By Nancy Tannler

SE Portland resident Debbie Aiona received the Spirit of Portland Award at a ceremony November  17.

Each year local individuals and organizations are chosen from nominations submitted by fellow residents and a selection committee of representatives from the Commissioners’ offices, the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, Neighborhood Associations and other diverse organizations.

 

Debbie Aiona with Commissioner Nick Fish

Debbie Aiona with Commissioner Nick Fish

Aiona received the Individual Award from Commissioner Nick Fish who said, “Through her many years of public service, Debbie Aiona has been a strong and principled voice in our community. She was pivotal in the effort to secure more affordable housing in the South Waterfront neighborhood, and consistently provides thoughtful and informed testimony on behalf of the League of Women Voters. I was honored to present Debbie with a Spirit of Portland award, and am proud to call her a colleague and friend”.

Aiona is the Action Committee Chair for the League of Women Voters (LWV). She has held this position for five years and during that time, has attended countless city and county government meetings for the league. In a conversation with Aiona, she jokingly said the reason Commissioner Fish  gave her the award is because,“ I keep showing up”.

In 1979 she gave up her career to raise her children and that’s when Aiona’s civic engagement began. The family was living in South Carolina at the time and she wanted to find like-minded adults to balance out the kid world she had become immersed in.

Aiona joined the LWV and has been a member in every city she’d lived in before settling in Portland thirty years ago. Here she was LWV President from 1995-99 and then again from 1999-2000 with Beverly Wilson.

Over the past several years, the LWV Urban Renewal Advisement Committee has paid special attention to money designated for urban renewal districts.

Most recently the League opposed the extension of the Central Eastside District that would expand the size and extend the life of the district by five years. The district was created in 1986 and has been extended several times.

Adding these five years means that this is the longest-lived district in the city’s history, 37 years. “Most urban renewal districts last twenty years and we felt this one needed an ending point,” Aiona said.

The proposed acreage expansion and half the funds ($10 million) from the five-year extension are targeted for development adjacent to the new Clinton light rail station. The City already owns much of the land in the proposed Clinton Triangle expansion area.

The LWV is convinced there is a different way to fund this development without taking more money from classrooms and mental health services.

Instead City Council agreed to the five year extension.

Aiona explains that, as an urban renewal district evolves, there is increased tax revenue from the upgraded property (tax increment financing TIF) which can be used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure and other community-improvement projects like Portland Public Schools, Multnomah County and the City’s General Fund. By extending this urban renewal district, the City will not fully recover revenue spent until 2051/52.

The League also opposed the extension of the North Macadam Urban Renewal Area by five years. This property is owned by the Zidells who intend to develop the area but have made no commitment to develop affordable housing, parks, and greenway. By extending this renewal district an additional five years, PDC will collect property tax revenues to support infrastructure and other improvements critical to the Zidell family’s private development having received no commitment from them.

One of the issues that drives Aiona to pursue these detailed system politics of urban renewal projects is the quest to create affordable housing in the City. She remembers her mother protesting Proposition 14 which repealed the California Fair Housing Act of 1963, (better known as the Rumsford Act).  This protected the rights of blacks and other people of color to purchase housing without being subjected to discrimination during the post-World War II period.

“My mother was sympathetic to those who were on the losing side of justice,” Aiona said.

According to the state’s urban renewal statute, urban renewal plans must be consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan and other plans relevant to that district and housing must be incorporated into the plan. Aiona reported that City Council just recently decided to increase the set aside of urban renewal money for affordable housing from 30 percent to 45 percent.  She thought that would result in an additional 600 – 700 low-income units over the next 10 years.

Ainoa has served on the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) for the Independent Police Review (IPR). This has been an effective oversight system that increases public understanding of police policies and procedures and provides individuals who feel they have been harmed, a way to address complaints.

Mary McWilliams former LWV president and active member said, “Debbie has retained an understanding of commitments made by public officials and bureaus. Debbie’s regular and consistent attendance at these public meetings, through the years, and the League’s public testimony (based on League positions for action, that were arrived at through careful study and agreement of membership), and historical reminders of written commitments, is a service to the community… ”

“Through the LWV, I have met some great people and have learned that a group of devoted individuals can make a difference,” Aiona said.

Another Spirit of Portland award was presented to The Mount Tabor Neighborhood Association (MTNA) and the Portland Water Bureau (PWB) by Commissioner Amanda Fritz. MTNA volunteers spent hundreds of hours in research and negotiations with PWB engineers to ensure that the disconnect of the Mt. Tabor Park reservoirs would protect trees and historic structures, mitigate disruption to traffic, bikes and pedestrians during the scheduled decommissioning of the reservoirs and that they would remain an historic landmark.

Stephanie Stewart, Land Use Chair MTNA said about the award, “It always feels good to have our work recognized. The simplest “thank you” can keep me afloat. I cherish the way Commissioner Fritz delivered our award, with such sincere enthusiasm… that is what I’ll remember.  I will also say, that not even a fraction of the great people that deserve this award get it.”

Paul Leistner, MTNA, also commented that, “…the award helps both the city and citizens recognize the value of community volunteeringAnother Spirit of Portland award was presented to The Mount Tabor Neighborhood Association (MTNA) and the Portland Water Bureau (PWB) by Commissioner Amanda Fritz. MTNA volunteers spent hundreds of hours in research and negotiations with PWB engineers to ensure that the disconnect of the Mt. Tabor Park reservoirs would protect trees and historic structures, mitigate disruption to traffic, bikes and pedestrians during the scheduled decommissioning of the reservoirs and that they would remain an historic landmark.

Stephanie Stewart, Land Use Chair MTNA said about the award, “It always feels good to have our work recognized. The simplest “thank you” can keep me afloat. I cherish the way Commissioner Fritz delivered our award, with such sincere enthusiasm… that is what I’ll remember.  I will also say, that not even a fraction of the great people that deserve this award get it.”

Paul Leistner, MTNA, also commented that, “…the award helps both the city and citizens recognize the value of community volunteering.”