On February 11, Mayor Charlie Hales unleashed a tirade of rhetoric aimed at a group that is both suing the city and backing a campaign to take Portland's water and sewer utilities out of City Council's hands.
"The anti-environment funders behind this suit are also behind a ballot measure to create a new layer of government to run the environmental services and water utilities," the mayor was quoted as saying in a news release. "If the facts aren't with you, and the law isn't with you, unlimited corporate money is a wonderful thing. It can be used to attack Portland's environmental investments again and again and again. It you don't like green programs, these are the best attacks money can buy."
It was by no means a surprising take from Hales, who's spearheading a campaign opposing the so-called Portland Public Water District. But it turns out the mayor never said it.
His spokesman and speechwriter, Dana Haynes, came up with the comments. Hales was a continent away.
"I crafted the quote and shared it with the mayor via email to South Africa," Haynes wrote this week to a Secretary of State's Office employee looking in to the release. "He OK'd it. This is a standard method used in our office for many quotes."
That "standard method" may have bearing on whether Hales' office violated Oregon law. As an elected official, the mayor is free to make comments on political campaigns, so long as he doesn't use public resources to do so. But Kent Craford and Floy Jones, chief petitioners behind the Portland Public Water District, say that's exactly what happened in the case of the February 11 release.
The pair filed a formal complaint with the state the next day, claiming Hales violated a state law prohibiting public employees from promoting or opposing political measures "while on the job during work hours."
"The PPWD campaign has requested Secretary of State Kate Brown investigate and demand an immediate halt to Hales' further abuse of office," the campaign said.
The February 11 press release actually centered on an upcoming hearing in the case of Anderson v. City of Portland, in which angry ratepayers are demanding the city pay back utility revenues spent on projects they argue were improper. Beyond Hales, it quoted Commissioner Nick Fish as saying the lawsuit "lacks merit." But it also folded in references to the water district measure, which would create a new seven-member board to control the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services.
"The high-powered corporate lobbyist behind this lawsuit also represents the chief petitioners in a corporate-funded ballot measure to strip the City of its Environmental Services and Water bureaus," the release said.
On February 19, Secretary of State elections staffer Alana Cox sent Haynes a inquiry letter about the release. It asked, among other things, if Haynes had written the document, who else was involved, and for background on the quote from Hales.
Haynes said officials decided to send out the release on February 3, in a meeting involving Fish, BES Director Dean Marriott, water bureau Director David Shaff, Hales aide Jackie Dingfelder, staffers in Fish's office and two city attorneys. The topic of the release was to be the court case, he said.
"After I drafted the press release on Feb. 8, 2014, City Attorney Tracy Reeve and Deputy City Attorney Terry Thatcher read the press release in a draft form and in a final draft form, and offered legal advice regarding the law suit, which I adopted," Haynes wrote. "Commissioner Fish also read the press release and offered wording advice, which I adopted."
Haynes says he wrote the release on February 8, a Saturday, "when City Hall and city offices were closed because of snow and freezing rain."
Asked if he was "directed" to issue the release, Haynes said no. "I offered to write the press release. Mayor Hales was in South Africa at an environmental conference."
Two of Cox's five questions centered around the Hales' quote, which comprised the sixth paragraph of the press release. Was Haynes directed to include it? It what context was it made?
"The topic of the press release—and paragraph 6—is the law suit against the City," Haynes wrote. "The people behind the law suit also are the people behind a ballot measure. The point of Paragraph 6 was to bring that to light."
Portland Police Association Daryl Turner has answered a jolly announcement late Friday that the Portland Police Bureau, as part of federal reforms and a new contract with the police union, was putting in place a new matrix meant to help the chief of police and his team mete out appropriate discipline for police misconduct.
In a statement to his nearly 1,000 rank-and-file members sent out yesterday, Turner accused Chief Mike Reese of publishing a discipline guide that hadn't been fully vetted by the union, despite talk of collaboration. Turner also says the bureau isn't mentioning something important about the guide: that it's merely advisory.
During bargaining and mediation sessions with the City, the PPA came to an agreement with the City regarding the use of an advisory discipline guide. The advisory discipline guide would be used primarily by the Police Review Board as an advisory tool for sustained allegations of misconduct when recommending discipline to the Chief. To memorialize the terms of this agreement, Mayor Hales and I signed a Letter of Agreement.
The two key provisions of the Letter of Agreement are:
1. that the discipline guide is an advisory tool, and
2. that the advisory discipline guide does not change the just cause discipline standard under the collective bargaining agreement.
During the past two weeks, the PPA and representatives from the Chief’s office have discussed changes that the PPB wishes to make to the advisory discipline guide. The PPA opposed the changes. Those issues had not been resolved when, on Friday, the Chief sent a Bureau wide email without further conversation with the PPA regarding the PPB’s implementation of the advisory discipline guide, which includes provisions that the PPA opposes.
Turner, in an interview, said he wouldn't get into details about differences, because he expects further discussions with the city on the guide. But he did repeatedly mention how important he thought the advisory nature of the guide is.
"It doesn't override our collective bargaining agreement," Turner says.
The full statement is after the jump.
Police Chief Mike Reese has been pushing back hard against a controversial city council staffing study that suggested, as a worst-case scenario, cutting 23 police command positions as a way to save the city $2.5 million.
The study, overseen by Commissioners Steve Novick and Nick Fish, looked at supervisor and employee ratios in the city's workforce, a statistic also known (wonkily) as the city's "span of control"—but focused heavily on the Portland Police Bureau. It was first published yesterday, by the Mercury, though it's been a touchy subject in city hall and in the Portland Police Bureau for several weeks.
Reese, in a memo (pdf) sent to Novick and Fish last Friday, said he wanted to wait for a separate, independent, and police-focused staffing study before making any changes. That study, he wrote, is close to starting—with a contractor about to hired. The chief didn't pull punches when warning what would happen if the city council moved forward on the current report before then. He says it would imperil federally mandated reforms currently sitting in front of a federal judge.
Several Bureau sworn command positions require command officers due to the experience, scope and complexity of the positions, and the need to provide executive-level oversight and accountability. Examples of such positions include (but are not limited to): the Operations Branch Executive Officer, the Professional Standards Lieutenant and the Force Inspector. The nature of this work is critical in our law enforcement agency. The study’s proposed reductions in supervisory positions will severely impact accountability and oversight of Bureau operations.
The elimination or demotion of supervisory positions in the City’s span of control study is also directly counter to several of the recommendations in the settlement agreement between the City and the DOJ. A key focus area of the DOJ agreement is increased oversight and accountability.
Reese's memo was released today by Mayor Charlie Hales' office, following reports on the staffing study by the Mercury and then the Portland Tribune. Reese appears to have some backing from the mayor, who oversees the police bureau as police commissioner. A statement released by Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, thanked Fish and Novick for the report. But it also thanked Reese for providing such a detailed response. And, most importantly, it included the following line:
Obviously, more debate is called for in regards to the Portland Police Bureau and other bureaus as well.
A potentially controversial report examining notably low supervisor/employee ratios across the city of Portland's workforce—part of an ongoing effort to further scrub the city's budget for extra cash—offers some potentially bitter medicine for the Portland Police Bureau, the Mercury has learned.
According to the report (pdf), obtained this afternoon via a public records request, the city could save as much as $2.5 million, largely by eliminating 23 police bureau command positions and reclassifying six others. The report, drafted by Commissioners Nick Fish and Steve Novick, requires the bureau to come up with a "position-specific response," and projected savings, by April 1.
The findings in the report suggest much of that culling would be among the bureau's lieutenants and captains, which it says are a hotbed of "redundancy." At issue is what's called the city's "span of control," its ratio of supervisors to workers. The report focused on supervisors with three or fewer employees—finding several in the police bureau. It also makes clear, however, that the bureau wasn't much interested in having a discussion about how to increase its "span of control," choosing instead to defend the status quo.
Overall savings could be lower—down to just $500,000—under a best-case scenario that swaps 22 command positions for non-supervisory police officer jobs. Sergeant Pete Simpson, the bureau's lead spokesman, said the bureau will work to provide an answer in time for April 1 but that he wasn't sure yet about the timeline and who was heading it up.
The span of control study follows a note approved by the council during last year's budget deliberations. It's unclear where the rest of the council might land. And that's no small calculation, because this isn't just about dollars and positions. There's an element of politics—even if city sources would argue the report and its political implications are separate.
This finding lands near the end of a push by Mayor Charlie Hales to decertify the union that represents police commanders, captains, and lieutenants, the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association (PPCOA). Hales' argument is that supervisors shouldn't be allowed to form a bargaining unit.
Taking away nearly 30 positions, even if those officers are reassigned under the report's best-case scenario, would significantly hamstring the PPCOA, even if the state Employment Relations Board sticks up for it. At any given time, with vacancies and other issues, that union has maybe 50 members at best.
One of the PPCOA's executive officers, Central Precinct Commander Bob Day, met with Hales for an hour last week on union business. That meeting came while Fish and Novick's offices were putting the finishing touches on this report. Messages left for Day and the union's president, Training Captain Bryan Parman, have not been returned. Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says he hasn't yet had a chance to talk to his boss about the report and its implications.
With less than a week to go before the filing deadline, it was looking like City Commissioner Dan Saltzman was going to walk into a historic fifth term without even a cursory vote come this May.
Sitting on a decent-but-not-formidable war chest provided by developers and big businesses, the dean of the Portland City Council had managed to avoid an actual challenger—even though his colleague one office over, Nick Fish, has attracted two.
No more! Joe Meyer, an activist and familiar voice on KBOO (he just did the station's "Mo Is Shy" docudrama on the Pioneer Courthouse Square bomb plot trial), announced yesterday that he's launched a campaign website and plans to file for Saltzman's seat. (He hasn't done it yet, according to the city's elections website.)
Meyer doesn't mention Saltzman by name. But according to the statement he sent out, he and Saltzman clearly disagree on one major subject: the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force and Portland's role in the thing. Saltzman has been a major force for working more closely with the JTTF, coming off of the FBI-facilitated courthouse bomb plot.
I like Meyer, having gotten to know him at various rallies, trials, city council meetings, and city budget forums. He's everywhere. But this is where I also responsibly point out that it's difficult even for a well-connected, deep-pocketed challenger to knock off an incumbent in city hall. (See Mary Nolan vs. Amanda Fritz.) But maybe this will be cause for Saltzman to show up for some candidate forums, and the JTTF stuff will give them something good to talk about.
Here's Meyer's full statement.
I am a husband and a dad, a neighbor and a friend, a physicist by training and a volunteer by vocation.
I've been a volunteer KBOO radio reporter for the past three years and produced public affairs shows on issues important to Portland including coal transport, fluoride, open reservoirs, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Through this volunteer work I have met hundreds of Portlanders and learned from them about the issues most pressing on City Hall.
My campaign's core value is 'freedom'. My freedom depends on my neighbor's freedom—our mutual freedoms depend on the protection of law and the persons elected to protect those laws.
My campaign for Portland City Commissioner #3 calls for a new relationship between sovereign citizens and City Hall.
I was an activist before I was a reporter and testified in front of council many times. This, combined with my City Hall reporting made it pretty obvious that important decisions are made by a very few people and then marketed to the public.
I reported and reported and reported and the people said, 'We know that! So, what's the news.'"
A year after it came out and shined a harsh light on hunger and poverty in our own backyard, Portland-focused documentary American Winter finally found itself caught in the basilisk-like gaze of Fox News commentator Sean Hannity.
Hannity often gets angry at things. But he was angry about thing in particular: Comments in the film from Commissioner Nick Fish, in which he pledged to use public resources to help people left behind by unchecked capitalism.
If capitalism is not regulated or checked, there’s a harsh logic. And it will always seek out the lowest costs, the highest return. Which is why we have historically viewed government as a check and a balance on that.
Over the last quarter century we have reduced regulations, degraded wages, cut back on health care. We’ve reduced taxes, and now people are more vulnerable.
My job is to communicate to people the absolute moral imperative during these times of using public resources to maintain the safety net until things turn around. And to make sure that we don’t throw some of our most vulnerable people, essentially, to the wolves.
For Hannity, them's fighting words! And he kept going back to Fish's remarks—"liberal talking points"—over and over and over.
Hannity has hunger and housing solutions, of course. It's just that they're also talking points.
"If government could get out of the way," he says, "and allow drilling and fracking and coal mining."
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.
Getting Google Fiber has been a city hall white whale for the past few years—the company's first foray into municipal broadband skipped over Portland and built in places like Provo, Utah, and Kansas City (both!). Portland even brewed a special beer to woo Google the last time it tried getting into the dance. Google's less interested in panache this time.
"We've got cool covered," Hales joked.
The company, instead, is looking for logistical details from the cities it's set up as suitors: Can it tap into existing fiber networks? Will a city's leadership help smooth the permit process? Will streets need to be torn up? How many? It hopes to have that information by May 1, with a decision at the end of the year on which cities will get the nod.
Hales has pledged to convene a series of regional meetings to that effect. And political consultant Mark Wiener has been lending his expertise to the effort. He was at the presser in city hall this morning and said he provided light background on Portland's nationally unique political system, in which city commissioners also lead city bureaus. Unlike other cities, Portland doesn't have a strong mayor who could make decisions and push staffers into whatever positions are needed.
Those challenges aside, I don't think I can recall seeing so much optimism after a city hall press event. People were beaming and shaking hands. Google's gigabit fiber network is 100 times faster than typical American broadband speeds—and cheaper. Bringing it to Portland will put pressure on current providers, like monopolist Comcast, to do more without gouging consumers.
But the cost of installation could be a major factor here or anywhere else. Google is putting cities through these paces so it can essentially study up—for free—the kinds of challenges underlying the expansion of a service that could become another profit center for the company. Cost estimates will flow from what the cities are able to tell Google about their infrastructure. Hales says he thinks he can work on permitting, for example, without having to hire extra staff. Permits are going to be very important, a Google rep said at the presser, saying the company wants to avoid "permit shock."
A FAQ on Google's website for its Fiber service lays that balancing act out.
There are also some physical characteristics of a city that might make it really complex for us to build Google Fiber. For example, underground construction might be really difficult due to bedrock or unusually hard soil. In these situations, we would share what we learned in our studies with city leaders and we hope they’d be able to use that information to explore other options for bringing super high speed broadband to their residents.
Hales and the city have decided that full-throated pursuit is worth the chance for heartbreak. With the region cultivating a reputation as a high-tech/information economy hub, he says having cheap, brilliant broadband connections before most other cities around the country can boast the same would be a boon for attracting and retaining businesses.
"It's a way to put Portland into the leadership of the new economy," Hales says.
I'm finally ducking out for air and food—and wireless internet—some seven hours into a "fairness hearing" on the Portland Police Bureau's proposed settlement with the feds on accusations our cops engage "in a pattern or practice" of using excessive force against people in a mental health crisis.
I'd been talking to sources ahead of the hearing about one of the quieter components of the deal: an ostensible exhortation to work with CCOs (coordinated care organizations) to build one or more walk-in or drop-off treatment centers for people with mental illness. It turned out to be prescient.
Officials with the city and US Department of Justice and others acknowledged in court for the first time today that the call to build those centers is merely "aspirational." The feds have no power to compel the state or Multnomah County to pay for or manage those centers—and the language in the settlement was deliberately crafted to ensure the city wouldn't be responsible in their stead.
"This agreement has no influence on those services," said Chris Bouneff, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Oregon.
Bouneff was called as a friendly witness by the US Department of Justice. The state and county, he said, "are not at the table and there's nothing to compel them to be at the table to increase the type of services necessary."
“That element will be missing in this agreement,” he said.
Jonas Geissler, an attorney for the Justice Department's civil rights division in Washington, DC, hammered that point earlier in the hearing.
"Those agencies may be beyond the current reach of this" proposed legal settlement, Geissler said.
That admission came early in Tuesday’s watershed court session—the first chance for the public to sound off on a deal many think should go further, and the most substantive chance yet for the city and the feds to defend the particulars of a deal they negotiated specifically to avoid a court trial. US District Court Judge Michael Simon says he’ll decide if he likes it as early as mid-March.
(Hit the jump to keep reading, and look for a longer story in tomorrow's paper.)
The money in that deal, announced last Thursday, would come from a development company led by political big wheels Homer Williams and Dike Dame.
But instead of asking the city council to bless the deal during a hearing today—an emergency move that would require unanimous support—Fritz calmly said some people might want more time to talk about it all. And, because of that consideration, a vote wouldn't come until a second hearing next week.
It wasn't until later in the hearing, after people read some dark omens into the delay, that Fritz 'fessed up. It wasn't her concern, per se. One of her colleagues asked her to pull back on the timeline at 9 this morning, she said.
And that's when Commissioner Dan Saltzman piped up with his own admission. He'd made the request. And he wasn't willing to reconsider, at least not until he had several questions answered over the coming days.
"I need another week," said Saltzman, who oversees the Portland Housing Bureau. "What I'm wrestling with, with all due respect, is that $846,000 is a lot of money. I need more framework and definition on how that money would be spent. I have questions about who would own that property. Would the city own it? Or Right 2 Dream too?... It's a lot of money in every respect except one: trying to purchase or lease property that's the most highly sought after property in the downtown core."
Then, in a comment that drew a storm of outrage from the crowd, he said he worried the gift from the developers would put pressure on the council to dip into its own resources: "I don't want a dynamic where affordable housing money is going over to Right 2 Dream Too."
Fritz, who inherited Right 2 Dream Too (and its lawsuit over code fines) from Saltzman when taking over the Bureau of Development Services last year, reacted icily. She said the ordinance appoints Mayor Charlie Hales and herself as custodians of that money, alongside Right 2 Dream Too.
"And when you said with 'all due respect,'" she said, "it doesn't sound like you trust us to do that."
(UPDATE 4:30 PM: The Portland Development Commission has approved its piece of the transaction—the actual sale of the city-owned Pearl District parking lot originally promised to Right 2 Dream Too. Hit the jump for more details.)
The words could all change, based on a vote this weekend by Right 2 Dream Too's board.
But for now, the draft ordinance (pdf) underpinning yesterday's announcement of a potential $1.038 million breakthrough in the rest area's hunt for a new home has been posted to next week's city council agenda—complete with details about precisely what kind of help the city's willing to offer.
As expected, it's being put forward by both Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mayor Charlie Hales. Both helped broker a proposed land sale, announced yesterday, in which wealthy and well-connected Pearl District developers would pay R2DToo $846,000 to move somewhere, anywhere besides a city-owned lot beneath the Broadway Bridge that Fritz and Hales had promised last year.
Essential to the language as currently drafted is a promise to keep R2DToo at its current home at NW4th and Burnside even if the Portland Development Commission buys the land from its current owners. The rest area would stay until the city finds it a new home. It also makes a nod that any new site work with the rest area's current model: a primarily outdoor, low-impact, and cheap-to-operate communitarian emergency shelter.
The actual land sale in question—the Pearl group will buy the city lot that had been promised to R2DToo—will head before the Portland Development Commission's board on Wednesday afternoon. The PDC's board meets only once a month, a quiet reason for what's felt like something of a hurry-up public announcement.
The Pearl District developers working to block a move to a city-owned lot beneath the Broadway Bridge's Lovejoy off-ramp have agreed to buy that lot for $142,000—and then kick in nearly $900,000 more to fund R2DToo's move to some other undetermined lot and buy out a parking lease from a nearby apartment building for low-income seniors.
Despite only tentative support from R2DToo—whose board will meet to formally decide on the idea this weekend— both Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mayor Charlie Hales are planning to file paperwork tonight putting the proposal on the city council and Portland Development Commission's respective agendas next Wednesday.
The PDC would formally approve the sale to the Pearl group, whose interest in the lot, spurred by the plan to move R2DToo onto it last fall, was first reported by the Mercury. The council, before that afternoon hearing, would approve an ordinance accepting the additional money and directing how it would be used. Depending on how R2DToo's board votes, some of the legal language in the proposal could change before the vote.
Nothing in the deal limits where Right 2 Dream Too can move using that money, which will be managed by the city. A real estate broker, working on a $1,000 contract, could bring back a list of potential sites within a 1.5-mile radius of the Portland Building as soon as tomorrow.
"It's been quick for me and them," Fritz said before a press release (pdf) announcing the deal was released today. "I found out about this on Friday."
But she was emphatic that the arrangement involved "no taxpayer money," something just as strongly expressed by Hales' office and Ibrahim Mubarak, a Right 2 Dream Too co-founder. Mubarak says he wrestled with the offer before embracing it and that many of the group's board members might not be ready to follow.
"I'm not going to say no to it, when we can do something to help people," Mubarak says. "It's good they are doing this. And I hope they are doing this to bring out their humanitarian spirit, and not just doing it like capitalists do, to just get rid of things and pay people off."
The urban renewal agency today has posted a brand-new request for development proposals (pdf), giving interested parties a deadline of mid-March to submit their ideas. The PDC had agreed way back in 2011 to lend prominent developer David Gold and his partners $2.46 million, on top of a deal on the land, in hopes he might turn the place into a youth hostel with storefronts on W Burnside and NW 4th. Gold and his partners' two-year option expired last July, however, before the deal could become final.
Gold had been warning he might not be able to do the deal ever since Right 2 Dream Too opened across the street in October 2011.
"We are about to invest over $4 million across the street in the new [renamed] Grove Hostel," Gold wrote city hall the day the rest area opened, according to emails obtained by the Mercury. "While I can't say that this homeless campground will kill the Hostel, my partners and I are understandably upset."
The property has been empty for years after serving as drug-and-alcohol housing run by Home Forward and Central City Concern. The city, under Commissioner Randy Leonard, eventually bought it and made fire code fixes but left several other lingering issues for a developer. Those fixes—seismic improvements and a brand-new roof—likely contributed to the challenge of selling the place as much as the presence of a rest area that's been seen as a pretty good neighbor.
I broke my rule today about covering Portland City Council meetings—which amounts to "always go, even if the agenda seems perfunctory and/or the mayor is out of town so how could anything actually interesting happen, because what if you miss something surprising."
I missed something surprising. Because while I was doodling through the Mercury's weekly editorial meeting, commissioners—spurred on by Steve Novick—managed to get into a spirited debate about next year's budget surplus and the policy implications of fulfilling past promises no matter the apparent cost.
It started when Novick balked at the parks bureau's request for $477,000 in unexpected annual maintenance costs for the long-planned, long-delayed South Waterfront Greenway project. Despite policy requiring the city to pay for maintenance costs every time it approves building a new park, no one, in this case, had actually built that maintenance figure into the city's current financial forecast.
And it ended, more or less, with Novick coaxing two of his colleagues, Dan Saltzman and Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz, into agreeing to "re-examine" the police bureau's long-targeted Mounted Patrol Unit (costing nearly $900,000 a year) as a way to pay for the new expense. That was, apparently, Novick's requirement for supporting construction contracts for the Greenway project. He still had the council push off approving the maintenance costs for another week.
The Oregonian's city hall team was following the debate on Twitter—but didn't include the police horse wrinkle.
Novick, as we reported Monday, has made cutting the police bureau's $175 million budget one of his cause célèbres this budget season. It's one of his solutions for making what's currently just $5.9 million in surplus ongoing money stretch a little further. Approving the Greenway money without lumping it into the bigger budget debate would only cut what was available, Novick argued.
Hence Novick's gambit, putting two of his colleagues (Nick Fish, former parks commissioner, did not chime in) on the record with support for at least exploring his top wish: Ditching the mounted patrol. It's a victory for Novick, and it could mean the end of the unit, which survived last year's budget bloodbath (the commissioners privately had been ready to kill it) only because community volunteers stepped up with a $200,000 gift that persuaded Mayor Charlie Hales to stay the ax.
Just hours after quoting a "top Majestic Realty official" saying he weighs the controversy over a new Trader Joe's at NE Alberta and MLK "every day"—part of a story exploring a lobbying rules technicality with the city's urban renewal director—the Oregonian is now reporting the deal is off the table.
And it's because Trader Joe's wants out. Not because the developer has reconsidered.
"We run neighborhood stores and our approach is simple: if a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe's, we understand, and we won't open the store in question," reads the essential line in a longer statement published by the O.
The Portland Development Commission's deal, selling Majestic land worth nearly $3 million for just $500,000, has been beset by concerns over gentrification ever since details went public in the fall.
Activists wanted housing and something that fit in with the neighborhood's historic character. Supporters of the proposal said adding a major grocery store—there's a Safeway nearby, which I guess counts...— would help support a second project at the corner filled with local small businesses. The PDC approved it last year.
Last week, Majestic announced it had chosen African American-owned Colas Construction as its contractor on the project. One of Colas' vice presidents, Aneskha Dickson, sits on the PDC's board.
It's unclear if the decision by Trader Joe's was influenced by this morning's report in the O that PDC director Patrick Quinton, before the vote on the project, attended a food-and-wine networking event hosted by Majestic. Quinton put the event on his public calendar but didn't list it on his lobbying gift reports. The PDC's attorney told the O that Quinton didn't have to, because the Trader Joe's project wasn't discussed at the event.
Update 12:55 PM: Mayor Charlie Hales, who oversees the PDC, has called the announcement "a loss for the city and particularly for Northeast Portland" in a statement just sent out by his spokesman.
We respect today’s decisions by Trader Joe’s and Majestic. We appreciate the various concerns raised by neighbors and other stakeholders, both in favor of, and opposed to, this project.
In all, we view today’s news as a loss for the city and particularly for Northeast Portland.
We are grateful for the effort that Colas Construction, a local, minority-owned construction company, put into making this project happen and we recognize all the hard work Majestic Realty has invested in this effort over the past two years.
Moving forward, we will be communicating with the various stakeholders: Including those who wanted this development and who were excited about it, and those who didn’t want it to happen.
It is too soon to say what comes next for this site. We will work with the full range of stakeholders to determine the next steps. And we remain committed to working with stakeholders to find projects for this and other development sites throughout the city.
Update 4 PM: The Portland African American Leadership Forum, leading the protests against the Majestic Realty proposal, addressed the news during a previously scheduled press conference at the development site this afternoon. They said their main grievance has been about displacement of black Portlanders the PDC's work in historically African American neighborhoods—not the prospect of a Trader Joe's.
The O's North and Northeast Portland reporter covered it:
In the past we have settled for far less,” [former State Senator Avel] Gordly said. “This is a people’s movement for African Americans and other communities, for self-determination.”
PAALF members reiterated previous demands to include an affordable housing component on the two-acre lot and issued several demands.
PAALF leaders said the development commission should publish a comprehensive accounting of the tax increment financing and spending in the Interstate corridor urban renewal area and compose a legally binding community benefits agreement to ensure the employment of African Americans in the construction of PDC sites.
The group also asked for the development commission to create a small business assistance fund for the shops and restaurants in Vanport Plaza.
The city council's state legislative wish list is notably agnostic on whether the Columbia River Crossing—the multibillion-dollar Interstate 5 bridge and highway expansion project—should be pulled from limbo, or not, during next month's legislative session.
But at a hearing today on the city's federal and state legislative agendas, Mayor Charlie Hales made his personal stance crystal clear: He wants lawmakers to do something anything—even if that means killing it dead. Waiting until next year's full legislative session, he says, will complicate questions about how to fund millions' worth of other transportation project that might be just as vital to the region.
"Whether you love the project or hate it," Hales said, "this is a good time to decide. I want to encourage them as colleagues and friends to call the question and answer it. Please."
Hales was reacting to a back and forth in Salem over the project. Governor John Kitzhaber this week issued an exhortation to legislative leaders this week that they approve an Oregon-only version of the bridge-and-highway project by March. Senate President Peter Courtney answered the governor by telling him to start things back up with Washington State.
For Commissioner Steve Novick, though, those comments wound up bringing to mind a particular scene from The Princess Bride. In that scene, Billy Crystal explains the difference between something being "mostly dead" (revive it!) or "all dead" (loot it!).
"It does strike me that if the CRC is all dead," Novick said, "then we should go through its pockets for loose change."
Add trash-talk to Commissioner Steve Novick's famed repertoire of rhetorical talents.
Novick, never shy with a jab or a quip, is seizing on some recent sporting news to fire back at an Oregonian editorial board that's made hay in recent weeks by aiming some public cheap shots at the Portland City Council. Novick, a member of the council, has naturally taken some umbrage and seems to have decided it's not worth trying to please an editorial board that any savvy reader can see has taken a hard right turn toward the suburbs.
It's here, but we'll post the whole thing for your convenience. Is he speaking for the council? It's not clear. But no one else's name appears on this, so probably not.
The Oregonian has spent the past couple of weeks trash-talking the city council. They've written things like: "you have to wonder sometimes whether the Portland City Council actively pursues mediocrity..." They've had a "live chat" on "Does Portland deserve a better city council?" They've repeatedly crossed the line between criticism and contempt.
And so far, the members of the City Council have kept a dignified silence. But after watching Richard Sherman's post-NFC championship game explosion the other day, I've decided, the hell with that. Let’s have some fun. If the Oregonian wants to trash-talk, let's trash-talk. Let's give the fans something to talk about. Because we can do it better than they can. We can out-trash-talk the Oregonian on the field, off the field, or in an alley.
You want to talk about mediocre? A paper that only delivers four times a week, now that's mediocre. You want to question our commitment to jobs? Seriously? The paper that specializes in firing people - good people like Ryan White and Scott Learn - wants to talk about jobs?
We're the best City Council in the league. And we're not going to be bullied by some sorry Orange County right-wing publisher. We'll be here after you're gone, Mr. N. Christian Anderson III - after the Newhouse family wakes up and realizes that it's economic idiocy to try to foist a Fox News paper on a progressive readership.
And don't think for a minute that anything you write will have any influence on us at all. Lions don't concern themselves with the opinions of sheep.
(No, I also have no idea what COB means. And based on urbandictionary.com's findings, I don't think I want to know.)
Update 3 PM: Novick has written another blog post, this time taking pains to say he doesn't think editorial page editor Erik Lukens is a terrible human being—and that he's absolutely not holding up the paper's reporters for opprobrium.
Lukens, for the record, called me back when I rang him for comment. He didn't seem outraged. He said he saw the whole thing as "Steve being Steve."
Novick's new post mentions Richard Nixon and includes his picture. I laughed at that.
He also asks and answers a compelling question, emphasis mine:
And yes, I guess I could have caveated my post with the same things I’m saying here… but that wouldn’t have made it a very good trash-talk.
Years after Commissioner Dan Saltzman figured Portland's fire bureau do its business more quickly by letting fancy SUVs handle the medical calls that dominate its workload, the city finally gave the idea an earnest spin last year.
Saltzman and Mayor Charlie Hales worked out a budget deal with the fire bureau and Portland Firefighters Union sticking four of the light trucks (aka Rapid Response Vehicles, or RRVs) at four fire stations—with funding to run the things all day, every day. That agreement also required a six-month check-in with the city council meant to answer how the RRV program was working.
And the answer, according to a fire bureau report headed to council this week, is pretty good.
So far. In the most encouraging finding, the four stations hosting the RRVs have all seen significant increases in their overall response times. Saltzman, fire commissioner since this summer, had long argued that using RRVs for lower-priority medical calls would free up the bureau's more heavily staffed engines and ladder trucks for serious calls. The data seems to show he was right.
The RRVs also saved the bureau some cash, albeit slightly. RRVs travel farther than the big rigs, but get five to six times as many miles per gallon as one of the bureau's larger rescue vehicles. The RRVs also spare the big vehicles—which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace—unnecessary wear and tear.
Read the whole report here (pdf).
And even that presumed Right 2 Dream Too was willing to move into the building—something that's been up in the air ever since Hales' office went public with the Hoyt site (first reported by the Mercury) late last year. Right 2 Dream Too has resisted moving indoors, seeing tents as part of its low-cost mission of helping the homeless, and wanted a longer commitment for a least at Hoyt.
Josh Alpert, the Hales policy adviser whose time has been devoted to the relocation, says those talks were waiting until more information came back about the Hoyt site. Between the unspecified zoning challenges and a "ballpark" cost estimate of $335,000 for repairs, he said "those two things combined led the mayor and Commissioner [Amanda] Fritz to say that's not the best option." The city already was prepared to pay $10,000 a month in rent for 15 months.
"We're continuing to look," for another location, Alpert says. "Right 2 Dream is looking, too."
For now, Alpert says, the site will remain at 4th and Burnside, where it's been since October 2011. Hales' office stepped into the relocation issue last fall after Pearl District developers and neighbors flooded city hall with complaints over a plan previously worked out with Fritz. Fritz and the Portland Development Commission promised a lot beneath the Lovejoy ramp of the Broadway Bridge as part of a settlement that cleared more than $20,000 in code fines for Right 2 Dream Too.
UPDATE 5:50 PM: The announcement comes after tensions between Hales' office and Right 2 Dream Too flared publicly during citizen comment at yesterday's Portland City Council hearing. Those tensions, about feeling like they've been kept in the dark, have been fed by the sometimes frustrating back-and-forth among the parties but also by reports shared by activists close to Right 2 Dream Too that police have been continually clearing out spots where homeless Portlanders have camped and collecting their property.
Messages left with Fritz, with Mark Kramer, the attorney representing Right 2 Dream Too, and with Ibrahim Mubarak, a co-founder of the site, have yet to be returned. Alpert acknowledged that communication has been an issue in the relocation talks but that Hales and his staff are heeding concerns like those expressed yesterday.
Portland City Council this afternoon handed the city's Independent Police Review Division a long-awaited victory—voting 4-0 on a package of code reforms meant to shine more light on the police bureau's famously opaque discipline process, speed up investigations, and give civilian investigators, for the first time, the explicit right to interview all police employees when looking into misconduct cases.
The vote, with Commissioner Amanda Fritz absent, moves forward a key piece of the city's police reform settlement with the US Department of Justice, which rapped Portland's current system as "byzantine" and "self-defeating." But it also came despite continued criticism on very different two fronts.
Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, repeated his disappointment that he wasn't consulted more deeply about changes he thinks will usurp police authority. (He threatened last month to file a labor complaint about it.) And advocates for police accountability kept up their call to go even further with reforms and delay changes until a federal judge takes up the settlement agreement with the feds at a community "fairness" hearing on February 18.
Those concerns, especially from advocates, weren't unexpected when I wrote this week's Hall Monitor on the vote. And Mayor Charlie Hales and city commissioners had a ready answer for them during today's short hearing: This vote, they said, won't be the end of changes to the city's police oversight system.
Advocates' wish list includes giving more time to a civilian panel charged with hearing misconduct appeals; the feds' have called for just a 21-day window that current members of the Citizen Review Commission call unworkable. (Steve Novick today also called it "ridiculous.") It also includes an independent civilian discipline panel, extending civilian oversight to police shootings, and the end of a 48-hour window protecting cops in force cases from giving statements.
"This is clearly not the last time we'll be taking these issues up," said Commissioner Nick Fish, first to vote yes. "There are more reforms to come. But their is a sense of urgency in moving these reforms forward."
Hales, speaking last, said as much in his remarks.
After six years of often contentious negotiations with city officials, neighbors, and dogged environmental advocates on an expensive and high-wire plan to build a new shipping terminal on West Hayden Island, the Port of Portland announced this morning that it's pulling its proposal for now. And maybe forever.
Word came down to the port's commissioners this morning—with a letter (pdf) also delivered to Mayor Charlie Hales. Bill Wyatt, the port's executive director, said the city's conditions for blessing the port's plan—targeting one of the region's last great expanses of raw nature—were too costly for the proposed development project to pencil out.
The city's Planning and Sustainability Commission recommended last summer that Portland City Council approve the deal with the port, but with stringent requirements for offsetting environmental damage as well as public health and traffic impacts for nearby residents.
Those conditions were expected to cost tens of millions of dollars—raising the bar for a project whose prospects were already touchy based on economic reports drafted before the planning commission made its vote. Sources and others had been saying the council was loath to budge on those conditions. Wyatt, in his letter to Hales this morning, wrote Hales had told him pretty much the same thing during a meeting the two had last month.
The heart of the port's proposal was a plan to set aside 300 acres of the 800 it owns on West Hayden Island for a terminal and rail and road infrastructure—requiring fill and the disruption of some natural habitat—with the rest of the island's 500 acres mostly preserved but with paths and other amenities carved into it. The city needed to annex the land, long owned by the port, before approving the actual proposal for a terminal.
That 300/500 division was brokered by former Mayor Sam Adams' administration and set the table for discussions with groups like the Audubon Society and others about appropriate mitigation. If, indeed, such a thing existed. Adams tried to push through a deal before leaving office, but the planning commission balked over the compressed time frame and took much of 2013 to refine its findings and do further study.
A previous bid to annex and develop West Hayden Island fell apart in 2000, amid community outcry and partly because the port couldn't find a tenant for a new terminal.
"It would be a massive win for the environment and the community," the Audubon Society's Bob Sallinger said this morning, when asked about rumors the port was about to make an announcement. "It also would be the second time in 15 years they attempted to annex and rezone and failed, and it speaks to how flawed this project is and how strong the opposition is."
Wyatt, in a release sent out by the port this morning, said it's possible the port could try again.
Sallinger said that was unlikely—that the cost of mitigation and the hurdles of globalization, a big reason a new terminal might not deliver on promises of sustainable local jobs, would still be with us.
"It's not getting easier," he says. "It's getting more difficult."
Update 12:15 PM: Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, sent over a response when asked whether Hales was among the council majority supporting the planning commission's conditions or not. He said Hales was in presiding at city council when the letter came down.
"The mayor supports the commission.
It’s always been a question of jobs vs. open spaces. No decision was going to make everyone happy. No surprises here.
The mayor has heard the Port’s opinion and totally understands the perspective from which they approach this. But he hasn’t had the opportunity to read, analyze and respond to today’s letter."
Mayor Charlie Hales told local public safety officials way back in September—an announcement first reported by the Mercury—that he was considering next month's abbreviated legislative session for the revival of a sit-lie push that faltered last spring despite heavy pressure from the Portland Business Alliance.
But now, it seems, that's no longer the plan. Hales' office has decided the politics of pushing a controversial bill in the condensed legislative session will make for too risky of a gamble.
"Even-numbered years are too damned hard," says Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, confirming a report that came out a little while ago in practically simultaneous tweets and posts by the Oregonian and Willamette Week.
The last straw, Haynes says, was a meeting today with House Speaker Tina Kotek. Kotek warned Hales that a bill wasn't already a "slam dunk" (as Haynes put it) heading into the session starting February 3 wouldn't be worth the effort.
"That did it," Haynes said—noting earlier in our conversation that the mayor's office had been "heading this way" already after its own internal conversations with top city lobbyist Martha Pellegrino. Haynes says Pellegrino told the office she couldn't "guarantee [us] this bill in 2014," citing the condensed schedule.
"You have so few bills and so few weeks," Haynes says.
Internal talks also touched on the notion that the city hasn't "necessarily used every single tool in [its] toolkit" for dealing with sidewalk management and aggressive panhandling.
"If we go to the Legislature and say that the to Senate Judiciary Committee," Haynes says, "their answer will be 'do that first.'"
And if the effort faltered in 2014, so soon after faltering in 2013, Haynes said Pellegrino warned, that losing streak would become its own hurdle—adding to outcry from advocates who worry that sit-lie bills are inhumane and allow for discrimination against the homeless.
"In Salem," Haynes says, "bills get a taint if they lose too many times in a row."
In fact, at today's meeting of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, the same body where Hales made his announcement in September, State Representative Jennifer Williamson hinted at what turned out to be Kotek's advice to Hales. Williamson, who was on the House Judiciary Committee when it approved last year's sit-lie push, warned leadership in Salem was trying to punt any and all legislation deemed controversial into next year's regular session.
But in a shift—hashed out this fall amid some major questions about the future of urban renewal in Portland—the PDC has found a way to fund the work without preventing Mayor Charlie Hales from rolling back or canceling the Portland State urban renewal district as part of a restructuring proposal expected to be refined later this year.
Instead of borrowing money against future tax revenue raised in the city's so-called "Education URA," a decision that would prevent the PDC from shutting year-old urban renewal area early, the PDC has proposed spending some of the tax revenue it's already collected and put in the bank.
"It allows us to leave all options open," says Lisa Abuaf, the PDC's central city manager.
The agreement heads before the PDC's board for a vote this Thursday. Hales had already told the PDC it needed to pay the money it promised. If the PDC didn't find the money, the $3.8 million project—adding a second track to the only remaining single-track segment of the streetcar system—would have been in jeopardy. State grant money obtained by the Portland Bureau of Transportation to pay for much of the work would have expired.
In total, PDC is pitching in a little more than $1.5 million, with just over $1.2 million coming from the PSU district.
Officials are keen to have the streetcar work start before the new light-rail bridge over the Willamette opens. With the chokepoint in place, requiring trains in opposite directions to take turns sharing a track near SW 4th and Montgomery, the entire streetcar loop would face delays and travel times more interminable than they already are.
City Commissioner Nick Fish is finally making it official.
After weeks of collecting checks like a candidate—and hiring campaign staffers like a candidate—Fish today has launched a re-election website and quietly filed the formal paperwork needed to place his name on this May's primary election ballot.
Maybe that's because no one major has yet to declare against Fish, even as he's become a target for industrial water interests after taking over the city's water and environmental services bureaus last year. Incumbents, as Mary Nolan learned in challenging Amanda Fritz in 2012, are notoriously tough to unseat.
But Fish isn't ruling out the possibility that seemingly easy landscape might change. He made sure to point out, in an interview in his office, that the quiet announcement actually followed hours of calls and community check-ins, with Fish waiting to declare, he says, until he'd lined up a convincingly deep list supporters, raised "seed" cash, and hired his team.
"My goal was to raise at least $50,000 last year, which we did. And I've been out earning endorsements," he tells the Mercury—ripping through a short list of big names, including two labor organizations, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and politicians and advocates including House Speaker Tina Kotek, County Commissioner Loretta Smith, Commissioner Fritz, candidate for Multnomah County chair Deborah Kafaoury, former State Senator Avel Gordly, and Michael Alexander of the Urban League (who wrote Fish a campaign check).
The Portland Business Alliance has hardly kept its disdain for Right 2 Dream Too—Old Town's tent-based rest area for the homeless—much of a secret.
In December 2012, it asked Commissioner Dan Saltzman to evict the group, citing a crime spike that actual crime numbers proved wrong. More recently, last September, it sent Commissioner Amanda Fritz a letter urging against her plan to move the site to a city lot beneath a Broadway Bridge off-ramp on the border of the Pearl District.
And on December 16, just before the holidays, the PBA weighed in once again (pdf). This time, according to letters and emails obtained by the Mercury, President Sandra McDonough wrote the city council to stick up for Old Town/Chinatown—and reaffirm Mayor Charlie Hales' promise (reported by the Oregonian) that any permanent home for R2DToo would be somewhere else. Hales has proposed moving the site into an empty warehouse at 320 NW Hoyt for no more than 15 months.
But that letter wasn't the end of McDonough's conversation with city hall. Fritz wrote her back a few days later—saying she wanted to see more than one site like R2DToo in Portland and also suggesting the business community "step up" with more funding for social services. And that's when McDonough got down to brass tacks and revealed just how little the PBA (publicly) understands the mechanics of R2DToo.
Whereas Fritz had described the site as "a safe place for people experiencing houselessness... to sleep in safety without being roused by police or private security," McDonough still clung to the notion that the well-run, volunteer-led organization was nothing more than an "illegal camp." (Hit the jump to see the full emails exchanged by Fritz and McDonough.)
"Saying the answer is having the business community 'step up' with funds to build shelters fails to recognize the city’s obligation," McDonough wrote back, later adding, "We do not think an illegal camp is now, or ever has been, an appropriate answer."
McDonough will have to work hard to convince the city council otherwise. Fritz has been a stalwart champion for Right 2 Dream Too. And Hales, though he helped complicate the plan to move the site into the Pearl, has also taken pains to say how much he appreciates R2DToo's work and model.
And as for progress leading toward a move? Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says the owners of the Hoyt property were willing to let things glide through the holidays and that nothing's really changed, except for some more meetings.
There's also still no firm deadline, Haynes says. However, he pointed out correctly, "we're through the holidays."
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