By Midge Pierce

As old Portland and new spar over the City’s future, Commissioners are in the hotseat hearing issues that split the City and blame current residents for past problems.

Officials cite discriminatory neighborhood practices as key justifications for both the Planning Bureau’s Residential Infill Proposal (RIP) and a controversial code proposal by the Office of Community and Civic Life (OCCL). The issues overlap because the code change determines which organizations will be considered on landuse, transportation and planning decisions. 

The continuation of Code Change 3.96’s testimonials on January 9 are about expanding marginalized groups’ City Hall influence. January 15 and 16’s back-to-back hearings are on RIP’s transition from single-family neighborhoods into residential multiplex zones; now a Legislative mandate for cities statewide. 

Critics suggest push back on RIP triggered OCCL’s code proposal. At last month’s Council Infill workshop, planners borrowed a page from OCCL lexicon in its pitch to amend “historic inequities” of privileged white neighborhoods. 

Analysts counter that RIP rips apart vulnerable neighborhoods by incentivizing demolition of low-income housing perpetuating discrimination. 

Although Portland makes room for new arrivals, tension grows over adversarial issues from parking, transportation, homelessness and the passage of Better Housing by Design’s middle housing initiative allowing more density in commercial zones adjacent to residential areas. 

Public hearing on Code Change 3.96 by Commissioner Eudaly’s OCCL Bureau is being continued because of November’s  truncated testimonial time. Critics charge Eudaly ran out the clock by stacking presentations with hand-picked speakers. 

This month, only the 35 people already signed up, will be allowed to testify. Portlanders can submit written testimony to the Mayor and Commissioners.

Central to the code’s change is adding self-identified affinity groups as official, City- recognized entities. Under the banner of promoting the common good, the original rewrite largely ignored the Neighborhood Associations (NAs). 

Critics say excluding neighborhood input on a draft rewrite violates the civic bureau’s inclusionary mission. NAs say they welcome diverse participation by groups with specific standards, practices and guidelines. 

Eudaly insists OCCL’s process has been fair and robust and that she has no intention of ceasing neighborhood shake-up efforts. 

NAs function under umbrellas of geographic-based Coalitions that include SE Uplift. Eudaly has publicly indicated that funding District Coalitions is not a good use of OCCL staff or money. The SE Uplift Coalition’s fate is considered reasonably safe because of its mix of nonprofits and NAs. 

Some neighbor leaders are calling for a code restart under new leadership.

Four years since conception, RIP has undergone numerous revisions that include removing minimum parking requirements and reducing building scale, while adding bonus units for affordability.

Displacement is a major Council concern. Parts of Montavilla and Lents are considered most at risk of redevelopment forcing vulnerable residents from their homes, as in North Portland’s Albina.

Since RIP was introduced, pro-growth advocates like 1000 Friends of Oregon have denounced opposition as Not-in-My-Backyard NIMBYs. In its Council pitch, BPS drew densification rationales from the Historical Context of Racist Planning report calling for amends to be made for red-lining and neighborhood exclusivity practices. 

Shaming critics into acquiescence could backfire. RIP critics contend that blame falls on developers who support Infill practices causing displacement and creating exclusionary housing costs beyond low income minority renters’ means. 

Renter Meg Hanson, slams RIP as speculative redevelopment that allows builders to “buy at a bargain and sell at a premium”.

The crisis continues as little is being done to reduce land and construction costs, according to RIP adviser Michael Molinaro. 

“The City is pandering to the uninformed and nothing will change until it reduces outrageous permit fees and the high cost of community development land.”