Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

This past weekend, part of the Port Angeles Unearthed Editorial Board took a trip to Astoria, Oregon.

At a glance, Astoria and Port Angeles would seem to be very similar. If you look at a map, they’re both located in the upper northwest corner of their states, and both are west of I-5 and hours away (by car) from the nearest larger city. Both are coastal cities.
Lincoln Street in Port Angeles? Nope - it's Astoria, Oregon. Similar, but very, very different in the end.
While Port Angeles has the ONP as a neighbor, Astoria has the Lewis and Clark Wildlife Refuge. Our city government manages a cemetery, and so does theirs.

We have a $50 million dollar CSO project underway; they have a $29.5 million dollar CSO project that is nearly finished. Our CSO project mainly involves funneling sewage to a five million gallon tank on our shoreline; theirs focused on installing over 10,000 feet of new stormwater pipes (for source separation) and any overflow will go to a treatment facility near their existing Wastewater Reclamation Plant. Oh, and did I mention that their CSO project came in under budget?

Comparing other water resources, our city has a swimming pool; theirs manages the Astoria Aquatic Center, which consists of four pools, with water slides, plus a hot tub, plus a newly expanded gym. It’s a real full-service facility, and there’s also a wading pool for little kids.

Our Saturday Market got kicked off the street and is shoehorned into the Gateway, which causes all sorts of load-in problems for vendors. Astoria’s Sunday Market is located, yes, in a street that gets closed, and is a huge weekly event, more like a mini-fair.

Downtown Port Angeles recently lost its only movie theater when the decrepit Lincoln Theater closed. Astoria has the newish Astoria Gateway Cinema (a multiplex) right downtown. Full price tickets there cost less than they did at the Lincoln, and I’m guessing you don’t have to risk death going down some (totally non-ADA) stairs to get to the bathrooms there.

What’s more, downtown Astoria also boasts the beautiful Liberty Theatre (see pictures below) which hosts plays, films, conferences, etc., and can hold over 600 people. It’s in the last stages of a $7 million dollar restoration, and has been run by a non-profit since the 1990s.
Exterior of the restored Liberty Theatre.
So, as you can see, these initially similar cities seriously start to diverge at some point. And here’s another way they’re different: Astoria, with all that it has to offer, with all that it has done, has a population half the size of Port Angeles’ – about 9500 people. Yes, they’re half our size, but I’m telling you, they seemed to have ten times the energy, economy and quality of life we have here.

In the summer, they run the Astoria Riverfront trolley, which is a beautiful restored trolley car. It costs a dollar to ride it. I believe that Port Angeles had a similar trolley car in storage for years, and that they finally ended up selling it for, yes, one dollar.
A riverfront trolley? I'd buy that for a dollar!
Their downtown and waterfront areas had real, actual people walking around, even though the “tourist season” isn’t here yet. We saw a vegan restaurant. We ate at an Indian restaurant, and even at a Bosnian restaurant. (In all the large cities I’ve ever been in, I’ve never seen a Bosnian restaurant, but there one was in Astoria. And it was good!) We also ate at the Voodoo Room pizzeria, and had some great deviled crab cakes. They had vegetarian and vegan options, too, by the way. They also were part of a little “complex” that had a cool coffee shop and yet another movie theater. It’s for second run films (the Robocop remake was playing) but only costs four dollars to get in.  
Bosnian food in Astoria. Why not?
So how did Astoria get to be what I would describe as a really cool, vital little coastal town? I won’t pretend to know, but there are some easy to spot structural differences. For one thing, they have a Mayor, and just four City Council members. (One of whom is openly gay, by the way. Can you imagine that here? I can’t.) Their Community Development Department not only oversees the Planning Commission (which we also have), but also a Historic Landmarks Commission and a Design Review Committee (neither of which we have). That’s history, esthetics and quality of life, folks.

Astoria’s City government also seems to get the connection between ecology and economy. That’s why they jumped on the CSO issue a lot earlier and faster than we did, and (though not without controversy) got it done and under budget to boot.

Their downtown is really nice, clean, and well maintained. They certainly aren’t the Empty Storefront Capitol of the Pacific Northwest like we are. From what I could see, the business community gets along, and they play well together and work cooperatively on big dollar projects (like the Liberty Theatre restoration). They clearly get the connection between arts and tourism and a diversified economy.
Interior of the restored Liberty Theatre. Nice, huh?
My point in all this is this: There’s no reason a small, remote coastal community can’t be a thriving, alive community. They don’t have to be beholden to industry. They don’t have to settle for being run down and having a low quality of life. Too often, our local “leaders” here, after screwing up yet another hairbrained scheme, essentially say, “Yeah, but we’re so small, and so far away from I-5…”

Well, so is Astoria, and they are kicking it. And they don’t have the benefit of the ferry connection to Victoria, and I doubt that the Lewis and Clark Wildlife Refuge draws as many people through there as the ONP does here. Hell, they don’t even have Twilight-mania right next door. And, as mentioned, they’re half our size. In other words, in many ways, we have more resources than they do. So why do we settle for so little here?


  1. I would argue that Sequim, which is also smaller than PA, is also nicer than PA. There are a LOT of nice small towns out there. We have done them all the favor of absorbing the "visionary efforts" of people like Cherie Kidd, Russ Veenema, Barb Frederick, Grant Munro, Bob Lumens, etc., etc., etc.

    1. Anonymous 7:14 AM.

      I know you're being sarcastic (which I approve of), but you're onto something, too.

      Like often attracts like. So if a place like Astoria historically attracted a few intelligent visionaries, and they got a toehold there, then they act as a draw to other like-minded people. Even if you're only adding a few people a year to the local brain trust, over time, that adds up.

      In Port Angeles, on the other hand, we've had a very rough history. The people drawn here were often looking to exploit the water, the lands, the tribes, etc., and that was our local pool of shortsighted so-called visionaries. As a culture of short-term resource extraction and exploitation took root, it crowded out all other viewpoints. We still see this happening today. Look how the city bends over backwards to please Nippon, while barely maintaining relations with the ONP. Look how concerned they are about bolstering dying mills versus worrying about why the ferry trips per day are shrinking.

      As CK points out, there's no reason Port Angeles couldn't be more successful. We have a lot going for us. Unfortunately, one of the things that is "going" here is our young people, the creative people. This brain drain absolutely harms us economically and otherwise, and digs the hole we're in already a little deeper each day.

      Meanwhile, all those good, young brains draining have to go somewhere. Some of them probably end up in Astoria. Our loss is their gain.

      And as you point out, Anonymous, all we're left with is the dregs (Russ, Barb, Cherie, etc.).

  2. Astoria does have some empty storefronts and a few fix-ups needed too..BUT, a sort of shabby elegance.....AND under all that, it has a positive vibe, great art and music scene, people actually sharing their ideas openly and an attitude of cooperation and trust seems to exist. One has to think that city government reflects the will of the people.......

    1. I think most people would take shabby elegance over just plain shabby, which is what Port Angeles has in abundance.

    2. Per Wendy's words..."One has to think that city government reflects the will of the people..." If that's the case, a majority of the people in Port Angeles are suicidal. As an explanation for why things are they way they are here, it works.

    3. We aren't so much suicidal as depressed. So depressed there should be Prozac instead of Fluoride added to the water supply. Between the weather and the shenanigans of a city council, city government, and chamber full of huckers...its a wonder we don't just rename the stupid burg Port Morose, and the city motto: welcome to sullen, gloomy, sad, glum, and depressed. Amazing depths.

    4. Wendy, that said, why does Port OF call spread so much utter distain?
      Do we have to tear everything and everyone down to start something that might be positive?
      Or do we just bow down to Dale?

    5. IF YOU WANT TO TAKE ISSUE WITH PORT O CALL, PLEASE DO SO ON THEIR WEBSITE. Operators are waiting to take your call...

    6. @Anon 6:51

      "Building a Future by Exhuming the Past"

  3. I've been through Astoria a couple of times, and you're right, it's really nice there.

    So tell me again why I moved here???

    1. You're telling me! I was duped, too.

  4. Astoria can raise $7 million to restore and run what looks like a very nice facility downtown. Meanwhile, our brilliant City Council plans to spend more than twice that on a new concrete waterfront that serves no functional purpose (no conferences held there) and that, thus far, hasn't even been used much as a sidewalk.

    Speaking of which, do they have sidewalks in Astoria? They sure are intermittent here.

  5. This piece demonstrates - yet again - that Port Angeles has a real talent for pissing away potential and opportunities. Yes, we once actually had a cute little trolley to haul tourists around - but the city gave it away. We had people (Paul Cronauer, Max Mania) attempt to save the Lincoln Theater - but the business community didn't want to support the effort. We had the chance to try and really maximize and make something of our shoreline - but instead, the city chose a biomass plant on one side, a Turd Tank on the other, and a giant slab of concrete in the middle. Once upon a time, Pane d'Amore bakery was interested in the old fire hall on Lincoln Street - but the city essentially told them to go away.

    The parade of failures and missed calls is endless. Could it be connected to the also endless musical chairs we play with the same small group of small-minded people who circulate around in elected office? Port Angeles is surrounded by other communities, both bigger and smaller, that are doing alright, and even thriving. Meanwhile, we just slip further and further behind. At this point it's hard to imagine we'll ever get ahead, or even just catch up. The battle is over. We've lost. But the bleeding, and the wailing of those who brought us to this sorry state, will continue for the foreseeable future.

    1. the Lincoln Theater doesn't WANT to be saved.

    2. Actually, the City wanted $$$$$$$ for the Old Firehouse, and the place is in BAD shape. Pane d'Amore couldn't swing the cost plus the fix-up, so they walked away. The city couldn't shit its way out of a paper bag on that deal. If they had given it away for $1.00 we all would have made out. Idiotic.

    3. They couldn't even swing that recent deal when someone offered them five bucks and promised to restore/fix it up. This city sure can piss away money, but it can't even GIVE anything else away...Amazing!

      The Pane d'Amore idea was to put their PRODUCTION BAKERY there, which would have meant all the production jobs, and probably all of the delivery jobs associated with that bakery would have been HERE. As in real, solid, good paying jobs, not to mention a nice (and nice smelling) business presence right near the downtown core.

      What's not to like about that? No wonder the city felt the need to screw that deal up. If it had gone through, it would have spoiled their perfect record of screwing EVERYTHING up.

  6. When I saw the title of your post, I thought you would be comparing Victoria to Port Angeles.

    It, too, is an interesting comparison. They are less than 20 miles apart. Both were "westernized" from the First Nations about 150 years ago. Both are deep water ports which were the hubs of extration resource industries right from the git-go. Both were/are the capitals of their regions,

    Both are "remote". Hell, ya can't even drive to Victoria! Both have the incredible beauty of the Pacific North West nearby. Both still have the influence of the tribes that inhabited the place, first. Both were founded on fishing, lumber, etc.

    But, look how differently each evolved, and continue to.

    About 100 years ago, a number of people in Victoria decided to make it a pretty place, as well as prosporus. In doing so, property values increased, "decent" people were attracted to the city, and it has developed into a world class destination regularily listed amongst the top in Conde Nast travel magazine.

    I know I don't need to write the " On the other hand, Port Angeles..."

    Again, it is back to the culture of"Rape, plunder and pillage".

    1. Per your point about making Victoria a pretty place...

      We all know that, locally, the real estate crowd has a disproportional amount of influence. We also know that, generally speaking, people who get into real estate like to make money. So it's notable to see just how utterly clueless Port Angeles has been about making itself attractive - which is to say, marketable, sellable - compared to other communities. This is one ugly town. Ugly.

      Even the "efforts" to beautify it have been fiascos. Paint the Downtown? You mean, Paint the Browntown, using all the ugly donated paint that local paint stores couldn't sell - BECAUSE IT WAS SO UGLY? Oh yeah, that was a real success.

      My point being...These fools can't even be greedy very effectively. Sure, a very few of them have gotten fat off of the public trough. But even more of them would be able to sell more land, more houses, and make more money, if there were things like, oh, attractive properties to sell. Maybe a few codes and design standards - something - anything, really.

      But no. It's all strip malls, septic tanks and shacks and a real estate market that stays retarded, apparently because the retarded people running things aren't smart enough to know how they're harming their own financial interests, not to mention those of everyone else.

    2. FYI: About ten percent or so of the people viewing this blog do so from Canada. I guess they like American soap operas...

    3. Paint the Town is an example of Barb and her choice of "colors". Dated before we even began. Not to use a word to offend the mentally disabled, but instead to describe the choices: retarded. As in, out-of-date, not with-it, and clueless.

    4. Not so much soap-opera more like Canadians enjoy schadenfreud (pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others). Its like watching a good, old fashioned train wreck.

    5. Most people I talk to in Victoria think Port Angeles is a dive. Yeah, they're pleasant and polite about it, but few have a positive impression. Most openly say they wouldn't waste their time visiting.

    6. The Victoria-dwellers used to come here to shop at JC Penny's when it was downtown. They came to Costco when it was first built. Some come over to ship via the USPS (ebay vendors, etc) because it's less expensive, and more efficient to ship through OUR postal system. A few come over to visit relatives. Otherwise, they mostly bitch at what sad little town it is.

  7. More about the culture that creates Port Angeles.

    I remember sitting in at a City Council meeting a few years back, during the Rogers/Williams wonder years. One of the agenda items was a proposal to plant trees all along the road coming into Port Angeles from the East. There was a staff report, and some discussion until a council member (I think it was Williams) asked:"What happens in the Fall?"

    The other council members looked a bit puzzled, until the commentor said "All those leaves will fall onto city streets. We'll have to hire a crew to pick them up!".

    That was the end of any discussions at attempts to beautify the city's streets.

    Those pathetic small minds couldn't understand that by making the area prettier and nicer, property values would go up, and the increase in taxes would pay for a crew to run the city's already owned street sweeper for a few extra days a year. And then some.

    A variation on the "If you build it.." In Port Angeles, If they can't see it, it won't happen. In fact, they'll fight you to prevent it from happening!

    1. I think THAT was the last meeting I was at. I think I asked "why can't we plant non-deciduous trees" and was met with silence and blank stares. Evidently a tree is just a tree around here. Morons.

    2. My favorite Larry Williams moment was when the city was discussing what to do with a surplus building, whether to sell it or put a little money into it and try to make it more useable/marketable. Larry, on the record, mind you, offered up his solution: "Give me a gallon of gas and a match and I'll take care of it for you."

      Ah, leadership! And with people like that getting into elected office, we wonder why things are so dismally awful here...

    3. The rally cry for freedom in Port Angeles: " cut it down, bulldoze it, and tattoo my kids" . Ma and Pa Kettle really did represent the greater population of the Olympic Peninsula, didn't they? We have our own brand of hill-folk, unfortunately, we keep letting them run the town. As the sign out front of the Kettle shack warned: "Be-ware of childrun"

    4. As you likely know, Port Angeles WAS one of the places the "Okies" fled to, when escaping the Dust Bowl.

    5. So, was California. Clearly, we got the dumb ones.

  8. There are many reasons why this xenophobic little community has issues, but the key one, in my opinion, is the weak Chamber of Commerce.

    The leader is an idiot, (to put it mildly). A self absorbed ignoramus, more intent on drawing a paycheck than finding ways to positively benefit the town he doesn't live in.

    If our Chamber was stronger (with a real leader who had a VISION and INTEGRITY) it could lead the city along to adopt some reasonable guidelines, help attract some businesses (help them instead of sneering at them and criticizing them, and making life even harder on them "give us membership dollars, now").

    We could garner some much needed city pride.
    Attract the kinds of exciting events, interesting people, and energy

    The energy that may come-and-go is drained by the negative CoC. Compared to the pitiful Downtown Association, the Chamber actually sucks the life out of any idea.All the people with vision and vitality leave, once they realize that the town must hate everyone. Why? Because the CoC leader doesn't really like anyone, aside from his very tight little clique. (And, the problem with the same clique picking a NEW leader, is they'll pick some one equally as inept as the current one, no doubt.)

    It is more Chamber of Horrors than commerce.

    With continued bad leadership we might as well keep our hand over the mouth/nose, and smother any hope there could be. The Chamber needs to be strong.


    PA-untied isn't going to make it any better. Same garbage in, garbage out. If we keep pulling from the same small pool everyone is peeing in, the water isn't going to taste very good.

    The problem is the xenophobia the CoC reeks of. The little cabal of the Chamber is really screwing us all.

    Lets give an example of what a CoC is SUPPOSED TO DO:
    Port Townsend's Rhody festival history one of the many examples of a Chamber taking over an event, from the Rhody association website, "The Chamber of Commerce took over the festival leadership in the early 1950′s"..."In the 1980′s the festival became a non-profit corporation and not affiliated with any one group ..."

    So, when the founders couldn't continue, the CoC took it over, made it even grander, then pushed it off to become a stand-alone non-profit association, still under the wing of the CoC, but self sufficient. Not, what ours does, ignore and let die festivals, and then give MONEY (grants) to existing festivals that should have long ago been on their own feet. Letting the established festivals suckle while the newborn potential festivals die.

    This is what happens when CoC's don't know what they are there for.

    You mention Astoria --- did you check out their exceptional Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber? (http://www.oldoregon.com/) They have the right idea for a website --not some old and tired claptrap "rented" website software (ChamberMasters).

    First, get rid of Russ, and start with someone with ideas, and enthusiasm, without a tired old "chamber experience" from some po-dunk town somewhere. Get new blood, and get new energy, and get this ship turned around.

    We need someone with a VISION, with some greater world view, as well someone who actually CARED in the CoC. That is the first, easiest fix. If we had a leader with ideas and drive to steer our very valuable Chamber, we might have the first toe-hold in turning this derelict town around.

  9. Our city leaders lack vision.
    It's all about "if's..." (if wishes were horses, beggars would ride...)
    IF the city hadn't blown it's wad (and some shady eminent domain b.s. capital) on the great Cutler monument to stupidity (aka: "Gateway Bus Stop/Urinal/Waste Pit"). What a masterpiece of single minded stupidity. IF it had been designed to be surrounded on both sides with small, affordable commercial store-fronts(below insane greedy landowners Seattle-inflated triple-net b.s. rental fees) we could have nurtured some small mom-and-pop start-up businesses, and created a downtown that works, instead of the dysfunctional one that we have. (Yes, yes, I KNOW the grant didn't cover commercial , but the city could have planned for growth, and designed it for that. The way its situated/designed, there is no possibility.)

    And, really, the transit center IS a waste of space. But, Cutler wanted to get his grubby hands on the grant. Who cares what the city needed?

    The pier is not the venue, its torture with a chilly wind. IT IS A CITY PIER...and not Santa Monica, either.

    IF our city would have built a proper city center -- theater, meeting space, and perhaps some retail/dining options we would be light-years ahead on our ability to attract tourism, and get some much needed city-energy and pride ignited. Instead of the city trying to profit from the land they own (logging yard), and give up on the tired, bullshit idea of a "convention center" (which will benefit no-one, and sit empty because whatever we build for that purpose will be too small, at the outset for a major show, and without a properly running Chamber of Commerce for anything else).

    The city should have an auditorium that isn't: a) away from downtown; b.) have gymnasium lines painted on the gym floor, multipurpose boring room; c.) not look like something that was built on the cheap, the very cheap, by a first year flunking architect student.


  10. Our city leaders lack vision.
    It's all about "if's..."
    (If wishes were horses Beggars would ride: If turnips were bayonets I would wear one by my side)
    Lets face it, our town is ugly.

    IF the town wasn't plagued by leaders with tasteless Walmart shopper mentality, that really kicks in with the Port when they want to "modernized" (to about 1970's sensibilities, so dated at the outset) and enshrine the logging town mentality of "good enough".

    The "modernization" (I use the term loosely, as the modernization we have was done in the worst of times, in the age of "no taste".) What has been done done is ugly, without any concept of anything -- history, taste, character. A great example is the Airport that now resembles a 1970's office/warehouse, instead of the charm it had with the large models airplanes hanging from the rafters. (Before the acoustic tile ceiling was added in the late 1980's). It was lovely. Funky, but inviting. It has character, something this town seems intent on stomping out.

    IF ONLY this town's idea of modern wasn't always 20+ years behind the times AND tasteless, and obviously CHEAP.

    IF ONLY our city center was valued. Buildings have been torn down, or decommissioned (old library, the old firehouse) which ARE needed to keep the town spirit alive. Faux fronts were added that make the place look more like a strip mall than a vibrant, inviting town.

    Trees are ripped out, and not ONE has been added, along 101, or downtown.
    Our downtown hotel was converted to SRO for low income.
    The Red Lion often touted as a "modern hotel" is, at best, a slightly cleaner Aggie's (R.I.P.) with squeaky floor, dimly lit hallways, and all the ambiance of a Steven King nightmare.

    IF ONLY the city didn't allow the train tracks (that ran between PT and PA) to be torn out (in the early 1980's)...

    IF ONLY the city and chamber would actually work together it COULD have a multitude of festivals, all summer long. But unfortunately, both would have to kick in some $$ at the front end (until an event is proven,corporate funding, sponsorship is mighty hard to get). IF ONLY the city wasn't more involved in paying consultants than actually coming up with cash to entice entrepreneurs.

    IF ONLY someone on the planning board, in our city planning, or in any city council had the ability to read, and comprehend "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" (1961) a book by writer and activist Jane Jacobs.

    IF ONLY the town had a concept of what it could be.

  11. IF ONLY that faded, motor-lodge known as the Red Lion DID NOT have nearly a block of empty parking lot, where commercial businesses should stand (used to stand), or even, where a proper park, or other public area could be. It's quite the eye-sore, but no one seems to want to notice. The Red Lion hates to let anyone touch its valuable parking lot, and won't lease any spaces for any normal, nominal sum for any of the restaurants at that end of Lincoln ($45 per space a month is nuts. No small restaurant can afford that. It is vacant 99% of the time). The Red Lion was reluctant to have the farmer's market there on Weds nights, years ago. In fact, they bitched and moaned about it constantly. Oh, the horror. The stupid Red Lion and their their precious parking. They are so very uncooperative with everyone. Why is this allowed? Oh, right, because we have a greedy little f*ck running our chamber, and he allows it, and the city has a 'hands off' policy on anything except collecting permit money, and parking tickets from the citizens.

  12. IF the city would not continue to allow the waterfront to remain derelict up by greedy landowners (who will never, in their already too-long, miserable lifetimes, build on their property, and continue to over-value the land to make certain that no one else can have access to it, either. IN fact, one particularly old sea-salt wants to retain ownership of the land, at all costs -- but you can improve it for him, except he keeps owning it. Really.)

  13. I think this thread reveals some interesting "truths". Astoria is half the size, and equally "remote", yet it has a much better quality of life. Obvious to all.

    Victoria (the city itself) has a population of around 70,000, yet it is on a completely different planet, compared to Port Angeles.

    Both of these communities have attributes and settings very similar to Port Angeles, but the "results" are so radically different.

    What can we learn from this?

  14. What can we learn? I think it's what can we do? Is tar and feathering and running scoundrels out of town politically incorrect these days?

  15. So in checking out Astoria, it has been under reconstruction for at least 50 years.
    By that math PA will be coming around by maybe 2065.
    Even our children will be dead by then.
    Thanks for the leadership update CK.

    1. Port Angeles: Backwards into the future! Or something like that...

    2. Backward...on-ward, whatever.

  16. Astoria once had a toxic waste dump right in town and right on the waterfront. It was a former wood processing plant. The toxins were about the same as we have on the Pen-Ply and Rayonair properties. Astoria put together a consortium of city, county, state and federal stake-holders. Now that property is home to a beautiful housing development where the average cost of a home is $350,000. The most expensive home in the project is $500,000. This is called leadership. This is what we lack.

  17. Forgot to mention the name of the successful project in Astoria. It is called the Mill Pond Project. Google it. Most impressive.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi, Jenna - welcome to the blog. Glad you're here and participating - and pushing people to do more than just post here. This blog is intended to be a starting point, not the end point.

  19. Port Angeles never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity...

  20. My friend and I were just talking about why Port Angeles couldn't become a thriving small town instead of the run down place it is. We have a great position here on the inlet from the Pacific going into the sound, we have deep enough harbour to fit a cruise ship to come into port, there's no reason this place shouldn't be thriving. As long as the city counsel members do nothing, nothing will ever change.