums

On the surface it looks like the City is meeting the minimum in compliance with the new middle housing law, but is not going beyond them to encourage housing abundance.

We'll see. Maybe there will be more to say after the work session. (There is already one NIMBY letter entered into the record, saying "Infill building is a horrible idea in already established neighborhoods," etc.)

The Planning Commission convenes tonight at 5:30pm.