Appearing before members of the Portland City Council at community meetings on April 2 and again on April 9, supporters of the Friends of Sellwood Community Center advocated for keeping the heavily-used Center open, after the Portland Parks Bureau announced it would be closed permanently on September 1.
The only "public testimony" City of Portland Budget hearing was held, oddly, in the undersized Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization gymnasium in outer East Portland on Tuesday evening, April 2. The doors were closed when the room reached capacity, leaving almost as many people standing outside in the courtyard as were allowed in the building.
Mayor Ted Wheeler thanked those packed into the room, observing, "There are probably more entertaining things one could do with an evening, rather than go to a budget session. But this budget is a moral document – a directive to the city, and collectively a prioritizing of the things we want to see in our community. So, I thank you for taking the time to come and share."
When Wheeler commented that the Parks Commissioner, Nick Fish, would not be attending the meeting, many parks advocates in the audience loudly murmured.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz stepped up to the podium and told the audience, "Commissioner Fish is been actively engaged in the City Council, even though he's been undergoing treatments for cancer for the last year, making it difficult for him to attend this evening."
Wheeler opened the meeting saying, "No decisions have been made, yet, in regard to this budget. The next step for me is to actually issue a proposed budget [on May 1], based on everything that I hear."
Portland City Budget Office Interim Director Jessica Kinard provided a quick overview of the city's budget, illustrated with a parade of projected charts and graphs.
Kinard pointed out major budget items, including:
· Rising personnel costs
· Increases in full time workers, adding more than 100 workers to the city payroll
· Homeless services and rental services budgeting $6.9 million for the Joint Office of Homeless Services, and $1million for the Rental Services Office.
Members of the Portland City Council politely listened as speakers allowed into the room presented their testimony.
Appearing on behalf of saving the Sellwood Community Center (SCC) was stalwart supporter Julie Currin, who, in addition to voicing her sentiments about the importance of the facility, also read letters from the Center's kids.
"I hope these letters strike a chord with you as they do with me," said Currin, as she began to read: "You should not close our Community Center, because you just cannot have a community without a community center."
Another: "Please do not shut our Community Center down, because us kids will have nowhere to go."
"And this is my favorite; it gets to the point," Currin said: "We love it here!"
"I hope you care enough to take the time to discover some long-term fixes for these budget problems," Currin said, looking up at Portland's leaders. "We dont want a city where one neighborhood stands on the heads of others. Community Centers keep families in the city center. There are solutions out there. Just take the time to care, and to find solutions."
Others speaking on behalf of the Sellwood Community Center reminded Portland's top politicians that their stated goal is "walkable neighborhoods", but walking to the nearest Community Center remaining open would take longer than an hour. Another supporter said the key to keeping Centers open is "partnership". "Partnerships take political will, and the ability to be flexible to work with your committee."
Supporter Jamie Colvard acknowledged, "I know that the budget shortfall is real; and I ask respectfully that you will reconsider the [closing] option." Colvard read a letter from her daughter, who sat with her: "Keep Sellwood Community Center open. I love our Community Center. Their gym games are awesome, their outside space is totally awesome, and the friends are nice. If you don't close [the Center], we will be happy."
At the next City Budget meeting held April 9 at David Douglas High School, "Friends of Sellwood Community Center" Chair Gail Hoffnagle was, along with representatives from about 15 other organizations, invited to speak for three minutes.
"The City Counsel members said that they were there to hear us. We are all hoping for a good outcome, after this unprecedented outpouring by the community," Hoffnagle said. "I am so grateful to all the people, both young and older, who have written, e-mailed, started petitions, gave us their opinions and ideas, showed up for meetings, and showed up for marches, to save our Community Center.
"We are so blessed to have a group of people who are willing to stand up and demonstrate their support, and to publicly express how the Community Center has impacted their lives, both in the past and in the present," commented Hoffnagle. "I am so proud to call this neighborhood my home."
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