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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

BREAKING: City Offers Right 2 Dream Too a New Site Under Broadway Bridge Ramp

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Tue, Aug 27, 2013 at 11:18 AM

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Commissioner Amanda Fritz, working with Mayor Charlie Hales and the Portland Development Commission, is working to find Old Town homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too a new home beneath the Broadway Bridge's Lovejoy Street ramp (map)—but a dispute with one of the owners of the group's current site could unravel the complicated deal.

The deal, if reached, would mark a potential breakthrough in a nearly two-year fight in that saw the city declare the vital site a recreational campground and fine its operators and landlords more than $20,000. It would include a tentative agreement to settle a lawsuit filed by Right 2 Dream Too last year.

Several details are still being worked out, including the status of the fines, the cost of providing electricity and water to the proposed new site, and the timing for any move. The proposal calls for the PDC to lease the land—a portion of an odd-shaped parking lot at NW Lovejoy Court and Station Way—to the city for an undetermined amount of money from September to next August. The city council, at the urging of Fritz, would then grant a permit to Right 2 Dream Too. That potential permit would require, among other conditions, a commitment to start discussing, by next June, whether the new site is working well or if another site should be found.

Update 1:10 PM: Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, has clarified that Fritz has been taking the lead on negotiations and that Hales or his staffers have yet to have a full briefing on the plan. The staff expects that to happen tomorrow. Hales, of course, has been out of town since last week. Haynes did say the office was aware of the broad brushes.

"We have not been briefed on the plan. We think that might happen tomorrow," Haynes says.///

But there's been a holdup involving Michael Wright, one of the owners of the current spot at NW 4th and Burnside. Wright wants a promise to be able to host another group of homeless Portlanders on the land, or food carts, in exchange for agreeing to drop the lawsuit (and have the fines he's facing waived).

He says the fines have been in abatement during the negotiation period, but interest continues to be tacked on. Wright says the group would like the city to extend some relief to his economic interests in exchange for their move. Wright has tried and failed to host food carts on the lot, but they're not allowed because it's unpaved.

"I don't care to waive any right to help the homeless at this point," Wright tells the Mercury. "They have not agreed to any alterations or variances that would help the property owners again. I don't want to give a way the only tool that's ever gotten a call from them, which is helping the homeless."

Update 11:28 AM: Fritz says the city has agreed to update its offer by taking out language specifically banning homeless camping on the site, instead offering to allow any legal use. She says the lawyer for Right 2 Dream Too, Mark Kramer, wasn't available so didn't know if Wright would accept that offer.///

Update 12:30 PM: Wright says he was contacted with news of the wording change by Right 2 Dream Too and believes it was spurred by media coverage—and now says "I think the deal will probably move forward"—pending the dotted I's and crossed T's that will turn the tentative agreement with the city into something final. "There's still some things not in writing."///

Since taking over the city's code enforcement and building bureau in June, Fritz has made solving the impasse one of her top priorities. Her calendars show various meetings on the subject over the past few weeks.

"It's giving permission ahead of time instead of seeking forgiveness," Fritz says. "The zoning on the new site is better—and the fact that we can set conditions to make sure it continues to operate as well as it has been.... It's recognizing that this has been a place where people can safely rest."

Right 2 Dream Too has been mulling over the relocation since earlier this month, hashing out concerns that the proposed location wouldn't be as visible as its current home—key for protesting and raising awareness about homelessness issues—and possibly not as easy to manage. The self-run site has flourished on the very prominent corner of NW 4th and Burnside, providing shelter and safe sleep to dozens of homeless Portlanders every night. Spokesman Ibrahim Mubarak did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

"A few of us went to view this site. It has great potential, however it takes away from our visibility," Mubarak wrote to board members on August 12, in an email obtained by the Mercury.

The group and its landlords filed suit in December 2012, arguing the city was incorrectly interpreting its code in fining Right 2 Dream Too. The two sides appeared in court this summer after the city filed a motion asking Multnomah County Judge Karin Immergut to toss the suit, arguing the site's organizers had failed to fully exhaust the city's bureaucratic process of appeals.

The new home for Right 2 Dream Too?
The current site has been criticized by the Portland Business Alliance and other business interests (developer David Gold blamed it for the demise of a PDC-backed deal for a new hostel across 4th, on Burnside), and tolerated by Chinatown dignitaries who find the group quite neighborly but never liked that it sits beneath the Chinatown gate.

Any tentative agreement for a move would come as the Lee Family Association, which represents Chinese Lee families in America and around the world, is planning its national convention in Portland for the first time in 86 years. The convention will be held in the Lloyd Center's Doubletree Hotel starting this Sunday. Gloria Lee Luebke, an Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood activist, says the group normally holds its parade in its host city's Chinatown but decided to hold its Portland parade on the east side.

"In part that's because of Right 2 Dream Too," she said, taking pains to say the organization "maintains a pretty decent place" is "very responsible," and has "participated in the community," including in a recent cleanup effort. But that, in her personal opinion, "the location is inappropriate" given the cultural importance of the gate.

Asked if the the Lee Family Association or any other group put pressure on Fritz's office to broker a deal based on the convention's arrival, she said "I don't think so. That's part of the problem of the culture, being Chinese. There's a tendency to not stand up and speak out."

The city and R2DToo have discussed various other sites in recent weeks. R2DToo at one point looked into moving into a building vacated by Transition Projects.

The site under consideration—a parking lot—does come with its own issues. It's very much out of sight and in an area with little traffic, abutting the north end of the US Postal Service yard. It's hardly a sunny place and gets a fair amount of noise from nearby trains heading past Union Station as well as streetcars passing on the ramp overhead. Car traffic, on the other hand, isn't so audible.

Mubarak wrote earlier this month he's also worried about the portion of the lot R2DToo wouldn't control (Fritz says they've been offered a portion of the lot away from the train tracks). The issue being whether the group would be responsible for people who might be turned away from the rest area but decide nonetheless to camp out right outside it.

But the proposed new site—provided a final agreement emerges and the council approves it—has the benefit of becoming legal. Fritz says it's zoned more flexibly than the current site, which is zoned for commercial uses and requires projects to undergo a historic design review. The proposed site is zoned for "employment," which allows industrial uses as well as group shelters and does not require a design review. Council approval is important, because commissioners have the right to interpret code as they see it.

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