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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Saltzman Gets Away, Fish Gets Punchy, and Right 2 Dream Too Gets $846,000

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Notice the large gap between Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz and the rest of the council, at the Google presser just after the Right 2 Dream Too vote Saltzman missed.
  • denis c. theriault
  • Notice the large gap between Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz and the rest of the council, at the Google presser just after the Right 2 Dream Too vote Saltzman missed.
Rather than voting against a million-dollar land deal that would see Right 2 Dream Too paid $846,000 by developers to drop a plan to relocate to a Pearl, Commissioner Dan Saltzman ducked out of council chambers this morning for what he joked was a "non-fat latte."

No, he wasn't actually getting caffeinated. But as a "courtesy" to Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mayor Charlie Hales, Saltzman refrained from once again restating his "well-known opposition" to the deal. (Saltzman spoke up with several questions during what was supposed to be a victory party, pushing the vote off another week.) And with Saltzman gone, the deal was approved unanimously, with some reservations, and will take effect immediately.

Fritz, who took up the Old Town homeless rest area's cause upon becoming development services commissioner last year, spoke first in savoring a hard-fought win. She simply thanked Right 2 Dream Too, the more than two-year-old rest area for the homeless on NW 4th and Burnside, for doing its work.

"You are providing a safe shelter at a safe site," she said.

But it was Commissioner Nick Fish who maybe spoke loudest—spending a few minutes laying into Saltzman's opposition (if not quite by name) before expressing his support for a deal he also seemed to damn, at times, with faint praise.

Fish said it was childish to punish Right 2 Dream Too out of distaste for its current landlord, Michael Wright, a convicted felon (who reputedly took a murder rap for his stepfather) who tilted with the city about the future of his land after code violations forced him to demolish his adult bookstore. Wright stands to make some money by selling his land to the Portland Development Commission.

"I think as adults we can make that distinction," Fish said.

Then he hit back at a suggestion that the council was letting Right 2 Dream Too jump the line without factoring it into the mission and/or budget of the housing bureau that Saltzman oversees (after inheriting it from Fish last year). He brought up two projects—for foster kids, a passion of Saltzman's—that were funded and built outside the housing bureaus' mission. At Saltzman's insistence.

"That's just utter nonsense," Fish said of concerns about working within bureau lines. "We have a rich history of jumping the line."

Fish also seemed to dismiss concerns that a plan for how Right 2 Dream Too might spend all that money hasn't been worked out yet. He said he was told years ago by the city's most senior city commissioner (Saltzman), before a transportation policy vote that set the city up to fund light-rail to Milwaukie, that such arrangements are how city business gets done. "We set the vision" and the details get worked out, Fish said he was told.

It's not that Fish didn't also have his doubts about the Right 2 Dream Too deal. Despite saying yes, he kept mentioning things like "risk" and "failure" and how "there's no guarantee it will be successful"—often enough that Fritz's smile kept getting thinner and thinner.

He said it was a measure of a council willing to do more than tread water and actually attempt to be innovative. It's an interesting shift.

The city, when Fish was housing commissioner, hadn't done much work with Right 2 Dream Too, because its model of using tents and volunteers didn't fit with the city's current housing and homeless plan. That plan emphasizes rent-assistance, reaching out to targeted minorities, and a focus on longterm housing construction. And I still got the sense Fish saying yes almost as much because he appreciated the bad politics that might have been spawned by his saying no in the face of remarkable persistence by Fritz and Hales.

"I recognize we have a lot of playing out of position and there is plenty of time for a debrief about what went right and what went wrong," Fish said. "I refuse to say no to a deal that has the promise of providing a better circumstance to a small group of people who have organized and said 'help us.'"

Hales, for his part, thanked Right 2 Dream Too for its "patient good faith," while also giving a nod to the Pearl developers, Dike Dame and Homer Williams, who came up with the money to make the deal work.

In purchasing the Pearl parking lot earmarked for Right 2 Dream Too for $142,000 and giving over $846,000 to the group to finance its relocation somewhere else, those developers found a way to buy themselves out of a long court fight. (They also saved some money on parking contracts with the city—a nice bonus of a transaction that took shape only because of Right 2 Dream Too's potential relocation.)

"Thank you Dike Dame and your partners for, instead of spending money on lawyers, spending money on a real solution," Hales said. "This city appreciates the way you responded."

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