Mayor Wheeler talks 'policy' with Brentwood-Darlington neighbors
The Community Center's large meeting room was nearly filled to capacity on Saturday evening, September 8, when the Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association hosted Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler for the second time within a year.
"After Mayor Wheeler came to our meeting last November, we followed up with this office, and asked him to come back and update us on some of the topics we talked about last year," BDNA Chair Chelsea Powers explained before the meeting started.
Topics on the agenda included creating an "Action Plan" for the neighborhood, crime and public safety, and distribution of funding and/or projects to the area.
Asks for 'Action Plan' funding
After a brief self-introductions of those at the head table, and by the Mayor, Powers began by saying that BDNA, with the help of Portland State University students, had created a neighbor Action Plan.
"The Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability (BPS) told us so that to be truly actionable by City Bureaus, a formal legislative process needed to be conducted, as required by the city code; and, although BPS requested funding for doing so, the Mayor's budget did not include funding for this project," outlined Powers.
"Will you support funding of the recommended Action Plan for BDNA in next year's proposed budget?" she asked the Mayor.
Wheeler characterized the current budget as "highly controversial", as he balanced clear community priorities heard from Portland's 95 neighborhoods, including:
· Addressing the homeless crisis
· Housing and housing affordability
· City infrastructure projects
"These will continue to be my priorities, and I want to be very clear about that," Wheeler stated, adding, "I dont know what the 2019 budget will look like.
"But a large portion of this [Action Plan] report speaks to the lack of collaboration and coordination among City Bureaus." Wheeler added, "I will make this commitment to you here and now, today: I will work with your neighborhood leaders and identify the issues, and we can do that right now."
Creating a 'neighborhood hub'
Powers pointed out that neighbors to the south, in the Ardenwald-Johnson Creek neighborhood, are becoming a part of the City of Milwaukie's formal planning process for the creation of "neighborhood hubs".
"Our BDNA plan recommended a planning strategy similar to this, with clusters of development along S.E. 52nd, 72nd and 82nd Avenues – and with S.E. 45th Avenue and Harney Drive being an ideal starting point," Powers explained. "Are there city budget discretionary funds that could be used for this purpose?"
"I am not aware of any discretionary funds available in the current budget," Wheeler responded, quickly adding, "But I don't see why we would [need to] work on it, because it is consistent with the '2030 Plan' just passed by the Portland City Council."
Even without a specific budget, Wheeler encouraged BDNA residents to work on this as a "neighborhood initiative", in conjunction with his office and with planning bureaus, "with the resources that we already have allocated for system development.
"If you have any concepts you'd like us to see, I say great, count me in!" Wheeler invited, and then added, "I have found that, when neighborhoods take leadership roles in determining their future, things do tend to happen a lot faster."
Budget equity explored
Bringing up a topic discussed at the Mayor's first meeting in the neighborhood, Powers again explored the view that BDNA residents pay taxes that are high compared to the investments received – investments such as Urban Renewal funds, bringing in large nonprofits, and other investment funding. "How will you ensure that investments are distributed to neighborhoods like Brentwood-Darlington, which need more capital improvement?"
"Our property tax system has long been in need of fundamental reform," Wheeler agreed, adding, "Property taxes for a lot of people are already super high; I want to acknowledge that."
Many investments across the city "aren't sexy", but are necessary, he added, such as the $1.1 billion "Big Pipe" project, and putting new roofs on, and air-conditioning systems in, community centers – projects that benefit all Portlanders. The Mayor went on to reference the $12.5 million investment in Errol Heights Park and investments in the Springwater Corridor, and capital transportation investments made in the area.
When pressed about assuring equitably in funding, Wheeler responded, "Equity doesn't mean equal distribution of resources; it does mean an intentional focus on areas that have been historically underserved and underrepresented when it comes time to distribute money."
Help with crime, illegal camping and criminal justice
Powers read a portion of a submitted comment deploring the neighborhood's perceived high level of crime and illegal camping, "primarily done by known repeat offenders":
"It feels that we are in a post-apocalyptic state, where roving bands of criminals are allowed to camp in our back yards, steal anything they can, set fires, and threaten us by name."
The questions then posed by Powers included, "How do we end the revolving-door nature of offenders being arrested and then released back into the community almost immediately?" and "How can those with mental health issues and the drug-affected be quickly assigned caseworkers?"
"I'm the first Mayor in nearly a generation that has advocated, and has successfully brought on, more police officers through the budget process – and it was a withering process. The budget hearings were very…" Wheeler paused while searching for his next word: "Challenging."
Wheeler said that his budget added 58 police officers; but he tempered that number by reminding that it takes about 18 months for an officer to be fully trained and certified. He also pointed out that the Police Bureau continues to lose about 20 officers per year due to retirement.
While, as the Commissioner of Police, Wheeler does have the power to hire and fire the city's Chief of Police, and has input on the Bureau's policy, he said, "Let me be crystal clear about this: I am not directing police officers. In regard to policing the city, command-and-control rests with Chief Outlaw."
He went on to deplore the lack of federal and state resources for the mentally ill and drug addicted. "I have come to realize that I can only truly hold myself accountable, and make a difference, about the things that I can control: The issues around livability, trash, housing, the contributions we make to homeless and shelter programs. I can only advocate and insist that we do more in these areas.
"I will make a commitment to you that I'm not going to back off, or lose any energy, around the complexities of solving the homeless crisis or the public safety problems in the city – or, frankly, the trash and livability issues in the city," Wheeler promised. "There are huge complex problems, and I'm highly motivated to work with you to address them."
Asks that NRT officers not be reoriented
Finally, a question from the audience suggested that Portland Police Neighborhood Response Team Officers were being diverted to other duties. "Can they be redirected to their main focus, managing livability?"
Wheeler said he was unaware of this, adding, "This is of great interest to me; I'll check in on this."
After the meeting, on his way out, THE BEE asked Wheeler how he found his reception in Brentwood Darlington.
"I thought this is a fantastic meeting; people came with excellent questions and genuine concerns," smiled Wheeler, as he walked into the night.
The Mayor's staff promised to provide written responses to all of the issues brought up in the meeting, and when they do, the answers will be posted on the BDNA website at – www.brentwood-darlington.org