By State Representative Rob Nosse
Before you start reading, I want to express my deep gratitude to The Southeast Examiner for providing me the opportunity to share my thoughts in this column every month for quite a few years now. I rely on local outfits like The Southeast Examiner because they cover things that don’t always make it into the bigger local papers, of which I am also a huge supporter. I am lucky to have this forum and all of us are lucky this paper is still going strong.
Okay let’s start with Happy New Year! 2024 is going to be an important year in our city and our country in light of a new form of city government here in Portland coupled with a historic rematch between President Biden and former President Trump. More on those topics for sure for another time.
This month, I want to share my reaction to the recommendations made by Governor Tina Kotek’s Central City Task Force. The task force was a sprawling mix of elected officials, community activists and business leaders (among others). There were five committees/topic areas that included Value Proposition–which dealt with why people choose to do business in Portland and why they come downtown, Livable Neighborhoods, Housing and Homelessness, Community Safety and Taxes for Services. I was a member of the committee on Community Safety. Governor Kotek launched the task force over the summer with a hard deadline of December 11, the date of the annual Oregon Business Plan Summit, to come up with solutions which could be implemented quickly to clean up downtown Portland. The governor wants to be able to demonstrate real progress by the Portland Rose Festival in June.
There are many recommendations buried in five topic areas, but there are 10 action items which are supposed to be worked on urgently. These include declaring a tri-governmental fentanyl emergency (and establishing a command center for that emergency in Portland), banning the public use of controlled substances, ramping up existing infrastructure to implement the public use ban, hiring more outreach workers for peer-delivered services that help those dealing with addiction, increasing daytime service options for homeless people, expanding Portland’s homeless shelter capacity, increasing law enforcement’s presence in Central City (including hiring more police for the parks), cleaning up graffiti and trash, taking down the 2020-era fences and plywood on federal buildings and freezing the creation of new business taxes for three years.
As you can see, the focus is on things that people tell me and a lot of other community leaders that they are most concerned about when it comes to downtown Portland–illicit drug use and drug dealing, visible homelessness and public safety–not feeling like it is safe to walk around. For people wanting to tackle addiction, there are calls to expand services. Moreover, declaring a fentanyl emergency will provide some much needed coordination between the city, the county and the state. Housing advocates should be glad to see a call for an increase in housing options for the downtown homeless population. Community members and store owners concerned with public safety will be pleased that there will be a greater police presence–in fact this is one that is already being implemented. And the business community can take pleasure in knowing we will try to avoid adding new taxes for a few years.
By and large, I agree with these recommendations as a starting place. When they were unveiled some people had some reservations, but no plan is going to please 100 percent of people all the time. I think they will dovetail nicely into the work of the legislature in the coming 2024 session in February.
If I have one gripe it is that support for the arts and using the arts as part of the value proposition to come downtown is not one of the initial 10 recommendations, though it gets mentioned as does the James Beard Market, a project I worked on prior to the pandemic. Regardless of how clean and welcoming downtown is, Portlanders still need something fun to do when they’re actually in downtown. The fact of the matter is that the arts bring us together. Nothing gets more people downtown than hundreds of folks coming together to see a show. With so many venues struggling financially, and with these same venues still not seeing audiences at pre-pandemic levels, leaving out the arts in the initial 10 recommendations is a bit of a missed opportunity. But I also get why she lifted up the things she did. Helping to house homeless people and beefing up law enforcement downtown will make people feel safer and make them feel comfortable coming downtown, which will drive more businesses and activity downtown. Hopefully my bill to improve arts funding for 2024 gets the traction it needs despite not really being mentioned (hint, hint).
Next month you will be reading this just as the short session is about to start so I will plan to share things I know are in the works and maybe make a prediction or two. Or maybe I will save my predictions for the March column which seems risky given that we will still be in session when that edition goes to print. Stay tuned as I like to say.