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Proposed changes in the rules for neighborhood activism: Power sharing or power struggle?

UPDATED INFORMATION - Suk Rhee, Office of Community and Civic Life Director, will speak to the Multnomah Neighborhood Association on September 10 at Multnomah Arts Center. The Portland City Council has scheduled a hearing on proposed changes to the Civic Code for November 14, 2019.

The official rules that regulate the way the City of Portland shares power with its residents when it comes to making decisions about life in 95 recognized neighborhoods are being rewritten.

Many of those residents, volunteers who are used to being a part of the process when it comes to, let's say, dictating rules for developers, are waging a coordinated counter attack against the proposed revisions.

Some of them organized a summit meeting that attracted more than a hundred activists to the Multnomah Arts Center in July. Others are mobilizing rank and file members of neighborhood associations to challenge the changes. Leaders of the Multnomah Neighborhood association will host Suk Rhee, who heads the office doing the rewriting, on September 10. Countless numbers of citizens are sending letters of protest to members of the City Council, who are expected to confront their concerns and listen to their testimony in October.

Many other residents favor the proposed new set of rules from the Office of Community and Civic Life. Some of those who are active in community groups based on who they are and what they do, rather than where they live, have spoken out about feeling "unwelcome" and "marginalized" by the rules in the current code, which was approved 14 years ago this August.

That set of rules specifically and repeatedly names neighborhood associations and describes in detail the structure, functions and responsibilities of such groups, of which there are 17 in Southwest Portland. The proposed set of rules doesn't mention neighborhood associations.

Thus the conflict and controversy.

"Currently, the Code (3.96) says that for us to recognize you, you have to be a neighborhood association, a business district or a neighborhood coalition," said Stephanie Routh of the Office of Community and Civic Life. "In the proposed code, however you choose to organize, whether its across neighborhood, across identities, across issue affinity or across generations, it is our job to find a meaningful pathway to engagement."

Jim Redden of the Portland Tribune reported on July 25, 2019: "We need all of us and not just some over others. That is not government's role, to pick winners and losers," office director Suk Rhee told the City Club of Portland on July 12. Rhee also said neighborhood associations would not be abolished, even if they are removed from the code.

Despite such assurances, neighborhood volunteers are worried.

Leslie Hammond is in her second year as president of Southwest Neighborhoods Inc., a district coalition as defined in the current code which works with 17 neighborhood associations. She told the SW Connection she thought revising the code would result in more groups being recognized rather than her group being written out.

"Where people thought we would start this conversation is, 'Here's the neighborhood system. We want to build it and make it more effective and build up partnerships. But we realize there are other communities out there that need to be involved and that they need resources.' So how does the city put into place the resources necessary to do effective outreach?" Hammond asked.

As August turns to September, the battle lines are pretty clearly drawn. On one side, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly,

who's in charge of the Office of Community and Civic Life, is trying to line up two more votes to get a new, slimmed-down Code 3.96 approved by the City Council. Her support comes from citizens who think the neighborhood associaiton system needs a shake up. On the other side, working to save and improve that system, is a small army of neighborhood activists accustomed to the long hours and lobbying it takes to fight city hall.

KNOW WHICH NEIGHBORHOOD YOU LIVE IN?

Ask someone who lives in Southwest Portland, "What's your neighborhood?" and you're likely to hear "Multnomah Village" or "over by Fred Meyters," but not the name of one of the 17 officially recognized neighborhoods in Southwest Portland. Here's how you can find out which neighborhood you live in.

Go to www.portlandmaps.com and enter your address. You'll see your neighborhood right away and if you scroll down you can find contact information for you neighborhood association. As Sylvia Bogert, executive director of Southwest Neighborhoods Inc., said, "One of the best effects from all this debate and discussion about the code is that people now know about neighborhoods, right?"

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