Their announcement came roughly at the end of a 60-day window that Hales promised prominent Pearl developers who were fighting the city's initial plan for Right 2 Dream Too—moving them beneath a Broadway Bridge off-ramp—and asking for time to craft an alternative.
"We've got a lease in hand, ready to sign," Hales told reporters outside the site during a chilly set of interviews outside the 1925 warehouse building. "We did it within the 60 days."
But Hales and his staff also made clear that time was running short to get that deal together. Further—pointedly acknowledging that Right 2 Dream Too had not yet agreed to make the move—they also said they meant to drive home that urgency by going public at a meeting where neither R2DToo nor their lead sponsor in city hall, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, were invited to attend.
An agreement with the property's owner, Alco Investments of Seattle, would need to be signed by December 16, policy director Josh Alpert says. The reason? Other parties have expressed interest in the warehouse property, which has been on the market off an on in recent years.
"We are urging them to take this deal," said Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, when asked by Aaron Mesh of Willamette Week whether Hales' office was resorting to "brinksmanship." Hales later repeated the sentiment.
And if they don't? Right 2 Dream Too would have to stay at its current lot, at NW 4th and Burnside. Neither staffer indicated Hales would allow a move to the Station Place parking lot in the Pearl that Fritz had chosen, in concert with Hales. "They'll stay where they are," Haynes says.
Alpert also confirmed, as I'd reported this afternoon, that two of the developers opposing the Pearl move, Dike Dame and Homer Williams, have expressed an interest in buying the Station Place parking lot, often referred to as Lot 7. But Alpert walked back any notion that proceeds could be used to help with the Hoyt move. Alpert also says he doesn't remember if he first learned of their interest after Fritz and Hales put the lot in play and that there was "no particular plan" to sell it.
Among the biggest sticking points, they said, was the length of the lease. Fritz told me earlier today she had "significant concerns" about a lease that would last just 12 months. Alpert and Haynes said that's where they'd left things in a negotiating session with R2DToo last night. But they said they'd since been told they could have up to 15 months and that Fritz had been informed, if not the rest of R2DToo's board.
"The people who own the land want to sell it," Alpert says. "They know Old Town is developing."
It was unclear if the extension would sweeten the deal for R2DToo's board members, who clearly feel frustrated after getting this close to a deal on a site they overwhelmingly are excited about. I've called Ibrahim Mubarak, R2DToo's spokesman and lead figure, for comment. He's apparently meeting with Fritz. Fritz expressed frustration that she hadn't heard of the meeting.
The property in question sits at 320 NW Hoyt. It was on the short list of sites the Mercury previously reported had been turned over to Right 2 Dream Too and city officials by the Pearl consortium led by developers Dike Dame and Homer Williams. It's currently owned by a firm based in Seattle. Besides the warehouse space, the site also has a loading dock. The 1925 site would doubtlessly require improvements like sprinklers and bathrooms.
That a building has surfaced as a realistic alternative to the site Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mayor Charlie Hales initially proposed for R2DToo—a city-owned parking lot beneath the Broadway Bridge's Lovejoy ramp—could be a sign of a major breakthrough. That parking lot, dubbed Lot 7 and part of the Station Place development, is the subject of a challenge by Dame and Williams, who argue the city would be breaking its own code and abrogating development agreements if it moved R2DToo onto the land.
It's unclear, however, if a final deal is in place and what kind of terms—who will pay for fixes, duration of a lease, etc.—are in play.
"Negotiations took place yesterday," said a source close to the talks, asking for anonymity given the sensitivity of discussions that involve not only R2DToo and Dame and Williams, but also Amanda Fritz and staffers for Hales. "There were still critical conditions that had not been agreed to."
Ibrahim Mubarak, spokesman for R2DToo, did not immediately return a request for comment. Commissioner Amanda Fritz declined to comment during a brief break in this morning's city council meeting. I'll update if I have any more details.
Update 2 PM: Fritz has gone on the record, saying she wasn't aware that a meeting had been planned with mayor's office at the Hoyt site and that she still has "significant concerns" about the terms of what's been discussed. Namely, that a deal for the Hoyt site would be just for one year, including time spent getting it fixed up, work done on the city's dime.
"I was not aware of the meeting," she told me. "I was not aware Right 2 Dream Too had agreed to this site. I have significant concerns about spending investing city money in a building that will only be used for one year."
Separately, sources have confirmed another tricky piece of the negotiations. Williams and Dame have asked to purchase Lot 7 from the city, potentially to give the city money to work on Hoyt. Of course, that also takes away leverage for a deal, since R2DToo has held onto the Pearl site as a fallback—figuring the Pearl group, despite its challenge, would still rather work on a new site than fight out a code battle over the Pearl site.
Interestingly, the lot does not appear in a list of properties for sale by the Portland Development Commission obtained by the Mercury. So any talks would be happening before the public gets a crack at the lot. I've already asked the PDC for its policy on land sales and for its own list of property for sale.
Housing and social justice advocates—troubled by this summer's tense and difficult conversation around homelessness and poverty—have launched a new social media storytelling campaign meant, in part, to help reframe and recontextualize what's been a particularly polarized debate.
It's dressed in a Twitter hashtag—#MyHomePDX. And after several days of a soft rollout on Twitter and elsewhere, it's getting a full-on start next Tuesday, November 26. For now, the idea is to get regular people talking on social media about our shared values on homelessness and compassion, with the hopes of building a coalition, some day, around raising new money for helping ease the plight of people living on the streets.
The work is being led by Street Roots, but will be shared by several organizations and individuals recruited specifically for their social media acumen. Beyond SR, participating groups include Neighborhood Partnerships and Northwest Pilot Project, which provides housing for seniors.
Storytelling is a huge part of the campaign—reminding people how many of their neighbors are already doing work to help people and that the reality of homelessness looks nothing like some of the sensational headlines and myths some people cling to. But it's also about encouraging more people who aren't volunteering or donating what they can or spending time with the homeless to get personally involved.
The Mercury has obtained a copy of the campaign's work plan (pdf), which covers most of those ideas, in four "pillars," and also breaks down its long- and short-term aspirations.
This campaign feels like a continuation of two successful and similar efforts, over the past two years, to protect and enhance safety net funding in the city of Portland's budget. But it's also influenced by, if not quite a direct response to, new initiatives this year to bring back "sit-lie" laws, sweep city sidewalks amid Mayor Charlie Hales' heavy-handed talk of "lawlessness," and hold "civility" forums that struck many observers as achieving precisely the opposite.
"We want people to capture why they give to people on the streets or to local organizations, to recognize that there's a lot of doom and gloom around this issue, but that at the end of the day, our community cares and is compassionate," says Israel Bayer, Street Roots' executive director. "There's a silent majority of Portlanders who care about homelessness and poverty issues. What happens is that these incendiary conversations and debates sometimes that blocks out the good stuff being done."
Bayer actually is understating his last point. The latest Oregon Values & Beliefs Project, conducted this spring, suggests it might actually be a silent supermajority. Something like 84 percent of respondents said they support job training for low-income people—with 79 percent support social services programs aimed at preventing hunger and homelessness.
"We welcome all of the groups who care about this issue," Bayer says, "and who want to take part in something positive."
Noting that he’s “disgusted” with homeless people, [Hawaii state Representative Tom] Brower told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about his own personal brand of “justice”: “If I see shopping carts that I can’t identify, I will destroy them so they can’t be pushed on the streets.” Brower has waged this campaign for two weeks, estimating that he’s smashed about 30 shopping carts in the process.
It should be noted that Brower is a Democrat. Here's video of his crusade:
This is way flashier than, say, investing money in mental health programs, or making sure that Hawaii has plenty of low-cost housing. Maybe next Brower will address teen pregnancy by lighting fire to a big pile of tube tops.
Maybe you didn't read the Oregonian's op-ed pages this weekend. But if you did, you might have learned something surprising.
The volunteers at Right 2 Dream Too, the controversial Old Town homeless rest area, are now apparently responsible for the vagaries and indignities of the notoriously fickle restaurant business. We know this because of the experiences of two different restaurants nearby, as related by failed Republican senate candidate James Huffman.
Huffman laments the purported decline of one old-timey joint, not-cheap Greek eatery Alexis at NW 2nd and Burnside, and the demise of another (that he invested in; it was partly run by his son), Ping at NW 4th and Couch. He's clear about his version of the reasons for both.
The biggest problem, however, is the homeless camp just one block away. Congregations of homeless people have always been a reality for Chinatown businesses, but the “Right 2 Dream Too” camp encourages even more while discouraging pedestrian traffic, particularly in the evening.
The camp is illegal. Yet it has been there for more than two years. Commissioner Amanda Fritz has tried to negotiate an alternative site, but that’s on hold because Mayor Charlie Hales is concerned about the effect of a new campsite on nearby business interests.
But what about the interests of Gerry Tsirimiagos and the other business people struggling to make a living in this neglected part of our city? I confess I have a small dog in this fight as owner of a small share of Ping, a nearby, once-thriving restaurant that had garnered national recognition. It is now closed, and has been since business plummeted right after the homeless camp arrived. Gerry says the camp had the same effect on his business.
He's right about a few things. Right 2 Dream Too does exist and has existed fore than more two years. Fritz really has brokered a deal that would give it a new home in the Pearl. But all the rest? It's malarkey—and the O should have known better than to give it any credence.
Alexis still gets good reviews. But it's not like it's not been running in what Portland used to charmingly call its Skid Row for years and years—a place filled with social services institutions and relief agencies that have long been a magnet for people on the streets looking for shelter, medical assistance, or a hot meal and some time out of the rain.
That reality preceded R2DToo and it will continue, sadly, long after R2DToo is gone. R2DToo hasn't changed the makeup of a neighborhood that must not have been so bad that Alexis, as Huffman remembers it, hadn't managed to thrive before. And if that kind of thing really does matter so much, then why hasn't the Chinese restaurant right next door to R2DToo—packed during lunchtime some days—closed its doors?
Moreover Huffman's own post alludes to some of the other factors that might be hurting the Alexis (beyond the notion that restaurants come and go and wear out all on their own, in any location):
Gerry has battled with the city over reduced parking on Burnside to accommodate buses. He got a few of those parking spaces back. But the city now bans nearby on-street parking after 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays so that police patrols won’t be obstructed by parked cars. Gerry’s pleas to move the prohibition back to 11 p.m. or midnight have fallen on deaf ears.
The problem with his Ping anecdote is far more clear-cut. The O's own reporting this fall broke the news that it would reopen as a commissary for Lardo, also co-owned by Huffman's son. Ping didn't close because of a homeless rest area. It's owners had been soul-searching about their future since before R2DToo arrived, when chef Andy Ricker bolted to promote his own empire. The place closed to remodel and rebrand, except that rebranding never happened. And yet it will still live on. Huffman, as a self-described investor, should know that history better.
Huffman does offers this caveat to his points.
Can he prove it? Probably not, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence from former customers and the balance sheets of both restaurants don’t lie.
Once again, he's right about something. Balance sheets don't lie. Or fudge facts. Or twist details.
Instead, that kind of work is left to an op-ed writer.
Mark Kramer, representing R2DToo, confirmed the proposed sites were "on both sides" of the Willamette River—meaning some are close to Old Town and its important gathering of social services. That's a major priority for R2DToo. It wants its sleeping space available and nearby, day and night, for people who are already downtown for appointments or to take free meals at relief agencies.
But Kramer, in an interview yesterday, said it was "premature" to know whether any of the sites might work and that R2DToo organizers had yet to review each of them deeply. But those site visits have already begun. And the Mercury this morning has learned that some of the sites include both indoor and outdoor space.
Kramer also had sharp words for Mayor Charlie Hales and his role in the negotiations to date—and his openness with R2DToo.
"On a scale of one to 10, the rating is zero," Kramer says. "On a scale of one to 10 with the back channels... that's a different story."
News about the list of potential sites follows another day of tense public statements in the talks between the Pearl group (which is working with Hales) and Right 2 Dream Too (which has been working with Commissioner Amanda Fritz).
Kramer yesterday dropped the rest area's (and its landlords') lawsuit against the city challenging camping fines—and said he and Fritz were still actively working on a Pearl move, despite objections.
Fritz offered to settle the suit in September by waiving some $20,000 in fines and promising to move the rest area to a new, city approved site. She eventually promised, with Hales' blessing, a portion of a Portland Development Commission parking lot beneath the Lovejoy off-ramp of the Broadway Bridge.
That promise was brokered in September by Commissioner Amanda Fritz, with the close blessing of Mayor Charlie Hales. But it's been on hold since October 3 when Hales, siding with friendly developers Homer Williams and Dike Dame, agreed to hold off on approving a zoning letter clearing the way for R2DToo to take over the site.
Williams and Dame, along with Williams' stepdaughter, Tiffany Sweitzer of Hoyt Development, have joined with the Pearl District Neighborhood Association in pre-emptively challenging that zoning letter in front of the Land Use Board of Appeals. To sweeten that promise of legal action, the Pearl group has agreed to help find an alternative, indoor site for the outdoor rest area. Hales, going over Fritz's head and complicating the lawsuit Kramer will dismiss, gave them 60 days.
The Pearl group's efforts actually make Kramer's disclosure about continued work on the Pearl site particularly interesting. The Mercury exclusively reported last Friday that Hales, before heading to China, personally assured Dame in an email that he wouldn't let anything happen with the Pearl lot or any other city lot until a deal was reached or the 60 days expired.
Fritz criticized the mayor the next day, writing, "the only way Right 2 Dream Too does not move to Lot 7, is if they are offered and agree to a deal that changes that agreement. Or, if Mayor Hales breaks the City’s previous promise."
The back and forth comes after the Pearl group announced the framework of a deal with Right 2 Dream Too—an announcement that neither Fritz or R2DToo organizers said they knew was coming. Kramer, in today's statement, said the pronouncement of progress last week was all talk.
"Although there has been much talk about such alternatives, no feasible site has been formally presented to R2DToo," he wrote.
He also confirmed that the site will be able to stay on their current land and that the current landlords aren't receiving compensation. Property owners Dan Cossette and Michael Wright, part of R2DToo's lawsuit against the city, have agreed to let the rest area remain. The Pearl group had reportedly offered some kind of compensation—I've been told by several people that it was several thousand dollars a month—but only if R2DToo agreed to formally swear off a move to the Pearl.
That's clearly not the case.
Check Kramer's full statement after the jump.
Update 2:26 PM: Right 2 Dream Too has also issued a statement. It's on the jump, too.
The email was sent late October 24, the night before Hales embarked upon a long business trip to China. It was addressed to Dike Dame, president of Williams/Dame, and copied to Hales' chief of staff, Gail Shibley, and Patricia Gardner, president of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association, and Tiffany Sweitzer of Hoyt Street Properties. (We've redacted the email addresses.)
Apparently crafted in response to a missive sent by Dame, Hales basically promised he would personally block any effort, within the next 60 days, to move R2DToo onto the lot Fritz had identified, a Portland Development Commission parking lot better known as Lot 7. Hales, during a contentious city council meeting October 3, had already moved to put that offer on hold. Instead, he'd promised Dame and his partner, Homer Williams, both of them major political donors, that he'd give the developers more time to find an alternative.
"I will not authorize its relocation to any city property under my authority during this time, including any property owned by the Portland Development Commission," Hales wrote.
The Pearl group working on that deal, incidentally, issued a statement yesterday praising Hales for his leadership and suggesting a deal with Right 2 Dream Too was close. That announcement, however, was news to the rest area's organizers, and Fritz—as well as the attorney working with R2DToo, Mark Kramer.
That statement wasn't the first time the group had mentioned Hales in a statement but not Fritz. And the statement and the email aren't the only indication the Pearl group clearly feels more comfortable running its communications through Hales' office. Calendars obtained by the Mercury in a public records request this week show Josh Alpert, a senior policy director, has been scheduling twice daily check-in calls with Dame for several days, apparently all at Dame's insistence. (Hales' office says some of the calls have been as long as six words and haven't always been returned. Like when Alpert represented the city in Copenhagen.)
Hales had previously told the Oregonian that the Pearl site was still alive, a 50-50 option. But that was before he apparently worked with Fritz to broker the 60-day negotiation period. A period, I might add, that hasn't been formally agreed upon by attorneys, given that it would require extending the terms of a legal settlement paving the way for R2DToo's move out of Old Town.
Fritz, when reached for comment today, confirmed she had seen the email soon after it was sent, but that she "didn't know that was coming. This came out of left field."
Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, declined to immediately comment on the email because he hadn't read it yet.
Update 4:48 PM Ibrahim Mubarak, co-founder of Right 2 Dream Too, has sent a statement reflecting on the past two days of updates:
While in San Francisco for meetings and a conference, I was surprised to see that the Pearl District group claimed through the media to have reached a "tentative deal" with them at a different site, then what we have negotiated with the city. As the lead negotiator on behalf of Right 2 Dream Too not only has no agreement been reached (tentatively or in any other way) we have never even had discussions with any representatives from the Pearl District group as a whole, about this site.
At the City Council meeting (Oct. ) it was said by Homer Williams and Dike Dame along with the Pearl group as they call themselves, that we would all meet together and be transparent, so that it wouldn't be any behind the door stuff. I reiterate, we of R2Too have not been in negotiations together with the Pearl group, city officials, Mark Kramer (our Lawyer). I sincerely hope that the leaders of the Pearl district organization can re-examine what it means to negotiate in good faith as they stated was their intent. It is clearly ours as well. To use good faith means we speak and reach decisions with each other before we send out press releases stating falsehoods and assumptions.
Update 11 AM Saturday: Fritz sent over a correction late last night, quibbling with inartful wording in the post and saying she hadn't worked with Hales to broker a 60-day window (although, I'll note, she did later announce a tentative agreement on that timeframe, after the mayor first made mention of it in a quick interview with Oregonian).
She also took umbrage with the insinuation that Hales has put a knife in the Pearl relocation for Right 2 Dream Too—using some strong language to say that if Hales can't manage to work out a deal with Dame and Williams that suits Right 2 Dream Too's needs, then he'll be breaking a city promise that Fritz negotiated.
Mayor Hales did not work with me to broker a 60 day negotiation period. He announced it without consulting me.
There is no 60-day negotiation period brokered. Neither I nor Right to Dream Too have agreed to one.
The Pearl site is still alive. I signed a Settlement Agreement on behalf of the City, with the Mayor’s knowledge and consent, agreeing to move Right to Dream Too to Lot 7 (under the Lovejoy ramp of the Broadway Bridge in the Pearl). I will not break a promise given by the City, and by me. The only way Right to Dream Too does not move to Lot 7, is if they are offered and agree to a deal that changes that Agreement. Or, if Mayor Hales breaks the City’s previous promise.
The full Hales email is after the jump.
The consortium of Pearl District neighbors and businesses fighting Commissioner Amanda Fritz's plan to move Right 2 Dream Too onto a city-owned lot beneath a Broadway Bridge off-ramp shed some light this afternoon on their efforts to find an alternative site for the homeless rest area.
In a detailed statement, the group—led by Williams/Dame Associates, Hoyt Street Properties, and the Pearl District Neighborhood Association—sketched out a proposal that would put the Old Town rest area in a building, potentially in an industrial district, and provide for bus service, moving expenses, materials for temporary tent accommodations, and utilities.
"While a final deal has not yet been reached with the City and Right to Dream Too, the group is optimistic that an acceptable and legal path will be secured in the coming weeks and that a final agreement can be completed shortly thereafter," says the statement, sent by spokesman John Mangan.
The announcement follows a tentative agreement more than a week ago to keep the site on its current lots at NW 4th and Burnside for 60 more days while negotiations for a new site play out. To keep up leverage in those talks, the Pearl group has filed but stayed an appeal with the Land Use Board of Appeals of any decision letting R2DToo move to the Pearl site pushed by Fritz.
It's unclear, however, whether R2DToo or Fritz support the proposal. Both have declined to comment in recent days on the pace of the talks. The announcement implies support from Mayor Charlie Hales, continuing to notably and pointedly praise his role in pushing for the new negotiations.
Says the statement:
"Under the Mayor’s leadership, the Pearl Group of neighbors and businesses has been working diligently since the October 3 City Council hearing to explore a variety of alternative solutions to the current status of Right to Dream Too. In addition to meetings with the City and Right to Dream Too, the group reached out to property owners, trade unions and community members who might be willing to offer resources."
Hales, meanwhile, is in China, partly on business and partly on vacation. He'll be back in town Tuesday. It's been said that nothing official could happen without his blessing or while he's gone.
UPDATE 4:56 PM: Fritz didn't immediately comment. In fact, she asked me to share the details when I called her for comment and that she planned to reach out to the mayor's office for more information.
UPDATE 5:33 PM: The announcement also was news to principles within Right 2 Dream Too. Sources close to the talks remain circumspect about the terms and priorities laid out—and were puzzled by the reference to some kind of agreement on a "legal path" with the city. They're still waiting for something specific and plan to keep talking in good faith, they say.
Organizers also are wary of the offer for transportation. A bus might work for the members who sleep at R2DToo permanently. But so many of the people who sleep there are "overnighters" or "daytimers" drawn from the downtown area, and who might struggle to get to the rest area if it were too far away and then struggle to get back to social services providers after their stay in the rest area.
UPDATE 8:45 PM:
Fritz issued a statement earlier tonight pouring cold water all over the Pearl group's announcement. She confirmed something to the Oregonian I'd only heard off the record previously: That the Pearl negotiators tried to tie their promise of help for an alternative site to a promise to give up the Pearl site. Fritz dismissed that.
No deal has been reached between Right to Dream Too, the City, and the Pearl District Group.
No site has been suggested by the Pearl District Group that is both legal for the proposed use and acceptable to Right to Dream Too.
No additional sites are currently under review by the City or Right to Dream Too.
No additional new sites have been suggested by the Pearl District Group.
There has been no response by the Pearl District Group to the offer made Monday, October 28 by Mark Kramer, Right to Dream Too’s attorney.
The Pearl District Group’s “proposal”, as outlined in their press release, has not been presented to Right to Dream Too, to their attorney, or to me.
The full Pearl statement is after the jump.
After a long spell of puzzling over how to pull it off—the sizable sums of money required, and whether an already-generous Portland would dig even deeper to provide them—Street Roots is taking the plunge on a much-rumored major change.
The nonprofit paper, in its current edition, has launched a fundraising push meant to take it weekly by the end of next year. Right now, the street paper—sold by a team of vendors who rely on that income to keep housed and feed their families—publishes just 26 times a year, or every two weeks.
The effort was given a soft launch earlier this month during the first annual Street Roots Family Breakfast. The event, at the Governor Hotel, was well-attended by city and county bigwigs and candidates (Nick Fish, Marissa Madrigal, Jules Bailey, Deborah Kafoury, Jim Francesconi) and nonprofit luminaries.
Doubling the production cycle would require more staff for an editorial team that relies heavily on freelancers (many of whom, including Alex Zielinski, Nathan Gilles, and Jake Thomas, have also written for the Mercury). The paper, edited by Joanne Zuhl, has been pretty regularly recognized for the quality of its social justice reporting.
But the real goal, executive director Israel Bayer writes, is putting more money in the hands of its hundreds of vendors, by giving them twice the chances to put new product into the hands of readers.
Street Roots vendors currently sell about 70 percent of the newspapers in the first week of publication. With a drastic drop in sales, the second week can be lonely and not very profitable. With a weekly publication, we could vastly increase the support vendors have to improve their quality of life.
With your support we can get there. Street Roots needs to raise $200,000 over the next year to provide the staffing and other supports necessary for a weekly publication with the journalistic excellence our readers and vendors expect.
“Going weekly would mean I would be entirely self-sufficient. It would be awesome,” said George, a Street Roots vendor.
The Pearl District neighbors and businesses working to head off Commissioner Amanda Fritz's plan to move homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too beneath a ramp of the Broadway Bridge have filed a formal appeal with the state Land Use Board of Appeals, a spokesman for the group has confirmed.
But the Pearl group also has put the appeal on hold, spokesman John Mangan tells the Mercury.
The group, led by developers Homer Williams and Dike Dame, has been working directly with R2DToo leaders on coming up with a different location than the one Fritz selected and—very important—memorialized into a legal settlement with the group that's supposed to take effect by the end of the month.
That mediation effort has been led more directly by Mayor Charlie Hales. Williams, a key Hales political supporter, persuaded the mayor on October 3 to hold off on approving a zoning letter that wold have cleared the way for Right 2 Dream Too to move out of its current spot on NW 4th and Burnside. The Oregonian reported Friday that Fritz is meeting with R2DToo and other parties today to talk "alternatives." A vote has been on hold to let those discussions—which have proven more difficult than the parties may have expected—play out.
Sources say the Pearl group has promised R2DToo that the move is strictly procedural, and not a sign they want to stop serious discussions.
The zoning letter Fritz's Bureau of Development Services produced in September wasn't billed as a final document, because it was headed for a council vote. But those documents almost always are final and don't require council approval—hence, Fritz could legally pull back a vote altogether and let the move proceed over the heads of her colleagues and over the objections (and likely court claims) of the move's opponents. The Pearl group wants to make sure, if there's any confusion, it doesn't miss its window to file a LUBA appeal.
Mangan, in a statement sent to the Mercury, explained the decision as such (emphasis mine):
"The Zoning Confirmation Letter (ZCL) was issued on September 26. The ZCL states that it is not a final decision. There is a 21 day appeal period to LUBA for final decisions. If anyone who participated in the hearing makes an argument that the ZCL was a final decision, an appeal of the decision would be due on October 17, 2013. So we filed only a precautionary appeal because we agree with the City that there is no final decision on this matter. The City and The Pearl Group together filed an immediate stay of that same appeal so we can continue our constructive conversations on solutions. It is our hope that after our further discussions we can simply withdraw that appeal."
I'd previously asked Fritz's office and BDS to confirm the appeal. Fritz's office hasn't responded yet. BDS replied and said it was checking. Neither Mangan nor LUBA has replied to a request for a copy of the appeal. I've also phoned a spokesman for R2DToo, asking for comment, and have yet to hear back.
Update 11:38 AM: One reason why some of those people haven't gotten back to me? The O just tweeted the outcome of that meeting today. Fritz says R2DToo and presumably the others in their lawsuit, including attorney Mark Kramer, have agreed to extend the timeline for a move out some 60 days. That's what Hales had told the O he wanted last week.
Update 12:20 PM: Fritz's office announced that the site's current landlords, led by Michael Wright, will "receive compensation" from private investors in exchange for their agreement to extend the settlement's moving deadline for an additional 60 days.
A group of Pearl District neighbors and developers working to put off homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too's planned move to a city lot beneath the Lovejoy ramp of the Broadway Bridge issued a statement today confirming recent reports on the painstaking progress of their talks and touting Mayor Charlie Hales' "leadership" of the process.
"We have met with the City and Right to Dream multiple times in these last 12 days. Based on those meetings we have gained a clearer and better understanding of the program needs of Right to Dream," it says. "Working together, we have identified several sites that may be able to accommodate the camp and its proposed operation over the next year. We have looked at several housing solutions. These options involve roofs, not just tents."
The statement, by spokesman John Mangan, comes the same day the Portland City Council had been scheduled to vote on a zoning letter okaying R2DToo's move. That vote, however, was formally pulled back yesterday by its frustrated sponsor, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, after Hales asked her to let the talks with developers keep playing out.
That delay was the second since Fritz announced she had a plan to move Right 2 Dream Too. During an initial hearing October 3 on Fritz's proposal, developer Homer Williams beseeched Hales for more time to work up alternatives.
Williams and his partner, Dike Dame, have said the Bureau of Development Services misinterpreted city zoning code and taking shortcuts in approving the Lovejoy site. They also said the lot in question is covered by a parking agreement signed as part of a development deal with their company. Other opponents said the idea of tent camping is an inhumane solution to homelessness—never mind that waiting for a more substantial solution would take years and millions of dollars that would do little for helping the 1,700 people sleeping outside every night right now.
As I reported in Hall Monitor this week, Fritz has had some pretty harsh things to stay about the talks, whereas Hales' office was bullish. A spokeswoman for Hales said the talks had begun to allow for the possibility of some tent component.
The full statement is after the cut.
Reading between the lines, or just plain reading them as written, it wasn't hard to see Commissioner Amanda Fritz's plain frustration at Mayor Charlie Hales' request she pull back tomorrow's planned vote on a city letter okaying Right 2 Dream Too's move to a city lot in the Pearl.
“Although no viable sites have been suggested by the opponents since the hearing," she wrote, a bit acidly "the Mayor has asked for further delay."
But in an interview this afternoon, Fritz was far more blunt about her feelings—getting into specifics about the state of negotiations between R2DToo leaders and a group of Pearl interests led by Homer Williams and Dike Dame.
“They haven't put anything reasonable on the table in two weeks,” she told me. “That's frustrating.”
Fritz helpfully went into some detail when pressed for specifics about what an "unreasonable" location offer might look like.
She said some of the offered sites were buildings in industrial areas—where, she says, the city’s zoning code doesn’t allow shelters. She also mentioned an outdoor spot far from downtown and its cluster of social services providers—another deal-breaker for Right 2 Dream Too—and a building that’s already been rented.
“We’re not going to do anything that isn't in compliance with the zoning code,” Fritz says—a notable stance, given that opponents of her preferred site, the lot beneath the Broadway Bridge's Lovejoy ramp, have accused Fritz and the Bureau of Development Services of taking shortcuts in interpreting the zoning code they say doesn't allow for camping.
That sounds like less than ringing endorsement of the Hales' plan to let people talk things out. The Oregonian today has reported Hales saying it's "50-50" on whether the city will still push ahead with the Lovejoy site, but declining to give any specifics on the state of negotiations.
His spokeswoman, however, was far more bullish when we spoke this afternoon.
"All the sides are working very well together," KC Cowan told me. "We were astounded at how much they'd accomplished in less than a week. It was amazing."
Cowan also revealed a detail even Fritz had to admit was at least "encouraging."
Commissioner Amanda Fritz has announced she's decided to heed a request by Mayor Charlie Hales and pull back a planned vote this Wednesday on a controversial zoning letter that would let homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too move from Old Town to a city-owned parking in the Pearl.
Fritz confirmed last week she'd been contemplating pulling the vote off of the upcoming city council agenda. She didn't want to press forward while talks were still in play—especially if doing so meant further enraging neighbors and others challenging the move.
The vote initially been set for October 3. But Hales, after a nearly six-hour hearing, put it off two weeks after one of the opponents of the move, developer Homer Williams, beseeched the council for a chance to work with R2DToo and the city in finding a new location.
The mayor's office said yesterday it had no update on those talks. Fritz didn't return a message asking for comment yesterday on how those talks had been progressing. Last week, however, sources said the talks had yet to produce a suitable alternative site for the tent refuge—either indoors or out. Fritz today, in a statement, confirmed that was the case.
A spokesman for Williams and the other businesses in his coalition of opponents said Friday that they were still targeting Wednesday for a deal. The clock is still ticking, however, on a 30-day window to move the site off its current land, at NW 4th and Burnside. That window was part of a legal deal negotiated by Fritz and R2DToo and its landlord, Michael Wright. The city would waive code fines and move the site in exchange for the site and its landlord dropping a lawsuit challenging the city's code enforcement authority.
Here's Fritz's statement:
Commissioner Amanda Fritz told reporters on Tuesday that she has asked the Council Clerk to return Agenda Item 995 back to her office pending further discussions on alternative locations for the Right to Dream Too rest area. Item, 995 to Approve and adopt zoning confirmation letter on Lot 7, Station Place, was the topic for a five hour hearing before Council two weeks ago. The Zoning Confirmation Letter sets out the Bureau of Development Services’ list of applicable Zoning Code rules for the site, proposed as a new location for the Right to Dream Too rest area currently at NW 4th/Burnside. Right to Dream Too is a drug-free, alcohol-free, weapons-free organization where people experiencing homelessness support each other in getting safe sleep and other basic needs met.
“At the hearing on October 3, Mayor Hales asked for a two week delay to allow Williams/Dame LLC to propose alternatives,” said Commissioner Fritz. “Although no viable sites have been suggested by the opponents since the hearing, the Mayor has asked for further delay. As a courtesy to him, I am pulling the item off this week’s Agenda, and there will be no discussion on it tomorrow. Winter is fast approaching. A pending Settlement Agreement agreed to by the parties to a lawsuit had identified Lot 7 as a better location for Right To Dream Too to reside. Opponents stated that they wanted to bring resources to the table to help provide a better location than Lot 7. That has yet to occur. Now is the time for them to step up.”
Commissioner Amanda Fritz has confirmed that she may decide to pull back Wednesday's scheduled vote on a city zoning letter giving Right 2 Dream Too permission to move onto a Pearl District parking lot owned by the city's urban renewal agency.
That possibility came up in reporting this morning by KOIN, the Portland Tribune, and the Oregonian, drawing from Fritz's comments at last night's meeting of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association. Fritz mentioned ongoing discussions between R2DToo and Pearl interests including developer Homer Williams on alternative sites for the homeless rest area to take over.
"They don't agree with the zoning confirmation letter," Fritz told me, talking about Pearl neighbors. "If the discussions are continuing, it doesn't seem wise to have the council vote on the letter next week if that's going to annoy some of the parties."
As of right now, the vote is still on for next week's agenda. Fritz filed for an official continuance of this month's hours-long hearing on R2DToo by last night's council deadline. But she can always pull it back. Fritz has meetings planned later today with Mayor Charlie Hales and also board members of R2DToo.
As the Mercury reported this week, Williams and R2DToo leader Ibrahim Mubarak had at least been emailing each other directly in hopes of getting together. John Mangan, a spokesman for Williams and others in the talks, wouldn't confirm if the two had met. He also wouldn't detail proposals under discussion. But he did say the group was still targeting Wednesday for bringing forward ideas on alternatives.
Williams persuaded Hales to back off on a vote October 3 after promising, during his testimony, to put money and resources into a potential deal.
"They went right to work and they've been working throughout the week," Mangan says. "The urgency is definitely there. They're assuming that by Wednesday they'll need to have ideas to present."
So far, those discussions have involved finding other locations for the site. Williams personally told me he wanted "roofs" to be part of the solution. But sources say those discussions haven't been as easy as hoped. Suitable buildings aren't plentiful or useable without zoning shortcuts—the same kind of sin opponents of R2DToo's Pearl move have accused the city of engaging in. (The city insists, for its part, that its proposal for moving R2DToo isn't a shortcut and is completely legit.)
Dan Saltzman got the message loud and clear yesterday after his colleagues on the Portland City Council unanimously approved a $300,000 step toward what he hopes will be a $2 million burst of one-time spending on targeted homelessness programs.
"Reading between the lines," he says, he's confident all those votes will still be there when he formally introduces the rest of the package this fall, during the next of the council's regularly scheduled budget updates.
"I think so," he told me.
And that's why, as he mentioned yesterday during the vote, he's convening a small advisory group to help him figure out the best way to divvy up and dispense that largesse. As we've reported, spending that cash won't be any problem now that the city is grinning its way through news of a surplus that could top $11 million.
He sent over the list of people he's invited to join up—with the caveat that not everyone's RSVP'd back yet. Of note, County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury will be on the panel with Saltzman—important because she's officially promised, at the urging of groups like Street Roots, to scare up county money for the same thing. He's also invited Nick Christensen, a Metro reporter and member of the Lents Neighborhood Association—showing some interest in addressing the longstanding camps that have sprouted up in East Portland.
Saltzman expects the group to meet twice in the next few weeks to help him refine a rough plan for the spending that the Mercury first reported on last month.
In this week's Mercury, you'll find a lengthy interview with Patricia Gardner, president of the Pearl Neighborhood District Association. Gardner sat down with me the afternoon after her group officially voted to spend $10,000 from its scrupulously saved contingency fund on a potential legal fight against Commissioner Fritz's plan to move Right 2 Dream Too beneath a Broadway Bridge ramp.
In that interview, Gardner very reasonably said her neighbors would rather see the homeless rest area move into a Pearl building instead of the lot, with their tents, that Fritz and Mayor Charlie Hales have picked out. Their biggest beef is over process, and whether the city's respecting it, and not, she says, over the mere arrival of dozens of homeless Portlanders.
Yesterday, about the same time as our interview went up, Street Roots director Israel Bayer posted a column quoting from audio of that September 12 meeting, something he says was passed on to his publication. That audio largely matches up with Gardner told me when we talked. But certain quotes shed a bit more light on the PDNA's motives and strategy, and they're worth pointing out.
“What we want to do is focus in on the politics. That's the quickest and easiest way to get rid of this.”
Gardner told the crowd. “My opinion is that their lawyer at the city is telling them to avoid process so they don't open up. That's our challenge moving forward.”
“What we've been telling people to do is write to their commissioners,” says Gardner. “Let's talk about
process, the lack of following their own laws. That's really the root of the issue here.”
Gardner goes on to talk about the neighborhood being the victim in this process, “Because of the misunderstanding of this neighborhood, we will never be understood. I don't care if your income is zero. You live in the Pearl, you must be rich. It doesn't matter. You're never going to win the argument. Everybody starts from nothing. We all started from nothing. We have great empathy.”
Bayer, responding to those remarks correctly acknowledges that the Pearl is not a monolithic bastion of wealth, no matter how posh some of its boutiques and condo towers really are. Neighbors have welcomed several low-income and affordable buildings. And Gardner gave me Census data showing the Pearl, compared to the rest of Portland, with lower median rents, a lower median household income, and higher rates of residents below poverty.
To no one's surprise, the Portland City Council this afternoon unanimously took the first step toward a massive new outlay on homelessness programs and services—a $2 million package that came to life only after significant political criticism erupted over what's otherwise been a summer filled with camping crackdowns and harsh rhetoric about "lawlessness" on the streets.
Today's vote was on a $300,000 proposal (pdf), relying on excess federal grant money, that the housing bureau hopes will find stable homes for some 92 women and clear shelter space. That's a big deal, given that shelter wait lists are long enough that would-be clients often have to wait weeks before getting off the streets.
The plan calls for the housing bureau to work with nonprofits it's long built relationships with. And by focusing on getting women into homes—bypassing shelters altogether, in some cases—the plan makes advocates happy. Previous versions of this proposal, a passion of new Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman, focused only on shelter capacity. Advocates and elected officials, including County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, ripped that initial approach as misguided and inefficient.
"The $300,000 is certainly not the end," Saltzman said before giving his vote. "It's the beginning."
The Mercury first reported on the plan to spend grant money last month. Days after that story ran, and after meetings with Mayor Charlie Hales and former Housing Commissioner Nick Fish—amid some intense criticism—Saltzman went on KGW and broke the news he was suddenly looking at some $1.7 million in additional one-time funding on homelessness.
That larger proposal, also first detailed by the Mercury last month, would focus some $700,000 on women, expanding the program council just approved, and then spend an additional $1 million helping others on the streets, including street kids. The model for that million bucks is a similar one-time effort brokered in 2010 by Fish and former Mayor Sam Adams. That effort, aimed at clearing clogs in the social services system, helped hundreds of people.
Saltzman repeated his promise to submit that spending during next month's regularly scheduled budget update. There had been questions about how the city would pay for the expansion, even on a one-time basis. But now, with the city now staring at a surplus as large as $11 million, it's almost assured to pass.
"I will stand shoulder to shoulder with you," Fish told Saltzman, speaking for his colleagues,
"when you bring back this supplemental request."
That push also brought an important promise from Kafoury, invited by Saltzman to testify on the entire proposal. Delivering on an idea pushed by housing activists, she vowed to work with her board to augment what it spends on homelessness. The two governments are working together on blending their efforts, an effort where Kafoury (frontrunner to take over as county chair next year) is running point.
"I also pledge to work with my colleagues to join with the city in finding additional funding to help those who are currently living without a roof over their heads," she says.
Stung by Commissioner Amanda Fritz's insistence that moving Right 2 Dream Too onto a city-owned lot in the Pearl District sometime this fall will be perfectly legal, the Pearl District Neighborhood Association last night voted to free up $10,000 in rainy-day funding for a potential lawsuit.
As the Mercury already revealed this week, a land-use attorney working on behalf of neighbors sent a letter to the city last month threatening such a response. That was soon after the Mercury reported the outline of Fritz's deal with Right 2 Dream Too. Since then, neighbors have written letters to Fritz urging her not to do the deal. Many are concerned about process—others seem more concerned about the specter of homeless people living nearby.
The latest development, which came at last night's neighborhood association meeting, was first reported by KGW early this morning. The Oregonian's Brad Schmidt posted a link to the piece in his well-read daily city hall roundup.
"That's not how the city of Portland works and that's not how the state of Oregon works," neighborhood president Patricia Gardner said, according to KGW. "Public process is part of our DNA and it should be respected."
The Oregonian, in a later post, points out that Pearl neighbors are making common legal cause with Williams & Dame Development—run by Homer Williams, a major fundraiser for Mayor Charlie Hales and one of the major forces behind the creation of the Pearl as we know it. Hales has so far publicly supported Fritz's effort to move Right 2 Dream Too, telling the Mercury he looked forward to seeing how the public process, now that a lawsuit over the current site on NW 4th and Burnside is set, works out.
The Portland Tribune has reported something of interest in the recent saga over Right 2 Dream Too's relocation from Old Town. Something a bit close to home.
Jim Redden, in his "Sources Say" column, quotes from what he says is an August email, sent from Commissioner Amanda Fritz to Right 2 Dream Too and others, that discusses a bit of media strategy:
“I believe both you and I desire to talk to Street Roots and the Mercury first, when the time comes, to appreciate their attention and concern on houselessness issues.”
Redden offers this up as as a suggestion Fritz was shopping for favorable media coverage, at a time when other reporters were looking into the story. He also notes, sorely, "for the record," that his paper was the first to publish a story on the effort, back in October 2011.
"Government transparency and equal access don’t appear to be high on her list, according to sources involved in the negotiations," he says. "Favorable press, on the other hand, rates way up there."
Okay. Fine. Here's the thing. He's right about one thing. The Mercury was the first and, for a time, only outlet with quotes and details from Fritz confirming what was then a tentative relocation offer. I'm sure other reporters noticed, especially when, from what I've read, Fritz was still declining to comment. I also quoted from internal emails from Right 2 Dream Too. I always figured both of those things spoke for themselves.
But, on the other hand, the negotiations and Fritz's role in them weren't exactly closely guarded state secrets.
Her office 'fessed up to plans to help way back in June, when I thought to ask. Other potential sites had been mentioned. Olive branches to city hall, despite a lawsuit filed by the site, had been reported. And not every source who knew a few details about the deal was, in media jargon, "close to the negotiations." Remember, Fritz had several meetings on this in her office in late July and early August. People talk. And sometimes even to reporters.
Moreover, city hall routinely plays (always temporary) favorites with the media all the time—sending statements to one reporter or another before all the others, or leaking things that wouldn't otherwise be public, setting off a media feeding frenzy in the leak's aftermath. Often times, it's because a reporter happened to start asking first or because it involves a development on a beat a reporter has been working closely. Redden should know this very well.
I've not seen the email Redden is citing. But I can't fault Fritz's reason for her willingness to talk to the Mercury and Street Roots. It's a pretty good one. She wrote down that she and Right 2 Dream Too wanted to talk to us first because of the issues we cover and for the way we've covered them.
Street Roots does it better and smarter than anybody. But we've been on the beat for years—long before Right 2 Dream Too was a glimmer in Michael Wright's and Ibrahim Mubarak's eyes. That's not changing.
Portland Copwatch, late last month, noticed something curious on one of the many anti-camping notices that have gone up around city hall in the aftermath of Mayor Charlie Hales' police crackdown on sidewalk violations and large homeless campsites.
Near the bottom of the notice, which is topped with the Bureau of Transportation's logo, there's a small warning: If your property is confiscated in a camp sweep, "a charge of $2 may be made for removal and storage of the personal property."
This isn't a small issue—even if the dollar amount in question might seem that way. Two bucks for someone on the street, with nothing, can be a huge sum. And if someone does have some money—maybe a donation, maybe something from a pension or disability check—it might be held with the confiscated property.
Moreover, Portland spent years in court haggling with homelessness advocates over this very same subject—how the city treats, stores, and returns confiscated property. A settlement with the Oregon Law Center and several homeless plaintiffs, finally approved in August 2012, lists several new protections for how property is handled. It does not include mention of a potential fee.
So what gives? It turns out, according to Hales' office, the whole thing is a mistake and should never have been included in the notice.
Details about the settlement have been leaking out all weekend, after a Friday night negotiation session—waiting to become official until the city attorney's office gave its assent to the terms this morning. Commissioner Amanda Fritz was expected to join the group in a city hall press conference at 1:30.
The six-page document—handed out after Ibrahim Mubarak, Amber Dunks, and landlord Michael Wright put their names on it—confirms many of them. Unpaid fines levied against R2DToo will be waived. And everyone has agreed that the the issue driving R2DToo's lawsuit against the city—whether Portland correctly labeled the site at 4th and Burnside an illegal recreational campground—will "need to be resolved by a court in a future case." That was a major sticking point as negotiations intensified in recent weeks.
Wright has made no secret he wants to unload his lot. He told me, outside city hall, that there has been some discussion about the Portland Development Commission purchasing it. His land has been a hot subject in city hall for years. It used to house an adult bookstore that Randy Leonard had shut down because of code violations. Wright tried food carts, too, but city rules prohibit them on the site. The camp was his way, he's told me before, of getting the city's attention. It may have worked.
The agreement does not spell out a strict timeline for the move. It does say, however, that the city will put fences and "no trespassing" signs up around Wright's land for six months. And that the city won't pay for Right 2 Dream Too's move out of the property. Fritz had told me there might be some money involved in setting up the new site with water and electrical service. It's unclear if that's still part of the deal.
Fines previously paid by the group—I'm currently unsure of how much—will not be recouped, attorney Mark Kramer told someone outside city hall before the presser. "We had to give a little to take a little," he said.
Fritz's office sent a release (pdf) before the conference with a statement and a copy of the settlement. It says the PDC will allow the city to use the lot beneath the bridge and that a public process over a "use agreement" for the move would be launched. Pearl neighbors have complained about the move—and the lack of public process. The use agreement is spelled out in the settlement paperwork. The move would happen 30 days after a use agreement emerges.
“Previously, the policy was to impose fines on the property owners leasing to R2DToo, without reaching long-term solutions,” her statement said. “I have long believed we need to expand our thinking and approaches to providing safety for the 1,800 people living outside in Portland. This settlement plan is a pilot project aimed at supporting an alternative solution for people living outside which has proven its effectiveness.”
Update 3:55 PM: Mayor Charlie Hales, name-checked by Fritz for his and his office's help in securing a settlement (he's head of the PDC), seems likely to back Fritz as she works with skeptics in the Pearl over a use agreement. And as commissioner in charge of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, the yin to the yang of Fritz's Bureau of Development Services, Hales also seems ready to help Fritz untie some gnarly code and zoning knots associated with the new site.
“I commend Commissioner Fritz, and the organizers of Right To Dream, for seeing these negotiations through. It is clear that no one answer will solve the homelessness issue in America. But the Right to Dream has one answer, for one segment of the homeless population," Hales says. “We look forward to the next phase—the relocation of Right To Dream—and the public input process. I support her commitment to meet with the neighbors and businesses, prior to executing the use agreement, and to develop a good neighbor agreement.”
Fritz will need help. During the press conference, she said she doesn't believe the new site's zoning will present any impossible code or legal challenges. But a letter from land use attorney Christe White of Radler White Parks Alexander, sent to City Attorney Jim Van Dyke on August 28, shows not everyone agrees.
The six-page letter (pdf), obtained by the Mercury, breaks down the code and zoning rules for the kind of lot the city wants to move R2DToo. It says a site like R2DToo is not allowed and that the city could face legal challenges if it tries to bend or amend its rules without going through proper, long, and bureaucratic channels.
"If the city intends to follow the current rules, a homeless camp at the Lovejoy Property is not permitted under City Code," it says. "And, even if permitted, would be required to seek and obtain design review approval before any use or development could occur."
Later it says, "The city cannot simply move the camp without the appropriate reviews. Such an action violates city code and will likely precipitate legal action that will prevent the relocation."
Update 4:46 PM: Fritz tells me that the city attorney's office has been deeply involved in the decision to offer Right 2 Dream Too the Lovejoy lot as part of the settlement talks. She also says the lawsuit wouldn't be dropped until the move goes off—and that won't happen without proper approvals, meaning the attorney's office was providing guidance on feasibility the whole way.
"I would not be entering into the agreement if I weren't confident that it would hapen and that it can happen," she says.
Fritz also said she's not sure yet what all the steps toward approval might be—there could be different routes to a "use agreement"—but that the city attorney's office will remain involved, along with Portland Development Commission attorneys. She wouldn't comment when asked what routes to an approval she might be considering.
"I want to make sure we do everything correctly," she says.
One major issue Fritz was decidedly clear about? Her colleagues on the council will vote on something related to the agreement, with the public given an opportunity to talk to the city commissioners. But it very likely won't be the negotiated use agreement with Right 2 Dream Too itself.
Most use agreements between tenants and the Bureau of Development Services never receive council scrutiny, she says. And, she said, she and Hales both agree that "I don't want to set the precedent that everything development services permits has to come before the council."
Though Commissioner Amanda Fritz threw up some minor caution as news emerged late Friday that a solid deal to move Right 2 Dream Too had been reached, officials with the site, this weekend, have drafted a statement "declaring victory" and shedding some more light on the terms.
And one detail has changed since Friday's post. The press conference is now expected to go off at 1 pm Monday, not 12:30 as I'd reported.
The agreement—to move the rest area beneath the Broadway Bridge, drop a lawsuit, and waive thousands in code fines—puts to rest weeks of negotiations among Fritz, Right 2 Dream Too, current 4th and Burnside landlord Michael Wright, and Mark Kramer, the attorney representing both R2DToo and Wright. Late disagreements surfaced over the fate of Wright's land and the fundamental legal issue presented in Kramer's suit challenging the city's code fines: whether the city had correctly labeled the site a "recreational" campground.
The statement doesn't make clear what will happen to Wright's land. He had proposed three options to the city: 1) Keeping open, technically, his right to host another homeless camp. 2) Putting food carts on the land despite rules forbidding it. 3) Or having the city buy the land.
But it does spell out that dropping the lawsuit shouldn't be seen as an admission, by Kramer or his clients, that the city was legally correct in fining the current site.
"There were a number of complicated hurdles to overcome in order to get this very positive result,” Kramer said in the statement, obtained by the Mercury. “Although the lawsuit was dismissed, all parties acknowledged that the issue is still open as to whether houseless people, with the permission of the owner, have the right to sleep safely on private property without interference by the city.”
Moving beneath a bridge ramp—the Lovejoy ramp off the Broadway—also was a tough sell for the site and its members. The 23-month-old site is part rest area—providing refuge and safe sleep for dozens of people a day—and part protest. It's NW 4th and Burnside location has kept the group and the issues it's trying to address, homelessness and poverty, thrust squarely into the city's face.
But the group's statement makes the best of what was clearly a difficult tradeoff.
“The site under the Lovejoy on-ramp to the Broadway Bridge has many positive aspects,” board member Trillium Shannon said in the statement. “Services and buses are within walking distance and the overpass will provide excellent protection from the elements. This is an historical first in Portland. Previously, the City demanded that Dignity Village locate their site in East Portland far from services and convenient public transportation.”
Fritz had some help from Hales in getting a deal in place. She's supported the site tacitly since it opened, even with colleagues like Nick Fish, the city's former housing commissioner, and Dan Saltzman, the current one, expressing misgivings about how and whether the rest area fits among the city's other housing priorities.
Saltzman, when I sat down with him to talk about housing issues last month, told me he was skeptical of efforts. He'd come out as a big back of adding shelter capacity and permanent housing—softening that, in the face of criticism, to also embrace short-term rent assistance. R2DToo says it's goal is helping people who aren't well enough to join or otherwise don't fit with the social services system. (It also provides a refuge for people who find themselves unsheltered because of waiting lists and limited capacity.)
"It's still a camp and that's not where we want to be spending our money," he said. "I wouldn't want to see short-term rent assistance money being diverted to Right 2 Dream Too."
At the time, it wasn't clear whether any city money would be spent on relocation. Fritz has since told the Mercury that some costs will probably be incurred—from things like setting up the new site with electrical and water service. Any deal would have to come to council for approval, too, Fritz has said.
"That's why I'm trying to keep a wall of separation between the housing bureau" and the site, Saltzman said. "It may just happen. My colleagues may say this is how it's going to be and I'll just live with it.""
Ibrahim Mubarak, spokesman for the site, said the tentative agreement shows that some people in the city, at least, have begun to see the light on Right 2 Dream Too's work.
“Since October 2011 Right 2 Dream Too has provided shelter and other services for an average of 60 people per night who otherwise would have been forced to sleep on the streets,” he said. “This self-organized grassroots model is both legal and effective. But even with our success, a recent study revealed that close to 1,900 children, women and men in Portland are without a safe place to sleep every night. This agreement shows that the City is acknowledging the problem and starting to work with us instead of against us.”
As of tonight, a source close to the talks informed the Mercury, those negotiations have been put to bed. All sides are expected to announce a deal at 12:30 pm Monday. The deal, as we've reported, would move the Old Town rest area from NW 4th and Burnside, see a lawsuit filed against the city dropped, and see the city waive more than $20,000 in code violation fines—levied because the city declared the site an illegal "recreational" campground.
It's a major breakthrough in a nearly two-year spat with the city, which had long fought with the site's Old town landlord but quickly came to respect the work of R2DToo's board members in helping dozens of people each night find a safe place to sleep, and even get some of those people into housing and jobs. The push for a deal came when Fritz took over the city's code enforcers, in the Bureau of Development Services.
I'm awaiting confirmation from the attorney representing both R2DToo and the current landlord, Michael Wright—as well as more information about the tradeoffs Wright might have made. Wright had wanted to put up either another homeless camp or a food cart pod—and had even asked the city to buy his land. I'm also waiting for confirmation from Fritz.
Pearl neighbors also reportedly weighed in. Sources have said Fritz spoke with neighbors this week. I'm also waiting to confirm that with her.
Update 8:45 PM: Seems Willamette Week has been in touch with Kramer, who told them a deal was in place and that the deal could involve the Portland Development Commission buying Wright's land at 4th and Burnside.
Update 9 PM: Fritz tweeted a statement suggesting Kramer is jumping the gun. She says the city attorney's office won't sign off on the deal until Monday.
One day after presenting a six-point, low-cost plan to address homelessness in front of Portland City Council, and two days after he was the victim in a brawl outside city hall, one of the leaders of what's been a nearly two-year-old homelessness protest at the city's front door has announced that he and other advocates are pulling their support.
The statement came from Mike Withey, who'd been in contact with Mayor Charlie Hales' office in recent days to discuss his plan for addressing homelessness. It says the protest has become too unsafe—something closer to a chaotic, unmanaged camp—and that bad headlines associated with it are hurting the protest's overall cause.
The "vigil to end the camping ban" that has lasted nearly 2 years, has been unsuccessful. At this time, the organizers of the protest are not able to gather support from those in attendance, to participate in the protest in any fashion. In fact, those at Terry Schrunk Plaza and Chapman Square have perpetrated violence and intimidation on camping ban protestors, driving them away. The few organizers left, have decided that this "protest" is no longer a safe or peaceful place to protest homelessness. We feel that our message of safe sleep has been diminished to such a degree that it is having the opposite effect on public support for our cause. Therefore, I am sorry to say that I (and others) am withdrawing my support for the "vigil to end the camping ban" and will no longer participate in that action. However, we will continue to vigorously fight for the homeless cause and utilize all legal means to bring safety, comfort and hope to those terribly effected by the loss of their homes, no matter the cause.
It's unclear what the real effect of Withey and others leaving might be. The protest, since displaced to Chapman Square, and now Terry D. Schrunk Plaza, has amassed its own gravity in recent months. Others will likely keep flying the protest flag.
But having senior organizers declare an end to the protest—organizers who have built relationships with guards and cops and rangers and city officials and also provided some stability—could provide the police and city hall with more leverage when it comes to attempts to clear campers away once and for all.
|Most Popular||I, Anonymous||Best of the Merc|
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!