By Midge Pierce
With SE in the epicenter of change and growth, residents are urged by at least one City Councilor to step forward with testimony at the City’s final hearing January 7 on the proposed Comprehensive Plan to shape landuse for the next 20 years.
Much of that future will transpire on Portland’s Eastside. Yet, despite a near constant stew of City and community hearings, too few SE voices are being heard, according to Commissioner Amanda Fritz.
So, last month she brought issues such as displacement, homeless camps, affordability, and park priorities to the Portland Community College SE campus at 82nd Ave. and Division.
Fritz is the first and only Council member to hold Town Halls. Her goal has been to take citizens’ pulse on behalf of the bureau’s she oversees, Parks and Recreation and Neighborhood Involvement.
“Our public places belong to everyone,” she began, “They are precious.”
But what Fritz termed the “only joy for some” is plagued by the same lack of resources as streets and infrastructure. Maintenance and staffing fall short. With only 20 park rangers for Portland’s 10,000 acres of parklands, fewer than 20 rangers are on the Eastside.
“This is disparate treatment,” she said. “We need to correct it.” Yet, despite record high budget resources, the mayor, at this writing, was requesting a 5% cut across general fund bureaus to address priorities such as emergency housing.
Fritz and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement is heavily vested in the homeless crisis. With frequent complaints about displacement, she issued a plea: “Open your hearts and think about the best place in your neighborhoods for homeless to stay dry and not fear being attacked.”
She advocates moving the homeless camp Right to Dream to a property the City recently purchased in the SE industrial corridor. Inner SE is where much of the City’s rapid transformation is happening.
Neighbors of the camp’s current westside location and the North Park blocks were outspoken at the December Town Hall citing human waste in apartment hallways, drug problems in park strips and broken promises by the City.
“We care about the homeless,” said a spokesman from Old Town Chinatown. “How can we help people on our doorsteps if our businesses can’t thrive?” It’s irresponsible for the City not to find alternatives, he continued.
Most options need costly improvements, Fritz countered.. Portland lacks adequate mental health and addiction services and despite an apparent $49 million surplus, the City is unable to provide these basics. “This is a huge problem for all of us,” she added.
On the demolition front, residents of neighborhoods such as Multnomah Village and Burlingame have made impressive showings at Comp Plan and Infill hearings to decry the dismantling of their neighborhood cohesion and charm. Grassroots organizations like United Neighborhoods for Reform have made pleas for a demolition moratorium.
Even though representation from SE neighborhoods has been disappointing, online chat tools like NextDoor indicate that passions are running high among residents on this side of the river.
Groups like the Division Design Initiative continue to parlay guidelines to preserve neighborhood character and scale and Portland’s official citizen advisory groups on infill, housing and tree codes tackle laborious mechanisms in a race against the hands of change.
As neighborhood homes and landmarks disappear, citizen input and involvement is essential. Time is running out on concurrent processes.
In December, the comment period closed on the first phase of a zoning review of areas noncompliant with City maps. Zoning determines specifically what a property owner is allowed to build. The Comp Plan is described by the City as the long-term vision for the appropriate use and density of development for a given area.
At this writing, the last Council hearing scheduled for January 7, 6 – 9 pm will be held at Self Enhancement, Inc. (SEI) in NE Portland. After that, public testimony on the goals, policies and land use map will be closed.
In March, a final public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan amendments will be held. The vote on a final plan is anticipated in April.
For more information on plans, maps and meetings go to : portlandoregon.gov/bps