See what outer East Portland Action Plan committee members think about the recently-concluded process – and, what they hope it will accomplish …
Barry Manning, Portland Bureau of Planning’s East Portland Liaison, talks about the draft document that will become the “East Portland Action Plan”, at the committee’s final meeting.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Eight months after the East Portland Action Plan committee was convened by Portland Mayor Tom Potter, Multnomah County Board Chair Ted Wheeler and Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives Jeff Merkley met to finalize the draft document, a couple of weeks ago.
The committee defined the goal during their first meeting in December, 2007: “To provide leadership and guidance to public agencies and other entities on how to strategically address community-identified issues – and allocate resources to improve livability for neighborhoods in the East Portland Neighborhood Office coalition area.”
The draft of their final product, just released, is a 48-page document – CLICK HERE to get it from the Bureau of Planning’s web site. The process was meaningful, in and of itself, according to the participants with whom we spoke – as you’ll see later in this article.
Summary of the process
Portland Bureau of Planning’s East Portland Liaison, Barry Manning, talked with us after the conclusion of the process last week, and commented on this unique planning process.
“The Action Plan’s draft document lists a number of different strategies, based on the ‘Principles for Improved Livability’ the committee created,” Manning began. “Some came from the committee members themselves; others were submitted during our April 2 open house; still others came from representatives of non-profit organizations; and some came from the City of Portland bureau staff.”
At the Action Plan Committee’s final meeting in July, facilitators outlined the contents of the projects draft document.
‘Principles for Improved Livability’
After identifying the “riches” and “challenges” of the neighborhoods in outer East Portland, the committee drafted four principles for improving the area, namely:
- Mitigate Negative Trends – The committee’s immediate objective is stabilizing housing, transportation, and crime concerns; and, more long-term, addressing livability issues that will improve the quality of life in the area.
- Attain and Sustain Equality – A “universal concern” is that the area isn’t getting its “fair share” of resources, and the Action Plan sets out to correct this inequity – as well as the desire to have more than just “quick-fix solutions” for the area’s problems.
- Build on Community Assets and Connections – The Action Plan seeks to tap into the area’s housing, employment, family focus, cultural diversity, and favorable regional location factors, and promote these throughout the region; and, to form alliances with people and partners, to accomplish their goals.
- Capitalize on East Portland’s Place in the Region – Highlighting the convergence of MAX light rail lines, freeways, and main streets, the Action Plan seeks to promote the area as the logical place for public and private investment; and, to encourage people throughout the region to visit the unique parks and natural areas in outer East Portland.
Barry Manning shows the prototype of an implementation strategy flyer designed to promote increased community safety.
Proposed Strategies and Actions
Manning said all of the suggestions for improving the area were discussed by the committee, weighted, tabulated, and categorized into each of five topic areas developed in the City’s VisionPDX planning process:
- Built – This topic area includes housing development; commercial and mixed-use development; transportation and public infrastructure, and utilities.
- Environmental – These include ideas for improving parks, trails, open spaces, recreation facilities, natural areas, and addressing environmental issues.
- Economic – Ways to promote economic development, and to provide workforce training.
- Learning – Ideas to improve the educational infrastructure and programs.
- Social – Strategies to improve public safety, safety-net services (such as housing assistance), community building, and equity.
Oregon State House speaker Jeff Merkley says the City needs to “catch-up” on outer East Portland planning.
Oregon State House speaker Jeff Merkley said he took time away from his US senatorial campaign to address the 50 spectators and committee members at the July meeting.
After thanking his co-conveners, Merkley said, “I’ve felt, for such a long time, that the City of Portland is wonderful when it comes to planning – but not so wonderful when it comes to planning on the east side of 82nd Avenue of Roses. I think we really need to do some catch-up, and decide on issues of infrastructure, transportation, housing, and economic development.”
After complementing the committee on their efforts, Merkley added, “You’ve laid out a vision for this community. You brought your best opinions and thoughts to this process along the way. It took about three years to get this process initiated, hopefully it won’t take three years to implement these wonderful ideas, and move them forward.”
Portland Mayor Tom Potter and resident committee member Jon Turino listen to the presentation before making comments.
Potter praises progress
Portland Mayor Tom Potter also had words of praise for the participants. “What you’ve done is nothing short of amazing. The City has put aside $500,000 for some short-term implementation strategies. For some larger projects, it’s a drop in the bucket; we also need to locate other partners, and determine how they can help.”
Speaking directly to committee members, Potter offered this advice: “When a large number of citizens come to City Council when something is being discussed, the City’s Counselors sit up and take note. The more of you who show up when this plan is presented, the more impact it will have.”
Multnomah County Board Chair Ted Wheeler (left) says he’ll direct his staff to help implement the Action Plan strategies.
County Chair comments
Multnomah County Board Chair Ted Wheeler congratulated the participants and conveners of the task force.
“During that very first meeting,” Wheeler said, “Mayor Potter did something that was unprecedented in terms of establishing credibility for the citizens working on this project – he put real dollars on the table.”
While it appears as if the County won’t be helping to fund any of the projects named in the Action Plan, Wheeler conceded, he said, “I also want you to know that my personal commitment is that Multnomah County is fully committed to being a partner in any way we can contribute to this process. I’m already directing my department heads to look at this report, take it into account, and make sure that we do everything we can do, as an identified partner on these actions to deliver everything we need to deliver.”
Metro’s Liberty chimes in
Metro Commissioner Robert Liberty – a member of the Action Plan committee – commented, “Each part of the city is distinct, has its own development pattern, and should be addressed in its own way.”
Liberty startled attendees by adding, “You’ve asked very little of your regional government in this process. I’d like you to reconsider that – and ask more of Metro.”
Liberty added the putting a “price tag” on the plan’s recommended actions would be helpful. “What would be the results from investing money in your community – on a scale of what’s being proposed in the South Waterfront Area – for example?” he questioned. “Hundreds of millions of dollars is an appropriate level of investment over the next couple of decades.”
Metro Commissioner Robert Liberty, Hazelwood Neighborhood Association Chair Arlene Kimura, and neighbor Mike Vander Veen all say they think the Action Plan process was valuable.
Committee members speak out
- Karen Fischer Gray, Superintendent, Parkrose School District
“We can do all the planning and the world, and end up with a big fat document. But, if you don’t have an implementation strategy and predicted outcomes, you’re wasting your time. There are a lot of good things we’re doing here; I’d like to see us build on that.”
- Arlene Kimura, Chair, Hazelwood Neighborhood Association
“To me, the best part of this process is that we got many people involved who don’t normally participate in neighborhood activities. To some, there is a perception that we, as neighborhood associations as a whole, haven’t been able to get things done to improve our part of the city.”
As people get involved, Kimura added, they learn it isn’t as simple as simply asking the government to take action. “I’m really glad to see a lot more people drawn in who are passionate about outer East Portland.”
During the committee’s final meeting, Kimura told the group they need to find a “wow factor” to help sell the plan. “We need to highlight our unique features, so people who don’t know about the east side will be encouraged to come here as a destination.”
Her wish is that the committee can “keep the momentum going. I’m hoping we can keep together as a group. We can’t do everything [listed in the Action Plan]; but we need to keep moving forward.”
- Jim Chasse, Land Use Chair, Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association
The best part of the planning, for him, Chasse told us, was to be part of a well-run and harmonious process. “And, it brought new faces to speak about and consider some of the more important issues we face in outer East Portland.”
In his opinion, Chasse said, the most important issues to be addressed are those of transportation infrastructure, community building, and the shoring up the educational system, to keep pace with growing enrolment.
“We have the plans and documents; now we’re looking for the our elected officials to do something with the Action Plan. I’m hoping we can coordinate the all of our governmental agencies to find ways to implement some of the plans.”
- Jon Turino, resident, business person, and executive director of APNBA
When Turino was elected to the committee, he was running a Farmer’s Insurance agency, and had been elected as the Parkrose Business Association president.
“I would be very disappointed if the Action Plan was never seen by the people who are developing the Portland Plan,” Turino said during the meeting. Manning assured their efforts were being noted.
After the meeting, Turino said, from a business standpoint, he was a little disappointed that little concern was shown for economic and business-related issues. “But as a resident in outer East Portland, I agree that issues relating to diversity, transportation, and education are important topics.”
The most impressive thing about the process, Turino added, was, “That this process took place. Our governmental leaders were there, engaged and paying attention. Everybody showed up, had done their homework, and it was a very civilized, cooperative effort. Everyone had their own agenda at the beginning, but it coalesced into what is best for all, at its conclusion.”
Speaking to us in his office after the meeting, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs says good communication is a step toward creating a safer community.
- Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs
Commander Crebs said he was glad he was asked to be part of the committee. “As an expert on police matters, I could talk about proposed actions – what might work, what might not, and programs we’re already doing.”
Crebs said being able to actively listen to a wide spectrum of citizens was helpful. “Hearing their complaints and concerns helped give me a better focus as Precinct Commander.”
One of the primary concerns raised, Crebs said, was “the perception of crime on MAX and the transit system. People are frightened. I’ve heard these concerns before – but the more I hear them, the more they resonate. I’m committed to make it as safe as possible.”
The increasing housing density and poverty in his precinct also affect crime and livability, Crebs added. “Good communication between citizens and the police help reduce both crime, and the fear of crime.”
- Mike Vander Veen, resident and community activist
“I was impressed that the concept of ‘community building’ was thoroughly considered. It isn’t easy to describe, but we used this concept as a ‘filter’ when considering potential ‘actions’. It turned out that anything from improving streets to building a community gathering place, to encouraging people to connect with their city agencies – they all build up the community.”
In his view, Vander Veen said, the best part of the process “was the relationships that have been formed among the committee members who worked on the Action Plan – and those who are continuing with the process.”
In the background, facilitator Deb Meihoff prepares information while Stefanie Sylman presents findings to the committee – who, by the way, agreed that their work was outstanding.
Planners given “A” grades
Everyone involved in the Action Plan with whom we spoke highly complimented Barry Manning, his staff, and consultants Deb Meihoff of Communitas LLC and Stefanie Sylman of Sylman Planning Resources LLC.
City commits $500,000 fund
We noted there were 66 actions, or strategies, listed among the five topic areas, and asked Manning if there are any resources available to help implement any of them.
“The City of Portland has dedicated $500,000 toward implementation for short-term strategies and actions for 2008-2009,” Manning noted. “A subcommittee of the Action Plan group will meet and decide how to best use these funds.”
Then, the Planning Bureau will take those suggestions, and develop a package that meets the subcommittee’s priorities. Manning added, “We’ll also provide some alternative ideas.”
© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News