King Stropharia w/mycelium

Mycoremediation: Dharma Rain Zen Center – Part 1

UPDATE, Sept. 21, 2015 

Dharma Rain Zen Center started an Indiiegogo campaign http://igg.me/at/PlantingZen/x on Sept. 21, 2015 that allows you to contribute to their restoration work.  Your dollars will be matched dollar for dollar.  I hope you will help if you can!

May 6, 2015, Portland, OR – updated May 18, 2015

It would be useful to read my Jan 2014 Mycoremediation: Cleaning Soils and Water along the Willamette River! blog in conjunction with this blog.

I was once quite active in the Oregon Mycological Society, but the need to be more focused on my profession of urban planning saw me let my membership lapse.  I recently renewed it and, to my delight, I’ve discovered a new wave of young members who share my interest in mycoremediation–using mushrooms to clean soils and water.

Dharma Rain Zen Center Mycoremediation Biobags

Dharma Rain Zen Center Mycoremediation Biobags

One OMS member,  Jordan Weiss, recently lead a workshop at the Dharma Rain Zen Center in NE Portland.  In the 2.5 years that this Buddhist group has owned this 14 acre former landfill, they have made a remarkable start to its ecological restoration as evidenced by the dried Himalayan blackberry canes lining the ravine that they are now planting in native plants and trees–and in mushrooms.

Turkey Tail, a whte rot fungus, decomposing a fallen log in forest

Turkey Tail, a whte rot fungus, decomposing a fallen log in a forest in Astoria, Oregon. It leaves the log feeling like a wet sponge ready to be wrung out.

Jordan gave a bit of a lesson in mycology withan emphasis on white rot fungi because they are such fast soil-builders and because they are particularly effective in breaking down aromatic pollutants (toxic components of petroleum), as well as chlorinated compounds (certain persistent pesticides).  A number of species fall into the category of white rot fungi, including three that we dealt with at the workshop:  Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) and Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) and King Stropharia (Stropharia rugoso-annualata).

 

The below ground part of some mushrooms–the mycelia–have been shown to consume chemical toxins such as PAHs and bacteria such as E-coli.  Of the eight species of mushroom Paul Stamets team tested in an EPA funded study, “one clearly demonstrated resilience to harsh environmental conditions and a second showed promising characteristics. These species may therefore be considered as technically feasible for stormwater treatment applications. “

The below ground filaments (mycelia) of King Stropharia form a thick white net that filters pollutants and consumes them

The below ground filaments (mycelia) of King Stropharia form a thick white net that filters pollutants and consumes them

The most resilient species referred to in Stamets team’s study is King Stropharia (aka Garden giant).  Its mycelia form a thick web that would filter stormwater in the range of 0.07 to 0.10 cm/sec—roughly equivalent to medium grain sand.  So, the Stamets team judged it to be an appropriate filter media for meeting EPA specifications for stormwater management.  Workshop participants found King Stropharia growing along the west-facing hillside of the ravine at the Zen Center where  naturalized spawn on wood chips in a burlap sack was installed two years ago and fruited this spring.  After advocating mycoremediation with the City of Portland for over a year, it was great to see some land stewards actually doing it!

The workshop team then moved on to innoculating cottonwood logs with two species of white rot fungus–Turkey Tail and Oyster (but just one species per log).  This consisted of drilling some quarter-sized holes to a depth of about 0.7 inch, then scooping some mycelia that had been growing on cardboard into the holes and closing it off with wheat paste and a patch.  Jordan said that a best practice is to use inoculated sawdust and/or plug-spawn–but we were making do with what we had.

Drilling holes in cottonwood logs to inoculate them with Turkey Tail and Oyster fungi.

Drilling holes in cottonwood logs to inoculate them with Turkey Tail and Oyster fungi.

In his article, “The Petroleum Problem”,  Paul Stamets envisions the future of mycoremediation in Mycological Response Teams. These teams would consist of knowledgeable and trained people who would use mycoremediation techniques to recycle and rebuild healthy soil in the area. [1]

Jordan cautions that “fungi is a powerful tool in the remediators tool kit, but these and other nature-based technologies will not work if frivolously applied.”  He encourages us to familiarize ourselves with the ecological role fungi have in their natural environment.  I try to teach about such roles every time we see fungi on the Sierra Club outings that I lead.

Oyster mushroom on rotting log in Forest Park--close to NW Industrial District

Oyster mushroom on rotting log in Forest Park–close to NW Industrial District

In the Sttamets’ teams study, the second most successful species found to take up storm water pollutants with some vigor is the Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus sp.).  They grow in some abundance in nearby Forest Park–even in the winter with a hint of snow on the ground when only the toughest are out: English ivy, Swordfern and Douglas fir.  (Yes, I pulled that piece of invasive English ivy immediately after taking its picture!)

 

Oyster mycelium inoculated straw.

Oyster mycelium inoculated straw.

A Portland-based edible mushroom business produces Oyster mycelia inoculated straw as a by-product of its main business. The three recent college graduates who started this business have expressed interest in having their by-product used  in mycoremediation. Their straw is already becoming popular with gardeners and farmers and an important source of income for the business.

Along with Jordan Weiss, I am adding Mycoremediation to what PlanGreen offers.  I plan to work with Jordan’s Mushrooms and other businesses in the Portland area to offer a full range of mycoremediation services from design and planning to installation and maintenance.  We might start with Portland’s NW Industrial District. where students in the Masters in Urban and Regional Planning program at Portland State University are just now completing their project “Getting Green to Work in the NW Industrial District.”  We’re lucky that in the Portland area  green streets with bioretention facilities, green or eco-roofs, green walls, permeable pavement, etc. can now be considered  almost commonplace. This is the green infrastructure the students referred to when I attended their open house in April.  Right now, almost none of our built green infrastructure has mushrooms and their mycelia growing in it.  My team is proposing to change that.  If you have a mycology-based business in the Portland, Oregon area and want to be part of that effort, write me, Mary Vogel, at mary at plangreen dot net.

1.”The Petroleum Problem”. Fungi Perfecti. 3 June 2010. Retrieved 8 May 2013.

Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees Proposal

I’m happy to announce that the Urban Greenspaces Institute will be the Fund’s fiscal sponsor. Go to https://www.urbangreenspaces.org/support-our-work  and put “Gretchen Fund” in the comment box.

March 15, 2015 – Portland, Oregon

Gretchen Kafoury, one of my heroine’s and neighbors here in downtown Portland, died Friday, March 13, 2015 at the age of 72.  Two weeks earlier she had testified before Portland City Council on the need to get more affordable housing into South Waterfront, part of an Urban Renewal Area that started while she was in office.  I, for one, expected many more years of her deep wisdom and boundless activism.

GKC SWColumbia

Treeless SW Columbia St. side of Gretchen Kafoury Commons, built by Housing Authority of Portland (now Home Forward) in 2000.

I am proposing Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees on SW Columbia Street–starting with the building that bears her name at SW 13th Ave. and Columbia.  Gretchen Kafoury Commons has no trees on the Columbia St. side.  Street trees here could block for its residents the view of !-405–and maybe some of its air and noise pollution too.  They could also calm the traffic on the all too wide SW Columbia Street.

I propose to set up a memorial fund controlled by the Kafoury family or their designee. That fund would work with Portland Urban Forestry and its Bureaus of Transportation and Environmental Services and Home Forward to do the necessary infrastructure work to put in the street trees.

P1010899

SW Columbia residences between SW 11th & 12th Avenues that need memorial trees

Depending upon the amount of money the fund is able to raise, it would move eastward on SW Columbia to install street trees in front of other buildings along the street that house low-income people.

Says Jeff Speck in  his book Walkable City:. . . Often the first item in the budget to be cut, street trees are key to pedestrian comfort and urban livablity in so many ways. In addition to offering shade, they reduce ambient temperatures in hot weather, absorb rainwater and tailpipe emissions, provide UV protection, and limit the effects of wind.  Trees also slow cars and improve the sense of enclosure by “necking down” the street space with their canopies. Speck points to a study of street trees in Portland that found that the presence of healthy street trees likely adds $15.3 million to annual property tax revenues–a 12 to 1 payoff on what Portland spends for tree planting and maintenance.

NW corner of SW Columbia & 12th Ave. low-income residence that needs memorial trees.

NE corner SW Columbia & 12th Ave low-income residence that needs memorial trees

NE Corner SW Columbia & 12th Ave needs memorial trees

That data makes Portland sound progressive with regard to street trees, but these photos hardly make Portland seem like the  eco-city it advertizes to the world.  After all, these buildings are NOT in some recently annexed part of the city that has not been brought up to standards. Rather they are in the residential part of the oldest part of our city–DOWNTOWN.

 

 

SW Columbia and SW Jefferson are part of Portland’s move towards one-way couplets that, back in the 70s, turned downtown streets into car sewers for suburban commuters to  get to their jobs and back out again quickly.  Everything was done for the convenience of the suburban commuter.  Little thought was given to those who didn’t have the means to move out.

Now, the tide has turned and we need to narrow overly wide streets and widen too narrow sidewalks–AND PLANT TREES..  As more and more people are interested in living downtown, cranes are going up on many streets, closing all but one lane of streets that are two to three traffic lanes wide.  Somehow, commuters make do. For example, drivers leaving downtown are now getting by on one lane on SW Jefferson as lanes are closed for construction between SW 11th and SW 12th Avenues (and also on SW 12th)–making me think that we could re-configure this roadway and that of its couplet street SW Columbia to accommodate wider sidewalks, street trees, green street (bioretention) facilities and a bike lane.  Let’s make it happen!

Addendum 3-25-15

While wider sidewalks with street trees on SW Columbia and Jefferson would be my ideal, I had to re-think my vision last week after talking with Andrew Haliburton, PE, at KPFF who generously donated his time to estimate costs based upon previous projects. Andrew said that to widen the sidewalk would likely cost on the order of $180,000–and that’s just for one side of the street!  (Do you ever wonder where the term “Highway Robbery” came from?)  So, in order to accomplish this project in the next year or so, the best option seems to be to install the trees on the current sidewalk. More recently, Cevero Gonzalez from PBOT told me that in order to widen the sidewalk, the City would have to move a water main and that would take millions.  We should all be asking why, when TriMet dug up the streets to put in bus pads a couple years ago, that didn’t trigger the water main move. It seems that its only needed for wider sidewalks!!!

The Mexican Consulate at SW 12th & Jefferson added four street trees to the Jefferson St. side in late 2010. They make a great addition to the street!

The Mexican Consulate at SW 12th & Jefferson added four street trees to the Jefferson St. side in late 2010. They make a great addition to the street!

The Mexican Consulate at SW 12th & Jefferson seems to have added trees on SW Jefferson in 2010 when it made other improvements to its property.  SW Jefferson has sidewalks of similar width as  SW Columbia in the blocks in question.  Already, the consulate’s trees are making a world of difference in both the pedestrian experience and the visitor/occupant experience.  I expect that the money for both the sidewalk removal and street tree–about $1,000 per tree according to Andrew–will be privately raised.

Addendum April 12, 2015 – After three intense weeks of work and some nail-biting, it looks like it is, in fact, possible to plant at least one tree in front of Gretchen Kafoury Commons on the SW Columbia side within the current narrow sidewalk.  First, I had to check with utility companies to assure that a tree would not interfere with their underground infrastructure.  Comcast (I think) and NW Natural painted their response on the street, Century Link emailed and Portland Water Bureau called.  I called Comcast specifically to verify with them as that was the utility line Portland Urban Forestry’s Rick Faber had mentioned as a potential problem.  And they verified good to go!

Rick Faber had already confirmed two spots in front of New Avenues for Youth, a non-profit next door to Gretchen Kafoury Commons.  I talked with Sean Suib, Executive Director there.  He said he is happy to seek the cooperation of his board.  And he expects to cooperate on the paperwork when the time comes.

Tomorrow I meet with Stephen Kafoury–hopefully about setting up the fund.  Then it will take some folks who are really great at social media and marketing to get word out there.  There certainly was an impressive turnout at the memorial service on April 4.  I’m hoping to reach everyone who came–and more.

April 13, 2015 – I’m happy to announce that the Urban Greenspaces Institute will be the Fund’s fiscal sponsor. Go to https://www.urbangreenspaces.org/support-our-work  and put “Gretchen Fund” in the comment box.  I also hope that you will join Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees on Facebook.

June 12, 2015 –  As a low-income business owner who has spent well over a month of pro bono work developing the Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees Fund with the encouragement of the Kafoury family, I was both delighted with the State of the County speech today at City Club Friday Forum and depressed that I was not able to get my effort to create this fund any attention. This would have been the perfect venue to raise the measly $3500 we need to plant trees in front of the low income housing in downtown Portland bearing Gretchen’s name.  I fault myself especially. Instead of asking permission, I should have used a Gretchen strategy:  Don’t bother with permission, just get up and make your announcement in the Q&A session before they can stop you!  You can ask forgiveness afterward.

PLEASE CONTRIBUTE to the fund to make a green buffer against the air and noise pollution from I-405. Residents of Gretchen Kafoury Commons also need the slower traffic and more pleasant walking experience that street trees bring.

July 14, 2015 – There are many more buildings housing low-income people downtown that need street trees.  I’ll post a few more, but feel free to post your own too.  Dowtown is everyone’s neighborhood!  Let’s make this into a tactical urbanism project and get something done.

Carmelita overlooking I-405

The Carmelita overlooks I-405 Freeway and the too wide Jefferson St.

 

Chaucer Court photo by PlanGreen

Chaucer Court and adjacent parking lot have no street trees. Many residents sit outside on SW 10th Ave.

The Pinecone on SW 11th Ave. has no street trees though it does have some nice cedars on the north end of the building.

The Pinecone on SW 11th Ave. has no street trees though it does have some nice cedars on the north end of the building.

Ongford on SW 11th has no trees.

Ongford on SW 11th has no trees.

11th Ave Lofts by PlanGreen

11th Ave Lofts on SW Columbia has no trees.

A Perspective on Riverwalks

Feb. 18, 2015
Image courtesy of RediscovertheFalls.com

Image courtesy of RediscovertheFalls.com

Oregon Metro has a Request For Proposals open for a Willamette Falls Riverwalk Schematic Design that has attracted attention from design firms around North America.  I must admit that I haven’t been attracted to the “riverwalk” concept as most of its purveyors ignore the need to restore any habitat.

But Willamette Falls is different.  Right at the start, prospective proposers are informed of four core values that this riverwalk partnership has established. And Healthy Habitat–riparian, shoreline and in stream–is one of them!

After trying for two weeks, I haven’t been able to get onto anybody’s team–and it’s getting to be so late in the process that my chances are waning.  I feel that with the right team, this project  could be a near perfect fit with the mission of PlanGreen.  It has creating multi-modal linkages (transit, foot, bike and car), public participation, habitat restoration, cultural and natural history interpretation–all rolled into it.

Before & after photos by JD.  She says "The top photo shows the view into what was then the Southeast Federal Center in April 2004; the bottom photo, in February 2012, reflects how things have changed in eight years."  I'm no fan of turfgrass, but is this what we want our rivers to look like?

Before & after photos by JD. She says “The top photo shows the view into what was then the Southeast Federal Center in April 2004; the bottom photo, in February 2012, reflects how things have changed in eight years.” I’m no fan of turfgrass, but is this what we want our rivers to look like?

I was involved in the early stages of planning another “Riverwalk” –along the Anacostia River in Washington DC.  Jacqueline Dupree’s jdland web site provides some of the best photos of what is happening with it today.  Apparently 12 of its 20 miles is now built.  I must admit that it’s a bit painful, though not unexpected, for me to see the photos.  I feared having a trail that did little for most wildlife and little for pedestrians.  I feared a trail with too little habitat and too little shade.

I’m sure I sounded like a broken record in the early Anacostia Riverwalk planning process, but at every opportunity, I called for three things–all related:

  • Habitat restoration
  • Native trees along the length of the trail to provide shade for pedestrians
    ​ [walking outside in hot humid DC summers can be​ a pretty miserable experience without shade]
  • ​Bioretention of stormwater​ utilizing native plants

Jaqueline’s photos show that I was not highly successful. However, one of The DC government’s web pages on the Riverwalk maintains:

Key design elements throughout the trail include the following:

  • Inclusion of rain gardens and bioswales
  • Installation of shared-use paths and educational signage
  • Enhancement of trail viewsheds to bring users closer to the water’s edge
  • Minimize impacts of paving on other trail infrastructure on the natural environment.

So, maybe I got one out of three–if their rain gardens and bioswales are constructed using native plants.  With regard to their fourth design element, the only “natural environment” is in the Kenilworth Gardens portion of the trail–scheduled to be completed this spring.

I wanted–and still want–to see more ecological restoration along the rest of the trail where there is little natural environment.  I hope that the design team selected for the Willamette Falls Riverwalk will put the needs of Mother Earth over their need to make a design statement.

I hope that those involved with Willamette Falls will do so well with ecological restoration that they will inspire the people of Oregon City to rid their own trees and parks of English ivy, Himalayan blackberry, clematis, and myriad other invasive species that plague Oregon City and the Portland Metro region.  I hope they will restore healthy habitat.

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Downtown Portland 2035

Posted January 28, 2015; Updated February 3, 2012

These are my comments to Portland City Council on the West Quadrant Plan of the Central City 2035 Plan–which will in turn be part of the updated Comprehensive Plan.

The Implementation Actions and Timeline Matrix for the West End is wholly inadequate re: Environmental.  In fact, it has only ONE item in it:  Encourage the continued improvement and expansion of the Brewery Blocks’ district energy system!  We, in the West End deserve better! Here are my suggestions for a better one:

Implementation Actions: West End – Environment

  • EN1 Strategically install native vegetation and trees within public open spaces, including the South Park Blocks, Portland Art Museum, Portland Center for Performing Arts, Burnside “jug handles”, Portland Central Library, Trimet turnaround. PPR, PAM, Metro
  • EN2 Reduce the impacts to neighbors from I-405 noise and air pollution by installing green walls and ecoroofs on new/redeveloped buildings. Develop a program for existing buildings as well. BPS
  • EN3 Reduce the impacts to neighbors from I-405 noise and air pollution by installing street trees—especially on SW Columbia, SW Jefferson, SW 12th and on every other street where possible to achieve a tree canopy of at least 30% PBOT, BES, BPS
  • EN4 Work with ODOT to replant I-405 with dense NATIVE trees and shrubs and improve its vine coverage of canyon walls. ODOT, BES, PBOT
  • EN5 Connect Goose Hollow with the West End and Downtown by capping I-405. Potential locations include: W Burnside, SW Yamhill/Morrison, SW Salmon/Main and SW Jefferson/Columbia. The caps could support retail or open space. As capping occurs, improve the pedestrian environment (including more trees) on SW 13th and 14th Avenues to support cap access and development. BPS, ODOT, PBOT, Private
  • EN6 Landscape SW Salmon Street with native plants and trees to achieve stormwater management, wildlife habitat and active transportation facilities to better connect Washington Park to the South Park Blocks and the Willamette River and improve the quality of water discharged into the Willamette. PBOT, BES, BPS
  • EN7 Develop SW Jefferson Street as a “Green Main Street” with stormwater facilities. PBOT, BES, BPS
  • EN8 Explore opportunities for consolidating and/or redeveloping Burnside’s “jug handles” into public spaces that also absorb stormwater. PBOT, BPS
  • EN9 Incentivize modest redevelopment of existing surface parking lots into “Parking Forests” (parkingforest.org) that achieve stormwater management while awaiting redevelopment. One idea is to institute a land tax that might be reduced if the Parking Forest is installed. BES, Private
  • EN10 Explore opportunities for one or more community gardens. If such gardens are within building courtyards or rooftops, they should be available to West End residents who apply, not solely the building occupants. PPR

Some of the above suggestions build upon the Urban Design Implementation Actions.  I’ll explore a few of them in a little more depth below, starting with TREES!

Well-maintained, but forlorn and HOT in summer with no shade

Apartment building on SW 12th Ave. at Columbia needs trees! Well-maintained, but forlorn and HOT in summer with no shade.

Considering our need to adapt to climate change, the West Quad Plan should call for a far larger tree canopy–30% in the West End.  And it should show more specifics about where those trees need to go, e.g.,  SW Jefferson and Columbia west of the South Park Blocks where there are a number of older apartment buildings that currently have no shade and on SW 12th Ave. too. Trees here would give those low-income residents needed cooling in summer and also help protect all West End residents from I-405 emissions. The sidewalks on SW Jefferson and SW Columbia should be widened to accommodate these trees.  As the warming that we have set in motion takes hold over the next decade or two, every tree will become ever more precious.

These streets should also get bioretention facilities planted with a diversity of native plants to turn them into Green Streets.  I support an early idea from BPS to make SW 12th Avenue a Greenway St. and to make SW Jefferson a Green Main Street—with priority given to nature, pedestrians and bikes.

Tiny alien spruce sapling to replace 40 yr. old tree. We need a forest of NATIVE conifers instead!

Tiny alien spruce seedling to replace 40 yr. old tree.  Tell ODOT this doesn’t meet our new Tree Code!  We need a forest of NATIVE conifers along I-405 instead!

The plan should develop a program to help owners of all buildings on SW 13th and 14th Avenues install green walls to mitigate freeway emissions for their own residents and employees as well as the surrounding community.  If research here shows its effectiveness, such installation should become mandatory. See Green Walls Could Cut Street-Canyon Air Pollution.

The Plan should call for the City to work with ODOT to improve the tree and vine coverage of I-405 and adjoining streets. (Several trees have fallen in 2014.)   I-205 where a native forest is being planted could be looked at as a model.  Ultimately, the Plan should set a timeline for capping I-405 in the not too distant future.

Make at least one east-west running street a connectivity corridor for wildlife from Washington Park to the Willamette River. I have suggested SW Salmon for this street because I believe it to be the most direct route. I regularly walk it from downtown to Washington Park and bike it through downtown to Tom McCall Park on the river. I believe I was successful in getting this idea into the Plan, but I want to repeat this recommendation so that it doesn’t get removed.

Micro swales such as this one installed on the side of Portland Armory could be part of the palate for buildings in the Park Blocks.

Micro swales such as this one installed on the side of Portland Armory could be part of the palate for buildings in the Park Blocks.

The Plan should also call for re-wilding our Park Blocks in order give wildlife south-north corridor from Marquam Park to the Willamette River where the North Park Blocks join the River in the Pearl District.

The Plan should return to us the victory we had won for no parking around the inner perimeter of the Park Blocks.  The “temporary” parking there was only supposed to last as long as it took to build the Transit Mall.  The Plan should call for turning some of those reclaimed parking spaces into sponges for stormwater and habitat for wildlife.

Green walls, green roofs and rain gardens should be required for any building that occupies space in or adjacent the original Park Blocks–especially those blocks north of Director Park. This will help create a continuous corridor for wildlife along a south-north route.

WRDNotebookThe Willamette River itself needs to become more wild through our City.  The Plan needs to call for implementing the excellent technologies in the Willamette River Design NotebookIt should make them mandatory.  And we need to bring in far more native trees, shrubs and wildflowers to Tom McCall Waterfront Park as well as other portions of the river’s shoreline.

Where the shore of the River is deeply walled, the Plan should designate areas for “fish hotels” to provide resting places for migrating fish on their journey up or down the river.

This parking lot at SW 10th & Main is one of many in downtown Portland that have no trees--creating wastelands for the residences around them.

This parking lot at SW 10th & Main is one of many in downtown Portland that have no trees–creating wastelands for the residences around them.

Yes! to the suggestions from downtown residents on the Comprehensive Plan MapApp¹ to replace surface parking lots. I suggested a way to move the speculators off their cash cows by taxing them at their development potential–see Universal Tax Abatement for Downtown Portland.

EcotrustParking

Ecotrust parking lot is enclosed on two sides by trees and mostly native shrubs and wildflowers. The surface is porous pavers. Its a delightful place to hold events, Photo: Green Hammer

Meanwhile on these sites, the Plan should require a Parking Forest (Maria Cahill’s idea for getting more trees without taking parking spaces).  I would really like to see what surface parking lots that do remain in the future take a page from Ecotrust and manage ALL stormwater onsite.  They should also be fun places to hold events. Ruth Ann Barrett has a video that could be used to popularize these strategies: Spongy Parking Lots,

Some MapApp commentators before me call for the Plan to stimulate more housing. To their voices, I would add more FAMILY housing. To bring in more families, downtown needs more reasonably priced apartments and condos and some of them need to be three bedroom–with maybe a daycare center or school on the ground floor. Cargo bike parking should also be part of these new family-friendly buildings—along with space to lock bike trailers—and okay, I’ll concede a few station wagons. . .

We DON’T need more point towers to attract wealthy investors who will only live here part time—if at all. I have long promoted density–but only along with great urban design and ecosystem services–leaving room for nature to help us out. I have come to believe that lower height limits–say 150-160′ in the West End–are necessary in order to mitigate the wind tunnel effect of tall buildings and their impacts on solar access–and to make our neighborhood more appealing to families.

¹Portlanders commenting on the update to our Comprehensive Plan are asked to put comments directly on MapApp. I hope to add some of these there too–although it looks like those of us in the Central City may be excluded.

Universal Tax Abatement for Downtown Portland

Testimony given May 19, 2014  to Strategic Advisory Committee on the West Quadrant Plan

Neighbors in the West End portion of downtown Portland are tired of walking by block-long stretches of surface parking lots while some of our historic buildings are razed for redevelopment. One solution to this problem that the City of Portland should seriously consider is taxing land at a higher rate than buildings.

Taxing land and buildings at the same rate per square foot means that as long as you don’t put any buildings on your land, your tax bill is going to remain relatively low. If you’re a speculator, this means that you only need a modest amount of revenue (say, a few bucks a day from people driving into the city for work or to go shopping) in order to sit on that land indefinitely.  Or you might hold out until someone comes along offering your “pie-in-the-sky” price.  Either way, the effect is to keep the land out of the hands of many of those with genuine interest in putting it to productive use.

By taxing land at or near its development potential, however, owners of land being used at less than maximum productivity would be paying a disproportionate amount in taxes in order to keep it that way.

Aside from the obvious goal of raising money to pay for public services, we levy taxes

  • to discourage a particular behavior in favor of another (taxes on cigarettes and alcohol discourage consumption and thus promote lower health care costs), or
  • because a given resource is scarce while demand for it is high (i.e., the gasoline tax).

But if the city is trying to encourage development—and to attract the 70,000 more downtown residents it seeks by 2030—it hardly makes sense to place the greater tax on development behavior.

A Good Illustration: The block between SW 11th & 12th and SW Taylor and Yamhill that the

Parking Lot at Rear of Medical Dental Building pays 5x less taxes/sf than the building.

Parking Lot at Rear of Medical Dental Building pays 5x less taxes/sf than the building.

Medical Dental Building at 833 SW 11th Avenue (built 1928) sits on provides a good illustration. It is a block with a 10 story commercial building, a 2 story parking garage and a surface parking lot.

When you look closely at the property tax bill for each, it becomes clear that the conventional property tax deters development and risk-taking.

  • The surface parking lot spans 20,000 sf, and its owner pays $1.33 per-square-foot of land in annual property taxes to the city.
  • The 1928 parking garage on the same block spans roughly half the area (10,000 sf), and despite the lot’s structural improvements, pays only a bit more than the surface lot in property tax —$1.37 per-square-foot of land.
  • The Medical Dental Building (which occupies 10,000 sf of the block), however, pays $6.13 per-square-foot of land—a rate almost 5 times higher than the surface parking lot.
12 West pays 42-45x more than the parking lot diagonal from it.

12 West pays 42-45x more than the parking lot diagonal from it.

An illustration that takes into account newer construction is the corner of SW 12th & Washington where 1227 SW Washington, aka 12 West (2009), is assessed $59.90 per sf of land compared to the surface parking lot diagonally across from it that is assessed only $1.42 per sf of land occupied[i]. 12 West has a tax liability that is 42x that of the surface lot.

Parking Lot Diagonal to 12West pays 42-45x less than 12West

Parking Lot Diagonal to 12West pays 42-45x less than 12West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is completely backwards. From the city’s perspective, the Medical Dental building and 12 West are the best and most preferable uses of land in their respective locations, while the surface lot is the least. And yet, looking at the tax figures one would think exactly the opposite. By simply taxing land at a higher rate than improvements, owners would be motivated to maximize the productivity of land. Parking lots would still exist of course, but they would be condensed into above- or underground garages rather than surface parking lots. In this way, by removing the penalty for development, two-rate taxation is actually a form of economic stimulus.

But two-rate taxation is about more than encouraging dense urban development and reducing sprawl. As Rick and Walt Rybeck note in Break the Boom and Bust Cycle http://bit.ly/R1CPVm, two-rate taxation also addresses the root cause of the boom-and-bust cycle of the real estate market:

Higher land taxes discourage land speculation by making it less profitable. Prior to the Great Depression, there was a nationwide real estate boom and bust. Not surprisingly, land values in major U.S. cities declined drastically. Between 1930 and 1940, land values declined in New York, 21 percent; Milwaukee, 25 percent; Cincinnati, 26 percent; New Orleans, 27 percent; Cleveland, 46 percent; Los Angeles, 50 percent, and Detroit, 58 percent. But Pittsburgh adopted a two-rate property tax in 1914. As evidence that this reform reduces speculation, Pittsburgh’s decline in total land values was only 11 percent between 1930 and 1940.

After increasing the tax differential between land and building taxes in the late 1970s (land was taxed at a rate 5.77 times higher than buildings), Pittsburgh also saw significantly increased development activity at a time when most cities its size were experiencing declines.

There are obstacles to implementation. Current law requires state enabling legislation for the two-tier land tax that I am suggesting, but there are indications that Gov. Kitzhaber would favor that.

Appendix – from Portland Maps

833 SW 11th Ave. – Medical Building

$61,291.51 taxes on 78,148 square feet on 10,000 sf of land or $6.13 sf of land

Market Value $4,976,640.00
Assessed Value $2,542,330.00

837 SW 11th Ave. – structured parking lot

$13,751.20 taxes on 20,000 sf on 10,000 sf of land or $1.38 sf of land

Market Value $1,251,810.00
Assessed Value $570,390.00

804 SW 12th Ave – City Center Parking on SW 12th between SW Yamhill & Taylor

$26,664.86 taxes on 20,000 sf or $1.33 sf of land

[i] I was not able to easily find the taxes paid on the 3 parcels that make up this corner where a City Center Parking lot operates because Portland Maps just said “No address is avaialble.” So I used the tax figure for the grassy lot next to it at SW 11th & Washington which is $1.42 per sf. This figure is higher than that for the City Center Parking lot at SW 12th & Yamhill which is $1.33 per sf. If $1.33 per sf is used, then 12West is assessed 45 times more per sf than the parking lot.

I have been a friend of Rick Rybeck (cited above) and admired his work for a long time.  But, I want to acknowledge that I borrowed the approach of looking at individual parcels and some of the language above from the Streets MN blog Tax Land, Not Buildings by Chris Keimig.  Thanks, Chris!

Oregonian Climate Change Editorial – Response

Lima

AP Photo/Martin Meija- Compliments of The Oregonian

On Dec. 20, 2014 our statewide newspaper, The Oregonian, published an editorial that gave those who care about climate change opportunity to express our incredulity at their short-sitedness. I was one of many who did:

Dec. 24, 2014 Letter to Editor, Oregonian – Stimulate a Clean Energy Economy

On Dec. 20, your editorial board maintained that climate change is best handled on the federal and international levels, hence Oregonians should not “adopt unproductive measures that either cost them money or reduce employment opportunities” (Dec. 20, 2014).  Rather than reduce employment opportunities, the Governors of California, Oregon, Washington and the premier of British Columbia are working to coordinate efforts to STIMULATE A CLEAN-ENERGY ECONOMY rather than accept jobs in dirty energy industries that may soon have stranded assets. In a region with a combined gross domestic product of $2.8 trillion and 53 million people this WILL make a difference.

California and British Columbia have already placed a price on greenhouse gas emissions and adopted clean fuel standards–with no harm, only good, to their economies. Not only should Oregon follow suit, but the Oregon Legislature should also require that the 30% of our electricity now produced by coal convert to clean energy by 2025.  This will stimulate more jobs in industries with a great future!

Mary Vogel                                                                                                                                           PlanGreen                                                                                                                                          Downtown Portland

Headlines

Buena Vista Pictures – Courtesy of Wash Post

And on Dec. 30, 2014, the Washington Post asked small business owners to comment on headlines they would be thrilled to see in 2015. Here’s how I answered their brief questionnaire:

Name:  Mary Vogel
Title: (Owner, President, CEO, etc): Principal and Founder
Company’s name:
PlanGreen
Company’s location (city, state): 
Portland, Oregon
What the company does (concisely, one or two sentences):
PlanGreen brings the services that nature provides for free to excellent urban design and planning.  We consult on planning and urban design towards a regenerative future!

Headline you would like to see in 2015 (max 10 words): Keystone Pipeline Dead, Columbia River Gorge No Alternative!

Why that news would benefit your company (one paragraph, please be specific about the expected effects on your company or small businesses in general):  My company, PlanGreen, is about redressing the highly inefficient and environmentally damaging way we have developed in the US for the last 60+ years because of cheap fossil fuels.  The compact urban form and walkable neighborhoods that I help to create would see even greater demand if fossil fuel development were not subsidized and/or facilitated with pipelines and rail/barge shipping.  In the case of the Columbia Gorge, it is difficult to promote the kind of denser redevelopment of the historic downtowns that the rail lines go through in the Gorge when coal trains are spewing health-damaging coal dust and oil trains offer the possibility of blowing up their entire downtowns.  If fossil fuel development had to pay for all of its externalities, we would see much faster development of the kind of distributed renewable energy that PlanGreen promotes.

Thanks for the opportunity to participate!  Have a great new year yourselves!                           Mary

Mycoremediation: Cleaning Soils and Water along the Willamette River!

January 10, 2014

CentralReachImageIn a recent workshop the City of Portland, Oregon sponsored for its Willamette River Central Reach Plan , planners asked for habitat enhancement  “projects that would have larger bang for the buck”. . . “projects that would have a multiplier effect in terms of watershed health.”  Mycofiltration—the use of mycorrhizal mushrooms and their mycelia to filter pollutants would rank high on both of these criteria.

Mycofiltration will reduce harmful pollutants commonly found in urban stormwater runoff, such as heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. It also eliminates E-coli and other bacteria from pet wastes and waterfowl.  Because adding mushroom spores to remediation sites is very inexpensive and low-impact, it has the potential to be a sustainable option well into the future.

Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Report: PNWD–4054-1

Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Report: PNWD–4054-1

In most places, stormwater runoff goes directly into streams, rivers and oceans and recycles through the watershed carrying the pollutants with it.  And that it is a big problem for salmon and wildlife survival.  Mycofiltration should be added as a treatment to enhance the activity of existing stormwater management biofiltration cells such as the rain gardens, bioswales and green streets that are plentiful in Portland. By adding Garden Giant (Stropharia rugosoannulata) mycelium to the soil mix, harmful substances that come from heavily trafficked roads such as I-5, I-84 and the motor vehicle bridges in the Central Reach: Broadway, Steel, Burnside, Morrison, Hawthorne, Markham, Ross Island can be transformed into carbohydrates and nutrients — which are actually useful to surrounding soil and plants cheap cialis overnight delivery.

Mycobag w/Pleurotus Photo via Fungi Perfecti @Paul Stamets

Mycobag w/Pleurotus -Courtesy Fungi Perfecti @Paul Stamets

By adding mycofilters to biofiltration cells installed in places where people walk their dogs such as South Waterfront, Riverplace, Waterfront Park, Eastbank Esplanade, etc., E-coli and other bacteria from pet wastes that were not properly disposed of can become a nutrient rather than a pollutant.  Having these mushrooms in the mix can actually help the native plants we are planting in streambank restoration and biofiltration cell facilities grow more robustly.  Instead of dealing with pollutants, their roots are getting more nutrients.

Paul Stamets TED Talk 2008

Paul Stamets TED Talk 2008

I was fortunate enough to meet inspirational mushroom guru, Paul Stamets (here he is giving a TED talk) when he was first starting his farm near Olympia, WA in the 1980s.  He had just wowed the Washington Department of Ecology with the use of mushrooms to clean up the E-Coli and fecal coliform problem caused by his farm animals.  In a single year he had achieved a 99% reduction in pollutants despite doubling the number of animals on the farm.

Since that time, I have gone on to found my business PlanGreen around using ecosystem services to deal with urban stormwater and other environmental problems/opportunities.  I believe, as Stamets does, that the Earth has its own immune system and that we need to learn to better work with that immune system. Although I have been excited about the efforts that Portland and other communities throughout the nation are making in biofiltration—using plants and soil to filter stormwater–I have long wondered why we were not utilizing mushrooms as well.

Fungi Perfecti Phase 1 Report

Fungi Perfecti Phase 1 Report

So, I was thrilled to see “Can Mushrooms Help Fight Stormwater Pollution?” as a link on the Oregon Environmental Council’s “Oregon Stormwater” listserve.  The story (first published on Sightline’s blog on Nov. 13, 2013 , then picked up by Public Broadcasting’s Earthfix) indicates that Fungi Perfecti is looking for partners to help further the research it did under a grant from EPA.  The study itself, Fungi Perfecti, LLC.: EPA Phase I, Mycofiltration Biotechnology Research Summary, concludes that additional research is needed to clearly define treatment design and operating parameters.

That sounds like a challenge that Portland area jurisdictions would relish. So PlanGreen is seeking to broker partnerships between Fungi Perfecti and receptive jurisdictions. Beyond treatment design and operating parameters, some of the issues to be resolved by those partnerships might be[i]:

  • Whether or not the mushrooms grown on decomposing toxic wastes are safe to eat.
  • To what degree of decomposition by mycelium of toxic soils makes the soils safe for food crops [including food for wildlife]
  • How economically practical will it be to remove mushrooms that have hyper-accumulated heavy metals. . .? Which species are best for hyper accumulating specific metals?
  • How to finance/design composting centers around population centers near pollution threats.
Subtitle: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

Subtitle: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

However, whether or not our cities, ports and other transportation agencies can qualify for the robust monitoring needed for the Fungi Perfecti research, we have enough anecdotal evidence (and PlanGreen and its partners have enough knowledge and materials) to get to the starting gate right now. As Stamets says in his book, Mycelium Running, “Now is the time to ensure the future of our planet and our species by partnering, or running, with mycelium.”


[i] These issues were borrowed from Stamets’ The Petroleum Problem, on the Fungi Perfecti website.

 

Please see May 6, 2015 post titled Mycoremediation: Mushrooms Cleaning Soils and Water in Portland for further information on this topic.

What Are We Willing to Sacrifice to Find New Industrial Lands?

12-3-13  Guest blog by Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director, Audubon Society of Portland; first printed in Audubon’s newsletter the Warbler, Dec. 2013

The City of Portland has reached a major decision point that will define whether it retains its reputation as a “green” city in the coming decades. Over the next year, the City will complete work on its Comprehensive Plan Update. The Comprehenisive Plan is the land use plan for the City that guides future growth and development. Among the most difficult issues to be addressed in this process is the challenge of finding new industrial lands. Under Statewide Land Use Planning Goal 9, cities are supposed to maintain a 20-year supply of industrial land.

However, Portland is a landlocked city surrounded by other cities and has run out of undeveloped industrial parcels on which to expand. Analysis conducted by the City and Metro, based in large part on information provided by self-interested industrial landowners, has determined that Portland needs approximately 670 acres of new industrial land. As a result much of the Comprehensive Plan Update process has focused on a desperate search to find these 670 acres. Proposals to meet this demand for new industrial land include developing 300 acres of irreplaceable wildlife habitat on West Hayden Island, converting significant portions of 4 golf courses in North Portland to industrial use, limiting environmental regulations on industrial lands, integrating industrial development into neighborhoods, and cleaning up brownfields and restoring them to productive use. In short, the City is considering sacrificing the health of our environment, our valuable greenspaces, and the livability of our neighborhoods in order to meet this arbitrary target. However, there are some important things to understand that are often left out of the discussion.

First, it is critical to understand that the land use system does allow the City to inform the State that it has run out of land and is unable to meet industrial land targets. State land use planning goals do not require the City to sacrifice our environment or our neighborhoods in order to meet industrial land goals. In fact Goal 9 explicitly states that industrial land objectives “should consider as a major determinant, the carrying capacity of the air, land and water resources of the planning area.” Instead, Portland should inform the State that it will meet job targets through strategies other than creation of new industrial lands.

Second, the City has over 900 acres of brownfields — contaminated industrial sites that have either limited or no productive use. In short there are more than enough brownfield sites to meet the industrial land deficit. The problem has been that owners of these sites have been reticent to invest the capital to clean them up and put them back into productive use generic cialis overnight shipping. It is absolutely critical that the City develop an aggressive strategy to hold polluters accountable for these sites through a combination of enforcement actions and incentives.

Finally, to the degree an industrial land crisis exists at all, it is a self-inflicted crisis. Although City forecasts predict a surplus of commercial and residential property, the City and industrial stakeholders have spent the last 15 years rapidly converting industrial lands to residential and commercial uses. Today the City brags about the transformation of the Pearl District and South Waterfront from “industrial wasteland” to high-end development. The Port of Portland, one of the loudest advocates for more industrial land, sold its property at Terminal One to make way for low-rise condos and it converted industrial land next to Portland International Airport for a big-box shopping center. Whether intentional or not, the strategy pursued by both industrial interests and the City over the past 15 years has been one of allowing industrial land owners to cash out by upzoning their industrial land to more profitable use and then backfilling the industrial land deficit through conversion of greenspace.

Audubon is participating in the Comprehensive Plan Update Process and will be advocating for the following strategy:

  • The City should inform the State that it has run out of adequate undeveloped land to meet industrial land forecasts and therefore will develop other strategies to meet jobs supply objectives. This does not mean that the City will never add new industrial land to the inventory, but it does mean that the City will not be held hostage to an artificial target that would necessitate destruction of natural areas, open space, and neighborhoods.
  • The City should develop an aggressive strategy to force industrial polluters to clean up brownfields. This should include a combination of enforcement actions as well as non-subsidy-based incentives.
  • The City should put in place regulatory and non- regulatory programs to increase use intensification on the existing industrial landbase, something that is already occurring in cities in Europe and Asia that have a limited land supply.
  • The City should put in place strong protections to prevent the rezoning of existing industrial lands except in extraordinary cases.
  • The City and State should take a hard look at strategies to promote real collaboration and cooperation and potentially unification of the Columbia River Ports in order to maximize efficient use of land, promote a sustainable regional Port economy, and stabilize our Port system, which is on the brink of system failure. This is something which has been in the Port of Portland’s Marine Terminals Master Plan since 1991 but which has never been seriously pursued.

We will keep you updated about opportunities to comment on the Comprehensive Plan Update during the coming year.

You can leave comments for Bob below and write him at bsallinger@audubonportland.org to get on his list re: the Comp Plan.