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Letters: Don't blame PBOT for road problems

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Our readers express themselves on everything from street projects to the May Day riot.

In Frank DiMarco's May 4 letter, "Time for New Transportation Leadership," Mr. DiMarco blames the management of the Portland Bureau of Transportation for the poor condition of the city's roads, and calls on Mayor Wheeler to replace the Bureau's leadership.

The truth is that PBOT itself has spent decades doing the best it can with inadequate resources, and warning City Hall of the dire consequences of failing to make adequate investments. Those warnings began as early as 1987. But Mayors and City Commissioners ignored the warnings, lacking either the sense of responsibility or the political courage to raise additional revenue, which would have required adopting a new tax or fee or by cutting other services (such as police or parks).

I broke the pattern by dedicating myself to finding a new source of revenue, and succeeded when voters passed the 10 cent local gas tax in 2016. But the roads had deteriorated to such an extent that the tax only addressed a fraction of the problem. I also lost my reelection, making it highly unlikely that anyone will follow my example any time soon.

So yes, the roads are a problem — but don't blame PBOT.

Steve Novick

Multnomah Village

Questions local natural gas project

I am writing in response to the April 18 My View by Nick Fish and Mike Jordan ("Turn Waste into Clean Energy"). I have reservations in regard to the assertion that a partnership with NW Natural would generate $3 million annually for ratepayers and the presumed support from the general public for such a conversion.

I am an optimist and environmental advocate, and I am hopeful that this strategy will be successfully implemented and Portland will be a trailblazer in urban sustainable development for the United States. However, while I respect this notion, I feel that it may be incomplete.

It is natural to project an overall pecuniary gain from a systemic conversion such as this one, but all tradeoffs and social costs must be considered as potential deterrents for public support. While I am a strong proponent of renewables and am enthusiastic about the idea of a transition to biofuel dependence, my primary concern is the initial monetary cost of such a large structural change, and how it will affect taxpayers.

The Portland energy sector is a unique market in terms of environmental responsibility. However, the potential for public backlash has me questioning whether the necessary momentum for City Council approval will surface.

I am curious to know how this project will be funded, and the estimated costs it will incur on the nonrenewable industry. As an environmental policy student, I recognize the frustration in trying to develop effective sustainable policy, and it is my understanding that a common public response is to err on the side of the Precautionary Principle.

I feel the success of this brilliant proposal is largely contingent on public opinion. I encourage an effort to generate more public understanding of the potential remunerations of developing infrastructure for methane capture.

Keyana Aghamirzadeh

Ohio State University

A new kind of feudalism

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness: "While circumstances can vary, the main reason people experience homelessness is because they cannot find housing they can afford." Homelessness is a national problem that stems largely from federal political policies beyond the scope of local or state attempts to ameliorate the suffering.

A typical citizen cannot afford housing if he lacks employment or employment that pays a living wage. Both have increased homelessness since the 1980s largely as a function of economic inequality: shifting tax burdens from the wealthy to everyone else, reduced investment in public goods, and more openness to immigration, work visas and offshoring.

Tax policies that favor the upper class undermine demand in an economy by reducing the amount of disposable income. Less demand for American goods and services by median Americans reduces private investment in America; the relationship is symbiotic.

In the 1950s the top marginal income tax rate was 90-plus percent. There was strong economic growth and few super-rich citizens. Investment in public goods as a percentage of GDP — for example on highways — created jobs, more demand, which in turn created more private investment and more economic growth.

Immigrants, work visas and offshoring as a percentage of the total work force did not displace Americans during this period nor drive down their wages to the point where they could not afford housing or needed food banks.

America's mythology of individualism has excused aggregations of private wealth that have led to largely stagnant real wages for the "middle" class and declining real wages for the working class over the past four decades. The glory of free market capitalism is to improve life for everyone, not recreate a new kind of feudalism in which a few live like gods at the expense of everyone else.

Tom Shillock

Northeast Portland

Felt threatened by riot police

I am a 70-year-old Portland resident. I love Portland, my home for 17 years. I'm a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice, a group of white people working to end racism. I met with the May Day Coalition every Tuesday for four months. It was an honor to witness the Coalition's process, ideas, determination. Peaceful and family friendly action is their way to bring change for equity and inclusion — justice for all!

I am hearing anger at anarchists whom people believe started the May Day violence. Please, do not believe everything you hear on the news.

There is another side to this story. Police added to the violence instead of de-escalating. My experience with the anarchists was different than I expected. I believed that they were all violent and wanted to cause trouble. This group that I met was not any of that. I did not feel threatened by the Black Block; I felt threatened by the riot squad. When the riot squad and the sirens started racing through the streets I think I knew what it is to live in a military state.

The beginning of May Day was beautiful, celebrating and joining together for justice. It was all that I hoped for and I was saddened at the violence.

I am concerned for our country. Our city has serious problems that we can solve together. Riot squads do not create safety. There are many of us who will show up and peacefully protect the innocent. I will keep showing up. It's for our children.

Chrissy Washburn

North Portland