planpdx.org: Interview with Earl Blumenauer
Date of Interview: February 16, 2001
Interview By: Ernie Bonner
Location: Portland, Oregon
EB1 = Earl Blumenauer
EB2 = Ernie Bonner
EB2: This is a talk with Congressman Earl Blumenauer. It's February the 16th in the year 2001 and we're in Congressman Blumenauer's office in the Weatherly Building in Portland.
EB1: . . . the historic Weatherly Building.
Well, Ernie, I got to Portland the easy way: I was born here. Unlike so many people who are Portlanders by choice, I just arrived. I spent most of my life in inner Northeast and inner Southeast Portland, went to High school in Gresham at Centennial, and received both my undergraduate degree and my law degree from Lewis & Clark College. I've spent my entire life here.
I began my involvement in the political process with a demonstration in 1969, then an effort to lower Oregon's voting age in 1969 and '70. As a result of working to build a coalition for this initiative, I became acquainted with most of the state's leadership: political, civic, education and unions. It was a deliberate strate-gy on my part to build the coalition, but in so doing I had a chance to meet everyone: university presidents, elected leaders, business and civic leaders, etc.
There was a marvelous story in the labor press about Port-land's establishment in 1969, and I figured, "Well, I'll just go meet all of these people." So I met people like Ralph Cake, Henry Cabill, Ira Keller, Bill DeWeese, Glenn Jackson and Don Frisbee.
I also made the acquaintance of a number of young Portlanders, most of whom were five to ten years older than I was, people like Neil Goldschmidt and Tom Walsh and Hardy Myers. They were part of this effort, turning their attention to the city. It was fascinating because I had been involved with national and state politics on lowering the voting age. I'd been back to Washington D.C. to testify before Congress...
EB2: And how old were you? When is this?
EB1: This was 1968 to 1970. I was 20, 21, 22. When I started it, I wasn't yet old enough to vote. But some of the people I met were a part of the vanguard for the revitalization of Portland, and it was very interesting for me to see. I was part of the Democratic Forum. I also spoke to the Trumpeters, a Repub-lican group, and joined "Campaigners." I went to Dorchester, the Republicans' Annual Conference. It gave me an understanding of how the community worked.
At that time there was a great deal of emphasis on community, on saving the Portland public schools and dealing with issues of the waterfront and downtown. At that time I lived in Southeast Portland. I considered running for the legisla-ture, and in fact did. The Mt. Hood Freeway, a moderately controversial issue, was going to go right through the middle of my district, and I was opposed to it, which certainly alienated some of my blue collar support and some of my labor friends. It was interesting how community issues were part even of my very first campaign for the state legislature.
EB2: Now, that campaign was when?
EB1: That was 1972, when I was first elected to the legislature. There was a big realignment of political activity in Portland at that time. I had worked on campaigns for Tom Walsh and Neil Goldschmidt for City Council in 1970. When Neil was elected to City Hall, one of his executive assistants, Ron Buel, came to me one day in 1971 and said, "You ought to run for the legislature."
It was a heady time because we were dealing with envi-ronmen-tal protection. I had been appointed by Governor McCall to the Livable Oregon Committee in '71 - maybe 1970; I haven't actually gone back to check.
EB2: He was ahead of his time, wasn't he?
EB1: Well, during the 1970's, Portlanders and Oregonians were further ahead of our time, I think, than we recognized, although there's a certain element of 'Back to the Future,' because a lot of the principles that were being dis-cussed really weren't that radical for people who were familiar with the evolution of cities, what had happened with the homesteads, and the neighborhoods--what we're now calling neo-traditional neighborhoods.
We had just formed Tri-Met out of the bankrupt Rose City Transit Company, so we had a new transit agency. We had renewed interest in City Hall; Neil Goldschmidt was preparing to run for Mayor. The proposed consolidation of Portland with Multnomah County was hovering in the background; it was supposed to create a better and more powerful entity. For me, it was an opportunity to represent community interests in the legislature.
I even had the chance to work in the legislature on Senate Bill 100, the legislation that created Oregon's Land Use Planning Program.
EB2: So the '73 session was your first session?
EB1: First session. It was, I still think, perhaps the most momentous legislative session that Oregon had seen, certainly in the last half century, and maybe one of the most important in its history.
EB2: Do you remember what committees you were on?
EB1: I was on the Revenue and School Finance Committee, with Dr. Cherry as our chairman. I was Vice-Chairman on the State and Federal Affairs Committee, where they dealt with complex and controversial--or politically important--legislation. It was chaired by Majority Leader Les AuCoin, who left after that session to become the first Democratic Congressman from the First Congressional District in the state's history. I was also on the Election Reform Committee.
It was great fun. In the State and Federal Affairs committee we worked on the legislation for Senate Bill 100. `I was able to guide my first major piece of legislation through that Committee: House Bill 3166, which created Oregon's Transportation Commission. It abolished the Highway Commission (something people thought would never happen) and created a State Transportation Commission that included all of the other advisory boards and the Highway Commission into one entity and gave it, among other responsibilities, the challenge to create a statewide comprehensive multi-modal transportation plan.
Now, it took ODOT almost two decades to do it, but it was an important mission and an important statement. My bill mandated that Glenn Jackson be the Chair of the new Commis-sion. I worked very closely with him on the bill, and he was very interested in the broader scope of things. He was a critical ally of Neil Goldschmidt as Mayor, of Tom McCall as Governor, and subsequently, of Bob Straub, who I don't think really got the recognition he deserved as a critical player in all of this.
We also crafted aggressive school finance proposal to deal with education equity and tax reform, the so-called McCall plan.
EB2: Who else was representing Portland in Salem during that session? Was Rick Gustafson there at the time?
EB1: The '73 session included Hardy Myers and Vera Katz. Phil Lang was Chairman of Ways and Means.
There were also some 'institutions' in the 1973 Legislature. One was Stafford Hansel. 1973 was his last term in the legislature and he had been there since 1957. He was almost elected speaker. He was a man of amazing ability. He carried Steve Kafoury's bill to legalize ownership of two marijuana plants--a marijuana bill that actually got 20 votes. I was told that if those of us who had voted for the bill had been joined by the people who voted no but smoked dope, it would have passed.
It was an interesting time in terms of social justice, environment, transportation and tax reform. It was McCall's last session as Governor; he pulled out all the stops. It was the first time since the Depression, really, that there had been real Democratic control of the Legislature. There had been nominal Democratic control with coalitions that included conservative downstate Democrats and Republicans, but in '73 there was a majority of Democrats in both the House and the Senate. Jason Boe was elected Senate President with all 17 votes.
There was also a young Mike Thorne, a Bobby Kennedy Democrat from Eastern Oregon, who worked closely with people like Ted Hallock from Portland and Betty Roberts. It was an exciting time.
EB2: And that was also the year of Senate Bill 100?
EB1: It was.
EB2: Was the bottle bill adopted then, or was that the next session?
EB1: The Bottle bill was actually passed in the previous session, in 1971.
EB2: That was a big session. So how long were you there?
EB1: I served in the legislature for three sessions. In '75, the first Straub session, Phil Lang was Speaker. The Repub-licans knocked off Dick Iman, who had been the speaker. Phil was from Portland. I chaired the Revenue Committee. Harvey Akeson from Portland chaired the Ways and Means Committee that session. Vera chaired Ways and Means in 1977.
I had two sessions chairing the Revenue and School Finance Committee. We reformed the timber tax, dealt with property tax, and addressed some major school funding. We reformed the corporate tax. I'm proud to say it was a time when we raised taxes and gave money to education. It's been a while since that happened.
But it was a time that was not fiercely partisan. We were able to work together. I worked, for example, with the late Sam Johnson, who was a marvelous gentleman and legislator from Central Oregon. At that time he was probably the richest man in the legislature, but supported our corporate tax increase. He had an amazing generosity of spirit. We actually limited the federal tax deduction (an item of recent discussion) and raised basic school support and property tax relief to its highest level in the state's history.
So it was a lot of fun, and I'm proud of how bipartisan our Revenue Committee was, getting these things through. In the '77 session, there was a big eruption. A coalition of conservative Democrats joined with the Republicans and stripped the Speaker of much of his power two-thirds of the way through that session. Yet, despite that climate, our committee worked in a bipartisan fashion, and got every single piece of our legislation out and passed, despite the breakdown in the House control and the acrimony that it caused.
EB2: It may be unprecedented.
EB1: I think so. It was certainly a valuable lesson for me about how the political process worked. I keep hoping that now in the new century we'll some day be able to apply some of those lessons in the United States Congress.
EB2: You can always hope. So you were there in '73, '75, and '77. Were you connected in any way back to Portland?
EB1: There was close cooperation with the city, county, and state administration during this time. Glenn Jackson was Chair of the Transportation Commission and we spent a lot of time working together. We were moving pieces through the legislature that dealt, for example, with tax credits for historic buildings. We worked with the city administration and a young Planning Commission member named John Russell, who subsequently went on to be a Transportation Commissioner himself. My first acquaintanceship with him was when he came to Salem with a proposal for treating historic buildings.
We were active, first of all, in protecting the proposal to consolidate the City of Portland and Multnomah County. At that time there were two legislators from East County, or what was called East County then: Glen Otto and Vern Cook. Now, ironically, the '73 session was the only session for the better part of 20 years without Frank Roberts in the legislature. We had his daughter, Betty, in '72, but we didn't have Frank because Glen Otto beat him in the Democratic primary. Frank was more identified with Portland, and Glen had been a very effective Mayor of Troutdale--a huge, plainspoken, rough-appearing electrician, who had some very conservative views. We thought that he was on the dark side, and he and Vern Cook were fighting against city-county consolidation, which we, of course, thought was the wave of the future.
So Frank was in the '73 session as a special adviser to the Speaker, with his daughter and the man who beat him, and he was trying to keep the city-county consolidation, which had state enabling legislation, intact. George Joseph, who wasn't a judge at the time, but an attorney - later an Appeals Court Judge, a brilliant and amazingly amusing fellow - was guiding the city-county consolidation proposal through.
I spent a lot of time trying to protect that bill in the legislature - we were largely successful - from rear guard actions. And then in '74, we had a vote on city-county consolidation.
We protected it in '73, we voted on it in '74, and with my aggressive advocacy in my Southeast Portland district, it only went down two-to-one. I will say that I was quite disappointed. I really felt that consolidation was necessary to rationalize the delivery of services in the metropolitan area. We'd been working with Tri-Met and CRAG (the Columbia Regional Association of Governments), with people like Mel Gordon at the Metropolitan Service district, the Special District that was formed to offload the zoo and deal with solid waste and programs that nobody wanted.
We were, of course, working with Tri-Met, although my experience with Tri-Met was a little mixed at the time. The board was tough to work with at that time, although I grew to have huge respect for Bill Roberts and what he did to help create Tri-Met and keep it on track. I was a strong supporter of Steve McCarthy to be the General Manager. When the plug was pulled on Steve, however, he went on to bigger and better things.
(In fact, Steve went on to be the gun-sling swivel king of North America with a family business that he grew and sold out. He then started Clear Creek Distillery.)
I badgered Rick Gustafson, a friend of mine from high school, into coming back from Michigan, where he was working for General Motors in their transportation research lab, to run for the legislature. We both ran for and were elected to the community college boards, he at Mt. Hood and I at Portland Community College. Ironically, Rick beat Frank Roberts for the community college board position. It was a tough couple of years for Frank.
In the aftermath of the city-county consolidation defeat, a blue ribbon committee that included Carl Halvorsen and Ron Cease proposed a two-tiered system of government that provided the vote on Metro. The famous ballot title, "Abolishes CRAG," picked up a lot of votes in Clackamas County and in the rural areas of Multnomah and Washington Counties, since it looked like it was getting rid of what, in fact, it created: a new, directly-elected regional government, the first and only popularly elected regional government in the United States.
EB2: It still remains a mystery to many people how we could possibly have gotten that done. And of course, we can't really say why, either. I'm sure the ballot title was part of it.
EB1: The ballot title was very important. Part of it was the approach that we took, of turning to enlightened citizens who spent hundreds and thousands of hours working through the minutia. The '70s were a time of reform, and there was energy. In the end, I will admit, we created something that was actually better than City/County Consolidation. A consolidated city-county would have given us a regional government over only about 45 percent of the region's population and less than a quarter of the region's land area, making it much easier for the Legislature and other people in the region to turn their backs on regional solutions for regional problems.
I'm convinced that there's a certain serendipity about some of these things that happened with the public. Often-times, whether they're intended or not, these proposals present opportunities to generate even better solutions. I am convinced that one of the strengths of the Portland region--maybe even the State--especially in the '70s was that we figured out ways to play the cards we were dealt, that we took full advantage of opportunities--in part because we're thrifty and conservative, in part because we're a little contrarian, in part because the scale here is big enough to make a difference but small enough to be manageable, in part because it's far more egalitarian than people recognize. We had an 'elite'--from the business community, from the media, from the City Club, from civic leadership. This elite group had a fairly broad membership but was still small enough to get things done.
We took advantage of opportunities. Once we completed the freeway loop around the downtown, for example, we removed Harbor Drive and created Waterfront Park. When we determined that the Mt. Hood Freeway would do more harm than good, that it was going to tear the heart out of Southeast Portland (fortunately, people could see the damage that the Interstate Freeway had done in North and Northeast Portland), we didn't just stop it, we found a way to turn it into money for light rail as well as for transportation improvements around the region.
It was a terrific time to have served your political apprenticeship. I felt people like Tom Walsh and Neil Goldschmidt were sort of big brothers. People like Glenn Jackson and Don Frisbee were like uncles. They were approachable and things were open in a way that it was possible to make things happen.
EB2: That's an important point, I think, too.
EB1: I mean, I'm a 23-, 24-, 25-year-old kid...
EB2: Right. And you're in there with the rest of them.
EB1: ...and I spent a lot of time with business leadership like Glenn Jackson and Don Frisbee, learning and working on problems.
EB2: A lot of that was your own energy and intellect, but also part of it was that there was possibility there.
EB1: It was Portland. For me, it led to a long-term interest in what we were going to do to coordinate Portland and Multnomah County. A third--maybe a quarter--of my legislative district lay in unincorporated Multnomah County: the area that was referred to as Errol Heights, east of Reed College and south of Duke Street, down to the county boundary at Johnson Creek, and east as far as 92nd Avenue, and some of the area in the old Springwater line that we have now. I saw problems with the delivery of services between the City and the County. This was one of the reasons why, after my third term in the legislature, I ran for the County Commis-sion in 1978, against an incumbent County Commissioner, Alice Corbett. Alice had a modestly famous political name, but I didn't think she was able to work effectively with a very progressive County Commission led by Don Clark.
My focus on the County Commission was looking for ways to rationalize the service delivery between the city and the county. Over the course of four or five years, I worked primarily with the fiscal officer at the City, a fellow named Mark Gardiner. Every Thursday morning for about two years we would go on a run up Terwilliger and brainstorm these issues. We worked out a series of agreements that established a functional realignment between the City and the County. We negotiated transfer of powers by intergovernmental agreements. Under these agreements, the City of Portland obtained the 17 percent of the road inventory within its boundaries that were county roads, along with their proportionate share of the county road fund. The County, under a proposal we called Resolution A, adopted a policy that ended urban-level services to people in the urbanized unincorporated area. If residents wanted urban services, they could create their own city, or choose annexation either to Gresham or Portland.
This arrangement was wildly controversial at the time, but absolutely the right thing to do. Within two years, the City of Portland had gained another 100,000 constituents, Gresham had grown to be the fourth largest city in the state, and we were able to weather the brutal economic recession of the early and mid-1980s, by realistically aligning services with funding sources.
For me, all of this came out of the hothouse that was the '70s, where we were doing statewide land use planning, trading in a freeway, building alliances, and thinking about ways to play the cards that we were dealt.
EB2: Setting up all those institutions, kind of organizing for what was going to come.
EB1: I will say that there were extraordinary people to work with. I have been in elective office virtually all my adult life; it's been great fun. I have no regrets. The campaigns were interesting, almost always fun. The challenges, even in the bad times, were rewarding. But the most rewarding aspect of all of this, without a doubt, had to be the people that I had a chance to work with.
I'm referring to two categories of people that I am pleased to say you are featuring in your series on Portland in the '70s. One category is the people you know well, the men and women that were attracted to public service. These were some extraordinary people who were in these bureaucracies, and I look at the picture gallery of all the people in the '70s, many of whom I remember, and some I've crossed paths with ... an amazing group of people. The folks that Don Clark recruited from Portland State University, like Denny West, for instance. Portland State was actually kind of a training ground. Lynn Musolf. Lee Brown, who was the head of the criminal justice program at Portland State, and later became the County Sheriff and head of Justice Services. He then went on to New York, Atlanta and Houston, as police chief, and he is now mayor of Houston.
I mentioned Mark Gardiner, with whom I worked on city-county consolidation. He was in his early thirties then, but had tremendous authority given to him by Frank Ivancie. And Frank, ironically, was very good to work with. He had a vision of manifest destiny for the city and it continued throughout my tenure at the City. Other outstanding people were Felicia Trader, Vic Rhodes and Bob Stacey, who I think is one of the finest public servants I have ever had the chance to work with. Bob was the City's Planning Director then.
Other fine people worked within the bureaucracy: Michael Harrison (not the piano player), recently retired, harbors a wealth of information about the city's planning process. Steve Dotterrer, who is (after 25 years) still at the City as the Chief Transportation Planner. And the crew that you had, Ernie.
EB2: And Steve Dotterer is also another tremendous fount of wisdom and knowledge about the city, particularly the history. Really amazing.
EB1: There were also other fine people at the City in the Goldschmidt administration: Don Mazziotti and Ernie Munch. Doug Wright. Almost all of these people went on to other areas of their career. But the two, five, ten years that these people invested in the City provided an extraordinary opportunity to work with them.
Rick Gustafson never received, I think, the credit that was his due on a couple of levels. One, he was an extraordinarily capable legislator and helped with a lot of this planning and development on the Ways and Means Committee. He was very influential. Rick was the George Washington of Metro. He was elected in the fall of '78 as the first Executive Officer of Metro and he managed and negotiated the consolidation of the staff between the Metro Service District (MSD) and Columbia Region Association of Governments (CRAG), keeping Denton Kent and various other people, sort of assembling things.
It was Rick who established the tone and nature of the Metro Council and the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT). JPACT was a critical entity throughout the '80s and into the '90s when we worked on the construction of light rail. It provided a different type of forum between the State and the local communities. Now, I will say it also helped that there was lots of money.
EB2: Right. It definitely did.
EB1: We probably had the equivalent of two billion dollars in today's resources, today's values, that we could spread around the region. Only about 42 percent of that went into the corridor for the Mt. Hood Freeway and, of course, we got some money trading in I-505. That money was scattered all over the metropolitan area--some of it even went downstate--in order to get support for light rail. So it enabled us to really energize the region, and that was an important point.
I do a lot of work in other communities now. I've probably been in over 50 different cities just in the five years I've been in Congress. I continue to build some friends for Oregon--we need them these days--but also I spread the gospel, and most importantly, I try to learn. I am intrigued that whenever you go to a community, the first thing they'll tell you is what's wrong with it. Whether it's San Francisco or Phoenix, Atlanta or Washington D.C., people you meet will explain why their community is dysfunctional, why it doesn't work, da da da. And I look at their structures and the people, and then I compare it to what we've seen in Oregon over the last third of a century (and I date the beginning of our renaissance to the late '60s). It had deep roots. There were a number of people who decided to come back, other people who moved here. There are people on the old Multnomah County Commission and City Council. There are good things to be said about what Mayor Shrunk and M. James Glean and Frank Ivancie did, for example, in rescuing Tri-Met. There was a lot going on.
But it strikes me that people pay too much attention to governmental structure. Think about Portland. We've talked in the course of this discussion about three important entities: JPACT is kind of an amalgam: it's the region's Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). It doesn't have one person, one vote; it operates behind the scenes. We talked about Metro, the only popularly elected regional government in the United States.
And we talked about the City of Portland that was modeled on the old Galveston Plan, with a weak Mayor and goofy commission form of government. We're nearing a century of experience. Political scientists will tell you this form of government is outmoded and won't work; yet Portland has shown amazing resilience and creativity for almost a hundred years. It has, at various times, had mayors of amazing experience and depth, like Goldschmidt, and mayors that some people felt maybe were a little destructive and opposed to these approaches, like Ivancie. It also had people like Bud Clark, a citizen mayor who had no political experience, but was empowered by a very active citizenry. And somehow the City kept going. Not just kept going; the City allowed people to do their work. It allowed members of the Council to be creative to the extent that their abilities and drive would let them, and it produced some of the finest public servants in a bureaucracy that you will find any place in the United States.
Of course, I think there is some serendipity. I mean, look at how the region fared with the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. If things had gone a little differently, or if the eruptions had continued, things could have been very grim. There have been challenges that we have faced where there have been close calls politically. There might have been a Supreme Court decision that would have required a public vote on the Mt. Hood freeway. I mean, there were lots of points in our history where things could have gone the other way, and whether it's luck or not, who knows?
I think part of our success was our citizen infrastructure. There was the expectation of what we were going to do. There were some extraordinary people; there was some real leadership. There was this expectation that there would be some collaboration, that it was open, that a 23-year-old kid could get into a corporate board room, that a 29-year-old Jewish Legal Aid attorney could get elected to the City Council, that a boy contractor could almost beat the most powerful person on the City Council. It was open. There were some extraordinary people that came back.
I'm not willing to accept that it was luck, although there were some close calls, but I do think that the dynamic, the scale, the people, the ethic and the opportunities are far more important than the structure itself. That being said, I personally believe that the innovative Metro regional structure, coupled with the commission form of government for the central city, gives us the best of both worlds: first, a small, nonpartisan City Council, elected at large, so it's not Balkanized, which provides a little bit of insulation for creative people in the bureaucracy; and, second, a regional context in which you can turn regional problems into regional opportunities.
The zoo was a problem. Now it is a popular regional attraction with a regional tax base that everybody's proud of.
I played a small role in providing a stable funding base that got the Convention Center off the ground, by negotiating an increase in the hotel-motel tax. Once we established a funding source, we could actually get this thing going and bring the pieces in place. Now it is a regional resource that everybody feels good about.
EB2: Maybe that's another element. There's a certain entrepreneurial element you need in the mix. Money is often the crucial ingredient. You need an entrepreneur who can get the money, spend it right, allocate it the right way and follow it up to make something happen. That's the job of an entrepreneur, and I guess there are certain institutions or forms of government that encourage entrepreneurs more than others. That's another possibility. I agree with you that the institutions are not the most important. This isn't to say that they aren't of some importance; they're just not everything.
EB1: I think Portland would not have had many of the accomplishments and many of the leaders that it has if it had just a traditional strong city manager, weak council, and show-person mayor. I think we would be the weaker for it.
One of the things that has played out most significantly is the citizen infrastructure. We have, I think, the strongest citizen infrastructure that I've encountered for any comparable region in the country. Part of it goes back to the old neighborhood efforts. I had great fun when I was on the City Council developing some tools along that line.
We started the Regional Rail Summits in 1991, and then turned them into a national conference that's called RailVolution. After 10 years we're having them all over the country. It is designed to bring together the business community, and politicians, neighborhood activists, the transit folks, and architects. Part of RailVolution's program is to look at how you mobilize that citizen infrastructure.
We also held a Neighborhood Traffic Congress. We invited everybody to go the Convention Center - we figured it was the only place big enough - who had a gripe about traffic in Portland. But out of that day-long effort, we found over 100 volunteers who worked with us to re-design the City's program in terms of traffic. We called it "Reclaiming Our Streets;" it's an ongoing program that built on some of the tools that had been established in the city 20 years earlier, extending them to everything from speed bumps and traffic calming to street design and educational programs.
Actually, the thing that I am probably as proud of as anything is not working on the regional rail efforts and streetcars and light rail and what not, but the creation of the Traffic Class at Portland State University. The City paid the tuition for about 40 people a semester, a three-hour-a-week, eight-week class on the city's biggest transportation problem. The students were invited to make a class project out of the worst transportation problem in their neighborhood and then solve it. I'd come back at the end of the class with our transportation team, and we'd listen to the top two or three proposals. I think the City has done this now for 12, or maybe 15 classes. We've got an alumni association now of probably 500, and we've funded over a dozen of their projects.
To me, it's characteristic of Portlanders to be willing to put up or shut up. They'd come in and they'd take eight weeks of night classes to actually get inside and listen to lectures from the Planning Director and the Traffic Engineer and go on tours. Actually, Rick Gustafson still teaches that course for us.
But building on that citizen infrastructure is the challenge for the City as we're looking at the new century.
When we're talking about these problems, too many meetings consist of folks that could have been--and were--around the table 10 or 20 years ago. We're not seeing the younger generation of people in their twenties and thirties, like those who were rushing in to make things happen in the '70s. They just don't have the same degree of participation or energy, for a variety of reasons.
EB2: But the ingredients of what you're talking about (in the Traffic Class) are different than a meeting, a typical neighborhood meeting. In the Traffic Class you bring your own problem in, you surround it with some understanding and information that you get from professionals, and you figure out your own solution. That to me holds out the promise of a good learning experience. And the participants not only learn about traffic but then act as an informed constituency for the broader issue of traffic in the area, the whole region.
EB1: When I reflect back, this is probably the most exciting time in my adult life to be involved in government in this region for the state. We've seen the evolution of high tech. We've seen the battle that's kept the public schools in our community. For all their problems, the Portland Public Schools still probably represent one of the finest big city school systems in the country. Looking at the enrichment of opportunities for people who live here, I will state unequivocally that there is no city in the world that is better positioned to deal with the challenges that we're going to face in the next 50 years than Portland, Oregon.
EB2: You know, they recently had this panel of experts come to talk about the Central Park Blocks issue, and that's the comment they made as a group. They said, "You people have positioned yourselves in such a way that you're better able now to deal with these kinds of issues than any other city we've seen."
EB1: And that's the greatest frustration about what I do for a living now. The up side is I have opportunities on the federal level to maybe help a little bit to keep this partnership going, because we need partners and the federal government has played a critical role. The federal government helped us get what we have achieved here; we haven't done it by ourselves. It gives me an opportunity to see what's going on in other parts of the country and learn while I still get to work with these marvelous groups of citizens, bureaucrats, politicians, businesses. It's great.
But the frustrating part for me is it's very clear that we have an awful lot of people here who take for granted what's happened and don't have any perspective about what's going on elsewhere, how bad it can be or what those forces are, and there isn't an appreciation for how we got to where we are.
EB1: couple of years ago I had the most stunning experience. I won't mention exactly where I was, but I was in one of these offices in downtown Portland, doing one of those brown bag lunches or coffees or something that I do periodically, talking to professionals about the community and learning from them and sharing. It's a great experience. But in the course of the conversation, I was hearing a lot of negative comments about congestion in Portland and housing costs.
So I asked at one point, "How many of you think Portland is better today than it was 10 years ago?" And mind you, this is in a group of professionals who have made some money in riding this boom, who have made personal contributions of time and energy making the city what it is. And there were only three hands that went up, from people who thought Portland was better than it was 10 years ago.
I was stunned. Then one of the people who had raised his hand said, "What are you people talking about?" You know, "I've been with one of our branch offices someplace, just transferred back," or "I've been gone for three years, and this is amazing."
I indicated that I could remember 10 years ago when we had neighborhoods that were going over the edge. The murder rate was three times what it is. Some people couldn't sell their homes. And we started going, "Well, you know, it's a complicated question."
But it was interesting to me, and I've pursued this a little bit further, talking to accountants and contractors and attorneys and business people, many of whom really didn't appreciate or had forgotten about all that. And this is a big challenge for us now, although I think we're up to it.
EB2: To me, it would be so nice to have a constant perspective about where we are and where we've come from; not how bad we are and how much better we could be, but where we are and where we've been. Kind of a nice quiet perspective about that. But you know, that's like history. People don't get into history, for some reason. I guess I understand that because I certainly didn't when I was younger.
EB1: Well, there is, I think, a certain self-awareness that occurs with maturity. People maybe figure out that they're never going to be a power forward in the NBA or be center fielder for the New York Yankees, but they understand more about life and what they can do, and there's an acceptance and an appreciation of that.
We don't do a very good job with this. I spend a huge amount of my time as member of Congress, as a citizen of Portland, looking for ways to engage people. I know that for me it is the biggest single challenge. What I want to focus my attention on, is how do we create an awareness of what we've done, an appreciation for the tools we've got, to help the next generation of leadership that's going to move us forward?
And when I say the next generation of leadership, I am not just talking about teenagers or people in their twenties. A lot has been made of the fact that we don't have the corporate headquarters that we used to have here, that a lot of the checks to the Downtown Association are cut from out of state. You know, Fred Meyer is now in Cincinnati, and Meier & Frank is in St. Louis. I can't even keep track of who's consumed whom. The big banks have swallowed up all their competition; you have to go to San Francisco or to Charlotte for the Bank of America, or Minneapolis for U.S. National.
All that's true. All that's true. But those office towers downtown are filled with people who are as well educated as we've ever had. In terms of resources, the days when a Glenn Jackson or a Leroy Staver would have some Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs turned loose to work full time on a political campaign or a civic cause--or that you'd dip into a promotion advertising budget to find things for civic causes--those things just don't happen anymore.
But in terms of real wealth, there's probably never been more wealth in this community, more disposable income in this community. There's probably never been more people who have time. Maybe we don't have people who are assistant vice presidents for public affairs anymore, who just schmooze and go to Rotary Clubs and neighborhood meetings and whatnot, but in terms of people who have time professionally, if they choose, to invest, or people who are retiring at a point when a generation or two ago a full partner at a prestigious law firm who turned 50 was entering their peak earning years. We have some amazing people who are retiring to devote their time and energy to improving their communities.
I started in this business working with Dave Kottkamp on Neil Goldschmidt's campaign. Dave found out what the cost of public service is because the two years that he was not at Nike--when he was working for Neil as his press secretary and campaign manager--those two years cost him something like five million dollars. But Dave is a full-time citizen now, and doing things for Cycle Oregon and Planned Parenthood.
Bob Woodell left Nike. He'd been president of Nike, then served as the Executive Director of the Port of Portland and the Chair of the Port Commission. He's been working with prison industries. He's in his kids' school two days a week. I mean, he does extraordinary things. One of the most amazing people I've ever met.
Or Don Frisbee. When I started in this business, Don Frisbee was President of Pacific Power & Light, with Glenn Jackson as Chair. Don was on that list as one of the most powerful people. Don retired from PacifiCorp a dozen years ago, but is still, well into his seventies, active in education. He's doing a back-to-school program, he founded the American Leadership Forum. Actually, Don, John Gray and I worked in 1985 or 1986 to get this thing started. Don is still active with that and it's still spewing forth graduates every year. One of the youngest, most energetic, active and thoughtful people I know is Don Frisbee, and two or three times a year I find an excuse to just listen to him or work with him on a project.
So we've got so much here now in terms of what we could do with people who retire younger. Frankly, people who are older have a lot more energy and appetite for civic improvement than people half their age. If we figure out how to use the young, the old, the new generation of leadership, and not lose what we've got and bring some new ones in, I'm pretty optimistic about our future.
EB2: Maybe we don't have a lot of those people because there are just so damn many things to be done. Maybe it's because City issues aren't that important anymore - or they're not as engrossing, or they don't excite people as much as other things.
EB1: No, I don't buy that. One of the reasons why I like going to work in the morning, and why I get on planes and come back here for 50 hours, then take red-eyes back to D.C., is that there is so much here, and we have so much in the pipe-line.
I love what you're talking about, thinking about the extension of the park blocks, and I've spent a couple hours with Neil and Jim Westwood talking about one piece that I've got, which is getting rid of the post office in that bottle neck down there.
We have the potential to revitalize Gateway. Light rail to the airport gives us the opportunity to redefine what we think about in terms of the Airport District and the Columbia South Shore. Light rail north along Interstate is going to force people to think differently about that neighborhood, and frankly, as we get those rails going, it's only going to be a matter of time until we get light rail across the river to Vancouver.
The streetcar is opening this year. It wasn't something I dreamed up, but I started pounding that drum back when I was on City Council as I had people share with me their vision and encourage me to read Kim MacColl's books and see what we had in the streetcar era. Portland is a city that was created around street-car neighborhoods.
The streetcar, light rail, Gateway revitalization, what we could do around the Rose Quarter now, the blossoming that took place in the Lloyd Center, the Pearl District, South Waterfront, Lents revitalization, the Johnson Creek Basin ... There's stuff here that is exciting. I get excited about it. And I'm interested in our cultivating the next generation of leadership, of resources, of optimism.
Stuff that's going on in Gresham is transforming that little town. Light rail to Hillsboro - Hillsboro is not what it was. What's happening with some of these stations along the West Side. To Lake Oswego, the little Willamette Shores Railway that we fought to keep in '87 is now ripe for cranking up. We have work to do with the waterfront. There is no end to the opportunities in metropolitan Portland.
EB2: I think it would be nice if others could spend a little time, as you are, reflecting on what happened, how did it happen, is it still happening, or do we need to do something, and what is it that we have to do?
EB1: I feel my challenge - if I had a MacArthur Grant, a stipend that paid my rent, and a million dollars a year to think about things, what I would do in my spare time is cast votes and deal with problems of social security and visas. But most of what I am doing is thinking about how to put people together, how the federal government can help local government. I really do believe in the importance of where we've been, the foundation we've built, the people who have contributed, and how we can extend this for a longer-term vision, building on our understanding and the accomplishments of the past.
You and I have had some modest disagreement in the past about moving a freeway. Out of that process, I came away feeling more strongly than ever that it shouldn't be moved, but that we can remove it. I do believe that, God willing, in the next 20 years we'll see this section of freeway gone.
EB2: And that's the kind of vision that starts something.
EB1: But it came out of the circumstance, just as the failure of city-consolidation in the '70s led to something that was better for the region with Metro. We did get rid of the duplication and overlap, we got a regional government, and we ended up with the best of both worlds. I see this creative energy coming out of - okay, a big battle over moving the freeway and spending money, but out of that--thinking, thinking, thinking. For me the result is something that is better, more affordable, and is going to be a catalyst for more change.
May I conclude with one thing that I think is important?
One of the most powerful lessons for me is that time is on our side. Ultimately buildings are going to fall down, sewers need to be replaced, roads need to be resurfaced or bridges reconstructed, and there's a huge amount of capital investment in the orderly flow of affairs.
One of the things we've done with Portland is understanding that if you've got a plan and energy behind it, there is power over time. You can seize opportunities, you can put in public investment, you can not spend your money propping something up, but you can shift that around, or you can incorporate it into your design - like having the architects and the artists work with the engineers on light rail for dynamite design and public art. The Percent for Art program, for example, that I initiated at the County and worked with Mildred Schwab to do at the City. We beefed it up again later, to generate all sorts of magnificent pieces of public art, and it didn't cost us anything. It didn't add one dime to projects, but it was incorporated into what we were doing, and it helped, over time, to change the nature of how things looked.
I think that's the power of our Downtown Plan and the Waterfront. It's what we need to harness in the next round of environmental cleanup, taking the resources that we know we're going to spend and figuring out a better way, with citizen infrastructure and a plan.
[End of Interview]