Elliott Forest Oregon.gov

Oregon Land Board Low-Balls Elliott Timber at $220.8 Million

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
John A. Charles, Jr.

503-242-0900

john@cascadepolicy.org

 

PORTLAND, Ore. – Today the Oregon Department of State Lands announced the “fair market value” of 82,000 acres of Common School Trust Lands within the Elliott State Forest as $220.8 million.

The number was picked by Roger Lord of the consulting firm Mason, Bruce & Girard after analyzing three professional appraisals which valued the land at $262 million, $225 million, and $190 million, respectively.

All proposed “Elliott Acquisition Plans” are due to the Department of State Lands by 5:00 p.m. November 15, 2016. If there are multiple plans accepted, the Oregon Land Board will choose the winning offer at its December meeting. Proceeds from the land transfer will go to the Common School Fund and be invested for the long-term benefit of public school students.

At a public meeting held in Salem, the Director of the Department, Jim Paul, reiterated that anyone hoping to acquire the 82,000 acres must offer exactly $220.8 million. Any offer above that will be considered “outside the protocol” and deemed “non-responsive.”

Today’s announcement was the latest step in the Land Board’s plan to dispose of the Elliott property in a non-competitive bid process. This prompted Cascade Policy Institute President John A. Charles, Jr. to make the following statement:

“The Land Board has invented a ‘fair market’ value of the Elliott timberland without allowing a market to actually function. The price investors are willing to pay might be the $262 million appraisal, or it could be multiples of that number. Unfortunately, we’ll never know because the Land Board is refusing to take competitive bids. Clearly this is a breach of fiduciary trust. Public school students, teachers and parents deserve to get top dollar in this once-in-a-lifetime sale of a public asset.”

Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research and educational organization that focuses on state and local issues in Oregon. Cascade’s mission is to develop and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. For more information, visit cascadepolicy.org.

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Trust Lands Should Be Auctioned to High Bidder to Benefit Schools

In his recent guest column in The Oregonian, Director of the Oregon Department of State Lands Jim Paul summarizes the history of the Elliott State Forest. He correctly notes that the Common School Trust lands within the Elliott must be managed as an endowment asset for public schools.

Since the Elliott is now a net liability instead of an asset due to environmental litigation, the State Land Board has appropriately concluded that the Trust Lands should be sold.

Unfortunately, the sale will not take place through competitive bidding, because this is not an auction. On July 27, the Land Board will announce the results of an appraisal and set the sale price as the appraised price. If you dare to offer even one dollar more, your bid will be set aside by state lawyers as “nonresponsive.”

The three Land Board members – the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Treasurer – do not want prospective purchasers to compete on price. They want them to compete on four non-financial variables, which will greatly complicate the sale process.

All offers must include at least the following set of “public benefits”: (1) at least 50 percent of the timberland must remain open for public recreational use even after it is transferred to new owners; (2) 120-foot no-cut buffers on each side of fish-bearing streams must be left permanently untouched; (3) at least 25% of the older stands of trees must be left standing; and (4) at least 40 full-time jobs annually must be provided over the first ten years of ownership.

If there are multiple offers at the same mandated price, the tie will be broken by the strongest package of these public benefits. But that turns the process into a beauty contest. There is no objective way to compare an offer with 130-foot buffers with another offer that has only 120-foot buffers but proposes to employ 50 people each year rather than 40.

Public school students, parents, and employees deserve to receive fair market value for surrendering this asset. An “appraisal” is not the same as market value.

Evidence of this is everywhere. For example, almost everyone selling a home in Portland right now knows that the final sale price is likely to be higher than the listed price, because the Portland market is red-hot.

When the State of Indiana decided to lease the operations of the state turnpike to a private vendor in 2006, the “experts” estimated that it might be worth $2 billion. In fact, the winning bid from a Spanish-Australian consortium was $3.8 billion.

In 1984 the Portland Trail Blazers famously appraised the value of Michael Jordan to be lower than that of Sam Bowie. Subsequent events proved that the Trail Blazers had made one of the worst talent “appraisals” in pro sports history.

And just last month, a Chinese investor paid $3.4 million for one lunch with investor Warren Buffet (the purchaser gets to bring seven of his closest friends). How many of us, if asked on the street, would have appraised a single lunch with anyone as being worth $3.4 million?

But that’s the point of competitive bidding. Only the market knows the value of an asset. If even one person in the world is willing to pay millions for a single lunch, then that is exactly what the lunch is worth. If we don’t allow a market to set the price of Elliott State Forest timberland, we’ll never know its true value.

There is a simple fix to this problem. The Land Board should require that all offers for the Elliott Trust Lands include the mandated four public benefits, and then select the highest responsible bid.

School beneficiaries such as local school boards, employee associations, and parent booster groups should prepare now to sue the Land Board for breach of fiduciary trust if the Board continues with its absurd plan to give away Common School Trust Lands without competitive bidding. The appraised value announced on July 27 should be the starting point for competitive offers, not the end point.


A version of this article originally appeared in The Oregonian on July 14, 2016.

Why is the State Land Board selling the Elliott State Forest without competitive bidding?

In August 2015 the Oregon Land Board (Governor Kate Brown, Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins, and Treasurer Ted Wheeler) voted to sell roughly 82,450 acres of “Common School Trust Lands” within the Elliott State Forest because the state was losing money on those lands. Under Oregon law, School Trust Lands are supposed to make money for schools.

Given the ongoing losses, the Board reached the correct decision. Unfortunately, the sale protocol adopted by the Board is bizarre. The Board will establish a price for the land based on appraisals, and that will be the only price accepted. If you dare to offer $1 more, your offer will be declared “non-responsive.”

How can this make sense when Trust Lands serve an as an endowment for public schools? Trustees of any endowment have a fiduciary obligation to make decisions in the best interest of beneficiaries. The 82,450 acres of timberland being sold in the Elliott may be worth anywhere from $300 million to more than $400 million, but no one knows the exact value. Setting a non-negotiable price through appraisals means that potentially vast amounts of money could be left on the table.

Anyone who has been to a charity fundraising auction knows that the estimated value of something frequently turns out to be wrong—by a lot. That’s why we have competitive bidding.

The same is true in business transactions. Just last month, for example, Alaska Airlines bought Virgin Airlines for $2.6 billion, or $57/share—a price that was 80% higher than what the shares had been trading for prior to the sale.

Instead of bidding on price, the Land Board plans to pick a winning offer based on which prospective purchaser has the best package of “public benefits.” The minimum level of benefits has been defined by the Board as the following: (1) at least 50 percent of the purchased timberland must remain open for public recreational use; (2) no-cut buffers of 120 feet on each side of fish-bearing streams must be left permanently untouched; (3) at least 25% of the older stands of trees must be left intact; and (4) at least 40 full-time jobs annually must be provided over the first 10 years of new ownership.

These benefits may have merit, but using them as the way to choose the best offer will turn the sale protocol into a beauty contest. There is no objective way to compare an offer including 130-foot buffers with another offer that has only 120-foot buffers but proposes to employ 50 people each year rather than 40.

This protocol is going to create a nightmarish decision process for the three Land Board members, while violating their fiduciary obligations to schools.

There is an easy solution to this problem: Simply make the four public benefits a minimum requirement, and then pick the highest-price offer meeting those requirements. Maybe we’ll find out that the Elliott is worth a lot more than it’s been appraised for.

Anyone who works at a public school, serves on a school board, or has a child enrolled at a public school should be outraged at this giveaway.


This article originally appeared in the Salem Statesman Journal on April 30, 2016.

What Can Be Learned from Portland’s Smart Growth Experience?

The annual “New Partners for Smart Growth” conference opens in Portland on Thursday, February 11. “Smart Growth” refers to an amorphous planning theory favoring (or requiring) high urban densities, mixed-use development, and non-auto travel.

Given Portland’s status as the Mecca for this philosophy, it’s likely that the conference will be a love fest of planners, activists, and consultants celebrating the “Portland story.” Unfortunately, the reality of Smart Growth is a lot less glamorous than the PowerPoint slides.

For example, Portland has been a leader in light rail construction for over 30 years, but it hasn’t changed how people travel. According to the Portland City Auditor, in 1997 – when Portland had only one light rail line terminating in Gresham – 12% of Portland commuters took transit.

In 2015, transit use was still only 12% of commuter travel, despite (or because of) a multi-billion rail construction campaign that added a streetcar loop, a new commuter rail line, and five new light rail lines. During that era bus service was reduced by 14%, and buses still account for two-thirds of daily riders.

On the land-use front, planners have succeeded in their goal of densifying the region; but there was collateral damage. Due to density regulations, buildable land is now scarce, driving up the cost of housing. This is incentivizing many property owners to tear down nice homes and replace them with out-of-scale apartment buildings – many with no off-street parking. Some Portland Progressives who supported this planning agenda now wonder why their formerly pleasant neighborhoods are flooded with automobiles.

In the suburbs, most new projects simply have no backyards. It’s hard to remember now, but in 1995, the average lot size for a new home in Washington County was 15,000 square feet. This provided plenty of room for kids.

Those days are over. In the new “South Hillsboro” development, which will be built out over the next decade, most dwellings will be attached units on tiny lots. The larger parcels – averaging only 7,000 square feet – are being marketed as lots for “executive housing.”

Nice backyards that were once common are now only available to the rich, due to the artificial scarcity of land that Smart Growth calls for.

The Portland conference will feature trips to “transit-oriented developments” (TODs) like Orenco Station in Hillsboro. Orenco features a housing project with passive solar design along with urban-scale density near light rail, but both elements required large public subsidies. It would be difficult to replicate those projects elsewhere.

Perhaps the most disappointing fact about regional planning in Portland is that very little effort is being made to learn from the experience. Since 2008, at least four audit reports by the Metro Auditor have criticized agency planners for this failure.

In the 2010 report, the Auditor found that “Metro’s processes to plan transportation projects in the region were linear when they should have been circular. After a plan was adopted, the update process began anew with little or no reflection about the effectiveness of the previous plan or the results of the performance measures they contained.”

It’s clear that this was not an accident; it was by design. As the Auditor noted, “systems to collect data and measure progress towards these outcomes were not in place.”

No measurement means no accountability. That’s not a smart way to plan a region.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Not One Dollar More

The State of Oregon will sell 84,000 acres of the Elliott State Forest by March 2017, in order to make money for public schools.

However, the lands will not be auctioned to the highest bidder. In fact, they will not be auctioned at all. The State will set the price based on appraisals, and purchasers will pay that price.

If there is more than one offer, the tie will be broken based on which buyer promises the most “public benefits.” Those benefits are defined as public access to at least 50% of the property; preservation of old growth timber; protection of stream corridors; and the guarantee of at least 40 jobs for 10 years.

Evaluating competing offers promising “more jobs” versus “wider stream corridors” will be entirely subjective—in essence, a beauty contest. At a meeting last week for prospective buyers, the Department of State Lands was asked about the possibility of simply offering a higher bid. They responded that if someone bid even one dollar over the appraised value, it would be deemed a “non-responsive” offer and rejected.

Prospective buyers were stunned. The timber is likely to be worth somewhere between $300 million and $450 million, and a high bid could really help schools. But for the State Land Board, price doesn’t matter.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Portland Worries About Homelessness, While Metro Makes Housing Less Affordable

The Portland City Council has decided to allocate $20 million to solve a perceived crisis with “homelessness” and another $67 million to subsidize “affordable housing.”

As usual with Portland spending, these numbers were pulled out of thin air; they have no connection to an actual strategy. If the Council had done some thinking, it might have realized that Portland’s housing crisis is the result of many factors, including ongoing government policies that are making things worse.

First and foremost is excessive government regulation. Any private investor trying to build more housing faces a gauntlet of barriers, including planning requirements, inspections, density mandates, parking restrictions, environmental overlays, and punitive fees. Many of these interventions serve no purpose other than to ensure that top-down mandates of planners replace market preferences. All of them impose delays and add costs to construction.

To make matters worse, Metro is recommending that no new land be added to the regional Urban Growth Boundary. When this recommendation is finalized next month, it will ensure that the already-high price of buildable land continues to increase.

Government is not the sole cause of the housing crisis; poor decision-making also causes many individuals to become homeless. But deliberately creating a shortage of buildable land through government regulation guarantees that the affordable housing crisis will get worse.

 

What They Say vs. What They Do: How PCC Students Really Get to School

By Anna Mae Kersey, Emma Newman, and Thomas Tullis

TriMet is considering the construction of a light rail line from Portland State University to Tualatin, at a cost of roughly $2 billion.

One routing option still on the table is to run the train down Barbur Boulevard, then build a tunnel to the Sylvania campus of Portland Community College. The tunnel would add $244 million in capital cost. It also would require moving several dozen homes and take at least two years to build.

To put this in perspective, for the price tag of the proposed tunnel, one could purchase approximately 23,094 Teslas, build 41 aerial trams like the one at OHSU, buy two brand-new cars per PCC-Sylvania student, or pay for 117,200,000 Uber rides from the PCC Sylvania campus to downtown Portland.

Such a hefty sum might be justified if there were a need for “high-capacity” transit at PCC-Sylvania, but such a need does not exist.

According to survey data released by PCC, 58 percent of Sylvania students drive to class, while 32 percent take shuttles or buses. However, travel surveys are notoriously unreliable, in large part because people tend to underreport their reliance on auto travel.

To correct for this, Cascade Policy Institute collected field data by going to PCC-Sylvania and counting every trip to and from the campus, at various times and on various days. The field observations tell a different story. Roughly 84 percent of students drove and only 15 percent took TriMet or the PCC shuttles during our observations, which covered nearly 7,000 trips.

During final exams week, when students really had to be in class, the split was even more skewed: 89% traveled via private automobile.

The difference between what students said in a survey and how they actually traveled is significant because it shows that college students are much less willing to forego cars and take transit than is commonly thought. For TriMet, this means the proposed light rail line likely will not have the increase in ridership that planners assume.

We can also learn from experience elsewhere, because one other PCC campus has been directly served by light rail for the past five years. The PCC Willow Creek campus is a single building located directly next to a light rail station on the west side. This is unlike the spread-out PCC Sylvania campus, where students would still have to walk a significant distance from the proposed light rail station to get to their classes.

Despite the convenience of light rail stopping right at the front door, at Willow Creek the field observations showed that 80 percent of students drove, 14 percent took light rail, and 5 percent took the bus. This is only a slight decrease in automobile use compared with Sylvania. Is it really worth spending $244 million to service a suburban college campus with light rail for this tiny difference?

Driving is the preferred method of travel for the majority of college commuters because it offers versatility that caters to their complicated schedules both in and out of the classroom. It seems that the complexities of student lives and lack of demand for transit are being overlooked in this decision.

PCC-Sylvania is already served by a rich mixture of college shuttles and TriMet buses. Those options are currently underutilized. Thus, there is no reason to spend $244 million and disrupt the serenity of this neighborhood to build a light rail tunnel.

Anna Mae Kersey, Emma Newman, and Thomas Tullis are research associates at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.

Restore the Trust in State Trust Lands

By Anna Mae Kersey

When Oregon joined the Union, the U.S. Congress granted it control of State Trust Lands, public lands managed by the state to support public education in perpetuity through the Common School Fund.

Currently, 96 percent of Oregon’s remaining State Trust Lands show no signs of generating revenue within five to ten years. The primary reason for this is restrictions placed on the Elliott State Forest, transforming these lands from profit producing assets into deficit inducing liabilities.

The Common School Fund itself, which is invested by the State Treasurer and the Oregon Investment Council, consistently exceeds performance expectations. Over a three-year period ending in 2014, it earned a 13.25 percent average return on investment as opposed to the 0.1 percent earned by the State Trust Lands.

There can be no public trust in an agreement where one side fails to deliver. As such, there can be no trust in Oregon’s State Trust Lands. In the upcoming August State Land Board meeting, it is imperative that board members look to the past to prepare for the future.

There is already a precedent of transferring lands to private ownership in order to maintain the state’s fiduciary responsibility to the fund. The board needs to sell lands that are costing the fund and future generations, so that the trust in State Trust Lands can be restored.

Anna Mae Kersey is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. She recently graduated from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia with an Honors B.A. in Philosophy and is pursuing a Master’s of Liberal Arts at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Does PCC-Sylvania Need a Light Rail Tunnel?

By Emma Newman

Metro and TriMet are jointly considering an expansion of the light rail system to PCC-Sylvania in SW Portland, by building a tunnel to the campus from Barbur Boulevard. The tunneling would have a significant impact on the surrounding neighborhood, forcing many homeowners to move away while still requiring PCC students to make a long walk to their classes.

Currently, 84 percent of PCC students drive to school, even with the campus being served by both shuttles and busses. If this tunnel plan is chosen, Oregon taxpayers will be saddled with paying half of the two billion dollar cost.

When asked at what point the costs of building new transit outweigh the benefits, a Metro spokesperson responded that “transportation planning is more an art than a science.”

An alternative plan under consideration is a rapid bus line which would also service PCC-Sylvania. While this would be about half the cost and much less inconvenient than digging a rail tunnel, it still would be a response to a need that doesn’t exist.

Despite the low ridership of current transit options, transportation officials continue to follow the mantra of “if you build it they will come,” rather than follow the laws of supply and demand.

Emma Newman is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. She is a student at George Fox University, where she is studying Economics and Computer Science.

If the state loses $1.4 billion for schools and nobody notices, did it really happen?

The Oregon legislature is in the midst of its biennial quest for more public school funding. Advocates are so desperate for cash that they are even proposing that the state seize gift cards as “abandoned property” if some portion of the original value remains unused after three years.

While grabbing gift cards is certainly creative, it will not materially affect school funding. A much more lucrative source is available if we have the political will: selling the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest (ESF) and placing the net receipts (likely to be $400 million or more) into the Common School Fund, where investments typically earn 8% or more annually.

In fact, the failure of the state to sell the Elliott 20 years ago when it was first proposed has already cost schools at least $1.4 billion in lost value. It’s a mystery as to why school advocates are willing to accept this.

The Elliott is located on the South Coast near Reedsport. By law, most of the timber must be managed to maximize revenue for the “common schools.” Unfortunately, over the past 20 years, timber harvesting on the ESF has plummeted due to environmental litigation. As a result, in 2013 the state actually lost $3 million on the Elliott, then lost more money in 2014. These losses drain money from public schools.

This disaster could have been avoided. In 1994, the state commissioned a study of ways to increase net revenues on the Elliott. The consultant reported that “selling the ESF would be the most effective way to maximize CSF revenues.”

The State Land Board (made up of the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the State Treasurer) considered selling the Elliott in 1996 but rejected the idea. That decision locked the state into a revenue death spiral on the forest.

The extent of that loss was quantified by the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) in a report published last November. The chart below summarizes the results:

Simulated Prior Elliott Sale versus Actual Elliott Management

 

Simulation Simulated endowment in 2014

Simulated distribution over time period

Estimated residual land value Total value over time period
(Actual) managed for timber since 1995 $1.4 billion $0.7 billion $0.4 billion $2.5 billion
Sale in 1995 and invested proceeds $2.5 billion $1.4 billion $0 $3.9 billion
Buyout in 2005 and invested proceeds $1.8 billion $0.8 billion $0 $2.6 billion

Source: Oregon Department of State Lands, November 2014

The failure to sell the ESF in 1995 cost schools $1.4 billion in lost value. That is a very large number, not only in absolute terms, but compared with public losses elsewhere that have resulted in resignations and political scandal.

For example, the U.S. Congress is investigating the disappearance of $305 million in federal funds spent on Cover Oregon. At the state level, the Oregon Department of Justice has just opened a civil and criminal investigation into the $11.8 million of energy tax credits issued for an array of solar panels installed by several state universities.

Yet the loss of $1.4 billion in school funding seems to be uninteresting to school advocates. No lawsuits have been filed, and no investigations are underway.

The legislature should insist that the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Treasurer turn the Elliott from a liability into an asset, as required by law. Selling the entire forest is the best option for doing that.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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