Candidates for City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's seat are lined up at the Multnomah County Building on SE Hawthorne this evening, for a voter forum with the League of Women Voters. City Commissioner Nick Fish is here, too, along with his competitors. But there's no Saltzman, so far.
Questions for candidates for Nick Fish's seat focused on parks, homelessness, dealing better with those with mental health issues, urban renewal, budgets, and low-income housing. The race for this seat is hardly competitive, mainly because Fish, love him or loathe him, has been doing a pretty good job. But there were a few interesting things said:
Bad: Timothy O.Youker said he thinks the Portland Police are doing a "great job."
Good: Walt Nichols said the new Resource Access Center for the homeless is a good thing, but that more beds need to be made available for women. Nichols also said that the creation of "legacy projects" using urban renewal money, "when we can't even afford to sustain our existing government," needs to be reviewed. He also questioned whether the city should be using a bond levy for parks in two years, to build a new headquarters for the bureau. Later, he also asked "how many people here have actually seen the Portland Police work contract with the city?" Only two people raised their hands. "We need more public involvement in these issues," he said.
Wow: Jason Barbour said it pains him to admit that there are a lot of homeless people on the streets of Portland as a "lifestyle choice." "They can make a lot of money standing on a flyover with a cardboard sign and they'd prefer to do that than hand over their social security number and apply for a job," he said.
And begrudgingly wonderful: "I will not compromise on the 30% set-aside for housing," said Fish, on the concept of urban renewal—drawing attention to his efforts, last year, to prevent a baseball stadium being built in Lents.
After half an hour, Saltzman was still not here. Still, time waits for no man! So, the first question: What has Portland gained and lost in the city's investment in PGE Park for Major League Soccer?
"What we have gained is more bonded indebtedness that puts the general fund at risk," said Mary Volm. "That's the fund which pays for police, fire, parks. What we are losing, and I was there seven years ago when we reopened the facility—we have the oldest sports team, the Timbers, and we have PSU football there. We now get MLS soccer there, which is also at risk, when you look at the franchise."
"I don't believe that we will have gained a lot at the end of the day with this deal," said Jesse Cornett. "We will have gained debt. But nobody knows where the Portland Beavers will be next season. We gained the ability to pay $150,000 a year in welfare to the billionaire Paulson family, and both of those things, I think, are wrong."
"I'm not opposed to growth," said Martha Perez. "But it has to be done in a way that benefits the average job seeker."
The next question went to Ed Garren and Spencer Burton—Saltzman still not here—asking what lessons from the North Reach River Plan could be applied to the South Reaches. Neither of them mentioned the North Reach River Plan in their answers.
The next questions, related to urban renewal, went first to Burton, Volm, and Garren. First: How to balance the city's desire for more urban renewal dollars with the challenges the city faces in terms of maintaining basic services?
"A lot of times urban renewal has almost looked like stimulus money," said Burton. "I think a lot of the time, these moneys aren't used wisely. If we're going to use urban renewal money, it should be spent on Portland-designed, Portland-built projects that benefit the people in the area."
"I think the city has played fast and loose with the urban renewal areas," said Volm. "My primary issue in this campaign is getting us back to the essential city services that we're responsible for. Oftentimes in urban renewal areas, things are built without maintenance dollars planned. We're so far behind in maintaining your public infrastructure that we'll never be able to catch up."
"I always appreciate following Mary because we agree on a lot of things," said Garren. "I will go on to say that mental health, addictions, all of these services are funded through the county. Every time the city does urban renewal, it cuts the county off at the knees in terms of being able to do these things. I think we need to take a ten year reprieve from urban renewal, because it's all about property development, and I think there's at least five years to go before we think about any urban renewal projects."
The next question, for Perez and Jesse Cornett: The city is studying adding to the Interstate Corridor to renew Memorial Coliseum. What impact will this have on creating the original urban renewal plan for the neighborhood?
"Memorial Coliseum is located in an area that used to be a diverse neighborhood," said Perez. "And the plan will change the existing plan."
"In this particular situation I'd really have three questions," said Cornett "1.how's this going to impact Portland, overall, are we going to be continuing to squeeze folks out into East Portland? 2.does blight exist, and therefore make it eligible for this project? and 3.does this project have a 30% setaside for housing?"
The next question: How can the city renew its infrastructure?
"The government has resources, but it's a question of where we allocate and prioritize those resources," said Perez. "We can break it down into strategic gobs of action."
"When one day you say we managed to find $20million, and then the next day you say we overspent the budget by $5million, we're really losing faith amongst the voters," said Garren.
The next question: A recent Oregonian article says there's no real check on our water and sewer rates. Do you have any suggestions for an oversight system?
Burton attacked the plans to cover the city's reservoirs. He said the city needs a "champion to keep water rates down. I think we should take it to court so that we have some time to negotiate this."
"We do have the highest sewer rates in the country right now," said Volm. "But at least we're getting the CSO (big pipe) project completed, and it's important for our city. But that said, we have an organization called the PURB, which council doesn't listen to right now. So maybe we need to beef that up. Secondly, when you have savings, you need to put that back into the system. Take care of what we have."
"Sewer rates have gone up 80% in the last decade alone," said Cornett. "And they will go up 7% year on year, and by the way there's no council vote on that. I'd suggest an audit, number two, I think we need council to vote on it any time there's an increase, separate from it being buried in the budget process, and third, until we can approach those two, we should call for a cap on rates."
The next question was on the child sex trade up and down the I-5 corridor.
Burton said we need a coordinated intake center—of the kind being proposed by County Commissioner Diane McKeel. Volm said she'd work on a comprehensive plan that needs to be funded federally.
The next question: What is your view of the recently proposed sidewalk management plan?
"I laud the mayor for working with the downtown business community and others to help find a solution," said Cornett. "But I think the solution that they're going for, both in respect to sit/lie and the work Fish has done on the camping solution is coming up with solutions that seem to lack a soul. I think it's tragic that the debate has focused on you can sit there but not there."
"We wouldn't be dealing with all these if we provided adequate low cost housing," said Garren.
There have been a number of legal claims against the city over actions by Portland Police, but the officers are rarely held accountable. What can be done to hold officers accountable?
"As a former reserve deputy sheriff, I'm the only person up here that's actually gone through training to become a police officer," said Cornett. "And I put together a 6-point plan on police. But a couple of things we need to consider: Better protocol, ongoing performance reports, and I think we, the public, deserves to know what happens in those incidents. As it stands right now, police officers often face little punishment."
"I think there should be quick review," said Burton.
8pm: Saltzman showed up. "I apologize for being late," he said.
"What provisions would you like to see included in the new police union contract?"
"Well, two weeks ago the city passed a new independent police review ordinance," said Saltzman. "I'm also pushing for drug testing in the contract, and also annual performance reviews."
"Let's stop whitewashing the atrocities that are happening in our city," said Perez.
"I believe that police, and to some extent the fire bureaus, do not operate in the same way as the other unions in the city—and that is progressive discipline, that can be upheld," said Volm. "You need to have a progressive discipline in the contract itself. And to me, it was interesting to watch the nose turn up when there was a suggestion of police mental health training. Along with homeless. And the last thing, in addition to drug testing, is psychological testing on an ongoing basis. Stress can do amazing things to an individual."
"I was a consultant to the Los Angeles and Long Beach police departments for six years dealing with these issues," said Garren. "We're talking about a group of people who carry firearms. We had riots in Miami in 1980, in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, and we're about to have a riot here with the homeless and the mentally ill, who are absolutely ready to explode."
There was also a question on parks in East Portland—Saltzman drew on his experience as parks commissioner to get a master plan for the area, and pointed out that his renewal of the childrens' levy "gives extra point to projects east of 82nd Avenue."
The last question was on budget cutting.
Cornett said the $150,000 a year "welfare payment to the Paulsons on their stadium" was a good idea. Plus "not adding education policy coordinators in the mayor's office. And unfortunately this isn't the right time to send the symphony to New York, as has been planned. What the city hasn't done is set money aside, in good times."
Garren said he thinks it "is important to send the symphony to New York," because it advertises the city. "I would ask the unions to go to their rank and file and ask them to take a pay cut and hours cuts, so that we can accommodate the cuts, instead of going around and taking pot shots and sniping people out of their jobs.
Volm said she's worked in the office of management and finance for the last 6 years. "That would be the budget office, Dan, which is where you can get budget information," she said. "Unless we can set aside money on good years, so that we can bridge these services...but I've worked at the city for the last 20 years, and I'd say 70% of the time we were in a cutback mode. We need to be more stable in how we do our budgets."
Burton said he thought it was "inappropriate last year for Dan and Randy Leonard to take a pay raise. I would have set an example by not accepting payment yourself. I thought that would have been the appropriate decision."
Perez said "raising revenue" is the way to go about it, partnering with companies, "Oregon style. Green style."
"Well, I'm pleased to say that I created a rainy day fund in our last fiscal year budget," said Saltzman. "Unfortunately nobody anticipated the level of economic decline we're going through and that has been spent. And I think I've established a clear reputation for keeping an eye on the bottom line. I can't point to a particular program, and things are going to be cut."
Saltzman said the symphony would go to New York "over my dead body."