OpEd By David Krogh, AICP
So much is happening in Portland lately in terms of land use, planning, and government processes. Here is a summary of several planning-oriented situations the public may want to be aware of as they relate to Portland’s eastside.
• The Pilot Parking Program for Sunnyside Richmond has been shelved for at least 12 months. Between the lack of interest by residents and strong opposition from the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association (HBBA), only 35% of ballots issued were returned. PBOT requires a 50% return rate before consideration of initiating a program can be made.
• The proposed Vision Zero improvements to SE Foster Rd. (including pedestrian features, bike lanes, and a narrowing of travel lanes down from 4 to 2) are well underway and creating considerable daytime congestion.
Foster Rd. has long been utilized as an arterial street to funnel high volumes of traffic between Powell Blvd. at SE 50th and the 82nd Ave./I-205 corridors. By reducing traffic capacity and incorporating Vision Zero facilities, this street project will encourage land uses along Foster Rd. to deviate away from an auto-orientation in favor of bikes and pedestrians.
Because this project is reducing traffic capacity by half, Foster will likely become heavily congested in the future with much of that spilling over onto Powell Blvd. The City needs to include traffic capacity management whenever it imposes Vision Zero standards.
• Once again Mayor Wheeler is shuffling around Bureau assignments amongst City Commissioners. Since Portland has an antiquated commission form of government (which no other large city in the nation has), elected City Commissioners are assigned to run different City Bureaus.
Elected officials do not necessarily have the knowledge or abilities to manage a large city department that has specialized goals and directions, which is why Bureau assignments get shuffled so much.
Of late, Mayor Wheeler has come under fire from the Police Union because of concerns over his management of the Police Bureau and his response to the homeless crisis.
The Police Union president, Officer Daryl Turner, has suggested the Police Bureau needs to be run by someone with police experience, not a politician. He has been extremely critical of what he calls the City’s “failed policies” in dealing with the homeless. Perhaps it’s time for Portland to reconsider its commission form of government.
• The City Auditor’s office has released a report suggesting the City is failing miserably in the monitoring and enforcing of its short-term stay provisions. These provisions require Airbnb style of rentals to be licensed by the City.
The report (at tinyurl.com/y7nds2jf) states at least fifteen different companies are renting Airbnb style units here. Close to 80% of these are operating illegally.
Only 1638 of the units are currently licensed, while Airbnb alone lists over 4600 Portland rental units on its website. The audit also indicated very few rentals are receiving safety inspections except via complaints.
A recent Willamette Week article on the housing crisis suggested Airbnbs should be banned in Portland because they take away rooms that could otherwise be available to help alleviate the housing crisis.
Other cities in the world allow Airbnb style rentals with restrictions. San Francisco and Santa Monica, for example, require the hosts to be full-time occupants, a business license, and occupancy taxes.
New York has similar provisions, but is having a horrendous enforcement problem (similar to Portland) in that as many as 75% of operating short-term rentals are illegal.
Barcelona and Amsterdam allow Airbnb but have substantial fines for violations, which they are not lax in assessing. Berlin, on the other hand, has expressly banned Airbnb as it is facing housing shortages too.
One thing that appears obvious is that Portland City officials often appear to be more focused on ways to make money for the City rather than to effectively solve the City’s housing and other problems.
City Commissioners need to re-evaluate their priorities, especially in regards to Airbnb, housing, enforcement and problem solving.
• A recent article in the Portland Tribune discussed heat islands and the fact that Portland does not have any heat island prevention measures in effect. In fact, most other cities don’t either. This is because the most effective remedies cost money to both the cities and builders.
Because of the lack of heat island prevention, temperatures can get hotter as much as 20 degrees or more depending on where one is at any given time.
The West Hills are always cooler than E. Portland because of more vegetation and less paving. Likewise, a PSU student once told me he had actually fried an egg at Pioneer Square because of how much heat was being absorbed by the red bricks during hot weather.
Portland could address heat island prevention in a number of different ways including: require building roofs to be “green” or using heat reflective roofing materials, requiring more vegetative landscaping for new developments, and increasing the planting of trees to more than just along streets.
A good layman’s overview of heat island effect is at this link: (tinyurl.com/y7szzfab). As global warming increases, heat island reduction is going to become more of a necessity.