What is the best and quickest thing the Metro Council can do, as soon as possible, to reduce the number of people living in minimal shelter outside?
James Ball — Here is my 3-part plan:
Shelter: Provide Shelter for the unhoused. To address the homelessness crisis, Metro and the tri-counties should provide shelter, along with hygiene necessities and food. During my tours in Afghanistan, I lived in a 10'x10 space with a bed and locker. Barracks-style housing is both cheap and quick to install and will provide a safe environment for people. A prime space for this shelter would be the Expo Center which is already at 50% capacity due to COVID-19 complications and is already owned and operated by Metro.
Treatment: Provide treatment options. Simply providing temporary housing is not enough—people need access to social workers, mental health and addiction specialists, and job training to help transition off the street.
Housing: Transition the individual into permanent housing. Once an individual is ready to transition, they need assistance finding permanent housing and work to make sure they don't end up back on the street.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez — The Supportive Housing Services (SHS) measure unlocked unprecedented resources for our region to tackle the homelessness crisis in Greater Portland. With the 2020 SHS Levy, Metro is in the process of building an integrated regional system designed with international best practices and the local experience in mind. As a Metro Councilor, I get to see this up close in my district thanks to the hard work of Washington County, local service providers, housing professionals and other key partners. The Supportive Housing Services Local Implementation Plans (LIPs) is a community driven, tri-county, framework that has set the bar for co-creation in policy making. I am confident that the current LIP framework will help us scale our local systems to address chronic homelessness urgently, while considering that the measure is a 10 year program.
Taking this into account, I believe Metro Council's next major endeavor to maximize SHS is a regional data system. As Metro funds more mental health and addictions services, builds more shelter, more affordable housing and more permanent supportive housing (PSH) — the Metro region needs a fast acting data dashboard that can help us connect people with underutilized beds, units or service appointments throughout the region. My hope is that we will have a tool like this up before the end of the calendar year.
What is your position on proceeding with stalled transportation infrastructure projects in the region, including the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project, the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project, the Southwest Corridor MAX Line, and any of the other projects in the transportation bond measure defeated by Metro voters at the November 2020 general election?
James Ball — The I-5 Bridge and the Rose Quarter are part of the same system and both projects need to move forward. The I-5 corridor is essential to commerce and transportation in the region and it is one of the worst bottlenecks in the country. I oppose the "cap" on the Rose Quarter project because I don't believe it will accomplish the stated goals; I believe it will not "unite" the community, it will further gentrify the neighborhood by providing prime land in the central-east side that will turn into luxury condos and high-end stores and venues, pushing more POC out of their homes in Albina.
I will not support any further light-rail expansion. Public transit needs can be met with busses that can by dynamically allocated, can function on existing infrastructure, and do not require destroying hundreds of homes and businesses to build tracks.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez — Transportation connects us all no matter our background, income or where we live. The moment we step out of our home, we enter the transportation system to walk, bike, ride transit, drive or move. Our fast growing region needs infrastructure to catch up to the new demands our new neighbors and businesses are placing on the system. One thing we know is that we have a decades-long backlog in our regional transportation system. We cannot wait any longer, we must find ways to address this.
Throughout the last 4 years I have had the opportunity to grow my leadership within Metro and Oregon to advance critical transportation plans and investments. I now serve on JPACT and serve as Metro's representative to the Oregon Transportation Plan Update process.
In April of 2022 Metro will kick-off a new TV Highway Planning Committee composed of key decision makers to improve safety, transit speed and reliability, and economic development. My goal is to generate support for a major Federal Transit Authority grant from the Biden administration to finally upgrade TV Highway.
With regards to the major highway projects under the purview of ODOT, I believe my role is to make those projects as right sized as possible and bring forward a racial justice lens that can determine the ultimate decision of how we proceed.
What should be done with the Portland Expo Center, which is facing high maintenance costs but still supports popular trade and similar shows?
James Ball — I believe the Expo Center is a prime location for the temporary homeless shelter mentioned in the first question. Trade shows and other shows should be moved to the Convention Center which is also running at 50% capacity post-COVID.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez —
• I have been a strong proponent of the Expo Center's development opportunities within Metro Council, while recognizing the operational and fiscal challenges of this site. The Expo Center provides an opportunity for the Metro Region to access underutilized and undercapitalized potential for our region.
• The Development Opportunity Study (DOS) has highlighted many opportunities for engagement. Throughout this process, we believe in launching an open, transparent, and co-creative process with community and local stakeholders to maximize the site for public good.
• In my time connecting with community members on the campaign trail, I have heard an abundance of ideas of how we can reimagine or implement hybrid uses of the Expo Center.
• Whichever proposal Metro ends up investing in, one thing is clear, the Expo center must honor the vibrant and diverse histories of the Metro region: the histories of Indigenous tribes who have long stewarded the land and call this area home, the history of Japanese Internment, the history of Vanport and the Albina neighborhood, and the histories of communities of color.
• As we enter this new phase of the pandemic, the Expo Center creates an opportunity to invest in economic opportunity for our communities.
• It is very important that we leverage major private capital and all stakeholders in this process. Ensure that we have buy-in from all levels of our community.
Metro has been accused of "mission creep" over the years. Do you oppose Metro taking on any of its newer responsibility, such as the regional homeless crisis? Do you believe there is any other regional role Metro need to play?
James Ball — I oppose Metro taking on scope that is outside its core competency. Metro should divest some of its recently-gained responsibilities to other jurisdictions that are more suited to those tasks.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez —
• Our region is a diverse, vibrant and multifaceted one. Addressing any issue requires us to be intentional about how we address those issues. We know that our issues are not siloed, they are connected one way or another.
• Metro Regional government has a long track record of working on housing policy and ensuring Oregonians are able to access stable housing through planning for the future. I am incredibly proud that Metro has been responsive when regional partners, constituents and the private sector have asked us to address houselessness in our region. This is a clear indication of how we are collectively working with an intersectional lens to regional issues that requires localized action. Within the bounds of our charter and the roles entrusted in Metro, Councilors are able to work on a highly focused portfolio, bring an abundance of experiences to the table, and utilize our perspective to maximize our opportunities within the myriad of issues that we work on.
• One example of this is Metro's work around climate change. Metro has a long history of working on land use, transportation, housing, recycling, and working with local partners to address our shared issues; however, as we have seen this week when many were trapped inside their homes due to a snowstorm in April, we are not meeting the needs of our region. As a cross county governmental entity, Metro is uniquely positioned to work with multi-jurisdictional partners to analyze data and collaboratively create a cross-regional framework, which will help prepare this region for climate disruption.
What is the biggest problem in the region no one is talking about?
James Ball — The biggest issue with the region is homelessness and everyone is talking about it. The biggest issue that no one is talking about is that we are on the cusp of an electric vehicle revolution that will change the premise of all our climate change efforts. A huge portion of our climate initiatives are based on the premise that cars pollute and contribute to climate change, and in the future when all cars are electric, all those efforts will be wasted. Metro should be looking to the future of climate impacts and realize that the carbon output of cars and transportation will decrease to nearly zero in the next 30 years. Metro can focus on maintaining and expanding our roads/freeways and making electric charging stations as ubiquitous as gas stations in order to facilitate and expedite this transition.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez — We must focus on addressing the chronic underinvestment in our local corridors that create unsafe orphan highways and urban arterials that are traveled by thousands of Oregonians daily. These community corridors are experiencing rapid infill and urbanization and growth and our transportation has not improved on the same scale.
Much of current debate is focused on the major highway projects and expansions. We must invest in the roads that we use everyday to get to the store, school, work, and more.
One of the big questions we have been asking ourselves is: how can we work with our regional partners to bring investments in our infrastructure to meet the needs of our growing region. With the failure of the Let's Get Moving measure in 2020, it highlighted the need for broader conversation and organizing to truly build an infrastructure that meets the 21st century.
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