Our opinion: People for Portland group right: No time to waste solving city's woes
A newly formed group — People for Portland — has measured the depths of local residents' frustration and found an ocean of dissatisfaction. Now, the group aims to do something about it — and quickly.
Others will quibble about People for Portland's expertise, potential motives or funding sources, but they cannot seriously argue there are no urgent, existential problems to address. Portland's streets are a mess. The city's officially declared housing crisis is more than six years old. Unofficially, it's been decades in the making. Homeless camps, litter, vandalism, homicide rates and battles between rival protest groups have sullied the city's livability and reputation.
Portland has bounced back from crises before. However, the manifold troubles of today are different, and local leaders appear impotent in their responses. Yes, voters have been extraordinary in their generosity, by approving hundreds of millions of dollars to build affordable housing and provide a higher level of homeless services. What the People for Portland group understands, though, is that without intense public pressure, precious time will be expended on processes and the city we all love will be forever diminished.
Portland's residents are yearning for a restoration. Overwhelmingly, they are unhappy with the current state of affairs.
People for Portland was spearheaded by political consultants Dan Lavey and Kevin Looper. They commissioned a poll of local residents, which showed 84% of respondents disapproved of how elected officials are handling reduction in homelessness; 79% disapproved of how leaders have managed downtown protests; and 74% disapprove of how officials are dealing with the city's cleanliness.
Those numbers aren't surprising. The unsavory state of Portland makes for everyday conversation around town. Meanwhile, the current woes obscure all of the city's enormously desirable attributes: its spectacular setting, beautiful parks, fabulous food and cultural attractions, to name a few.
The People for Portland group has identified four areas for immediate action:
• Moving homeless people out of camps and into safe temporary housing where they can receive mental health and addiction services. This would be a first step toward placing them in permanent housing.
• Investing in public safety by adding back police officers and expanding the Portland Street Response pilot program, which helps homeless individuals and people experiencing a mental-health or drug- or alcohol-related crisis in a public place. Now, Street Response is a pilot, and the city has contracted with Portland State University to see if and why it works, and why it costs more than a similar program elsewhere. We still agree that a steely eyed review of the project is the right thing to do, because it's taxpayers' money on the line. But any way that the city and PSU could speed up that review would be a good idea.
• Requiring body cameras on all police to increase accountability.
• Initiating immediate government action for a sustained — not piecemeal — cleanup of the city.
In an interview with a member of the Pamplin Media Group editorial board, Lavey said People for Portland's goal is first "to build the army" and make it easy for frustrated Portlanders to contact elected officials. As of Sept. 8, the group had facilitated more than 80,000 emails to 36 elected officials.
That volume of correspondence should mean something to local leaders. The public, in general, lacks confidence in traditional institutions — be it government or corporations. So, it is encouraging to see an emphasis here on grassroots action that will translate into appropriate, consistent and immediate pressure on elected officials.
To further underscore that this movement is about "real people," Lavey and Looper's group also is airing TV ads and posting videos on its website (peopleforportland.org), including interviews with everyday Portlanders who want to see change now.
Lavey, Looper and People for Portland will face pushback, and they will be criticized for some of their proposed solutions. Along the way, though, they are providing a vehicle for the public to express its grievances. Eventually, that vehicle can be used for other purposes as well — such as voting out those who are unwilling to recognize the need to move swiftly to save a city.
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