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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

Parallels between baseball and crime

As a good baseball fan, I tend to believe that baseball explains everything. For example, I think the decline in American living standards that began in 1973 is in part directly attributable to the adoption of the designated hitter rule in the American League. Whatever supernatural forces exist in the world clearly want pitchers to hit. They decry extreme specialization and enjoy the double shift.

But you don't have to be a dues-paying member of what Susan Sarandon called the Church of Baseball to notice some really interesting parallels between baseball and crime.

Over the past twenty years, there has been a dramatic drop in crime throughout the United States (Canada too, actually). There is now a pretty compelling chemical explanation for that phenomenon: the elimination of lead from gasoline. Lead damages aspects of the brain that are highly relevant to criminal behavior - like impulse control. As Kevin Drum pointed out in a February 2013 Mother Jones article, the lead theory is the one theory that explains both the increase in crime in the '60s through '80s and the subsequent decrease: there was an explosion of automobile traffic in the decades after World War II, exposing more and more children to lead; then, in the '70's, we started to phase out lead in gasoline, and twenty years later, crime started to drop.

Meanwhile, in the '90s, there was an explosion of offense in baseball, and there is, as you may know, a chemical explanation for that, too. A large number of players started taking steroids.

In the past few years, baseball has finally taken steps to get steroids out of the game, and offensive production has gone down. Just like getting lead out of the air caused crime to go down.

But this year, offensive production in baseball has gone down even further, to levels not seen since the early '70s. One compelling explanation is that baseball teams have dramatically increased their use of an old, but traditionally seldom-used strategy: Shifting the infield around based on the tendency of a particular hitter to hit the ball to certain areas.

As David Waldstein explains in a May 2014 New York Times article, this strategy has been used for decades - but very sparingly. In the past few years, however, more and more teams have realized that pretty much every hitter has his own tendencies - so why not place your fielders to anticipate those tendencies? The turn-of-the (19th / 20th) century Baltimore Oriole Wee Willie Keeler used to say that the key to success as a hitter was to, "Hit 'em where they ain't." Today's managers are turning that on its head. They have decided to "play 'em where they hit."

Why is this relevant to crime? Because, as researcher Cody Telep told the Portland City Council last year, crime tends to be very concentrated in particular locations. Innovative police forces have realized that the best way to deploy officers is to have them spend time in those particular locations. The Portland Police Bureau has now taken some steps toward adopting that strategy.

Based on this year's batting averages, the Portland Police Bureau should double down on that strategy. After all, it appears that once you've dealt with the dangerous chemicals in both baseball and crime, an old saying from another industry is equally relevant: It's all location, location, location.

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Meet the Intern, Zachary Cross

Zach is a SummerWorks intern who is ecstatic about his position in Commissioner Novick’s office. Zach is currently a sophomore at the University of Oregon and is aiming for a Business major, with a focus in advertising and marketing. After graduating from Central Catholic High School in 2012, Zach worked at a Chevron gas station, which has taught him mannerism, patience, and to respect all kinds of people. Zach is capable of interacting sufficiently with others and will do whatever it takes to get the job completed.

Zach is an active member in his community, participating in volunteer activities such as serving lunch at the Blanchet House, interacting with participants in the Nike Special Olympics, and is also a current volunteer at The Salvation Army. Zach enjoys helping his community and is willing to give his time in order to see the community prosper.

Throughout Zach’s life he has been blessed with many opportunities and plans to take full advantage of the chances he is given. His grandfather always told him “To whom much is given, much is expected” and Zach plans to follow this quote throughout his career. While interning this summer, Zach plans to gain experience involving politics and business, create relationships that will benefit him in the future, and enhance his professionalism.

In his free time, Zach enjoys playing basketball, listening to music, drawing, and traveling the country. Zach has visited over 15 states, and plans to travel more, when given the opportunity.

Know when and when not to call 9-1-1 this Fourth of July

July 4th is typically one of the busiest days of the year for 9-1-1 call volume. On any given day, the Portland 9-1-1 Center processes more than 3,000 9-1-1 and Public Safety Non-Emergency calls. On July 4th, that number increases exponentially. You can help ensure that first responders arrive quickly in real emergencies by knowing when you should and should not call 9-1-1.

9-1-1 telecommunicators also answer the Public Safety Non-Emergency phone lines. What does this mean? When you call 9-1-1 or the Public Safety Non-Emergency number (503-823-3333), you may wait on hold for someone to answer. The 9-1-1 Center ALWAYS prioritizes 9-1-1 calls, and you can help by only calling 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency. Whether something is an emergency or not is determined by a danger to life or property. If it is not happening right now, it is more than likely not an emergency.

Please do not dial 9-1-1 to report fireworks unless there is an active fire hazard; examples of active fire hazards include aerial fireworks that have caught a roof on fire and fireworks shot directly at a person. Instead, help keep your neighborhood safe by reporting non-emergency illegal firework activity by calling the Non-Emergency number at 503-823-3333.

23 Frequently Asked Questions about the Transportation User Fee

Below are 23 of the most commonly asked questions and answers on the proposed Transportation User Fee. The Transportation Bureau will update this as we hear more questions and concerns. If you have other questions or comments, please email them to

1. Why is the City seeking more money for transportation?

Our streets are deteriorating under the pressure of weather, age and regular use. The main source of funding for maintenance - the gas tax - has been shrinking for decades as people drive less and buy more fuel-efficient cars. Congress has not raised the gas tax in 21 years, so with inflation, it buys about half (check?) what it used to. Instead of providing money for maintenance of city streets, the federal government mainly helps cities pay for expansions like wider roads or new light rail lines.

The average Portland household pays $25.19 in state and county gas taxes each month -- and only 11 percent or $2.82, goes to the City for our streets. The rest goes to the state. Portland's proposed Transportation User Fee (or any other Portland specific fee) would provide a way for Portlanders to help maintain our own streets, make them safer for everyone.

2. What are the consequences of not having enough revenue for maintenance?

Portland will always have its streets, the City’s largest asset. In addition to 4,827 lane miles of streets, Portland owns and maintains 55,477 streetlights and 157 bridges.

Without adequate resources to maintain the transportation system, it will continue to deteriorate. Currently, 48 percent of the City’s busiest streets are in poor or very poor condition. When streets become so deteriorated, they are more expensive to fix. It would require $91 million a year to provide enough maintenance to have all the City’s streets in fair or better condition in 10 years. The City Auditor estimated two years ago it would have cost $75 million a year. Without adequate funding, the problem will continue to grow.

Across the city, 53 percent of corners have no ADA ramps, further limiting access to many parts of the city for people experiencing disabilities.

3. What are the consequences of not having enough revenue for safety?

There were 36 traffic fatalities in Portland in 2013, far more than the 16 homicides in the city that year, and neighborhoods continue to identify difficult intersections that the City cannot address with existing gas tax revenues.

4. Didn’t the Auditor you'd have plenty of money if you didn't blow it all on pet projects?

Not really. The auditor said that an extra $75 million a year is needed for pavement maintenance alone. The projects that the report did point to as being prioritized above basic maintenance were as follows:

  • The Sellwood Bridge. The city made a commitment to Multnomah County to help replace the Sellwood Bridge. That commitment will cost the City $6.5 million a year for years to come. It is true that technically, the bridge is the county's responsibility, but it is an important part of the entire Portland Metro’s transportation system, and the County could not have paid for the bridge itself without cutting into funding for things like jails and services for seniors and the poor. Clackamas County residents use the bridge a lot. It would have been nice if they had paid something, but they said no. I personally wish the City had figured out how to raise more money for transportation in general before making the Sellwood Bridge commitment, but I don't see it as a 'pet project.' This isn’t an example of a ‘bridge to nowhere.’ 
  • The Streetcar. The Transportation Bureau spends about $4 million a year to help run the streetcar. The streetcar has helped bring a lot of development to the city, which increases property tax revenues and in turn helps to pay for police, fire and parks. Also, there were nearly six million rides on the Streetcar last year. And a lot of people with property along the line agreed to pay extra, special taxes to help build it because they it would increase their property values, so it would be rather unfair to them to shut it down now. I personally think the city general fund should help pay for it, because the development along the line increased general fund revenue. I haven't gotten the rest of the council to agree to that. But even if you think it is a wasteful 'pet project,' it's not $75 million a year.
  • Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail. The Federal government put up half the money to build this line. And TriMet and other governments are helping, too. One could argue, again, that we should have figured out how to fund our street maintenance needs before making that commitment. But I don't see mass transit as a 'per project.' 
  • The Downtown Marketing Initiative. A few years ago, the City told downtown business groups that if they were willing to accept an increase in downtown parking meter rates, the City would put some money into helping to market downtown as a place to shop. The City has justified more than $1 million for this program. This program has actually been eliminated from the city budget for next year, and the downtown business community is hopping mad.
  •  The Portland Mall Management Inc. (PMMI), working with TriMet, property owners, Portland Business Alliance and Portland State University, the Portland Bureau of Transportation have developed a successful partnership to manage and maintain the Portland Transit Mall. Before the 2009 reconstruction project, the mall had fallen into disrepair and PBOT was unable to maintain its assets, including the light poles, signals, signs, pavement and benches. By working together with these public and private entities, PMMI has maintained the mall is being maintained at a cost that PBOT may not be able to afford alone.

5. What is the proposed Portland Transportation User Fee?

A Transportation User Fee is a monthly fee based on use of the transportation system that is collected from residential and non-residential properties within a city. The fee is based on the estimated number of trips a particular property type generates. A trip is generated by any mode – whether by foot, bike, car, freight or transit. Properties that generate more traffic pay more, ones that generate less traffic pay less. Users of the road system share the costs of ensuring that the transportation system is safe and well maintained.

6. Do other cities have a Transportation User Fee?

Cities across the nation have implemented transportation user fees. There are currently 28 Oregon cities with Transportation User Fees, including Hillsboro, Oregon City and Milwaukie in the Portland area. See a map of the Oregon cities as of May 2014.

7. Why not just raise the gas tax, which could discourage people from driving?

Surveys show that gas taxes are extremely unpopular with the public, and this effort has been shaped by public input. A survey of Portland residents in March 2014 as part of the Our Streets PDX conversation showed that residents favored a street fee over a gas tax and other alternatives.

A gas tax would keep the transportation system financially dependent on the growth of driving and the associated pollution, climate change and negative health impacts. It would continue to diminish in purchasing power relative to inflation. It would also increase the perception that people who bike, walk or take public transit do not financially contribute to the transportation system. With a transportation fee, everyone pays and everyone benefits. 

8. Can’t we have higher fees for cars, since they cause more wear and tear on streets than people who use public transit or bicycles?

Weather and oxidation over time are the main threats to street pavement condition. Buses and freight cause far more damage and general deterioration to streets than passenger cars do. Portland remains committed to public transit and freight access. Having a fee based on use of the transportation system means everyone helps maintain the assets we all own as Portlanders.

9. Why not just charge the big vehicles that impose the most wear and tear?

Freight trucks do impose lots of wear and tear. Because of that, the State has a freight weight-mile tax. Eugene considered a local one some years back, but concluded it was just administratively impractical to track how many miles a truck drives within the city limits of Eugene. In Portland, City staff have concluded that we would have similar administrative problems. In addition, the City’s Attorneys tell us that the freight companies would have a pretty good argument that cities are legally preempted from applying a local weight-mile tax under law.

Transit buses also impose wear and tear on the roads. But transit is of special importance to low-income people and seniors, and using transit is environmentally preferable to driving, and reduces congestion. There have been discussions with TriMet and the Federal Department of Transportation about whether it might be possible to develop double-axle buses that impose less wear and tear.

10. Why not charge bicyclists, who don’t seem to pay for the transportation system?

The proposed transportation user fee would be paid by bicyclists and everyone else using the streets. A fee only on bicyclists would require expensive new administrative costs to track bicycle purchases and use.

11. Isn’t there a way you can charge people from outside of Portland who use our streets to work here and shop at stores in the city? Can we charge them for using our streets?

There’s no perfect system for accomplishing that, but the transportation fee could help. By charging non-residential uses such as businesses and large public institutions, the fee could potentially be passed on to everyone who visits those businesses whether for work, shopping or other purposes, wherever they come from.

12. Why the seemingly sudden sense of urgency about the condition of our transportation system?

It's been a big issue for a long time-- we just haven't focused on it enough. Some of the problem goes back to the late '80's. Transportation used to get a lot of money for maintenance from 'utility license fees,' but in the late '80's, the City Council diverted that money and started using it for police, fire and parks. Consequently, in the '90's, property tax cut ballot measures in Oregon made it more difficult for Cities to fund police, fire and parks, so the diversion of the utility license fee money to those services got really locked into practice.

13. But still, why the hurry right now?

Two answers. One: we've actually been having widely publicized town halls and advisory committee meetings since the beginning of February 2014. Secondly, every day that we don't act the problem gets worse and more expensive. A stretch of street that might need $10,000 worth of "fog seal" treatment to extend its life for several years will fall into significantly worse condition without any maintenance. Instead, that same stretch of street will eventually need $100,000 per lane mile to grind and pave.

If left unmaintained, a stretch of street that could have used a 'grind and pave'  will further decay to the point where it needs a complete rebuild, at a cost of $1 million or more per lane mile. The costs get worse and worse the more we delay. Meanwhile, every year a new group of students goes to school and too many of them don't have safe sidewalks to walk on. That's why we're eager to move forward with an equitable revenue solution.

14. How would the City use the money?

The proposed fee would mainly be used for basic maintenance and safety improvements. The Portland Bureau of Transportation expects to allocate 53 percent to maintenance, including paving that will prevent potholes and cracks on our streets. In the first five years of full implementation, preventive maintenance for pavement could grow to 150 miles a year, up from 100 miles in 2013-14. The maintenance program could also install more synchronized traffic signals that reduce congestion and improve safety. It would replace old street signs with modern, reflective signs that help emergency responders.

PBOT would invest 44 percent on safety improvements that are proven to reduce serious injury crashes and fatalities. In the first five years of full implementation, the safety program could build an estimated 400 blocks of new sidewalks, add crosswalk striping or beacons to 100 intersections and provide faster response to residents who express concerns at the safety hotline 503-823-SAFE.

There are 343 miles of busy streets in Portland with no sidewalks, and the need is especially great in East Portland, which has more children and low-income households than many other areas.

Missing sidewalks and concerns about safety at high-traffic intersections lead people to walk and bike less. Parents are less likely to let their children walk and bike in areas where they have to walk in a street or through ditches to get to school. Low-income households are disproportionately impacted by these conditions.

15. How would the fee be collected?

As of early June, several options are being considered.

16. Is there a discount for low-income residents?

Yes. Low-income households would pay 30 percent less than the standard rate.

17. What is the fee for households?

The fee would be phased-in over three years, with implementation starting July 1, 2015. Single-family residential properties would be charged $6 per month in the first year, $9 per month in the second year and $12 per month starting in the third year.

Low-income households would pay $4.20 per month in the first year, $6.30 per month in the second year and $8.40 per month starting in the third year.

18. How is the Transportation User Fee calculated for residential properties?

Engineering studies estimate that single-family homes generate about 10 one-way trips per weekday.

Ten trips a day may sound like a lot, but for an average family, it could include some combination of the following:

  • Leaving and returning from work (2 one-way trips)
  • Taking a child to school in the morning and returning to pick them up in the afternoon (4 one-way trips)
  • Driving age children going to and from a friend’s house (2 one-way trips)
  • Trip to and from shopping (2 one-way trips)
  • Trip to and from family member's sporting event (2 one-way trips)
  • Local deliveries and service providers (U.S. Mail, FedEx, trash/recycle pick-up)
  • Trip to and from the doctor/pharmacy (2 one-way trips)
  • Trip to and from a restaurant of any type (2 one-way trips)
  • Trip to and from the recreation center or exercise facility (2 one-way trips)

19. Is there a different fee for people who live in multifamily buildings like apartments and condominiums?

Yes. Multifamily households generate less traffic (for example, a garbage truck comes once to one apartment building and once to each single household), so they have a lower fee. As with all rates, it would be phased in over three years.

The multifamily households would pay $3.52 per month in the first year, $5.29 per month in the second year and $7.05 per month starting in the third year.

Low-income multifamily households would pay $2.47 per month in the first year, $3.70 per month in the second year and $4.93 per month starting in the third year.

20. Who pays the non-residential fee in a building with multiple tenants or uses?

We would expect the bill to go to the property owner. Often in those circumstances, the property owner passes along those costs to tenants, as they do with other operating expenses.

In a building where tenants pay utility bills, each tenant would receive a bill for the Transportation User Fee. In some cases, buildings have several different uses. In those cases, the type of use occupying the most developed space on the property – the Predominant Developed Use – would define the rate for the entire property. For example, if an office building has a small coffeehouse and a small retail store, the transportation user fee for the coffeehouse and retail stores would set at the rate for office space.

21. What is the fee for non-residential properties?

The non-residential fee would be based on engineering estimates by the Institute of Transportation Engineers of how much traffic each property type generates. The fee would be charged based on monthly, average weekday trips.

22. How do I find out what my monthly fee would be?

PBOT has developed an online calculator for non-residential customers where you can select a property type and square footage to see an estimate.

Visit the online calculator now.

23. What if I think my bill is too high?

Contact the transportation bureau by emailing to ask about the estimate. You will be asked to describe your property and the land use on the site.