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Friday, March 14, 2014

Mayor Charlie Hales' State of the City Speech! The Live Blog!

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 12:14 PM

Mayor Charlie Hales was still pretty much brand-new to the job when he gave his first State of the City speech last April. He brought his famed tool belt, because he was still telling us how much of a builder he was going to be.

But he hadn't set about building things yet. He hadn't fully navigated the politics of a horrible budget. He yet hadn't waded into sidewalk enforcement and the related conversation of homelessness—a bedeviling subject for his predecessors and something that consumed his office's time and energy last summer and fall. And he hadn't been accused, yet, of being too quiet on one of his signature policy goals: police reform.

A year later, though, and some would say they're still waiting to see something more than blueprints. They may have to keep waiting. Hales is expected to echo last year's "back to basics" theme—still laying out plans for helping pay for parks and streets and sidewalks, working harder on police reforms, and talking about a campaign to take water and sewer oversight away from city hall.

Hales, thanks to an improving economy, may have some better news to share about the city's budget. But not much better. Our surplus, once $9 million, may dwindle to nothing. Which is still better than cuts. Hales will also have a chance to better and more strongly define his approach to homelessness—a message muddied last year through the use of harsh words (harsh enough to inflame his colleagues on the council) like "lawlessness" and "epidemic."

The grandees have packed the ballroom at the Governor Hotel, as expected. Before Hales goes off, they're all busy stuffing their faces. We'll be updating once he does! And follow @portlandmercury on Twitter!

1:14: A Teamster raises the Columbia Rivers Crossing and Interstate 5 expansion project. It's the last question. Hales points "deficits" in our own streets, like Powell—which is in lousy shape but needs state money. Hales clearly sees an opportunity for freeing up CRC cash for those other more tangible and necessary projects.

Thanks for reading!

1:12: Someone asks about a tourist tax. Hales says he and Novick are deep in a "focused" effort to raise cash for transportation. "We're not chumps and we want to see a specific proposal from the government." He wants something specific. Some "specifics" may need to go before voters, some may not need to. "Be specific and do what you said you were going to do."

Right after, Joe Esmonde from the electrical workers union, called the water district "stupid." And demanded a plan for Hayden Island. Hales said "it's off the table" because the Port didn't like the Planning Commission's ideas for mitigating a new marine terminal. Instead of "recycling the fight" over the port, let's go get underutilized industrial area in shape, Hales says.

1:08: Does the mayor have plan for gang violence in East Portland? Hales mentions years-old meetings of the city's gang violence task force, happening every two weeks. "There's an amazing partnership of people working to prevent gang violence." Part 1 crimes are down, Hales says. "We are holding the line at street-level." His Black Male Achievement Project could help, he says. "Not an original idea," but it could be effective.

1:05: "You gotta know when to fold 'em," Hales says when asked about a PDC writeoff for the Nines hotel. Some things don't pan out. But some do, Hales says. Like the Pearl District! That one totally did!

1:03: Hales says he'll convene West Coast mayors to talk about homelessness. It's a shared subject. Sam Chase, Metro councilor, asks about priorities for the region. Hales says "transportation funding." The state needs to deed over state highways to the city and pay for fixes. We need a higher federal gas tax. "We are way behind in infrastructure, and the more we wait the more it costs. And it costs in lives."

1:00: People in South Africa, he says, watch Portlandia. South Africa was hosting him at a climate change conference, and that's another opportunity for him to thank Sam Adams for something—rare public appreciation for his predecessor. And then in two years we'll have an international track meet that "aligns with our DNA." Gail Shibley, Hales' chief of staff, gets a thanks.

This world recognition, Hales says, can't come at the expense of us being grounded and livable. This is also the first mention of Superfund cleanup of the Willamette—but not by name. And he's ending the thing with another mention of Pericles. Lofty. And apparently worthy of a lengthy standing ovation. Questions from the crowd are next.

12:56: But this growth is missing people of color, Hales says. He also nods to SEIU, whom he's been close to. Meanwhile, city unions are threatening a strike vote amid impasses over city contracts. This is a way to get into an announcement of his Black Male Achievement Project. "It will take all of you in this room in your personal and formal capacities to make this work." More details, however, are yet to come.

Hales then moved on to talk about the Knight challenge Oregon Health and Sciences University is pursuing for cancer research. "I think it'll put Oregon on the map..."

And then it's Google Fiber. "We are the place, and this is the time."

12:52: From public safety to the economy: "Tourism is at a record high." Our office space vacancy is low and the market is going boffo. AirBnB is moving to Portland—some 160 staffers who will be new and local hires. (Strikes me these are arguments against discussions of public disorder and danger downtown.) A company in Lents that makes granola bars is being recognized. It's very Portland. And let's not forget Daimler's expansion on Swan Island. "These people are growing here because of the quality of our place."

12:50: On police use of force, he gets daily reports about what officer are doing, and he praised them for "great restraint." He tells a story of a man cutting himself and threatening to jump. An officer got him a sandwich and fries, and "something changed, a connection was established." The man got treatment. He's also talking about a "sketchy creeper" who was a "really dangerous felon"—the man killed in this week's police shooting. He said Kelly Vern Swoboda fired at Officer John Romero "again and again and again," something we haven't heard in in official reports to date. He gets a large round of applause for Romero, thanking him.

12:47: "The police bureau isn't waiting around, and neither am I," to implement federal reforms. He's giving them credit for marginal improvements in recruiting and diversity. "Sixty percent are people of color or women." He's also talking up community policing between the cops and folks in apartment complexes in New Columbia and in Cully and other NE neighborhoods.

12:45: "Shouldn't we make it the best MLK Boulevard in the country?" Hales says the Trader Joe's will help that. "We should try." Tepid applause for that idea. It's still controversial. His meeting with community leaders on Monday of this week, he said, also produced a deal for affordable housing, $20 million more over five years, and community partnerships. "Let's make this a win-win deal for everybody."

12:43: Hales promises that a plan to drop an urban renewal district around Portland State, and put $1 billion worth of property back on the regular tax rolls, won't affect the city's promise to help PSU. His wife works there, after all: "All the locks in my house will have been changed."

12:42: On water and sewer rates, he says, "the press has had a field day" picking on small-bore, ill-conceived projects (the Rose Festival HQ and Water House among them) that aren't tied to rate increases. Those are because the big pipe and other mandates.

He's also slagging this year's proposed water district measure, calling it a "costly and sinister scheme. Really we need yet another layer of government in Multnomah County". He says they'll send you bills, lien your houses, cut your trees down, dig trenches, etc. "Sound extreme? That's because it actually is. That description is not hyperbole."

12:38: Now comes talk about $1.7 million in new surplus money to spend on homeless families and people of color. That money went on the table after criticisms about an emphasis on "lawlessness" and messaging. Hales says it's evidence of the city's compassion.

12:36: Hales reminds us all, in a room mostly filled with white people, that Oregon was founded as a state that explicitly banned African Americans. "We need to own this history and our own harsh realities while we write a new history," Hales says—saying equity conversations aren't just about neighborhoods anymore, though they matter, but also new ethnic diasporas trying to fit in.

This feels like an oblique reference to the Portland Development Commission's issues with the Trader Joe's sought for NE MLK and Alberta. Hales is praising a PDC meetup meant to link African American students to tech jobs and training.

12:33: Yes, Hales campaigned on schools, even though the mayor's power over our local districts is soft, at best. He's taking partial credit for gathering Oregon mayors and lobbying the legislature for $1 billion in new education funding. He's also now thanking Sam Adams for the arts tax, calling it a "good idea." I think he might not say the same privately. Some $3.5 million has gone out, Hales says—but I should note that arts groups aren't getting as much as they'd hoped.

12:31: "We will put a funding measure before the city council and if necessary before the voters before the end of the year," Hales says, acknowledging that he may not risk voters' rejection, before veering from transportation to East Portland parks.

12:29: He's lamenting that repeat audits chastising our bad street-paving hadn't been heeded... and that they could have been used for filling potholes. The city was down to paving 30 miles a year in a 5,000 mile system. His pledge last year was to repave 100 miles... as of Wednesday, he says, we're at 83 miles... and then seek new transportation revenue. The reality is, whether he mentions it or not, is that there isn't enough money to pay for basics live maintenance but also for transportation innovations and safety improvements.

12:27: Remember the basics? Charlie's says he's "guilty" of being interested in "the boring stuff." Balancing the books, paving the streets, teaching kids, and living progressively. He's diving right in with a mention of his push to clamp down on spending after taking office last year. Layoffs were small, 25, but 150 positions were gone. And he's right that he didn't make general fund cuts to the safety net. This bit is a chance to thank city commissioners and make them stand. He's also mentioning the surplus—and his prudent decision to pay down debt with some of it. On talks with the county last year, he compared the process, under former Chair Jeff Cogen, to two people passive-aggressively ducking a check at a restaurant. This year's gone much better—interim Chair Marissa Madrigal announced last month that a deal is in place to parse a list of programs traditionally shared by both jurisdictions. "That's they way it ought to be," Hales says.

12:20: Charlie's on... and he's quoting Pericles of Athens.

12:19: An outline of the thing, given out to reporters, says the speech will start with the budget, and then head over to transportation, parks, schools (the arts tax!), equity, housing, trust, urban renewal and NE MLK, and a bunch of stuff involving the police bureau, before closing with jobs, Google Fiber, and something called the "Black Male Achievement Project."

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