Saturday, November 29, 2008

Abuse of Public Process by the City of Bend

The upcoming Bend Planning Commission meeting on Dec. 8th is a fine example of the abuse of public process by the City of Bend. The last item on the agenda of this meeting is one given little attention, one that is a gift to developers, and one with a preconceived outcome.

This item is a Code change that will give developers an unlimited number of extensions on their approved plans, even if there are changes in the applicable criteria.

The reason for providing additional extensions as needed is stated in the Transmittal Memo provided to the Planning Commission:
DISCUSSION: Because of the current economic crisis, many developers are unable to execute their approved planning permits, which requires the initiation of construction. These developers intend to build their projects and desire to keep their planning approvals active until the market allows them the financial ability to submit their building permits, pay their SDCs and commence construction. As the economic climate continues to stagnate, these developers are approaching the end of their one-year extensions. The proposed Code amendment will give the City Council the ability to recognize the economic environment of today as a reason to authorize one or more additional extensions.
So, in fewer words, developers are nearing two years since gaining their approvals, and still can't find financing with which to actually start building. They have already received a one-year extension on the original one-year approval period, and want more time. As much as they need.

Now this may be well and good for the developers, and perhaps even for the city if these developments, like Mercado, eventually gain financing and are built. The city stands to eventually gain income from permit fees and SDC fees when the developers finally find financing. If the underlying economic reasons for these developments continue to exist, of course.

But before we get to the question of the underlying economics to further development in Bend, lets look more closely at the legally required public process being followed to implement these code changes. From the already posted official Recommendation to the City Council
On the basis of this record, there is a public need or benefit for the requested text amendments to the City of Bend Development Code, the request is consistent with the applicable State land use law, and the request is consistent with the applicable Bend Area General Plan goals and policies.
So what exactly is this public record? After all, the first I have heard of this is in a comment on the BendBubble2 blog.

Looking at the recommendation again, it states before the conclusion that:
1. The applicant, City of Bend Planning Division, initiated the Development Code text amendment on November 5, 2008.

2. The application was submitted in accordance with Section 4.1.300 of the Bend Development Code. Timely and sufficient notice of the public hearing, pursuant to Section 4.1.315 of the Bend Development Code, has been provided.

3. On December 8, 2008, the City of Bend Planning Commission conducted a public hearing to accept testimony on the request. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Planning Commission voted to recommend that the Bend City Council approve the proposed text amendment. The Planning Division staff report and recommendation together with the testimony of the persons testifying at this hearing have been considered and are part of the record of this proceeding.
Re-read item 3, noting the date.

Yes, on the day this recommendation is going to be voted on and submitted to the City Council for a rubber stamp vote, a public hearing will be held and the city staff already knows what will be said in the public hearing. And they know how the Planning Commission voted.

Amazingly prescient. These city staff guys are good, no?

Or are they just trying to sneak something through without real public review, but only the appearance of a public process?

Let's look at the actual code change, to see what really is being proposed:
Proposed Bend Development Code Text Amendment
(New language is underlined; deleted language is struck-through)

4.1.1310(C) Extensions:

1. The Planning Community Development Director may grant one extension of up to one year for a land use development approval or a phase of a land use development approval, unless the applicable criteria have changed, if:

a. An applicant makes a written request for an extension of the development approval period; and

b. The request, along with the prescribed fee, is submitted to the city prior to the expiration of the approval period.

2. The Community Development Director may grant one or more additional extensions beyond one year if authorized by a City Council resolution which recognizes a city-wide need for an additional limited-duration extension. The additional extension may be granted if:

a. The applicant has exhausted all other extension opportunities; and

b. The applicant satisfies the submittal requirements of (1)(a) and (b) of this section.
So we see the power of granting unlimited extensions, even if "applicable criteria" change, devolve into the hands of a single person--Mel Oberst, Director of Community Development. To me, Mel is one of the good guys, but this is disturbing.

Is this good for Bend?

Should we have a more open public process before making such decisions that impact our city income and landscape?

If you think so, you should go to the City Council bio page, where you can click through to each members bio and email address, and tell them you ARE paying attention.

Also send emails to the following staff, asking them about the public process and how you can be involved:

This ongoing trait of minimal public involvement in city decisions must come to an end if we are to survive the current financial crisis. With good management, realistic management, we will work towards filling all the commercial and residential real estate that is empty now, rather than trying to build our way out of this mess.

Sanity must prevail in the long run.

Monday, November 10, 2008

JRMB Meeting: Power Issues, Suterra PSA Still Unsigned

The Juniper Ridge Management Board met again today, along with a whose who of local developers: Mike Hollern, Todd Taylor, Bruce Kemp and Darren Powderly of Compass Commercial, etc. The subject of this part of the meeting was the absorption rate and pricing for JR. It was eventually established that absorption of 10-15 acres per year was probable, and that a $7 sq. ft. price was a good baseline. It seems that industrial dirt goes for closer to $4/sq. ft., while office dirt is/was closer to $30/sq. ft. All agreed that prices had gone down by 30% to 50% in the last 12 months.

A much more egregious issue is power to the site. As Chair John James noted, if they can't turn on the lights, they ain't going to come (my interpretation) and it ensued that Pacific Power is at least 18 months away from building a substation to provide power for anyone other than Les Schwab. Suterra is going to require a special temporary line, the payment for which will be an issue, for whatever power they end up needing. There was discussion of whether Suterra is expecting power to their property line. No one really had an answer. Angie from Pacific Power roughly estimated cost of a temporary solution at around $100,000.

Suterra seems to be very less than forthcoming with its power consumption figures. They are designing an entirely new manufacturing process, and although both the city and Pacific Power have been repeatedly requesting power load information, they just today supplied a partial answer. They don't seem to really know.

There was also a few minutes spent on the issue of architectural review of the Suterra facility. It was decided that city staff would lead this, and everyone else would rubber stamp it.

But the most interesting thing was that issue nobody wanted to talk about publically: there is still no Suterra Purchase and Sales Agreement signed by both parties.

Even though I was provided a copy that was signed by one Craig Cooper, SVP of Suterra, LLC. It was not signed by Eric King, City Manager.

Which seems very odd to me.

I was then booted from the room because they started an Executive Session to discuss this issue.

To be continued...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Suterra Progress Pics

Suterra was given an entry and grading permit before the sale was finalized. Knife River has had a crew out working for several weeks, so I went out to take a few pics over the weekend.

The pad looks finished:

Knife River heavy equipment all lined up and looking ready to load up:

Suterra hopes to start the foundation as soon as the zoning change being voted on Wednesday night is in force, perhaps as soon as Nov. 12. The city is responsible for running roads, sewer and water, at a projected cost of $3.5M.

My next post will go over some details of financing Juniper Ridge development and compare that to the cost to the General Fund, and how it affects the rest of the citizens of Bend.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Juniper Ridge Management Board Report

The Juniper Ridge Management Board met last Wednesday for about the seventh time, under the rather forceful guidance of Chair John James. City staff attending included John Russell and Jerry Mitchell, Mel Oberst, Sonia Andrews, Eric King, and several others. There was also an ODOT presence. The JRMB is aggressively moving forward with financial and physical planning to be ready if and when the ODOT/Cooley/97 issue is resolved. This issue, which will require $50M in identified revenues to overcome, is critical to any future land sales. This large amount of required monies is definitely on the radar of the JRMB.

One of the sources of this $50M will be the trip fees paid by users ranging from Suterra to Super Walmart. It is anticipated that their will be 2900 trips available, with a per trip cost of $9000. The City of Bend will pay $3000 of this fee. The total available from these fees is about $26M, a little over one-half of the required $50M. That means Bend taxpayers will be paying another $8.7M towards Juniper Ridge buildout in "helping out" the companies that want to build around Cooley/97. That includes Super Walmart.

This "co-pay" was first discussed in an Executive Session which was broadcast into the hallway by mistake, which I happened to overhear. That is illegal, and is definitely an issue going forward. As is calling in Suterra to an Executive Session to discuss their financing capabilities before the no public discussion, no public comment council vote on the sale of city land to Suterra.

This abuse of Executive Sessions simply must be confronted and stopped before the installation of the next City Council.

The city anticipates that the other $24M will come from land sales at JR and from bonds supported by the JR redevelopment district. However so far land sales have resulted in multi-million dollar losses due to the cost of infrastructure improvements agreed to by the city.

The next steps to developing JR including such mundane but detail specific items as overlaying streets, working with Pacific Power on a substation, and working with yet more consultants on design standards and CC&R's. The JRMB anticipates meeting at least twice a month through the end of the year to move these items along.

Also high on the agenda are two upcoming meetings with the Oregon Transportation Commission. For the first meeting on Nov. 13th the city plans to present a general overview of its plans to improve surface streets in the vicinity so less traffic will be pushed to Cooley/97. The second meeting in January will flesh this proposal out by identifying specific funding sources to actually build these streets. These meetings will be preceded by a North End stakeholders meeting on Nov. 6th, showing maps of the planned surface street and other improvements.

The next JRMB meeting is Nov. 10th. It is an open public meeting, and while not explicitly encouraged, the public is officially welcome. Meeting details are way down on the right side of this city web site: