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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Not Dead Yet: Two City Commissioners Are Going to Tour the Site of That Proposed Propane Terminal Tomorrow

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, May 28, 2015 at 11:43 AM

Proposed site of a $500 million propane terminal
  • Denis C Theriault
  • Proposed site of a $500 million propane terminal

The fate of a $500 million propane terminal proposed in North Portland remains doubtful, but two city commissioners are planning to tour the site where the controversial project would emerge.

Commissioners Nick Fish and Steve Novick are scheduled to visit the Port of Portland's Terminal 6 tomorrow morning, a meeting staffers say has been in the works for weeks—well before Mayor Charlie Hales revealed his surprise decision to reverse course and oppose the massive propane facility.

"This is a visit scheduled over a month, maybe two months, ago for both commissioners to go out and look at the site so they understand the lay of the land," says Jim Blackwood, a staffer in Fish's office. According to his public calendar, Fish plans to be at Terminal 6 from 11 am to 1:30 pm tomorrow.

The propane terminal, proposed by Canadian firm Pembina Pipeline, would serve as a loading point for ships bound for China. Millions of gallons of propane would hauled by train to Portland and stored on port property until they could be offloaded onto outgoing vessels.

Blackwood insists tomorrow's tour is wholly unrelated to a question his boss recently put to the Portland city attorney. Last week, Fish asked for an opinion whether city council is required to consider a zoning change that's one of the only things standing in the terminal's way.

As we've reported, city law is confusing on that point. In April, Portland's Planning and Sustainability Commission formally recommended council make the zoning changes—along with a $6.2 million annual "carbon tax" meant to pacify environmental concerns. For such recommendations, relevant city code dictates "the City Auditor will schedule a public hearing."

Hales' office has said such a requirement doesn't mean city council has to actually hold a hearing. Fish is seeking clarity on that issue.

"This is not about the merits of their proposal," Fish told the Mercury earlier this week. "This is about due process. As an elected city commissioner, my first commitment is to good community process and transparency."

Novick hasn't returned an inquiry about the planned visit to the site, just east of Kelley Point Park, but last week he told activists opposing the terminal that "Pembina is off the table," according to a release from the Climate Action Coalition.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Developers Face Higher Parks Fees Next Year. They Will Pass Them On To You.

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, May 27, 2015 at 1:16 PM


Starting next year, Portland developers will start kicking in more money for city parks than at any time in history. But of course, that money won't come out of their own pockets. New "system development charges" approved by Portland City Council this morning will be passed on to renters and buyers—a fact that didn't sit well with two city commissioners in a somewhat fraught 3-2 vote.

The objections to the charges—at a time when council's been passing updated fee structures for all manner of bureaus without controversy—came for somewhat different reasons.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman, Portland's housing commissioner, couched his strong opposition in the city's fast rising housing prices, and faster rising rents.

"I cannot support this," Saltzman said at this morning's hearing. "We're not taxing developers, we're taxing prospective buyers of housing." That's problematic, he said, particularly for the middle income earners beings priced out of the central city. "Portland is unaffordable for Portlanders of all incomes," Saltzman said, but noted "it seems like the only people talking about middle wage earners these days are the presidential campaigns."

Plus, he noted, voters just renewed a $68 million bond for the parks bureau, and it stands to get millions more in ongoing funding from next year's budget, which council will consider this afternoon.

"I don't see the (funding) crisis," Saltzman said. "This is the wrong move at the wrong time and therefore I vote no."

Commissioner Steve Novick cast the second 'no,' vote—a move he'd long telegraphed—because of a belief Portland should be looking holistically at updating fees for developers, not passing one-off increases.

Novick noted the updated parks fees—aimed at new developments, and intended to ease strain new residents and employees place on the parks system—are more than mere increases, they fundamentally alter the way parks calculates charges.

The city's transportation commissioner, Novick said the same changes, applied to system development charges for road improvements, might be untenable. "I don't think we would make that jump without a long look at housing affordability," he said.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 Budget Bloodbath: Follow Along as the Public Gripes About the Mayor's Budget

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, May 20, 2015 at 6:47 PM


So here's how this works: Every year, the mayor's office releases a budget, and everyone who's interested takes their best shot at changing it to their own ends. Members of the city council are already doing this—pretty amicably, this time around—but tonight it's the public's turn. It's a packed house in council chambers, and sort of like a Price is Right taping in here, with different groups repping their set via placards and t-shirts.

Firefighters' union is out in force, and I'm guessing they're not happy with a suggestion that would keep 26 jeopardized positions, but leave 13 in question next year. There are guys in hi-lighter yellow safety vests, and I'm wondering if they're here on roads. That would be weird, since infrastructure—and in particular Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT)-managed infrastructure—got a lot of shine in Mayor Charlie Hales' budget proposal. Some people across the balcony from me definitely are advocating safer roads, with "Mind the Gap!" signs that I think advocate wider shoulders on the road? (Hard to see.) One contingent is going to be pushing for more money for the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI)

"The council has given the mayor pretty high marks," Commissioner Nick Fish tells the crowd. "I'll let you in on a little secret: If it's already in the budget it's a little harder to take it out. If it's not in the proposed budget... that's especially important."

It's the best budget year of Hales' mayoral tenure, with $49 million on top of the current budget, and $3.7 billion to put toward city services. So far, the knives haven't come out with any real vigor. Will that change tonight?

VOZ Workers Rights Education Project are apparently the guys in the safety vests. They don't want to talk about Hales' budget, but the Portland Development Commission's, which is also up for discussion. They're asking for $30,000 in the PDC budget for help with becoming a "more viable organization." VOZ says it can guarantee $12 an hour for its workers. The city council loves VOZ, and publicly stood by a member of its staff when he was nearly detained by ICE recently. "It's a place people can go," one man says of the day laborers center.

Continue reading »

Planning on Protesting Future Reservoir Votes? Prepare to be Ejected.

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, May 20, 2015 at 1:40 PM


Ever since rowdy reservoir-loving activists helped turn city council chambers into a bizarro barnyard last week, there's been speculation on how officials will curb future outbursts. After all, the council's preliminary May 13 vote to demolish Washington Park's two drinking water reservoirs was merely one in a series of similar decisions on the horizon.

Would city council hold its meetings in a remote location, with testimony also carried out remotely—the public process version of those bulletproof food hatchways you see at some Taco Bells? Or would Mayor Charlie Hales, like his predecessor Sam Adams, eject boisterous people from chambers?

Looks like the latter. The city says its going to enforce its own rules.

"If protesters are disruptive in future meetings, the City will enforce its conduct rules," reads a fresh release from the city's Office of Management and Finance. "People will be warned to stop engaging in disruptive conduct or face expulsion. If they do not stop, they may be subject to future exclusions."

According to the rules OMF attached, disrupting "the normal operation or administration of City business" will earn you a warning from a "Person in Charge" (Hales in this case). Keep acting up, and you'll be excluded from City Hall for a day, or months, or potentially permanently. And Hales' people aren't shy about calling the cops on people with exclusions.

This move, of course, doesn't preclude ugliness. Hales spokesman has said the mayor is reticent to have protestors "dragged off in leg irons so they could have all the video in the world." Is that better or worse than what happened last Wednesday? (Click here and select item 486 for the most absurd council hearing you've ever seen.) Guess we'll find out next week.

Next on the docket? A hearing on Mount Tabor's soon-to-be disconnected reservoirs, scheduled May 28.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Portland City Council Won't Even Consider That Massive North Portland Propane Terminal

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, May 13, 2015 at 10:13 AM

  • Jess Smart Smiley

Mayor Charlie Hales' office has pulled a June 10 hearing over zoning changes that would allow a massive propane terminal in North Portland, with no plans to take up the matter going forward.

Barring intervention from another commissioner, the move effectively ends Pembina Pipeline's plans to build the $500 million terminal at a plot of Port of Portland land on the Columbia River—at least as currently envisioned. The project needs permissions to criss-cross protected beach land with propane piping. Pembina was counting on city council to enact zoning changes to allow that use.

"The mayor is taking the ordinance off the agenda because he doesn't support the proposal," says spokesman Dana Haynes. "That doesn't prohibit any of the commissioners from submitting it. They could, but I don't speak for them."

No commissioner plans to do that, if my discussions with commissioners and staff members hold.

Continue reading »

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mayoral Support or No, Pembina Says It's Coming to North Portland

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, May 7, 2015 at 2:30 PM


Canadian energy giant Pembina Pipeline isn't sweating Mayor Charlie Hales' urgings not to bring a $500 million propane terminal to North Portland. Just hours after activists opposing the deal rejoiced over Hales' assurances the project is "not a winner," the company says it will keep on keepin' on.

"Pembina Pipeline Corporation reaffirms its plans to proceed towards next steps in the development of its proposed Portland Propane Export Terminal Project," the company wrote in a new statement to media. "The Company was disappointed to learn that Mayor Hales of Portland has withdrawn his support for the Project."

The release goes on to re-state Pembina's case for the project, which would be the largest private investment in the city's history. The company says the terminal would be safe (opponents have said the trains carting millions of gallons of propane to the facility could explode with tragic results) and that propane is an environmentally friendly fuel. Hales, in a statement about his newfound opposition, said the company didn't make a case to the public that environmental concerns could be addressed.

Pembina also says the Port of Portland, which has so far been mum about Hales' signals, has "reaffirmed its support of Pembina's Project and will continue working with the Company on the proposed terminal."

And it closes with this: "Pembina is confident that through the upcoming process with the City of Portland, it will gain support to move forward with next steps in the development of the Project."

Continue reading »

Public Process—Nearly Avoided—Just Killed that Proposed North Portland Propane Terminal

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, May 7, 2015 at 10:02 AM

  • Jess Smart Smiley

An enormous propane terminal was nearly allowed to sneak into St. Johns without public process. Now public process has killed it.

The prospects of a $500 million export terminal—proposed by Canadian firm Pembina Pipeline and pushed by the Port of Portland—largely died yesteday, when Mayor Charlie Hales called both the Port and Pembina to let them know he no longer supports the proposal.

This is shocking news. Hales was an early booster for the terminal, which he said would bring cash and jobs to the city. But Hales' office says the public—the very public that, but for a smudge of zoning code, would have been largely left out of weighing in on the project—has turned too far against Pembina's proposal.

"They lost the public opinion in Portland in such a dramatic manner," says Dana Haynes, Hales' chief spokesman. "The letters and phone calls and emails we get ran so far in the anti-propane direction."

Haynes says the mayor has been considering his stance on the propane deal for weeks, and that he finally called Port director Bill Wyatt and Pembina management yesterday to let them know: "This is not going to be a winner."

The mayor's decision was first reported this morning by Willamette Week, which got ahold of an e-mail Wyatt sent to colleagues last night. That e-mail says Hales told Wyatt his newfound opposition lies largely in his hopes for re-election next year. Haynes stopped just short of calling that claim a lie.

"I was in the room during the conversation," he says. "That topic did not come up."

What happens now is unclear. Hales recommended that Pembina withdraw its pipeline proposal, but Haynes said the company asked for time to think about its next move. An inquiry to a company spokesman hasn't been returned. Portland City Council is scheduled on June 10 to consider zoning changes that would have paved the way for the terminal. City Hall staffers were steeling themselves for a "shit show," several told me, but now the drama's gone. Even if the proposal's still live at that point, such a zoning change would almost certainly fail without the mayor's vote.

Pembina's proposal would have meant millions in tax dollars to Portland coffers, but drew sharp criticisms over the perceived hypocrisy of green, climate change-averse Portland shipping huge amounts of fossil fuels overseas. Pembina sought to allay those fears, saying much of the propane wouldn't be burned, just folded into plastic products. It wasn't enough for opponents or for Hales, who found environmental arguments far more persuasive than safety concerns raised about the project.

“I have urged the company to withdraw on the grounds of environmental standards alone," the mayor said in a statement announcing his decision. "And Portlanders’ standards place carbon emissions and climate impact as the No. 1 cause for concern.”

The shifting tide for Pembina is a huge win for the environmental and neighborhood activists who united in opposition to the project, interrupting city council proceedings with a fun bit of theatrics involving giant cardboard heads and mocking up fake re-election posters for "Fossil Fuel Charlie". More meaningful, though, were hours of public testimony against the project at a Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission meeting in early April. That hearing wouldn't have been necessary but for a bit of protective zoning code, that would have prohibited Pembina from piping propane over shoreline and into storage tanks on the river, to be received by ships.

The outcry at that hearing made much of the difference.

"People don't want petroleum products shipped out of the country by way of Portland," Haynes says. "[The mayor] wanted this to be successful. They didn't make their case."

Read Hales' full release after the jump.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Recent Labor Ruling Could Hamper the Mayor's New Plan for Gang-Affected Youth

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, May 6, 2015 at 12:37 PM

  • Illustration by Shiela Laufer

Mayor Charlie Hales' brand new budget has a nice gift for the parks bureau: $2 million in ongoing yearly funding the bureau didn't even ask for.

The money is part of Hales' response to the gang-related violence that police say has come roaring back to the city in recent years, with shootings and other attacks popping up increasingly in East Portland and beyond. With the $2 million, the mayor says Portland Parks & Recreation will expand its offerings to gang-affected teens, keeping some community centers open longer and offering free admission.

"During the lean years of budget reduction, the city put pressure on the parks bureau to recover as much cost as possible from fees," Hales said during an informal meeting with reporters Tuesday about his choices for $49 million in surplus cash. "That means that a lot of kids who should be inside that community center or out on the track or soccer field are left out."

The exact details of the plan are still a bit fuzzy. Hales made clear his staff worked with Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz on the proposal, and said it's a call back to the efforts of former Parks Commissioner Charles Jordan.

But big questions have now surfaced about just how able Parks will be to provide those expanding offerings during the crucial summer season. As we reported last week, the city recently lost a years-long fight with a local union that represents parks workers. Under an arbitrator's binding decision, issued Friday, the city has to either stop asking hundreds "casual" recreation employees to perform tasks that are supposed to be performed by union members, or fold those workers into the union contract.

Continue reading »

Friday, May 1, 2015

Just In Time For May Day, The Portland Parks Bureau Has Been Improperly Using Some of its Many Low-Paid Workers

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Fri, May 1, 2015 at 2:21 PM

  • Illustration by Shiela Laufer

Some of the worst-paid city employees may be in for a sweet raise—despite City Hall's best efforts.

The City of Portland today was ordered to stop giving low-paid temporary and seasonal Portland Parks and Recreation employees tasks that are supposed to be carried out by union members. In a 25-page ruling that capped a two year labor dispute, an arbitrator found the city is violating its labor agreement with Laborers' Local 483 by using so-called "casual" workers to prop up a growing parks system that lacks sufficient full-time and part-time staffers.

This is a huge deal for the many parks employees who toil under yearly limits to how many hours they can work and meager wages. As we reported in February, some of these workers are on food stamps despite being city employees for years. Others told the Mercury they felt devalued and ashamed by a system that ensures they won't receive benefits and are unlikely to obtain full-time work.

Today's decision—on International Workers' Day, fittingly—delves deeply into the legalese of union contracts, but it comes down to what Arbitrator David Stiteler termed the "idiomatic Duck test." ("If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.") Essentially, if an employee does a job covered under a labor agreement, that employee should be covered by the same labor agreement.

"There is little disagreement that some RSPs [recreational support persons, the designation for the casual parks workers in question] are doing most, if not all, of the same duties that are and/or have been done by recreation leaders in the unit, as well as some duties that are and/or have been done by recreation coordinators," Stiteler wrote.

The ruling contains a bunch of examples of unrepresented workers who do the same tasks as people "in the unit," or covered by the labor agreement:

Chenille Holub works 30 to 35 hours a week at the front desk at Mt. Scott; her position is not in the unit. The individual who preceded her was a recreation leader in the unit.

Vanessa King is a preschool teacher at Montavilla; her position is in the unit. Before she was hired as a regular employee, she was an RSP working as a preschool teacher and had the same duties.

Esther Smith is in a recreation leader position in the center. There are about twice as many RSPs as unit positions, and there is no significant difference in the work they do, including handling permits, reservations, and rentals.

Et cetera.

Continue reading »


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Boom Times 3: Now The City's Drowning in $49 Million of Sweet Green Bounty

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 at 11:18 AM

Bear with me here. There's a scene in Disney's 1963 classic The Sword in the Stone where the cantankerous wizard Merlin prestidigitates a bunch of dining implements to do his bidding, and the sugar dish can't get its act together. At one point in the film, Merlin gets distracted and forgets to tell it to stop heaping sweetness into his tea. And when he sees what's become of his tea cup? Merlin loses his sh*t.

It's at the 50-second mark of this video, "Merlin Losing His Sh*t":

It's not at all a clean analogy, I know, but this scene comes to mind when I hear about Portland's current budget situation. We're being overloaded with sweetness.

The city announced today that Portland's 2015-16 budget isn't going to have $19 million extra to play with, as suggested in December. It's not even going to have the $31 million extra budget staffers predicted just last month.

Nope, the budget Mayor Charlie Hales unveils next Tuesday will include a whopping $49 million more in its general fund than the current spending plan. FORTY-NINE MILLION DOLLARS to burn, when just two budgets ago the city was trying to find more than $21.5 million in cuts.

"It was surprising," says city budget director and master of understatement Andrew Scott, who got the revised and final numbers earlier this week. "The revenues just kept coming in."

The numbers break down like this:

•$13.1 million in new ongoing money the city can expect year after year.

•$35.9 million in one-off money that we've got just one crack at. Thanks to new rules put forward by Commissioner Amanda Fritz, half of that has to go to city infrastructure projects dealing with parks, emergency management or transportation.

Scott says there are a number of reasons for this windfall, but the biggest is record receipts from business licenses. Those receipts already broke records last year when they reached $81 million. Scott expects they'll get close to $100 million this year.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mayor Charlie Hales Says He'll Look to Create More Camps Like RIght 2 Dream Too

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 12:46 PM

The lot at SE 3rd and Harrison where the city wants to move R2DToo
  • Dirk VanderHart
  • The lot at SE 3rd and Harrison where the city wants to move R2DToo

Mayor Charlie Hales says one Right 2 Dream Too isn't enough.

Fresh off news, first reported by the Mercury, that the respected, self-policed homeless rest area may be moving across the river, Hales said today that he believes in the model R2DToo has established, and will likely seek to imitate it in other parts of town.

"We as a community should support the things that work," Hales told the Mercury during sit-down in his office. "I don't expect that this new location for R2Dtoo is the only facilty of that kind that should exist in the City of Portland."

The comment was a nod to the fact that R2DToo's apparently impending move—a victory after nearly 18 months of scouring the city for an acceptable site—may leave a hole in Portland's social services hub. For nearly four years, R2DToo has provided respite for the many homeless Portlanders who stay in and around the charities and shelters of Old Town/Chinatown. And while the Central Eastside also has a large and growing homeless contingent, there's no expectation they'll move southeast with the homeless encampment.

Hales gets that. But he says after years of acrimony—and a legal settlement that was contingent on moving R2DToo from beneath the Chinatown Gate—the move needs to occur.

"Fourth and Burnside was never the ideal location," Hales says. "It was the location where this evolved. Is one R2DToo serving 80 people enough? Hell no."

Continue reading »

The City Says It's Finally Found a Spot For Right 2 Dream Too. With A View!

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 7:20 AM


This week's issue will hit the web and news boxes later this morning. Until then, here's a preview of the latest Hall Monitor column.

ON MONDAY, Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz walked a group of Central Eastside businesspeople to a grassy, gravelly patch by the east end of Tilikum Crossing.

It’s a gritty plot, like much of the Central Eastside, with a decrepit portion of SE Harrison elbowing through its center, and rundown RVs taking up portions of the right of way. But it is lovely, too, with sweeping nighttime views of the new bridge and Oregon Health and Science University across the river.

Hales and Fritz hadn’t come to show their guests the view, though. They’d come to show them the future home of Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo).

After a year and a half of casting about in vain, Portland officials say they’ve finally found a place to move the well-regarded, self-policed homeless rest area that’s ruffled feathers—and given vital help to hundreds—beneath the Chinatown Gate since 2011.

City staffers have been in talks for months with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), which currently owns a plot of land they call ideal. The parcel is anonymous enough that it has no formal address, but sits just east of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, where SE 3rd transforms with a swoop into SE Division.

The future home of Right 2 Dream Too?

The city’s had close calls in its 18 months of scouting for sites, but the guided tour by two of Portland’s top elected officials (along with Portland Police Bureau brass) is a serious sign. It’s for real this time.

“This really is a perfect site,” says Josh Alpert, director of strategic initiatives in the mayor’s office. “It’s not like land pops up every day.”

Alpert should know. He’s worked perhaps harder than any other city staffer to find a new home for R2DToo since September 2013, when Commissioner Fritz announced she’d hammered out a deal to clean up legal bickering surrounding the rest area—which had amassed thousands of dollars in fines—and move it to a parking lot beneath the Broadway Bridge.

That parking lot, of course, abutted the ritz of the Pearl District. Mortified developers pushed back, eventually buying the lot in question and tacking on an additional $846,000 to find R2DToo a new home.

So far, the money’s just sat there as Alpert, Fritz, and city staff scrutinized plot after insufficient plot where the rest area might move. Among the criteria they’ve been keeping an eye out for: an affordable price, appropriate zoning, accessibility to transit, proximity to social services, and limited neighborhood disruption.

Continue reading »

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nope, the City's Not Going the "Fair and Moral" Route

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 11:14 AM

  • Illustration by Alex Despain

After largely ignoring it for 25 years, the City of Portland's not ready to use a law that gives citizens their money back when the city's wronged them, but isn't legally obligated to pay.

Portland City Attorney Tracy Reeve has denied a "fair and moral" claim filed earlier this month by NE Portland homeowner Judy Wickman, who says explosives police placed on her neighbors' home last June caused serious damage to her chimney.

As we've reported, the city paid Wickman $445 for windows damaged as cops attempted to arrest accused murderer Gary Lewis. But it wasn't until well after Wickman cashed that check that she says she learned the shock of police explosives had separated the chimney from her home, rendering it unusable and allowing in rainwater. Her estimated damages: $10,000.

When Wickman filed a claim for that damage, the city explained it was no longer liable since she'd signed the windows check. She turned to the city's ombudsman, who unearthed a "fair and moral" claims policy giving the city leeway to pay in instances when it's at fault, but isn't technically liable.

The policy has roots in a time when citizens were prevented from suing the city at all, but it was widely used until 1990, well after state law established the authority to take the city to court. Even so, the fair and moral claims policy hasn't been used to address citizen complaints since 1990, when Portland City Council put discretion for its use in the hands of the city's Risk Management Office.

The Mercury found cases of the policy being used when the fire department poisoned a man's cattle, and when a woman's Italian sandal was savaged by a city-owned lawnmower, for instance.It's still routinely used by city employees whose belongings are damaged while they're on the job.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lyft Says It's Launching In Portland Friday Afternoon

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 2:24 PM

  • Mark Markovich

As we noted this morning, the road is clear for Uber and Lyft to legally launch in Portland, but a lot still needs to occur before that happens.

But maybe those seemingly big hurdles—obtaining insurance, hammering out a data sharing deal with the city, vetting drivers and making certain they've got valid business licenses, and waiting on the Portland Bureau of Transportation to formalize rules—aren't so imposing after all. Lyft is announcing it's launching Friday.

Communications staffers from the company are reaching out to media organizations, putting an official launch at 2 pm Friday, and offering interviews with company spokespeople (!).

"Lyft’s initial group of local Portland drivers include a pediatric nurse, a retired police officer, a pastry chef, a Zumba instructor, a tour guide, and a pre-med student, along with many more," the release says.

This, by the way, will be the first time Lyft has taken to Portland streets. The company didn't share Uber's lawbreaking urgency, a fact that won it a measure of goodwill from skeptical city officials like Commissioner Nick Fish.

A PBOT spokesman said this morning a timeline was uncertain. It seems plenty certain to at least one of the TNCs that just won a 120-day stint in Portland last night. PBOT hasn't returned a message about this announcement.

No word yet from Uber.

Update, 2:39 pm: PBOT says it won't comment on Lyft's announcement.

"For companies to operate legally in the city's pilot program, they have to apply for and be issued a permit," says spokesman Dylan Rivera.

Uber responded too, if their saccharine non-answer to a simple inquiry can be called that. I'm only including it to give you a sense of how the company answers questions:

"Uber is transforming the way people move around cities, and we are proud that Portlanders can now use ridesharing to connect citizens to the people and places they love. We look forward to being a part of the fabric of the community and to bringing more choice to drivers and riders who call Portland home."

Update, 3:42 pm: Josh Alpert, who's run point on the Uber question for Mayor Charlie Hales, confirms that Lyft's timeline is realistic.

"Our staff has contemplated a timeline so that there wouldn't be a long lag time between a vote and providing the public with more transportation options," he says.


You Can Appeal Most City Decisions! Chances Are You Either Don't Know That Or Can't Afford It

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 1:51 PM

Rex Burkholder: Knows his rights.
  • Rex Burkholder: Know his rights.

In 2013, the city wanted to charge Rex Burkholder thousands for work he didn't need.

Burkholder, a former Metro councillor, says his neighbor's sewer system failed. Rather than isolating the fix, the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) decided to put a new sewer line down the street.

"They charged myself and my neighbors $5,000 to help fix the neighbor's sewer across the street," he says.

The city, it turned out, was within its rights to do so. But BES officials were completely wrong when they told Burkholder he had no right to appeal the bureau's decision.

"Citizens have a right to appeal everything," he says. "Even if they’re wrong, they still have the right to appeal."

Burkholder eventually pushed his way through to a city appeals officer, but says the process was confused. It was clear to him BES wasn't sure how to proceed.

It's not just the sewer bureau getting this wrong. The city auditor's office, based on Burkholder's complaint, began looking into appeals processes throughout the city and found a litany of unnecessary hurdles citizens can face.

While some bureaus might not outright lie (whether purposefully or not) about a citizen's right to appeal, City Ombudsman Margie Sollinger says officials too often don't inform people they can challenge city dictums. Not only that, but it's prohibitively expensive in many cases to schedule an appearance before a code hearings officer—up to $1,300, though charges vary. The ombudsman is fond of pointing out that that sum is far more than it costs to file an appeal before the US Supreme Court ($300).

Continue reading »

Here's What Needs to Happen Before You Uber

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 10:25 AM


So here's what's going to happen.

At some point—probably between now and Friday—Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat will enact rules allowing Uber and Lyft to operate within the city of Portland. The bureau will then ink agreements with the companies that mandate they'll share certain anonymized data for the next four months, and Uber and Lyft will pay $20,000 a piece, prove they have insurance, and vouch that their drivers are not hardened criminals and have valid business licenses.

It sounds like a lot, but any day now Uber will be back in Portland.

"It could be a matter of days," Bryan Hockaday, a policy advisor to Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, said at a lengthy hearing last night, which ended in a somewhat fraught 3-2 vote to provisionally welcome Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) to town.

That hearing, by the way, was exactly what you'd expect from the emotional debate that's played out in Portland since Uber illegally stormed the gates late last year, full of jeers and inappropriate clapping and even a shouted suggestion Commissioner Dan Saltzman had been bought.

Cab companies and drivers urged city council to further refine a proposed 120-day "pilot project" that was on the table, invoking the darkest tales Uber's collected around the world—rapes, assaults, drunk driving, crashes where no insurance company would be held accountable—to paint a sort of hellscape we'd all be living in if TNC's are allowed in the city without tight rules.

Their more reasonable points: That the city shouldn't trust Uber and Lyft to conduct their own background checks of drivers (it doesn't trust cab companies to do the same), and should require more expensive insurance plans.

"It's totally outrageous to cater to the whims of a $40 billion company," said Stephen Kafoury, a lobbyist for the city's taxi companies who, like many of last night's speakers, refused to be bound by the time constraints for testimony set by council. "Your experience with Airbnb should be a good lesson for you here. Uber has a corporate culture that resists government regulation."

Continue reading »

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rejoinder! The Debate Over Portland's Bike Reputation Continues, But Will It Ultimately Matter?

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Mon, Apr 20, 2015 at 10:14 AM

Oh, you thought the debate about whether Portland deserves national laurels as a "platinum" bike city was done? That was foolish.

We've now got a rejoinder to the retort to the initial argument, which was that Portland's bike reputation is overblown, and that the city hasn't done nearly enough to welcome a mode of transportation that benefits everyone. The crew that's petitioning the League of American Bicyclists to downgrade Portland's rating spent the weekend looking over a memo from the Portland Bureau of Transportation, detailing ongoing efforts to improve the streets for bikes.

They're not particularly impressed:

"Nothing in the City’s 7-page defense of Portland’s Platinum status addresses the conflicts built into our roads, the discouraging response and lack of accounting for traffic crashes, nor our lack of meaningful progress towards the goals in the City’s Bicycle Master Plan," reads a note bike activist Will Vanlue appended to an online petition posted a week ago (634 signatures, currently). "Nothing addresses the fact that Portland falls short of the objective criteria for the Platinum ranking that’s clearly defined by the League of American Bicyclists."

Of course, this type back-and-forth could go on and on. And being downgraded by the League won't be particularly satisfying for anyone if it happens. What's most interesting about this debate is the conversation it's sparked (like here or here or here) and the notion that maybe people really are dissatisfied enough about where Portland's at to demand something better.

Vanlue and his co-petitioners are urging people to contact the Portland City Council about their concerns. And they're leveraging all this attention to float a list of low-cost options the city should try, Vanlue says.

But we've seen similar bouts of disaffection before, with little appreciable action, and taking 30 seconds to "sign" an online petition during your workday's idle web surfing is different than taking the morning off to testify before city council. So who knows?

If you feel strongly about this, though, Vanlue and others are right that perhaps the best thing you can do is become a consistent, respectful-but-urgent voice in our city leaders' ears. And bring all your friends.

Probably the worst thing you can do—no matter how satisfying:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Developers Hate Higher Development Fees for Parks. And They Might Be Able to Challenge Them In Court

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, Apr 16, 2015 at 10:14 AM


Man, builders and other development types aren't pulling punches when it comes to the higher fees the parks bureau wants to slap on new buildings.

Some samples from the City Council meeting Wednesday afternoon:

"It creates a large illegal slush fund and a large illegal blank check."—Dave Nielsen, CEO, Home Builders Association of Metro Portland.

"Honestly, the entire method needs to be scrapped. It has no basis in reality." —Also Nielsen, who really got on a roll.

"I cannot express strongly enough how much this methodology update departs from the previous ones."—Kelly Ross, lobbyist, Commercial Real Estate Development Association.

"Parks are one of the highest [system development charge] rates. They can make a project go upside down." —Marion Haynes, lobbyist, Portland Business Association.

"I don't think this is the answer. I don't know what the right one is."— Justin Wood, Fish Construction NW.

Okay, so only Nielsen really got his digs in, and that naysaying was outgunned by the many, many organizations that like the proposed changes, and what they'd do.

But it's a touchy change we're talking about—one that's so different from the way things are now that it could lead to a court challenge.

Continue reading »

Friday, April 10, 2015

Portland's Chicago-Based Police Reform Watchdogs May Not Replace Their "Ears on the Ground"

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 10:46 AM

  • Illustration by Mark Markovich

The head of a team of Chicago academics being paid to watchdog Portland's police reform says he's not sure whether he'll hire a new person to be the team's "ears on the ground," after former state Chief Justice Paul De Muniz resigned for health reasons this week.

Following a sometimes-tense meeting with community members last night, Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum, a criminology professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, told the Mercury he's still trying to figure out whether De Muniz should be replaced.

"It's not clear whether we're gonna fill that role," he said, noting he and colleague Amy Watson plan to be on hand for periodic meetings of the citizen board also looking into police reform. "We can chair the meetings."

Rosenbaum made clear that a decision hasn't been made whether to replace De Muniz. But if the former justice's seat goes empty, it could lead to pushback. Both Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz have said Rosenbaum's team has to find a suitable replacement.

"We do need to engage another local leader," Fritz told the Mercury on Thursday morning. "Certainly it's the COCL's choice" who that is.

Continue reading »


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Former Justice Paul De Muniz Leaving Police Reform Efforts, Cites a "Health Issue"

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 6:40 PM

Oregon's ongoing police reform effort just lost a key figure.

Former Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz—a vital member of a team that's overseeing changes spelled out in the police bureau's settlement with the federal government—said today he's leaving the effort because of a health issue.

"I am sorry to inform you that as a result of a private and personal health issue, on the advice of my doctor, I have withdrawn from this project effective immediately," De Muniz wrote in an e-mail to members of a citizen board watching over reforms. "It has been a pleasure to get to know each of you and wish you every success."

The departure leaves big questions for the city's nascent efforts to change a police force the feds say has a pattern of beating up mentally ill people. De Muniz was a central reason Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz cited for hiring a team of researchers largely based in Chicago to oversee police progress under the settlement. The group beat out two other finalists for the contract, over the objections of members of a selection committee.

"I understand that fear and concern that experts from somewhere else might not have the grounding in Portland that's needed for this work," Hales said when announcing he'd selected professor Dennis Rosenbaum and other researchers to comprise the so-called Compliance Officer/Community Liaison (COCL) team "That’s why the critical importance of Paul De Muniz. He'll provide that link to the community, that deep understanding of Portland."

As the only team member based in Oregon, De Muniz had several roles. He was to be a listening ear for community concerns and the chair of a citizen board that's also scrutinizing reforms.

Continue reading »

Even in a Solid Budget Year, Horse Cops Are on the Chopping Block

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 12:14 PM

  • Denis C Theriault

Not long ago, representatives from the International Association of Athletics Federations visited Commissioner Steve Novick. The organization is planning to hold its 2016 World Indoor Championships in Portland next year, and plans to ask the city for a lot of cash to make that happen.

Novick says he told his visitors what he tells anybody who comes around asking for money: "Whatever the odds might be that I’ll support your request, they'll go up if you'll say in public: 'This is more important than the mounted patrol.'"

Even in plush budget times (the city's got an estimated extra $31 million to play with last year), and with Portland City Council slated to hear of a new study recommending more cops this afternoon, Novick this budget season is continuing a refrain he's taken up since his early days in office: The city should ditch its five-officer horse cop unit.

As we explore in this week's Hall Monitor column, he's probably not alone. At a March 26 work session focusing on the police budget, Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Dan Saltzman—the only elected officials present, beyond Novick—said the unit's future is an open question.

"It's time to talk about the mounted patrol again," Fritz said at the hearing.

Continue reading »

Saturday, April 4, 2015

That Police-Commissioned Staffing Report Everyone's Been Waiting On? It Calls for More Cops.

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Sat, Apr 4, 2015 at 12:59 PM

illustration by elizabeth bisegna
  • illustration by elizabeth bisegna

A year ago, as the scalpels of budget season were glinting in the March sunshine, the Portland Police Bureau seemed marked for some serious invasive surgery.

A city-wide budget study ordered up the previous year had just suggested the bureau was obscenely top-heavy, finding that 33 command officers supervised three or fewer underlings. It found redundancy among high level positions, and recommended 22 command staff be incised.

The police bureau— rumored to have been hostile to the budget inquiries in the first place—reacted how you'd expect. Then-Chief Mike Reese sent a curt memo to Commissioners Steve Novick and Nick Fish, who'd helmed the study. He said the findings were oversimplified, and that the suggested cuts would "severely impact accountability and oversight." He also pointed out that "oversight and accountability" had been central tenets in ongoing police reform efforts, and said eliminating supervisors ran contrary to progress.

In the end—despite determined and studied arguments by Novick—the police bureau was spared the knife.

The reason? Mayor Charlie Hales, the police bureau, and others pointed out there needed to be more study. "Wait 'til Autumn," this argument went, "when the police bureau plans to release its own staffing study. Then we'll talk."

But Autumn came and went. The staffing study just landed.

On Wednesday afternoon, Hales will present a report—commissioned by the police bureau and carried out by a private consulting firm—that largely disagrees with the findings of a year ago.

Amid jargon-filled recommendations for tweaks and organizational shuffles, consultants say just three command staff should be shaved from the bureau's ranks. All told, the report says the police bureau should add 27.5 positions—largely focused in the ranks of officer (11), detective (7), and sergeant (5).

And researchers for Matrix Consulting Group say the problems highlighted in last city report—that captains and commanders perform redundant tasks—is incorrect. It recommends, as a "high" priority, that the police bureau "retain the Commander/Captain management structure in the precincts to focus accountability for operations and external responsibilities."

While last year's study found the bureau's "span of control" (the number of people command staff directly supervise) was too often too narrow, the new consulting report says, at the highest levels, police brass are overseeing too many people.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Portland Just Drastically Changed Its Urban Redevelopment Strategy—And That's Actually Interesting

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 1:56 PM


Commissioner Steve Novick found an apt way this morning to describe what, at bottom, is a crushingly wonky city funding mechanism.

"It's a way to take other people's money," Novick said of the city's efforts at revitalizing blighted areas. "People need to understand how seductive it is for the city to use urban renewal as much as possible."

The comment came just before Portland City Council drastically shifted how much of "other people's money" the city sweeps up.

Portland over the years has carved up more than a dozen "urban renewal areas"—special swaths of land where tax valuations are frozen so that money collected because of rising property values can be reinvested within their bounds. The idea is that this reinvestment will increase how much the property's worth, and that when the district is put completely back onto the tax rolls everybody has more money.

But while a district is carved up like this, Portland is essentially snatching tax dollars from Multnomah County, Portland Public Schools, and others. The city's also losing general fund money that it can use for citywide efforts.

"For every dollar we lose for the general fund, we get four dollars of other people’s money," Novick said.

And the landscape for all this snatching is about to look completely different.

Continue reading »

Checking in On Charlie Hales' Campaign Cash: More Money From Development Types

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 9:44 AM

  • Steve Morgan

Mayor Charlie Hales, the lone announced candidate for his seat in next year's primary race, continues to haul in campaign donations in his off hours—and report them well before campaign finance deadlines, in case would-be rivals are curious.

In the last three weeks, Hales reports fielding nearly $5,500, much of it from well-known development players in this city. Here are the highlights.

•$2,000 from Ann Edlen, a former marketing executive and wife of Gerding Edlen Development Company CEO Mark Edlen. Gerding Edlen has built and manages some of the city's most posh and prominent buildings, including a huge stake in the development of the South Waterfront.

•$1,000 from CH2M Hill, the engineering consulting firm that's at the top of every water activist's "enemies" list. The company's got a contract to build new below-ground reservoirs that will kick into service once Portland disconnects its beloved above-ground tanks.

•$500 each from, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson; Singer Dazzle Building LLC, partly owned by Nob Hill overlord Richard Singer; Phillip Beyl, an architect with local powerhouse GBD Architects; and Stanley Penkin, a local developer and arts booster.

The Mercury first reported in February Hales had kicked his campaign finance machine into gear, noting an enormous donation from light rail builder Stacy and Witbeck. That firm stands to win big from a vote city council will take later this morning on tweaks to Portland's "urban renewal areas."

Hales has raised a bunch of other cash, too.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mayor Charlie Hales Forbids City-Funded Travel to Indiana

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 1:39 PM

  • Steve Morgan

Just when there's finally a reason to visit Indiana (more on that in a second), Mayor Charlie Hales is telling city employees they mayn't visit the Hoosier State on the public dime.

Hales announced today he's using his perch atop the city's Office of Management and Finance to temporarily forbid city-funded travel there. It's a reaction to Indiana's recently passed "religious freedom restoration act"— signed into law in a political climate, and with worrying provisions, that have led many people to surmise it would allow businesses to refuse to serve gay customers. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence obstinately denies this (sprinkling those denials with falsehoods), but legislators are hustling to clarify the law just the same.

“Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana Legislature have to understand that such blatant discrimination against their own citizens cannot stand," Hales said in a statement. "We, as a country, have moved so far from those shameful practices of the past.”

This travel ban isn't a Hales original. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has enacted the same policy. So has Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy.

It's also unclear whether the ban will have any tangible effect. The mayor's office is trying to find out whether there are any outstanding trips to Indiana that will have to be scuttled. Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says the mayor would refuse to attend the 2016 United States Conference of Mayors annual shindig, slated to take place in Indianapolis, if the law is still in effect. "But the conference would likely move anyway," Haynes notes.

Hales plans to put a resolution before City Council on Wednesday enshrining the city's disapproval of the Indiana law.

"The sunset is the repeal of Indiana’s policy, or implementation of specific wording to protect all residents from discrimination," Haynes says.

As to that one reason to travel to Indiana? The heroic and scrappy Michigan State University Men's Basketball Team is in the Final Four, and it's the best thing that's ever happened. But it's in Indianapolis.

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