Mayor Wheeler visits Brentwood-Darlington meeting
Not even life-long residents of the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood say they can remember the last time a sitting Portland Mayor came to visit. However, on November 2, Mayor Ted Wheeler spent nearly an hour at the regular neighborhood association meeting in the Brentwood-Darlington Community Center.
His appearance was more than a year in the making, said BDNA Chair Chelsea Powers before the meeting. "I'm so excited to have him here tonight, to speak on five topics that we've sourced from neighbors!"
After brief introductions, Mayor Wheeler told the standing-room-only audience that he'd been given a list of questions in advance. "I've been able to speak with Bureau directors and get fairly specific answers – and learn about the projects and the details that I can share with you," he said. "Also, something I want to share with you, is that one of the most important things for me is to get out of City Hall – both for my own mental health, and so I can hear what people in the community are thinking."
[Mayor Wheeler's responses have been edited for succinctness.]
1. Transportation and Safety Improvements
QAfter the Portland City Council passed the "Out of the Mud Initiative" the neighborhood still lacks paved roads and sidewalks. What are the city's plans?
A"I think the city has made a commitment to you in this neighborhood. There a-re a couple of things we're working on now in the short term. The 'Fixing our Streets Program' by the Portland Bureau of Transportation is undertaking projects in this neighborhood. It is Commissioner Dan Saltzman's direction, and my wish, that as a result of the State of Oreon passing the Oregon transportation law this year, we're trying to allocate resources from that package toward improving the streets in the community."
The Mayor suggested a "Local Improvement District" – a program where the residents along a street pay for improvements – may be coming to the Errol Heights section of the neighborhood.
2. Housing Affordability and Security
QWhat is the city doing to support Brentwood Darlington homeowners who were are at risk of being displaced, to be able to stay in their homes? What is the city doing to preserve affordable housing in this neighborhood – including affordable apartment buildings and mobile home parks?
A"We have the Home Repair Program, a time-tested program to help people with lower incomes and fixed incomes to do remediation repair. It's a program we want to expand. The Portland Housing Bond framework should be considered as a source of support for not only acquisition, but also potential rental protection as well in the community. Mobile home parks are an issue about which people in this area are concerned. Right now, we're looking, through the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability, at a zoning overlay to protect mobile home parks. And, I am very interested in preserving and acquiring existing affordable housing. We're looking for every opportunity possible to plan and to 'land-bank' properties." In addition to building more apartments for families with lower incomes, Wheeler said he's also in favor of creating more opportunities for home ownership.
3. Crime/Neighborhood Safety
QOur own Neighborhood Watch goes beyond the city model, with the intention of being proactive and solution-focused, walking the streets and directly addressing people engaged in illegal activities and encouraging lawful behavior. Can we count on your help?
A"My top-of-the-line answer, as Commission of Police, is that crime is not unique to your neighborhood. Across the city, it's very frustrating to people. I'm talking about all illegal activity: Everything from littering to drug abuse, to dealing drugs, to needles being thrown on the ground, to graffiti all over the place, to people occupying public spaces and parks; harassment, bicycle left, vehicle chop shops, auto theft – it is more than frustrating to people. I would argue it is infuriating to people.
"As we've started the budgeting process again at City Hall – I have asked for 82 more police officers – to the additional 300 officers that we want to bring into the police force. This is not to create a police state – it's to go back to the best practice model that we know works – which is known as full Community Policing." Wheeler related his astonishment to learn that during Mayor Bud Clark's time in office, there were 200,000 fewer people in the city, but the city had 300 more police officers on the force. "I encourage you to support our request for 82 more officers."
About RVs in his area, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Bryan Parman, who was also present, said "We're focusing on enforcement of public right of ways, streets, sidewalks, and properties, trying to get camping in abandoned RVs under control – we've worked with 31 RV owners to abate their problems, and have taken 55 RVs, and taken down 20 structures, make-shift sheds." Additionally, officers have been doing regular missions along the Springwater Trail, and the Multi-Use path to reduce crime, Parman said.
4. Budget Equity
QBrentwood-Darlington homeowners pay some of the highest property taxes in the city, yet receive very little support and infrastructure funds – improvements for our parks and streets. What is your plan to address these inequities in 2018?
A"As somebody who really 'geeks out' on property tax issues, you do not actually pay the highest property taxes, or even close to the highest property taxes in the city. However you do pay among the highest effective rates of property tax. What this means is you pay closer to the actual real value of your home, than other neighborhoods do. While this is a quirk of Measure 5, and Measure 50, passed by the taxpayers, the equity issue is very important to all of us.
"Merely being put 'on parity' is not going to catch you up," Wheeler said. "You need more of an intensive investment than do other parts of the city, in order to 'catch you up'.
"Multnomah County also needs to recognize this, and we can't let TriMet off the hook either. As people move east to chase housing affordability, they're moving further and further away from their jobs."
5. Urban Planning and Infrastructure
QHow can the city help our community make suggestions for neighborhood improvement more a reality? What is the number one thing that we could do to get city Council's attention and get these improvements done?
A"Start by using data that supports the premise of the questions that you've asked me," Wheeler responded. "At the City of Portland Budget website, encourage you to check out the 'Budget Mapping Tool'. If you know your neighborhood actually falls in terms of certain types of investments in the city budget, we now have it mapped. Also, get us out of City Hall; I encourage the Commissioners to come out and visit you.
"You may not have an intense interest in politics, but politics has an interest in you; simply put: 'You must be present to win'. So, engage in the budget process; and, email and call your city commissioners, I know they listen."
Speaks to THE BEE
After his segment of the program, Wheeler told THE BEE why he chose to come to this particular evening meeting. "Every part of the city is important to me. As Mayor, most of the communications that I'm getting from people show that there really upset about livability issues are from East Portland.
"So, this is where I need to be," Wheeler added. "I'm the Mayor; I want to be present, hear what people are thinking, and be helpful in finding solutions to the neighborhood's problems."