planpdx.org: Interview with Margie Gustafson
Date of Interview: August 1995
Interview By: Ernie Bonner
Location: Mary Ann and Hardy Myers' home
MG = Marjorie Gustafson
EB = Ernie Bonner
EB: Why don't you just start out by bringing us up to date on how you got involved in planning, what were you doing before, etc.
MG: I came from Washington, DC and in Washington DC my feeling was that you practically had to be a cabinet wife to do anything significant as a volunteer. There was no real local volunteer tradition, I think because the city was so focused on national events and also I lived in a suburb after I grew up while I was in high school and suburban life had no organization at all. So when we came to Portland, it was just a revelation to me. I remember certain things that happened. My husband, John, was deputy labor commissioner. I think he made $12,000 a year. And we went to some kind of a meeting, and the Governor was there, and we were in a reception line and as we walked by Governor McCall he says to John,"Hello, John" and he said to me, "Hello Mrs. Gustafson" and I thought I'll never leave this place. I mean, here's a place where you've hardly been around at all and the Governor knows who you are. And then I got involved in child care issues. A friend of mine in Washington knew Betty Waskow's brother-in-law. So I came out here and called Betty Waskow. And she put me in touch with Helen Gordon. And, Helen, I don't know if you've ever run into Helen, was really instrumental in all kinds of child care issues in Oregon. She started something called the 4-C program which involved not just children, but families and she got federal funding. I appeared on the scene (fresh from the federal government) and she immediately put me in charge of a little committee (with a great leap of faith as far as I could see, she knew very little about). So I had a committee that met in Albina with these neighborhood ladies to formulate this federal grant for child care. And so I saw right away that in Portland you could do what you were capable of. Another incident that, to me, exemplifies Portland took place when Danny was about a year old, maybe a little less. Betty Waskow and I were in Westmoreland Park and we were in the wading pool and all of a sudden a baseball came into the middle of the wading pool full of babies. And we looked around, and another ball came not too far from the wading pool. Well, it turns out there was a hardball field within striking distance of all these children which seemed to me perfectly idiotic. I walked over to the people who were playing and said, this must be a mistake. I'm sure you're not supposed to be playing and they assured me oh, yes, they played in there all the time, they had a permit. Frank Ivancie was in charge of the parks, so I called his office and said, you must not know this, but you have given permits for games which endanger children. Ivancie's office just blew me off. I mean, they were not interested in any change. And so we got a bunch of ladies together and we went down to Westmoreland Park with a petition and all we said to people was, take a look over there, here's the wading pool, here's the hard ball field. They should at least convert it to softball. We weren't asking for anything really dramatic, just something so the ball wouldn't go so far. And we got all these signatures. And then we had a 'diaper-in' in Ivancie's office. (We didn't actually change any diapers). There must have been about 6 of us--I think Kathy Walsh and Betty Merten and Betty Waskow and Beth Wieting and I--and I don't remember who else.
EB: You called it a 'diaper-in?'
MG: We came with our babies and we said, "Here are all of these babies. Surely, you do not want to risk the lives of these babies..." and Ivancie was just so ungracious. It was so foolish. It was a real lesson to me. Instead of being grateful, instead of saying thank you so much for bringing this to my attention and going to all this effort to let people know about it, he was disagreeable. He gave us all the arguments why there was no problem, and then he built a huge fence. So he did what he should have done, but he did it without graciousness. And he sent me a picture of the fence, I remember, when it was built. And I thought, that's just the worst way to do something. It's like the airlines tell their sales representatives when the plane is late, at least be nice to people, at least appear to be concerned and then people won't get so upset. At any rate, he built the fence, but he wasn't so nice. So, that was an early lesson.
So then I got involved in a lot of different kinds of projects mostly because I was home with first one child, Danny, and then with Debbie. All of the people I knew were just like me--at home, with kids. it was just a wonderful time to be a young woman in Portland. When I talked to my friends in Washington, it was clear that people of equal abilities in Washington were worried about the nursery school whereas Elsa Coleman and I and Mary Ann Myers were worried about the City of Portland. It was just a wonderful time. And I never felt any great compunction to be a wage earner. I always thought the world of work was somewhat over-rated. I was not one--I guess I was not exactly a raging feminist--I was not one who felt that I was in any kind of a cage because I wasn't employed. I was really happy to have all this free time. We did all these things. I worked on the Community Music Center. They were having trouble with their project to get a new building--it was going very slowly. I asked the architect they had at that time some pointed questions. He abandoned ship. Then Bud Orringdulph took over and designed the terrific Community Music Center that's in the Southeast. I was on their Board and I did fund-raisers. It was, as far as I could see, extremely easy to do. Anything you were capable of, because people needed help and it was a wonderful time. I worked on the Walsh campaign for city council. We went into Westmoreland, I remember that, and talked with business man because we were concerned about what was going to happen with little neighborhood centers like that and that was part of the Walsh strategy. I really didn't work so hard on the first Goldschmidt campaign, but I canvassed for Neil. I did what all the people I knew did.
And then I don't remember exactly how this happened, but when Neil won and he was going to have a new planning commission (I think just really because he knew me) he asked me if I would be on the planning commission. I should also say we had a lot of ties with Neil because John and he were friends from childhood in Eugene. All of these guys were doing their political thing. They had a Demo Forum organization of young democrats who met every year and discussed issues. Hardy Myers was involved in it, all kinds of people were involved in it. So they were close, personally as well as in terms of the community. I think Neil thought I could do it so he asked me. But what I remember was when we had the interview with the City Council and somebody--I think Mildred--basically said to me why in the world are you qualified? Why would anybody have chosen you? And I think that my response was pretty much: well, I think Neil thought I could do it. I think that I told her that I had done these various things. So, that's really what happened. I got here and did a lot of things and ended up on the Planning Commission. And,. for me, it was really just a terrific opportunity because I love to ask questions, it's a great luxury to be on a Commission and to have a staff that does all the work, they give you all this material. All you have to do is sit down and analyze it. It takes time, you know, and attention, but not any great effort beyond that. And, then, you don't have to implement anything. Other people go out and do all the work. It's just really the fun, so you hold the hearings and you ask the questions and... I thought those were very exciting years.
And I thought that the Planning Commission was made up of a really good group of people. I thought we were people who, even if we disagreed with each other, didn't have any personal antagonism toward each other. I thought that people were kind to each other. Nobody was treated as if they were less of a contributor because of their technical background. At the beginning we had just marathon meetings. I mean, we were the most citizen-sensitive group you can imagine. In a way, it was ridiculous. We were there until 12 or 1 o'clock at night sometimes. We never cut anybody off. God forbid somebody shouldn't say everything in his heart to us. We sat there. We were young, and I think for me the hardest thing in the beginning was not that the field was new to me, because it was, but the material was pretty clear, but I had been at home for a long time, and I had had small children and I was moving around all the time and also I was being hugged all the time. And all this good physical contact with little kids. And to sit there for hours and hours in a chair all by myself. Sounds silly, but nobody hugging me, nobody on my lap and, furthermore, I couldn't go any place. That was really hard. Yeah, I can remember that.
EB: The months right there when Neil was first in office as Mayor... a lot of the public feeling was that he sort of ran rough-shod over the planning commission and forced all of those retirements, etc. What did that seem like to you? I mean, how much background, how much talking did you do with the Mayor's office about this before it was ventured out?
MG: I don't recall any conversations with the Mayor's office before joining the commission. He asked me to do this. I said fine. I had some experience with neighborhoods, and with organizations, it's not that I knew nothing at all about Portland. But in terms of planning issues other than the fact that Dean was head of the Downtown Plan, I was only generally familiar with most of what was going on. At least, I have to tell you, I don't remember. As I said to you before, my memory is terrible anyway, and this all took place a long time ago. Also, I have to tell you I do not remember much about the interview of Ernie Bonner. He may have felt that I was particularly antagonistic. I would doubt that I was. I don't remember that at all. I think I asked sticky questions of everybody. I don't think it was just Ernie. In fact, I was asked to be on a civil service panel--several civil service panels--not connected with planning issues, and they told me because they thought I was so tough that they discredited me, they changed my ratings, that they would judge me as a rater and then they decided to add five points to all of my ratings.
EB: So you don't remember very much that surrounded that whole issue of constructing the new planning commission.
MG: No. I don't remember very much about that. I was insulated from a lot of that, because I wasn't professionally associated with anybody who had passionate feelings on these subjects. I remember being in meetings and having somebody say to me in one meeting that all the developers and all of the big guys are sitting back there in the back of the room cursing you. But they weren't people who I had dealings with. I didn't have any--I don't want to say conflict of interest because I don't think it's a conflict of interest to know something about the area you are dealing with--but I can tell the difference between being on the planning commission and doing the work I do now. Now I have to take into consideration all kinds of peoples' interests and be very careful of them because I will have other fish to fry later on. In that setting I think that I was a neighborhood person, that that was essentially my role. I wasn't like Peggy Eckton, who was really a neighborhood activist and advocate, but I was Joe Citizen. And that's really what I was. So to the extent that people were angry about my votes, they weren't my friends, we weren't in a circle of developers.
EB: Well, I certainly remember meetings going on forever. You (all of you) had learned enough to start moving those meetings a little faster... but it was still true when I got there that meetings went on and on. The hearings officer innovation was eventually to resolve some of that backlog. Did the planning commission have any early retreats, or did you go into sessions with Neil to consider what to do, or to agree on strategy?
MG: I don't remember that. I remember we did some social things. I remember at one point everyone came to our house and Neil came and we had a long talk about what we were doing and kind of what his hopes were. But I don't remember that we had strategic sessions.
EB: Who were some of the people on the planning commission that you remember?
MG: Well, I think it was a really good group. Of course, I remember Hardy, who was a friend of ours before and is a very dear friend of ours now. Hardy is consummately fair. I think that he has just bone deep integrity, he's just very honest, and fair. And he's calm and he gave everybody a chance to talk and I think he made them feel that their views were respected. He was there for about a year.
And I remember some of the big things we did, like I remember Forest Park Estates. We had a big hearing a the high school auditorium; Hardy was there at that time, seems to me. I remember an issue involving the PGE turbines at Harborton.
I think that Hardy set the tone, which was probably very important in the situation where we were, where our legitimacy was being challenged anyway, and there were also legal issues. I think he brought expertise as well as integrity and brains. Hardy's very smart. I thought the group was very smart. I felt that it was probably an unusual planning commission that way.
And then there is Bing, who is exceedingly creative and exceedingly smart, and interesting, and knew a lot about planning and had definite opinions. But I think also didn't run roughshod over other people. I think sometimes if you have somebody who has real expertise on a board with people who don't it's easy to push them around, but I don't have any memories that he was like that at all. The thing that's neat about Bing is that he is a person interested in a lot of fields. He's not just interested in planning. He has interesting ideas in general. So he's a good person--I don't mean to misuse this word--but an interesting person who you would like to sit down and have coffee with and just talk about a lot of things, not just planning. I don't remember how many years he was chairman and I don't remember if he stopped being chairman because there was a limitation.
EB: Bing left because it was just too much of a chore for him, given his firm's practice. It was just too much work. So he stepped out because of that.
MG: And after Bing, there was Mike Katz. Mike Katz was smart, and kind of cynical, which was useful. I enjoyed him. I enjoyed him a lot.
EB: Mike had a cool, analytical mind. I thought he was a good counterpoint to other minds on the commission.
MG: I think so too. And not patient of guff. Who else was there? Herb Hardy was there. He and I used to drive... he used to take me to the meetings. He lived in Eastmoreland. And he was an older gentleman. And I think he had a lot of wisdom. I think that he brought many years of common sense to bear on the deliberations. I also think he was pleased with the changes. You didn't have the feeling that he longed for the old days. You had the feeling that maybe on the old planning commission he'd been (I suppose left and right are not correct) maybe more to the left than many of them. Maybe he was a little bit more conservative than this planning commission, but I thought that he was a good voice of experience.
I think Sharon Roso and Peggy Eckton played the role of Neighborhood advocate and they were kind of reliably the neighborhood people and they were practical. Who else was there? Oh, Bill Wessinger. I really liked him. I thought he was very good. He was reasonable. He had the perspective of someone with a long time stake in this community.
I would say one thing. And maybe this was the tone that was set, by Neil and by Bing and Hardy. But I felt that this was a commission all of the time that I was on it, that was really dedicated to the good of the community. I think that we spent all of that time and we did whatever we did, right or wrong, because everybody really cared about Portland. There were not a lot of people, at least to my knowledge, with private agendas. That was one of the reasons that it was successful. Even if our views were different (I probably voted differently from Rowland Rose a lot) that we had a kind of honorable commitment.
EB: What do you remember about the waterfront, or the downtown plan?
MG: I remember we did the height and density standards for the downtown. And the reason I remember it was in part because it really showed me the difference between understanding something and having judgment. Because I felt, with the help of Bing and the help of other people, I eventually understood the issues, but I had no judgment, unlike parking or community issues where I had personal experience, so I had judgment.
You know what I remember. This is really irrelevant. After we did these regulations, which as I recall made it much tougher to have any service stations downtown, I ran out of gas parked in a parking space because I was going in to see Warren Iliffe, who was then head of the zoo . . . and I was just going to visit him, because there was a story about him in the paper that said he was from Silver Spring, Maryland. And I was from Silver Spring. At any rate, he came down in this little VW and he picked me up in his car and (I didn't know him at all, I had never met him) and we circled the downtown looking for a gas station for a long time, and finally found one and got gas. It was a lovely experience because he was a wonderful gentleman who came down and picked up this lady who just called him because he was from Silver Spring, Maryland. But I kept thinking, well, hoisted on my own petard. . . . there were no gas stations downtown, I can tell you.
You know, it's interesting about the rain protection in the downtown plan. I really felt that rain protection should have been a feature of the downtown plan, and that it should have been required and the businesses forced to contribute to some kind of a fund to do it. You know, it seemed to me that my arguments were good. As I recall, the council said no, but the commission said yes. It seems to me that we proposed that rain protection be required. And all of these businessmen came up and said we know what's best for downtown. And then we said look, there are downtowns falling apart all over the country. If people always did what was best for them, this clearly wouldn't have happened. But, in fact, when you look at downtown Portland, it seems to be thriving. It's probable that rain protection would have made no difference at all. So maybe that was just a good idea that was turned down for good reason.
And didn't we do Nordstrom's as well? It seems we did Nordstroms because one of the things that we always tried to do was to have retail space on the street, to have lively streets, and the people would have something to look at, as opposed to the kind of mall development that has been happening in some downtowns where you essentially have fortresses . . . and it seemed to me that we were marginally successful, that they put up some windows, but it wasn't really as interesting as a street with real display space.
EB: They actually put up display windows. When they first came in they had just a blank wall there. So we had display windows. They had some windows on the restaurant on the third floor. Remember Leo Williams, who was the historic preservation guy? He built a model that showed what the square space looked before with the old buildings and what it was going to look like with Nordstrom's, and it was pretty graphic what the changes were going to be. So I took this model into Neil's office and said, I just wanted you to know that you're going to have this kind of impact on the feeling of that space. And he said, well, we're going to have a new urban style in downtown. Obviously, he wanted nothing to come in the way of getting the first retail store in the downtown in the United States.
MG: Is the Portland downtown successful still, do people still come and shop there? So all of these malls all over the place have not killed it?
EB: Saving the downtown retail was I think the major goal and the major accomplishment of the downtown plan.
MG: Is there night life, too? I remember that we talked about housing in the downtown. It seems to me that we talked about downtown housing, the idea being that you would keep a place safe if you had people there at all hours, not just during the day.
EB: The Portland population in general does not wander around downtown at night. There is some housing downtown. Actually, at one point in the game it didn't appear to me that we would ever get any, but there's been a surprising amount. And there are new hotels being built. Both have contributed to life in the downtown after dark.
MG: Well, actually, the downtown is small enough that areas where there is housing (like around Portland State) they're not that far . . . or in the northwest, it's not in the retail core, but it's very close. For us it's really startling to see downtown now. We left in 1977. That was a long time ago. That was before a lot of this bore fruit. . . before the trees were up and the kiosks. It looks so wonderful. The place is just transformed.
EB: The transit mall was probably the first place it started. What about the Mount Hood freeway? The Planning Commission didn't do anything with that, really.
MG: No. That's not in my memory. I don't think so. I think it was done before, wasn't it?
EB: No, actually the Council turned it down in 1974. So it was around. It just wasn't before the planning commission. Did you go on that retreat to Gerhard, of the planning commission. It must have been in 1976 maybe, you left in 1977?
MG: No, we moved in 1977, but I left in 1976. I was on for 4 years. Actually, I was appointed to fill a one-year term of somebody and then I was re-appointed for four more years, but I just served three.
EB: Why did you leave?
MG: You don't really want to know. I was just tired of hearing myself talk. I was. I thought, I'd said it all. At every meeting I'd write a little secret sign to myself: 'silence is golden,' 'keep your mouth shut.' In those days I wasn't working. I was doing all this civic stuff, and I had time to really read all the material the staff gave us. I have been on commissions since, and I have never had the time that I had then. So, of course, I had a million questions, which I asked. And I think I just got tired of hearing myself. That's really what happened. I thought, let somebody else . . . That's the way I felt, anyway.
EB: That's not the way I remember. And I don't think anybody ever said that. What I remember is you always asking the right question, the hard question. I remember you starting out and saying well, I'm just a little housewife, so I really don't know this much (well, you didn't really say that) but you'd have this demeanor like, I really shouldn't be asking something like this and I probably don't know anything about it, BUT, didn't you beat your wife last night? I remember that. Everybody would just start to chuckle under their breath when you started... knowing you were going to ask a hard question.
MG: My vision of my questioning was that I was cagey; that I would ask a question here and I'd get an answer; and then I'd ask a question there and then I'd get an answer and then I'd say Oh, well, this and this adds up to that. However, this is my flattering view of myself. And Neil told me once that they considered me "Ricochet" Gustafson, because they never knew what I was going to say. So maybe what I had considered so cagey just seemed random. Anyway, I swear that is really why I left. I had just had enough of myself. And, also, I was working part-time then for a victim's program for Harl Haas. And then someone I guess very good came on, Joan, somebody I didn't know.
EB: Any more thoughts on the planning commission?
MG: Well, when you're in the position like the planning commission was, you know that ultimately the politicians are going to make a decision anyhow. You feel you can do what you think is best for the city and then they'll make the deal.
EB: But I think the planning commission during the seventies was enormously helpful to city hall, because it took a lot of the initial flack in some very controversial issues.
MG: I think that you can feel, when you're on a body like that, that just letting people talk is the thing, and giving people a hearing . . . but I actually found that the citizens' assessment of your performance depends entirely on whether you voted for them or against them. When we would have a session where I thought, gee, this went so well--the planning commission asked all the right questions, and we would vote against 10 little old ladies, and they would come up and tell us how stupid we were, and what a waste of time it was. And if we had another session where our questions were sloppy, we never understood it, but we voted for the 10 little old ladies, they'd come up and say to us, you're so young, but you're so smart. It was pure outcome.
I remember some specific incidents . . . I don't know how they fit into some larger picture, but it would be interesting to know how these things would be handled now. I remember there was a half-way house that was going to be situated, it seems to me in Southeast Portland, and we had a fellow testify . . . we had all the people from corrections get up there and say (the home was for adolescents) oh, the kids are supervised every minute of the day (I mean, what a bunch of baloney). And they told us that statistics show there's no greater crime in areas where these houses are. I think by the time I had actually been working for Harl and I knew these statements were ridiculous and, in fact, afterwards I talked to some corrections people and I said I don't believe you and they said it was kind of shaded. And a man got up and he said he lived on this block and he said in one block there was a half-way house for alcoholics and in another block there was a half-way house for the retarded and within a third block there was something else and he said, I have a 12-year-old daughter and I am not going to be able to let her go outside the house and I thought, you are right. I thought it was wrong to put another half-way house there. But the planning commission voted for it as I recall. I was in the minority. It was as if somehow the social good would overwhelm this man's need to have his neighborhood protected. I don't know if it would be that way anymore. I mean, I'm not sure that we wouldn't have more of a sense that you can't overload neighborhoods.
And there were things that we did that made good practical sense. I recall the city came in asking us to drop parking to make a street one-way with no parking, and we said no, because our staff had said that parking makes a neighborhood safe; it protects you, the cars lined up protects the neighborhood and the sidewalks from the traffic. Well, I thought that was right.
EB: I think you're right about the half-way houses. Whenever a social agency wanted a little house in the neighborhood, it was basically because they could do it cheaply, with less supervision and without the higher standards of larger facilities. So, it was just cheap for them. And that was the social good. I used to think, wait, that's not enough. But, anyway, at that period of time, there wasn't a great force to rehabilitate these individuals as well as this tendency to protect the neighborhoods and that was what caused that whole issue with us. The residential care facility ordinance, which you guys spent a lot of time on, that was exactly meant to try to resolve all of those issues.
MG: There's something else that surprised me. It was how much--not taking--but giving there is by a planning commission. Someone wants to shut an alley, you let them shut the alley. Now maybe, in exchange, you make them take down a big sign. I remember a case with a bread company in NE Portland, over by the freeway. Anyway, when I listen to the debates now about taking, I know that planning is not just about taking, planning is about giving.
EB: I think you're right. If we could get paid for the giving, we could pay for the taking.
MG: Well, actually, there are concessions like that. If you're going to penalize government, if you're going to charge government for the taking, how about what happens when you improve the value of the property with a road improvement?
EB: Well, one more issue. I don't remember really us getting involved with the urban growth boundary at that time. LCDC came on in 1974, so there wasn't very much going on. But there was kind of like the initial, kind of creaking of the comprehensive plan under LCDC rules. Do you remember any of that? The arguments about doing a plan from the neighborhood up or from the city down?
MG: Oh, kind of, but I don't remember particulars. It seems to me we spent a lot of time on neighborhood planning. Didn't we?
EB: We spent a lot of time, but didn't end up doing very many. They were enormous sink-holes of manpower, because there were so many issues and so difficult to resolve.
MG: So it really becomes more of an exceptions planning process rather than figuring it out before hand.
EB: I think we would have been much better off by trying to do little policy plans for the neighborhoods and not try to get into regulation, because the zoning always stopped you, The neighborhood always wanted to down-zone everything. In a lot of cases they were right, but God, that took a lot of time, neighborhood by neighborhood would never have worked.
MG: I remember people coming in and fiercely opposing housing for the elderly. There was going to be some kind of a development on vacant land, and they were outraged. You'd think, is there any development you would accept? Talk about low impact.
EB: Yeah, we had a housing for the elderly proposed in Buckman. The Buckman Neighborhood Association came in to support it, but the people were opposed.
And we had disputes with churches over parking lots. Sometimes those churches were so arrogant. It was as if they asked, what right have you to question God? God needs these parking spaces and God just happened to expand the capacity of the church without telling anybody. So now you have to give us more parking. What do we care about the impact on the community? We were probably not a sufficiently devout group to judge on those issues.
But all in all, I thought serving on the planning commission was a privilege. I really did. It sounds corny, but it really was. It was a privilege to be with the people who were appointed, and it was a privilege to have that kind of birds-eye view of what was going on in the city. And to be able to play a small part. It was fun. It was really fun. It was a different time.
You know, when I first started . . . did you ever hear about me and the baby-sitting money? Well, I think that Commissions probably were composed always of wealthy people or business people, not women with children. In 1973, I had a 6-year old and a 3-year old. I was in a Reed College baby-sitting coop, but I would have had to baby-sit my whole life to pay off all those hours that I was accumulating while I was in planning commission meetings. Your friends will do it for you for a little while but then they are not so happy about doing this for you. And they shouldn't have to. So I must have asked (right up front, or very early) for fifty cents an hour (not what you call big bucks, as I recall--I'm sure that that's how much it was) so that I could pay somebody, a friend, to baby-sit. And the city council dithered and they dithered and they dithered and they said there were all these rules against any kind of compensation or expenses for the planning commission. And it took them a year. And, finally, I said to them, I'm not going to stay on the commission; this is ridiculous. And then they passed whatever they had to pass. It wasn't any great issue. They just hadn't bothered.
Eventually I was Vice President of the Planning Commission and I was chairing all these zoning meetings before there was a hearings officer. That was me. So, at any rate, after that first year they gave me fifty cents an hour to pay for sitting. It made all the difference, because then I wasn't asking a favor, I was giving somebody just a little something. So, things are different now.
EB: Well, it's now a contribution you've obviously made to every succeeding mother, who now has a precedent they can cite. Well, Marjorie Gustafson got it.
MG: Well, it must really have been that there weren't enough people like me--either they were wealthy so it didn't matter to them, or they didn't have young children.
EB: I'm sure that's true. In fact, they rarely had women on, let along women with children. You had to be somebody like Mildred, who was a downtown attorney, to get into the old boys' club.
MG: I felt we had a nice relationship with the staff. I think that we felt that the staff was good. I think that we felt close to them as people--that it wasn't like the commission was off here and the staff was off there. It seems to me that we were colleagues.
EB: Oh yeah, very definitely. I don't think anybody on the staff felt apart from the commission. Well, we were all the same age. I guess I was the older than most people, but pretty much everybody was the same age around there.
MG: Yeah, we were really young. So everybody was sort of colleagues in a way. It was a collegial type of atmosphere. I mean, I felt the same way.
MG: Yeah, and I think that the staff work that we got was good, and that we had the information that we needed. You know, whether we took the scatter shot approach (which you almost have to do as a planning commission--you deal with things as they come to you, it's not that you are always generating things). But, probably more than most, as you said, we had the big projects, we looked at the big picture.
EB: I was sometimes disappointed with the staff work, but since (in my older years) I have come to realize that part of the reason I was getting some bad staff work was that I wasn't putting people in the right places. The other part of the reason is, I think, so what? This is the real world. It isn't some sort of academic institution...
MG: ...where everything can be perfect...
EB: this isn't some perfect place, this is imperfect, like crazy. Of course, a lot of the problem--I think the Mayor's office made the same mistake--was push, push, push, hard, hard, hard, fast, fast, fast. We need this done right now. And that definitely was not true. We didn't need it right now. We needed to make a step that way. It was probably about what we could hope for in a couple of years.
MG: ...and probably what we did.
EB: And all this trying for two years to get so far ahead, was frustrating, you used up your energy, pissed people off, stuff like that... but didn't get you any further than you were going to get anyway. The world's going to give you a little bit, it isn't going to give you a lot.
MG: For this concept, the passion of the process, the fact that we were so concerned, that we thought it was so important, that we did it that way, or the Mayor's office did it that way, and I'm not suggesting what more seasoned people might have done, but, you know in some ways you have virtues that are responsible for your successes as well as maybe causing some of your problems.
EB: if you're going to take the fast route, you have to expect to be frustrated. But, bottom line, there was a very good working relationship among the people involved and everybody was certainly engaged. It wasn't just a job, I don't think, except for maybe a few people on that staff.
MG: And, you know, I guess I never really thought about it at the time, but you really have to hand it to the people on the commission, who had a professional interest at stake, that their commitment was really to the city and to the process, and not to their own interests. And that could be hard, I mean I never thought about that before. We just took it for granted. But you can see that you can have one eye out for a potential client, or something. But I don't think that that's the way it was at all. And that probably takes a rare kind of commitment.
[End of Interview]