June 9, 2011
The Futility of Citizen Involvement at the CRC
Back in 2009 I griped about a Columbia River Crossing Project Sponsors Council meeting where citizens were limited to one minute of testimony and several citizens were actually ejected by a zealous security guard.
I expected better from Metro, I really did. Today the Council considered whether to deem that the project had met the conditions imposed by Metro in their 2008 Locally Preferred Alternative adoption.
I had a plan. I was going to show up early, get an early testimony slot, then go home and watch the remainder of the meeting on cable while I got some work done. I had also committed to my friend Joe Cortright that I would enter a letter from him into the record since he could not attend.
As I signed up (#1 on the stack of testimony cards) I was disappointed to see that testimony would be limited to one minute (I was told by order of President Hughes).
I was shocked when testimony began to have President Hughes say that everyone who had submitted written testimony was being moved to the end of the testifier list. And I found out very quickly that Joe's letter, submitted in advance by e-mail, put me on that list. Suddenly I was #25.
I came very close to storming out, but came to the sad realization that since testimony was capped at 1 minute, I wouldn't have to wait that long.
Now I understand the reason for the one minute limit. What's the point in taking time to listen to people you've already decided to vote against? My count is that of the 33 people who testified, 4 advocated in favor of adoption of the resolution and 6 (many from Hayden Island) indicated some level of concern about the project or its details without indicating outright opposition.
That means that 23 people, or more than 2/3rds of those testifying, expressed opposition, most in very strong terms.
Nonetheless the Council voted 5-1 to cancel its leverage over the project.
What's particularly amazing is that several Councilors voted in favor over substantial concerns. Councilor Roberts described this as "a leap of faith" and said she had "never been enthusiastic about this bridge".
Councilor Craddick is reported to have said (I have this second hand because Portland Community Media cut off the broadcast when it went past their scheduled time slot): "if I had my druthers I would like to vote no, but I don't think it's the wisest decision to make at this time."
The only wisdom I saw was from Councilor Hosticka, the lone no vote.
June 10, 2011 8:33 AM
Michael, Portland Afoot Says:
That's the quote from Craddick as I typed it. It was in the context of a comment about how we don't have enough information yet, but that she thinks we will later, and that she will have the option to vote against the project at that point, armed by greater certainty that her concerns haven't been addressed.
Still, it was one of the strangest things I've heard a sitting politician say.
June 10, 2011 8:48 AM
John Reinhold Says:
I had asked Councillor Burkholder via email to vote against the resolution. This was the canned response I received - I still decided to show up and testify in person even though I knew it was futile.
Thank you very much for your letter on the upcoming resolution before the Metro Council on the Columbia River Crossing Project (resolution 11-4264). I apologize for this impersonal note but wanted to reply before the Council takes action.
Some of your letters have been very thoughtful and addressed the very real choices that we face. There are no "right" answers to such big challenges, rather a difficult set of trade-offs.
When the Metro Council approved the Locally Preferred Alternative in 2008, it included a list of concerns that it asked the project to address. This current resolution declares that those considerations have been addressed, to the extent they can be at this point in the project, and that the Council supports completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The Council has already concluded that replacing the existing bridges is justified, and endorsed wholeheartedly building light rail and high quality bicycle/pedestrian facilities as well as using tolling to finance construction and reduce travel demand. I am proud that my many-year participation in this effort resulted in a design that is groundbreaking nationally for its robust multi-modal elements, first-ever greenhouse gas analysis and minimizing of its physical footprint. Some of you also contributed to a much better design by your active participation over the years.
What does the future hold? There are a number of considerations that will be further addressed in the FEIS as well as in the design and construction phases, of which Metro will be a key and active participant. Furthermore, the Council has called out three issues for particular attention: 1) further consideration of early implementation of tolls to reduce demand during construction and lower eventual costs, 2) establishing a community enhancement fund )such as the one I helped establish and implement as part of the I-5 Delta Park widening project), and 3) making sure all of Oregon contributes to this project of statewide significance and not penalize our region financially.
Thank you again for your continued interest in the future of this region.
Rex Burkholder, Metro Councilor
600 NE Grand Avenue
Portland, OR 97232
June 10, 2011 9:41 AM
Just Saying Says:
I think it has been obvious from the start of this process a decade ago that it was designed to get this result. It was a process designed to get buy-in, not to consider alternatives.
That said. I don't think opinions expressed at public testimony should ever be taken as representative public opinion. It is the wisdom of the advice and the ability to persuade, not the number of people supporting it, that gives it weight. The number of supporters is important to the extent it gets decision makers to consider issues they otherwise might have discounted as idiosyncratic to one speaker or group.
Otherwise public testimony periods are really just an opportunity to communicate a particular point of view to the media and public. For that purpose, limiting people to one minute may be doing them a favor. And, if decision makers minds are closed, it avoids wasting both the speakers and officials time.
Frankly, at this point this project is a bloated over-priced boondoggle regardless of your views on transportation priorities. Its a Christmas tree with packages for every special interest under it, with the assumption that the federal taxpayers will pick up the lions share of the tab. Its that federal prize money that makes it impossible for local leaders to resist.
June 10, 2011 10:04 AM
Ron Swaren Says:
The Columbia River Crossing Project is, apparently, in competition for federal funding from three other projects:
1. Regional Connector Corridor
2. Westside Subway Extension (both in LA)
3. LYNX Blue Line Extension (Charlotte, NC)
http://www.dot.gov/budget/2012/fy2012budgethighlights.pdf (page 21)
Please send comments to the following three, influential US Representatives on the Transportation Committee:
1. Chair John Mica
2. Chair John Duncan, Highways and Transit Subcmte.
3. Peter DeFazio, Ranking Member, Highways and Transit Subcmte.
Or use the comment forms on their websites, fax or call. If you have only time for one I would suggest Geoffrey Strobeck who is the aide in the US House Transportation Committee. Rep. Mica was at the Feb 21 listening session in Vancouver so is aware of the controversy surrounding this project. Rep. De Fazio was there, as well.
June 10, 2011 10:10 AM
Just tell 'em that you support the Subway to the Sea.... :)
June 10, 2011 10:19 AM
Jeff F Says:
Has DeFazio taken a stance on this project?
June 10, 2011 10:39 AM
In some fairness, I imagine that some of our conservative activist friends have similar feelings concerning the public testimony they offer at TriMet meetings. And who can forget Cameron Johnson getting his mic switched off last year? Practically made him a celebrity.
The problem is, of course, is that frequently--the officials voting have already made up their minds, and aren't about to be swayed by citizen testimony at public meetings. In many cases, the folks who show up at public meetings are activists or professional lobbyists, who make the same speech whatever meeting they attend. And of course, if the members of the board or council take their jobs seriously at all--they will have given extensive thought to the matter already, and nothing in the public testimony or written comments ought to be a surprise. (And if they don't take their jobs seriously, they'll just vote whoever their friends/advisers tell them to, and go have a beer afterwards).
My suspicion: In modern times, the public meeting which runs on the model of pretending to listen to public testimony, then voting immediately thereafter, is broken. What might work better?
* For large undertakings, a public vote. Steve often calls for transit projects to be placed up for votes; if one extends this to all infrastructure projects (which often have multi-year planning cycles, and thus can easily fit into a normal May/November election), this may confer greater public legitimacy, and a broader debate. A couple things which need to be worked out include which constituencies get to have a say--for the CRC, for instance, would we need seven separate elections (the two cities, two counties, two states, and Metro), all of which would have to approve?
* Separation of public testimony from the vote. The current format, I think, discounts public testimony because the councilors have little time to give it due consideration. They hear it, and then immediately after, they vote. But what if the actual voting was delayed, with the testimony added to the official public record?
* A more interactive format. Right now, the format is that each speaker gives their speech, and sits down. Then the council/board members give a speech, explaining their intended vote, and do so. In some meetings, various parliamentary maneuvers may be introduced by the minority members on the board to delay the proceedings (the recent LO City Council meeting on the Streetcar was an example of this); but there's little give-and-take between the public and the sitting members. What if public testimony was more like Question Time in the UK, where the public was able to grill the board members (subject to reasonable rules of decorum, of course)? Of, to make it more interesting, like testimony before the Supreme Court, where the council can ask questions back?
* Greater sunshine laws. The dirty secret of democracy is that many decisions are not made in open meetings, whether in council chambers or on the floor of the Legislature, but in secret--in the "smoke-filled back room". Often, the compromises and deals are political in nature rather than technical. (There's a reason that many pro-CRC interests didn't show up to testify in public; they have the council's ear in private). The sign of a skilled and effective lobbyist is not his (or her) ability to make speeches in public meetings, but in his/her skill in twisting arms and rubbing shoulders behind closed doors. Many elected officials tend to object to stronger "sunshine" laws (prohibiting off-record or closed-door testimony or discussion of issues), on the grounds that they need to have "open and frank discussions" on matters. While this could apply to deliberations among the members or with their lawyers; I have a hard time seeing why discussions with lobbyists of ANY sort ought not be on the public record. Sunlight, as they say, is the best disinfectant.
* How about recusal laws? Judges will recuse themselves from cases (at least those not named Clarence Thomas) if there's any hint of a conflict of interest. Shouldn't those in a legislative role be held to a similar standard, at least as far as substantial campaign donors are concerned?
June 10, 2011 10:48 AM
R A Fontes Says:
Scotty - what "recent LO city council meeting"?
June 10, 2011 10:54 AM
The one last April, IIRC, where there was a 4-3 vote for conditional approval of the project, and a fair bit of obvious bad blood between a few councilors...
June 10, 2011 11:14 AM
Steve S Says:
The Tualatin Town Hall on urban renewal was the model.
It was an open and frank Q&A/discussion covering the entire issue that resulted in the public getting exactly what they wanted and the city officials not getting the $120 million expansion of UR they wanted.
Without the town hall it would have been adpoted.
I have been to many hearings where the board, commissioner or council hide behind the wall of hearing process to avoid ansering questions AND allowing rebuttal.
Yet every time it suits them, they or their staff is allowed to rebut testimony with no follow up.
That is a fatal flaw and has caused a lot of problems.
June 10, 2011 12:40 PM
Speaking of transparency, PBOT is going to have less of it:
June 10, 2011 12:44 PM
AL M Says:
woops: the following post was posted in the wrong place:
June 10, 2011 12:52 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
"The problem is, of course, is that frequently--the officials voting have already made up their minds, and aren't about to be swayed by citizen testimony at public meetings."
Or, they are told by party leaders how they are to vote.
The state of Oregon, while with a definite liberal slant, is also closely contested by both major parties. The CRC project will get obvious Democratic endorsement because of its promise (I think exaggerated) of job creation (much of which would likely go to a floating out-of-state construction workforce.) It also gets support from the business community who worry about traffic snarls affecting their transit schedules and who want a decision, post haste.
But since another thread has broached the subject of dramatic population growth I would like to pose the question "What is the benefit of that?" A few years ago METRO held a meeting, mainly for area officials, titled "When Business as Usual Isn't Good Enough" and the main urban expert speaker informed us that the entire country needs to prepare for major population increase, to 500 million by 2050 and one billion by 2100. A lot of otherwise somber officials could not contain their snickering.
Obviously, this would keep the planning apparatus and citizen-followers occupied. The argument from national security is that we need more people, because China is rising as a global power. (I guess that explains why Israel has recently disappeared from existence, as well!) Furthermore, Canada must really be in trouble; which must be why they are making special contracts with the Chinese for raw materials like petroleum. Or, if there is some reason related to quality of life, then Norway (population 5 million) must really s---- (when it is usually ranked number one in quality of life).
In my mind, I put the CRC in with most of the other highly expensive transportation projects being discussed around here. In fact Steve Horenstein even told me directly that the mere 1.5 light rail line in Vancouver it proposes would only be a start. So I guess that means multi-billion dollar light rail lines in both states, and the corresponding "job creation," are essential to whatever underlying agenda is pushing all of this.
I don't have any problem with supporting various modes of travel ( every person goes through changes to their preferred way of getting around throughout their life) but right now we are simply throwing good money after bad.
June 10, 2011 1:13 PM
AL M Says:
The thing about rail and why the power elites support it: It increases property values!
Public money is used and the profit from the spending of that money ends up in private hands, developers etc.
(Not to mention these multimillion dollar contracts that get handed out like a box of candy to various "inside" businesses.)
That's our version of "free market".
Public money all ends up in the hands of the people with the wealth.
Our tax dollars go to everybody but the people that actually pay the taxes!
June 10, 2011 1:40 PM
R A Fontes Says:
Metro being Metro is probably the best reason not to expend much energy to make TriMet "accountable" to the voters. What would be the point?
June 10, 2011 1:43 PM
Paul Cone Says:
I seem to recall that many people who supported Rex went for Stacey instead in the election because Rex supported the bridge. Now we got Hughes running the show, and then Roberts being weak in a spot that Stacey should have been appointed to. So aggravating. I can't wait to throw both of them out.
June 10, 2011 4:23 PM
Douglas K. Says:
My Metro district is represented by Barbara Roberts. She was appointed to the post and does not intend to run. So right now the people of District 6 are effectively unrepresented ... we never got to vote for the person "representing" our district and we can't hold her accountable by voting her out.
I wonder if CRC citizen opposition is strong and organized enough to support effective challengers to EVERY Metro councilor who voted for the CRC.
As far as competition for federal money goes, I'd rather see it go to the LA subway. From a policy perspective, I think it's a better use of the money. (From a selfish perspective, I like the subway too. Since I normally cross the river at I-205, I think I use the LA subway almost as often as the I-5 bridge in any given year.)
June 10, 2011 5:05 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
"Has DeFazio taken a stance on this project?"
DeFazio was at the Feb. 21 US House Transportation Cmte. listening session, telling about his visit, with Rep. John Mica, to the Millau Viaduct in France, which was built for about $800 million. He said he had a hard time seeing why crossing the Columbia should cost $4 billion. I think he has made some similar statements at other times.
As the ranking member of the Highways and Transit Sub. I would like to see if sticks with his pronounced views or goes with Kitzhaber.
Please be sure to contact his office if you have concerns about the CRC. But probably the best contact is aide Geoffrey.Strobeck@mail.house.gov
June 10, 2011 5:25 PM
Doug Allen Says:
One reason the CRC has kept going forward is that there are not enough politicians willing to stick their necks out and call it quits. Carl Hosticka (and previously Robert Liberty) did the right thing. I suspect that several other politicians wish that the CRC would die, but are unwilling to swing the axe.
My own Metro Councilor, Rex Burkholder, is clearly suffering from "Stockholm Syndrome" as he demonstrated during my one minute at the podium. I described how the "award winning" analysis of greenhouse gasses was based on traffic projections that are ultimately derived from politically determined land use designations in Clark County. Burkholder, who is a skilled orator, asked leading questions designed to discredit my testimony. I, who find public speaking an unpleasant and nerve-wracking ordeal, attempted as best I could, to give a cogent reply, given that my one minute had expired, others were waiting to testify, and knowing that at any moment I could be gaveled into silence.
I suspect that "Just saying" and "EngineerScotty" are right about how public testimony works, and perhaps Tom Hughes was doing everyone a favor with his one-minute limit. I don't think that in two more minutes I could have convinced Councilor Burkholder.
June 10, 2011 8:48 PM
Erik H. Says:
How does it feel to be treated just like any of Portland's dedicated bus riders? Being ignored, disrespected, and feeling like the decisions are already being made behind closed doors, with no consideration towards you...
Welcome to the other side.
June 11, 2011 7:45 AM
If it's any consolation Chris I think these blog posts have more influence then anything you'd say in testimony. Maybe a few dozen people hear you at the meeting, how many unique hits has this post gotten already?
June 11, 2011 9:52 AM
Chris Smith Says:
That effect is not lost on me :-)
June 11, 2011 5:43 PM
Norman H Says:
Count me as another Barbara Robert's constituent disappointed by her vote. I use the word constituent loosely. As noted earlier, she was not elected to the office nor will she be running for it in the future. Votes by democratic representatives on the CRC have been few and far between. The Futility of Citizen Involvement indeed.
June 11, 2011 8:50 PM
Jim Lee Says:
Not so bad, Chris!
This is asymmetrical warfare: we have the intelligence; they have the power.
"'Wisdom is better than might,' saith the Preacher."
June 11, 2011 10:00 PM
Ron Swaren Says:
"'Wisdom is better than might,' saith the Preacher."
Unfortunately, "Money answereth all things." (Ecc. 10:19)
June 12, 2011 7:51 AM
Just Saying Says:
The reality is that if the only public process is the hearing before the final vote, then there was no effective public input. As is the case here, that is only rarely the case. The final public hearing is really an opportunity for everyone to summarize what they have already said many times before. In most cases, that is true for the elected officials as well as it is for the members of the public who testify. Its pretty rare that elected officials are seeking to persuade one another at a pubic hearing unless someone is really on the fence.
June 18, 2011 6:28 AM
This thread is probably cold and no one will read this, but I would just like to say that as much as I personally dislike most of the CRC opponents they are right.
If the two miles of the MOuSe from Expo Center station to the Park'N'Ride in the Park were on solid ground it would be a no-brainer to bring Max to downtown Vancouver. But it's not. There's a half mile wide 40 foot deep and fast flowing river in the way and it just does not make economic sense.
There is a VERY inexpensive way to fix the problem of congestion in the I-5 corridor: simply toll the existing bridges electronically during peak hours. Charge people $1 from 6 to 7, $2 from 7 to 7:30, $4 from 7:30 to 9:00, and $2 from 9:00 to 10:00. The rest of the time let it be free. Use some of the toll money to provide better express buses from Clark County and to extend Max to Jantzen Beach where it really SHOULD end. Oregon owns the bridges so the stupid Washington state proscription on using toll money for transit wouldn't apply.
But don't use all the money for transit improvements. Save some for the eventual replacement of the existing bridges. The 1918 span WILL have to be replaced sometime soon.
It will flatten out the peak and be a way to slow the uncontrolled growth in Republican controlled Clark County. And Oregon can do it by itself.
June 21, 2011 8:53 AM
"The Columbia River Crossing Project is, apparently, in competition for federal funding from three other projects:
1. Regional Connector Corridor
2. Westside Subway Extension (both in LA)
3. LYNX Blue Line Extension (Charlotte, NC)"
Yow. The CRC should be dead in the water in that competition. The Subway to the Sea in LA is the no-brainer to win that, and the other LA project will actually save them money on operations; if they want to direct money to a "red state", the LYNX Blue Line extension is an excellent project which the locals have already built parts of.
The CRC, a bloated, overpriced highway project, should not even have a chance against that competition.
June 21, 2011 8:58 AM
It is normally cheaper to make multiple bridges with smaller loadings than one megabridge.
Accordingly, it would likely be possible to build a MAX bridge, a Hayden Island arterial bridge, and a replacement, not-widened, fewer-interchanges I-5 bridge for less than the CRC.
It's OK if the MAX bridge is a lift bridge or swing bridge; trains can handle the scheduling required for that.