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Yoshida to Troutdale council: 'You will never see me again'

He withdraws his proposal to build Troutdale city hall; Citizens request city take a more public approach


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Discussion continues during ten minute break at Troutdale City Council meeting Wednesday, Dec. 10.PDG Construction and Junki Yoshida withdrew their proposal to help Troutdale build a new city hall Wednesday, Dec. 10.

The move came at the Troutdale City Council meeting after several citizens arrived to criticize the deal.

On the table that night was a proposed letter of intent and personal services agreement from PDG and Yoshida that, at a cost of $15,000, would move the city forward in a design process to build a new city hall on the City Conference Building site.

The mayor made it clear that no decisions would be made that night to build or not build the city hall.

City Manager Craig Ward said both draft documents would need to be revised if the city decided to approve them.

Leading up to Wednesday's meeting, Mayor Daoust said the City Council had received criticism from citizens who expressed concern that the city was working behind closed doors with PDG and that the city was trying to “fast track” the deal.

“That's just simply not true,” Daoust told a roomful of people, including Troutdale and Gresham residents. “Every decision we have made regarding city hall has been made in this room right here.”

The mayor said the City Council has been holding public meetings since March to respond to unsolicited proposals by developers who want to be involved in building the city a new city hall.

Another developer even proposed Wednesday to compete with PDG's proposal.

Daoust said the city could have solicited other proposals, but so far, it has only had time to respond to unsolicited proposals.

PDG construction brought Yoshida's proposal to build a new city hall to an Aug. 20 council meeting.

The council continued talks with PDG at a Nov. 12 meeting about the costs of building on the old city hall site, versus the CCB building site. The Outlook covered the story in its Tuesday, Nov. 19, edition.

Before Daoust opened the presentation for public comment, he asked people in the audience to be respectful with their comments.

“Yoshida is a prominent man in our town,” he said. “He just wants to build us a city hall.”

Public testimony

Tensions quickly escalated at the Dec. 10 meeting as business owners and residents came before the council and expressed differing reactions to Yoshida's proposal.

Most of those offering testimony said the city was rushing into the decision without getting the public more involved. Among those to bring criticism was City Councilor David Ripma, who openly criticized the mayor and the City Council, saying he believed the council did “fast track” the proposal with PDG and Yoshida.

“The proposal we have before us still quadruples the rent we would be paying every month, with a $4 million balloon payment the city had to pay at the end,” Ripma said.

Several citizens wanted to know if the city could afford to build a new city hall and what the other options were in terms of locations for a new building. Still others wanted to know the pros and cons of leasing building space versus ownership.

The most common request was that the council open the process for competitive bidding and let people vote on bond funding, similar to the process the city followed with the recently completed police station.

On the other hand, Troutdale General Store owner Terry Smoke and attorney Matt Wand, a former state representative, said that after 12 years of talking about building a city hall, it was time for the city to make the move.

Wand said PDG has come with a “very traditional business approach for how to build a building and finance it, so eventually the city can purchase it.”

He said the numbers are below market and the city would get credit on their lease payments.

Wand said the research has already been done by PDG Construction.

The details are outlined in PDG's proposal, made public in the council agenda.

“In good faith, people have put together precisely what you asked for,” Wand said.

Having done so, Wand said, PDG Construction and Yoshida have followed process.

“It is saddening to me, that when we have the opportunity to enter into a public-private partnership to fulfill the need for a city hall and do it in a fiscally responsible manner, and do it without tax increase, and finance it with debt .... you sit back and wait until the city budget is just right, and market conditions are just right.”

Wand said the city is “burning $75,000 a year to rent its current facilities, and sucking oxygen out of downtown that would otherwise be available for other business ventures.

“I just think fundamentally that is the wrong way to go,” he said.

But one speaker, Robert Strebin, said the council is no stranger to disastrous decision making, and he feared the city was on the brink of another misstep.

“What Mr. Yoshida proposes will out-do any disaster,” Strebin said, comparing Yoshida's proposal to putting a Trojan horse in the middle of the city.

“If we need a city hall, we need to build it ourselves,” he said. “I don't like one person being so involved with almost owning the city.”

PDG and Yoshida respond

The comment struck PDG's President Brian Lessler and Yoshida like a personal attack.

After Mayor Daoust called a 10 minute break, he invited Lessler to speak.

“This has been a most interesting evening thus far,” Lessler said.

Lessler said he was not going to spend time discussing the letter of intent and services agreement outlined in the agenda packet.

“It speaks for itself,” he said.

Lessler responded to a number of comments he heard that night.

He dismissed claims that the new building would cost $7.5 million as “simply untrue figures.”

He said regardless of who the general contractor is, whether there is a public bid or the city solicits proposals, “the cost of the facility is going to be very transparent.”

Lessler was offended that people thought his company was circumventing the normal business procedure.

“There has been no backdoor politics in this process and I want the community to understand that,” he said. “I've been in business for 45 years and it's not the way I do business or my company does business.”

Lessler said his company was under the perception there was a serious need for a city hall in Troutdale.

He said he was deeply offended by one comment in particular, which he found “very prejudicial.”

Then he withdrew PDG's proposal before Troutdale City Council could give any direction.

“In the end, I don't care if you sign this letter of intent or memorandum. This transaction is over as of tonight. I'm withdrawing from the process. PDG is done with this community,” Lessler said.

Lessler apologized and said he was upset by what had been said at the meeting.

“I wish you well in your pursuit of a facility and it's been nice talking to you,” he said.

Then Junki Yoshida stood up and announced it would be his last appearance at Troutdale City Council.

“You will never see me again,” he said.

Yoshida said he was offended by a racial slur he heard from someone in the crowd.

Raising his voice, a visibly shaken Yoshida told the room how he left Japan and immigrated to the United States with $500 in his pocket and lived out of a car.

He's been called racial slurs before, he said, but he's always responded, “Watch me and what I'm going to do in this country.”

After watching his young daughter almost die in a Seattle hospital, Yoshida promised himself he'd pay back the $250 in hospital bills that saved her life.

Yoshida said he's raised more money for charities and hospital foundations “than you ever have in your lifetime.”

He told the audience how 2,000 people came to his home and property to raise money for cancer research.

Yoshida said when the city of Troutdale needed a city hall, he wanted to help the city out.

“I can live anywhere in the world,” Yoshida said, “but I love this city, far more than you think. You think I build a city hall for making money? You're crazy. I am making far more money than that."

The racial slur?

Yoshida said he overheard someone say, "Tell Yoshida go back where you came from."

“I was hurt,” he said. “I've done so much for people.”

From emotional to confrontational

At one point during Yoshida's testimony, a man in the room said, “This racial rant has got to stop.”

Yoshida continued, “I want to tell you who I am.”

“Why are you yelling at us?” asked a man sitting up front.

Yoshida said he has hearing aids.

Lowering his voice, Yoshida said, “In sincerity, I really think you need a city hall. I really do.”

Yoshida said he loves Troutdale.

“Some think I am doing it to make money — you're dead wrong. I don't need money. I simply want to help. It's sad,” he said.

End of discussion

After Yoshida finished, Mayor Daoust declared the agenda item as completed.

“A lot of the suggestions we’ve heard tonight we can deal with,” Daoust said.

The mayor said the council will move on with the process, beginning sometime in January. It will be one that involves more public input and deals with all the questions that have been raised tonight, he said.

After the meeting, Daoust told The Outlook, “Yoshida evidently wanted to do something good for the city and I think he's very disturbed that it is more or less rejected.

“I think it disturbs him deeply that he was trying to offer the city a good value for a city hall.

He was trying to explain that he loves this city and he just wants to give something back to his community,” Daoust said.

Epilogue

The next day, The Outlook talked with Yoshida by telephone.

He said he was hurt that people were accusing him of foul play because he's rich.

“Because I want to make it in this country, to do that you have to give back. You must give back," Yoshida said.

He also said if he hadn't heard the racist slur, “I would never have blown up.”

“When it comes to racism, we are sensitive,” he said. “There is always a certain racial issue inside of people's heads. If someone said no way is something wrong with it, the reality is, there is. And especially with a guy who is successful. I use the word successful, but I don't feel like I am successful.”

Councilor Eric Anderson, in reflecting on the council meeting, said he listened to and heard many valid concerns from well-intentioned citizens regarding the process toward a city hall.

“Those concerns, I feel, are legitimate and concerns that could have been overcome,” he said. “However, when a citizen of this city equates doing business with Junki Yoshida to putting a Trojan horse in the center of town, the negative connotation that implies causes me far greater concern than matters of procedure.”