The Letters to the Editor is where BEE readers each month share their thoughts on current events and report news

Multi-story apartments on lip of Oaks Bottom?

ERIC NORBERG - On March 25th, 2011, THE BEE peered over the bluff from the major slide area, S.E. 15th and Reedway, and saw that stabilizing techniques were clearly being applied to the saturated slope. Several trees had been removed as well, and the adjacent homeowner, who had originally hoped to remain in her house, had posted it for sale. Editor,

Long-time residents of Sellwood and Westmoreland, and readers of THE BEE, may remember that in 2011 over 2 inches of rain fell [on the last day of] February, and consequently there were several landslides along the bluff overlooking Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. One slide endangered a house (see THE BEE, April 2011). The trail at Oaks Bottom, the Springwater Trail, and the feeder trail to the parking lot on Milwaukie Avenue (which gives bicycle commuters from Brooklyn, Westmoreland, and other locations access to the Springwater Trail) was closed for some time. The entire slope of the house at 1433 S.E. Reedway was slipping away, and [eventually] the house had to be moved.

Now the owner of the commercial property at 5515 S.E. Milwaukie, just a block north, at the corner of Ellis, has requested a zoning change on the property that would allow a 75-foot-high apartment building to be built on this landslide-prone slope. The city Hearing Officer has recommended approval, and now the petition goes to City Council for a vote. The petition, LU 21 -094203 CP ZC, is both a request for a change in the city's Comprehensive Plan Map and a Zoning Map amendment to RM2 (Residential Multi-Dwelling 2).

Although the applicant and Hearing Officer concede that "a portion of this property poses a landslide risk", and "The risk of a landslide poses an important and valid threat to safety, property, and human life", "The Hearings Officer does not find that this risk is a barrier to approving the application…"  And why??  "Because the application does not propose any development..." at this time. That is just kicking the can down the road until a developer brings forward a proposal to build an apartment building there. The city needs more housing, but large apartment buildings should not be built in environmentally-sensitive areas where landslides have already occurred. This steep escarpment is composed of unstable gravels and other sediments deposited by the historic Columbia /Willamette floods.

"Where landslides occurred in the past is key to where they'd occur in the future,'" explained Bill Burns, engineering geologist with Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (see THE BEE, May 2011). Climate change will increase the risk of landslides; extreme rain events are now occurring with greater frequency.

Increased development on this slope, despite geotechnical review and compliance with the current Stormwater Management Manual, will not decrease the likelihood of future landslides there. The roots from the trees that will be cut down will no longer be there to stabilize the slope, and the unstable soils will be disturbed by construction.

Friends of Oaks Bottom asks that citizens concerned about future landslides communicate their concern to City Council. The hearing before the Council to decide the matter is NOW scheduled for Wednesday, June 1, at 3 p.m. (NEW DATE AND TIME) at the request of the applicant.. Letters to Council on this issue are welcome anytime before the hearing.

Marianne Nelson Friends of Oaks Bottom Steering Committee

S.E. Rex Street

COURTESY OF THE OREGON CITY NEWS - A housing development in Oregon Citys Newel Creek Canyon had similar landslide hazards, but  . was constructed. Soon after, in 2011, the development failed due to landslides. The residents had to be relocated.


On February 11, the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE) Board of Directors voted unanimously to send a letter to the city from its Land Use Committee opposing a request made to the City of Portland for an upzone of seven parcels of land on Milwaukie Avenue, between Ellis and Insley, in Westmoreland.

The most contentious of the parcels to be rezoned, located at 5515 S.E. Milwaukie, is in an environmentally sensitive area above the Oaks Bottom escarpment – an area prone to landslides.

SMILE's objection to the upzoning was due to contradictions to stated purposes of the 2035 Land Use plan, in the main because the proposed upzoning at 5515 Milwaukie would cause: "Failure to provide safe housing" and the "Degradation of the Benefits of Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge".

The Milwaukie Avenue property is just two blocks from a house at 1433 S.E. Reedway which, after heavy rains in February and March of 2011, began being undermined by a slide on the bluff above Oaks Bottom. Due to the landslide, Ruth Williams' historic onetime farmhouse at 1433 S.E. Reedway was left with extensive damage and expensive restorative work. During restoration, a placard in front of the Williams home described the scope of the project to restore it: "We'll move the house 12 feet toward the street, 8 feet to the South, and put the house on a new foundation." Ruth Williams sold the home and moved the following year.

Subsequent to notifying the city of their reasons for opposing the upzoning, all members of the SMILE Land Use Committee testified in a Public Hearing held "virtually" on February 16. In addition to the nine oral testimonies, nearly sixty people sent in written testimony opposing the upzoning of the parcels, especially the one at 5515 S.E. Milwaukie. Among those opposed was Mike Houk, who has served on the Planning and Sustainability Commission for the past l1 years: "This is an inappropriate location for any housing, let alone the high-density housing that would result from the zoning change. The almost vertical slope is highly unstable, and has a long history of landslides."

Houk described a similar housing project built (against the advice of local geologists) in in Oregon City in 2011: "The proposed upzoning of 5515 is reminiscent of a development that occurred in Oregon City's Newel Creek Canyon. That site had similar landslide hazard areas . . . they were allowed to proceed with construction. Sadly, not long after construction, the development failed due to utterly predictable landslides. The residents had to be relocated."

SMILE's other objections to the upzoning of the seven properties have to do with the effects of high density urban zoning on areas without the urban amenities, transportation resources, or infrastructure necessary to support it. Yet despite the overwhelming testimony against the proposal, the Hearings Officer recommended approval. As Mike Houk recently described the years of constant effort it took to save Oaks Bottom as a green space, he revealed he motto he lives by: "Endless pressure, Endlessly Applied". That, he seems to suggest, is what it takes.

The City Council Meeting to consider the approval of the proposed zoning is NOW scheduled for Wednesday, June 1, at 3 p.m. (NEW DATE AND TIME). All interested parties are encouraged to attend.

Heidi Cropsey S.E. Tenino Street

Update on Afghan refugees in Inner Southeast

Editor, The last time we reported on the progress of the Afghan refugee family sponsored by Moreland Presbyterian Church and Lutheran Community Services, we were awaiting the birth of baby Isha, and looking for a job for Noor. Isha is thriving, and Noor has started full time employment at Bob's Red Mill. We have also, with help from Representative Earl Blumenauer's office, tracked down the last of the documents necessary for obtaining a Special Immigrant Visa, enabling the family to remain in the US.

We "adopted" another family in February: Obaid and wife, sister, and two young sons, who are now living near the church.

Both families are extremely grateful to their new neighbors. We have been able to settle in both of these families in large part due to the many volunteers in the Sellwood-Westmoreland community who have reached out to help. These include dozens of people who worked to fix up the rental house, furnish both homes, provide transportation, as well as bicycle repair, legal services, meals, and friendship. Some are church members, but many are not. Thanks to Kevin, Dani, Annemarie, and her crew, Tim, Ann, Will, Charlie, Henry, Brett, and crew from Community Pilgrim Church, Joe, and others. Thanks also to the people who have provided meals, diapers, and clothing to the families – too many to mention, but you know who you are.

We are indebted to the Buy Nothing Eastmoreland-Woodstock-Errol Heights group for furnishings and countless miscellaneous items. We want especially to thank the businesses that have contributed to our effort – Sherwin Williams, Max Effort LLC Flooring, Sellwood Community House, Bob's Red Mill, and Roots and Wings Pre-School.

We are continuing to provide major financial and personal assistance to these two families, especially as their children enter school age, and can always use more volunteers and donors. Please contact the church office at – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., if you are interested in more information.

Rebecca Mowe Westmoreland

One library service not expanded


The article in April's BEE, "Southeast Multnomah County Library branches expand survices", failed to mention that the library has throttled Interlibrary Loan services (ILL) services by more than half. ILL is critical to the library's core mission of providing reading material to patrons. No improvement is in sight. Before COVID, ILL services gave us access to virtually any book or article published in the U.S. before the current year.  The system accepted five active requests at a time. In the spring of 2020, the library's ILL services were shut down entirely.  They remained shut long after libraries in surrounding counties and around the country had resumed ILL ordering. After I protested repeatedly to the Library's director, Vailey Oehlke, and to the County Commissioners, Ms. Oehlke promised that the ILL service would be "resumed" by the end of January, 2022.  In fact, the first orders were finally accepted in mid-February. The County Chair's office forwarded a further letter from the Library's Senior Policy Advisor [which] claimed that "pausing or delaying other services allows library staff to focus on providing core services to support our priorities". None of these replies admitted that instead of five requests, patrons now may only make two. Two books on order at a time may seem reasonable, but this applies to short articles as well. Each of these takes at least several days to arrive, slowing down everyone's research to a crawl. Surely, the library's "priorities" should include a full resumption of an essential service that connects readers and researchers to the materials they need for their work.  Margaret DeLacy, President N.W. Independent Scholars Assn. S.E. 30th Avenue

Famous Sellwood intersection in funding effort


Is it garage sale season already?! Absolutely! And the "Share-It Square" community would like to invite our Inner Southeast neighbors and BEE readers to the annual fundraising yard sale on Saturday, April 30th from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Share-It Square is located at 9th and Sherret,t and is the first "intersection repair" in the world, leading the way for the numerous similar community crossroads throughout Portland and beyond. The Square acts as a gathering point, allowing neighbors to commune and celebrate and exist together! 

All proceeds from this sale serve to fund the numerous community events hosted by the Share-It Square committee of volunteers. Each year, since the inaugural painting in 1996, the most anticipated event is Paint Day – a day when community members big and small mobilize to create an amazing street painting. 

Come to the sale and scoop up bargains, but promise to come back to join us in painting the Square on June 4th!

Katie Royce Share-It Square Logistics Committee


Enjoyed history article, but…


In Dana Beck's excellent article regarding The Post Office [April BEE], I noticed two small points: The City of Portland is not "just up the river" from Sellwood. It is down the river [since the Willamette runs northward]. And to say, "The first woman to hold the position of Postmistress in the Oregon Territory in 1894" is misleading. Oregon became a state in 1859. The Oregon Territory existed between 1848 and 1859.

Chuck Martin


EDITOR'S NOTE: Dana Beck responded, "I'm going to have to make sure I run my article by Chuck next time. He's good at catching my mistakes. Good job Chuck!"

Wishes for no photo

Editor, In the April BEE, you included a story entitled, "Man brandishing a weapon arrested in Sellwood". The story goes on to describe the arrest of a man who was noted as having a mental health crisis, and then included a picture of the man. What benefit can there be in publishing a picture of this man who was described as being disturbed and in distress and who was surely having one of the worst days of his life?  He was already in custody and was going to be sent to treatment. Showing a photo seems unnecessarily stigmatizing to him and his family. I understand that people want to know about crime in our neighborhood, but a little kindness would benefit us all.

Celene Okeson


EDITOR'S NOTE: Ms. Okeson has overlooked a potential benefit to the man in question, who was brandishing what looked like a pistol. She may have too optimistic an opinion of the state of mental treatment in Oregon these days; we understand he has had other such "worst days of his life" in Sellwood before, and yet is still on the street. The photo identifying him might actually help him the next time he does this, by reminding witnesses that this particular man is prone to mental disturbances, and can act in this way, but has not actually used a weapon against others – thus possibly averting a violent response from bystanders.


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