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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Leonard's "Power Grab" Foiled

Posted by Matt Davis on Thu, Apr 16, 2009 at 8:02 PM

A bid by City Commissioner Randy Leonard to take control of up to 45 permitting staff appears to have been foiled at least for a year this evening, with City Commissioner Austin Powers Nick Fish proposing a far less drastic last-minute compromise.

Under the compromise, the 45 staff will be "co-located" in the same building, but they will not all report ultimately to, or be "consolidated" under, Commissioner Leonard. Instead, they will all report back to their respective separate bureaus, and ultimately, to separate city commissioners. Thereby effectively nixing any ability for Leonard to push developments through the permitting process.

The compromise represents a major climbdown for Leonard and Mayor Sam Adams, and will be reviewed by council in 2010. It is expected to cost $250,000—considerably less than the $600,000 forecast for Leonard's original idea.

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LEONARD: PROPOSAL WAS SET TO COST 0.6 MEEEELION DOLLARS...

Read all about it after the jump.

We first reported on the alleged power grab last Tuesday, when Leonard's bid to take 45 permitting staff from other bureaus into his Bureau of Development Services was due to be discussed in council the following day. But the resolution was pulled from council at the last minute and rescheduled for an evening hearing tonight. Here's a little context from last week's report, which you can read in full for more by clicking on this link.

Right now any developer looking to build a project—a new supermarket, condo tower, or even a soccer stadium—must submit permit applications to the Bureau of Development Services (BDS), which Leonard oversees. But BDS doesn't have complete control of the permitting process: It forwards all applications to the Bureau of Environmental Services, the Bureau of Transportation, the city's parks and water bureaus, and its fire and emergency services. Permit staff in each of those bureaus check the applications separately to ensure they comply with city code.

The purpose is to create adequate checks and balances so that no city commissioner can force through a development project against the better interests of Portlanders.

The problem? The existing process can cause delays in permits being issued, and city council has made numerous attempts to speed it up over the years. Back in January, Mayor Sam Adams asked Leonard to come up with a method of consolidating the permitting staff from other bureaus into BDS as part of his "100-day plan."

Leonard and Mayor Sam Adams insisted last week that full consolidation, instead of co-location of those permitting staff, was the only way for the city to improve the permitting process.

"I've been around to see all the half-step, intermediate, 'let's try this first' solutions to this problem," Adams told the Mercury last week. "And I came to the decision over the last four years that it was a screwed-up system that needed to be consolidated."

But instead of consolidation, it appears both Adams and Leonard have come around to the co-location idea tonight.

"We heard loud and clear that a number of people were concerned about the reassignment," said Commissioner Leonard, introducing the compromise measure, which proposes that standard turnaround times, predictable fee schedules and formal appeals processes be established for permit applications, along with a conflict resolution process to address policy conflicts between separate bureaus.

"I do appreciate that you have been willing to modify this proposal," said Bonny McKnight, coordinator of Portland's citywide land use group. "I appreciate that you're taking an approach that moves forward incrementally."

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MCKNIGHT: WAS AN OPPONENT OF FULL CONSOLIDATION...

"I want to really commend and thank you for the compromise that you've reached tonight," said Bob Salinger from the Audobon Society, who has also concerned about the original proposal. "I think it represents a huge step forward."

"The suggestion is that we do three things: That we do nothing, that we co-locate, or that we move toward full consolidation," said Fish. "I consider the proposal that we are voting on tonight to be co-location plus."

"I want to thank Commissioner Leonard for bringing forward this substitute," said Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who had opposed consolidation. "I think this co-location plus is the way we should do it. I think this is a great compromise that will improve our efficiency in serving the development community but also protect our checks and balances."

"There seems to be a thought that you have to have dysfunction [in the permitting process]," said Leonard. "We can have everything we have in Portland and still treat people with respect, return their phone calls, and give them some surety as to what their costs are going to be."

"We care about how Portland develops," said Commissioner Amanda Fritz. "Every member of the council participated constructively in coming up with what we came to today. Mayor Adams and Commissioner Leonard were willing, even at the very last day, to rethink what they had been suggesting. I thank each one of you, and thank you citizens. You made the difference, here."

"I want to thank the city council for...this is one of five major improvements we seek...we are accomplishing in terms of city services," said Mayor Adams. "I just want to underscore what a thankless task it is to be the commissioner in charge of the Bureau of Development Services. Everybody is angry with you all the time."

"It's the beginning of a lot more hard work," said Adams.

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