Over the past four months, I have received dozens of anonymous messages on the topic of Major League Soccer, directed to my mailbox by "MLS to PDX" organizers. Many from people giving their name and return address, too. I work hard to respond to all the emails, letters, and phone calls coming into my office, so I am disappointed when constituents don't give me any contact information or even their name. Most of the messages coming from the "MLS to PDX" site have been along the theme of "soccer is fun, we like soccer, please support the deal". Which is interesting information, except that I don't make decisions based on how many people send in emails of support, rather on whether a proposal is in the long-term interests of the people of Portland.
I received the following email from "MLS to PDX" with different content, a while ago. I understand why this writer would need to leave off contact information, in fact I deleted a few identifiers to maintain confidentiality. If I'd received contact information I'd have asked permission before posting, but I think the message is compelling:
"Today I received an E-mail asking me to write to city council and support a plan to bring Major league soccer to Portland. I just can't do that. As a public employee, I know about the responsibility to spend public money diligently. I have a daughter who plays soccer and loves to go to Timbers games. They cost us about $12, and we have a great time. I can only assume after the public pays a large part of the renovation requested that we can expect ticket prices will go up as well. My family can't afford Major League Basketball (Blazers).
I have lived in Portland for decades and it was only 8 short years ago the city was boasting about the new PGE park. I understand that renovation is not yet paid for. The economy is in big trouble. We have a good soccer team and a good triple A baseball team that families can afford to see. If we want to create jobs in construction let's build some new schools!"
This message was sent in March, when the majority of the money for new soccer and baseball facilities was proposed to come from the taxpayers of Portland. Commissioner Fish and I voted against the proposal, for that reason. I believe the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes leaves us no capacity to invest public money in projects with no proven positive effect on economic development.
A few weeks ago, the Council voted to de-couple the issues of soccer renovations at PGE Park, and finding/building a new home for the AAA baseball Beavers. I was the lone No vote on that motion. The MLS soccer Task Force conditioned its positive recommendation on seeking the soccer franchise on keeping the Beavers in town.
The latest proposal for PGE Park improvements, introduced to me at the same time it was aired to the public in a City Council session last week, for the first time puts the majority of funding squarely as team owner Merritt Paulson's responsibility. And for the first time, it does not include funding from citywide taxpayers or urban renewal resources. Both great improvements. It continues to allow the team owner to choose the sole-source contract for construction, however. The question of who pays fair wages to future employees is still not settled. And we don't know what amenities we would be buying for $31 million. I will post more information about the latest proposal on the table, as soon as I can.
Public testimony will be taken at the hearing on Thursday afternoon. The sports facility items begin sometime after 3 p.m. Please continue to make your opinions clear to the Council, by email, letters and phone calls before the hearing and by testifying in City Hall on July 23.