The Portland City Council today delivered on another of Mayor Sam Adams' squeeze-it-in-while-he-still-can priorities, approving a still-controversial plan for parking meters and parking permits in Northwest Portland that Adams has billed as an end to the neighborhood's "toxic" parking wars.
Today's vote was not, however, a unanimous vote—signaling that the fight over parking in Northwest might not be as solved as Adams and his supporters would suggest. Commissioner Nick Fish "respectfully," as he put it on the dais, simply voted "no." With Dan Saltzman out sick, that left Adams with a bare-minimum coalition including his ally, Randy Leonard, and a cagey Amanda Fritz who used her leverage as the third vote to wedge in some amendments that may, in fact, allow the next council to reopen the issue.
Fish's dissent, however, maybe especially for council watchers, was particularly notable. For one, it came without the lengthy conditionals and rhetoric that Fish normally appends to his votes, on either side of an issue. And the fact that he was the lone dissenter also was rare: Fish will usually work back-channels to shift a policy so he can find some way to justify getting onto the winning coalition.
I caught up with Fish at the end of a long day of meetings and asked him if he might care to elaborate a bit more. He did.
"I'm a realist," he said. "The mayor had his three votes. So all that was left was for me to state my objection." But without, he told me in as many words, publicly raining on the mayor's parade.
Essentially, two things weighed on him: process and substance. After a contentious meeting last week, he'd have liked more time to find a real truce on the issue, something the condensed year-end legislative calendar pushed by Adams isn't allowing. He also said he worried that just declaring an issue solved won't make it so.
Invoking one of the metaphors used in the discussion—"peace treaty"—Fish took it to a darker place than Adams had, something he said he couldn't escape after hearing speaker after speaker last week register complaints.
"The Treaty of Versailles officially ended World War I," Fish said. "But it unofficially started World War II. My concern has been, if we're to finally resolve this issue, let's make sure we can achieve lasting peace."
Fish made sure to say he "respects the time" his colleagues invested in the issue. And he also said he thought Fritz's amendments "strengthened" what was approved. And he's right that the proposal isn't perfect. As Leonard pointed out when giving his yes vote to Adams ("It is what it is," he said), this plan does whiff on a major element of parking in Northwest: providing a real amount of off-street parking.
As in parking garages, which neighbors have long resisted. Even though they'd make it so anyone visiting the neighborhood wouldn't have to spend 25 minutes navigating a bunch of busy one-way streets, deciding to chance the vain hope you might find a spot or just go somewhere else where you won't have to fight so hard to park.
Fritz's amendments are subtly important because they provide several checkpoints where the next council can decide things aren't working and work with neighbors to make big changes. In fact, that "bridge" to the next council might be just as important as the one Adams says he built between residents (who like his plan) and businesses (who don't like his plan).
That wasn't enough for Fish, who said the complaints about the vote feeling rushed and hasty resonated and that the possibility of another crack at the issue isn't the same as a guarantee.
"I remain convinced we would be better taking a fresh look at this issue next year," he said, "rather than just getting something passed."
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