Commissioner Fish pitches possible parks levy in Parkrose

Find out what Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish had to say about his current post, and the City’s budget and bicycles, when he spoke at the last Parkrose Business Association meeting …

The President of the Parkrose Business Association, Wayne Stoll of Century Associates, makes sure a flag is there when the group recites the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of each meeting.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
When members and guests of the Parkrose Business Association (PBA) met at the Quality Inn and Suites last month, they learned about the status of their annual event, were introduced to a new member, and heard Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish speak.

The Parkrose Cruise-in may be on hiatus this year, unless an event director steps forward – so learned the 45 men and women present at the February 18 meeting. PBA President Wayne Stoll reminded attendees that the event helps sustain the association, and has provided about $40,000 in funding for Parkrose High Senior Scholarships over the years.

Stoll also said the PBA is forming a Business Opportunity Committee. “A small committee is coming up with ideas developed by the Board and by committee members, to help promote Parkrose businesses.”

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish addresses the Parkrose Business Association.

Commissioner Fish speaks
Beginning his talk, Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish thanked the group for asking him to attend the meeting. “Although she’s been in office for over a year, Commissioner Amanda Fritz is the newest member on the Council,” Fish quipped. “Until she joined us, I was the newest member; now, I’m the fourth most senior!”

Referring to his introduction, in which it was revealed that he resides in NE Portland, Fish noted he is the only member of the City Council living there. “Go back 10 years ago; three or four members of the Council were from my area. Now, we actually have two Council members who live in Southwest – Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz. The Mayor lives in North Portland.”

Fish said his 18-month term in office – having been elected to fill Erik Sten’s vacated seat – has been an exciting time for him. “I’ll be on the ballot in May, seeking a full term.”

Commends Parkrose Schools superintendent
Fish said he’d hoped to see Dr. Karen Fischer Gray at the meeting. “I saw her yesterday and the day before, downtown. She’s practically living in City Hall because she is working on projects to advance education in outer East Portland. I want to compliment what’s been happening at your high school.”

“The thing I’m on which working with Dr. Gray, as your Parks Commissioner, is soccer fields. I think it’s long overdue that Parkrose High School had soccer fields,” opined Fish. “We’re going to make it happen. And I hope you’ll have me back in the fall [to speak to the PBA] to make a special announcement. There’s someone, who’s been in the paper recently, who’s working to bring professional soccer to Portland. I think I can bring him [to that Fall meeting]; and I think he’ll be bringing a check with him.”

He is the first City Commissioner who has been both Commissioner of Housing and of Parks, Fish observed. “This kind of odd, because they go together so nicely; hand in glove. I think about housing issues, and I’m also thinking about proximity to green spaces, parks, and natural areas. We can do a better job integrating our housing – when we do that, it’s a win-win.”

He won’t balance the City’s budget by reducing certain Parks Bureau programs, Fish vows.

Speaks of City’s budget woes
“Last year, the City made 5% cuts in the Police, Fire, Parks, and Transportation budgets. Portland Parks took an effective cut of $1 million. People tell us, ‘Don’t cut programs, just thin the soup a little bit.’ This year will be worse; we’re beginning with a 4% cut, or $1.7 Million, for Parks.”

He’ll keep some programs intact, Fish said. “I’ve decided I won’t balance my [Parks Bureau] budget on the backs of children nor older adults. There will be no cuts in SUN, after-school, or Teen programs. And, the City provides all of the senior recreation programs – our median profile for people using the programs is 70 years old, female, single, and with low income. If we don’t keep those doors open, we isolate our elders – because they don’t have access to social and exercise programs, their quality of life diminishes, and their health decreases.”

Points out structural budget problem
Prior Council members funded essential services with “one-time money” because they didn’t have ongoing funding sources, Fish explained. “We have $17 million of one-time, ongoing budget needs. Homeless shelters and warming centers, for example, are funded through one-time only funds. If we make 4% cuts, we’ll have some programs ending.”

While charitable giving has increased, Fish went on, “We have a calamity in our city. Last night 1,600 people slept outside. An additional 5,000 are ‘hidden homeless’, sleeping on someone’s couch or in a car. And, the situation is getting worse.”

While balancing the budget, Fish says “priority items”, such as supporting public safety and small business programs, are critical to the success of the city.

Commissioner Fish asks for a “bonus term” in office as he runs to retain his Counsel seat this year.

“On a hopeful note,” Fish said as he wrapped up his formal talk, “while we face challenging times and tough issues at City Hall, you may wonder if we are doing what you expect of us. I assure you, we are doing our best. We don’t get media coverage for all the good we do, but there are good stories to be told. I hope to have a four-year ‘bonus term’ to continue my service to the city.”

Questions and Answers

Q Norm Stoll asked Fish to comment on Jessie Jackson’s visit to Portland to slam the police department.

A “It’s a free country; anyone can speaker here,” Fish said. “But what I ask is that what is said is constructive. As a parent, my heart goes out to the Campbell family. There are important lessons to be learned – fundamental problems with command, communications and training – as outlined by the Grand Jury’s letter. But I honor the people who protect us. Over the top rhetoric? Certainly. But I’m working with my collegues to see that this doesn’t happen again.”

Q Wayne Stoll asked, “In the city’s proposed Bicycle Transportation plan, is there any money to improve, or put in, sidewalks near schools and to businesses?”

A “Outer East Portland, and parts of Southwest Portland, have poor infrastructure; we have not made investments throughout the City. “The Mayor and Council have a new way presenting the City Budget: It will look at spending by ZIP Code. Both Commissioner Fritz and I ran on a ‘fair treatment’ platform.”

Regarding the Bicycle Plan [not yet passed or budgeted, at the time he spoke], Fish said, “We adopted a vision for a bicycle-friendly city that provides more options. It is not funded; and the Mayer says we don’t have a current funding resource. It won’t happen in the shrot term. [Since this time, the City Council has passed the Bike Plan – and voted to take as much as $20 Million from Water Bureau project “savings” to fund the plan.]

Q Alison Stoll asked, “Some Portland parks are gorgeous, but some pools and other facilities are scheduled to close. Will the bond measure you are proposing help out [in  that regard]?”

As Portland’s Parks Commissioner, Fish says he favors a parks levy to help maintain Portland’s parks.

A “We take it very seriously to maintain what we have,” Fish said. “Because of budget challenges, we have not done a great job of maintaining what we have; we have hundreds of millions in unmet needs. The scarce funding that the Parks Bureau has goes into the operational side.

“I may come back you this Fall and ask you to contribute a ‘movie ticket’ a month – that’s about $8 a month – to help maintain parks. We have $200 Million of capital needs we can address; and, an oversight panel will certify we haven’t wasted the money. If we do this, and create family-wage jobs to maintain our system, will you accept it?”

Meet the members on March 18
The PBA, one of our favorite business groups, next gets together on March 18 at 11:30 a.m. This month, their speaker is Justin Zeulmer, Director of Property Services at the Rose Garden Arena, talking about the Portland Trail Blazers.

By the way, this month’s meeting is at The Grotto, at NE 85th and Sandy Boulevard, in the Terrace Level meeting room. The meeting is free, and the buffet lunch is $17, including dessert and gratuity; reservations are NOT required. For more information, see their web site: CLICK HERE.

© 2010 ~ David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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