All ‘ayes’ on East Portland Action Plan

Was there a disparaging word heard – about the plan, or about Portland’s Mayor – at the Portland City Council’s “road show” at Midland Library? Learn the answer, and see exclusive photos, right here …

Portland Mayor Sam Adams, flanked by Commissioners Amanda Fritz, Dan Saltzman and Randy Leonard listen to Portland Planning Bureau’s Barry Manning (far left) as they watch the PowerPoint presentation that details the East Portland Action Plan.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In an effort to deal with explosive growth, burgeoning schools, and a dearth of improvements to outer East Portland, the Portland City Council on Wednesday, February 18th, voted to approve funding to develop and begin implementation of the East Portland Action Plan (EPAP) in 2007.

In December, 2007, Mayor Tom Potter, State Representative Jeff Merkley, and Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler convened a committee comprised of neighborhood, business, government services, and faith representatives to “look strategically at short-term opportunities to improve livability, as well as long-term strategies to address some of the challenges facing East Portland,” as Barry Manning with the Portland’s Bureau of Planning put it.

Winter storm postpones meeting
The EPAP Committee wrapped up its meetings last fall. (See end of article for a list of links that detail the project’s process.)

The Portland City Council was to meet in outer East Portland in December to hear testimony and to vote whether or not to adopt their recommendations. A blizzard postponed that meeting until this week – on February 18.

The large assembly room at Midland Library on SE 122nd was filled to capacity as the session of the Portland City Council gets underway.

City Council meeting draws full house
It was standing-room-only at Midland Library’s large hall, as the crowd swelled to about 200 people – almost double the room’s stated capacity. Portland City Commissioners Randy Leonard, Amanda Fritz, Dan Saltzman, and Nick Fish joined Mayor Sam Adams in these makeshift Council Chambers.

Introduced by the Portland Planning Bureau’s Joe Zender, the Bureau’s East Portland liaison, Barry Manning, summarized the project – involving eighteen committee members from December 2007 to July 2008.

Members of the Portland City Council learn about EPAP’s seven actions.

Manning told how the committee selected seven “actions”, from an initial list of 160, for funding, specifically:

  1. Providing “storefront improvement” matching grants for businesses on SE Division Street, east of 122nd Avenue;
  2. Hiring an “advocate” to implement East Portland projects and pursue grants;
  3. Creating “safer routes to school” by improving pedestrian crossings at key locations on busy arterial streets;
  4. Initiating planning for future improvements on SE Powell Boulevard;
  5. Funding studies to create “Gateway Green,” a regional green space opportunity;
  6. Initiating a Portland Plan pilot study to consider and improve land uses, access, and connections, and development design along SE 122nd Avenue between Division and Foster; and,
  7. Creating an EPAP Grant Fund, to allow area organizations and groups to propose and initiate projects from the Action Plan.

US Senator Jeff Merkley joins Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler at the table as testimony begins.

Dozen line up to testify
Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler began by jesting, “I urge you to adopt the plan. There is only one exit from this room, and it is located behind me.”

Wheeler commended the committee for the “considerable time and energy” spent on this process. “It is about more than issues and problems. It is really about community and pride. One after another, [outer East Portland] neighbors said there is no other part of town in which they’d live.”

The County Chair said that story of outer East Portland has been one of long-standing negligence and inequity. “When these neighborhoods were annexed into the city, relatively low levels [of attention were paid to] transportation, jobs, green space, educational outcomes and public safety. That hasn’t changed much. Yet, East Portland is unique in this region.”

The EPAP Committee, Wheeler added, “took these issues and made them opportunities; and they’re working to make them into realities. This is, without question, the best example of civic engagement I’ve seen.”

Senator Merkley’s surprise appearance
Many in the room were surprised and pleased to see another convener of the project, newly-minted US Senator Jeff Merkley, come to testify.

“I grew up just eight blocks from here,” Merkley began. “It was only with some frustration that [this area] was annexed into the City. Annexation seemed to be more about pulling taxpayers into the district than giving them full recognition as citizens of the city.”

Portland’s planners, the Senator added, seem to find it difficult to see beyond 82nd Avenue. “This conversation has changed the tenor of the relationship among [outer East Portland residents] and the Portland City Council. I praise the people who have invested so much energy in this program … and I second Chair Wheeler’s recommendation that it be adopted.”

Portland Commissioner Nick Fish thanked Merkley, noting, “It is rare for a US Senator to testify before the City Council.”

Testifying on behalf of education and better regional planning are of Parkrose School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray and Metro Counselor Robert Liberty.

More committee members chime in
Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, Superintendent of Parkrose School District, praised the plan’s recommendation to hire a staff member to make sure the plan is implemented and to help locate leveraged support. “I also want to speak for education. Each East Portland school district has special things to offer. We also have tremendous diversity and poverty. We need your continued support of our educational system.”

The Oregon House Representative for District 47, Jefferson Smith, quipped with self-effacing humor, “While Oregon got a great, new US Senator in Jeff Merkley, my district ended up with me.”

Smith advocated for better low-income housing planning and improved MAX light rail safety in outer East Portland. “From 82nd Avenue east, this area has had the greatest opportunity to fail; it now has the greatest opportunity to succeed.”

Portland’s commissioners and mayor listen as Hazelwood Neighborhood Chair Arlene Kimura testifies.

Hazelwood Neighborhood Chair Arlene Kimura said she was glad to find “people as passionate about our area” as she is. “Community building happens when a group of people engages in an activity. Hopefully, the results of this will be inclusive of everyone; we’re working to include those who don’t speak English as their primary language.”

Nick Sauvie, executive director of ROSE Community Development Corp., made a literary allusion: “Portland is the ‘Tale of Two Cities’. In our case, it’s the areas east and west of 82nd Avenue.” He pointed out the City auditors found that outer East Portland’s residents give livability low marks in terms of parks and housing by all measures. “As a multi-family housing developer, I didn’t always agree with other committee members; but we did agree that housing zoning needs to be reconsidered.”

Jim Chasse speaks up for better zoning, streets and “Safe routes to School on behalf of Portland’s largest neighborhood, Powellhurst-Gilbert; and, the APNBA’s Jon Turino says he favors the proposed business upgrades.

Jon Turino, the Executive Director of the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Associations (APNBA), advocated in favor of the plan’s business renewal project along outer SE Division Street.

Longtime Parkrose School Board member Katie Larsell noted, “We are Portland. Equity is about making positive connections. And, a sense of being cut off comes when there isn’t equity. Thank you for holding the meeting here, thanks to Sam [Adams] and Ted [Wheeler] for being sworn in on the East Side – helping to make concrete connections. If the connections [among outer East Portland citizens and City Hall] are there, the equity will come.”

Barry Manning gets his just disserts, a home made berry pie delivered by Mary Wallker.

As Larsell’s time ran out, she thanked Barry Manning and his staff for their efforts, while Mary Walker presented the planner with a homemade berry pie. “Take this back down to City Hall. It will help them remember that we want our part of the pie.”

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs said, “I’d like to ask for a lot more cops, but I’m advocating for the neighborhoods. Enhanced sidewalks, streets, lighting, and storefronts will make the area more attractive to pedestrians and shoppers. More ‘eyes on the street’ will help reduce crime.”

Crebs also advocated for better residential construction. “It breaks my heart to see dirt roads and so few sidewalks here.”

When the role is called, each Portland City Council member congratulates and commends the EPAP committee and staff members before voting “aye”.

Finally, the vote
Time came for the long-awaited City Council vote. Starting with Amanda Fritz, each of the Portland City Commissioners commended the EPAP Committee members, conveners, and staff for their diligent actions.

The voting roll was called; with five “ayes” the East Portland Action Plan was passed.

Internet Links
We at eastPDXnews have long been following the progress of this unique process….

  • To read how it started, CLICK HERE.
  • To learn how it progressed mid-year, CLICK HERE.
  • And to read about the committee’s wrap-up meeting, CLICK HERE.

To see the City’s official East Portland Action Plan website, CLICK HERE

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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