Let 'er RIP
There's no "no comment." Nor are there any of the standard evasions employed by elected officials who would rather not answer the question because to do so would mean taking a stand.
Ask Commissioner Amanda Fritz how she feels about the ramifications of the Residential Infill Policy (RIP) and you'll get an answer.
"It's absolutely appalling. We in Southwest Portland have been ignored," she said.
In the density debate that RIP has sparked, battle lines have been drawn between opposing sides that would be allies on many other issues.
"I'm very concerned about how divisive this has been already and how it's going to be in the future. And it's completely unnecessary. We have the capacity for 249,000 new homes in Portland and most of them are multi-family. We don't have a shortage of multi-family units, what we have is a shortage of single family homes. So if they're looking at making it easier to build more multiple units, that's the opposite of what we need," she said.
The Planning and Sustainability Commission (on which Fritz served for six years in the 1990s) is holding a public hearing on RIP on March 12. If the plan is approved at that point, which is considered likely, the City Council will vote on it, probably during the summer.
For those in Southwest Portland opposed to the infill plan, she had this advice, "They need to show up in droves at the Council to make their case. We're the decision makers. If they come in person, that would be helpful. Testimony should be meaningful but not rude," she said.
"I realize that people are really concerned. For most people their life savings are tied up in their neighborhood and their social network is their neighborhood. But we can talk about the reasons it's good or the reasons it's bad without getting personal," she said.
RIP is a major overhaul of Portland's zoning laws to promote more multi-family units on one-house lots. Asked to predict the vote she didn't say "no comment." She said, "No prediction."
WHAT THE CITY SHOULD DO WITH SEARS CENTER
Asked about the plans for the seldom-used Sears Center on Southwest Multnomah Boulevard at 25th Street, she said, "I thought it should be used for affordable housing back in 2008. That was what I wanted to see happen."
The recession that smacked the economy in 2008 meant the end of plans to convert the property to subsidized housing. So now, Fritz said, "It could be a temporary shelter. But what we do need is a full-service emergency management center in Southwest Portland.
"We're going to be in a world of hurt if the big one hits before we've got things like the Willamette River Crossing Project finished and the bridges across the Willamette fixed up," she said.(The Willamette River Crossing Project is building a new more seismic-resistant pipe to transport water from the east side to the west side.)
"We're going to be on our own for a very long time with the loss of bridges connecting us to downtown and elsewhere. I really want to see Sears Center refurbished and ready to go as an emergency coordination center," Fritz said.
EARTHQUAKE WARNING SIGNS
Commissioner Fritz voted for the ordinance that would require owners of buildings considered vulnerable to earthquake damages to post warning signs. That requirement has proven to be extremely contentious and is the subject of a court battle. She doesn't regret her yes vote. "I think the very least we should do is to warn people who use the building or walk past it that there is some risk if there's an earthquake and what they should do about it," she said.
PERCEPTIONS OF SOUTHWEST PORTLAND
Asked about former Commissioner Dan Saltzman's comment to The Connection last month that many Portlanders from other parts of the city see Southwest Portland as an "affluent area", Fritz said, "It's very common. People think that all of Southwest is like Willamette Heights (a Northwest Portland neighborhood near Forest Park). They don't know about deep Southwest Portland," she said.
"I always say I'm in deep Southwest near PCC (Portland Community College) and they say 'Oh, really.' We were annexed the same time as East Portland in 1979. That's why we don't have sidewalks or cross walks or street lights in many areas of Southwest Portland, because of late annexing," she said.
"I think people who live in Southwest Portland recognize that there are a lot of low income people here. Markham Elementary is the only Title One school on the west side of Portland." (Title One is a Federal Government program which sends funding to schools with a certain percentage of students from low income households.)
Fritz said that many students from such households at other Southwest schools don't receive extra services because their school doesn't have a certain percentage of kids considered low income.
"There are lots of low income folks here who are struggling and who don't get the kinds of services other people get. Still, I think people in Southwest have said, 'Well, East Portland is even worse off than we are so it's right that they should get their's first," she said.
Commissioner Fritz says here's a reason Southwest Portland is last in line for a Portland Bureau of Transportation's Gravel Street Service. Under this program, PBOT crews will fill in potholes with gravel on some unimproved streets. Many streets in Southwest qualify, but crews won't come to this part of town for at least a year.
"We haven't had any maintenance of unpaved streets in 34 years," she said. "The funding for the program is based on fees from new home construction, We're not getting that many more new homes built in Southwest Portland. So compared to other parts of the city, it's going to take a bit longer to have enough money to start the gravelling."
HIGHER FEES AT GABRIEL PARK?
A recent audit turned up a $7 million dollar shortfall in the Parks and Recreation Bureau budget from the time when she was Commissioner in charge of that Bureau. "They're in a world of hurt. The way that the budget thing is being done now has uncovered some systemic challenges for Parks and Recreation," she said. Commissioner Nick Fish is the current Parks Commissioner.
She says it would be hard to raise fees at the Southwest Community Center enough to cover the shortfall. "When I was in charge of the Bureau, we found that if you put prices up too much, people stop going and you end up losing revenue.
"Sooner or later people say 'Well, I might as well go to 24 Hour Fitness for the same price and I can go all hours of the day or night.'"
Fritz said she thought teh Bureau found a balance when she was in charge , "We thought we were at the sweet spot, even with prices as high as they were."
WHAT ABOUT A MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PARK?
Should it ever come to a vote by the City Council while she is still a member, Fritz says she's fine with constructing one under one condition, "As long as it doesn't have any public money in it," she said.
Fritz was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire in England and grew up a fan of Leeds United, a professional soccer team that won some Cups and was a consistent contender when she was young. She says she's still a Leeds fan and her second favorite soccer team is the Portland Thorns.
"Even though I'm a big soccer fan, I was opposed to changing PGE Park into a stadium for the Timbers because, economically, baseball makes much more sense. It's 80-odd games a year versus 18 for soccer. Especially Major League Baseball because it brings in a lot of people from elsewhere that are going to pay our lodging taxes. So, just from an economic standpoint, baseball is a good thing," she said.
But there's a problem. "Unfortunately, what they're saying is that you have to have housing around a stadium. We don't want to build another stadium like the Moda Center with nothing around it and that sits idle lots of the time," she said.
"Housing is not allowed on the site they have chosen and they can't possibly change the zoning in any kind of a reasonable time frame. I think they'll be looking for a different site," she said.
WILL SHE RUN AGAIN IN 2020?
"I'll have to see. It's early days yet," she said when asked about going for a fourth term on City Council.
Fritz lost her first bid for the Council in 2006 to Dan Saltzman. In 2008, taking advantage of public financing for her campaign, she won with an impressive 71% of the votes cast that November. In 2012, then-State Representative Mary Nolan thought she could unseat Fritz. Fritz was reelected with 59% of the votes. In 2016 she won in the May Primary with 69% of the vote, a percentage large enough to scare off opponents.
She said the current, sometimes chaotic climate at City Council meetings may be scaring off potential candidates. "People yelling at Council is really unfortunate because it's stifling other members of the community who want to come in," she said.
"I just met with a group from Southwest, a delegation from the Jewish Federation, and one of them said she was at a Council meeting and was so terrified she couldn't stay for the item because they were making a racket," Fritz said.
"It's very unfortunate that some people think other voices are more important than anybody else's."