A quiet Portland City Council vote this morning for a Southwest Portland sidewalk project came with a reassuring guarantee for another sidewalk project—near a strip of SE 136th Avenue where a 5-year-old girl was killed by a car—that the city's transportation director proposed cutting to pay for more street paving.
Commissioner Steve Novick announced he was giving his vote on the SW project only because he was "confident" the $1.2 million project on SE 136th (which, for the record, is merely close to where the girl died) would also be funded. After the meeting, he elaborated on his assertion.
"I'm confident we'll have the votes to ensure that project will go forward," he told me. "I have already spoken about this issue with at least two of my colleagues."
But don't expect this to be a 3-2 decision. And it won't be just about the sidewalk work that transportation director Toby Widmer wanted to red-line to help meet Mayor Charlie Hales' mandate to pave 100 more miles of road this year. Expect some fixes outside that planned project.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who supports the project and said he hasn't spoken with Novick, invoked a public budget hearing last week where the family of Morgan Maynard-Cook and others, including East Portland State Representative Shemia Fagan, offered raw and tearful testimony about the neglect of the neighborhood.
"The mayor is already there."
Meanwhile, Commissioner Nick Fish tells me that not only has the mayor's office agreed to restore the planned sidewalk project but that it's also agreed to find money for immediate safety fixes on the stretch of road where the girl was killed.
"I think they'll go hand in glove," Fish says.
The change-up will force Widmer back to the drawing board for some of the paving money he'd hoped to free up. Hales had been ambivalent about killing the project but hadn't made a decision as of last week.
The new stance comes after sustained pressure from neighbors and community groups and lawmakers like East Portland State Representative Shemia Fagan—an illustration of the political struggles Hales faces as he delivers on a campaign promise to refocus on street maintenance while also seeking unpopular but ongoing solutions to the city's budget deficit.
“Toby Widmer did what the mayor asked him to do: Sharpen the pencil; be creative," says Dana Haynes, Hales' spokesman, responding to questions about the planned sidewalk project. "Some of his proposals are worth pursuing. But as we’ve all heard the mayor say: We’re not pursuing that one.”
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