FROM EDITOR: Portland's new 'Director of Strategic Innovations'
March marked the first anniversary of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Portland government was in turmoil as tax funding dropped, and agitators both in City Hall and in the community harmed the city. The police have been undermined, partly defunded, and hamstrung in dealing with violence and extreme vandalism; we have received many positive comments about our report in this space a month ago about an Inner Southeast Portland appearance by Portland Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis, to chat with the community at a meeting of the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood association, SMILE.
This month, we are sharing our notes on an appearance by former Mayor Sam Adams – newly appointed Mayor Ted Wheeler's "Director of Strategic Innovations" – at the monthly meeting of the Woodstock Community Business Association (WCBA) on March 10 – hosted via ZOOM by the Brentwood Darlington Neighborhood Association.When Sam Adams ran for Mayor, he made plenty of promises and laid out his agenda very clearly. When he was elected, to our surprise, we found him forthright, outspoken, and very intent on carrying out the agenda he had outlined during the election. We have seldom seen a public servant so inclined to live up to his promises, and to level with his constituency.
Thus it seems shrewd and helpful indeed for Mayor Wheeler to engage Sam to provide a conduit between himself and the people and businesses of Portland, and to be willing to hear innovative solutions Sam may propose. We can only hope the city will implement some of these solutions.We were present at this meeting, which focused on the needs of local businesses in particular, and here is an overview of Adams' appearance, from our notes:
Adams explained to the well-attended virtual meeting that he is currently engaged in reaching out to determine the city's needs, and to share information on the steps being taken by the city to address its current major issues. He said that Portland is using the "FEMA recovery strategy": First, save lives; then improve living conditions; and only after that move to ensure economic recovery for those impacted. The ultimate goal is to move beyond just recovery to growth and further progress – "equitably, sustainably, and affordably". Adams continued, "The Mayor's priority is to improve business and business districts, improve livability, improve the 'houseless' situation, clean up, and open up." He conceded that as a result of the pandemic, civil unrest, crime, homelessness, and recurrent vandalism, "Portland is about as ratty as it has ever been."
On the subject of safety, he said Portland must address gun violence and the pernicious vandalism which has been pursued with impunity by the culprits, and the city has gotten the District Attorney, the Multnomah County Sheriff, and the Portland Police Bureau "on the same page".Adams revealed that the Portland City Council has just cut much red tape for businesses to make business safety, and business' security measures, far easier to accomplish.Adams remarked that in his State of the City address, Mayor Wheeler among other things, endorsed action to clean up the city, dividing it into ten zones for the purpose. This cleanup would clean up trash, graffiti, dumping, and abandoned cars, in cooperation with SOLV and with "Adopt A Block".The city is also intent on taking all these steps plus more, to improve Portland's regional and national image after this past turbulent year.
Adams concluded his introductory remarks by asking, "How can Portland be more helpful to you?"First to respond was Angie Even, a Woodstock property owner, representing the "Woodstock Stakeholders" nonprofit group of business owners. She pointed out that both Woodstock and Brentwood Darlington are "fly-over" business districts – easy to overlook when focusing on big "business circles" in the city, such as the Inner Eastside district – and she hoped we would not be overlooked in the city plans. She added to Sam, "We appreciate your past and present leadership."WCBA President Thad Davis was next, asking for more specifics on the subject of business relief. Adams responded that he is looking to local businesses for ideas – he expects to propose relief of large and small fees affecting businesses, and reduction of paperwork. "Everything is on the table." He mentioned empty stores in business districts – "is there any way we can help with that?" Thad said he would like to see some tax relief.Elisa Edgington asked what the Mayor's expectations might be for neighborhood associations, and their support of business districts? Sam respond that neighborhood associations are very important. The sale of goods and services needs to be as "hyperlocal" as possible, he opined, and that helps diversity also.Cydney French pointed to his references about a "recovery period" for business, and wondered if there is a specific timeline for improving livability downtown after "herd immunity" is attained – a benchmark which may occur by September. She noted that the condition of downtown Portland reflects widely on all parts of the city, and affects tourism in Portland; and, she added, "We need clean parks". Adams responded that there's a passion at the city level not to just "get back to zero" but to exceed what was previously the norm, and to continue to "build Portland's brand and reputation".Chelsea Powers observed that "car theft is a big problem in Brentwood Darlington". Adams remarked that property vandalism has been prioritized to be addressed, but now there is an equal priority for addressing vehicle theft. He disclosed, "We're going to add to the police. We're going to clean up the city once a year for the next three years via neighborhood coalitions [this appeared to be a reference to reinstating subsidized "neighborhood cleanup" events], but he conceded that Metro will have to assist with fee relief to make that plan practical.Christopher Love asked what specific plans are there for addressing mental health and addiction among the homeless? Adams agreed that this problem is disproportionately large in the Portland area. "Let leaders know how they should spend new dollars here, and what they should be dedicated to." He added, "This is the best opportunity here in my lifetime to make this kind of difference."Thad Davis asked about possible capital improvements by the city in Portland business districts. He pointed out that Woodstock is full of unimproved streets, some of them backing right up to businesses. Some streets are only walkable – one can't drive on many of them without risking damage to one's car. Adams said he didn't know, but he would look into it. It's a problem in many business districts, he conceded, and is a safety issue. Sam said he thought all unimproved streets had been graveled by the city, and was surprised to learn that many are still just dirt and potholes. Chelsea Powers chimed in that Brentwood Darlington has many unimproved streets too. Sam said he will pursue it, and Chelsea invited him to the BDNA Land Use Committee meeting.
Those are the highlights in our notes of Sam Adams' appearance at this combined Woodstock and Brentwood Darlington virtual meeting on March 10. We are encouraged by the former Mayor's new role as an innovative and down-to-earth advisor to Mayor Wheeler, and we hope it means a turn to a more results-directed and practical approach to city government. But we continue to believe that the city government itself at some point soon needs to be reformed to become more representative of the residents of the city, and more inclusive of all the diverse sections of Portland.
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