City moves forward with $40,000,000 for baseball, but makes no pledge to devastated victims of downtown fires
OPINION PIECE: Disclaimer – This content is full of facts and figures and some impressions from local boys. But who knows, you might learn a thing or two. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
Last night I sat at home here in Old Orenco, cooking pasta and waiting my turn to get my 3 minutes of airtime with the city council; it’s something you can all do when they meet, but almost none of you ever do. I often feel alone, sharing my pointed thoughts and beliefs in front of a screen of faces that are not allowed by law to respond. 3 short minutes to talk in a world of turmoil, but some of us keep going and hopefully more will follow soon. You see my friends, Hillsboro is in trouble, big trouble actually. We see it manifest every day with endless sirens, traffic, smokestacks, the housing crisis and crime. I travel around the city daily and as one of the busiest real estate brokers on the Westside, I meet more people in a week than many in a year. It gives me a unique ear for the lives of people all over Hillsboro and beyond. It is also a wide section. Without exception, people are worried, stressed and have things to say. Strong opinions abound and passion abounds. Yes, we have a big city, but the feeling that things are not right is pervasive.
Sometimes I drive through the city, I see the abundance of wealth (huge houses, stadiums, city hall, malls, etc.) but I have the distinct feeling that it looks too much like a movie set. A construction of a system that struggles to preserve appearances, and even more so its credibility. We are not the city some would have us believe, in some ways we are more and in just as many ways we are less. Let me share a vivid example of what I mean.
Suzanne Linneen is the CFO of the City of Hillsboro. Last night at the city council meeting, she presented the budget for the cities capital improvement program. Basically, it was a crash course in the areas the City is committed to $579,694,653 dollars to spend on projects over the next few years. This City employee knows stuff here and the numbers were flying fast and furious.
But hold the phone– the always sharp Advisor Anthony Martin asked if those numbers include Hillsboro HiLight high-speed internet. After all, this noble, auspicious city-wide effort is another $109,000,000 and is on track to go way over budget. Linen said it wasn’t in the numbers.
So how about just calling the capital improvement budget $750,000,000. That’s 3/4 of the billion greenbacks we all have to pay as we look to the next 5 years, and keep in mind these are investment projects and not the money we need we need to manage the city from year to year.
GOD I HATE NUMBERS – but they are very ruthless when they have to be considered and taken into account. If the economy is good, these capital projects are funded through grants and various sources of revenue. But if things go wrong, someone at Hillsboro City Hall will answer a lot of tough questions and seek answers that may not be found. Spread the word, the current City Hall administration is spending, and to many onlookers, it’s a bit like a bunch of drunken sailors are in port.
Step into Hillsboro Hops! As the evening progressed, the staff dove into how those huge numbers were breaking out. Within the broad categories, there were a few examples of where the money went. A few of them include:
- Improved Wood Street Light Training – $1.6 million
- Expansion of Fire Fleet Facilities – $4.16 million
- Brookwood and South Hillsboro fire – $13 million
- Housing shelter at TV HWY & NE 17th – $6 million
- Jackson School Road Improvement – $21.47 million
- 53rd Avenue Park- $13 million
- Affordable housing projects – $40 million
These are all ongoing and ongoing projects. Now let’s talk about baseball and the Hillsboro Hops!
The Hillsboro Hops are about to get a big infusion of Cash from the people of Hillsboro
The Portland Business Journal today published a terrific article on this pledge and you can read it here – https://www.bizjournals.com/portland/news/2022/01/19/hops-bids.html
Hops are loved by many, but they really only make up a small percentage of our population. This is proven by the large number of empty seats in each match. The new project is bold and aligns the stadium with what Major League Baseball expects of a farm team. It’s not a profitable organization at all from what I’ve read, and it’s pretty clear that no rationale or responsible board would offer them a $40,000,000 facility upgrade using TLT (hotel/motel tax) and a $30,000,000 loan. This loan cannot have a guarantee that we can count on – if the team perishes, so does the money. Anyone watching knows that Mayor Steve Callaway loves hops and baseball and it’s one of his passions. It is clear that this agreement would not be concluded without Mayor Callaway. So it’s. Go Baseball – Go Hops!
The list of projects and slides goes on and on, but the baseball slide, as well as the Internet HiLight, seems just a bit too much. They are extravagant showcases for a city that has done everything to get where we are. These are things we can spend on when we have a good decade or two. And we did. But hard times could be just around the corner and so what? It’s been a long time since Hillsboro had to tighten the purse strings or let employees go, let alone cut parks or services.
So think about it – $40,000,000. Would you put a debt on your house for this? Maybe you would, we wouldn’t.
Baseball against the #HillsboroFire
Here’s a photo of my view and it’s been almost 3 weeks now – my office window overlooks a wire cage and a sturdy plywood wall 3 feet from the blue dot. We call it Stalag 13 jokingly, but it looks like a prison from our point of view. This follows what happened on January 2, 2022 when an arson attack burned down the Weil department store and destroyed the businesses and half of the block. The entire block has since been closed, and all open businesses in the area report to the Herald that business is down an average of 80%. After two years of Covid which sounded the death knell.
Meetings were held, comeback speeches were given and social media was alive before the fire even went out with wishes of support. It lasted about a week and then, just like the flames, it went out too. My contemporaries are worried. Some quietly wait for customers who do not come. Two have now told me it’s almost over. As of this evening, no money has been offered by the City nor the ongoing fundraiser. Some are hoping and praying that the City will come to the rescue. But can they? The answers we have received so far are simply that the money is not there to be given away.
An ARPA silver treasure chest
Many of the proposed capital projects are funded by ARPA funds. It turns out that the US rescue plan has placed over $18,000,000 in hairdressers across the city. This money can be used for almost anything as long as some kind of connection can be made with Covid or some after effect of Covid. During the working session, Councilor Alcaire asked if ARPA money could be used for firefighters. Head of Economic Development Dan Dias said firmly that it could not or would be difficult. Soon after, we saw slide after slide of projects where ARPA could or would be used.
Here’s a taste for all of you:
- Latin-X Dance Celebration – $60,000
- Cultural Arts District Murals – $45,000
- Extended Services in the Shute Park Area – $3,000,000
- Waive connection fees for HiLight – $240,000
- Community Cleanup Projects – $140,000
- Homelessness Projects – $4,250,000
- Community Outreach Projects $3,870,000
The list is lengthened increasingly.
All night I waited – about 2 hours and 30 minutes in line in this lonely zoom meeting just waiting for my chance to speak. Flooded by the budget, the $750,000,000 presentation, the debt we’re accumulating, rising housing costs, rising water and sewer and gas costs, food costs out of control and the COVID pandemic that is hitting young and old… I had a moment of clarity. Not that I’m not clear about things because I am. But it hit me.
Baseball VS Fire – the face of this battle we face in this city is
Baseball against fire.
If you are reading this, I hope to God that you see what I see. 40,000,000 million in a ballpark and a debt project and not a dime for Gimre’s Shoes, Thai House, Arcade 2084, Artful Garden, Oaxaca or Rustic Renditions. No money for small consultants like my roommate at Rivers Edge Insurance or for me. None for the Jensen law firm which had to relocate, nor for the lawyers and consultants who were burnt out on top of Weil’s. Nothing for IMPACT Jiu-Jitsu which was burned down and is now struggling to move. Barbers, jewelers and other small businesses all tell me they haven’t heard anything. Crystal Heart, The Venetian, LaHaies, Pupper Nickel, Bennett’s. And there are many more that I cannot report because they have closed or are not available.
Here is my point, and this one is addressed to the town hall. Take a checkbook, move some of that ARPA money around and call it the COVID FIRE RELIEF FUND. It doesn’t have to be $40,000,000, not $10,000,000 or $1 million. But without sales or reservations, these hardworking Hillsboro workers, who just smile and persevere, deserve far more from you and our city than $0. Here is where I am, forget #Baseball for now. The City closed the streets, it had to. But it is better that this closure does not lead to the closure of these businesses under your watch.
Help these people, do it now. There is no more time to wait. Here is my attempt to make an impression in the unresponsive box. I will keep trying for anyone in our town who needs to see they are treated fairly. #HillsboroStrongForever